In addition to being a private violin teacher, Alecia started writing music-related articles 3 years ago and has been enjoying this experience greatly. Loves quilting and scrapbooking in her free time.
Marcus has a vast experience in digital audio and sound design. Thanks to his knowledge, he actively helps musicians with technical problems, improving their audio quality and even promoting their tracks so that thousands of listeners could enjoy some really good music.
Last updated: September 19, 2021
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Who says that you need to pay a fortune to buy a good mandolin? As long as you know what to look for, you can find a high-quality instrument at an affordable price. We did the footwork for you and tried to find the best mandolins under $500 that sound like high-end models.
Our team selected the top-rated instruments currently available and came up with this review. It will cover the most important factors to consider during the purchasing process. All the details are included, ranging from whether the mandolin is acoustic or electric to what is the shape of its body. We also ensured that the materials are of high quality and that the finish adds to the overall appearance, making it pleasant to play. Do you want to learn more? Stick with us, and by the end of this article, you will know what makes the best mandolins under $500.
"If you are looking for an affordable instrument suitable for beginners, we recommend this option with red burst color.A-style acoustic-electric mandolin.Nato neck, back, and sides.1 single-coil pickup."
"This premium instrument from a famous brand boasts a traditional snakehead-shaped peghead, adjustable bridge, and sunburst finish.A-style acoustic mandolin.German spruce, alpine back, sides, and neck.Crisp and bright tones."
"This model will impress anyone with its unique design, burnt amber finish, and vintage-style nickel-plated brass tailpiece.A-style acoustic mandolin.Sika spruce top, maple body and neck.GraphTech compensated saddle."
"If you want more versatility, you can try this beginner-friendly acoustic-electric mandolin with passive electronics.A-style acoustic-electric mandolin.Spruce top, mahogany neck, sides, and back.Easy to setup."
"The tuning pegs work smoothly, and the instrument comes with an oval soundhole, gold hardware, and 22mm nut width.A-style acoustic mandolin.Spruce top, maple neck, back, and sides.Aesthetically pleasing design."
The Ibanez M510DVS is our top-rated candidate for a mandolin under $500 for multiple reasons. First, this A-style instrument is available in three different color combinations, which leaves plenty of room to pick a favorite. Next, the manufacturer picked top-quality materials for the mandolin. You will find a select spruce top and mahogany sides and back.
While the aesthetics are durability are both there, the thing that matters the most is functionality. That is where Ibanez’s instrument excels, and it will exceed all your expectations. Not only is it a pleasure to listen, but also to play this mandolin. It is what makes it suitable for beginners and those perfecting their skills on this instrument. While the tuning requires a bit of effort, it will hold well, which is convenient. Overall, you can’t go wrong with this mandolin since it delivers plenty of bang for the buck.
What do we love it for? You can choose between three different designs, including dark, brown, and vintage. It shouldn’t be difficult to find a favorite.
What were we disappointed with? The finish features a painted-on spray, which makes it prone to chipping. Avoid scratching it with fingernails.
If you are learning to play, affordable instruments are the right way to go. You won’t find a mandolin under $500, providing more value than this one. That is particularly true because you can use it as both an acoustic and electric instrument.
While the sound quality is satisfying for the cost, the electronics could be better. But beginners and those practicing their skills won’t mind this. It is useful that the tuning is maintained for a long time, which means you can play for long once everything is adjusted.
As for the design, the red burst finish is a nice touch and adds to the overall elegance. The manufacturer went with a rosewood fingerboard, and nato neck, back, and sides. Overall, the quality is decent, and you will love this A-style violin.
What are its best features? It is surprising how well this mandolin can keep its tuning. Once you get the adjustments right, they should last for long.
What could be improved? The electronics are not of excellent quality, resulting in some hissing and humming while playing.
If you are looking for a mandolin under $500, the odds are that price is at the top of your consideration list for some reason. The Kentucky KM-150 will require spending a bit more compared to similar units, but it will deliver plenty in return.
For starters, the manufacturer combines maple and spruce, and the generous amount of wood will secure excellent sound quality. Anyone who listens will notice a bright and crisp tone. The person who plays will notice smooth playability, and they will enjoy it during every session.
It is interesting to note that the mandolin features a traditional look, which is not surprising for these instruments. Beginners might not like the fact that some adjustments are required before playing. It is nice to see that the manufacturer offers a case with the mandolin.
Why is it special? The sound is very bright, and the mandolin is quite powerful when it comes to sound volume.
What are the flaws? It is not ready to play right out of the box. You might need better strings and some bridge adjustments.
The Loar carefully selected the components for this mandolin, and you get to see that from the start. Not only it features an F-style body with an authentic appearance, but it also includes D’Addario strings and Grover tuners. All those show that the manufacturer cared about delivering a high-quality product.
It seems like they’ve delivered as the mandolin is almost ready for playing right out of the box. Apart from feeling great while playing, you will be surprised by the volume capability and sound quality. The vibration will ensure you can play in ensembles, although the overall sound can compare to the instruments designed in the 1920s. Thanks to the excellent durability of the instrument, the odds are that it will last for years, even if you play frequently.
What makes it special? It is nice to see a hand-carved solid spruce top since it gives that stylish and classy look to the instrument.
What cons did we find? The strap peg seems a bit loose out of the box. Although you can solve this with some tape, it still requires time and effort.
We don’t know if this is the best F-style mandolin under $500 for everyone, but let us tell you one thing – it can easily be the prettiest instrument ever. The manufacturer put in great effort to ensure the mandolin looks great. You can even choose between two color variations, and rest assured that high-quality materials will be used anyway. As usual, the experts recommend changing the strings. The ones you get with the product are of low quality and might lead to sore fingers.
Once you start playing, you will notice that the mandolin is extremely loud. It doesn’t require a lot of adjustment, which is something that newbies will appreciate. Overall, a mandolin cannot be perfect at this price range, but Ibanez managed to find the right balance between cost and quality.
What are our favorite features? It is nice to see that almost no bridge adjustment is required at the start, which beginners will find convenient.
What could be better? The quality control isn’t impressive, which is why you might notice small damages on the body.
A-style mandolins have the tendency to deliver tubby bass sounds, but that is not the case with this one. Instead, it delivers a full-round sound of exceptional quality. It will exceed all your expectations, even if you use the budget strings provided by the manufacturer.
As for the design, you will find that it resembles the style of the early 20th century mandolins. If you are a fan of that, you will love adding this instrument to your collection.
The quality is surprisingly high, and the manufacturer carefully picked materials for the components. They used alpine maple for the neck, sides, and back, ivoroid binding, and rosewood fingerboard. The lacquer finish contributes to the traditional style and makes the instrument look elegant.
What are our favorite features? The sound delivered by this mandolin is both full-round and quite loud. Thanks to that, it should be a pleasure to play it anywhere.
What could be better? The bridge doesn’t come fitted, and beginners might require help to fit it properly.
The Loar is famous for its bargain deals on instruments, and this mandolin provides plenty of bang for the buck. For starters, the satin brown burst finish makes the instrument look classy and elegant. You will notice a thin “V” profile in the maple neck, while the hand-carved solid spruce top is a nice touch.
Once you scratch under the surface and start using the mandolin, you realize it features strong and durable construction. The tuning will hold well, which is convenient, especially for beginners. You won’t find many mandolins at this price range, offering a double-action truss rod. If you want to extend its durability, we strongly recommend purchasing a specialized case. That will make carrying around and storing the instrument more manageable. Overall, this can be a smart investment for beginners looking for a mandolin under $500.
Why did it make our list? The appearance of the mandolin secures that soft satiny look for the instrument, which you will love.
What is not ideal about it? Some roughness is noticeable under the fretboard. However, it doesn’t affect the overall appearance since it is not easily viewable.
The Canadian craftsmen made an amazing instrument that is both beautiful and durable. You won’t find many better deals for the money in our mandolin under $500 reviews.
The fingerboard is slightly wider than standard, but many will find that convenient. As for the overall size of the mandolin, it might be a bit smaller than usual. Although the difference is minimal, it might make it easier to hold and carry around.
The construction is solid, and the sound quality is above all expectations. You will notice that the sound is clear and crisp in all situations. While tuning might take a bit of time, especially the first time, once you get the settings right, you can play for hours without retuning. It is a shame that it doesn’t come with a case, but we assume that would increase the price.
What do we love it for? The sound is surprisingly bright and loud, especially if you consider the price tag.
What were we disappointed with? You have to buy the case separately, and the instrument is delivered.
If you are a beginner, you don’t want to splash your cash on a mandolin. That makes this unit by Oscar Schmidt a perfect choice since it is a budget-friendly deal.
Additionally, the easy setup makes it suitable for newbies. You don’t have to spend a lot of time adjusting everything, and you can start playing quickly.
The overall appearance is satisfying, and the manufacturer used fairly durable materials. It seems that the strings could be of better quality, although that indicates the manufacturer should implement better quality control. Strings might look like they’ve been used before, and maybe seem a bit rusted.
You can choose the acoustic sound, or plug this mandolin in for the electric touch. The sound quality is surprisingly high, especially if you consider the price tag. Overall, this can be a smart investment and a great choice for those who are only entering the world of playing mandolins.
What makes it special? Thanks to the mahogany back, sides, and neck, the instrument looks classy and elegant.
What cons did we find? The tuning pegs might require frequent adjustments since they don’t stay in tune for long.
Washburn is a famous mandolin brand that has been around for over 200 years. Today, they feature modern instruments, but they don’t hesitate to give them a classic look.
As for this model, it is not only a mandolin under $500 but one of the most affordable units you will find on the market. The oval hole will give the instrument a characteristic sound that many would describe as Italian. You might find the sound distinctive, and some might argue that it is not at the highest possible level when compared to premium mandolins.
The tuning pegs work smoothly, and the truss rod for adjusting the neck adds to a better setup. You will find maple wood at the sides and back, as well as the carved solid spruce top. The black gloss finish adds to the modern appearance of the instrument.
What are its best features? The gold hardware looks great, and it gives the instrument that classic and traditional look.
What could be improved? If you are a true professional and experienced mandolin player, you will have a feeling that the sound quality could be better.
Things to Consider
Do you want to learn how to play mandolin? Perhaps you lack experience in buying instruments, or you want to purchase it as a gift. Either way, you will need to learn a thing or two about mandolins to make the right choice. That is why our guide is here to help you. We covered the basic reasons why you would even need an affordable mandolin and then continued with the crucial factors to consider during the purchasing process. Finally, we gathered some of the most common questions that users often have about this instrument. If you are ready to learn more about mandolins, check out our guide below!
Reasons to purchase a mandolin under $500
What reasons do you have to purchase a mandolin under $500? Here are some benefits of staying within this price range:
Not spending too much money – the obvious advantage is that you won’t be spending a lot of cash on the instrument. That can be suitable if you are a beginner or unsure whether you want to dedicate yourself to playing the mandolin.
Excellent for learning – if you are only learning how to play mandolin, you don’t need a top-quality instrument. That makes an entry-level unit a perfect fit.
Great cost and quality ratio – although you won’t spend a lot of money, you will get an instrument that delivers plenty of bang for the buck. As long as you pick carefully, you can expect a long-lasting unit that will serve you for years.
Admirable sound quality – the sound played by these instruments is amazing. The best mandolins in this category will deliver sound quality that won’t be different from premium units. You just have to pick carefully and stick to the top-rated instruments.
How to find the best mandolin under $500?
You have numerous factors to consider when choosing a mandolin. The initial thing is whether you want an acoustic instrument or you want to add an electric option to it, too. Once you figure that out, you can consider the desired body shape and quality of construction. That will include the materials, but also the finish because you want the instrument to look great. The quality of the sound needs to be at the top of your priorities, too, and you can consider many other details. Here are the factors that we singled out as the most important during the selection process.
You might think that mandolins are primarily an acoustic instrument, but they’ve come a long way over time. It is why the market offers units that are both acoustic and electric, such as the Oscar Schmidt OM10E A-Style Mandolin.
The type will depend on your preference, but most beginners start with an acoustic mandolin. It is a traditional way of playing this instrument, and the easiest method to learn. Once you get comfortable with playing, you can try out the electric variants. These products offer a sound that is different and unique.
For acoustic-electric instruments, remember that it is important to choose a mandolin that has decent electronics. Otherwise, you might end up stuck with a unit that products a lot of hissing and humming, which will disrupt your playing.
Although you have other body shapes, the majority of mandolins feature an A or F-Style design. The main characteristic of the A-style units, such as the Ibanez M510DVS Mandolin, is that they have a mild and bright tone. Thanks to that, they can fit well into any genre, and they are suitable for playing at home and in small rooms. You will find that A-style instruments feature an oval-shaped hole, and they are also more affordable than their counterparts.
The best F-style mandolin under $500 will have a violin-style hole in the middle. This design was first made by Gibson in the 1920s, but many manufacturers jumped on board and started using this trend. Today, F-style instruments feature a choppy and defined sound, which all types of listeners appreciate.
Let’s clarify one thing – most manufacturers will use wood materials for mandolins, and that is a good call. When it comes to the types of wood for the top, the most common choice is spruce. That is for a good reason since spruce has a dense grain, which delivers articulation and brightness expected by stringed instruments. The Loar LM-110-BRB Honey Creek A-Style Mandolin features a hand-carved solid spruce top.
You have more room to choose when it comes to the back, sides, and neck. Mahogany is a common choice, and the Ibanez M522SBS F-Style Mandolin is proof that it can be a great choice. You can also go for maple or other hardwoods.
As for the fingerboard, rosewood can be a fine example, although ebony can also be a smart pick. The same applies to mandolin bridges.
When it comes to the finish, you might think that it is enough to consider the colors selected. However, there is another factor to take into account, and that is the quality of the finish. Some units, including the Kentucky KM-270 8-String Mandolin, feature a lacquer-over-stain, which is incredibly durable. Unlike that, some instruments only have a sprayed-on finish. That is not the best choice since even minor scratches could cause visible damage.
As for the colors, you can’t go wrong as long as it fits your preference. If you prefer a dark color combination, go for it. For example, The Loar LM-110-BRB Honey Creek A-Style Mandolin features a beautiful satin brown burst finish. Alternatively, you can choose a light brown vintage color combination.
Unfortunately, it isn’t possible to determine the sound quality of a mandolin without actually hearing it. If you are purchasing online, that will be almost impossible.
The good news is that you can find videos and audios of people playing a particular instrument. It is not like listening to live, but it is the closest way to hear the mandolin yourself.
You also have the alternative of checking the feedback. For example, we tried our best to give reliable information about the instruments in this review. You can also check out the opinions posted by those who already tried a particular product. That will tell you what type of sound to expect from the desired mandolin.
What else can be important?
Now that we’ve covered the basics, some other things might be important when choosing a mandolin:
The number of frets – this will depend on your style of play, and the numbers can go from 15 to 25 or more. Most players find that they don’t need more than 20 frets to actually play the instrument, so the Ibanez M510DVS Mandolin will be a great example here.
Ease of tuning – most mandolins will require adjusting before the first time you use it. That is why it is important that the tuning process is as simple as possible, such as seen with the Washburn Americana M1SD Mandolin. If you are a beginner, you might still want to leave it to the professionals.
How well it stays in tune – depending on the mandolin, you might need to adjust it frequently, or it could stay in tune for a long time. Not having to adjust it often will save you some time and effort.
The tuning of a mandolin doesn’t depend on the price, but rather the manufacturer and the unit. Some companies do their best to tune everything and make the instrument playable almost right out of the box. Others will require a bridge and other adjustments before you can play. It is worth noting that you shouldn’t expect top-quality strings at this price range. While some might be playable right away, others might already be rusty and require replacement. As for how well it can stay in tune, that all depends on the mandolin. Some are capable of holding their adjustments well for a long time.
You need to take good care of your mandolin if you want it to last. For starters, it is important to avoid bumping it into walls or dropping to the ground, especially from large heights. The experts recommend having a case to store the instrument when you are not using it.
The most common problems in mandolins are caused by the lack of humidity. It could lead to cracks and other structural damages on the instrument. Use a hygrometer to determine if it needs humidification. Approximately 49% relative humidity gives the ideal conditions for the mandolin, which means you will need to humidify it occasionally. You should use specialized solutions to do that.
The term nut width describes the width of your mandolin’s neck at its nut. It is one of the factors that can determine how comfortable you feel playing the instrument. The standard sizes can be anywhere from 1-1/8 to 1-1/4-inch. However, the sizes vary from one manufacturer to another, and you can always place a custom order. Most players will find a nut width of about 1-1/8 – 1-3/16 most suitable. However, if you have large hands, feel free to go with a mandolin that has a wide neck. Those who have the option should try different variations at the local store to find a suitable fit.
The Ibanez M510DVS Mandolin is still our top pick when it comes to this price range. The A-style instrument features an attractive design and three-color combinations, and its sound capabilities exceed all expectations. It is enjoyable to play and listen, and it is suitable for all those learning how to play.
Another fine choice is the Stagg M50E Acoustic-Electric Mandolin. This is a bargain deal, especially if you consider that it is versatile and supports both acoustic and electric playing. It can hold tuning adjustments for a long time, which is important for beginners and those who don’t like wasting too much time on it. Finally, the Kentucky KM-150 Standard A-model Mandolin is a premium pick, and maybe the best mandolin under $500 available on the market. The premium design and durable constructions are only improved with a bright sound and impressive volume capabilities. Ultimately, go for the mandolin that you feel is the best suited to your standards and expectations!