Unable to find a vintage
(or to afford one)? Fear not; if you dig
a little, you can get the
name on a reasonably priced mandolin. The latest Fender
electrics are the 2012-issued "Robert
signature model," a customized
version of the earlier FM-62SE named for the Flogging Molly mandolinist/utility
man; and the "Mando-Strat," a budget-priced,
Indonesia-built copy of the Mandocaster, issued in 2013.
Although it doesn't touch a real Mandocaster for
quality, it looks right, and that's half the battle.
The company's prior burst of electric mandolin activity
came in 1999–2000, with a group of models imported from Korea: the hollow, 8-string FM-52E; the semihollow
FM-60E and FM-61SE (5 and 8 strings, respectively); and
the piezo-sporting FM-62SE, whose resemblance to a
certain other (and, in my opinion, superior) brand of
acoustic/electric mandolins has been well noted and may
or may not be more than purely coincidental. In fact,
the FM-62SE was discontinued early on and replaced with
the slightly different FM-62SCE. The acoustic/electric
FM-60S was sold only in Japan. All models except the
FM-52E were discontinued after a couple of years;
production of the FM-52E continued in China.
Response was mixed. The FM-60E was probably the best of the
bunch. Some folks have reported intonation problems
with its C string, but I've tried it and don't
find it insurmountable. On the whole, given their price
points, I have favorable impressions of all these instruments
except the FM-52E—which just isn't much as an acoustic mandolin
and is rather tinny as an electric, although its price is
very reasonable. Secondhand examples abound
on eBay and Craig's List (and here on Emando.com, when I
can find them).
Here's a sad tale: Early in 2002, the Arbiter Group, Fender's
distributor in the UK, issued a very limited quantity of
an instrument called the SB-4. These were also made in Korea,
but had 4 strings and looked a lot more like the Mandocaster
than any of the models made for the U.S. market. A companion
8-string model, the SB-8, was also sold in the UK. They
were available in "Sonic Blue" and "Fiesta Red." A few of
these instruments were sold in European countries outside
the UK (they've been sighted in Germany and Sweden) with
the model numbers FM-984 and FM-988. But do you think they're
still being made? Ha! Do you think they'll make any more?
Ha! Do you think anyone at Fender UK or the Arbiter Group
will even tell me how many of them exist? Ha!
early in 2008, a batch of FM-984s and FM-988s
appeared in the United States. Most of these appeared to
be finished in "Seafoam Green," but they might actually
have been Sonic Blue instruments with yellowed clearcoat.
Research reveals that these instruments originated from
Fender EDC BV in the Netherlands. Rejected for being the
wrong color, they languished in a Dutch warehouse for five
years or more before being sold to the
Instrument Reclamation Corporation
in Tennessee, which
stamped them "USED" and sold them wholesale to U.S. dealers,
most of whom immediately sold them on eBay—where demand
was higher than anticipated: they sold for as much as $1,000.
Finally, here's an interesting doubleneck mandolin/guitar
built in 2004 by the Fender custom shop.