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Thread: Elderly Beginning Mandolin Outfit

  1. #1
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    Default Elderly Beginning Mandolin Outfit

    I have, for some years now, recommended this as the best choice for a beginner who needs everything. It included the very impressive Kentucky KM-150 with the excellent Accss Stage One gig bag, and a bunch of accessories. Basically, they priced it for the mandolin and case and we're throwing in the picks, tuner, book, etc. for free. It was great bang for the buck in my opinion.

    Now, a couple of days ago I noticed they have changed the kit. It's price is lower, and they now use the Loar "Honey Creek" instead of the Kentucky. The Kentucky was (and still is) all solid carved wood, while the "Honey Creek" is solid top with laminated sides and back. I have played both (well. I played the F style version of the Loar, not the A, but I would expect the tone to be similar). There is just no comparison whatsoever! Every Kentucky 150 I've played has had great tone that belies its price. The Loar with laminate body, on the other hands, sounds and plays like a brick with strings.

    Now, I know that "The Loar" has its fans on our forum. Not trying to dis them at all. I'm just saying these laminated examples are miserable, not all Loars. And also to be fair I have been equally unimpressed with laminated mandolins from other makers.

    I want to officially state, for the record so to speak, that I can no longer recommend this outfit. I wanted to be clear on this because I have recommended it so often in the past.
    Don

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    Default Re: Elderly Beginning Mandolin Outfit

    Thanks for your honest assessment, Don.

    I'd like to weigh in on this discussion at some point with observations from the Winter NAMM Show earlier this year but will wait to hear other opinions. Things have changed at The Loar, greatly so of late, in measurable ways. In my professional opinion it is not the same company it was just a few years ago. That doesn't mean they might not offer a product some will purchase and enjoy. It's not only about pricing, it's about if they can still offer a product that can stand up in the marketplace. And, of course, my opinion is just one, but the new attitude and approach is somewhat startling. Staff changes and a clearly visible business approach have resulted in a bluntly different kind of organization.

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    Default Re: Elderly Beginning Mandolin Outfit

    That's a shame- nothing turns off new musicians like a "brick with strings!". I haven't played a The Loar Honey Creek, but Don is a reliable source, and I've never played a bad KM 150...

    Anyway: if you search for a km 150, they are listed as "out of stock" just about everywhere- Amazon, Elderly, Musician's Friend, Mandolin Store, and Folk Musician.

    Perhaps this contributed to Elderly's decision.
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    Default Re: Elderly Beginning Mandolin Outfit

    Quote Originally Posted by Mandolin Cafe View Post
    I'd like to weigh in on this discussion at some point with observations from the Winter NAMM Show earlier this year but will wait to hear other opinions. Things have changed at The Loar, greatly so of late... Staff changes and a clearly visible business approach have resulted in a bluntly different kind of organization.
    Scott I appreciate your opinion. Do the changes you see reflect on the the making of the instruments or the marketing of the instruments.? I know you maybe walking a fine line with confidences.
    Tony Huber
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    Default Re: Elderly Beginning Mandolin Outfit

    Sorry to hear at least the implications that The Loar is having difficulty/changing their approach. I was a fan of their earlier models, and preferred their neck profile to the Kentuckys of that period. Seems things have shifted a bit .

    Thanks for the update, Don, as I've recommended that pack often as well.
    Chuck

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    Default Re: Elderly Beginning Mandolin Outfit

    I also read the description and think by the description that the top may also be laminate.

    It's a retail package for starters and if setup, may be just the thing to learn on? I mean, I don't know. . .

    I'd likely spend $300 bucks on a used KM250 though.

    f-d
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    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: Elderly Beginning Mandolin Outfit

    If dealers are having trouble getting KM-150's, and they want to keep selling "starter kits" to beginners, they'll have to substitute another mandolin. If the Loar Honey Creek is available, in a price range that's close, it's an opportunity to make the switch. But the buyer may not be getting the same quality, as Don seems to think true.

    NOW, I'M NOT, REPEAT, NOT BRINGING "POLITICS" INTO THIS DISCUSSION. NOT DOIN' IT!!! But, remember that almost all our basic to mid-range instruments are now imported from Asia. And trade with Asian countries is a subject that's being publicly discussed, frequently, with unknown implications for the immediate future.

    Our little band of mandolin enthusiasts -- and purchasers -- should keep an eye on those discussions. Not to take sides, make political points, or otherwise transgress our worthy Cafe guidelines. However, the availability and quality of imported instruments -- whatever influences those factors, be it changes in manufacturer practices, government policies, exchange rates, the dangers of shipping things across the Pacific -- is going to affect what mandolins are made, imported, priced, and available for purchase.

    Hope I stayed "inside the lines," Scott; it's a subject that I've thought about quite a bit. We're in what I consider a "golden age" -- well, at least silver -- of mandolin quality and availability, compared to when I started out 45 years ago. I would have loved to have access in 1970, to the variety and prices of instruments form which we can select. Hasn't always been this way, and may not be this way in the future.
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    Default Re: Elderly Beginning Mandolin Outfit

    Similarly in deference to the Cafe' guidelines, I'll just briefly mention that the new CITES rosewood regulations may also have something to do with USA-bound Asian Rim instrument delays. We've already seen this with some instrument imports.
    -- Don

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  14. #9

    Default Re: Elderly Beginning Mandolin Outfit

    if you search for a km 150, they are listed as "out of stock" just about everywhere- Amazon, Elderly, Musician's Friend, Mandolin Store, and Folk Musician.
    KM-150's have been back-ordered for a LONG time, as in months. A new container just arrived at Saga, and a limited number of 150s should hit dealers this week.

    There are several things going on in the industry right now. Nothing new really, but some of these issues are reaching a head. Allen mentions one of the broad problems that is at work. Then there are also instrument specific issues. The number one factor being the new CITES regs. We are not discussing this as much since it has been a while since it was announced. It is still causing major issues though.

    There are other things in play that I won't elaborate on too much, but we all know that the best products (from the consumers standpoint) are not necessarily the ones that do well or are a good decision for dealers.
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    Default Re: Elderly Beginning Mandolin Outfit

    My observations and the changes the company made have virtually nothing to do with regulation and politics. It has all to do with economic business decisions that were stated to me face-to-face in person in a business meeting and input from several that used to be employed by the company.

    Is it really important? Maybe not. They're welcome to steer the business any way they wish. I just think the choices they've made no longer have the best interests of consumers and if and when I decide to share what I know I will but as I already stated I'd like to see what others think. So far, fairly predictable. The three posts above this one may have a bit of merit in some areas, though not much in my opinion, and do not contribute whatsoever to the changes at hand. What I witnessed and was told face-to-face were clear business decisions anyone can make regardless of policy.

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    Default Re: Elderly Beginning Mandolin Outfit

    As a business, any business, grows, it becomes necessary to increase production and sales in order to feed the ongoing and increasing expenses in infrastructure, marketing and distribution. Heaven forbid if they are publicly traded and need to fuel stock prices too. Current business practices almost universally, and this is taught at the major universities, hold that with proper structure, productivity software, etc., a position, any position, can be filled by anyone. I saw this as my friends who worked very happily at Stanford University saw their workplace go from exceptional to depressing. One friend got a department head with an MBA and no understanding at all of the highly technical nature of the operation. This was not unusual. They were very good at counting beans though.

    So it should come as no surprise that the people making the decisions in the instrument business have no emotional attachment to the end product, and that bottom line economics take over. It is almost a necessity.

    Elderly needs product to sell. Someone will fill the need. If they don't have an entry product to sell, someone else will gain their loyalty and sell that Gibson in a few years. I'd venture the cafe's membership is in the top 5% of emotionally passionate consumers. The other 95% is where the money is

    I'm a dinosaur who thinks the Martin logo should not be on anything but the 15 series and up, but Taylor was eating their lunch, so we have Formica guitars that are Martin's.
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    Registered User red7flag's Avatar
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    Default Re: Elderly Beginning Mandolin Outfit

    When I looked at their site, the Deal 4, with the KM-150 is still up, but states that more KM-150s will be arriving shortly and priced at $395.00. The Deal 8, is with The Loar and set at $305.00.
    Tony Huber
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    Default Re: Elderly Beginning Mandolin Outfit

    The Chinese factories have faced continual change. From what I have been reading many manufacturing companies in China were forced to move out into the provinces and train new staff due to increased wage and labor costs. What we don't see on the news are the wildcat strikes, workers demanding better working conditions, healthcare, etc. I can't see how quality could remain the same with all this going on.
    Good Advice: Play before you pay, and know your product and your market.

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    Default Re: Elderly Beginning Mandolin Outfit

    I meant insinuations, not implications, earlier, though there will clearly be (potentially ominous) implications if the insinuations are true and irreversible...
    Chuck

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    Default Re: Elderly Beginning Mandolin Outfit

    I stand corrected. It seems that Elderly will keep offering the Kentucky version of the kit, when they get more, at 395. That kit is SO worth the difference. 305 versus 395? The KM 150 would eat the Honey Creek's lunch. And dinner.
    Don

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  25. #16

    Default Re: Elderly Beginning Mandolin Outfit

    Quote Originally Posted by Jstring View Post
    That's a shame- nothing turns off new musicians like a "brick with strings!". . . .
    Actually, I was so turned on by my first mando, a brick with strings (a used Fender FM-52e I got for $50), that I was inspired to get something playable.

    Same with my first guitar, back in '68, a bottom-of-the-line Goya classical my parents bought, thinking it would slake my blues thirst. Ha! It just inspired me to find something playable - with steel strings and a neck I could get my hand around.

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  27. #17
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    Default Re: Elderly Beginning Mandolin Outfit

    For about 6-7 years The Loar had what most thought was one of the very best marketing presences on the internet for a guitar/mandolin/banjo manufacturer not the size of a Martin, Fender, Taylor, Gibson, etc. That included a very robust social media presence. Guy was brilliant (my opinion). They did a great job of taking a new modern product with a quirky name that didn't exactly win everyone over and made it very successful. They were widely discussed on the web.

    The past few years before the main marketing/advertising guy left, people I knew internally said the environment and direction had become toxic. But lots of jobs have this issues, right? They pay employees so their job isn't to make them happy, but ultimately it does have implications. It's not the problem, just a symptom. Still, that's not the issue at hand.

    Once this individual left for reasons unknown (we are still in contact on occasion, I didn't ask)--the Mandolin Cafe's long-term relationship also ceased--social media for the company halted. Near as we can tell, pretty much all marketing ceased. Advertisers come and go. We get it. This is not about us. The Loar still has Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube presences, but they're empty shells where pretty much everything ceased over a year ago. A dozen Facebook posts in 2017 is not a social media presence. Social media and marketing is about right now, this moment. If you aren't talking about yourself, no one else is going to. Regardless of the reason, dropping out of sight is not a marketing plan. It's a business decision.

    A few months before the Winter NAMM this past January I was asked by someone internal with influence to meet the "new person." The idea being to connect us back as a business partner, or so I was told. OK, I thought. I go to the booth, handshake new guy, introduce myself and look into an empty stare, look of annoyance (NAMM can be tough but this was only Thursday). I explained the long-term relationship with the company and to see if there was anything going forward. Out came this: "Our priorities are amazon.com number 1, Guitar Center number 2. Once those commitments are filled, we shovel what's left out to mom and pop (derogatory reference to retailers). We have no use or need for advertising" shrugged, no change in expression. I shook my head, straightened up a tad if I recall, stood up and said, "OK, I won't waste any more of your time," and walked away. Shortest meeting in NAMM history for me.

    Rudeness aside, which I found amusing and jarring, I can't imagine treating someone you've never met at a NAMM Show in that fashion. Just to reiterate, this is not about us. It's the face of a business making musical instruments. Greater symptom: it confirmed what I'd been hearing and seeing from the employees for an extended period and what I saw in their newest offerings. We get there's a market for very low priced, entry level instruments, and there needs to be, but there's a line here and their newest and lowest priced product has crossed it as far as we're concerned. As is the general attitude of the people working there. When amazon and Guitar Center are your business, how much scrutiny is exercised in the quality of the instruments sold? Who does the setup, who is your contact? I talk to more than a few retailers so this isn't about one experience. It's about a company with little passion and care for their customers. Talk to retailers and ask them what percentage of entry level instruments for that sub $500 market get returned because their condition is simply unacceptable. Take the money and run. There's a market there so ditch promotion and growth.

    Music for 99.9% of the public is about joy, about fun, about communion with others and shared time. It's not always about the quality and the bling of the instrument, but there really is a point where you're just selling whatever term you wish to use: firewood, etc. With marketing you create an environment in part where people can identify with you. People want to feel good and excited about products they purchase and own. So when I use a term that a company has lost its way like I did on the home page, I don't see this as politics, regulation and other reasons that get bantered about that everyone else in the same businesses face. I don't get that from any other manufacturer at the moment in the mandolin world so saying that's the reason is an excuse. They have a management problem. Can't imagine working for a company and seeing it able to generate a price worthy product in this kind of environment.

    There's so much more behind this story but that's enough and there are some things I'm just not going to say. Not my job, none of my business, but I do applaud the opening post. As a business that promotes things that are all about music and joy, this company's story in my mind is sad and nothing more.
    Last edited by Mandolin Cafe; Sep-20-2017 at 11:50am. Reason: fixing couple of typos

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    Default Re: Elderly Beginning Mandolin Outfit

    I think that The Loar was trying, and failing, to beat Eastman and Kentucky at the $600-$1000 mandolin level. Some of their models were good, others not so much. They switched gears and are now trying to beat Michael Kelley, Epiphone, Fender, Morgan Monroe, Ibanez, Washburn, Gold Tone, etc in the sub $500 mandolin level. I don't see that working out for them. Too much competition in the "Mandolin-Shaped-Object" category. As stated above, Kentucky boxes them in at $350 with the KM150. Eastman at $470 with the MD305. The rest of the $300 and lower instrument makers have models that are indistinguishable to the novice mandolin buyer who at that point is buying on price, not a name or specs, or whatever might be written at this site. If those buyers pick up a bad instrument from The Loar and then play a good one sometime later from another brand (Kentucky, Eastman, or better), surely they will not be buying up the line of the same brand they originally purchased. That makes it very hard to get any repeat business. If they are looking for one time sales, then $300 might do it. Hard to build a business on one off sales on low margin product.

    It certainly is hard to work for a company that is making good products at a competitive price that then switches gears to compete only on price. It makes it very hard for people who work there to believe in the product they are making and selling. Without that belief, work turns to drudgery, not a job one can take pride in.

  30. #19
    Eschews Obfuscation mugbucket's Avatar
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    Default Re: Elderly Beginning Mandolin Outfit

    Wow.

    Makes me wonder why they even bothered to have a booth at NAMM...
    Despite the high cost of living, it still remains popular...

  31. #20

    Default Re: Elderly Beginning Mandolin Outfit

    It would be very interesting to know the actual units shipped to online big box retailers vs. the mom and pop stores. It would probably tell you all you need to know about modern business practices.

    It is also probable that making one sale based on price to an uninformed consumer is good business, and pretty much ignoring a market segment in lieu of the guitar market is also good business. As I stated above, modern business practices hold that there is no difference or advantage to one body over another if your system is working as planned. Emotion has nothing to do with it. Pride in product has nothing to do with it. Money is the only benchmark applicable. If the current management shows bottom line improvement, they stay, if not, they go.
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  32. #21
    Front Porch & Sweet Tea NursingDaBlues's Avatar
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    Default Re: Elderly Beginning Mandolin Outfit

    During the mid-1970s, I was a Product Manager for a consumer products division of a Fortune 500 company. One memorable heated discussion with the VP of Marketing involved my pointing out the shortcomings and the need to modify a product that was starting down the production line. The VP quickly cut me off with the statement, "If you remember anything, remember this: Products are meant to be sold, not used. Your number one loyalty is to the stockholder, not to the customer."

  33. #22
    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: Elderly Beginning Mandolin Outfit

    Couple things:

    1. What Scott describes sounds like a single-data-point encounter, that indicates a change in company practices and policies that is also indicated by changes in the Loar product line, and in their marketing presence. This could possibly be based on the company's experience in the market -- lower-end models selling, higher-end models not so much, mass retailers (Amazon, Musician's Friend, Guitar Center) providing the overwhelming share of sales, production expense for hand-work increasing as the overall Chinese wage scale rises. It could also result from a (possibly misplaced) decision that selling lots of low-end instruments through outlets that do all the promotion and marketing for the company, will produce more revenue than selling better-made instruments to more selective buyers, if such sales require targeted advertising and a responsive social network presence -- even if the higher-end models provide a higher profit per unit, and, by their quality, create a market among more advanced musicians, whose recommendations of Loar mandolins may well produce more sales of quality instruments.

    2. This isn't the first time that a promising initiative has led to disappointment. Many of us remember Fender's Fullerton mandolins from about a decade ago -- decently-made mid-price instruments that delivered value for their prices, and were discontinued after a short time. And we've suffered through the vagaries of Gibson's changes in marketing strategies: reduction in dealerships, model changes that seemed counterproductive (at least from the mandolinist's point of view), etc.

    3. I still think that there may be more problems ahead, due to changes in the overall foreign-trade climate, but will try not to borrow trouble -- until such point that something more definite is developing.
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    Default Re: Elderly Beginning Mandolin Outfit

    The shift at The Loar seems to coincide with a shift at Guitar Center as well. There are still a plethora of mandolins you can order on their website, but recent visits to several stores in their chain have revealed only ONE mandolin in actual stock, The Loar 310F. This is the F style version of the "Honey Creek". I thought it strange because even though Guitar Center is not known as a mandolin Mecca, you could usually count on finding a few different Ibanez, Mitchell, Rogue, and Fender examples. That's all gone now. It would appear from my observations that somehow GC has been convinced to carry only this one model at their storefronts. The first time I saw one I picked it up, and of course it's weight told me it was laminate. I tried to play it, but it wasn't tuned. Not even close. So I did them a favor and tuned it properly. The action as too high, the intonation was off, and the strings were actually rusty! And they put this instrument out hoping a customer would buy it? After doing their job for them and getting it playable, I was rewarded by that famous brick with strings sound. A couple of trips to some different GCs showed they also carried the same lone model. No doubt, hat ubiquitous animal known as "marketing research" has again reared its ugly head, telling both The Loar and Guitar Center that most people who think about buying a mandolin would actually buy one if they could find an F style without paying more than 300 dollars. And that, sadly, is probably true. Give the people what they want, and how can you fail?

    Scott's report is hardly surprising. This is what happens when bean counters run music companies.
    Don

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  35. #24

    Default Re: Elderly Beginning Mandolin Outfit

    I'm sure I could run a company into the ground making a product I was proud of.
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  36. #25
    Registered User Louise NM's Avatar
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    Default Re: Elderly Beginning Mandolin Outfit

    This is a sad read, on a few levels.

    I had not thought about what a trade war with China would do to the instrument market. While there are some truly dire instruments coming out of China, the best Chinese-made ones can hold their own against instruments from anywhere else, at a fraction of the price. I have purchased a startling number of Chinese violins, violas, and cellos over the years, keeping growing kids supplied. It seems like all workshop instruments are now Chinese, including the ones that are shipped to Europe or the States in the white and finished (and labeled) there. Disruptions in the supply chain would be devastating.

    Being a little less familiar with mandolins, it still seems like Chinese instruments are the go-to for most beginners, whether they are buying "bricks with strings" or the perfectly playable—if a bit more expensive—Eastmans and their equivalents. When talking about new instruments (used is another whole discussion), is there much made in the US for less than 2K?

    The other subject in this thread I find depressing is the pervasiveness of Guitar Center, and their attitude towards profit over service. The musical instrument business still has an awful lot of Mom and Pop places. The small city where I live has three guitar shops, which also carry a smattering of mandolins and banjos, along with a swarm of ukuleles in hideous colors. There's also a bowed instrument shop. All are owned by locals, all are run for love as much as for profit. If The Loar is being forced by Guitar Center's demand to make crummy instruments at a rock-bottom price, the local shops can no longer get the better Loars, cutting into their sales, profitability, and ability to keep the doors open. It's a classic race to the bottom.
    1988 Reno mandolin, Trinity College mandola, Kentucky KM 272 oval hole mandolin, a few bowed string instruments and some stray woodwinds

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