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Thread: Kentucky M-800 mandolin from Japan

  1. #1
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    Question Kentucky M-800 mandolin from Japan

    Hi all,
    I'm trying to get more information about an M-800 Kentucky F-hole style mandolin that I own with serial number 8003. The label says "Made in Japan" which helps to narrow down how old it is and perhaps makes it more valuable.

    I have yet to find ANY information anywhere on this particular model.
    I have seen a lot of KM models talked about, but never anything called an M-800.

    Can someone tell me the year that manufacturing moved from Japan to Korea?

    From what I've read, the serial numbers are a bit of a mystery. Does anyone have any idea what my serial number means in terms of year of manufacture?

    And finally, what is the approximate value of this instrument? The body and finish are in good shape, not played a lot. Original square case with red fabric. Also in good shape. Only thing I note is that I *think* there is suppose to be a decorative metal cover that would snap on and cover the strings where they attach at the tailpiece. Maybe I am wrong about that? But if there is such a piece, it is missing. It would have no functional purpose so does not affect playing.

    Thanks in advance!

  2. #2
    Registered User colorado_al's Avatar
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    Default Re: Kentucky M-800 mandolin from Japan

    Hey! Welcome to the Cafe!

    Pictures would be really helpful. I suspect it is a KM-800 from the early 1980s. I do not believe there ever was an M-800 model. Likely a labeling mistake and it is a KM-800.
    Can you post a picture of the label as well? Sounds like it is missing the tailpiece cover. That would be easily replaced.

    The Kentucky serial numbers from that time period were not organized in any helpful fashion. However in the mid 80s they switched from a 4 number system to 5 number system. Some of the Japan made Kentuckys from that time period were built by a team headed up by a very good builder called Sumi, though that team is said to have only worked on the KM-900, KM-1000 & KM-1500. But actual records don't exist and there is some confusion as to whether the Sumi team did build the earlier models of the KM-800 & KM-850.

    Check out this thread here:
    https://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/showthread.php?96377

    Anyhow, you might be able to get $800-$1200 for it depending on condition based on these sales:
    https://reverb.com/item/5151199-kent...ca-1984-japan?
    https://reverb.com/item/2390921-1980...-in-japan-sumi

    Though this one didn't sell at $850:
    https://www.ebay.com/itm/80s-Kentuck...p2047675.l2557

    How does it sound?
    Last edited by colorado_al; Nov-29-2017 at 3:43pm.
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    Default Re: Kentucky M-800 mandolin from Japan

    Thanks for the reply. Good info. I appreciate it.

    I don't have pictures of the mando handy just now, but I do have a picture of the label.
    The model number is stamped M-800, not handwritten, so hard to understand how it would be a mistake. But then, who knows?
    I will try to get pictures of the instrument uploaded later.

    Click image for larger version. 

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    Default Re: Kentucky M-800 mandolin from Japan

    I stumbled across this thread posted several years ago.

    https://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/s...095#post841095

    This is someone who also has a Kentucky marked as "M-800". As he says, the model number is bold and no mistaking that it is not marked as KM-800. Just like mine.

    His serial # is 8016, mine is 8003. So it clearly isn't year and month. (I thought mine might mean 1980, month of March).
    Maybe the 80 means 1980 and the last 2 digits are the order of manufacture?
    Or maybe it has nothing to do with the year.
    Just guessing and passing this along to any other M-800 owners out there trying to figure out their year of mfg.

    I traded for my mandolin with a friend way back around the late 70's early 80's, but I can't remember the year. I've sent him an email asking if he remembers when that was, but he's as old as me and probably no better memory.

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    Registered User colorado_al's Avatar
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    Default Re: Kentucky M-800 mandolin from Japan

    Very interesting! Looking forward to pictures of the instrument.
    Thanks for sharing!
    2016 Franzke A5 Custom w/Rubner tuners & James Tailpiece & McClung Armrest
    2014 JBovier A5T w/Grover 308 tuners & McClung Armrest
    2017 Kentucky KM-272 w/SOliver Armrest
    2015 Blueridge BR-40TCE Tenor to Octave Mandolin conversion
    1960s Harmony H1213 Archtone Guitar to Mandocello conversion

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    Default Re: Kentucky M-800 mandolin from Japan

    Okay, here a a few pics of my M-800 Kentucky mandolin, made in Japan.
    (Sorry, I tried rotating them, but no matter what I tried they came out sideways!)

    Still wondering when they moved production from Japan to Korea.
    Can anyone answer that?


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    Default Re: Kentucky M-800 mandolin from Japan

    Nice. In the early days Saga may have simply marked them as M not KM. When they started importing mandolins they only imported one brand.Their numbering and model specifications over the years have changed. It would be helpful if someone could find a catalog page for these from the past. I assumed the truss rod cover wasn't original but the one for sale on Reverb has the same cover.

    This one also has a picture of the tailpiece cover if you were interested in getting a replacement made.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

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    Default Re: Kentucky M-800 mandolin from Japan

    Quote Originally Posted by fretlessK View Post
    Okay, here a a few pics of my M-800 Kentucky mandolin, made in Japan.
    (Sorry, I tried rotating them, but no matter what I tried they came out sideways!)

    Still wondering when they moved production from Japan to Korea.
    Can anyone answer that?
    That's a beauty!
    The best person to ask about the early Kentucky mandolins is Scott Zimmerman of Desert Rose Musical Instruments
    http://www.desertrosebanjo.com/index2.htm
    He worked with Sumi and still distributes instruments made by him.
    Not sure if you'll reach him, but that's who I'd try
    2016 Franzke A5 Custom w/Rubner tuners & James Tailpiece & McClung Armrest
    2014 JBovier A5T w/Grover 308 tuners & McClung Armrest
    2017 Kentucky KM-272 w/SOliver Armrest
    2015 Blueridge BR-40TCE Tenor to Octave Mandolin conversion
    1960s Harmony H1213 Archtone Guitar to Mandocello conversion

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    Default Re: Kentucky M-800 mandolin from Japan

    Scott is a member of the cafe. You can PM him. His username is Desert Rose.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

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    Default Re: Kentucky M-800 mandolin from Japan

    I'd be willing to bet that this one is very, very early in the history of Kentucky. I have been into this stuff since the late 70s, and never seen a label like that.
    1/2/89 Gibson A5-L

  13. #11

    Default Re: Kentucky M-800 mandolin from Japan

    Thanks for putting up the pics fretlessK. That is a very nice looking mandolin. Looks to be in great condition. Very interesting back on it and not really typical of that vintage Kentucky. I also like your dot markers as opposed to the fancier fret markers on the other 'M' 800s posted. The case looks to be in great shape too.

    Don't get too excited about the 'Sumi' hype you may have heard. If you do manage to make contact with Desert Rose, he'll most likely stress the point that he's made many times before...that that none of the Kentucky mandolins were built solely by Sumi. And nothing under the 900s were built in the Maruko plant.
    Doesn't mean there's anything lo-quality about your mandolin.

    How does it sound?

    Here's that catalog page Mike E. mentioned. However, it is listed as "KM-800"

    Click image for larger version. 

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    Looks like the list was $1150.00
    "I play BG so that's what I can talk intelligently about." A line I loved and pirated from Mandoplumb

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    Default Re: Kentucky M-800 mandolin from Japan

    Hey guys, thanks for the comments and the catalog page.

    As far as how it sounds...I would describe it as loud and bright. But I only dabble in mandolins (and many other instruments). I am primarily a guitar and dobro player, but I have played in enough bluegrass bands and jams for the last 45 years to be quite familiar with mandos. I should drag it over to some friends and do an A/B comparison against what they play.

    As for the catalog...
    Do you know what year that catalog was published?

    It is interesting to me that the description in the catalog says the KM-800 is "same as the KM-700 but with intricate inlays in the fingerboard"...and yet mine has dots in the finger board. Maybe this is just a case where the Marketing Dept got their facts wrong in the catalog? Or maybe my M-800 mando pre-dates this catalog?
    (In an earlier post, I pasted a link to a post from someone from years ago who also has a clearly marked M-800.)

    At this point, I am just having fun trying to dig up as much info as possible to solve the mystery. (Maybe I never will).

    I do know that I traded with a friend for this M-800 in the summer 1981, I traded a Gibson J-40 guitar for it. So, that tells me this mando has got to be 1980 or earlier.
    I have contacted him to see if he can tell me when he bought it, because I am pretty sure he got it new. But I have not heard back on that question yet.

    Can anyone tell me what year Kentucky started selling Mandolins? I've heard vague comments about 1970s, but no exact year. Any info there?

    Thanks again everyone.

  15. #13
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    Default Re: Kentucky M-800 mandolin from Japan

    I've got one just like that in the shop right now for fret work and set-up. I has a good tone but, the volume is just not there.

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    Default Re: Kentucky M-800 mandolin from Japan

    A pet subject. I think that catalog shot is from the late 80s or early 90s. I have one similar. Also, the list prices match that period. In that period, Because of the exchange rate, dollar to yen, list and street prices climbed to a point that they were too high for an import factory mandolin. In the early-mid 90s Kentucky Master Models retail price climbed to almost what you could buy a Gibson F5L! I would guess also that these factors caused Saga to move the manufacturing plant to Korea in the early 90s.

    The "catalog" I have from about 1983-84 consisted of a photo book of all the models of mandolins and a price sheet. The model number from this earlier period matched the suggested retail price of that time. So, a KM-800 was retail priced at about $799. The case was extra. I would like to see some old price list or something from that era. Other hoarders come forth! An old 'Pickin' magazine might have ads that would give a start date.

    I don't know when the "factory" production started in the 1970s either. My first recollection of a Kentucky mandolin was one a girl had at a McClain Family, Beria, Ky bluegrass festival in about '79-81.

    Here's a link about the Kentucky "Master Model" series from Frets magazine of the era. http://www.vintagemandolin.com/kentu...iclepage1.html
    The article does NOT really address the regular production models KM-90 through KM-850. Or yours which is a M-800. Yours IS earlier since you know when you bought it.

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    Default Re: Kentucky M-800 mandolin from Japan

    Wow, thanks for the Frets article, GTison!!!!

    That has great info...specifically the 2nd page of the article says that it was in 1978 that Saga contracted with the Teharas (the founders of the company in Japan) to begin making mandolins under the Kentucky name for export to the US.

    So 1978 is the *earliest* possible year of manufacture for a Kentucky mandolin.

    I heard back from my friend who originally bought the M-800 I now own. He confirms he bought it new (from Mandolin Brothers he thinks), and is pretty certain he bought it in 1980.

    Thanks again!

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    Default Re: Kentucky M-800 mandolin from Japan

    That page pops up here from time to time. I bought my first Kentucky mandolin (an A model, I think a KM-250) in about 1987 from Stan Jay at Mandolin Brothers.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

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    Default Re: Kentucky M-800 mandolin from Japan

    "So 1978 is the *earliest* possible year of manufacture for a Kentucky mandolin."

    I'm not sure you can derive that from that article because The article deals with the Tahara's shop, that made the Master Model line that ONLY included the models listed in the article. Saga also had the plant where saga manufactured the rest of the line is my understanding.

    Could Saga have been making mandolins already? I don't have any information on this.

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