Right now Fender are making the best cheap mandolins I've ever heard. They appear to be far superior to other brands in the 200-300 dollar range. Now don't think for a moment that it's THE Fender. Unh unh, these are as oriental as Kentucky, Johnson, Washburn and the rest. They just sound very good and have straight necks.
I've played some new Gibsons (around 6000 dollars) and some high end Japanese (2000 dollars) and these Fenders are not totally outclassed in sound.
Kentucky used to be a great buy but since they switched from Japan to Korea, the quality's dropped quite a bit.