Best Mandolin Review – Top Rated Models in 2018 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.
Highly Recommended Choices – Reviews & Comparison
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.
Best mandolin under 500
KM-256 Artist Transparent B00M2YZ3JK
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.
Best mandolin under 300
Kentucky KM-150 Sunburst B001OQC75K
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.
Best mandolin under 200
Ibanez M510DVS B004AIX4PQ
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.
Best mandolin under 150
Savannah SA-100-BK B004WDQ5GE
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 barbeques or weekend camping parties.
Bear in mind that the item doesn’t come with a protective case so you must purchase one additionally to make sure you transport and store the mandolin accordingly.
Best quality mandolin under 1,500
Ibanez M522S F-style B00ESK5MQA
The 8-string mandolin features a beautiful F-style with a flamed maple body. The product comes with a solid spruce top and the neck is made of fine-quality mahogany wood. In addition, both the bridge and the fretboard are made of rosewood. This means you will receive a lasting tone with each touch.
We really like the golden finish of the fingerboard and the company’s logo displayed on the top of the neck. The golden tuners are responsible for holding the notes in the key so that you will deliver a clear and beautiful sound. Keep in mind that this is an acoustic mandolin that aims to deliver a rich and warm sound at the same time.
Best budget mandolins
Rogue RM-100A B003LHV1X4
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.
Z ZTDM Deluxe Sunburst B01M9A4G53
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 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.
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 B077MP9PF5
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.
Best mandolin case
Gearlux A-Style Hard Case B00INK6R0Q
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.
Best mandolin gig bag
Superior C-3770 Trailpak II B0052M18WA
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.
Best mandolin strap
Planet Waves Strap Brown B0002GZBO2
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.
Best mandolin amp
Fishman Loudbox Artist B005TPM1NK
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.
Best mandolin bridge
Greenten Adjustable Compensated B0173PJRTE
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.
Best mandolin book
Alfred’s Teach Yourself to Play 0739002864
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.
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 of the most important aspects you should take into account.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.