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Thread: Kentucky KM-1050 vs Northfield F5S

  1. #1

    Default Kentucky KM-1050 vs Northfield F5S

    I'm in the market for a mandolin, and I want something that will last me a long time and give me a good sound. My budget is right around $3000, which means I'll be getting something made in the Pacific Rim.

    I've narrowed it down to the Kentucky KM-1050 and the Northfield F5S as those two look like the best mandolins you can get for that price range. The Northfield is $1000 more expensive than the Kentucky, so what I'm really wondering is whether or not the Northfield is THAT much better than the Kentucky?

    Anyone have any experience with both?

  2. #2

    Default Re: Kentucky KM-1050 vs Northfield F5S

    I think your range of mandolins would grow quite a bit if you were to buy used.

  3. #3
    Pittsburgh Bill
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    Default Re: Kentucky KM-1050 vs Northfield F5S

    Ditto Used
    I believe all of the Kentucky Master series to be of fine quality with nice tone, volume, and playability. I believe the KM 1050 has a flat fret board which is OK if you prefer a flat fret board. In my opinion the KM-950 looks much nicer due to it's clean style, sits in my lap better than a 1050, and lacks all the vulnerable to damage points sticking out of the 1050.
    Haven't much experience with the Northfields except one F style I played at Elderly. In fact I played every mandolin hanging the day I was at Elderly and the Northfield was my choice of the day. I believe I would have gone home with it had it not been a F style.
    Keith Edward Coleman A style, oval hole Mandola
    Stiver A style (eagerly awaiting spring 2020 arrival)
    Weber Gallatin A Mandola "D hole"
    Kentucky KM-950
    Harley Benton A style (Spare canoe paddle)
    Rogue 100A (current campfire tool)

  4. #4
    Registered User Charles E.'s Avatar
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    Default Re: Kentucky KM-1050 vs Northfield F5S

    I recently played a Northfield F-5s against a 10K Collings and I thought the Northfield sounded much better. Don't get me wrong, the collings was stunning but in the tone dept the Northfield had it.
    Charley

    A bunch of stuff with four strings

  5. #5

    Default Re: Kentucky KM-1050 vs Northfield F5S

    I can really only speak to 1/2 of your question. I have had several Kentucky mandolins including a 1050 and 2 950's for about 2 years. It was a terrific mandolin and it was a very good mandolin and all the mandolin I really need. But I have played some very good mandolins and there is a difference between a 1050 and a professional mandolin. I played a Northfield a few years ago for maybe 5 minutes and took lessons for a short time with someone who had a Big Mon. At the time I was playing a Nashville Flatiron (Gibson F5G) and did not feel I was missing anything with the Flatiron and I think they both preferred there Northfields. Kentucky has raised the prices a lot over the past couple of years, to a point that I would be hard pressed to purchase a new one. Looking at the prices of the 1050 and 1500 I think there are better options if you are willing to look at used mandolins are as mentioned above. A few of the makers you might consider are(a few builders have new mandolins in or close to your price range). Summit, Ratliff Silverangel, Flatiron (Nashville era), Arches, June and some I know I am forgetting.
    Unfortunately it is hard to compare a lot of different mandolins for most of us. But to answer your question I would lean toward Northfield. Good luck in your search, there have been some good deals on mandolins lately.

  6. #6

    Default Re: Kentucky KM-1050 vs Northfield F5S

    I've owned and played both the Kentucky KM-1050 and the Northfield F5S. The Northfield is far better. Both have radiused fretboards. I felt the Kentucky had a much narrower range and the Northfield had more complexity and fuller sound. Both were well setup and easy to play. The Kentucky has a gloss finish and the Northfield is satin, if that matters to you. In the end, I didn't keep either of them, but would I have kept one, it would have been the Northfield. If you insist on buying new, I think the Northfield is the way to go of the 2 choices you list. If you're OK buying used, there are many more options. And way more options if you decide to go with an A-style, but sometimes you just need the scroll.

    I'd be very interested in this, if I had $3000 to spend:
    https://www.mandolincafe.com/ads/145941#145941
    Has a flat fretboard, but I'd manage.

    Here's a barely used Northfield for $2700:
    https://www.mandolincafe.com/ads/145930#145930

    To add more fuel to the fire, this is the mandolin I would buy instead of either of the 2 you listed:
    https://mandolins.ecrater.com/p/3392...-serial-201902
    JBovier 2019 “F5” Sunburst for $1800.
    I'd have Jeff add a K&K pickup and ebony pickguard for an additional $300.
    The JBovier is the mandolin I kept when I sold the Kentucky and the Northfield.
    Best, Stevo

  7. #7

    Default Re: Kentucky KM-1050 vs Northfield F5S

    I went to TMS a couple of years ago with just this question in mind. I had never played a master series Kentucky. Well, that day they only had a 900 that had just came in. They set it up for me to try. After working my way up both the Eastman and Kentucky ladder and finding them all to be more or less the same, I played the 900 and found it to be very impressive. The next step up was an F 5S. I thought that there was not so much difference, but after some back and forth thought I would regret buying the Kentucky. I mentally spent the extra grand on the F5s. I'm still very impressed every time I play one, witch is every time I go into Gryphon. It is a classy but unassuming mandolin that can compare to the Collings mandolin right next to it. If you can handle the not terribly figured wood, it's what I would buy. But for a mere $1500 more you can have a Big Mon, with all the eye candy and a glorious tone to boot. But you might like the brighter F5S tone better.

    Other 3 K or thereabouts used mandolins on the market include Gibson Harvey F9s, a couple of Arches, and there was a Pomeroy a while back. But a new or used F5S is a very safe buy.
    Silverangel A
    Arches F style kit
    1913 Gibson A-1

  8. #8

    Default Re: Kentucky KM-1050 vs Northfield F5S

    I'm not oppose to buying used at all. The only reason I like the idea of buying new is that if I don't like it, I can return it in most cases. The issue is that where I'm at here in Oregon, I can't find anyone that seems to have much of a selection of mandolins (other than the really, really cheap ones).

    My thought was that if I buy it from a reputable store online, I can play it, and if I don't like it, I can return it for something else.

    The other thing is that there are so many #######' mandolin makers out there that I don't really have too much of an idea of which all manufactures I should consider.

  9. #9

    Default Re: Kentucky KM-1050 vs Northfield F5S

    Quote Originally Posted by stevojack665 View Post
    To add more fuel to the fire, this is the mandolin I would buy instead of either of the 2 you listed:
    https://mandolins.ecrater.com/p/3392...-serial-201902
    JBovier 2019 “F5” Sunburst for $1800.
    I'd have Jeff add a K&K pickup and ebony pickguard for an additional $300.
    The JBovier is the mandolin I kept when I sold the Kentucky and the Northfield.
    See, here's another one I never even knew about. Haven't heard of this brand before.

    Why is it so cheap?

  10. #10

    Default Re: Kentucky KM-1050 vs Northfield F5S

    Quote Originally Posted by DigitalSky View Post
    See, here's another one I never even knew about. Haven't heard of this brand before.

    Why is it so cheap?
    If you do a search here for JBovier you will find they have a strong following. They are a very small shop. In my opinion, they are among the best Pac Rim mandolins available. The owner Jeff has the mandolins made to his specs by a small factory in China and he does the final setup in his shop in the US. He places an emphasis on tone and playability in his design and the setup that he does is quite good. The woods used are good quality and the hardware is also better than most imports. The prices stay low because he is the designer, importer and retailer. I thought that the JBovier and Northfield were hard to choose between on fit and finish and playability and tone. Maybe a bit of an edge to the Northfield. If all things were equal it would have been a toss-up for me. However saving $1200 on the JBovier vs Northfield was a big difference!
    Best, Stevo

  11. #11
    Pittsburgh Bill
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    Default Re: Kentucky KM-1050 vs Northfield F5S

    Quote Originally Posted by DigitalSky View Post
    I'm not oppose to buying used at all. The only reason I like the idea of buying new is that if I don't like it, I can return it in most cases. The issue is that where I'm at here in Oregon, I can't find anyone that seems to have much of a selection of mandolins (other than the really, really cheap ones).

    My thought was that if I buy it from a reputable store online, I can play it, and if I don't like it, I can return it for something else.

    The other thing is that there are so many #######' mandolin makers out there that I don't really have too much of an idea of which all manufactures I should consider.
    I have not ever bought or sold a mandolin via the Cafe classifieds that a 48 hr. trial period was not part of the deal. Buyer pays shipping both ways if not satisfied.
    Keith Edward Coleman A style, oval hole Mandola
    Stiver A style (eagerly awaiting spring 2020 arrival)
    Weber Gallatin A Mandola "D hole"
    Kentucky KM-950
    Harley Benton A style (Spare canoe paddle)
    Rogue 100A (current campfire tool)

  12. #12
    Registered User CWRoyds's Avatar
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    Default Re: Kentucky KM-1050 vs Northfield F5S

    I have played a bunch of the high end Kentuckys, I own a J Bovier F5 Special, and I have played a number of Northfields including F5s, Big Mon, and Artist Series.

    The J Bovier F5 is a nice mandolin. Mine is beautifully built, with very nice woods.
    It is surprisingly cleanly built, and has a good tone.
    The neck is awesome, and super easy to play.
    You can find a used top of the line F5 Special for much less than the others mentioned.
    New they are $1,800, but used you can find them for hundreds less,
    I have see them for $800-1200 used.
    Although you don't see them come up all that often anymore.
    I think the people that buy them keep them.
    If they get a nicer one later, the J Bovier becomes a really awesome beater.

    I think the high end Kentuckys are generally pretty nice mandolins that are really good for bluegrass in particular.
    They usually have a nice bluegrassy tone.
    A lot of the ones I have played were good instruments.
    Some I didn't like at all because they were a bit dull in tone.
    One was a really nice mandolin, with a strong tone and good chop.
    I preferred the ones with radius fretboards, but that is subjective.
    None really WOWed me, but I was comparing them to much nicer instruments.
    I would want to play a Kentucky before I bought it though.
    Luckily you are much more likely to see a Kentucky in a store than the others, so you can get a feel for it.


    I own a Northfield Artist, but have played a good number of F5s and Big Mons.
    I owned an F5s, and it was an incredible instrument.
    I wish I still had it, because the tone was absolutely amazing.
    The chop thumped my chest through the back of the mandolin.
    It soundly beat every mandolin in the store when I bought it, including several high end Collings.
    All of the Northfields I have played have been really great instruments, and some were spectacular.

    If you don't mind spending the money, I would 100% say get a Northfield.
    To me they are definitely level up from Kentuckys, and well worth the money.
    I would happily own any of the Northfields I have played.
    I would also buy one without playing it, if I couldn't find one nearby, and I wouldn't worry about it.
    They are surprisingly consistent.
    The F5s has a really nice punch, and great singing tone.
    They are more simply decorated than the big mon, but are beautifully built with really nice woods.

    Anyhoo, I am a sucker for Northfields, but they get me every time.
    They are truly satisfying instruments that you get excited to play.
    Mandolins: Northfield 5-Bar Artist Model "Old Dog", J Bovier F5 Special, Gibson A-00 (1940)
    Fiddles: 1920s Strad copy, 1930s Strad copy, Liu Xi T20, Liu Xi T19+ Dark.
    Guitars: Taylor 514c (1995), Gibson Southern Jumbo (1940s), Gibson L-48 (1940s), Les Paul Custom (1978), Fender Strat (Black/RWFB) (1984), Fender Strat (Candy Apple Red/MFB) (1985).
    Sitars: Hiren Roy KP (1980s), Naskar (1970s), Naskar (1960s).
    Misc: 8 Course Lute (L.K.Brown)

  13. #13

    Default Re: Kentucky KM-1050 vs Northfield F5S

    Quote Originally Posted by stevojack665 View Post
    If you do a search here for JBovier you will find they have a strong following. They are a very small shop. In my opinion, they are among the best Pac Rim mandolins available. The owner Jeff has the mandolins made to his specs by a small factory in China and he does the final setup in his shop in the US. He places an emphasis on tone and playability in his design and the setup that he does is quite good. The woods used are good quality and the hardware is also better than most imports. The prices stay low because he is the designer, importer and retailer. I thought that the JBovier and Northfield were hard to choose between on fit and finish and playability and tone. Maybe a bit of an edge to the Northfield. If all things were equal it would have been a toss-up for me. However saving $1200 on the JBovier vs Northfield was a big difference!
    Interesting, now you've added even more possibilities to the pot. I'm going to have to check out the JBoviers on YouTube and see what I can find.


    Quote Originally Posted by Pittsburgh Bill View Post
    I have not ever bought or sold a mandolin via the Cafe classifieds that a 48 hr. trial period was not part of the deal. Buyer pays shipping both ways if not satisfied.
    This is good to know. I've never bought on the classified here before, so I guess I'll have to give them a look.

    Quote Originally Posted by stevojack665 View Post
    If you do a search here for JBovier you will find they have a strong following. They are a very small shop. In my opinion, they are among the best Pac Rim mandolins available. The owner Jeff has the mandolins made to his specs by a small factory in China and he does the final setup in his shop in the US. He places an emphasis on tone and playability in his design and the setup that he does is quite good. The woods used are good quality and the hardware is also better than most imports. The prices stay low because he is the designer, importer and retailer. I thought that the JBovier and Northfield were hard to choose between on fit and finish and playability and tone. Maybe a bit of an edge to the Northfield. If all things were equal it would have been a toss-up for me. However saving $1200 on the JBovier vs Northfield was a big difference!
    Interesting, now you've added even more possibilities to the pot. I'm going to have to check out the JBoviers on YouTube and see what I can find.



    Quote Originally Posted by CWRoyds View Post
    I have played a bunch of the high end Kentuckys, I own a J Bovier F5 Special, and I have played a number of Northfields including F5s, Big Mon, and Artist Series.

    The J Bovier F5 is a nice mandolin. Mine is beautifully built, with very nice woods.
    It is surprisingly cleanly built, and has a good tone.
    The neck is awesome, and super easy to play.
    You can find a used top of the line F5 Special for much less than the others mentioned.
    New they are $1,800, but used you can find them for hundreds less,
    I have see them for $800-1200 used.
    Although you don't see them come up all that often anymore.
    I think the people that buy them keep them.
    If they get a nicer one later, the J Bovier becomes a really awesome beater.

    I think the high end Kentuckys are generally pretty nice mandolins that are really good for bluegrass in particular.
    They usually have a nice bluegrassy tone.
    A lot of the ones I have played were good instruments.
    Some I didn't like at all because they were a bit dull in tone.
    One was a really nice mandolin, with a strong tone and good chop.
    I preferred the ones with radius fretboards, but that is subjective.
    None really WOWed me, but I was comparing them to much nicer instruments.
    I would want to play a Kentucky before I bought it though.
    Luckily you are much more likely to see a Kentucky in a store than the others, so you can get a feel for it.


    I own a Northfield Artist, but have played a good number of F5s and Big Mons.
    I owned an F5s, and it was an incredible instrument.
    I wish I still had it, because the tone was absolutely amazing.
    The chop thumped my chest through the back of the mandolin.
    It soundly beat every mandolin in the store when I bought it, including several high end Collings.
    All of the Northfields I have played have been really great instruments, and some were spectacular.

    If you don't mind spending the money, I would 100% say get a Northfield.
    To me they are definitely level up from Kentuckys, and well worth the money.
    I would happily own any of the Northfields I have played.
    I would also buy one without playing it, if I couldn't find one nearby, and I wouldn't worry about it.
    They are surprisingly consistent.
    The F5s has a really nice punch, and great singing tone.
    They are more simply decorated than the big mon, but are beautifully built with really nice woods.

    Anyhoo, I am a sucker for Northfields, but they get me every time.
    They are truly satisfying instruments that you get excited to play.
    Yep, the two I keep coming back to now are the Northfield F5S and the Northfield Big Mon. Both of those ones are the ones I have my eyes on right now, of course I can't find a Big Mon for sale for the life of me (and it's more than I want to spend, but I love finding excuses, haha).

  14. #14
    Fatally Flawed Bill Kammerzell's Avatar
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    Default Re: Kentucky KM-1050 vs Northfield F5S

    KM-1050 has a radiused board and a 1 1/8 nut like the 950.
    Collings MF (2016)
    Gibson Custom Shop F5G Wide Nut (2010) Dave Harvey.
    Morrissey #20 Super Bat 2019

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  15. #15
    not a donut Kevin Winn's Avatar
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    Default Re: Kentucky KM-1050 vs Northfield F5S

    Quote Originally Posted by DigitalSky View Post
    I'm not oppose to buying used at all. The only reason I like the idea of buying new is that if I don't like it, I can return it in most cases. The issue is that where I'm at here in Oregon, I can't find anyone that seems to have much of a selection of mandolins (other than the really, really cheap ones).

    My thought was that if I buy it from a reputable store online, I can play it, and if I don't like it, I can return it for something else.

    The other thing is that there are so many #######' mandolin makers out there that I don't really have too much of an idea of which all manufactures I should consider.
    Where are you in Oregon? If you're near Portland, you are welcome to take my F5S for a spin...

  16. #16

    Default Re: Kentucky KM-1050 vs Northfield F5S

    Quote Originally Posted by Kevin Winn View Post
    Where are you in Oregon? If you're near Portland, you are welcome to take my F5S for a spin...
    I'm in Salem, but I do come up to the Portland area from time-to-time. That would certainly be awesome!

  17. #17
    not a donut Kevin Winn's Avatar
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    Default Re: Kentucky KM-1050 vs Northfield F5S

    Quote Originally Posted by DigitalSky View Post
    I'm in Salem, but I do come up to the Portland area from time-to-time. That would certainly be awesome!
    PM me next time you are heading up. Most Saturdays through the winter there are Taborgrass sessions, and that's a good chance to get to hear a few different mandos.

    I would suggest taking a day trip up to Seattle to Dusty Strings, where you will currently be able to sample a Collings MT, a couple F5S, several used Gibsons and a few Webers, all pretty much in your price range (used). It's not Carter's, but I'd be surprised if you couldn't find one you liked. Also, McKenzie River Music in Eugene usually has a couple Collings and higher end Eastman's if you don't want to go all the way to Seattle. Once you find one, you can shop online for a good deal on a used model.

    It is disappointing that there really isn't a good mandolin store in Portland. But I've bought from Elderly and Morgan Music and have had excellent experiences with both. I am certain you can buy from any of the cafe sponsors and you'll be treated well.

  18. #18
    Registered User Willem's Avatar
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    Default Re: Kentucky KM-1050 vs Northfield F5S

    I came to suggest McKenzie River Music but see that has been covered. Troubador Music in Corvallis carries Kentucky so you might check in with them. We also have some great builders in Oregon. Ruhland (Portland), Mowry (Bend), and Morris (Hermiston) are all well known to the Cafe. Kyle Mcgonegel is building nice mandolins in your price range here in Eugene. I have a Ruhland and Morris if you pass through and want to check em out.

  19. #19
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    Default Re: Kentucky KM-1050 vs Northfield F5S

    Quote Originally Posted by DigitalSky View Post
    I'm not oppose to buying used at all. The only reason I like the idea of buying new is that if I don't like it, I can return it in most cases. The issue is that where I'm at here in Oregon, I can't find anyone that seems to have much of a selection of mandolins (other than the really, really cheap ones).
    If it's northern Oregon, you might consider a trip to Dusty Strings, you'll likely hit some horrible Portland and Seattle traffic but they usually have some Northfields and Collings hanging on the wall: https://store.dustystrings.com/c-139-mandolins.aspx

    I've played a decent number, maybe 10 or more of the Northfields they've had over the years. Some were really beautiful tonally (they were all nice fit and finish wise) others seemed to need lots more playing time but I thought they were all pretty clearly superior to my KM900 from 2012 or so. Also Collings MT's are in the budget you mentioned, they're also a cut above
    The Keepers: Kentucky km900, looking for next one
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  20. #20
    Registered User CelticDude's Avatar
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    Default Re: Kentucky KM-1050 vs Northfield F5S

    Hello. You don't say specifically, so I'll ask: are you only looking for f-style mandos? I ask because Music Emporium has a Girouard A-5 for sale within your price range. It's stunning, and I would grab it if I had the cash (or if charging it wouldn't stress my marriage...) Haven't played this one, but the couple of Girouards I have played were pretty amazing.

  21. #21
    Registered User Doug Brock's Avatar
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    Default Re: Kentucky KM-1050 vs Northfield F5S

    Quote Originally Posted by CelticDude View Post
    Hello. You don't say specifically, so I'll ask: are you only looking for f-style mandos? I ask because Music Emporium has a Girouard A-5 for sale within your price range. It's stunning, and I would grab it if I had the cash (or if charging it wouldn't stress my marriage...) Haven't played this one, but the couple of Girouards I have played were pretty amazing.
    I've been admiring those Girouards, too. Gorgeous! Unfortunately I just had a mandolin made, and my wife is buying me an Eastman MDA315 for Christmas, so no mandolin purchases in my immediate future, lol.
    Doug Brock
    Eastman MD315, Eastman MDA315, Silverangel Econo A #446
    Pisgah Wonder, Martin HD28, Martin D18GE, CA Guitars Bluegrass Performer

  22. #22

    Default Re: Kentucky KM-1050 vs Northfield F5S

    Don’t overthink this. The reality is that if you do an upgrade of this magnitude, you could throw a dart at the list of possibilities and not go wrong. I did this when I went from my Eastman to my Silverangel. It was stunningly better, and so would any Collings, Northfield, etc. be. I have played my SA next to the Collings and Northfield fare and it was different but not wanting. It was a $1400 chance I took and money well spent.

    Look at it as a process in your education. Having an instrument, any instrument at this level will be the education you need to really know what you might eventually decide you need. If you buy a Northfield F5S, it might be your last mandolin you’ll ever buy, but if not, it will tell you what you need to know when you jump to a 5k instrument. Every day you obsess is a day you deprive yourself of the joy of playing a fine instrument. Firstly, you need to make the qualitative jump, then you can refine what you like tonaly. If you find an F5S south of $2500, you won’t be out a cent. If you get one shipped to you in your mandolin desert, believe me, you will be thrilled.

    I’d bet the same if you bought an F9, or an MF, or a Flatiron.
    Silverangel A
    Arches F style kit
    1913 Gibson A-1

  23. #23

    Default Re: Kentucky KM-1050 vs Northfield F5S

    Well, I think I went a little above my budget and decided on a Northfield "Big Mon". Should be here next week

    From all the searching I've done, I like the sound of that one the best.

  24. #24
    Registered User CWRoyds's Avatar
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    Default Re: Kentucky KM-1050 vs Northfield F5S

    Quote Originally Posted by DigitalSky View Post
    Well, I think I went a little above my budget and decided on a Northfield "Big Mon". Should be here next week

    From all the searching I've done, I like the sound of that one the best.

    Awesome!!
    You will not regret that decision.
    Mandolins: Northfield 5-Bar Artist Model "Old Dog", J Bovier F5 Special, Gibson A-00 (1940)
    Fiddles: 1920s Strad copy, 1930s Strad copy, Liu Xi T20, Liu Xi T19+ Dark.
    Guitars: Taylor 514c (1995), Gibson Southern Jumbo (1940s), Gibson L-48 (1940s), Les Paul Custom (1978), Fender Strat (Black/RWFB) (1984), Fender Strat (Candy Apple Red/MFB) (1985).
    Sitars: Hiren Roy KP (1980s), Naskar (1970s), Naskar (1960s).
    Misc: 8 Course Lute (L.K.Brown)

  25. #25

    Default Re: Kentucky KM-1050 vs Northfield F5S

    Quote Originally Posted by DigitalSky View Post
    Well, I think I went a little above my budget and decided on a Northfield "Big Mon". Should be here next week

    From all the searching I've done, I like the sound of that one the best.
    Wow! Nice choice. I'll be interested to read your impressions once you've had some time with it.

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