Kingston 8-string, 1960s. $750.
You don't see one of these every day. Made at the Nagoya Music Factory in Japan in the mid-1960s, here's a vintage Kingston electric mandolin. The scale is 15.75 inches—more mandola than mandolin, but most players tune them GDAE. The long scale reportedly gives it a lot of sustain.
     The "egg" or "artist's palette" shape is obviously inspired by the 12-string Vox MandoGuitar introduced in the same time period. It has some nice touches: the tortoiseshell plastic pickguard is actually 4-ply and the neck is laminated from dozens of thin maple strips. Twin strap buttons and individual tuners; rosewood fretboard and bridge. There can't be many of these floating around—I've seen just a handful in the past 20 years—and it's hard to think of anything that looks cooler.
     I'm told that vintage Kingston mandolins are sought after because they have a Mosrite-style chrome pickup that includes a piece of gold foil on the face and a wire bobbin wound directly around the magnets. I can confirm that this one has its original pickup, and since the pots have been cleaned it works pretty darn well.
     I'm not convinced that these were built with much consideration for playability. The neck angle is shallow, and both the bridge and the nut were too high and indifferently slotted when this beast arrived. Hard to believe it was left that way for 50 years without someone seeking to correct it. I turned it over to my miracle-working luthier pal, who performed a setup to correct the intonation and string action. The instrument's functionality is greatly improved by his efforts, and it can now be played and properly appreciated by musician and audience alike.
     Sharp eyes will detect that I took the photos before replacing the bronze loop-end strings with the nickel-steel ball-ends that by all rights this instrument should have. I'll certainly put fresh strings on it for the buyer: either a mandolin or mandola set, your choice. For its age it's in good condition, with only moderate player wear and a couple of small dings in the finish.
     Add a strap, see more photos, call 425/772-0231, or for more information. $750 plus shipping. 48-hour approval period.