How to Buy a: Mandolin
by Bob Moses
Not long ago, when you took your guitar down to the local jam or open mic, you joined the other 25 guitarists somewhere at the edge of the crowd and hoped you could pick out your playing over the six-string din. I’ll bet you’ve noticed recently that the first half-dozen folks in the door are toting little cases that hold shiny new mandolins.
Mandolins are turning up on national stages as well as your local watering hole. Especially outside trad bluegrass and country settings, younger players such as Chris Thile are expanding the mandolin’s visibility and repertoire. Hell, The Clark Brothers, featuring camera-friendly Adam Clark on mandolin, even won the Fox tv reality show, The Next Great American Band, beating out the pop-rockers. Mandolins are turning up everywhere from rock arenas to honkytonks because their characteristic sharp attack packs a rhythmic punch, yet they can be hauntingly melodic. They find expression in many styles of music, and you can spend a lifetime mastering them — once you find the right instrument for you.
Doing our part to convert the rest of the world’s guitarists into mando players, we brought Brad Einhorn, a local fixture on the Brooklyn bluegrass scene, to Mandolin Brothers in Staten Island, a world-famous repository of mandolins — and a repository of wisdom in the form of owner Stan Jay. Stan has counseled players from the world famous to the just-starting on mandolin purchases, and, as you’ll see in our video interview, no one has more enthusiasm for the instrument. Brad has also recently launched Kings County Strings, an online emporium featuring custom-made guitars and mandolin-family instruments from noted luthiers. We also corralled our friend Jimmy Ryan, leader of The Blood Oranges and Beacon Hillbillies, and tireless sideman for many on mandolin (see him this summer with Laura Cantrell), and Fred Skellenger, mando player and singer in New York’s Copper Kettle, for their advice.
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