Sponsored By

A great-sounding US-made flattop mandolin at an affordable price.

by Teja Gerken
November 21, 2019

In the decade since its founding in 2008, Northfield has made a name for its affordable high-quality instruments. Headquartered in Michigan, the company does most of its manufacturing in China, but it has recently set up a domestic shop to build certain models. The first line of mandolins to come out of Northfield’s Marshall, Michigan facility is the new Calhoun model, a flattop design aimed at beginning players and enthusiasts who love the sound of vintage “pancake” mandolins.” We had a chance to check out the Calhoun in the Peghead Nation video studio, where mandolin instructor Sharon Gilchrist put it through its paces.

The Northfield Calhoun takes its inspiration from flattop mandolins (such as vintage Gibson Army Navy models and the various Flatiron models offered in the 1980s and ‘90s) of the past, but its elegant design gives it an immediate distinction. One thing that separates the Calhoun from other entry-level instruments is the excellent quality of its materials. Both the spruce top and maple back and sides on our demo instrument had beautiful grain and figure of a kind you’d be more likely to find on more expensive instruments. The fingerboard and adjustable bridge are made of black walnut, which is a great alternative to the more common ebony or rosewood.

The goal of providing great tone and playability at an affordable price is reflected in the Calhoun’s architecture: A flat top is easier to build than the carved design used on A- and F- style mandolins, and the instrument has no binding, purfling, or rosette. Simple dots serve as position markers in the fretboard, and the pickguard and armrest included on our demo instrument are optional. However, just as the Calhoun is built with woods of the same grade as some of Northfield’s pricier instruments, it also has the same tailpiece and Gotoh tuners found on the company’s S- and F-series mandolins.

The Calhoun delivers the warm and dynamic voice that is often associated with flattop mandolins. “It’s a very rich, deep-sounding mandolin,” Sharon Gilchrist said. “Sometimes in a beginner mandolin, getting that deep sound is hard, but Northfield managed to do that.” Sharon also found the neck to be very playable, and agreed that it would make an excellent choice for a beginning or developing player. With a vibe and sound that belies its low cost, the Calhoun is, of course, not only of interest to beginning players, but to anyone looking for a great-sounding and easy-to-play flattop mandolin.

SPECS: Flattop mandolin with oval soundhole. Solid Italian spruce top. Figured maple back, sides, and neck. Black walnut fretboard and bridge. Adjustable truss rod. 13.9-inch scale. 1³/₃₂-inch nut width. Gotoh tuners. Cast tailpiece. Made in the USA. Starting at $795. Northfieldinstruments.com


Category: Instruments & Gear

Related Instruments and Gear Videos

Lawrence Smart A-Style Mandola

John Reischman demonstrates his mandola.

Waterloo WL-M

A flattop mandolin inspired by budget instruments of the 1930s and ’40s.

Collings MT2 Quilted Maple Mandolin

A great A-style mandolin built with premium woods.

Northfield Archtop Octave Mandolin

Joe K. Walsh demonstrates his archtop guitar–inspired octave mandolin.

2000 Gilchrist F-5

Peghead Nation mandolin instructor Joe K. Walsh demonstrates his new Gilchrist mandolin, which was previously owned by Andrew Marlin and Aubrey Haynie.

1928 Gibson F-5 Master Model “Fern”

A beautiful post–Lloyd Loar era F-5 mandolin.

Comments and Discussion

Posted by Brian Miller on
I had a Flatiron pancake back in the '80s and still kick myself for ever letting it go. Bravo to Northfield for bringing the Calhoun to market! It may be in the beginner's price range but it's tone and quality should last a lifetime. I certainly hope to add one to my collection.
Leave a Reply

Captcha Code

Click the image to see another captcha.


Article Thumbnail
Nov 24, 2020
A great mandolin duet of Sarah Jarosz’s original tune, recorded live at the Marshall Mandolin Summit.

Start Learning Today

One Course: $20/month or $200/year
Two Courses: $30/month or $300/year
Access to All Courses: $100/month

Peghead Nation’s String School is your source for roots music instruction, bringing you full courses in guitar, mandolin, banjo, ukulele, fiddle, and Dobro, featuring talented instructors, high-quality video instruction, accurate notation and tab, and fun songs to play right from the beginning. Enroll and become a Peghead today!