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Thread: Help with upgrade, please

  1. #1

    Default Help with upgrade, please

    I know you get a lot of these "what should I buy" threads. I hope you'll endure one more. I've tried to search out and read some past threads, so I have a pretty decent idea what I'm looking for, just want some confirmation or redirection.

    I want to take a decent step up from the Amazon cheapo I bought a few months ago and am looking mostly at Eastmans and Kentuckys in the $500 to $750 range. I'm perfectly happy to go A style and get more for my money and I'm especially keen on the oval hole models based on both sound and appearance.

    In looking at what's available now or in the near future, I'm beginning to focus on the Eastman MD504 that the Mandolin Store has listed for $745 (supposedly arriving July 3). The nicer tuners and tailpiece and hard-shell case seem to justify the $200-plus increase over the MD304. Then there's the Kentucky KM272 at $549. It would probably be fine, with decent tuning machines, but it has the real basic tailpiece and soft bag.

    So does anyone have any guidance for me? I'm a 71-year-old beginner, with a lot of guitar and some banjo in my background. I'm not looking for a bluegrasser as much as a versatile mandolin. I know Kentucky and Eastman both have their fans, but I can't remember what draws people to one or the other, except I guess Eastman offers a life-time guarantee.

    I'd be happy for any advice people have to offer. Thanks in advance.

    Jim

  2. #2
    Registered User Charles E.'s Avatar
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    Default Re: Help with upgrade, please

    Either of those mandolins would serve you well but you might look at this Morris in the classifieds...

    https://www.mandolincafe.com/ads/156225#156225

    A lot of people here think highly of them. Small shop 100% American made.

    And this Crystal Forest is a screaming good deal...

    https://www.mandolincafe.com/ads/154679#154679

    NFI

    Good luck with you search!
    Charley

    A bunch of stuff with four strings

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  4. #3
    My Florida is scooped pheffernan's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help with upgrade, please

    Have you considered a flattop mandolin? Since they take less time to build, and therefore cost less to produce, they are more affordable to purchase, making it possible to buy a solid wood instrument made by a small shop or independent luthier right here in the U.S. Some options in the classifieds currently include this Flatiron pancake:

    https://www.mandolincafe.com/ads/156292#156292

    There is also this beauty from Crystal Forest:

    https://www.mandolincafe.com/ads/154679#154679

    If I were buying, I’d want to try this Newell:

    https://www.mandolincafe.com/ads/155604#155604

    And if you like vintage from your guitar and banjo past, you could look for a Martin like this one:

    https://www.mandolincafe.com/ads/156308#156308

    Even Gibson made flattops under its own and other labels (Kalamazoo, Kel Kroydon, etc.) that might be within your reach!
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  6. #4
    Registered User Charles E.'s Avatar
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    Default Re: Help with upgrade, please

    Jim, Mr Morris is in Irrigon OR, not sure how close that is to you. You could possibly pay him a visit and play some of his mandolins.
    Charley

    A bunch of stuff with four strings

  7. #5

    Default Re: Help with upgrade, please

    Quote Originally Posted by Charles E. View Post
    Jim, Mr Morris is in Irrigon OR, not sure how close that is to you. You could possibly pay him a visit and play some of his mandolins.
    Thanks, Charles. I saw that early on. Unfortunately, the Morris place up by the Washington border is about 6 1/2 hours drive from my place in the southwest, according to Google maps.

    To Charles E. and Pheffernan: Thank you both for the ideas. I'm not opposed to the idea of a flat top. In fact I was giving a hard look the Northfield Calhoun (at stretch at $899) on TMS's site, then realized it was out of stock. And the Crystal Forest appears to have been sold.

    As a guy who's still a babe in the woods of mandoland, I guess I'm a little skittish about buying a little-known instrument from an unknown source. That's why I've focused on known dealers and brands. I've sworn off Amazon and Guitar Center because of recent dealings, but I guess I'm more comfortable buying a brand I've heard of and read about from a store I have reason to feel good about. If this mandolin thing proves to be a full-blown passion, I'll probably loosen up and get to know the territory.

    I'm curious, does anyone want to chime in on the Eastman vs. Kentucky question?

    Jim

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  9. #6
    Registered User Bob Clark's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help with upgrade, please

    Quote Originally Posted by Oregon Jim View Post
    And the Crystal Forest appears to have been sold.

    Jim
    No Jim, the Crystal Forest is still available. Can't be discussed in the Forum, though. Send me a PM, if you like.

    Best wishes,

    Bob
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  11. #7
    not a donut Kevin Winn's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help with upgrade, please

    If you can make the drive to Eugene, McKenzie River Music has an Eastman 305 on their website ($509) and a Flatiron 1N Flattop ($595). They also have a higher zoot Eastman and a couple Collings so you can get an idea of what another grand (or three or five) will sound/play like.

    If you're in the Rogue Valley, Hilltop Music in Phoenix is probably the best folk instrument shop around since Cripple Creek closed last year. Give them a call and see what they have in stock that you can try out. I went in there last summer intent on a Givens A-3 they had on the wall. Ended up walking out with a great deal on a Martin D-28 instead (saved about $2K in the process).
    "Keep your hat on, we may end up miles from here..." - Kurt Vonnegut

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  13. #8
    Registered User Eric Platt's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help with upgrade, please

    The Eastman is designed after the old Gibson oval holes. Right down to the shorter neck. It does have modern frets and a more modern sound. The Kentucky is more of a hybrid with the longer neck. I wouldn't worry at all about the tailpiece. Have that style on 2 of my mandolins and they work just fine.

    Now, because you didn't ask - would strongly suggest thinking about the Kentucky KM-500 instead. Have played a few of these and every time have been very impressed. For not much more money, you get a lot better instrument, IMO. Both in terms of sound and build. Again, this is just my opinion, but I'd steer you toward that one. Especially as it is still within your stated budget. The gigbag is nice. And I'm sure The Mandolin store has options to upgrade to a hardshell case.
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  15. #9
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    Default Re: Help with upgrade, please

    I have an Eastman MD505 and when I was shopping for an f-body, played multiple MD515’s and MD315’s. I liked the looks of the glossy 500 series better, but I liked the sound of the matte finish 300 series better and ended up buying an MD315. I did end up upgrading the tuners though.
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  17. #10
    Registered User J Mangio's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help with upgrade, please

    Don't discount The Loar LM 400, 600 & 700 which can be had in your budget.
    2019 The Loar Supreme LM700 VS

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  19. #11
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    Default Re: Help with upgrade, please

    Quote Originally Posted by J Mangio View Post
    Don't discount The Loar LM 400, 600 & 700 which can be had in your budget.
    Well stated. Loar’s top of the line models are pro level instruments.
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  21. #12
    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help with upgrade, please

    Hey guys, "ham sandwich." Before suggesting umpty other models, let's address the OP's question: Eastman MD504 vs. Kentucky KM-272, OK?

    Both quality mandolins for the price. Eastman perhaps a bit less "bluegrass sounding," smaller profile neck. Kentucky has more frets clear of the body, easier to fret "up the neck," but that's not going to be a major issue the first year or so you play, probably. You seem to have decided on an oval-hole, which I gather is related to type of music you plan to play...?

    All solid woods in each case, carved rather than heat-pressed tops, with the carving at least finished by hand. You'll get a pro shop set-up from Mandolin Store, always a consideration, since set-up's more crucial in mandolins than in most other instruments.

    Located where you are, it's gonna be difficult to find a dealer where you can do hands-on comparison. I'd say from my distant perspective, that you'll likely find either to meet your needs -- as will many of the other mandolins other Cafe-ers have suggested. The hardshell case is a consideration, of course, somewhat depending on how much you intend to take the mandolin out and about.

    For those who wonder about "ham sandwich": I coined the term for all those threads where the OP asks about Mandolin A vs. Mandolin B, only to be told that he/she should really be considering Mandolins C through Z. The analogy is when one asks whether to buy a ham sandwich or a tuna melt at the Mandolin Deli, and all the answers are, "What you should buy is the Reuben, or the corned beef on rye, or the veggie special with sprouts." My consistent, though annoying, attitude is that first answer the question as stated, then expand the inquiry to other possibilities.

    Just my lame 2¢.
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  23. #13

    Default Re: Help with upgrade, please

    Thanks to everyone for the advice. I appreciate your time.

    To Kevin: Local knowledge is always extra welcome. I might consider that trip to Eugene, but with the virus casting a pall over everything, it's hard to imagine spending an hour in a place, trying out three or four instruments. Hilltop doesn't seem to have anything that would be in my ballpark, based on their site. I think I will give them a call, because they're only 40 minutes away.

    To Eric: Thanks for the Eastman-Kentucky primer. The reason I'm so focused on the tailpiece is that it was one my nightmares with the $89 special I bought off Amazon. It looked like a lot of other low-end pieces, but required a couple hours of my time getting it to simply release and accept string loops. On the bright side, taking the tailpiece off, romancing every hook with a screwdriver and getting it back on for a restring was a major victory for a guy who's not handy at all. BTW, love St. Paul. City of my birth.

    To Doug: The matte finish and the sound are not my issue between 300 and 500 series. It's tuners (which you apparently solved), tailpiece and hardshell case. I'm into hardshell cases these days for all-solid wood instruments mostly because I'm trying to protect against temperature and humidity shifts.

    To J Manjion and cayuga red: The only reasons I've moved away from the Loar's stuff is that most are F style, meaning I'm paying for decoration I don't value and a post I read on another thread that suggested the company is dedicated to Amazon and Guitar Center-based marketing. I don't want to insult anyone, but they just sounded a little outside my wheelhouse.

    Jim

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  25. #14
    Registered User J Mangio's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help with upgrade, please

    The LM 400 is an A style, lots of The Loar mandolins pass through The Mandolin Store as well as Folkmuscian;...reputable dealers, with very little, if any inventory at this time.
    2019 The Loar Supreme LM700 VS

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  27. #15
    Registered User J Mangio's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help with upgrade, please

    Quote Originally Posted by allenhopkins View Post
    Hey guys, "ham sandwich." Before suggesting umpty other models, let's address the OP's question: Eastman MD504 vs. Kentucky KM-272, OK?

    Both quality mandolins for the price. Eastman perhaps a bit less "bluegrass sounding," smaller profile neck. Kentucky has more frets clear of the body, easier to fret "up the neck," but that's not going to be a major issue the first year or so you play, probably. You seem to have decided on an oval-hole, which I gather is related to type of music you plan to play...?

    All solid woods in each case, carved rather than heat-pressed tops, with the carving at least finished by hand. You'll get a pro shop set-up from Mandolin Store, always a consideration, since set-up's more crucial in mandolins than in most other instruments.

    Located where you are, it's gonna be difficult to find a dealer where you can do hands-on comparison. I'd say from my distant perspective, that you'll likely find either to meet your needs -- as will many of the other mandolins other Cafe-ers have suggested. The hardshell case is a consideration, of course, somewhat depending on how much you intend to take the mandolin out and about.

    For those who wonder about "ham sandwich": I coined the term for all those threads where the OP asks about Mandolin A vs. Mandolin B, only to be told that he/she should really be considering Mandolins C through Z. The analogy is when one asks whether to buy a ham sandwich or a tuna melt at the Mandolin Deli, and all the answers are, "What you should buy is the Reuben, or the corned beef on rye, or the veggie special with sprouts." My consistent, though annoying, attitude is that first answer the question as stated, then expand the inquiry to other possibilities.

    Just my lame 2¢.
    I read that the OP indicated possible redirection from mentioned models.
    2019 The Loar Supreme LM700 VS

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  29. #16
    Registered User Steve 2E's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help with upgrade, please

    I hope I don’t get hit with the ham sandwich, but I just want to throw out the option of an Eastman 404. It has the same features of the 504, but it has mahogany back and sides and it’s priced about $100 or more less. I do own one and I’m quite happy with it. I’ve played Kentuckys and The Loars in shops and have nothing bad to say about them, but I haven’t owned either brand.

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  31. #17

    Default Re: Help with upgrade, please

    Quote Originally Posted by Steve 2E View Post
    I hope I don’t get hit with the ham sandwich, but I just want to throw out the option of an Eastman 404. It has the same features of the 504, but it has mahogany back and sides and it’s priced about $100 or more less. I do own one and I’m quite happy with it. I’ve played Kentuckys and The Loars in shops and have nothing bad to say about them, but I haven’t owned either brand.
    Thanks, Steve. The MD404 does look like a great value. If I have it right, though, that one has a black top and I love the wood grain I'm seeing in the 304 and 504 pics. Oh, and no ham sandwich from me. I'm a tuna guy.

    Jim

  32. #18
    Registered User Drew Egerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help with upgrade, please

    You might consider the Northfield Calhoun model too! I haven't personally played one but I hear great things.
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  34. #19
    Registered User Eric F.'s Avatar
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    Default Re: Help with upgrade, please

    Don't worry about the Kentucky tailpiece. It is probably much better than the problematic one on your Amazon special. If you have trouble removing it, simply take a quarter and use it to push back from the forward edge. (Don't try to lift it off.)

    I had an Eastman 504 years ago, when I did a lot of catch and release. It was a good mandolin. I have a KM-272 now. It's also as good a mandolin as I am a mandolin player. I like it better than the 504, but it's subjective. Either of them should make you happy. Same with any of the flattops mentioned.

    The more time you spend considering every nuance, the more time you'll be playing the mandolin you don't like. If it were me, I'd buy Bob's Crystal Forest and not look back. But that's me. My point is just to not overthink it, which I know is hard to do when we're all telling you what you should get.

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  36. #20
    Registered User Steve 2E's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help with upgrade, please

    Quote Originally Posted by Oregon Jim View Post
    Thanks, Steve. The MD404 does look like a great value. If I have it right, though, that one has a black top and I love the wood grain I'm seeing in the 304 and 504 pics. Oh, and no ham sandwich from me. I'm a tuna guy.

    Jim
    Yup. Unfortunately the MD404 is similar to the old Ford Model T. You can get it in any color you want, as long as it’s black!

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  38. #21
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    Default Re: Help with upgrade, please

    Howdy,

    Fellow SW Oregonian here. Hilltop is the best music store in the region that I have found since Cripple Creek closed. I have tried some mando's there, good varied selection for the area. Owner was very nice and accommodating. Not sure what their current stock is like. McKenzie River Music in Eugene doesn't always have their site up to date in my experience. Might be good to call and see what they have if planning a trip.

    I play mainly f-hole instruments but have played several oval holes in the types you were looking at at both the above locations. The Eastman ovals in my opinion vary pretty widely in sound and I would recommend playing the specific instrument first to make sure it fits your needs. They are well made. I have a 615 that was my first nice mandolin. Played a bunch before I settled on this one. The few Kentucky ovals I have played have surprised me as to how nice the sound for the price. I have an older 205 (a style, f-holes) was my first mando. The Kentucky ovals I have played since are quite nice for an inexpensive mando. The Eastman IMO is the better made instrument, feels more solid and craftsman-like, can have a more complex sound and play nice. Kentuckys are good as a camping/kick-around instrument, sound nice but not the same tones as the Eastman.

    I'll keep my eyes and ears open for you in the Umpqua Valley for something for you.

    I agree with Eric F. above, don't over think it. If you find something within your budget that has a sound you like and feels good in your hands go for it!
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  40. #22
    Fingers of Concrete ccravens's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help with upgrade, please

    Quote Originally Posted by Eric F. View Post
    The more time you spend considering every nuance, the more time you'll be playing the mandolin you don't like. If it were me, I'd buy Bob's Crystal Forest and not look back. But that's me. My point is just to not overthink it, which I know is hard to do when we're all telling you what you should get.
    I like ham, so fire away.

    I agree with Eric's post. The Crystal Forest is a quality mandolin at a great price. Hard to beat, IMO.
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  42. #23
    I really look like that soliver's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help with upgrade, please

    It's important to note that there is a difference in sound between an arch top oval and a flat top oval, and it may be a matter of opinion. There a definite difference in voice and resonance associated with FT Mandos that you really have to experience to understand. They are also usually louder. That said I'd highly recommend you try before you buy if you can.

    Here are some of my impressions of some of the mandos mentioned.

    I have owned an Eastman 305: loved it and passed it on when I upgraded
    I have played a Kentucky 272: older model and it was nice and I liked it, but then I played a Collings and regretted it
    I have played an Eastman 404: same as the 272, nice, I liked it but then the Collings...
    I owned a Flatiron 1N (very similar mandolin to the Crystal Forest): I liked it but very, very different sound and not what I thought I wanted at the time... sold it and now regret that.
    I currently own an arched top oval (Jacobson Nautilus): definitely a different sound than the Flatiron also very, very nice, but again, different.

    Good luck to you and I'm certain that any of the choices that have been presented, you will like, but I seriously recommend test driving because there are indeed differences that will hone you into what suits you particular tastes best.
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  44. #24
    Registered Muser dang's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help with upgrade, please

    If I were in your shoes I think a well set up instrument is a must. Any of the aforementioned models could suit your needs or not, but a poorly setup instrument is just going to get in the way. I guess what I am saying is your instincts for going for known brands and dealers is a good one. When you get the new instrument it should be easily playable and well set up. This may increase your overall cost (vs getting a “deal” on reverb) but it’s money well spent.

    As for tone, I would suggest to you that if you are happy using a light touch and coaxing a sweet tone out of a well made instrument a flat top would be amazing in your price range. If you NEED that hard bluegrass sound and the straight mando chop (sounds like you don’t) the recent A-style F-hole eastmans and loars I have played are amazing values, I wish they were around when I started. While these instruments are more versatile they are perhaps not as sweet as you can get out of a good flat top in this price range.

    Full disclosure I sold my flat top years ago and have all carved top instruments now, but I gig regularly with a bluegrass band. I love the carved top f-hole mandolin sound and money permitting it is worth it. That said if I had to start over, was just playing at home and money was limiting there is something romantic about the sound you can pull from a flat top. Perhaps you can hear it in online videos, or I am just crazy...

    Obviously just my two cents, these are huge generalizations and every instrument is different. YMMV.

    Good Luck!
    Dan
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  46. #25

    Default Re: Help with upgrade, please

    OK, friends and neighbors. The deed is done. I just ordered the Eastman MD504 from The Mandolin Store. Now comes the hard part, waiting.

    https://themandolinstore.com/product...d504-mandolin/

    Thanks to everyone who offered advice and opinions. That's one of the ways we newcomers learn.

    I gave some thought to the Crystal Forest flattop and had a nice message exchange with Bob Clark, but in the end I wanted to go with the Eastman. I just love the wood and the inlay around the oval sound hole and such. Even if I never get any good at playing it, I'll dig looking at it. Thanks again to everyone.

    Jim
    Last edited by Oregon Jim; Jun-30-2020 at 2:22pm. Reason: Grammar

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