Guitarists can expand their instrumental range in several ways, from bass to banjo and even the diminutive mandolin, where guitar-like shredding and strumming (the famed “bluegrass chop”) are the norm. A worthy example is the Eastman MD515, which offers fine workmanship at wallet-friendly prices.
This model is an F-style, referring to that venerable Gibson body shape (versus the teardrop A-style or European bowl). It has a maple neck and body, ebony fretboard (with a flat 12″ radius), and solid spruce top. Obviously, the 137/8” scale will initially feel different from a Strat or Les Paul, but most will learn to love it.
The MD515’s thin nitrocellulose gloss finish helps the top vibrate, producing the timeless ’20s tone – the fabled Lloyd Loar era of Gibson mandolins craved by bluegrass and folk aficionados. This is an important point, as there are cheaper mandos, but they often have a bright, harsh tone that may take years to mellow, if ever. The MD515 delivers a sweet, chiming sounds out of the box, one for which vintage players dole out big bucks.
In hand, the MD515 is a light, balanced instrument that feels sturdy and exhibits nice construction. Another difference from low-priced mandolins is the excellent setup and ease of play; it has low action and none of the clanky buzz you might find on budget boxes. Again, the lesson is pretty self-evident – for a little extra cabbage, you get a top-end mandolin with a gorgeous finish and coveted look.
One of your final decisions will be whether to keep the MD515 in traditional G-D-A-E tuning or convert it to the guitarist-friendly G-D-A-D. The latter makes scales lay out more like a standard guitar, but it’s hard to beat that high-lonesome cry of classic mando tuning. Either way, you’ll have a blast with the MD515 – a higher-end mando with a lower-stress price.
This article originally appeared in VG March 2021 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.