Fender FM-62SCE
Unable to find a vintage Mandocaster (or to afford one)? Fear not; if you dig a little, you can get the Fender name on a reasonably priced mandolin. The latest Fender electrics are the 2012-issued "Robert Schmidt 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, 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!
     Then, 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 Musical 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.


Robert Schmidt


SB-4 (UK)

SB-8 (UK)
FM-988 (Sweden)
FM-984 (U.S.)
Fender Seafoam SB-8
FM-988 (U.S.)

Custom Doubleneck