2000s Johnson MA-110 Oval-Hole Archtop Mandolin

Let's face it: this is a Chinese-made, economy mandolin intended for the student market. That said, despite itself, it really does sound excellent and -- after service and a replacement bridge -- plays like a champ.

Lots of these instruments exist in the used market and are generally $50 yard-sale finds. I took this one in trade for $75 as a kindness to the owner, and while the plating on the tuners and tailpiece is fading or peeling-down to a copper-color, the instrument itself was in relatively good order save a missing bridge. I replaced that with a new Saga rosewood one (I had some fitting to do, though), worked on the frets, set it up, and -- hey presto!

I was amazed by the punch, volume, and fullness of this box for what it is. It sounds better than the average ply Strad-O-Lin from the '40s and '50s, and that's saying a lot -- those are some of my favorite "tell a student to get one of those" instruments.

Construction is odd, though, and that's probably why it sounds as good as it does -- the top and back are plywood and press-arched to their shape, but there's no bracing (from the factory) on the top. That lets it get the most out of its sound. I made sure to fit the bridge well-enough that the whole foot of it made contact with the top to spread the load more effectively.

Repairs included: a fret level/dress, new bridge fitting/install, restring, tuner lube, and setup.

Setup notes: action is bang-on at 1/16" at the 12th fret with adjustment room up/down. I kept strings pretty light at 30w, 20w, 14, 10 low to high. I think the GHS A240 set (32w-9) would be perfect for it. A normal set of 10s would also be OK, but I'm sure 11s would warp the neck or cause it to get funky over time (the build's too light for them).

Scale length: 13 3/4"
Nut width: 1 1/16"
String spacing at nut: 7/8"
String spacing at bridge: 1 1/2"
Body length: 13 1/8"
Top width: 10 3/8"
Side depth: 2" + arching
Top wood: ply spruce
Back/sides wood: ply maple
Bracing type: none
Fretboard: rosewood
Bridge: rosewood, adjustable
Neck feel: medium C-shape, flat board

Condition notes: some minor scuffs/dings here and there and minor scratches too, a replaced bridge, and tuners and tailpiece with plating worn-off or deteriorating (but still functioning just fine).