In the spring of 2017, Al Beleunis , a guitar player and business owner from Holyoke, approached m
e about taking mandolin lessons. He was very interested in learning how to play old country music styles, and bluegrass. He told me he had been playing guitar and singing most of his adult life, but that it was mostly chords and not melody. He had a beautiful mandolin, his own brand, he said. He called it Mando Mo, named after his bulldog Mo.
We started with the usual care and feeding of the mandolin, but since he already had one, it quickly became evident that he just might know more about mandolins than I did. He was polite, though, and listened, asking good questions along the way. Next, I launched into my typical spiel about scales, circle of fifths, relative minor and arpeggios. He was interested because, as I said before, he had not played melody on the guitar. Assignment for those early weeks was G major, the relative minor, arpeggios and basic right hand patterns.
In those years, I started anybody who wanted to learn how to read with music theory to give them the understanding about how scales, melodies, arpeggios and chords are the building blocks of all music. The first book we worked with is "You Can Teach Yourself Fiddling", which I use instead of the mandolin version of the same, because it's in TAB, not written notation.
After a few months, I learned that Al had been importing mandolins and guitars from a factory in China. He would get them in, set them up with new strings, a Brekke bridge, and fix any glaring issues. Apparently, his youngest son and his friend sold them out of a music store that focused on guitars in Holyoke. When the friend became estranged, Al had a problem. The mandolins he had imported were sitting, gathering dust, with no one to move them out. He asked me if I was interested in selling them for him. He would take the cost plus a little profit, and I could sell them at whatever price I liked. This was 2017. I said it was an interesting proposal, but I don't want to carry any inventory, I don't want to handle shipping, returns or damages, and I want to handle finances up front instead of on the back end. We worked out an arrangement and signed a contract. Then the real work began.
In order to sell a musical instrument you need to do 3 important things: Firstly, you need to learn everything you can about it - how it's made, the materials, kiln or air-dried tonewood, strings, fittings, case options, etc. Secondly, you need to play it and get a good sense of what it's like. Try it in different settings - outdoors and inside your house, on stage with friends if you can. Thirdly, you need to get a good sense of the competition - similarly made instruments at what prices and why (if you can figure it out). I got to work.
I played all of the instruments, and as they came across my bench, I got the specs. I made simple videos on my phone of each of my experiences, posting them on my YouTube channel. I shared pictures and some of these videos on social media to get feedback from people about them.
Here's a video I made with Al's own description of how the company started:
The first few instruments that we sold were F5 style one-offs that Al had gotten as samples. These were extremely well made instruments, had a fantastic tone, and should have gotten a premium price, but we sold them at an entry price to see if people would like them. They sold at that lower price, but once we moved the price up to a normal level so that Al and I could make a little profit, they stopped selling. I asked why and the answer had a lot to do with the brand name. People were upset by the logo, they thought the picture of the dog was silly and unprofessional. They thought the name "Mo" was rude and in some cases, offensive.
In 2019, Al's mom passed away. He also had some health issues. He stopped importing instruments to focus on his family. I too had some health issues, a prostate cancer scare and a few other things. Then Covid happened in 2020, completely shutting down everything else.
I heard from Al a couple months ago. He hasn't updated the inventory or availability in a long time, so I haven't a clue what instruments (if any) are available for sale. I'll post a link below to a playlist with the videos I've made already of the instruments I've tried. I hope Al recovers so that we may get the ball rolling again soon, but I understand that these months have been hard on everyone.
Click this link to go to a playlist of videos, which include reviews, demos and testing of some of the mandolins, mandocellos and guitars.
If you'd like to see the mandolins and guitars, you can set up an appointment for me to play them for you over Google Meet live. Just contact me to set that up.