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Thread: Review and comparison 'The Loar LM-700 VS'

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    Registered User almeriastrings's Avatar
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    Default Review and comparison 'The Loar LM-700 VS'

    I am going to do this review in several parts, as there is quite a lot to cover. This first part really just deals with the condition of the mandolin as it arrived, without any proper setup and without any sound files or photos of the comparison instruments, which include the Kentucky KM-1000.

    The LM-700 arrived in a rigid foam case, of similar construction to a 'Travelite':

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    The case seems adequate for light use. The mandolin had a factory action set extremely high, with the bridge extended fully (and leaning over). There was a protective cover on the strings with a 'QC' label in place:

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    The first thing I looked at closely was the quality of materials used. The top was quite nice:

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    Certainly very acceptable on a mandolin at this price point.

    This model is described as having an "AAA flamed maple back and sides". On that point, while recognising that such judgements are pretty subjective, I would find it hard to agree. It is certainly "OK", as far as it goes, but there is a lot of runout, with a very uneven grain, and the figure is hardly spectacular, and is not a great match. It is the kind of quality you might see on a better quality student violin. I actually think it looks better in these photos than it does in reality. The neck has very little figure and is rather plain. The neck profile feels quite good to me, however. Neither 'baseball bat' nor too skinny.

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    The faceplate of the headstock is quite nice, with well coloured abalone and pearl thin overlays under the lacquer. These are not 'real' inlays as such, however.

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    Now... we come to a few, actually quite a lot, of cosmetic problems. The most obvious include the following. The lacquer, far from being 'thin' is actually layered on with enthusiasm! This has resulted in quite a lot of 'orange peel' being evident, and in a few places, visible runs and buildup. One such place is on the reverse of the headstock, where there is a buildup on the lower edge of the curl, and just below it, a 'spot' in the finish:

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    Similar thick buildups of finish are present on the insides of the F-holes (including a few runs internally, not shown here):

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    The poor finish beneath the fingerboard extension is well known. Here, it is very obvious:

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    The condition inside the scroll is very similar.

    ...continued....
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    Registered User almeriastrings's Avatar
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    Default Re: Review and comparison 'The Loar LM-700 VS'

    The other major 'cosmetic' issue involves quite poor work (in my opinion) on the binding. Some of it is quite badly gouged, and other sections are very uneven:

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    One obvious example is that the area of binding around the heel is 'lop-sided' and uneven:

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    Now... after all that, I was surprised to find that on this one at least, the frets were not half as bad as I had kind of expected them to be. The nut too, while somewhat roughly worked, was not bad either. Once the bridge was lowered, it was immediately playable. The bridge itself looks and feels very 'average' quality. A proper setup on the frets/nuts, will, I am sure make quite a difference and it should not be difficult to get these into optimum condition. Replacing the bridge is, I think, virtually essential. This one is not properly fitted in any event, with several gaps...

    The tuners are smooth, and the ivoroid buttons look good. The issues identified above are really cosmetic. Once tuned up, even with the poor bridge, it sounded really quite 'open' and had plenty of volume. I should have a CA bridge arriving sometime in the next week or so, and I will then be able to give a fair test against some other mandolins. I do not want to seem overly critical, but I do think 'The Loar' have some QC issues with finish, and to a lesser extent, with material grading that they need to address. A quick search of the 'net reveals near identical problems being reported with some of their '700 series' guitars, so I doubt this is a 'one off'. In any event, I am going to be able to check 3 more 'The Loar' mandolins over the next couple of weeks, so it will be interesting to see if they are better/worse/the same with regard to finish QC.

    My initial impression of the sound is that it is more than acceptable. It is really just some finish problems that really let things down. Then again, this is quite a lot of mandolin for the $$$.... at least in terms of general design and sound. It is the detail work where the corners have really been cut, at least going by this example.
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    Default Re: Review and comparison 'The Loar LM-700 VS'

    Ivan - great review, and I am really looking forward to the other parts.

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    Default Re: Review and comparison 'The Loar LM-700 VS'

    It seems to me that, to meet its desired price-point, something has to be sacrificed at the factory. And that something appears to be fit-and-finish and set-up.

    The Loar seems to represent a very good-sounding mandolin for a very inexpensive price. The 700 is barely above $1000 street and the 600 model (featuring tone bars) is well below that. That is a bargain for a hand-carved solid-wood mandolin. I wouldn't expect it to look like a Collings.

    btw, I have a Loar 600 mandolin in route to me as I type this.

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    Default Re: Review and comparison 'The Loar LM-700 VS'

    It really does sound like a second, especially with the excessively thick finish, obvious runs and sloppy heal. Mine was considered to be a second, but it ceratinly has none of the problems you wrote about. Mine has some stain spots on the binding in the Florida extension area and a tiny problem with the black sripe in the binding smearing into the white in the curl area. You have to look hard to see it though.

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    Default Re: Review and comparison 'The Loar LM-700 VS'

    It actually is not a "second". The case that came with it was specified 'B' grade, however (it has some stitching problems). The mandolin itself was simply an off-the-shelf, normal grade instrument with full warranty. You will note that it had a factory "QC Passed" sticker on it. Now, this is not to say that some national distributors, or individual stores, would not 're-grade' it as such. They might. I would. However, this clearly passed 'The Loar's' own QC standards, and was shipped out from the factory like this. As I mentioned, near-identical problems have been found on other 'Loar' brand instruments. There has been quite a lot of talk about this issue over on the Acoustic Guitar Forum, for example, with '700 series' guitars documented with exactly these problems, including much lower grade materials than the 'AAA' label would have you believe, plus these finish and binding faults. Some people report excellent finish, others find instruments with these same issues.... bottom line, there is clearly a lack of consistency, and as I said before, I think their factory QC needs overhauling. I will be able to check three further 'Loar' mandolins next week, so should get a better idea on that point.

    By way of comparison, I'll shortly put up some photos of a Kentucky KM-1000. As far as finish, detail workmanship and quality of materials goes, this is in a completely different league from 'The Loar'. It also costs quite a bit more, of course. That said, I also have a KM-505 here right now that on those particular criteria also puts 'The Loar' to shame.

    Once the new bridge is here, I'll record some comparative test tracks so you can hear what these various mandolins sound like. I do think that the 'Loar' has quite a bit of potential sound-wise. I was picking it last night, and even without a good bridge, or much in the way of final setup, it is impressive for the price.

    Obviously, if buying one, it is most certainly worth going to a specialist dealer who will 'weed out' any with faults, and who will do a really good pre-sale service and setup. Even some of these finish faults could be cleaned up quite a bit... the F-holes, for example. Some work with Stew Mac's micro finishing pads and buffing compound might also take care of some of the other deficiencies. If I had saved up for this, though, and purchased it on the strength of 'The Loar's' promises of "Golden Age craftsmanship updated for the modern era", I would not be a happy camper. I doubt Mr. Loar would be too happy to see his name on it, either.

    I'm not Ivan, by the way... he's a (yikes!) banjo player!!!! I have many defects myself, but banjer playing ain't one of 'em
    Last edited by almeriastrings; Nov-26-2011 at 1:03am.
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    Default Re: Review and comparison 'The Loar LM-700 VS'

    Wow. Those pics are very telling. Thanks for sharing the pics and the review of the mando. I think most manufacturers have an oddball one slip out every now and then but the pics you shared shows some serious qc issues. I would have to say that kentucky and eastman qc appears to be a good bit better at this time although there is incosistency in the eastman sound from mando to mando. The Kentucky km1000 is not that much more in cost from The Loar 700. Considering the cost of a good bridge fit like a CA bridge to The Loar reduces the price gap even more since the kentucky bridge is a step up from The Loars and quite acceptable. Thanks again for sharing. I had no idea The Loar qc was in this much need of an overhaul.

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    Default Re: Review and comparison 'The Loar LM-700 VS'

    Quote Originally Posted by pdb View Post
    . Considering the cost of a good bridge fit like a CA bridge to The Loar reduces the price gap even more since the kentucky bridge is a step up from The Loars and quite acceptable.
    Good point. I would agree with you. The KM-1000 bridge (on mine, anyway) is made of very good grade ebony and is nicely finished. I have not felt the need to change it. In fact, even the supplied bridge of the 505 is also far superior in materials and workmanship to that on 'The Loar' 700, which I'd have to class as close to junk. I can see why everyone says an upgrade is necessary.
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    Default Re: Review and comparison 'The Loar LM-700 VS'

    Quote Originally Posted by almeriastrings View Post
    I'm not Ivan, by the way... he's a (yikes!) banjo player!!!! I have many defects myself, but banjer playing ain't one of 'em
    almeriastrings - my apologies for getting you and Ivan mixed up - please don't hold that against me

    Really enjoying the measured and thorough review you're putting up here. I'm definitely looking forward to the sound clip comparison you're planning on doing once you upgrade the bridge on the LM700 to a CA. Would be interesting to hear how it stacks up against the KM1000.

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    Default Re: Review and comparison 'The Loar LM-700 VS'

    Quote Originally Posted by almeriastrings View Post
    The KM-1000 bridge (on mine, anyway) is made of very good grade ebony and is nicely finished. I have not felt the need to change it.

    I feel the same way. I'm on the fence about a CA bridge for my KM-1000. But seeing as it's a relatively cheap upgrade that can't make it any worse, and it has a really good chance of making it sound better, I'm leaning towards getting one anyway.
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    Market Man Barry Wilson's Avatar
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    Default Re: Review and comparison 'The Loar LM-700 VS'

    I was going to order a Loar, but now thinking a Kentucky is a better investment? or an Eastman? I think I could have done as good a spray job with my cheapo princess auto gravity feed gun I use for doing wheelwells and frame/hitch painting hehe

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    Default Re: Review and comparison 'The Loar LM-700 VS'

    OK... to compare. This is a (Chinese) Kentucky KM-1000. I use this one myself, it is about 3 years old, so there are a few marks. I put those there. There are no actual finish flaws of a significant nature that I can detect....

    Back, sides & neck

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    Very nice figure and grain in these, in my opinion. Also nicely matched. I have seen worse on far more expensive mandolins..... no complaints at all here.

    The top is Red spruce, and the quality is really very good indeed. It is sawn well on the quarter, with no significant runout and the grain is nice and even. The whole mandolin has very clear and 'sharp' lines. The contour carving is also well done, and is nice and clean.

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    The headstock has clean lines, with good attention to detail even in the inside parts of the curls. The binding work also appears to be very clean and tidy and everything aligns well.

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    There internal parts of the curls are not perfect, but far tidier and cleaner than on 'The Loar'.

    The heel area is more than acceptable for an instrument at this price point, I think:

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    The binding work seems very clean and well done throughout the instrument.

    Continued..
    Last edited by almeriastrings; Nov-27-2011 at 5:35am.
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    Default Re: Review and comparison 'The Loar LM-700 VS'

    Onwards...

    That tricky fingerboard extension area. Here's how they handle it on the KM-1000.

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    For a mandolin around the $1500 mark, I truly do not feel able to fault this. To be super-picky, it is not quite as sharp and clean as a $10,000 famous-luthier mandolin I have in the case next to it... but heck, it is not bad at all!

    If there is one area where I think they could have done better it is here:

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    The colour lacquer is uneven on the inner edges of the F-holes. It could have been scraped and touched up (the $10k mandolin has), but this is possibly getting a bit too critical on a $1500 mandolin... it is not perfect, but not horrible either.

    The overall finish is really quite thin. You can see the grain ridges... you can also see the grain through even the darker parts of the 'burst. Kentucky describe this as a nitrocellulose finish, and it does seem to be so, through and through. I have never sanded one of these down, so cannot be absolutely certain, but I see no trace of any poly undercoating. To me, this looks like a "real" nitro finish.

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    You can also see the inside edges of the scroll there. The finish is a bit rough... not polished or fully matted flat.. though the wood surfaces are pretty clean underneath, and there is no trace of filler (as seen on 'The Loar'). It takes a lot of time to get these cleaned up 100%, so some compromise here is understandable. The work on the KM-1000 is considerably better than on the LM-700, however.

    Verdict so far

    The KM-1000 is the clear winner, by a mile, in terms of quality of materials and "fit and finish". The LM-700 does have very nice gold tuners and matching tailpiece, however. The bridge on the KM-1000 is also much better than on the LM-700. This is down to preference, but the frets on the Loar are wider than those on the KM-1000, which are quite narrow. Both instruments have comfortable, nicely profiled necks. I have to say that I found the neck and fret size on the LM-700 very pleasant... but it is hard to get over the crude, thick finish and lack of attention to detail seen just about everywhere on the instrument, and personally, I do not think the 'AAA' grade materials description used in the advertising is justified, at least based on this example. That said, I have seen photos of others that appear much nicer, so it may simply be inconsistency.

    That pretty much wraps things up from a visual and structural basis. The next stage is to get the LM-700 set up properly, and to record a few sample tracks to compare it with.
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  24. #14
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    Default Re: Review and comparison 'The Loar LM-700 VS'

    I realised I forgot to include the close-up and inside scroll photos of the LM-700:

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    There is a very large buildup of lacquer in there, also a lump of what looks like buffing compound. The binding work is really very rough. That is even more obvious on the back side:

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    Finally... here's the inside scroll against the neck joint area.... it does not really need any comment:

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    Also should have mentioned that while the external attention to detail on 'The Loar' is very rough-and-ready, the inside assembly work appears clean and tidy. Not much glue squeeze and the surfaces are well finished. It is not quite as clean internally as the Kentucky, but certainly very acceptable.
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    Default Re: Review and comparison 'The Loar LM-700 VS'

    Quote Originally Posted by almeriastrings View Post
    OK... to compare. This is a (Chinese) Kentucky KM-1000. I use this one myself, it is about 3 years old, so there are a few marks. I put those there. There are no actual finish flaws of a significant nature that I can detect....

    Back, sides & neck

    Click image for larger version. 

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    THAT is is the back of a KM 1000? That's nicer than most mandolins over and above $10,000. And I've seen lots of KM-1000's. That flame looks like AAA grade from Weber! If you ever get sick of it, let me know!
    Mandolin, Guitar, & Bass for Doug Rawling & The Caraganas
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  26. #16

    Default Re: Review and comparison 'The Loar LM-700 VS'

    Ivan's review seems spot on with my experiences. This LM-700 looks typical to me. The Loar's do have cosmetic flaws. This has not translated over to the underlining build quality though. These consistently have the straightest necks of the top imports and the fewest issues regarding things like non-functional truss rods, etc. I do believe they are a bit lax on finish quality and would love to see this improved. I am not so sure the corresponding price increase would make these a better value though. I have to watch what I ask for

    THAT is the back of a KM 1000? That's nicer than most mandolins over and above $10,000. And I've seen lots of KM-1000's. That flame looks like AAA grade from Weber! If you ever get sick of it, let me know!
    Thatís what I was thinking! I sure hope no one orders a KM-1000 from me after seeing Ivan's. That is an extremely rare 1000 there. The finish quality on the KM-1000 is excellent, but that level of flame is nowhere close to typical.
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  27. #17

    Default Re: Review and comparison 'The Loar LM-700 VS'

    I have to admit this is a bit discouraging news to me as a "The Loar" owner. I'm sure this thread will stop quite a few potential buyers, much to the benifit of Kentucky.

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    Default Re: Review and comparison 'The Loar LM-700 VS'

    Quote Originally Posted by Folkmusician.com View Post
    ...spot on with my experiences. This LM-700 looks typical to me.
    I must say that I am very surprised, to put it mildly, by that statement. I have not encountered many of these, in fact, this is the first one I have had a real chance to examine up close and personal. I was kind of hoping it was an exception, a rare aberration.... Evidently not.

    Yes, from what I can see the underlying construction is certainly fine. However, in my opinion, the quality of finish is little short of shocking. I am amazed that they feel able to let something like this out of the factory. I would not expect perfection at the price...but neither did I expect anything quite as poor as this. Other manufacturers do seem able to do better, even at similar price points. It is so bad that I'd seriously consider refinishing it. It is a pity they do not offer an option of buying them "in the white" so a decent finish can be applied...

    The KM-1000 is indeed quite spectacular. It is a very nice mandolin. It was just an "off the shelf" purchase, however, sight unseen. I have seen a KM-900 that was extremely nice too. As I recall, that one had a really good "quilt" type figure. I have a KM-505 here right now, and while the finish on that is not as near-flawless as the KM-1000, it is still more than OK for the price, and the binding work is neat and tidy. Figure-wise, it is much plainer, but nonetheless has a fair amount of well-matched flame. If I can arrange to get my hands on a 'The Loar' LM-300/400 it would be interesting to run a similar direct comparison.

    Andrew (not Ivan! )
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    Default Re: Review and comparison 'The Loar LM-700 VS'

    Quote Originally Posted by hedgehog View Post
    I have to admit this is a bit discouraging news to me as a "The Loar" owner. I'm sure this thread will stop quite a few potential buyers, much to the benifit of Kentucky.
    This thread should not necessarily discourage a Loar owner. If you enjoy your "The Loar", why would a detailed critique of the fit-and-finish of one example diminish your enjoyment?

    Look, I see it like this. I bought a Loar 600 mandolin (en route to me) as a starter instrument. I am a guitar player and I want to get into playing the mandolin. I chose The Loar 600 because 1) it has a good reputation in the sub-$1000 category as a good sounding traditional mandolin; 2) it has a thicker neck profile and a wider nut which should make the transition from the guitar somewhat easier; and 3) I did not want to spend a lot of money on a mandolin when I don't even play the instrument yet (buying a Gibson Master Model probably isn't the most prudent idea since I am just beginning my mandolin journey).

    I think my story is fairly typical. I did not buy this to be my dream lifetime mandolin. I bought this to learn on. With experience, time, and practice, hopefully I will learn my own personal mandolin preferences and get proficient enough on the instrument so that I can pursue my ultimate dream mandolin, whatever that may be.

    I expect my Loar 600 to be a well-setup, easy-playing, good-sounding mandolin (I bought it from Robert with the CA bridge upgrade and his capable set-up). I do not expect it to necessarily look like a Collings.

    While certainly interesting and enlightening, I don't think that this thread will diminish my enjoyment of my upcoming Loar 600.

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  33. #20
    Registered User Bill Snyder's Avatar
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    Default Re: Review and comparison 'The Loar LM-700 VS'

    Quote Originally Posted by Folkmusician.com View Post
    Ivan's review seems spot on with my experiences. This LM-700 looks typical to me. The Loar's do have cosmetic flaws. This has not translated over to the underlining build quality though. These consistently have the straightest necks of the top imports and the fewest issues regarding things like non-functional truss rods, etc. I do believe they are a bit lax on finish quality and would love to see this improved. I am not so sure the corresponding price increase would make these a better value though. I have to watch what I ask for



    Thatís what I was thinking! I sure hope no one orders a KM-1000 from me after seeing Ivan's. That is an extremely rare 1000 there. The finish quality on the KM-1000 is excellent, but that level of flame is nowhere close to typical.
    I have not seen Ivan post anywhere in this thread. As almeriastrings noted above he is NOT Ivan (and then there was some rant about not being a banjo player. )
    Bill Snyder

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  35. #21

    Default Re: Review and comparison 'The Loar LM-700 VS'

    I've written this on several occasions. I have an LM-600 and I like it very much, my opinion will not change. With that being said, my LM-600 doesn't have the cosmetic issues detailed in this thread and it was sold as a cosmetic second. The curl needed a little attention, there were a few stain spots on the binding that a couple scrapes with a single sided razor blade and light polish took care of, under the extension the finish was a bit, lets call it, dusty. Again a little polishing took care of that. The over all finish has none of the problems found on this mandolin. If I were doing it over again, this thread would deffinately color my opinion of the entire "The Loar" line of mandolins. We/I just bought an inexpensive Kentucky for a friends retirement gift and it most certainly did not have the cosmetic problems found on a "The Loar" that cost 3x as much.

  36. #22

    Default Re: Review and comparison 'The Loar LM-700 VS'

    I should be receiving my Loar 600 sometime this week. I will let you all know about the fit-and-finish of it after I give it a good once-over.

  37. #23

    Default Re: Review and comparison 'The Loar LM-700 VS'

    I have not seen Ivan post anywhere in this thread. As almeriastrings noted above he is NOT Ivan (and then there was some rant about not being a banjo player.
    Andrew! My Apologies. I actually knew that you were not Ivan (somewhere in the back of my mind), then ended up side tracked.


    I must say that I am very surprised, to put it mildly, by that statement. I have not encountered many of these, in fact, this is the first one I have had a real chance to examine up close and personal. I was kind of hoping it was an exception, a rare aberration.... Evidently not.
    I believe I have 8 in the shop right now. I can pretty well guarantee that all will have some degree of the finish issues you mention. I have seen enough that I am basically immune and consider it a “feature” so to speak. I guess it doesn’t seem that bad to me. I am a big fan of the LM-700, so I sometimes get overly enthused about them. It is not just a sales pitch though. I think these are great values.

    I am looking forward to the rest of your review.



    If I were doing it over again, this thread would definitely color my opinion of the entire "The Loar" line of mandolins. We/I just bought an inexpensive Kentucky for a friends retirement gift and it most certainly did not have the cosmetic problems found on a "The Loar" that cost 3x as much.
    There are some players that will read all the various posts on The Loar and focus on any mention of cosmetic flaws, but I think most players interested in one will be taking all the posts as a whole and that paints a different picture.
    Robert Fear
    http://www.folkmusician.com

    "Education is when you read the fine print; experience is what you get when you don't.
    " - Pete Seeger

  38. #24

    Default Re: Review and comparison 'The Loar LM-700 VS'

    I basically look for three things when searching for a new mandolin. Sound, playability, and fit/finish.

    The Loar 700 meets the requirements of sound and playability. However, it misses the mark in the aesthetics department. The pac rim market is so competitive at this time, it would benefit a potential buyer to check out kentucky, eastman, and The Loar. I have only played one The Loar mando and the fit and finish was better than the one in this review, although it too was plagued with some of the same issues. With such little difference in price between The Loar, Kentucky, and Eastman, and from the info in this recent review and Robert, it sounds like The Loar is not up to the same caliber aesthetically as Kentucky and Eastman at this time. If the qc issue of poor fit/finish doesn't bother you, play all 3 makes and go by what you hear and like. I am certainly glad consumers have the choices in the sub $1500 market. The only pac rim choice we had two decades ago when i started playing was Kentucky and Washburn(the latter being purely a student grade instrument). The new chinese made Kentucky 1000 and 1500's are better than the three I owned new 15-20 years ago and are a great value in the beginning professional mando market. I beleive competition has helped manufacturers produce a better product. We are certainly lucky to have the pac rim choices we have today. Thank you for your honest and candid review of the 700.

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  40. #25
    Registered User Darren Bailey's Avatar
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    Default Re: Review and comparison 'The Loar LM-700 VS'

    I agree with everything Ivan has said.

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