Samick MF1 Mandolin: Past Glories At Todays Prices
Sep 30, 2008 (Updated Sep 30, 2008)
Review by ahand
Rated a Very Helpful Review
Pros:It's a decent F-Style, and the only one at 350.00.
Cons:It's a beginner instrument, but better made due to it being Samick.
The Bottom Line: It's not superb, but it does give one access to a F-Style at a cheap price. There's a value in that.
The Samick MF1 is an "F Style" mandolin, which was first made famous by the Gibson Loar design decades earlier. It's a specialized design, made for bluegrass, and not especially suitable for solo playing (like the simpler "A" style is). It's body shape is designed to do one thing, punch the sound outwards, and with enough volume to cut through a full band.
Recommend this product?
One style of F Style is hand carved, and 100% maple. In the mountains, some people still handmake their own mandolins and that type has a definitive sound that many bluegrass players like. In fact, those old Japanese pot style banjos can still be found up there as clawhammer players aren't as picky about such things as an expensive instrument.
The most common mandolins have maple back and sides (sometimes the neck too), and a spruce top. solid wood, and hard carving, is more expensive. The middle ranges has the wood pressed into shape and the bottom rung features various terms for plywood.
One look at the Samick and it's pretty obvious that it's close to many other brands. Given it's role in the subcontracting business, this is probably a cheaper version price-wise of more than a few models floating around the market.
Not completely of course, as they build to spec. The decision to use quilted sides and back drops the price drastically against the competition in this price catagory (for example, the 500.00 Epiphone).
One reason for the cheaper build is to create an F-Style in this price range. For 350.00-400.00 they could have made a much better A style, but many players, even beginners have been creating a market for a cheaper F-Style. It comes down to looks, but that shouldn't be underestimated as a factor in any musical instrument decision.
Most of this price range is dominated by the Kentucky brand, which has the best reputation for sound at a good price (not entirely true, but music reviewers and musicians often just pass along a reputation they've heard elsewhere).
To be competitive, Samick obviously decided to provide what Kentucky and others won't do for less than 500.00, and it's been successful enough that Dean and other companies are following suit (not to mention the Epiphone dropping to 500.00).
For your money, you get an F-Style mandolin that sounds like a mandolin. It tunes competently, and that's one of your top criteria for evaluating a mando. Never buy one that can't stay in tune, or has stiff turning action. It's a sure sign of a lemon.
The tone is pretty good. For a beginner, the combination of good looks (it imitates an Epi pretty well) and decent sound will be a pleasure. The intermediate and advanced ear will appreciate the value for the money, but pass due to a lack of true resonance. It's like a violin (in fact, it's often tuned like one), and even the small body in a quality mando produces a rich sound.
It's a little top heavy, although that's not a big deal with this type of instrument, and the wood finish is above average. The bridge is rather cheap, and there goes some of the sound right there. A good bridge is a common upgrade.
In average playing, it can be described as decent, and for light picking, will do just fine for most music. I'd avoid getting this one for celtic and folk, the A style is best suited for that type. It's tone is deeper, but sounds "slower," which is why it it isn't used for high speed stuff.
For bluegrass, it's another story. That rich tone I talked about needs to be there for a reason. At full speed, you'll be picking it hard enough to cut through the sound, and to give your instrument some real bark. Without that reasonance, it'll sound like you're picking chicken wire over a cheap cigar box.
At this price range, the MF1 gives the beginner a nicer way to start playing, and hold his own in an amateur band. Plenty of fun to be had in that, and the price is right for the non-serious musician. It's outperformed by the Epiphone and some others, but Samick has been making instruments a long time, and this isn't just some cheapie product.
However, the 900 pound gorilla in the room, which costs around 450.00 is the Rover F-Style, that's 100% solid carved wood, but gives up some cosmetics because of that. It's good enough that some stores I've seen charge and get close to it's retail price. If you can find one, it's a better deal, and can be used past the intermediate stage.
That's easy to say, of course. One hundred dollars more is still one hundred dollars more, and the Samick may give you what you want at the cheaper price.
Or, to paraphrase an old Smokey Robinson song, there's a lot of nice mandos out there, but first you look at your purse.
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