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Thread: Comparing Northfield with Kentucky KM 1500

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    Default Comparing Northfield with Kentucky KM 1500

    I believe both are among the most respected (and priciest) of the Asian-made mandolins. Has anyone had the chance to compare them as to sound and fit/finish?

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    Registered User f5loar's Avatar
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    Default Re: Comparing Northfield with Kentucky KM 1500

    Are they that close in price? I thought the NorthFields were several hundred more and harder to find. The more the price generally relates to better materials and workmanship. Sound comparsion is so objective.

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    Default Re: Comparing Northfield with Kentucky KM 1500

    Just for a starting point, go with MSRP's and go from there when comparing models. Sound is subjective, but if you do this you are not comparing a $500 mando with a $3k mando. Sound is so very subjective, but you will get into the ballpark of what apples and oranges sound like at least. It's not perfect, but it's a mostly basic place to start.

    OK, get on it and get to it.
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    Default Re: Comparing Northfield with Kentucky KM 1500

    Quote Originally Posted by dcoventry View Post
    Just for a starting point, go with MSRP's and go from there when comparing models. Sound is subjective, but if you do this you are not comparing a $500 mando with a $3k mando. Sound is so very subjective, but you will get into the ballpark of what apples and oranges sound like at least. It's not perfect, but it's a mostly basic place to start.

    OK, get on it and get to it.
    Thanks for your response. I'm not sure I understand the $500 reference. KM 1500's are at least 2k. My original question was to anyone who's had the opportunity to play both models. I haven't but was hoping to hear from someone who has.

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    Default Re: Comparing Northfield with Kentucky KM 1500

    Quote Originally Posted by cayuga red View Post
    Thanks for your response. I'm not sure I understand the $500 reference. KM 1500's are at least 2k. My original question was to anyone who's had the opportunity to play both models. I haven't but was hoping to hear from someone who has.
    Red,

    I was just saying try to compare like with like in terms of cost to quality ratio.

    Folks occasionally do the LM700 vs. KM1000 or 1500 comparison and that's not fair.

    Folks also do the A vs. F, which has been covered ad nauseum. A's are a bette deal, F's make some folks warm and fuzzy.

    What needs to be MADE CLEAR is that you need to spend money to get something worthwhile. BUY USED, but DO NOT BE CHEAP. For God's sake, don't cut corner's on an instrument that you are trying to get joy and success out of. Even if you are just beggininning, a cheap instrument should be avoided if you have the means to reach higher.
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    Registered User almeriastrings's Avatar
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    Default Re: Comparing Northfield with Kentucky KM 1500

    I have only ever seen one Northfield, so hardly a fair sample, and I did not have a KM-1500 there to compare it to directly, either. I am very familiar with the KM-1000's, however, and have played a few KM-1500's over the years. My impression was that in terms of fit/finish and materials used, the KM-1000's and KM-1500's are very good indeed. Impressively good. Two of the Kentucky's (one of them my own) had materials that were visibly superior to the Northfield - but the Northfield I examined was not, I believe, an 'upgraded' one with "Premium" materials. It was a standard model. The finish on the Northfield was not quite up to the same standard, in my opinion, as the KM's, but it was still very acceptable. To specify: not quite as clean inside the scroll and under the fingerboard extension. The finish also felt somewhat softer and - possibly - more vulnerable. That was really just an impression. The Northfield was quite new, however, and the Kentucky's all quite a bit older, also they were lacquer models. I have unfortunately not seen a Kentucky 'varnish' model so again, a direct comparison is not possible. General craftsmanship on the Northfield and KM-1000's and KM-1500's was pretty much equivalent, I would say. The Kentucky's were possibly a bit more "precise", but the Northfield was certainly very good. There were no faults anywhere on any of them.

    Tone... sound... unfortunately, very subjective. Also, I did not have them in the same room at the same time.... and I only got to play the Northfield for about 20 minutes. So, take this with a "pinch of salt". It was a very nice mandolin, that you could pick on stage or record with and do so without compromising anything. I would say the sound was a tad "warmer" with a bit more low end and 'resonance' than a KM-1000, though not quite as "dry & woody". I believe the KM-1500 was possibly a bit louder. You (or at least I) could not honestly pick a "winner" or "best" out of this bunch (2X KM-1000, 1 X KM-1500, 1 X Northfield). They each had their own characters and they were all truly nice mandolins - especially at the price. The KM-1500's you can get for just under $2K (The Mandolin Store is listing one at $1,999), the KM-1000's are just over $1500, and the Northfield to the spec I saw is around $2,500? I have played many a worse $4K+ instrument than any of these. There is variability, and I only played one sample... two KM-1000's or KM-1500's will not sound identical, neither would two Northfield's... also the time they have been played/aged, choice of strings, and even the room you hear them in or the relative humidity at the time can make a difference. So, those are just my impressions, hardly a "definitive shoot-out". My over-riding impression was that the KM-1000, KM-1500 and the Northfield are all serious mandolins at a bargain price for what you get. Like I said, I have played instruments at an awful lot more than any of these that were nowhere near as good. They are all the best sounding mandolins from that part of the world I've heard so far, without a doubt.
    Last edited by almeriastrings; Oct-29-2012 at 3:52am.
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    Default Re: Comparing Northfield with Kentucky KM 1500

    I had a chance to play a number of Northfields at the Elderly Booth during 2011 Fanfest. Very impressive. The tone, fit and finish, and playability was very strong. Over the years I have played a few Kentucky 1000s, the younger brother of the 1000 but here at the Cafe usually highly regarded, at Gruhn Guitar. I would give the same evaluation that I gave the Northfields. Were they the same price which would I prefer? The Kentucky 1000s I have played have that Gibson sound, while the Northfields I played have a more modern sound. Which is better? That would depend on what music I am playing. Traditional bluegrass: nod to Kentucky. Most everything else a very slight nod to Northfield. If I could only have one...Northfield, but a nod, but not by much. Both are very impressive instruments.
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    Default Re: Comparing Northfield with Kentucky KM 1500

    Almeria,
    How well do the KM1000 or KM1500 compare in tone and volume to your more dear Gibsons and Silverangels? Are the up there with your more expensive mandolins?

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    Default Re: Comparing Northfield with Kentucky KM 1500

    Thank you and and Almeria for your replies to my question. I guess there are still too few Northfields to make the kind of comparison I was hoping for. I'm considering purchasing a Northfield (sight and sound unseen) but wanted some more information before I placed the order. The mandolins on the videos on the Northfield site (played by great mandolinists) sound wonderful.

    Thanks again to all who've responded.
    Red

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    Default Re: Comparing Northfield with Kentucky KM 1500

    Quote Originally Posted by NG53 View Post
    Almeria,
    How well do the KM1000 or KM1500 compare in tone and volume to your more dear Gibsons and Silverangels? Are the up there with your more expensive mandolins?
    Straight answer: they're all different.

    It is not a simple thing to say one "blows away" another... these are all very good instruments. But... they are different. If you had some things, it would be a clear no-contest, but with these, they all have something going for them. Unique voices.

    The Silverangels have their own sound. It is not a "Gibson" sound (anymore than a Collings or Weber sounds like a Gibson). Mine are X-braced, so that really changes things quite a bit. Very good low end. Great mandolins in their own right.

    I pretty much echo what Tony Huber (above) says re: Kentucky vs. Northfield. That is what I concluded also.

    If you are going onto compare, say, a KM-1500 or Northfield with a Gibson Fern, well, there's roughly $4.5K difference there, obviously..... it does show in certain areas. Only you could decide if the difference is "worth it", however. To me, it is worth it, but that does not mean I'd class the Kentucky or Northfield as an poor quality instrument, because they're not, they are a very fine mandolin indeed. The only way to decide on that kind of point is to play as many as you can.
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    Registered User Steve Sorensen's Avatar
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    Default Re: Comparing Northfield with Kentucky KM 1500

    When you start looking in the $2000 to $3000 price range for new mandolins, you have clearly decided that it is important to have a quality instrument. The good thing about the global market place (in this case, for mandolins) is that the demand for acceptable quality at low prices has created a lot of options . . . which adds to the complexity of the decision.

    The Chinese-made instruments like Kentucky, Northfield, Eastman, The Loar each offer carefully copied and well-made version of traditional mandolin designs.

    At the same time, American-made production instruments, like Weber, Collings, Gibson are also providing excellent quality, carefully made versions of the traditional mandolins and decades of team experience at making quality instruments.

    And there are also a host of us smaller builders scattered through-out the US who know we are competing with both Chinese and American production instruments and are pushed to provide extraordinary quality and customer service to play on the same field.

    As is the case with many high-end products produced in China, when you buy a top-of-the-line Kentucky or Northfield, you know you will get a lot of bang for your buck . . . and you also know that you are buying from a company that is carefully implementing use of low-wage workers and CNC technology to squeeze the price as low as possible to build consistent, moderately high-end production instruments. Of course, American production companies AND small American builders are wrestling with the same challenge of providing the most instrument at a competitive price.

    The result of this global-mando building boom is a lot of choice for players!

    So, for the mandolin player, the choice is now more complicated than it ever was. Where do you ultimately want your hard-earned money to go? Do you buy a production instrument - sight-unseen - based upon what other folks are saying? Do you go to stores with a wide range of instruments and play a large sample to find the one(s) that fit your hands, ears and wallet? Do you order a production instruments with "Feature upgrades"? Do you buy a used instrument that has been out in the world for a while? Do you work with a custom builder to get an individually made instrument?

    My hope, as a small hands-on mandolin builder, is that your love of the mandolin makes ALL these choices a possibility. That is, that if you love playing the mandolin enough to pony-up for a high-end Chinese mando, you will eventually get the urge to "aim even higher" and take the next step -- where your decision is driven by an irrepressible need for responsiveness, tone, playability and collaboration with the builder in addition to price-point.

    In fact, I love the current reality of global choices because I know that means there is also a whole world-full of players out there who can't stop themselves from getting the urge to play something different, something better, something special. The sooner you start working over that Kentucky or Northfield, the sooner your playing skills and needs will grow to the point where the quest must resume!

    Bon voyage! I can't wait to hear what you decide to do . . . and see where the journey leads from there!

    Steve

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    Default Re: Comparing Northfield with Kentucky KM 1500

    So many people are caught into that trap that they need a "Big" name on the peg head of their mandolins, I have found the Kentuckys to be a good mandolin and not just to save money, they have a sound good enough to be used by a professional but also so do the Northfields, I believe some of the pros that play Northfields have been given those mandolins as sort of an advertisment ploy just to get the public to see and hear them...Maybe some of those can chime in and offer their advice....It`s hard to compare two mandolins unless you have them right side by side and do it your self so good luck with your findings...

    Willie

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    Default Re: Comparing Northfield with Kentucky KM 1500

    Quote Originally Posted by StevenS View Post
    When you start looking in the $2000 to $3000 price range for new mandolins, you have clearly decided that it is important to have a quality instrument. The good thing about the global market place (in this case, for mandolins) is that the demand for acceptable quality at low prices has created a lot of options . . . which adds to the complexity of the decision.

    The Chinese-made instruments like Kentucky, Northfield, Eastman, The Loar each offer carefully copied and well-made version of traditional mandolin designs.

    At the same time, American-made production instruments, like Weber, Collings, Gibson are also providing excellent quality, carefully made versions of the traditional mandolins and decades of team experience at making quality instruments.

    And there are also a host of us smaller builders scattered through-out the US who know we are competing with both Chinese and American production instruments and are pushed to provide extraordinary quality and customer service to play on the same field.

    As is the case with many high-end products produced in China, when you buy a top-of-the-line Kentucky or Northfield, you know you will get a lot of bang for your buck . . . and you also know that you are buying from a company that is carefully implementing use of low-wage workers and CNC technology to squeeze the price as low as possible to build consistent, moderately high-end production instruments. Of course, American production companies AND small American builders are wrestling with the same challenge of providing the most instrument at a competitive price.

    The result of this global-mando building boom is a lot of choice for players!

    So, for the mandolin player, the choice is now more complicated than it ever was. Where do you ultimately want your hard-earned money to go? Do you buy a production instrument - sight-unseen - based upon what other folks are saying? Do you go to stores with a wide range of instruments and play a large sample to find the one(s) that fit your hands, ears and wallet? Do you order a production instruments with "Feature upgrades"? Do you buy a used instrument that has been out in the world for a while? Do you work with a custom builder to get an individually made instrument?

    My hope, as a small hands-on mandolin builder, is that your love of the mandolin makes ALL these choices a possibility. That is, that if you love playing the mandolin enough to pony-up for a high-end Chinese mando, you will eventually get the urge to "aim even higher" and take the next step -- where your decision is driven by an irrepressible need for responsiveness, tone, playability and collaboration with the builder in addition to price-point.

    In fact, I love the current reality of global choices because I know that means there is also a whole world-full of players out there who can't stop themselves from getting the urge to play something different, something better, something special. The sooner you start working over that Kentucky or Northfield, the sooner your playing skills and needs will grow to the point where the quest must resume!

    Bon voyage! I can't wait to hear what you decide to do . . . and see where the journey leads from there!

    Steve
    Thank you Steve for your very thoughtful comments. In fact, I do support the individual builders and currently own beautiful (appearance and sound) instruments from the likes of Nyberg and Poe.

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    Default Re: Comparing Northfield with Kentucky KM 1500

    I recall, five years ago, these kind of comparison threads, often rated the Eastman as number one for Asian built instruments. At that time, the consensus seemed to be that you had better play one before buying, because a 515 could just as easily sound as good as a 915. In this thread, there's hardly a mention of Eastmans. Yes i am aware that the original post was comparing Northfield with high end Kentucky. But still, are Eastmans no longer in the running?
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    Default Re: Comparing Northfield with Kentucky KM 1500

    5 years ago Kentucky was not making the 1500/900 nor was there a Northfield so Eastman was rated high on the best of the imports at that time. Time changes and these newer models have surpassed the Eastmans of yesteryear. If you can get a good price on the Eastmans they are still good on the models above the 515.
    If the Northfields are running $500 more than the KM1500 then I would buy the KM1000 and a KM900 and take my wife out to one of them fancy eatin' places where a good steak will set you back $50 without the salad and baked potato with the left over $$$. She will be more forgiving after learning you bought two mandolins at one time.

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    Default Re: Comparing Northfield with Kentucky KM 1500

    Well you can get a 1500 right now for $2000. That puts it $1000 less than the NF. I have played them both and was more impressed with the 1500 than the NF as brand new intruments. As the NF got a little older it did improve; however, I never did play the 1500 again. I have found myself not really caring for "new" instruments anymore and not ever wanting to buy any intrument without playing it first again. "free advice" with that said.... I am not a Northfield fan I will say that to qualify my answer, but for $1000 less on the 1500 and $1500 or more less for a km1000 or km900, I would look there and then take f5loars advice and go have a big steak. All I am saying is for $3000 there are a lot of used instruments out there that need a new home.

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    Default Re: Comparing Northfield with Kentucky KM 1500

    Here's my take on Eastman, and it's just one person's experience and perspective: I've played a number of Eastman over the years, and they all have a sound of their own that's neither here nor there. They don't sound like a Gibson (or has the traditional bluegrass sound), and they don't sound like some of the other modern sounding mandolins like Collings. I also find them to be a bit 'thin' or treble-sounding. They may be good sounding mandolins with really nice workmanship, but I just haven't fallen in love with any of them.

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    Default Re: Comparing Northfield with Kentucky KM 1500

    A $1000 difference? Well that changes my senero. So instead of the NF buy the KM1000 and a KM900 and take the wife on a 4 day Carnival cruise. You enter the hairy legs and belly flop contest and win it, she will forget you bought 2 mandolins at one time. And PS: on a Carnival cruise for $30 more you can upgrade for the big steak on the ship in their fancy upscale resturant and that includes the salad and baked "loaded" potato with appetizer and desert.

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    Default Re: Comparing Northfield with Kentucky KM 1500

    Tom, where would we be without ya?

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    Default Re: Comparing Northfield with Kentucky KM 1500

    Apparently we'd be on a cruise!

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    Default Re: Comparing Northfield with Kentucky KM 1500

    I think that is a very useful discussion being had here. Given that mandolins in the price range of a KM-1500 are well constructed and to my mind look pretty attractive as well, it really comes down to how much are we willing to pay for the tone we want and how much time and access to mandolins in this price range do we have to try the range of mandolins on the market today.

    So it seems that the more we pay for a mandolin, we are likely to get closer to the ideal tone and projection that the F5 Lloyd Loar mandolins supposedly have. I would suggest that if can get access to a Steve Gilchrist or one of the other top mandolins, we can then determine if that they have the sound we like and want. If we then work back down towards the top of the line modern Gibson F5s, and then down to a Kentucky KM1000 or KM 1500, we can see how close we are getting to the ideal tone and character we are looking for while paying much less than the top of the line instruments. I think that the ideal tone, character, and projection characteristics we want can only come from playing lots of mandolins in different settings. That way we have done lots of comparisons with the very best down to the pretty darn good mandolins such as the Kentucky KM1000 or KM1500.

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    Default Re: Comparing Northfield with Kentucky KM 1500

    Not exactly on subject, but after a Boxcars show last week I played the Northfield that Adam Steffy is using. He told me before the show that it is the newer less expensive one and he prefers it right now to the more expensive one he was playing. It seemed to be a very well made mandolin and easy to play. Very balanced sound and decent projection. In my hands the sound was a bit thin, but in his hands it was a perfect bluegrass mandolin, especially through the SM 57 beta mic.

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    Default Re: Comparing Northfield with Kentucky KM 1500

    Truly, are the ± $4-6k Gibson's any better than the ones being discussed here? I've always been of the opinion that unless you spring for a master model, a Gibson's price reflects American wages more than better mandolin quality when compared to the best Asian models. I'd expect that all at this level are built with about the same care and quality.

    Plus, if you played ten Gibson's, and then ten each of these other two, wouldn't it be a crapshoot predicting which would be your top five?
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    Default Re: Comparing Northfield with Kentucky KM 1500

    There is a tremendous difference between say the KM1500 and a new Gibson F5L Fern. The question would be is it a $4000 difference and that's just something only you the buyer/picker can determine. I can feel a better quality in the high end Gibsons especially the MM/DMM models. Is a decked out Cadillac DTS better than a decked out Lexus 460? I think so but the price difference is not that much different.

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    Default Re: Comparing Northfield with Kentucky KM 1500

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Nollman View Post
    Truly, are the ± $4-6k Gibson's any better than the ones being discussed here? I've always been of the opinion that unless you spring for a master model, a Gibson's price reflects American wages more than better mandolin quality when compared to the best Asian models.
    There is a real, tangible difference.

    Some of it is in detail that is not immediately obvious, unless you know where to look. For example, if you compare the pearl work on the Kentucky headstock to that on the Gibsons, they are completely different in how they are done, and the materials used. On the surface they look the same - but they're not. There are a lot of other small but important details that are done one way on the Gibsons and another on the Kentucky's (I can't comment on the Northfield's in this regard as I have not seen enough of them, I have never done any work on them, or even examined them in that kind of detail. I've only seen one).

    Gibson have had their "ups and downs" over the years, as we all know. There have been times when you would be better off with a good KM-1000 or 1500. Right now, though, they are turning out some really stunning, fine instruments. You can feel the quality the moment you take them out the case. That is confirmed when you go over them with your eye, looking for those little details. It is all those little things being done right, that come together to make a great instrument.

    You can't just go by specs on paper, either. On that basis, a KM-1000 should "blow away" say, an F-5G... but if you have played any recent F-5G's, you'll know they don't. I got to play a friend's recent F-5G not long back, and that was one impressive mandolin. The sound was all there. Incidentally, the factory setups lately have been very, very good indeed too. Fine components (custom Grovers and top-class bridges) all factory supplied too. No 'upgrading' required. Even the traditional tailpieces have much heavier plating than you'll see on cheaper instruments, and the metalwork is very high quality. Little details again.

    A big difference is that Gibson are drawing on a long line of top class people overseeing things, people who have been very dedicated to making the best mandolins possible, people like the late Charlie Derrington and of course, now, Dave Harvey. I think it shows, because the results speak for themselves.

    It is very important not to get too side-tracked by specs on paper... if it was that easy you could throw together a mandolin with red spruce and varnish and it would kill every lacquer/sitka instrument out there. That's not how it is, though. There is more going on 'under the hood' than that. It is the sum total of all the little details and how the top is carved and finished... the materials...the back... everything. The experience and skill of the builders involved is right at the top of the list.
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