Appearances can be deceptive ... but in this case, they're not.
Here's the one that John asked about, which got me started on my latest
Offered by the same seller from whom I'd bought my cheapie eBay violin that turned out so well, I must admit I was expecting a real working mandolin, rather than a non-working toy, in spite of how it looked.
Well, appearances are not always deceptive.
The first thing that happened was that THREE of the strings broke when I
tried to tune it. And no, it wasn't how I tuned it!
Then, the bridge and nut were both way too high, so the first several frets were quite out of tune, and the action (once I got new strings) was painfully stiff.
Finally, the seventh fret was so high that I couldn't play the sixth fret at all.
And once I got all of these issues taken care of, I had ... a mandolin that looks and sounds like a toy.
On June 19, 2004, at 8:20 AM PDT, I "won" my first mandolin, for a mere $14.98 ... plus shipping and handling ...
For as long as eBay keeps it up, you can see the actual auction HERE. In this case, shipping was $19.99, and mandatory "warranty cost" (whatever that is) was an additional $3.50. Thus, the total cost for my $14.95 instrument ended up being $38.47. About 2-1/2 times the original cost, but still very cheap for a working mandolin, I thought.
But we must instantly add in the cost of new strings ($7.29 plus 7.75% sales tax at the local Guitar Center). The strings that came on the instrument were awful. I lost one of the E strings, and BOTH A strings gave up the ghost somewhere around F sharp. And yes, I DO know how to tune stringed instruments. Those babies weren't gonna get up to that A noway, nohow! New total: $46.32. Still pretty inexpensive, though it's now more than three times the price I won it for.
But still no working mandolin. Once I got the strings on and tuned, I discovered that the first few frets played verrrry sharp, and they nearly wiped out my fingertips pressing down hard enough to reach the frets. The lower frets were extremely stiff too, due to the height of the bridge. I wasn't about to waste money taking the thing to a professional, so with the advice of people on my violin list, I tackled lowering the nut and bridge myself. I ripped the nut from the instrument and filed and sanded it until it seemed right, and also hit the bottom of the bridge with coarse sandpaper until it was considerably shorter than its original height.
Okay, so now it played without slicing my fingertips to the bone, and the first few frets were roughly in tune. But then came the real killer. As I played downward from the neck, the first five frets played as they should. But that sixth fret insisted on playing a *full step* higher, on all the strings! Well, it didn't take me long to realize that the problem was the seventh fret. It was so high that pressing the sixth fret hit the seventh instead.
So, back to the violin list for further advice. I eventually got up the courage to tackle it with a straight-edge (to check out the relative height of the frets) and a whetstone (to grind the too-tall fret down), and now I have a barely playable mandolin that looks and sounds like a toy, which cost me "only" $46.32, and much heartburn.
My suggestion: If someone offers you a Snowking mandolin for free, thank them graciously, then chop it up and use it for kindling.