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Thread: Differences between Kentucky and Eastman A products

  1. #1
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    Default Differences between Kentucky and Eastman A products

    Hello all

    Is there much difference in playability and tone between the Kentucky 250 series and the 500 series instruments? And if you compared these to comparable Eastman Products what are your thoughts?
    Thank you
    Colemole

    Big Muddy MM-8 , Silverangel F5, Collings MT
    Red Valley EM, Eastman MD505

  2. #2
    The Amateur Mandolinist Mark Gunter's Avatar
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    Default Re: Differences between Kentucky and Eastman A products

    As a general rule I prefer the Kentucky products over the Eastman products. But if I were to prepare to purchase a Kentucky 500 series product, I’d likely want to test drive a couple. I’ve played one that I loved in a music store, I think it was a 2018 vintage.
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    Default Re: Differences between Kentucky and Eastman A products

    I feel that they are comparable at comparable price points with maybe Eastman winning at lower price points. For the Eastman's increased price may not always translate into more superior tone. Mostly you're paying for more figured woods, additional binding and finish differences. In a group of Eastmans, the best sounding one may not be the most expensive.

    Me, I like the Eastman product and have owned two and still have some regrets letting the one go. I have spent more and purchased custom mandolins but it wasn't because of a skill need, I just could. The Eastman instruments more than met my skill and playing needs and goals.

    Jamie
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    Registered User Doug Brock's Avatar
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    Default Re: Differences between Kentucky and Eastman A products

    I’ve owned multiple models from both brands. In general I’ve preferred the looks of the Kentucky mandolins but the sound and playability of the Eastmans. I did read more than once of store owners saying that the variability of the quality of Kentucky mandolins was enough to make the owner not carry Kentuckys, but that the Eastmans were much more consistent in quality control. For whatever reason, I see lots of Eastman mandolins and no new Kentucky mandolins in the handful of stores in Missouri and Kansas that I visit each year (I saw one used Kentucky mandolin in the past year.).

    My main point with that last tidbit is that, as with any mandolin purchase, you need to be careful about quality and playability. As long as you buy from a reputable dealer, I don’t think you can go wrong with either.
    Doug Brock
    2018 Kimble 2 point (#259), 2019 Silverangel Econo A (#446), Eastman MD315, 2020 Morris Oval Flattop A, Eastman MDA315, some guitars, banjos, and fiddles

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    The Amateur Mandolinist Mark Gunter's Avatar
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    Default Re: Differences between Kentucky and Eastman A products

    The big difference for me, in general is the feel. I owned an Eastman 305 for about two years & have played many at music stores and jams, and I haven’t found any one I like. I do not miss the one I owned at all. Conversely, I’ve played Kentucky’s and have been lucky in that the ones I’ve tried appeal to me way more than any Eastman.

    I’ve also found, though, that the stores I’ve contacted who are sponsors here tend to push the Eastman over Kentucky … perhaps partly for the reason you mention, who knows. Likewise, Eastman products seem to be touted by a majority of owners in these forums. So I have come to believe that I’m simply in the minority on my preferences.
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    Registered User Charles E.'s Avatar
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    Default Re: Differences between Kentucky and Eastman A products

    Well it appears that the OP already owns a Kentucky 250 series mandolin so I am not sure of his ultimate goal. I will say that I have played and owned a lot more Eastman mandolins than Kentucky mandolins (never actually owned one) so I am partial to them. Once, a number of years ago, I was at a music store and picked up an Eastman 505 and was very impressed. As I was playing, my wife turned to and said "Honey, do you have to play so loud"?
    Charley

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    Default Re: Differences between Kentucky and Eastman A products

    Hello
    I appreciate the various opinions. I own a Kentucky 256 and have not seemed to bond with it. So I am wondering if a change of brand or series will make a difference.
    I do enjoy my Red Valley flat top.
    Colemole

    Big Muddy MM-8 , Silverangel F5, Collings MT
    Red Valley EM, Eastman MD505

  10. #8
    The Amateur Mandolinist Mark Gunter's Avatar
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    Default Re: Differences between Kentucky and Eastman A products

    In that case you should try a couple of the Eastman instruments, it may be the feel of the neck that you don’t like about the Kentucky. As far as your original question goes, you can probably find differences in tone and feel between not only different models of the same manufacturer, but also in different years of production … also, simply between different individual instruments, which is why I wrote that my opinions are generally speaking.
    Also, I’ve only personally played a few of each manufacturer, only a dozen or so.

    Preferences on feel are very personal values, we don’t all like the same things. If the Red Valley is the only one you love of your current four, then keep looking. My favorites so far have been Collings MT and Kentucky 500 series, but there plenty of others who don’t like those. It’s a personal journey for sure.
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    Default Re: Differences between Kentucky and Eastman A products

    Agree with the above opinions and will add that the Eastmans I’ve played were more in the Collings tone camp, Kentuckys a bit more traditional sounding. I owned an Eastman 315 that was probably 85% of the tone of a MT I had at the same time (the 315 wasn’t quite as complex and not as good up the neck as the MT, but really held up well for the price point). I haven’t played many more recent Kentucky mandos but owned a 675-S built just after they moved to China around 2003 +/-. They were still working out kinks and it had some issues, so I’d try to avoid those from that era unless you can play it first. The more recent few I’ve picked up were clearly much better than mine.

    If you can luck I to a used KM-900 series mandolin you’ll probably notice a big jump from your 256, but they don’t show up for sale that often.
    Chuck

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    Default Re: Differences between Kentucky and Eastman A products

    I would say yes. My girlfriend has a km256, and my spare F hole mando is a km505. Playability is the same between the two (setup is key more than price point) and the tone on the 505 is noticeably different (ie-more complex, full, woody etc.). Way back around 2004 I had an Eastman MD505 and I consider the Kentuckys to be superior, at least in the mid-range and up. YMMV of course...

    Also, there will be a significant difference going from an oval hole flat top to any of the carved tops, whether oval or f hole.
    Last edited by Mainer73; Oct-28-2022 at 12:28pm.

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    Registered User Eric Platt's Avatar
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    Default Re: Differences between Kentucky and Eastman A products

    Really like the KM-505 by Kentucky. Have played a couple and they sounded fine. A couple of friends also have them as their travel/backup instruments. Have sat next to folks playing them in jams and thought they sounded good.

    That said, I also really like the 3xx series Eastman and came very close to getting a MD304 a few years ago. And my bandmate recently got an MD504 which is an excellent sounding oval hole.

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    Default Re: Differences between Kentucky and Eastman A products

    I played a couple of Eastmanís 315-815, IIRC, in the 2007-2008 range and was underwhelmed, but I think around 2013-2014 they made some tweaks (or the experience just really kicked in). My 315 was a 2015 and significantly better than the earlier ones I tried, including the 815. Of course, Kentucky has also improved through the years as well.
    Chuck

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    Default Re: Differences between Kentucky and Eastman A products

    Thank You all for your opinions and impressions. I sprung for an Eastman MD505. I will keep the Kentucky as well for now. I parted with the Beavertail which was a Flat Top Oval as I prefered the Red Valley Flat Top. Time will tell what keeps me happy.
    Colemole

    Big Muddy MM-8 , Silverangel F5, Collings MT
    Red Valley EM, Eastman MD505

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  17. #14
    Struggle Monkey B381's Avatar
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    Default Re: Differences between Kentucky and Eastman A products

    Ya know, out of all the mandolins I have owned:

    Kentucky KM250
    Kentucky KM150
    Morgan Monroe F style
    Eastman MD305
    Eastman MD 315
    Rouge firewood mandolin
    Eastman MD505

    The only one I couldn't get to sound very good was the Kentucky KM250....it was just weird.

    Eastmans have become my go-to...love them.
    "It doesn't matter how much you invest in your instrument until you invest in you and your ability..."

    Kentucky KM-150
    Eastman MD-404
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    Morgan Monroe MFM-300 (passed on to a new player)
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  18. #15
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    Default Re: Differences between Kentucky and Eastman A products

    Keeping both for a while is a good idea, I think. You'll settle into one that works best for you (or not and try something else). Enjoy!

    Jamie
    There are two things to aim at in life: first, to get what you want; and, after that, to enjoy it. Only the wisest of mankind achieve the second. Logan Pearsall Smith, 1865 - 1946

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  19. #16
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    Default Re: Differences between Kentucky and Eastman A products

    I have a Kentucky 252 and an Eastman 305 which are comparable in price A models with F holes. The Kentucky has a very slightly wider and rounder, fuller feeling neck and a more 'all round' kind of sound, I think it comers over as a more 'generalist' kind of instrument, including the look. My Eastman sounds more woody and sounds and looks more characterful. It'll be interesting to see how Colemole finds his two compare after a while.

  20. #17
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    Default Re: Differences between Kentucky and Eastman A products

    I have a 20 year old Eastman that has been complemented over the years. An experienced luthier once said, “you got one of the good ones.” And a good player who owns a vintage Gibson has given positive feedback after playing it on several occasions. I have no experience with Kentucky.

    So play both brands when you can, and buy the one that says “take me home.”
    Girouard A
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  21. #18

    Default Re: Differences between Kentucky and Eastman A products

    I'm a little late to the party on this, but...

    I owned both a Kentucky KM-250 and a KM-500 for little while. I had gotten a really good deal on the 250, and then I got a screaming deal on the 500, and thought i'd compare them and keep the one I liked better. I played them back-to-back over-and-over, and there was not much difference between the tone or playability once setup well (the 250 had a better setup out of the box). In the end I thought that the 500 maybe sounded a tiny bit woodier (maybe), and I liked the look a bit more, so I sold the 250 for nearly enough to cover what I had paid for the 500 (I got a really good deal).

    Then, a few months ago, I took the KM-500 with me to a local shop that had a used Eastman MD 505. I played them back to back for a while. I thought the Kentucky was a little woodier and more musical, and the Eastman was a touch louder and a bit more treble emphasis and cut. Honestly, though, they weren't that far apart. I thought I might trade in the Kentucky, but it would have cost me a couple of hundred bucks and I didn't think the difference was worth it. I didn't feel much difference in playability.

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