I started playing guitar, very very badly, back when I was young, back when most middle-class homes had one TV set and at most, two telephones. I’m still very very bad at guitar all these years later. Twenty years ago I bought two mandolins and enjoyed them but found them a bit limited. I have short stubby fingers; the mandolin fingerboard is a better scale length for me than guitar but too narrow for my fat fingers. It also isn’t really my ideal sort of solo instrument for sitting around my yard picking. Not bad, just not ideal IMO.
Recently I picked the mandolins back up after 20 years and found I was enjoying them, other than the size. So I did some reading and listening and decided to try a mandola–only a big larger than a mandolin physically, but more room to the fingerboard.
I always buy things locally when I can, and from a locally owned independent store when I can: that’s important! But none of my local shops (independent and even franchise) had a mandola in stock, so after more reading I ordered an Eastman MDA-315 from The Mandolin Store. They provided immediate, honest, friendly information and advice, and told me they had mandolas in stock and set up, ready for a new owner. (Thanks again for all the help, Zach!)
First, the instrument: the mandola’s size really is ideal for me: enough room for fat fingers, compact enough for short fingers. And I love the sound–a higher overall sound than the guitar, but not as bright and jangly as a mandolin, still a woody sound sound overall–think “tenor 12-string guitar.” I’m absolutely delighted with the playability and the sound. I also like the tuning–four courses (2 strings each) tuned in fifths, which is considerably different from the guitar, though still IMO easy to adjust to quickly (for me.)
The Eastman MDA-315 mandola surprised me. It’s considerably less expensive than higher-end instruments, but most of Eastman’s instruments, even the low-priced ones, seem to get good comments for “fit and finish” and overall quality. My own is actually more attractive than it looked on the web. The finish is a darkish brown satin, doesn’t appear to be poly; it’s lighter overall than the photos showed and I like it. (a couple of cellphone photos show it here) Craftsmanship appears top-rate overall, no glitches or flaws in the joinery. Only the top is bound but the unbound joins are excellent as far as I’ve noticed. I’m no expert but it appears to be a fine and well-made instrument.
Zach told me the Mandolin Store sets up the new instruments on arrival, and my Eastman’s setup felt perfect out of the box when I received it. I see The Mandolin Store just got an award from Eastman (mid-May 2023 as I write this); good customer service is important to the manufacturers as well as the purchasers. 🙂
I’ve had the MDA-315 for a month or so; the sound is changing as I play it and the woods begin warming. It’s becoming richer and developing a nicer voice daily. Again, I’m new to the mandola, but so far I’m delighted. Oh, and the individual notes seem to be distinct and nicely balanced overall, to me. Again, that’s JMO, I’m not an expert.
Short version: the mandola turns out to be a nearly ideal instrument for me, for my “sitting around noodling and enjoying my retirement” music. 🙂 And I have nothing but praise so far, for both my own Eastman MDA-315 and for The Mandolin Store. Nothing but smiles!