What are your thoughts? I know it will be an A style I perfere an oval hole. I want to stay under $200, the high end is solid top washburn. I could get this used for $125 good shape.
I am tempted to go low end under $100, I know this is a roll of the dice. In either case I will spend $45 for a professional set up.
I suggest you talk to the luthier that's going to do your setup to get recommendations on an instrument, something he/she can work with. A good luthier can only do so much! My suggestion would be to spend a bit more and get a decent instrument that sounds good and is easy to play. A bad instrument is more difficult to play, which makes it less fun! High action on a mandolin is not good. Low action with fret buzz is not good either. Good sound is good sound. Playability and sound. If you can, try playing a bunch for comparison. Good luck!
I think if you buy a quality instrument the professional setup is unnecessary. 45$? You're willing to pay third of a mandolin cost on setup? Not sure, if it is wise.
If you can I would recomment saving a little more and buying something like a low-end Eastman. I bought one a few years ago for 400$ new. I.e. if you think you will actually play ans not just try and then stop after a month or two. A good instrument is easier and thus way more fun to play. And having fun is the most important part of playing any instrument.
Solid top Washburn sounds quite ok for the money. If you are not very experienced with mandolins or acoustic instruments in general I suggest you take someone who is with you to the shop to help you make a choice.
I had an $800 Loar for a couple of years when I decided to by a “hiking” mandolin. I bought an electric Savannah for $115 from Foggy Mountain Music. They gave it a basic set up for free. It works pretty darn good. Here are the pros and cons.
The Savannah plays well but with a much thinner tone. It is strange but I do not really notice the difference in tone and power much until I pick up my Loar. The intonation and the action are good. It is easy to play. It is extremely durable. It looks good. The size is the same as my Loar.
It takes longer to tune it since a cheap instrument bends a little each time you change the string tension but once it is in tune it stays in tune.
The pick guard can buzz when you work it hard but it is not too offensive. If you squint your ears it is a little like the overtones you get from a good solid top mandolin.
If you want to learn to have a very fine ear (not squint your ears) and play musical music (art) it helps to have an instrument that lets you hear the details in the sound better.
A good instrument inspires me to play well and sounds good.
A cheap but functional instrument allows me to play and sound ok.
A defective instrument discourages me from playing.
If you buy a used instrument without much experience then you might get a defective instrument. I played one in a shop with a incurable buzz up the neck.
I hope that I did not say too much. Let me know if you want to chat about it some more.
Having bought a number of acoustic instruments over the years, I would say buying better is always the best way. Obviously within reason, it's all relative to what disposable savings you have to invest in your instrument of choice. I have a nice mid price mandolin and a low end (but still okay) mandolin for my family to play at get to-gethers. I notice the difference in sound and playability. Bottom line is it's your choice, if you like it what you get, then that's all that matters. PS. There is no easy answer.