Ovation MM68 mandolin

Ovation MC868 mandocello
Approximately 25 years after Gibson gave up on the EM-150, another major guitar company finally came forward with a quality electric/acoustic 8-string. These instruments have the rounded plastic back characteristic of all Ovation guitars—which, at least in my mind, gives a sort of atavistic nod to the classic Neapolitan mandolin design. In addition to the mandolin, there's a nice-sounding and easy-playing electric/acoustic mandocello—the first from a major company in something like 60 years. The instruments have Ovation's patented pickup/preamp/EQ system, and just cry out to be plugged in.
      However, while I applaud Kaman Music's efforts to introduce a mandolin that can easily be used in an amplified setting, I personally think the Ovation mandolin sounds too much like a small guitar and not enough like a mandolin. Also, Kaman has created a good deal of confusion by releasing three models that look similar, but differ widely in quality. If you are going to buy one of these, the Ovation MM68 is the one to get. It has a solid spruce top and a professional setup, and works well both plugged and unplugged. It's also the most expensive of the three, retailing for around $1400 (although used ones are popping up for significantly less). The Ovation MSC148 sports the same electronics, but has a laminated top and doesn't cut it acoustically. It also suffers from sloppy setup work (at least the one I tried out had unacceptable string spacing at the bridge). It retails for around $450, but I wouldn't call it a bargain. Finally, there's the MAE148, sold under Kaman's low-end Applause line, which appears to be identical to the MSC148 except for the name on the headstock, the type of laminated wood used for the top, and the choice of colors.
     The Ovation name has a good reputation as a quality brand; Applause is widely recognized as a line of "cheap" instruments. I don't understand why Kaman would put out virtually the same instrument under these two different brand names. All I can say is caveat emptor. Make sure you know what you're buying.

Ovation MSC148 mandolin

Applause MAE148 mandolin