A..J. Morgan Morgan Monroe F Style Mandolin W/Case (MM100SBC) Reviews
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A..J. Morgan Morgan Monroe F Style Mandolin W/Case (MM100SBC)

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Morgan Monroe F Style Mandolin: Tradition On A Budget

Jun 15, 2010
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:A nicely made mandolin at a good price.

Cons:Not for the advanced player.

The Bottom Line: For the average player, this is a fine mandolin, and all that you'll need to spend on one.


The Morgan Monroe F style mandolin, in this case the MM 100 model, is the type of mandolin that a few years ago would probably have cost a couple of hundred dollars more. In fact, around 10 years ago, you couldn't have touched a mediocre F Style mandolin for less than 400.00. For that kind of money, you'd have had an F style instrument with poor intonation past the first position, high action, and laminated wood.

Tthis price range is now cluttered with this type, complete with decent hardware and solid spruce tops. Sure, the bodies are still probably laminated maple, but that type of construction has pretty much become acceptable for all except for advanced players.

The MM 100 is in the Gibson tradition of mandolins, as most are. Solid spruce top, maple body and neck and the styling is pretty much pre-war Gibson Loar F Style. That may sound obscure, but it isn't. Pretty much every F Style mandolin made looks like the classic Loar.

I ran into this model while shopping for a new mandolin a few months ago, and frankly almost bought it. Though I do suffer from the classic "if it's too cheap it's not good" syndrome, it would have fit my criteria at the time. Which was, an reasonably priced and good sounding F style. The only reason I didn't get it was that this type of mando simply didn't fit the type of music it was going to be used for.

Mandolins are no different than guitars. The style, and materials used make a big difference. As a rule, for bluegrass, you want an F Style with a spruce top and maple body, but a lot of the old recordings did feature ones made entirely of maple. An "A" style made of spruce and maple with violin F holes (instead of the traditional oval) will generally do fine.

The F Style was designed to do two things, look impressive and play notes that didn't have quite the amount of sustain that A style mandolins with the traditional oval sound hole had. Thus, fast runs were possible. If you try to play fast on an oval type (also called a Celtic style), the notes will become muddy or slur together and lose definition. Even worse, it will make you sound slow, no matter how fast the notes are played. Any career in the bluegrass field becomes a non-starter if that happens.

The F style gives you shorter, choppier notes and the ability to make chords sound percussive. In a good quality F, the sound will still be full and resonant even with hard playing, and the shorter sustain gives each note extreme definition. Which also makes it ideal for jazz.

The Morgan Monroe has decent sound, and is very playable without professional setup. It's styling and finish do make one feel that they're in possession of a professional mandolin. A good player can make it sound better than the price. The tuners are above average, but will go out of tune with hard playing in a few minutes. In the case of a mandolin, you're only going to play it that hard in two cases; hitting chords too hard (a common beginner habit) or you're advanced enough that you're playing in a pro level bluegrass band and hitting the strings hard.

Since the vast majority of bluegrass songs only last a couple of minutes, the tuners are probably good enough.

Like many inexpensive mandolins, the type of strings used make a difference. If you use a light gauge, like .09s, then the MM 100's lower quality of material and construction will give you a thinner sound. Use regular lights or mediums, and the sound improves considerably, especially if using a bronze set. An all steel set will not sound as bright (which to inexperienced ears can make it sound dull) but will last a lot longer than bronze.

When checking out any mandolin, examine the strings first. If it uses bronze strings that are dull and discolored, it will make the instrument sound cheap and bass heavy. If the strings have too many turns around the posts at the headstock (like guitars tend to be strung) then it will tend to go out of tune faster, and give you a false impression of how good the tuners are. All string instruments are sensitive to string condition, but mandolins especially..

The MM 100 has the same weakness that most of the mandolins in this price range have. As you go up the neck to the higher notes, it tends to sound thinner. You can minimize this effect with expert trilling (playing the same note rapidly), but it'll be a flaw that generally comes out when expert enough to play up high at full speed. If you're serious about bluegrass, this will be a mando you'll outgrow at some point.

For the more leisurely player, this model has it's virtues. It has a nice tone in the first position (first few frets), and plays well up the neck  when hard picking isn't an issue. It would be a good primary mandolin for the casual player or hobbyist. As it responds well to light picking, it would be more than suitable for Celtic, old timey, or folk music where volume isn't critical. Though an A style is technically better for those styles, if you like how an F looks and tjhat makes playing more enjoyable, then the rules don't count.

Besides, you can make an F sound more like an oval hole A by simply using a thinner pick. Mandolins are sensitive to pick thickness, and the thinner the pick, the brighter the sound. Most of the bluegrass picking you hear is done with a heavy pick, and with a lot of attack and pressure, and that's what the really expensive mandos really do well, sound good even when picked aggressively. For the average player who won't be stressing the instrument, the cheaper models will sound surprising close to ones costing a few hundred more.

If you're looking for a beginner's mandolin, an upgrade over your Rogue, or a nice backup to your Gibson, then it's perfect. I tend to be picky with acoustic instruments, but almost bought this one. The one that beat it out was a 1950 Martin A Style, and that's what it took to beat out this Morgan Monroe. I still wish sometimes that I had an F Style though.


Recommend this product? Yes


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