I want to buy my son a mandolin

He’s expressed interest in it, but he’s 13, so I don’t want to spend a lot of money in case it turns out that he’s not that interested.

I’ve seen new ones on eBay in the range of $50-60 plus shipping. That’s about what I’d be willing to pay.

Can anyone weigh in on whether or not something like this would be a suitable instrument for a beginner?

First of all - I know NOTHING about mandolins

Second of all - good on you for wanting to do something for your son

Third of all - make sure that it is the right type of mandolin for the type of music he wants to play - bluegrass mando’s are different from the old round-back kind. the one in your link looks more like its for bluegrass.

Fourthly - that seems pretty inexpensive for a mando - you might want to search online for websites that review specific brands. With guitar, there is Harmony Central.com - you have to wade through a lot of bull, but you can tell if someone is posting who know a bit more and you can tell if a given inexpensive brand is still of sufficient quality. I would suspect there is the equivalent for mandolins, too.

Fifthly - whatever you get, right when you get it, take it to a guitar tech (I am sure a decent acoustic shop will work on mandolins, too) and ensure it is well set up - bridge in the right position, action set up correctly etc. Since mandos are 4 pairs of strings (called “courses” - so a 12 string guitar has 6 courses), it is critical that the mandolin can hold its tuning in a stable way - tuning an instrument with courses is a royal pain so if it isn’t stable and drifts out of tune on its own, you’re kinda screwed. Oh, and get an electronic tuner right away (cheap ones are about $20) and ensure your son knows how to use it (the store can show him).

Lastly - I buy from eBay, but always make sure I have a 3-day or weeklong return-for-any-reason agreement with the seller. That way you can take it to a local shop for the tech-check and ensure it is stable tuning-wise and otherwise of sufficient quality. Most shops don’t care where you got the instrument if you are willing to pay the money to get it checked out. They may charge up to $40 - $50 bucks for a thorough going-over, but ideally they will just give it a once-over for free especially if no real adjustments are needed. You should have the shop identified before making your purchase and confirm their terms for bringing an instrument in. If the eBay seller will not agree to a 3-day return, do NOT buy from them - period.

All I got for now…

Mandolin player here. With instruments at the low end of the price scale (and this is way at the low end), you really need to play them to tell. Hopefully it’s playable – it’s in tune up the neck, and will stay in tune while being played. If this is really a new instrument, I have no idea why it’s no cheap. Anyway, it might not sound great, but it will give him an idea about whether he wants to pursue it or not.

I just wanted to emphasize this point. I don’t have much else to add.

Oh, I take it back, I do have one bit. Have you looked into renting? When I was taking violin lessons I was able to rent a violin so I could see if I stuck with it before comitting to buying one outright. I don’t know if they do that sort of thing for Mandolin, but it can’t hurt to look into it.

I paid around $170 for mine new - an Epiphone A-style.
You could probably get a used one somewhat cheaper.
F-styles are considerably pricier.
Maybe just my opinion, but the mando you link is pretty goofy looking.
You don’t want to go too cheap with a first instrument, because if it doesn’t sound good, goes out of tune, and feels/looks bad, you aren’t going to want to play it.
If buying a lower-priced mando, I’d prefer to stick with name manufacturers.

Looked again - I guess that 1st pic was just from a kinda odd angle.
That is an A-style.
The finish and pick guard is not my personal taste, that’s all.
Before buying anything on-line, try to go to a store where you can strum a $50 mando and a $150 one. Look at them side-to-side to see how they compare.
Good luck.
Mando is a great instrument, and very easy to develop some basic skills sufficient to play with others.

You’re not going to get a name-brand mandolin for sixty bucks, though. (I don’t know, maybe pawn shops in Tennessee are full of them?)

I agree that going for a cheaper brand (Kentucky, Morgan-Monroe, Epiphone) and looking at more like $120-$150 bucks would be a safer bet, but double th emoney at least. If you do have someone locally that gives lesson, they may indeed just let you borrow one for the first few lessons.

As far as the sixty-dollar job, do you have a guitarist friend who can check and make sure it’s playable? The issues are much the same.

I would suggest going to a music store and buying one there. They can point you toward someone for lessons, as well. You’ll probably pay a bit more, but not necessarily that much more. The difference between a $60 instrument you buy off eBay and a $100 instrument you buy in person are… significant.

Ichbin Dubist touched on this a bit with the tuning thing, but just as a general rule of thumb: cheap instruments aren’t any fun to play.

That’s not to say that you have to spend a lot of money. There are a lot of good instruments available for around $100 or so. There are also good instruments for less than this price, but the ratio of good to bad goes down, the cheaper you move your price point. Why does it matter? If you are playing on a bad instrument (doesn’t hold tune, isn’t tunable, warped neck, et cetera) then the instrument will be working against you when you’re trying to play it. Bill Monroe could make any mando sound good, Johnny Justlearnedtoplay cannot.

Learning to play an instrument would have its frustrations even if everything were perfect, and learning to play on a bad instrument augments all of those frustrations and adds more besides.

I bought an el-cheapo mando on eBay for my first one. It looked awesome and sounded okay, but the frets were like speedbumps. It drove me nuts - I couldn’t figure out whether I was just a lousy player or it was the sh*tty instrument. I ended up spending a bit more to get a Mid-Missouri which has a “stripped down” look, but a much nicer tone and plays worlds better than the first one.

For online help and advice, there’s really only one place to go: the Mandolin Cafe. I strongly urge anyone even remotely interested in mandos to check it out!

Thanks, all, for some very helpful advice. To everyone who said, “It’s no fun to play a crappy instrument,” I hear ya! PerditaX, Mandolin Cafe looks like a really good resource.

I think I’ll check with the music store from which we rent his violin (and violin is why he wants to try mando) and see what they have.