I know what you’re thinking – “Yuck! A mandolin review! What next – a zither writeup?” Well, wait a second, because this mando is definitely worth your time. First off, if you’re a guitar player and don’t have a mandolin, get one. It’s pretty easy to make the jump from six-string to eight-string, once you get the hang of it. Secondly, it’s a cool new sound to add to your guitarsenal. Thirdly, mandos are just plain hip. Now, let’s dive in…
I bought Fender’s FM52E mandolin on a complete whim. I was driving to the guitar shop and Led Zeppelin’s “Battle of Evermore” came on the radio. A light bulb went off in my head and, one hour later, I took this baby home. A month later, I couldn’t be happier with the purchase. Never having taken the mandolin seriously before, I was surprised at how easy it was to play the thing, and at how nice it sounded. Plus, its price is easy on the wallet!
For you as-yet-to mandolinists, the FM52E is an A-style mando (teardrop body shape), as compared to an F-style (one with curly horns). The “E” on its moniker stands for electric, so you can plug it and play live or in the studio. Its top is laminated spruce, and sides are laminated nato. The neck is nato with a rosewood fingerboard and 21 frets (13.7″ scale length).
Off the wall, this Korean-made mando plays wonderfully. With low action on a fast neck, I was flying around in no time. I cheated and tuned the top strings to E instead of D, making it G-D-B-E, allowing for more “guitar-like” intervals on the top string courses. The diminutive instrument also has a nice tone. Yes, it’s a budget model, but for the money, I was happy. In my studio, I mic’ed up the mando and cut a few tracks. They sounded cool and will surely end up on my next CD.
As for the built-in single-coil pickup, don’t expect the world. I found it a little noisy and its tone is more like an electric mandolin, instead of acoustic/electric. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. In my studio tracking, I noticed that the pickup-recorded tracks complemented the mic’ed-up ones and made it seem like I also owned a solidbody electric mando. Hey, two mandolins in one!
In the final assessment, you can’t go wrong with this instrument. It has a cool vintage finish (tobacco sunburst), plays great, and sounds very hip. As a guitarist for 30 years, it has also opened up new avenues of expression for me. Fender’s FM52E is a wonderful buy.
Fender FM52E mandolin
Features Spruce top, nato neck, rosewood (9.96″) neck and rosewood compensated/height adjustable bridge, chrome, four-in-line tuning machines with plastic buttons, Special Design single-coil pickup.
Price $342.84 (retail).
Contact Fender Musical Instruments, 8860 East Chaparral Rd., Scottsdale, ZZ 85250; ph. (480) 596-9690, www.fender.com.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Aug. ’05 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.