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Thread: Would really appreciate some help choosing between these 5 mandos

  1. #1

    Default Would really appreciate some help choosing between these 5 mandos

    Hello folks,

    I was hoping y'all might be able to please compare these 5 A-style mandolins for me, they are all in my price range. Please note that options 3 and 4 are significantly reduced in price. I am not sure which of these is the best instrument. Like do any of these really stand out above the rest, in terms of quality?

    1. Ratliff "Country Boy" https://www.elderly.com/acoustics/ma...se.htm#details ($1350)

    2. Jerry Hill Cedar Top http://www.fiddlersgreenmusicshop.co...style-mandolin ($1650)

    3. Kentucky KM 900 (I just really dislike the Sunburst finish look, and that's all they come in... but I have heard these are a nice instrument nonetheless) ($1700 reduced to $1100)

    4. Eastman MD 805 https://www.eastmanguitars.com/md805 ($1350 reduced to $1100)

    5. Eastman MD 905.... https://www.eastmanguitars.com/md905 this is the odd one out, because it is quite a bit more expensive, but more want to know if this is worth the extra $1000 or so on the MD805??? ($2000)

    Thanks,
    Steve
    Last edited by Spiriva; Jul-23-2018 at 8:12am.

  2. #2

    Default Re: Would really appreciate some help choosing between these 5 ma

    What does your gut say?

  3. #3
    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: Would really appreciate some help choosing between these 5 ma

    Hi Steve, welcome to the Cafe. Have you played any of these mandolins?

    I'm not familiar with your number 2 selection. Ratliff is a known builder and that no frills model looks well made. I've been personally lusting after a KM-900 as a spare mandolin. They aren't going to be a choice soon as Kentucky is apparently dropping that model for other models. Eastman has always had an issue where their upper and lower priced models were kind of conflicted. I had an early Eastman F style and I chose the lesser of the two models the dealer had in stock as it sounded better to me than the higher model.. There is nothing in those that I recognize that would put one above the other except my own personal desire to have a KM-900.
    Last edited by MikeEdgerton; Jul-23-2018 at 10:00am.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

  4. #4
    Registered User geoffa's Avatar
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    Default Re: Would really appreciate some help choosing between these 5 ma

    Quote Originally Posted by Spiriva View Post
    I just really dislike the Sunburst finish look, and that's all they come in...
    FWIW, I saw and heard the Kentucky KM-900 that 9lbShellhammer used to own and play. It looked better in person than most of the photos I've seen. Might have been a special one but who knows. One thing is certain, it sounded great.

  5. #5
    Hands of Pot Metal
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    Default Re: Would really appreciate some help choosing between these 5 ma

    Tough to buy without listening, but I bought my CountryBoy that way and it’s a great sounding mandolin.

    I wouldn’t be too concerned about a $200. Price difference between these instruments. Lots of non sonic reasons for that.
    Play it like you mean it

    Not all the clams are at the beach

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    Registered User Drew Streip's Avatar
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    Default Re: Would really appreciate some help choosing between these 5 ma

    I'd personally choose the Ratliff, because 1) it sounds great 2) it looks great 3) he's a Tennessee boy like me 4) I love that he takes the time to make funny videos.

    I play an Eastman F-style that is a quite good-sounding mandolin, but if I had a do-over, I'd probably choose the individual builder. A lot of love goes into those instruments, and the minor price difference seems negligible in hindsight.

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  8. #7

    Default Re: Would really appreciate some help choosing between these 5 ma

    I'm a probably a biased but I'd go Ratliff, I spent months looking & trying what I could I ended up with a Ratliff CB & it's a great sounding mando I'm not playing my Weber very much anymore the CB has different tone which I was after and volume wise about the same. I'm very pleased with Ratliff build and service, it was very cool to be able to pick fret's/fret board size& shape, bindings & color.

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  9. #8
    Dave Sheets
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    Default Re: Would really appreciate some help choosing between these 5 ma

    That Ratliff looks really appealing, you probably won't regret it. If you are willing to go as high as $2000 for the Eastman, you could consider used Collings MTs or Flatiron A bodies as well. But do try to play some of these if at all possible, how an instrument feels in your hands, and sounds to your ears matters greatly. If it isn't quite right, you'll be looking again in a year.
    -Dave
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  11. #9

    Default Re: Would really appreciate some help choosing between these 5 ma

    I'd go with the Ratliff too. Having a mandolin crafted by one guy is very satisfying. I can't recall playing any one builder instrument that wasn't better than the Kentucky or Eastman fare, though the 900 is very close.

    I took much the same plunge when I bought my Silverangel.

    If you haven't watched Ratliff's custom fancy mandolin build videos, you should.
    Silverangel A
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    1913 Gibson A-1

  12. #10

    Default Re: Would really appreciate some help choosing between these 5 ma

    I would not pay $2000 for and Eastman mandolin, even though they are make good mandolins. If you look a little you can buy a very good mandolin for $2000 or less. Don't let the suggested price and street price on the imported mandolins confuse the issue. They never sell for list price. I am a pretty big fan of Kentucky mandolins. They make or made a 956 which is the same as a 950 but in a plain Sheraton brown color. I have had several Kentucky mandolins including a 1050, 950 and currently a 956 and they are terrific mandolins. Depending on what you are looking for I think you would be happy with one. The Hill cedar topped mandolin is from a lesser known builder. That is not necessarily a bad thing but if you decided to sell it that can be an issue. The one has been for sale for quite awhile. There does not seem to be any sound samples of his mandolins on youtube and Fiddle's Green describes it as having a unique sound. It may be great and what your are looking for but no way to tell with out several examples to listen to. that leaves the Ratliff. He has built over a 1000 mandolins and there are plenty of sound samples and reviews including one that you would be buying. They look like they have a flat fretboard which may or may not be an issue? But $1350 for a handmade mandolin with a very good track record is a pretty good deal. So of those five the CB would be my choice.

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  14. #11
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    Default Re: Would really appreciate some help choosing between these 5 ma

    The Kentucky KM-956 is the same mandolin as the KM-900 with out a sun burst, they also have a radiuse fretboard that is scooped and a pearl nut and larger frets...I have owned both the 900 and the 956 and the larger frets and scooped finger board is what sold me on the 956, I also don`t care a lot for a burst, the 956 is a dark color and you can still see the grain of the wood...A great mandolin for those of you that want a 900 but can`t find one...I could be talked out of mine if the price is right...

    Willie

  15. #12

    Default Re: Would really appreciate some help choosing between these 5 ma

    The Ratliff looks nice, from a reputable builder, you have a sound sample, and it's sold from a very respected retailer. All pluses.

    The Hill looks nice. Might be the best of the bunch but it's riskier. Cedar and walnut might be your favorite combination but it's not standard. You would really want to dig in and get more info before you bought this one.

    If you can stretch to 2k you could lurk about for a used Collings MT, Northfield M, or Weber. I would get any of those before the Eastman.
    Northfield NF5S
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  16. #13
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    Default Re: Would really appreciate some help choosing between these 5 ma

    The one I would throw out would be the Eastman 900 ! Junk ! Many of their 500 model's are much better !
    My two favorite pastimes are drinking wine and playing the mandolin but most of my friends would rather hear me drink wine! Adapted from quote by Mark Twain------supposedly !

  17. #14
    Registered User lflngpicker's Avatar
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    Default Re: Would really appreciate some help choosing between these 5 ma

    I have an Eastman MD805/V that sounds really sweet and has great playability. I prefer my Flatiron Festival F5 over it. I would humbly recommend buying used and getting the most mandolin for your money. As an example, a Flatiron A5 made by Gibson would be a great instrument for this price range. Otherwise, I think you have a very well thought out list and all would be enjoyable in my estimation!
    Dan Brooks

  18. #15

    Default Re: Would really appreciate some help choosing between these 5 ma

    OP:
    Some questions:

    Is this going to be your first mandolin?
    If not, what are you playing now?

    Do you prefer/not prefer
    - flat fingerboard v. radiused ?
    - small frets v. larger ones ?

    What kind of music do you like?
    Bluegrass?
    Or... more than just that?

  19. #16

    Default Re: Would really appreciate some help choosing between these 5 ma

    To my mind it’s between the Eastman 805 and the Ratliff. I would go Ratliff except I strongly prefer a radiused fingerboard, so if that is the difference I would go Eastman.

    I have a rule of thumb to -never- buy the highest-end model of a budget-price brand—Eastman is now more a mid-level price brand, but everyone who has said “for the same money as the 905, you could get xxxx” is correct. Savvy mando-addicts expect to pay about a grand for a good-quality Eastman (less for a 500-series, and I don’t include the grades below that in consideration, although they are good value when reasonably priced). If you buy a 2k Eastman you will be looking at a pretty steep discount should you trade in in a couple of years later.

    I own a cedar-flat-top mandola which is a very warm-sounding instrument—gigged with it yesterday in fact—and I’d like to try that carved-top Jerry Hill. But owning it would have to be a case of falling in love with a particular instrument, not of selecting it from a list.

    You’ll get a good instrument whichever you pick.

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  21. #17

    Default Re: Would really appreciate some help choosing between these 5 ma

    I just reread the first post. The dislike of a sunburst precludes the purchase of many instruments. You don't want to be looking at something you don't like. I would be patient and look at the classifieds every day for a Weber Galatin, or something like it. Solid color finishes come up all the time. If you are willing to spend in the $1500 range you will find yourself a very nice mandolin.
    Silverangel A
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    1913 Gibson A-1

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  23. #18
    Registered User Mike Arakelian's Avatar
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    Default Re: Would really appreciate some help choosing between these 5 ma

    I’ve played both the Ratliff CB and a Kentucky 1000 and though both were excellent sounding mandolins. A Flatiron A style will also be available in your price range and is IMO another excellent option. The type of music you play and how any individual mandolin feels, sounds and plays are important factors, and you should, if possible, play any mandolin you’re considering. Your gut will tell you which one is right for you. Good luck.
    2007 Sumi F-5 Deluxe
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  24. #19
    Registered User f5loar's Avatar
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    Default Re: Would really appreciate some help choosing between these 5 ma

    I keep a KM900 around for a spare it that helps you!

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