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Thread: Testing Kentucky KM 900

  1. #1
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    Default Testing Kentucky KM 900

    I was on a business trip yesterday, and one of Germany's bigger music stores (not thomann) was right along the way. I knew from their website that they had a KM 900, so I couldn't help but making a little detour. Here are my impressions:

    The Good:

    • nice looks: this is a pretty looking mandolin
    • overall nice workmanship, see below for exceptions
    • very thin lacquer
    • lightweight, not overbuilt
    • low action at nut
    • nice v-neck


    The Bad:

    • flat fretboard: I like the radiused fretboard on my MD-515 better - but maybe it's only a matter of getting used to it. If I had liked the rest of it, I probably wouldn't have cared.
    • the fret ends were rather sharp
    • fretboard extension (florida): how many people buying a $1000 mandolin play up there (frets 23 to 29)? I would assume that the florida is of little practical value to most mandolin players. But this thing really gets in the way of the pick when playing the A or E string. It's exactly where the sweet spot is and makes picking on the A and E strings a challenge.
    • the pale brownish/pinkish rosewood bridge didn't really look as classy as the rest of the instrument
    • the fit of the bridge was really bad, the contact area was 2/3 of the feet at the most, at the tips there was a gap of almost half a millimeter.
    • sound: this instrument just came out of the box and had a poorly fitted bridge, so it most certainly wasn't at its full potential. But anyways, here's my opinion after about one hour of playing: I wasn't impressed. The G and the D string sounded rather boxy and the A and the E string had no sweetness - they weren't sounding harsh or dull, just not good enough to lure the money out of my pocket. Also, the sound thinned out very quickly when going up the neck.


    And the Ugly:

    • defects in lacquer (top): there was a curly mark of about 1cm length that looked as if a hair had been pulled out of the lacquer. And there were also some very thin (<0.1mm) streaks of 2-3 cm length following the direction of the grain. The surface was absolutely smooth, but it looked as if there were microscopic bubbles in or below the lacquer. My speculation is that these spots have not been properly sanded or filled before finishing the top. I certainly wouldn't pay the full price for an instrument with these blemishes.

    ---

    The sales clerk in the acoustic guitar division didn't seem to know much about mandolins. As he was clumsily figuring out which way to put on the bridge, he wasn't inclined to take any advice from me. Instead he gave me some free advice: "the bridge has to touch the strings exactly at twice the distance from the nut to the 12th fret. No need for compensation, it's all in the bridge." and "Mandolins don't need to be played in, as there is a lot of pressure on the top." - Well... after 15 minutes I recieved a mandolin with the strings way off center, a bridge that was leaning towards the fretboard, the A and E string were buzzing and all strings were fretting horribly sharp. How is anybody going to sell an instrument that isn't setup properly? Well, at least the guy was friendly and left me alone afterwards, so that I could do a clandestine setup in one of their playing rooms.

    To sum it up: I like my MD 515 much better in most aspects, I would even prefer the KM 250 that I've previously owned over this KM 900. I wouldn't even have bought this mandolin at half the price. Well, at least I didn't have to sneak into the backdoor of my house hiding a new mandolin under my jacket.

    I haven't given up on the KM 900 though. There have been a lot of raving reviews here and I always liked the sound examples that I found on youtube. Maybe I'll have the chance to play this instrument again in 3 or 4 weeks.

    Peter
    Last edited by DroneAlone; Aug-18-2015 at 9:06am. Reason: Typos

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Testing Kentucky KM 900

    That doesn't sound like the typical one I get. I prefer the KM950. All benefit greatly from a real setup - and the bridges have been good on the ones I've gotten in the last year. Europe could be getting different stock, I suppose. They respond very well to the work I do.
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  3. #3
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    Default Re: Testing Kentucky KM 900

    Quote Originally Posted by Stephen Perry View Post
    That doesn't sound like the typical one I get.
    I thought so, too. But here in Germany there are not many places where I can try the KM 900. There's another one I know of in a store in Berlin, but that is 600 Km from where I live...

    Peter

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    Default Re: Testing Kentucky KM 900

    Agree with Steve that the ones I've seen around recently didn't have issues to the degree you've described above. I have an older KM-675-S that was an eBay disaster that had many of the same issues you describe (and then some), but it was apparently built the first year they moved to China. More recent builds have been much better. But, your experience highlights why it's so important to play before you buy whenever possible, and, if not, to buy from a reputable dealer who will stand behind their work (and hopefully weed out these issues before they pass them along to the customer).

    I recently bought an Eastman 315 on clearance at a big box store here (one of GC's subsidiaries) because it's a really good sounding/playing mandolin (regardless of the price point), I was in need of a decent "beater," and the price was too good to pass up. I'm not always an Eastman fan, but they got this one right. I'm planning on doing some minor nut filing, but otherwise it's good to go.

    Thanks for the in depth review!
    Chuck

  5. #5

    Default Re: Testing Kentucky KM 900

    Once you get into the next tier of quality mandolins, you will not be able to go back to a Chinese made mandolin.

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    Registered User almeriastrings's Avatar
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    Default Re: Testing Kentucky KM 900

    Quote Originally Posted by Relio View Post
    Once you get into the next tier of quality mandolins, you will not be able to go back to a Chinese made mandolin.
    So that rules Northfield's out then?
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  8. #7

    Default Re: Testing Kentucky KM 900

    Quote Originally Posted by Relio View Post
    Once you get into the next tier of quality mandolins, you will not be able to go back to a Chinese made mandolin.
    I'd qualify that by specifying a Chinese-made under four figures, maybe.

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    Default Re: Testing Kentucky KM 900

    I try to buy American made products as much as I can but I just have to say that the KM-900 that I have is as good as all three of the American made mandolins that I have, including sound, playability and construction, I own two Gibson made mandolins that are nice but don`t put the KM-900 to shame that's for sure...If it only had bigger frets I would be more satisfied...

    That's just my opinion and only one mandolin ..SO...

    Willie
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    Isolated enthusiast Caleb's Avatar
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    Default Re: Testing Kentucky KM 900

    I'd like to respectfully disagree (and I do mean that sincerely) with the idea of "not being able to go back" to Chinese-made mandolins. It just seems like that kind of talk is unhelpful and discouraging to many who come here for inspiration, no matter what they play or can afford. In my home we have 2 USA-built mandolins (Collings and Breedlove) and 2 from China (Eastman and Paris Swing). They are all great mandolins, and none "for the money." They all do what they do particularly well. The Eastman was my main instrument for many years and if I had to "go back to it" my music wouldn't suffer any real loss.

    A few years ago I was in Fiddler's Green in Austin and played a Kentucky KM950 was that honestly as good as most of what hung on the wall, and much better than some of it. There are great instruments being built by every maker these days.
    ...

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    Default Re: Testing Kentucky KM 900

    I agree with Caleb,when I was getting started in the 60's and 70's good mandolins were few and far between. Gibson had the name but new Gibsons were for the most part junk. Which left vintage Gibsons or the few handmade. Along came the PAC rim and we suddenly had a decent sounding mandolin that we could afford. Thru the years the PAC Rim improved ad did the Gibsons and more people were hand making good mandolins. Today we have more choice of good to great instruments in each category than at any other time in my life.

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  14. #11
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    Default Re: Testing Kentucky KM 900

    Quote Originally Posted by Caleb View Post
    I'd like to respectfully disagree (and I do mean that sincerely) with the idea of "not being able to go back" to Chinese-made mandolins. It just seems like that kind of talk is unhelpful and discouraging to many who come here for inspiration, no matter what they play or can afford. In my home we have 2 USA-built mandolins (Collings and Breedlove) and 2 from China (Eastman and Paris Swing). They are all great mandolins, and none "for the money." They all do what they do particularly well. The Eastman was my main instrument for many years and if I had to "go back to it" my music wouldn't suffer any real loss.

    A few years ago I was in Fiddler's Green in Austin and played a Kentucky KM950 was that honestly as good as most of what hung on the wall, and much better than some of it. There are great instruments being built by every maker these days.
    Edit: The Kentucky I played at FG was a KM900, not a KM950. The principle remains no matter what though.
    ...

  15. #12

    Default Re: Testing Kentucky KM 900

    I have to agree with the florida, if you are going to build an instrument with one then scoop it. The flat fretboard and standard frets, some people prefer them over radius and larger frets so I can see why they build both.
    I have a Kentucky KM1050. It does have the radius fretboard and larger frets which I prefer. The florida is also scooped which is nice. I was fortunate to get mine used and it was setup by Cumberland Acoustics with one of their bridges and plays great with a low action. The bridge is upright and fit correctly to the top. When I got it the owner said that he had not been playing it and I would need to play it to wake it up. Being new to the mandolin I did not really understand this, but when I first played it sounded DEAD. After all the great things I read I was wondering what was going on. It took several days and a new set of strings for it to come to life and if I left it for a few days it would take a day or two to get the sound back. I have played if for almost a year and it is broke in and it is ready to go when ever I pick it up and sounds great. You might have found a dud but I am guessing a proper set-up and some serious playing and that 900 would come to life.
    By the way my first mandolin was an Eastman 305 and I liked it a lot, but it is not in the same time zone as my 1050 (3X more expensive also) for sound or playability.

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    Registered User mandobassman's Avatar
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    Default Re: Testing Kentucky KM 900

    Quote Originally Posted by Stephen Perry View Post
    All benefit greatly from a real setup...
    This is so true with mandolins. I walked into a store one time a few years ago and they had a brand new Weber Fern with a price tag of nearly $6000. When I excitedly pulled it down to play it, the bridge was about 1/4" out position, the strings were old, and the action was pretty high. Not only was it difficult to play, it sounded awful. If I didn't know what it was I was playing I wouldn't have paid $500 for it.

    I've never played one of the KM 900's or 950's, but have heard several recordings and all sounded very good. One in particular was amazing.
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  17. #14

    Default Re: Testing Kentucky KM 900

    Played a 900 sometime last year and was very, very impressed with the finish. Played and sounded superb. The OP must have played a dud, or it was very badly in need of a setup.

    My wife has recently acquired a KM1000 (the 900's equivalent f-style model) and it's also a lovely instrument with a quality finish and a really punchy tone. We find that the vintage frets are a little harder to play on than my Northfield, but it's a great instrument.

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    Default Re: Testing Kentucky KM 900

    Old thread, but I have a question...I have a KM900 a couple of years old, and really like the sound. The A string will not intonate well, which is a bridge problem, and I would like larger frets plus maybe a pickguard. Should I have those items addressed or talk to a builder about something "better"? I can afford something more expensive, but I don't want to do that for just a label? Will good luthiers work on a Chinese instrument?

    The only other f hole mandolin I've had was a Carlson Flatiron A5 Artist, and one friend has a Gilchrist F5, another a Collings. The Kentucky is clearly better than the Flatiron to me, but I haven't spent a lot of time playing the Gilchrist or Collings.

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    Default Re: Testing Kentucky KM 900

    I'm sure you could find a good luthier to put you a new bridge (CA or otherwise, or fix the issue with your present saddle) and refret your 900 in larger fret wire (which may also require a new nut depending on your present nut height). The price would probably vary depending on who did the work. Unfortunately, I don't know much about your neck of the woods, so can't make any good recommendations local to you.

    The question of whether it's worth it to you depends on how much you really like the 900. If you feel like you'd have to jump substantially in price to improve upon its tone, then it's probably worth having the work done. If not, then maybe buy something better and have someone just fix the bridge saddle/intonation issue. Then you'd have the "nice one" as well as a very good beater. I'd like to have larger frets on my Eastman 315, but I get used to the tiny ones pretty quickly when I play it, so probably won't put the $$ into it. My Silverangel, however, compares favorably with instruments I've played in the 2500-5000 range. I'm sure MAS will strike eventually, but I'd definitely be willing to put some money into the SA if it needed it.

    Good luck!
    Chuck

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    Default Re: Testing Kentucky KM 900

    I don't 'get out' all that much - in terms of opportunities to try a variety of great mandolins. But I've been pretty happy with the KM900 I bought from the MC classifieds a few years ago, based mainly on reviews by a number of MC members, several of whom do 'get out' quite a bit and who own or have played much higher end instruments.
    The KM900 is intended to be a faithful (tho affordable..) recreation of the original Gibson Loar A5, fretboard extension, vintage frets and all. Kentucky also builds models with modern specs for those who prefer.
    Respectfully, considering the condition of the instrument, I think the review offered in the OP is of dubious value to folks seriously considering the KM900. They may want to search a bit deeper in the archives, where they will find a majority of experienced mando pickers who think pretty highly of this Kentucky model.

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    Registered User Glassweb's Avatar
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    Default Re: Testing Kentucky KM 900

    A new fret job will be around $400 give or take... a new bridge plus fitting another $150 or so and a CA pick guard + installation will be over $100 as well. So now we are adding $700 to the price of a $600-$900 mandolin.

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    Gummy Bears and Scotch BrianWilliam's Avatar
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    Default Re: Testing Kentucky KM 900

    The km900 I had sounded better than the md515 I owned. But, these instruments can wildly vary.

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    Default Re: Testing Kentucky KM 900

    I like my km900 well enough, it's worth what i paid for it but when I put it up against Northfields and Collings at my local dealer, I really heard a distince improvement in their voices. But that's a $700 used Kentucky vs a Collings that I might be able to find used at 3x the price.

    They have pretty good resale value so I would sell as is, all that stuff, .080/.043 evo frets, pickguard, radiused board, adds up. you can look for a 950 or 1050 new or used and be happy with that. But I think you should try instruments from those next tier makers if you can (Northfields, Pava, Collings)
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    Default Re: Testing Kentucky KM 900

    I bought a KM956 this past year and it is an excellent instrument. I haven't touched the setup as it came from Saga except to raise the height of the bridge. I had Steve Hartz make a custom ebony pick guard and install it. I couldn't be more pleased with this mandolin.

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    Default Re: Testing Kentucky KM 900

    I know this is a older thread, but I'll use it instead of starting a new one. Just purchased an "Open Box" "Scratch and Dent" Kentucky KM-900 from Music 123, for $725.00, shipped, with a Musician's Gear HSC. I can do most of what is done in a set-up myself. Plus there is a 30 day trial, so all I would be out is return shipping if I didn't want it.
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  32. #23
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    Default Re: Testing Kentucky KM 900

    I had posted earlier that I didn`t like the small frets on the KM-900 so when I heard that the KM-950`s and 956`s had larger frets plus a radius fret board and a scalloped Florida extension I sold the 900 and bought a 956, it also has a darker finish, although I did like the light color on the 900, anyway I do not see too much difference in the two models as far a s sound goes...

    Willie

  33. #24
    mandolin slinger Steve Ostrander's Avatar
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    Default Re: Testing Kentucky KM 900

    I think the reason the km900 has a Florida FB extension is because the Griffith A5 Loar, which the km900 is modeled after, has one so they were trying to keep it authentic. Same goes for the flat FB, the f hole placement, and small fret wire.
    Never say "bouzouki" to a TSA agent...

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  35. #25
    Fatally Flawed willkamm's Avatar
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    Default Re: Testing Kentucky KM 900

    Quote Originally Posted by Steve Ostrander View Post
    I think the reason the km900 has a Florida FB extension is because the Griffith A5 Loar, which the km900 is modeled after, has one so they were trying to keep it authentic. Same goes for the flat FB, the f hole placement, and small fret wire.
    That is exactly true. Copy of that A5. Explains that in the Saga description of the KM-900. Down to the Snakehead. BTW. My wife had never heard of a Bouzouki. I explained what it was and told her about your signature TSA comment.
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