Best Mandolin Review – Top Rated Models in 2021 with Buying Guide
If you’re looking to pick up a new musical instrument, getting the best mandolin might be a surprising and rewarding choice. And, if you’ve decided to shop for such an item but don’t have the time to go to visit countless stores, we can help you out. After going through plenty of product reviews ourselves, we have come to the conclusion that one of the most popular mandolins right now is the Kentucky KM-256 Transparent and it is one you should seriously consider getting. It features a solid Sitka spruce top to provide a good articulation and a bright tone, it comes with a slim neck made of maple, and the fingerboard is specifically designed to provide a smooth play. If this item is no longer available, you can also opt for the Kentucky KM-150 Sunburst.
Our Top Choice
In case you want to pick the color of your mandolin, then it’s a good thing that with this model you can actually do that. Available in three different and beautiful colors, this instrument is also well crafted, as the back and sides are made of durable maple wood. On top of everything, the slim maple neck provides comfortable handling with every move.
The unit requires additional set up; therefore, if you are a beginner, you might need a professional to help you with that, which adds to the final cost.
Overall, this is a great sounding instrument and for the money it costs, the quality of its performance definitely makes it an option you should consider for your next purchase.
What makes this mandolin stand out is the solid German spruce top that offers a clean and strong articulation. Moreover, in terms of sound and tones, this model delivers an excellent performance. The Alpine maple sides and back ensure extra durability, while the tonewood fingerboard provides an overall smooth playability.
The product does not come with instructions and, since additional set up is needed for you to be able to use it, it might call for a professional’s help.
If you want to get a very good mandolin that offers an excellent performance in terms of sound, this might be the right choice for you.
Also To Consider
If you’re on the lookout for a mandolin that you can employ for different musical genres and last for many gigs and playing sessions, this unit might be cut out for you. The instrument was designed to perform and do so for a long time, and it thus features a durable construction that ensures playability and beautiful tones.
You might want to consider getting an extra set of strings as the one featured might not be that durable.
Boasting a stylish design and a reliable construction, this mandolin should not go unchecked before you make your final decision. It is versatile and easy to play.
7 Best Mandolins (Reviews) in 2021
Finding the perfect mandolin to practice requires plenty of effort and time as there are hundreds of models that might draw your attention. And, while it is virtually impossible to show you all the items on the market, we did come up with a list of the top mandolins according to customers’ opinions. Here is everything you need to know about them.
- 1. Kentucky KM-256 Artist A-model Mandolin
- 2. Kentucky KM-150 Standard A-model Mandolin
- 3. Stagg M50E Acoustic-Electric Bluegrass Mandolin
- 4. Savannah SA-100-BK A-Model Mandolin
- 5. Vangoa A Style Acoustic Electric Mandolin
- 6. Hola! Music A Style Mandolin HM-3TS
- 7. The Loar LM-310F-BRB Honey Creek F-Style Mandolin
- Yearly Guide & Report
- Frequently asked questions about mandolins
- Best mandolin brands
- Famous mandolin players you need to know about
1. Kentucky KM-256 Artist A-model Mandolin
The item is available in three different beautiful colors so you can pick the right one according to your preferences. The product features a solid carved Sitka spruce top to ensure a good sound articulation and a bright tone.
It also comes with durable back and sides made of maple wood, as well as a slim maple neck, to provide an easy and comfortable action with every move. We were also pleased with the choice of the East Indian rosewood fingerboard that not only offers a silky smooth play, but also a unique and sophisticated design to the mandolin.
The transparent brown lacquer finish on top completes the exquisite look of this instrument, providing a vintage look. The item is also lightweight at just 2.6 pounds, so you can easily carry it with you anywhere you go. We do suggest ordering an additional case to make sure you transport and deposit the mandolin accordingly.
Committed to lasting and helping you advance your skills and explore, this mandolin should not be ignored before you make your final decision and order.
To make sure that using it for a long time won’t be a problem, the instrument features durable maple wood back, sides, and neck.
The spruce top further adds to the durability offered by this product and contributes to the clean articulation as well as bright tones users will get to enjoy when employing this instrument.
The slim neck and the lightweight build of this mandolin promise to make your practice sessions and gigs comfortable even if they stretch over hours.
To enhance your performance not only sonically but also visually, the item features a transparent brown lacquer finish that gives it a vintage touch and a stylishly-designed East Indian rosewood fingerboard.
The mandolin might require some setup, according to one buyer, and that might prove to be a bit difficult for a beginner.Buy from Amazon.com
2. Kentucky KM-150 Standard A-model Mandolin
The item provides a solid design for a long service life and amazing performances. The solid German spruce top offers a strong and clean articulation, as well as a bright tone each time you touch the mandolin. The instrument also features Alpine maple sides and back for extra durability and a good punch.
The slim neck is made of the same top-quality Alpine maple in order to add more comfort and easy action. This way, you will be able to create and release the most beautiful sounds whether you are a beginner or a pro. As for the set of tuners, these open-geared ones will help you keep your instrument in tune every time.
We also liked the tonewood fingerboard that offers this instrument an overall smooth playability. The design of the mandolin is completed with a high-gloss sunburst finish and the brand’s logo on the front for a traditional and modern look at the same time.
Whether you’re a beginner or a professional mandolin player, this unit is worth considering if what you want is a durable and comfortable instrument.
The mandolin features quality materials and a thoughtfully-designed build that will make it easier for you to enjoy the sonic outputs you’re after and do so in a comfortable manner.
Thanks to the slim neck and the tonewood fingerboard employed, you will get to enjoy ease of action as well as smooth playability.
The unit features maple sides, back, and neck and a spruce top that makes it easier for the player to enjoy a woody articulate tone.
To enhance playability, the product comes with accurately-positioned and perfectly-polished frets.
The instrument does not come assembled; therefore, you will have to set it up and, if you’re new to this and thus need the help of a professional, your final cost will be greater.Buy from Amazon.com
3. Stagg M50E Acoustic-Electric Bluegrass Mandolin
Suitable for a variety of musical applications and genres, this stylishly-designed electro-acoustic mandolin is worth taking into account if you’re interested in a reliable instrument that will cover your needs beautifully and do so for a long time. It is built with quality materials that will help you express your creativity and advance your skills.
To deliver such results, the mandolin features nato top, sides, back, and neck, as well as a rosewood fingerboard. The tonewoods used ensure durability and tones that will help you contour your sonic journey admirably. The black-stained maple bridge is adjustable, and the item also comes with an engraved nickel tailpiece and open-gear nickel machine heads.
The way this instrument was built ensures enhanced playability, while the eye-catching red burst finish will enable this mandolin to cut a fine figure not only from a sonic point of view but also from a visual one. The mandolin is also available in an acoustic version.
This electro-acoustic mandolin is a model you might want to take into consideration if you’re interested in beautiful tones, durability, and playability.
This mandolin can be employed for different musical genres and playing styles, given the way it was built and its sonic capacities,
Besides ensuring versatility, this product should also provide you with many practice sessions and gigs thanks to the quality materials used for its construction.
The item features nato and rosewood for its various parts, as well as open-gear nickel machine heads.
The red burst finish will complete your performance with visuals that won’t go unnoticed, and the product is also available in an acoustic version.
The black-stained maple bridge can be adjusted so that you can improve the sound whenever needed.
The strings the instrument comes with might not be as durable as expected, and thus, new or more durable ones might be needed.Buy from Amazon.com
4. Savannah SA-100-BK A-Model Mandolin
This model is intended for beginners who have just picked up playing the mandolin, hence the attractive and affordable retail price. The item is made of quality hard maple on the neck and also features a fretboard made of bound rosewood.
But don’t mistake the item’s low retail price with inferior quality as it is clearly not the case. In fact, this mandolin sounds great and will provide a clean and bright sound every time you play it. It is perfect for children and young adults who have just begun discovering the mysteries of the mandolin.
The item is also lightweight at just 2.84 pounds, so you can carry it with you anywhere you go. It will certainly impress your friends and family members over barbecues or weekend camping parties.
Bear in mind that the item doesn’t come with a protective case so you must purchase one separately to make sure you transport and store the mandolin accordingly.
If you’re new to mandolin playing and you are thus looking for an affordable instrument that can help you learn the basics without breaking your budget, this option might be right up your alley.
Despite its decent price, the unit comes with quality materials that won’t just last but will also help you produce quality sounds.
The mandolin features a maple neck and a rosewood fretboard that will make sure using it for lots of practice sessions won’t be a problem and that will enable students to produce clean and bright sounds.
The stylish design will complement your gigs with nice visuals whereas the lightweight body will help you to carry it from one place to another with ease.
The unit does not come with a protective case and, thus, you need to buy one separately if you don’t own one already.Buy from Amazon.com
5. Vangoa A Style Acoustic Electric Mandolin
This model seeks to deliver a premium design and performance for a great price point. This makes it a great purchase for beginners or students who are looking for a good instrument to start their musical journey. It is made of premium mahogany wood, and it has a curved body that can deliver a brighter sound.
Vangoa uses an advanced scientific production process that ensures that each fingerboard delivers the smoothness, durability, and accuracy that customers demand. That’s not all since the fingerboard is then checked twice to ensure that there are no manufacturing errors that could prevent the player from getting the best sound out of the instrument.
In addition, the body of the mandolin is made to be wear-resistant, and it comes with full closed tuning pegs to make the pitch more stable and easier to play. The instrument comes with volume control and built-in pickup systems so that you can plug it into an amp and increase the sound to make the instrument ready for the stage.
It is a perfect purchase for a beginner since the instrument is very affordable, and it comes with extra accessories, namely guitar picks, a digital clip-on tuner, a strap and padded gig bag, and extra strings.
The mahogany body and the solid wood bridge have a premium look to them, and they can deliver a brighter and warmer sound to you.
The tailpiece and the chrome-plated closed gear tuners will keep the mandolin in tune, and they make it easy to adjust the strings whenever needed.
The product comes with a full one-year warranty that will protect your purchase against any damage or defects.
The height of the strings above the fretboard is a bit too high, and it may need to be fixed by sanding away at it.
The port where the cable gets plugged doesn’t always work if you plug it all the way in, and you may need to rock it a little out.Buy from Amazon.com
6. Hola! Music A Style Mandolin HM-3TS
Beginners will find the HM-3TS from Hola! Music a good choice, especially since it costs only a fraction of what expensive models demand. To learn how to play the mandolin, you don’t need a top of the line instrument, and this one will do just fine. It is a traditional A style model, and it has 8 strings.
The manufacturer made it available in a beautiful Sunburst finish that will surely catch your eye. The body is made from maple wood, while the bridge is made from rosewood, something you might not expect to find in a model this cheap. Another thing that makes it a good buy is the adjustable truss rod.
You will even get the wrench to work on it, and that’s another plus. A bit of attention to detail was employed, as the 20 silver nickel frets can attest. Also, the tuners are chrome plated, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how easy they work.
Maple wood is known for its excellent characteristics as a tonewood, and that is why the manufacturer chose it to build the body of this mandolin.
With a walnut fingerboard and rosewood bridge, it is an excellent looking mandolin that comes in an attractive Sunburst finish that will turn some heads.
You will find an adjustable truss rod in the neck of the instrument, and the wrench you need to work with it is supplied, as well.
A pickguard made from sturdy ABS protects your instrument from getting scratched with the pick while playing it.
From the box, the instrument might not be in perfect playing shape, as you might have to lower the strings from the breach and work on some finishing issues.
Re-tuning it is pretty much a must upon receiving it, but since the tuners offer smooth operation, you will not find this operation too much of a hassle.Buy from Amazon.com
7. The Loar LM-310F-BRB Honey Creek F-Style Mandolin
This mandolin was built to ensure a premium sensorial experience and, therefore, features quality materials and a thoughtfully-designed body that will provide you with noteworthy sonic results. To achieve such results, the manufacturer carefully chose the materials for the construction of this unit.
It thus boasts a solid hand-carved spruce top, as well as maple back, sides, and neck. All that is further paired with nickel-plated tuning machines and D’Addario strings. These features work together to create the beautiful 1920s sound and enable you to engage in extended playing sessions without losing your tuning too soon.
What’s more, the maple neck features a ‘V’ profile to provide the player with enhanced comfort. Furthermore, the fretboard extension has been removed for this model, which ensures easy strumming. This mandolin is not only about sonic performance, though. The satin brown burst finish will pair your playing sessions with stylish visuals as well.
Built with playability and superior sound quality in mind, this mandolin is an option you might want to take a closer look at if what you want is a durable and reliable instrument.
To make sure you get to express your personality and creativity beautifully from a sonic point of view, the product comes with maple back, sides, and neck and a solid hand-carved spruce top.
The instrument should keep up with many playing sessions before tuning is needed again; plus, the mandolin is equipped with D’Addario strings.
Due to the ‘V’ profile of the maple neck, playability is another benefit offered by this instrument.
What’s more, the fact that the fretboard extension has been removed should enable you to enjoy easy strumming.
The mandolin needs a complete setup, and if you’re new to this, you might want to take it to a professional to help you with that.Buy from Amazon.com
Best mandolin accessories
Buying the perfect mandolin won’t help you learn how to play correctly unless it also comes with the right accessories. From strings to protective cases, bags, and straps, these mandolin accessories will help you reach the perfect sound and protect your investment in time. Here are some of the most useful accessories you can equip your musical instrument with.
Best mandolin strings
D’Addario EJ74-3D Bronze 11-40
Although most mandolins come with their own set of strings, it is advisable to have at least two more spare sets, especially if you are a beginner.
This product is available in a medium size of 11-40. All strings are made of top-quality phosphor bronze to ensure a long-lasting design that will deliver a warm and rich sound every time you use them. The looped construction provides a universal fit, so they are perfect for all types of medium-sized mandolins.
Proudly made in the United States, this set of strings comes in a frustration-free package that is friendly with the environment and resistant to corrosion. Storing these strings accordingly will help you use them for a long time from now on, no matter how aggressive your playing style is.
All mandolin strings from D’Addario are credited and trusted by some of the greatest legends in the field, including Mike Marshall, Doyle Lawson, and others.
Ideal for beginners and advanced mandolin players alike, this set of strings should not go unchecked if you play a lot and you want to make sure there’s a spare set available when needed.
The strings feature phosphor bronze, which will not only keep up with extended use but will also help you enjoy a warm and rich sound whenever you use them.
The items are available in a medium size of 11-40 and have a looped construction, so you can use them for any type of medium-sized mandolins.
The corrosion-resistant packaging used will make sure the strings are always in the best condition for you to use them.
Thanks to the way they were made, the strings promise to ensure an optimal blend of strong projection and balanced tension.
Keep in mind the size of these strings as they will make a great fit only for medium-sized mandolins.Buy from Amazon.com
Best mandolin case
Gearlux A-Style Hard Case
It is extremely important to purchase a fitting mandolin case to protect your investment in the long term. The cases from Gearlux are not only great for traveling but also for storing your item whenever you are not using it to avoid excessive moisture, exposure to direct sunlight or dust that might damage both the exterior and interior of your instrument.
This mandolin case is specifically designed to fit most A-style instruments, regardless of their size. It comes with a plush padded interior to provide extra safety against bumps or drops.
The roomy interior offers enough space to deposit all your accessories, including an extra set of strings and your music sheets. This way, your mandolin and accessories will be safe from harsh weather conditions, shocks or bumpy roads.
Equipped with a regular lock and key closure, the case is lightweight and features a reliable handle for convenient carrying even for long distances.
The way you store and transport your mandolin will have a word to say when it comes to its durability and this case was built to make sure you can extend the life of your instrument.
The case is committed to fitting most A-style instruments as well as accessories such as strings and music sheets.
Thanks to the plush padded interior, your instrument will be protected even if you drop the case and, thus, makes a good option for musicians on the road.
To further enhance the safety provided, the case comes with a key closure and a regular lock that will keep the instrument safe inside even when the road gets bumpy.
The lightweight build and reliable handle promise to make transportation easy and comfortable.
Make sure you check out the product’s dimensions carefully before buying as a few users say certain mandolins did not fit well.Buy from Amazon.com
Best mandolin gig bag
Superior C-3770 Trailpak II
The bag is specifically designed to meet all standard A-shaped and F-shaped mandolins. The item is made of quality 600-den black ballistic nylon, similar to the fabric used to manufacture luggage trollers, in order to ensure maximum protection. The 12 mm padding on the inside will keep your mandolin safe from wear and tear.
The interior lining is made of a non-scratch soft red flannel to comfortably accommodate your mandolin and ensure a tight and safe fit. The item is strong enough to provide protection against harsh weather conditions and minor bumps but also lightweight enough to ensure a comfortable transportation wherever you go.
This mandolin case also features a top-quality nylon handle and an adjustable shoulder strap for extra portability whenever you are traveling. In addition, the item comes with a few exterior pockets with Velcro closure to safely store all your essentials and mandolin accessories.
If you own a standard A-shaped or F-shaped mandolin and you’re on the lookout for a quality bag that will help you transport, store, and protect your instrument, this product might be right up your alley.
To make sure your mandolin will be safe when not used or carried from one place to another, the bag features 600-den black ballistic nylon as well as thick padding for enhanced protection.
The non-scratch soft red flannel used for the interior lining promises to accommodate the instrument tightly and safely.
The unit is lightweight so you can carry it with ease and comes with a nylon handle and an adjustable shoulder strap for enhanced portability and comfort.
Thanks to the exterior pockets, you can also store and transport some of your mandolin accessories.
A few buyers who tried this bag say that they would have liked the exterior pockets to be a bit bigger to store more accessories.Buy from Amazon.com
Best mandolin strap
Planet Waves Strap Brown
A mandolin strap is probably one of the most useful accessories, especially if your hands easily get tired or want to ensure extra comfort when carrying the item with you.
This particular strap from Planet Waves is made of superior quality 100% genuine brown leather that is strong, secure, and soft at the same time. You can adjust the strap according to your own height and dimensions, so you will always benefit from the most comfortable fit.
Even though mandolins are not heavy instruments, a leather strap might come in handy if you are clumsy or want more stability when playing.
This item features a rugged metallic hook on both ends to easily connect to the straps of your instrument. This will provide a strong and secure fit whenever you are playing and prevent you from dropping the instrument. The strap measures 2 inches in width.
If you often engage in mandolin playing sessions and you also travel a lot, this strap might be of interest as it will help you do so with greater ease and keep even long gigs comfortable.
To help you carry your instrument for a long time, the strap features superior quality 100% genuine brown leather.
The material used is not only durable but also soft, so you can employ the strap without affecting your comfort.
Connecting it to your instrument is an easy process thanks to the rugged metallic hooks featured.
To accommodate the needs of all musicians, the strap is adjustable and, thus, provides a comfortable fit no matter the height or size of the player who uses it.
The stylish design and quality build will add nice visuals to your performance as well.
Beginners might find the strap to be a bit difficult to set up as the item comes with no instructions.Buy from Amazon.com
Best mandolin amp
Fishman Loudbox Artist
Looking for a new and affordable amplifier for your mandolin? The Loudbox from Fishman is equipped with no less than 120 watts that will provide an ultra-clear and bi-amplified acoustic sound each time you plug it in. It has two channels for easily plugging in your musical instrument or mic input.
What we like about this product is that it provides plenty of effects to improve your live mandolin performance, according to your requirements. You can easily appeal to a reverb, flanger, delay, echo, slap echo, and other effects to enrich the sound and provide an improved experience for your musical act.
In addition, the amplifier also comes with a footswitch input to have easy access to your favorite sound effects without using your hands. Thanks to this device, it will always be easy to find the perfect balance between your mic input and the mandolin one so you’ll deliver a clear sound every time.
If you take your mandolin practice seriously and you want to level up your performance, this mandolin amp is worth paying attention to.
Equipped with 120 watts, this unit will make sure you get a clear bi-amplified acoustic sound whenever you use it.
The two channels featured ensure convenient instrument/mic plugging whereas the footswitch input will make it easy for you to access the various sound effects provided.
To help you explore your sonic personality and give it countless shapes, the amp offers a variety of effects you can use to color your musical output.
Despite the many features it comes with, the amp is lightweight, so you can easily add it to your gear when traveling or performing outdoors.
Given the small size of the amp, some buyers might find it to be a bit expensive, but many users have been pleased with its performance.Buy from Amazon.com
Best mandolin bridge
Greenten Adjustable Compensated
This bridge is specifically designed for Archtop mandolins and is 114 mm long. It is made of quality genuine rosewood to ensure your mandolin will deliver the perfect sound each time you use it. The saddle section is 73mm x 12mm, with an 8mm thickness.
The item was fitted using two knurled adjusters to help you lower or raise each end of the bridge according to your preferences. It also features a compensated saddle that will improve your intonation each time you play.
Before purchasing the item, please keep in mind that it is not string cut and, just like any other new bridge, may require prior assembly to perfectly fit your mandolin and help you play comfortably.
This affordable bridge is perfect for beginner mandolin players who have yet to adjust with the instrument’s anatomy and learn how to properly play it.
The various accessories you use for your mandolin performance count a lot when it comes to the sonic output you get to enjoy and this bridge was designed to help you up your experience.
Built with Archtop mandolins in mind, the bridge features quality genuine rosewood that will positively impact the sounds you produce when using it.
Thanks to the two knurled adjusters employed, you will be able to easily lower or raise its ends according to your needs.
The materials used are committed to lasting and keeping up with many practice sessions and gigs.
The saddle was designed to help players improve their intonation whenever they use this bridge.
It makes a great choice for beginners as it will help them get accustomed to the mandolin and play it properly with greater ease.
The unit is not string cut and may require some assembly in order for it to perfectly and comfortably fit the mandolin.Buy from Amazon.com
Best mandolin book
Alfred’s Teach Yourself to Play
This book written by Dan Fox is the perfect reading for beginners and professionals alike who want to learn everything about mandolins, including how they sound, and how to play them. Start the journey of a lifetime by acquiring this book and reading it page to page.
The book intends to offer an exceptional visual experience and it is complete with images that will teach you how to properly identify all the pieces in a mandolin and learn their role. The step-by-step method is used to teach you how to read music notations and understand all chord symbols you require for playing.
The book also addresses some important mandolin techniques and is a great source for learning some of the most popular songs written for mandolins, together with their lyrics. The item is available in various formats, including Kindle and hard copies.
Whether you’re a beginner or a professional mandolin player, this book is worth adding to your library as it promises to help players of all levels learn more about this instrument and its sonic capabilities.
To help beginners get acquainted with this instrument, the book offers valuable information about the anatomy of mandolins.
It provides thoughtfully-organized lessons that will help you properly identify all the parts of a mandolin and their role.
The information provided will not only help you read music notations and chord symbols but will also help you learn some of the most popular mandolin techniques.
Given the various book formats available, you can easily find a version to fit your reading preferences.
Some buyers say the book might be a bit difficult for beginners with no experience and, thus, it might be a better choice for those who have some knowledge in this field.Buy from Amazon.com
Yearly Guide & Report
Finding the best mandolin is not an easy task, especially if you’re not a seasoned musician. There are plenty of important aspects to look for and, without someone to guide you, you may not pick the right item for a beginner. If you want to make sure you chose a quality mandolin, here are some details to keep in mind.
Most modern mandolins available for sale nowadays have one of these three body shapes – A-style, F-style or bowl-backed. Each type of product comes with its own perks and downsides, and it is up to you to find the right one that will match your mandolin playing style.
If you are a beginner, we strongly suggest you opt for an A-style or F-style body mandolin as these two are easier to use and simpler. Both of these mandolin types were developed a century ago, in the 1920s, but the differences between them are mainly cosmetic.
A-style mandolins come with a pear-shaped body and they might feature an O-shaped hole in the middle of the soundboard or two F-shaped holes, one on each side of the soundboard, similar to the ones you’ll find on violins. They are usually less expensive and more common, so it won’t take you long before finding the right one.
On the other hand, F-shaped mandolins are harder to build and feature a more ornately carved body. They typically feature two F holes rather than one O hole and there are some differences in tones between them and the A-shaped instruments.
Bowl-back mandolins are quite challenging for beginners and you’ll also have to closely check the quality of the item before purchasing it.
Acoustic mandolin or an electric one?
In your quest to finding a good mandolin, you’ll also have to choose between regular and electric ones. Electric mandolins began their US journey back in the 1920s when they were mainly used to release a much more powerful sound in order to be heard better, especially in band settings.
Electric mandolins are played and tuned in the same way as regular ones, but you’ll have to buy specific mandolin strings. These are similar to the ones used for a great-sounding electric ukulele.
The body of electric mandolins are also quite different, and so is the way in which they produce sounds that are then amplified. There are also some hybrids available, called acoustic-electric mandolins. You can choose to electrify your acoustic mandolin with a piezoelectric pickup that’s quite similar to currently available acoustic guitar pickups.
The price of electric mandolins is usually higher than the one of regular items, and you will also require some additional elements, including a tube amp to deliver the desired sound and intensity of the sound.
If you are still not sure which item would best suit your interests, we suggest you go through some online mandolin reviews and see what others have to say about a certain product.
The materials used
Regardless if you opt for a cheap mandolin or a pricier item, you should pay attention to the materials used to manufacture your product. While all mandolins are made of wood, the quality of this material varies dramatically, depending on which part it was used.
Keep in mind that different parts of this musical instrument must endure different levels of pressure, so it is only natural that they are made of a wide variety of wood types, softer or harder.
Each part of the instrument should be made of a certain type of wood so, according to this rule, it will be easier for you to recognize a good-quality item from one of inferior quality. For instance, the soundboard or the top of the mandolin should be made of solid spruce, a type of wood that is both strong and lightweight.
You could go for a soundboard made of mahogany or cedar, which will release a deeper tone. There is also the option of a laminate top which should be taken into account if you’re looking for the best budget mandolin.
And, while you have plenty of options for the soundboard, the wood used for the neck of your mandolin is critical to the instrument’s quality. Due to its long form, the neck can bend, which could cause serious damage to your instrument. So, you should opt for a rigid neck, best made of mahogany and maple.
Having a laminate neck is also an option worth considering if you’re looking for a mandolin for sale. Finally, you should also consider the quality of the bridge. Unlike a high-quality violin bridge, the one used for mandolins is movable. The bridge should be made of rosewood or ebony, with rosewood being the most popular option.
Again, if you’re not really sure which type of product to buy, maybe some online reviews of mandolins will come in handy.
Strings are also important and should be specifically made for your instrument. Although similar to durable ukulele strings and fine violin strings, you should make sure to purchase a set of strings designed specifically for your mandolin.
The strings are also different depending on the type of mandolin you opt for. Steel acoustic guitar strings and those for acoustic mandolins are different, so why shouldn’t it be the same for electric instruments?
Other things to consider
Lastly, you should think about protecting your investment. Just like strong and durable violin cases, a mandolin case is specifically designed to meet the requirements of your instrument and to keep it safe from dust, bumps, and harsh weather conditions.
You want an item that provides increased protection to your mandolin while also being lightweight enough to be easily carried all day long. Invest in a case with a strong handle and an adjustable shoulder strap for increased comfort.
Also, look for cases with roomy interiors so you can also keep all your accessories in one place. If you’re a beginner, consider investing in a good violin metronome to help you focus better while you’re practicing.
Frequently asked questions about mandolins
Q: Are mandolin chords the same as ukulele and guitar?
If you learned how to play the guitar correctly and now think about picking up a new instrument, a ukulele or mandolin may cross your mind. And, while your chord knowledge in one field may give you some leverage, there are still several things to learn about each instrument.
To put it bluntly, the chords of a mandolin are not exactly the same as the ones used for ukulele and guitars. There are slight differences in some areas that you will need to study in order to find the perfect tune for each musical note.
Q: Are violins and mandolins tuned the same?
The mandolin is a rather easy instrument to play and, just like a guitar, you have to try a little bit to make it sound bad. On the other hand, without proper learning and techniques, you can easily make a violin sound awful. Luckily for you, if you know how to play the violin, picking up a mandolin is like going on a sunny vacation in the middle of winter.
These two instruments are very similar and the tuning is also mostly the same. They both have the same scale and they are tuned in the same way.
Q: How much do mandolin lessons cost?
The answer to this question really depends on how eager you are to learn to play, and how easy you’ll find the right professor. Depending on where you live, there might be some free lessons available at community centers or art courses.
You can also pick up learning how to play the mandolin online. You’ll find plenty of free lessons that are suitable for beginners who don’t really know the insights of this instrument yet. If, however, you are keen on learning with a real professor, a one-hour lesson can cost quite a bit, depending on the teacher’s notoriety.
Q: Why is learning to play the mandolin so hard?
Believe it or not, the mandolin and the ukulele are actually some of the easiest musical instruments you can learn to master. Unlike violins or other classical instruments, mandolins feature a smaller number of strings and finding the right tonality is quite easy.
Out of all string instruments, the secrets of a mandolin can be learned online or by reading some books first and then practicing. However, it may be quite hard if you don’t have elementary notions of music theory, including tonalities or reading music notes and different tempos.
Nevertheless, it is never too late to pick up learning to play the violin as it is extremely rewarding once you’ve mastered its secrets.
Q: Why and when was the mandolin invented?
Although the first string musical instruments are believed to have appeared thousands of years ago, the mandolin is considered quite a modern instrument. It derives from the lute family of single-stringed instruments and was first developed in Italy around the 17th century.
The deep bowled mandolin, the most common form of the instrument today, was particularly produced and developed in the Italian region of Naples and didn’t become common until the 19th century.
It is believed that the first musical bow appeared over 15,000 years ago. It has evolved ever since by adding more strings and, thus, leading to the apparition of bow harps, harps or lyres.
Q: When to change mandolin strings?
The answer to this question really depends on you, your playing skills, and style. If you’re just beginning to solve the mysteries of this instrument, it may be easier to start with a few spare strings. It also depends on how often you play the mandolin and how many hours you spend practicing or playing it.
Keep in mind that strings age differently, depending on their quality and materials. Thus, it is only up to you to know when you need to change them as each mandolin player is different. On average, if you play the mandolin one-two hours per day, you’ll have to replace the strings around every month.
Q: What mandolin should I buy?
If it’s the first time you are playing the instrument, there is no need for investing in a really expensive item. In fact, we suggest you start with a “trial mandolin”, a regular item you can easily get at a great price just to see how it works.
After you mastered the basics and learned how to properly string and tune your instrument, you can start thinking of acquiring a more professional item. We suggest regular A-shaped mandolins for beginners as they are lightweight and easier to handle.
Q: Who plays mandolin in Led Zeppelin?
Led Zeppelin was one of the most iconic rock bands in the world, with a history of around 22 years. The band started performing in 1962 and has developed its style ever since. Although the band is mainly known for its rock approach, that didn’t stop the musicians to also play and explore other associated genres, including blues, folk, as well as heavy metal.
The band was composed of four members – Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Bonham, and John Paul Jones. Out of the four members, Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones are the ones who also played the mandolin in some of the band’s songs.
Q: Who played the mandolin for The Grateful Dead?
The Grateful Dead was an American rock band founded over 50 years ago in California. The band activated for three decades, from 1965 to 1995 and was known for its unique and eclectic style that combined bluegrass, rock, blues, jazz, country, and even reggae, and folk.
Out of the many members who played in the band throughout its existence, guitarist Jerry Garcia is viewed as the leading member and the spokesperson for the group. As he grew up, Garcia was heavily influenced by bluegrass music and performed in some bluegrass bands. The most notable is ‘Old and in the Way’, where he played on banjo and also experimented on mandolin alongside David Grisman.
Q: Which mandolin is best for beginners?
If you are new to the world of mandolins, picking the right item could prove quite a hustle. Apart from learning how to play it, you’ll also have to get used to the jargon. So how can you make sure you purchased the right one with so many options?
We do suggest starting with a more affordable item so you’ll first learn about its anatomy and how to create the perfect sounds. You shouldn’t spend too much on a beginner’s mandolin, as you can always upgrade it in the future if you think this passion will stick.
Q: Where to find mandolin tabs?
The best source of finding mandolin tabs is the Internet. There are plenty of websites that provide hundreds of tabs specifically created for mandolin which you can download and study in the comfort of your own home. Although some of them require payment, there are also quite a few good free online resources you can check out.
Mandotabs.com and Mandolintab.com are some of the websites that offer free mandolin tablatures so you should check them out as soon as possible. Youtube also remains quite a reliable free source for a lot of complete tutorials, including some good tablatures.
Best mandolin brands
Gretsch is one of the oldest American companies manufacturing musical instruments, including guitars, drums, and mandolins. It was founded almost 150 years ago, in 1883 and, since then, it sold millions of instruments worldwide.
Friedrich Gretsch was the founder and he manufactured tambourines, banjos, and drums until his death, at the age of 39. The family business was inherited by his son, Fred. However, despite his attempts, Fred Jr. never found a compatible successor, so the company was sold to Baldwin Pianos more than half a century ago, in 1967. The company was bought back in 1985 by Fred Jr.’s nephew, Fred W. Gretsch.
This Japanese company has a history of 61 years, being founded in 1957 in Nagoya and owned by Hoshino Gakki. The latter has a history of 110 years and began as a musical instrument sales division.
The mandolins manufactured by Ibanez provide a wonderful and clear sound and have been used by plenty of famous musicians, even though the brand is mainly known for its guitars and electric guitars.
The company sells its items all over the world and, ever since its beginning, it sold over two million instruments, including mandolins.
Owned by Saga Musical Instruments, The Kentucky Mandolin company is based in San Francisco. Its products were manufactured in various states, including Japan and Korea, but the production moved to China in 2001.
The mandolins created and sold by the company are suitable for all types of mandolin players, both beginners and professionals. The Kentucky Mandolin takes pride in delivering top-quality instruments at affordable prices.
However, the company also sells one-of-a-kind items and collectibles, as well as professional mandolins that can easily reach a few thousand dollars. One of the most popular lines of musical instruments created by the brand is the 150 series.
Famous mandolin players you need to know about
Born Christopher Scott Thile, this American musician and singer-songwriter is not only young and good-looking but also extremely talented. He engaged in plenty of musical genres, including bluegrass, jazz, folk, country, and classical music.
He started his music career when he was only 8 years old, starring in a family band. By the age of 12, he had already won a series of awards thanks to his mandolin skills. Thile released his demo tape in 1993 and has been an active musician ever since.
However, the mandolin is not his only passion, as he can play a wide variety of instruments, including bouzouki, banjo, guitar, drums, piano, cello, violin, viola, and others.
Born in 1952, Sam Bush is a reputed bluegrass musician from Kentucky. He is a professional mandolin player and, throughout his musical career, has received many awards and distinctions.
He won three Grammys, in 1992, 1996, and 2001, and has also been nominated for another Grammy Award in 2006. His distinctions include both country and instrumental performances. Between 1977 and 2016 he has released 10 different solo albums, with the latest, Storyman, launched in 2016.
He was also part of numerous special projects alongside other famous singers and players, including David Grisman, Joshua Bell, and Marc Broussard.
Born over a century ago, in 1911, Bill Monroe was a reputed American singer, songwriter, and mandolin player.
He was one of the people responsible for the creation and popularization of the music style called bluegrass.
He was active on the musical scene for about seven decades, in which he played as a solo artist and also alongside his band, the Blue Grass Boys.
Monroe released no less than 9 different solo albums between 1946 and 1958.
He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame back in 1970, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997, one year after his death.
Born in 1991, Sierra Hull is a famous American bluegrass singer, mandolinist, and guitarist.
She is known for adopting the bluegrass music style at an early age, and she eventually went on to study at the Berklee College of Music.
Hull was signed to a record house when she was only 13 years old and released a debut vocal album only three years later, in 2008. The album was a hit and reached the second place on Billboard’s Top Bluegrass Album chart.
She has received five International Bluegrass Music Association nominations in her career, as well as a Bluegrass Star Award in 2013.
Born Kenneth Charles Burns, he was a reputed American singer, mandolin player, and comedian. He was known for his affinity to the country music genre which he tried to influence throughout his career.
While serving in the US Army, he fought in Europe during the World War II and, alongside friend and partner Henry Haynes, he formed a comedy duo that moved to Cincinnati after the war, in 1947.
The duo won a Grammy award in 1959 for the best comedy performance, but Burns never forgot his true passion for music.
As an influential mandolin player, his style was similar to the one promoted by musician Bill Monroe.
This artist was born in Mississippi in 1956 and is a reputed bluegrass mandolin player, as well as the former protege of Bill Monroe, The Father of Bluegrass.
However, unlike his tutor, Compton is considered a modern master of the mandolin, combining classical sounds with elements of the new technology and more “modern” approaches towards music in general.
He was nominated for the IBMA Mandolinist of the Year Award two years in a row, in 2001 and 2002.
Compton received a Grammy Award for the best album, “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?”, while his album was sold in over 7 million copies worldwide.
Another influential musician of the 21st century, Sarah Jarosz is part of the new generation of country music players in America, alongside popular Taylor Swift and Sierra Hull.
She is a singer and a songwriter, mastering the art of the mandolin, banjo, and guitar. Jarosz released four studio albums between 2009 and 2016, with the most recent one being called “Undercurrent”. Her first and fourth albums ranked in the number one position in the US Grass charts.
The singer and mandolin player is known for her musical influences from the heat, indie, folk, and rock worlds, and tries to combine all these music genres to create a unique, modern, and catchy sound.
Z ZTDM Deluxe Sunburst
Another item specifically designed for beginners who want to play bluegrass or any other type of music style, this mandolin from Z ZTDM features an extremely easy-to-play neck, along with an adjustable bridge made of top quality rosewood.
The top, back, neck, and sides of this product are all made of quality maple to provide a strong and rich sound each time you play it. The 20 silver nickel frets and the attached eight strings will make sure every sound is perfect.
This elegant cambered wood mandolin features eight acoustic strings and aims to deliver an impressive performance without interfering with the joy of playing. The sunburst design completes the look of this affordable yet professional looking acoustic mandolin.
After buying the item, make sure to tune it correctly in order to begin playing. Also, purchase a protective case to carry the item with you anywhere you go and also store it in adequate conditions whenever you’re not using it.
If ease of use, superior quality sounds, and a stylish build are the things you have in mind when it comes to your next mandolin, this item is worth taking into account as it promises to deliver all that.
The unit is a great option for beginners who want to explore and advance their skills; therefore, it comes with an easy-to-play neck as well as an adjustable bridge.
To make sure you can employ the instrument for frequent practice sessions and gigs, the item features quality maple neck, sides, back, and top.
The materials used are also committed to helping you produce strong and rich sounds whereas the chrome-plated tuners will help you keep the instrument in tune.
Unlike other products in this range, this mandolin does not come with a protective case, which means that, if you don’t have one already, you will have to buy it separately.
Rogue RM-100A A-Style Mandolin Black
A limited budget doesn’t necessarily mean you have to stick to a low-quality mandolin. This product is suitable for those who have just picked up this instrument and want to learn how to play it accordingly. It is the right tool for newbies of all ages, including children, due to its lightweight design.
This Rogue mandolin features a neck made of top-quality mahogany, as well as a fingerboard made of rosewood and an adjustable bridge made of the same type of wood. The tuning machines are made of chrome to deliver a rich and full sound that will remain the same even after thousands of hours of playing and rehearsals.
The item comes in a beautiful rich shade of dark brown with solid black reflexes and features the company’s logo on the top of the neck for easy recognition. Don’t forget to also buy a proper case to keep your item protected while traveling.
Ideal for beginners and young players, this mandolin will help you explore its sonic capabilities without breaking your budget.
The instrument comes with a mahogany top and a rosewood fretboard and bridge that will make sure you get to enjoy quality sonic outputs for a long time.
Thanks to the chrome tuning machine, you can rest assured that keeping your instrument in tune won’t be a difficult task.
Plus, you will enjoy the same full and rich sounds for a long time before retuning the mandolin.
The A-model instrument is not only committed to making your practice sessions easy and enjoyable but also to adding stylish visuals to your performance.
The wood, finish, nickel-plated frets, and chrome tuners all contribute to the elegant design of this product.
The instrument is advertised as being a great choice for beginners; therefore, if you’re an advanced musician, this might not cover more complex needs.
Ibanez M510DVS Mandolin Dark Violin Sunburst
If you just started playing the mandolin and you don’t want to invest in an over-the-top item just yet, we suggest you pick this model from Ibanez. It comes in three different shades of beautiful brown that echo the traditional pieces invented centuries ago.
This A-style mandolin features a select spruce top and is made of top-quality mahogany wood on the back and sides. Thus, it will provide a clean and crisp sound, while you can also count on its durability and resistance in time.
The hardware is made of fine-quality chrome that is rust-free so you will enjoy the beautiful sounds of your mandolin for a long time from now on. The company’s logo on the top of the neck finishes the design of this exquisite yet very affordable musical instrument.
Keep in mind that this mandolin is designed for right-handed people so, if you’re a leftie, you’ll need to restring it accordingly. Also, you need to set the bridge and the tunes once you purchase the item.
Durability and superior sonic outputs are the benefits that come to one’s mind when thinking of this instrument.
The A-style mandolin features quality materials that will not only keep up with extended use but will also enable you to use their properties to create clear beautiful sounds.
The mahogany wood employed for the back and sides of the instrument and the spruce top won’t just withstand the test of time but will also make it easier for you to produce a clean and crisp sound.
The fine-quality chrome used for the hardware is resistant to rust, which further enhances the durability of this product.
The mandolin is available in various shades so you can easily choose the one that best meets your preferences.
The item needs to be set up, which can add to the final cost if you choose to hire a professional to help you with that.
Donner A Style Mandolin Sunburst Mahogany DML-1
If you are looking for a beautiful mandolin that can be used for playing various music genres, you’re looking at it. The DML-1 from Donner is an excellent example of how a mandolin should look and be played. The attractive Sunburst finish may be the first thing you notice about it, but there is more to it that will convince you that it’s a great model.
This 8-string model features a mahogany body that will make any sound rich and bright. Be aware that this is a right-hand model. All the details are designed to ensure that you get the most satisfaction from playing it. For instance, the tuners and tailpiece are chrome plated, and the truss rod is built-in for convenience.
Even more, you will get a lot of accessories with your purchase. For instance, you will get a gig bag, a digital tuner, several guitar picks, and an extra set of strings.
Keeping the mandolin in tune is easy due to the open tuning pegs present on this model, an aspect that you will be thankful for, especially if you are a novice.
The sound produced by playing this mandolin is warm and vibrant, and it will be a total pleasure to play your favorite tunes with its help.
All its construction spells quality from the mahogany body to the chrome-plated gear tuners.
You will find the built-in truss rod an excellent feature as you will be able to make adjustments without the need for extra tools.
Customers get more than a mandolin when they purchase this model, as many accessories come along with it, such as a carrying bag and a digital tuner that will make your life easier.
The digital tuner included with your buy might be a little iffy, and not always display the correct note.
Stagg M-30 Bluegrass Spruce Top Mandolin
If you’ve decided to explore the sonic capacities of mandolins, and you’re interested in getting a model that will help you produce great tones and do so for a long time, this Stagg unit might be cut out for you. Given the materials used for its construction and the way it was built, this instrument should provide you with the benefits mentioned above.
The choice of materials employed makes this mandolin stand out. It features a rosewood fingerboard, a nato neck, a spruce top, and basswood back and sides. What’s more, the maple bridge is adjustable and so is the engraved chrome tailpiece.
The instrument also features open gear machine heads, as well as an eye-catching red burst finish that will complete your performance with nice visuals. This is an acoustic mandolin, but the same model is available in an acoustic-electric version. The market offers this instrument in packages that include a bag for easy transportation as well.
Designed with quality materials, this mandolin is an option you might want to consider if sound quality, playability, and durability are the benefits you’re interested in.
To produce great tones and help you shape your personality sonically in a way that will enchant the people listening to your songs, the mandolin features only quality materials.
The instrument has basswood back and sides, a nato neck, rosewood fingerboard, a spruce top, and a maple bridge.
The bridge and the engraved chrome tailpiece are adjustable, and the instrument is equipped with open gear machine heads.
The red burst finish is also worth mentioning as it will cut a fine figure; this is an acoustic version, but the instrument is available in an acoustic-electric model as well.
The strings featured might not be as durable as expected, and, thus, you might need new ones if you plan on using it extensively.