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: February 12, 2021
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Have you attended a bluegrass show, and you felt inspired to learn how to play the mandolin? Or maybe you’re a guitarist looking to add some new piece to your repertoire? From Jack White to Bill Monroe, the mandolin has always been an excellent way to add that traditional flavor to your song. While dozens of brands claim to offer you the best mandolins, it is pretty easy to find yourself in a maze. We’re here to help.
Maybe you’re looking for the best affordable mandolin you can find. Or a top-quality, handmade instrument. There’s a limitless number of mandolin variations. This comprehensive guide gives an account of 6 best-rated mandolins in stock and a handy buying guide that makes your shopping hassle-free. You can narrow your selection by considering a few major factors. These factors include type, back material, top material, number of strings, and weight. Let’s get started.
Mandolin Acoustic-Electric Mandolin by Vangoa is an A-style eight-stringed instrument with a glossy red sunburst finish suitable for all styles of music. It is made up of premium quality mahogany wood both on top and at the back. The chrome-plated closed gear tuners and tailpiece is a great feature that keeps the mandolin in tune. It also makes adjustment of the strings easier. Besides, it has an adjustable truss rod inside its neck, which makes the adjustment of its strings easier.
The Mandolin is lightweight, as it weighs about 3 pounds. This means that you can hold it comfortably without tiring your shoulder muscles. While this model is nowhere near the quality of the more expensive mandolins, for the price, it delivers an excellent experience. The mandolin comes with lots of accessories like guitar picks, a Vangoa sticker, digital clip-on tuner, extra strings, strap, and padded gig bag. This makes it easy to play and maintain. You can buy your mandolin with confidence thanks to a full one-year warranty that protects against any damage or defects.
What we liked: The glossy finish combined with the chrome knobs looks ridiculously good for this entry-level product. You also have the option of playing the Vangoa either plugged in or acoustically, allowing you to experiment with a variety of sounds.
What could be better: Just like any instrument, it will take some work to get it correctly set up, but it is well worth the work.
Another great choice in mandolins is the eight-stringed Eastman MD305. This mandolin has an A-style body with F-holes for liquid tones and excellent projection. It is individually hand-built using traditional materials with a solid spruce top, maple back and sides, and an adjustable ebony bridge. The dimensions of the instrument are 31 x 20 x 6.5 inches and weigh 4 pounds.
The gear tuning machine of the mandolin is chrome plated and offers excellent intonation with effortless tuning. With the pearl dot inlay on the fingerboard, you can be sure of an ultimate player experience and great precision for fingering. This mandolin comes with a superior gig bag that will keep your mandolin safe. You can transport your mandolin without worrying about damage. You can keep it protected from all the elements.
What we liked: The Eastman MD305 A-Style Mandolin is an elegant option for both beginner and veteran mandolin players. Pairing its classic A-style body shape with a vintage tinged satin finish, the MD305 looks almost as appealing as it sounds.
What could be better: This mandolin is a little heavy to carry on the shoulders if you’re standing for long periods. You can choose to sit to ease the weight when playing your instrument.
This A-style Mandolin comes in a glossy Sunburst finish with a maple neck, top, back, and sides. Maple is not only looking incredible but is also a great tonewood. It also features a walnut fingerboard, which is a popular wood used in many musical instruments, including guitars. The adjustable compensated Rosewood bridge offers you a perfect intonation when playing your mandolin. If aesthetics matter to you, you will love the traditional ABS binding around the body of the Mandolin, the fingerboard, and the headstock. It gives it an elegant, classic look.
There’s also a stylish black ABS pickguard to protect the woodwork from errant and overzealous strumming. When Hola was designing their A-Style mandolin, it’s clear that they had portability in mind. It is lightweight as it weighs about 2 pounds. If you want something portable when traveling, this is the option you need. It has a compact design, measuring 26 x 12 x 3 inches. This makes it portable and easy to handle. If you’re not all that bothered about sound quality and want to learn the basics of playing the mandolin, here is the mandolin for you.
What we liked: We loved the sunburst color as well as the relatively low price. It’s also lightweight and compact. The built-in strap pin to which you can attach a standard strap allows you to strum while standing up.
What could be better: There is a slight rattle that you experience when strumming hard. The loudness of the instrument often drowns out the rattling, though only slightly.
This eight-stringed instrument is built on the teardrop with A style and measures 27 x 3 x 10.5 inches. It has an amazing lightweight of 2.5 pounds, which makes it easy to handle and carry. It is made from mahogany and spruce- the spruce being on top and the mahogany on the back and sides. These materials make the Ibanez mandolin strong and sturdy. The dark violin sunburst finish and chrome hardware give this instrument a beautiful, elegant look.
The tuners are great, and they hold the strings and produce excellent sound. The Ibanez mandolin is easy to tune and offers excellent tones. The neck for this mandolin is made from mahogany, while the bridge and finger are made from Rosewood. This mandolin features an adjustable compensated bridge, which provides exceptional intonation for your instrument. If you are looking for the best starter mandolin, this is the perfect item for you.
What we liked: Great for a beginner or a traveling musician who wants something easy to carry. The tuning heads are pretty good, and it tunes up beautifully. This is a very reasonably-priced instrument.
What could be better: The main gripe is the quality of the strings. You can, however, get a new set at a little cost, and you’ll be good.
The Loar LM-310F-BRB Honey Creek Mandolin features a solid handcrafted Spruce top with handcrafted Maple sides and back, with a satin brown burst finish. The neck of the mandolin is made from maple with a rounded ‘V’ profile. This thin ‘V’ profile will fit comfortably fit in your hand and offers a range of different tones. This model measures 27.5 x 10 x 2 inches and weighs 4 Pounds. Combined with the graceful curves of an authentic F-style body, Grover tuners, and D’Addario strings, you’ve got an instrument that sounds and looks great. The Grover tuning machines make sure it stays in tune no matter how hard you play. If you’re a starter who doesn’t want to start at the bottom of quality, you can step up into this price point.
What we liked: What impressed us most is the ease of handling. The rounded ‘V’ profile thin ensures the neck fits comfortably in your hand so as you can play with ease and comfort.
What could be better: This model is relatively heavy for those standing for long periods. This is not a big issue since you can opt to sit or lean on a bench to ease the weight from your shoulders.
The next option in mandolins is the Washburn Package Program M3EK F Mandolin Pack. These six-stringed mandolins have a slim neck and measure 41 x 16 x 5 inches, and weighs 5 lbs. It has a bridge-mounted transducer pickup with volume controls. This offers a longer scale that will let you have flexibility. You can have higher and lower tones with great clarity. The fretboard is made from Rosewood, while the soundboard is of spruce.
The back and sides are manufactured using the Maple wood, while the bridge is made from Ebony. The sound that this mandolin produces is warm, crisp, and bright. The headstock inlay features an elegant tobacco sunburst finish that adds a touch of elegance and class to the mandolin. As a bonus, this mandolin comes with a gig bag. This is useful in storing your mandolin safely from dust and water. You can carry it with you without the fear of damaging it.
What we liked: It features a nice matte finish and plays reasonably well. Plus, the bridge height is adjustable, so it is easy to clear up fretting issues. We liked that it also comes with useful accessories like a strap, gig bag, some picks, a little chord book, and a pitch pipe tuner.
What could be better: The Washburn M3EK is the bulkiest mandolin on our list. This doesn’t, however, affect the playability in any way.
Things to Consider
For starters, the mandolin’s small size and simple, basic chord structures make an impressive introduction into the world of making music. This buying guide contains useful tips for experienced guitar or violin players who might want to venture into something new and exciting. Here we discuss a brief history of the mandolin, plus some crucial features to consider when buying one. We wrap it up by answering some of the commonly asked questions people have when shopping for the best beginner mandolin.
History behind mandolins
Mandolin also spelled mandolin, is a stringed musical instrument in the lute family. You play it by plucking with a plectrum. The mandolin evolved in the 18th century in Italy and Germany from the 16th-century mandora as a small, short-necked lute with eight strings.
Evolution of the mandolin
Typically, the evolution of today’s mandolin went something like Lyre – Lute – Mandola – Mandolina – Mandolin. Much of mandolin development revolved around the so the top(soundboard). Earlier instruments were quiet, were strung with gut strings, and plucked with the fingers. On the other hand, modern instruments are louder, use metal strings, which exert more pressure than the gut strings.
The modern soundboard can withstand the pressure of metal strings that would break earlier than their predecessors. The top comes in many shapes—but generally round or teardrop-shaped, sometimes with scrolls. There are typically one or more sound holes in the soundboard, either round, oval, or shaped like a calligraphic f (f-hole).
Types of mandolin
The three basic types are the Neapolitan or round-backed mandolin, the archtop mandolin, and the flat-backed mandolin. The round-back has a deep bottom, made of strips of wood, and glued together into a bowl. Neapolitan mandolins feature prominently in European classical and traditional music.
The archtop, also called the carved-top mandolin has an arched top and a shallower, arched back carved out of wood. Archtop instruments are most common in American folk music and bluegrass music. The flat-backed mandolin is made of thin sheets of wood for the body, braced on the inside for strength as in a guitar. Flat-backed instruments are most commonly used in Irish, British, and Brazilian folk music. Each style of instrument has its own sound quality and is associated with particular forms of music.
Features to consider before you buy a mandolin
Mandolins come in many varieties- bowl-backs, flat-backs, A-style, F-style, flat-tops, electrics, 8-string, 4-string, 5-string, resonator, and so on. It’s a jungle out there. Your choice will be dictated by how you intend to use your instrument, among other factors. Whether you need to choose the best acoustic-electric mandolin or any other model, we can help you cut through the noise. You need to consider the style, back material, top material, number of strings, accessories, and weight. Here are the details.
Most commercially available acoustic mandolins are either A-style or F-style. The A-style features a symmetrical teardrop-shaped body like in the Hola! Music Mandolin and the Ibanez, among others, on the list. F-style, on the other hand, features a decorative scroll on the upper bass side and multiple points sticking out from the body. A-styles are typically the best beginner mandolins in the market. F styles tend to cost about twice as much as a similar quality A style from the same builder. So, the choice between the two is basically a matter of aesthetics and price.
Number of strings
The majority of mandolins have four pairs of string making eight strings in total. Most of the reviews on our list fall in this category except the Washburn Package Program M3EK F Mandolin Pack with six. It doesn’t really matter how many strings your mandolin has; you can still make beautiful music with it.
At the end of the day, the ideal string number really comes down to personal preference.
Mandolins almost always use different woods for each part. The top (or soundboard) commonly uses spruce or maple material. Most of the products on our review use these two materials for the soundboard. As for the construction, the process uses two techniques- solid, meaning the part was carved out of a single piece of wood. Or laminate, which means various sheets of cheap wood are placed on top of each other.
Skilled players agree that solid construction is the best because a single piece of wood vibrates much more than various layers of wood glued together, thus delivering an overall better sound.
The backs and sides material of the mandolin are most often made from maple, which is prized for its clarity. Sometimes the sides can also be made with maple or mahogany like in Vangoa and Ibanez models in our review. Trying out as many tonewood combinations as you can get your hands on to find one that fits your style.
You also need to check out the weight of your instrument. It is a factor that you cannot overlook as it indicates the size and volume of the mandolin. Heavier models might make your shoulders tired and might be a little difficult to carry around. Lighter models, on the other hand, are easier to handle and carry, especially if you want to travel with your mandolin. A lightweight model likes the Hola! Music Mandolin is ideal if you wish to move or travel often.
Well-selected accessories for the mandolin will enhance your experience and help to protect your instrument. For instance, the built-in strap pin in the Hola! Music Mandolin, which allows you to attach a standard strap, is a necessity. It reduces the chances of dropping and damaging the instrument as you play. You can look out for other extra features like picks and tuners, cases and gig bags, extra strings, and a capo.
If you’re not an experienced musician, you’ll find it far easier to tune your mandolin using a tuner. Ensure you get the tuners corresponding to each string. Typically, tuners for the G and D strings are on the upper side of the head, and you will find the tuners for the A and E strings on the lower side of the head. You can start from the lowest pitch and move to the highest. In this case, you’ll be tuning in a clockwise direction around the mandolin’s head. Tune in pairs. Start by tuning each string individually to get the correct pitch easily. You’ll need to use a pick to be sure you can tell precisely which string you’re playing. Then, play the two strings consecutively and listen to see if they sound the same as one another. If one sounds higher or lower, adjust it accordingly until both strings sound together.
With a minimal investment, you can get started playing right away with the best cheap mandolin available. To find out what works best, consider your style of play, skill, and your budget. It’s apparent that the F-style has attractive features and pretty designs though at a higher price tag. While many skillful players love it, the average beginner can also try it and learn to use it. The best beginner mandolins with style are simple and also have a relatively affordable price. The simplicity and the design make it the best for anyone who wants to practice the art of playing the mandolin. In the end, you want to get the very best mandolin at the lowest price possible.
If you’re considering any of the mandolins on our review, we have three that we’d love to recommend. Our Editor’s Choice is Mandolin Acoustic-Electric Mandolin by Vangoa. This mandolin is well-built and has a compact appearance. It has an adjustable truss rod inside its neck, which maintains the mandolin in tune. It comes with lots of accessories too. Our Premium Choice is Eastman MD305. The gear tuning machine is chrome plated and offers amazing intonation with effortless tuning. With a pearl dot inlay, you get great precision for fingering. The Best Value goes to Hola! Music Mandolin is the most budget-friendly yet effective option on our list. It’s light and portable and a perfect piece for beginners. You possibly want to try the other brands and versions of mandolins reviewed under this list as well. Whatever your choice, ensure it meets your musical goals and taste. Hoping this guide helps you make an informed buying decision hunting for the best mandolin out there. Happy plucking!