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Thread: Which mandolin to buy

  1. #1

    Default Which mandolin to buy

    Hello all

    I am wanting to upgrade to a better quality mandolin. I currently own a epiphone MM-30. I am looking at the Kentucky KM-150 or getting an Eastman MD504. I really like the look of the oval hole in the mandolin. From your guys experience which one do you recommend and prefer when it comes to the sound, action etc. I play mixed genres such as alternative, celtic, italian. Thank you so much

    Jimmy

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Which mandolin to buy

    I was in the same space a long time ago. Had a real cheap mando and wanted an upgrade. At the time, I could afford an old Gibson A 2 model, I think it was in the mid teens. It was one of the best buys I have ever made in my mandolin journey that has, to date, included seven mandolins. My experience with Kentuckys has been decent. Good luck.
    Last edited by Denny Gies; May-17-2020 at 7:26am. Reason: spelling

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    Fatally Flawed Bill Kammerzell's Avatar
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    Default Re: Which mandolin to buy

    Of those two imports, with mandolins in the same price range, I'd prefer a Kentucky. On another personal level, I've never liked the sound from an oval hole mandolin. I have always preferred F-hole mandolins. But that might not be the case with you.
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    Default Re: Which mandolin to buy

    Oval hole mandolins are special. Not necessarily for bluegrass but back in the day several mandolin players used them. If you can find an old Gibson that you like go for it. A step up to a Kentucky or Eastman is not that big of an improvement, with the Eastman being the better of those two. Here is a link to some affordable mandolins made by a fellow who makes a real decent instrument for a great price https://www.mandolincafe.com/ads/search

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    My Florida is scooped pheffernan's Avatar
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    Default Re: Which mandolin to buy

    Quote Originally Posted by Kasura View Post
    I am wanting to upgrade to a better quality mandolin. I currently own a epiphone MM-30. I am looking at the Kentucky KM-150 or getting an Eastman MD504. I really like the look of the oval hole in the mandolin. From your guys experience which one do you recommend and prefer when it comes to the sound, action etc. I play mixed genres such as alternative, celtic, italian. Thank you so much
    You don’t say where you’re located, which can often affect what instruments are available and how they’re priced.

    The Kentucky KM-150 is an A5 with f-holes which lead to a percussive midrange attack and then a faster decay. While they are versatile instruments, originally designed to play classical music in orchestras, their sonic properties lend themselves to bluegrass, where you don’t want a bunch of notes hanging around while you play a string at lightning speed. You should also expect that it will have more traditional playability features, such as small frets and a flat fingerboard.

    The Eastman MD is more of an A4 with an oval hole that also has a 12th fret body join which shifts the bridge back to the tailpiece. The combination of these design choices typically leads to mandolins with more bass response and longer sustain. The Eastman line also employs more modern playability features like bigger frets and a radiused board.

    To muddy the waters, Eastman makes a lower-priced line in the MD304/305 with an oval and f-holes respectively. And Kentucky makes its own oval in the KM272.

    Plus, if you share your location and budget, you’ll receive a whole host of suggestions that you didn’t even think to ask.

    Good luck in your search!
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    Default Re: Which mandolin to buy

    The 504 is a nicer instrument, IMO, than the KM-150, unless you can envision yourself diving into bluegrass, in which case the 150 is a better tool for that job. Kentucky makes some higher tier instruments in thE 600-900 range that should be better appointed than a 150. For example, it’s not uncommon to find a KM 900 or 950 used for < 1000, and that’s some serious bang for your buck. Sonny Morris also makes some nice mandolins in that range, and in the 1000-1500 range you can get into used Silverangel Econo, used Weber Gallatin or Absaroka, Kratzer, Gibson A-9, Rigel, etc, that will be a substantial upgrade.

    The flat top oval hole mandolins can be great instruments as well, and can often be found used for 500 +/-...Flatiron 1N, Big Muddy, Crystal Forest, Redline Traveler, and Sawchyn come to mind.

    Don’t mean to dis the 150, they’re excellent mandolins, especially for the price, and if I had a chance to play one side by side with an Eastman 504/505 and liked the 150 better, wouldn’t hesitate to take one home. But, features-wise, the 150 compares better with Eastman’s 300 series. I used to own a 315 and felt that it was substantially better than any of the Epiphone/Fender offerings out there in tone and fit/finish. So, I think you can get an upgrade where you’re looking, but the real jump in quality comes with independent luthier builds in the 1000-1500 range, IMHO.
    Chuck

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    Registered User Charles E.'s Avatar
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    Default Re: Which mandolin to buy

    This in the classifieds...

    https://www.mandolincafe.com/ads/154640#154640

    Or this if you like flat tops...

    https://www.mandolincafe.com/ads/154679#154679
    This is an amazing deal.

    Both are small shop, 100% American made.

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    A bunch of stuff with four strings

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    Registered User Frank Russell's Avatar
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    Default Re: Which mandolin to buy

    Double thumbs up on any recommend for a Morris mandolin. Stuck home with rambunctious toddlers, I’ve been using the Morris a ton. Yesterday I realized my whole rationale for getting it had become a lie. I’d be devastated if anything happened to my no-frills, flat-top , plain brown, no decorated soundhole, no binding work of art. These are serious instruments still being sold for hobby prices. Thanks, Frank
    FJ Russell


    Es mejor morir de pie que vivir de rodillas. E. Zapata

  11. #9
    Registered User Glassweb's Avatar
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    Default Re: Which mandolin to buy

    MD504 is a HUGE bang for the buck. A number of my students have gone for the Eastman A-model oval holes (504 and 604) and have never looked back. The KM150 used to be really good, but I have fallen out of love with this model due to the bad fretwork, beefy necks (unlike, say, 10 years ago) and non-functioning truss rods. If higher demand = lesser quality control and dumbed down design then Kentucky (and Eastman) had better rethink their strategies.

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    Registered User Mandobart's Avatar
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    Default Re: Which mandolin to buy

    I'm in the Morris camp. My first good mandolin was a Sonny Morris hybrid F4 (oval hole with an elevated fretboard, 14th fret body join, single transverse brace).
    With monel strings it just sings on celtic, classical, italian, etc. Lots of bass response and sustain, yet also very good volume. I have a few other instruments now too but my Morris is a keeper and daily player.

    I met Sonny around 10 years ago and have played quite a few of his instruments. I don't think there's a better deal out there on a US hand built mandolin.

  13. #11

    Default Re: Which mandolin to buy

    I agree with the others, get the Morris in Charles post and don't look back. That is a good price/value. You should get your money back down the road should you decide to sell. Eastman and Kentucky make some really nice mandolins but if you buy new you will have to discount them to sell them later.

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    Registered User Mike Romkey's Avatar
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    Default Re: Which mandolin to buy

    Put me down in the "find an old Gibson" category. I used to an A Junior that I paid like $750 for. It was a really cool mandolin.
    '20 Ellis A5 Tradition, '09 Gilchrist Model 1, “July 9” Red Diamond F-5, '12 Duff F-5, '19 Collings MT2, ’24 A2-Z, ’24 F-2, '13 Collings mandola, '82 D-35, Gibson Keb Mo. http://www.bucktownrevue.com

  15. #13

    Default Re: Which mandolin to buy

    Wow thank you so much for your input. Sorry I forget to say I am located in Australia.My budget is up to 774 USD. Unlike America our music stores donÂ’t have a big array of mandolins so I cant just walk into one and try a mandolin. Which will lead me buying one online

  16. #14
    Registered User Mandobart's Avatar
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    Default Re: Which mandolin to buy

    Quote Originally Posted by Kasura View Post
    Wow thank you so much for your input. Sorry I forget to say I am located in Australia.My budget is up to 774 USD. Unlike America our music stores don't have a big array of mandolins so I cant just walk into one and try a mandolin. Which will lead me buying one online
    Most places in the states are the same - mandolin deserts. Unless you go to Nashville, NYC, Elderly's and a few other places you won't find anything to try at most music stores.

    The best place to try a few mandos is at a workshop or festival, which have all been cancelled for the time being.

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    Default Re: Which mandolin to buy

    That does change things a bit...that oval hole Morris linked is a great idea, but if shipping puts it out of reach, then I’d go with the Eastman 504. I haven’t played a KM-150 in a few years, actually, so it was good to hear Glassweb’s recent experience. My 315 was a 2015 model, and while I have better mandolins now, had the 315 been my only mandolin, I would still be happy with it. It was 80% of the tone of a Collings MT I used to own at a fraction of the price. The Collings was definitely better, especially up the neck, but the 315 compared much more favorably than I expected.

    FWIW, there are only a few stores scattered around the US with a large selection of mandolins to try. Other than that 315 and my RM-1, all of my other mandolin and mandolin family purchases have been online. Even here in “bluegrass country” in North Carolina options are a bit limited without committing to a drive...
    Chuck

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