If you have ever heard any bluegrass or country music, you may know about mandolins. While the mandolin isn’t as famous as the guitar, but it generates a unique sound, which is mixed with notes from other instruments.
Mandolins are a decent way to carry a bit of classical to your music. It is one of the most traditional fretted instruments that is being used in the US.
The mandolin is a stringed instrument in the lute family. The descendants of the lute family, the different mandolin types are mainly outgrowths of the Neapolitan mandolin, which was in Naples during the 18th century. The present mandolin is the bigger version of an early Italian instrument called a mandolina, which showed up between the 17th to 18th century.
Mandolin is a small, short-necked lute with 8 strings. Mandolin generates its sound through the vibrations of the strings. However, choosing the best mandolin for the money can be a challenging task.
Mandolins are instruments that aren’t regular to see in the present. However, they are an incredible way to generate an interesting sound to your music.
If you are a mandolin player or if you have interests in the best mandolin for the money, then you have come the right place!
For the people who are new to the mandolin or want to know how to play it, a mandolin is a little lute-like instrument that is peer-formed that has four sets of metal strings. And it generates a great sound. Some people call it “a small guitar”.
The sets of strings on the Mandolin are known as courses. Each course delivers a similar pitch, not the same as the other three. As in a violin, the pitches range is from low to high, such as G, D, A, and E. When a course is played, it makes a solid repetition of the same pitch that results in an interesting musical impact.
The mandolin had created and turned into a significant and famous acoustic instrument for many musicians. It later got famous in Europe and the United States for the creation of a few hit music songs.
Top 10 Mandolin Reviews
Before you proceed to buy your best mandolin, ensure that you have a basic idea of what you are searching for in your mandolin. We have another blog about the mandolins, which is enough to give you the basic idea about the details of the best mandolin for the money.
Now if you made up your mind about buying a mandolin, then here is our review about 10 best mandolins for the money with our top picks.
The deep colors and polished finish make Vangoa’s A Style Acoustic Electric Mandolin a premium piece.
If the looks of a mandolin can make you play, then Vangoa A Style electric mandolin has it covered. The shining finish with the chrome knobs looks useful for a beginner item.
The Vangoa features similar accessories as the Donner A Style, which makes it something you can choose and play out of the box.
You will get the option of playing the Vangoa either plugged in or acoustically, which allows you to explore different sounds. The plug-in options make this one of the best cheap mandolins to play at the full-scale venue in future. Vangoa has managed to enter a market in which it has little knowledge and build up a product of high caliber at a reasonable price.
- It is designed elegantly in a glossy red sunburst polish.
- It includes a mahogany body and chrome-plated gear tunes.
- It comes with guitar picks, digital clip-on tuners, extra strings etc.
- It features an adjustable truss rod inside its neck that makes the balance of its strings more comfortable and keeps the mandolin in tune.
- Vangoa is one of the best mandolins for the money.
- People have issues with two low strings (G and D) and the two higher strings (A and E).
The Donner DML-1 is a traditional A-style mandolin with old-time f-shape sound holes. This mandolin will be easier to play for beginners. Due to its mahogany body, the Donner DML-1 generates a warm and lively sound that projects fine through the sound gaps.
This mandolin has a solid form and a wonderful sunburst finish in mixture with the white binding and chrome tuner that gives it a stunning display.
If you buy the DML-1, you will get a few complimentary accessories including a gig pack, picks, a tuner, additional strings and a cleaning cloth to keep up the presence of your mandolin. If you are a beginner, these accessories are extremely valuable.
- Good value for money.
- It comes with many convenient accessories.
- High-quality strings.
- It features an electric tuner to help you find the right pitch.
- Attractive appearance.
- People face trouble staying in tune
The Ibanez M510DVS would be an interesting buy. The beneficial thing about this mandolin is construct quality.
The mandolin doesn’t generate the sound quality compared to the other mandolin brands, but it has high-quality construction.
Most people in the Ibanez find the string issue and have come up with a solution. They purchase Ibanez for the unit quality itself and afterwards, replace the strings. The outcome is a better sound and something that the company ought to consider doing straight out of the box.
However, Ibanez is still a good mandolin to purchase. You wouldn’t purchase it if you were sure that you would still be playing the mandolin for years.
- High-quality construction.
- It provides decent sound quality and projection.
- Extensive aesthetic look.
- The pickguard protects the soundboard.
- A balance between affordability and quality.
- The top is not made of stable spruce.
- You may have to replace the strings.
If you are looking for a cheap mandolin for beginners, the Hola! Music HM-3TS would be one of the best mandolins for the money. This classic A-style mandolin features a shiny finish and has eight strings similar to a traditional mandolin.
Even if this mandolin comes at a reasonable price, its craftsmanship qualifies it as a better model. The sides, back, neck, and top are built of maple wood and material delivering a splendid as well as excellent sound.
The rosewood bridge is excusing for beginners and can be balanced as well. The smooth activity is ensured to assist you with learning the mandolin. The truss rod is installed in the neck that is movable and the manufacturer supplies the wrench you require for playing out. The pickguard is made using dark ABS while the bindings around the head, neck, and body are produced using white ABS.
- All-maple build.
- The flexible bridge and truss rod will let you tweak the action at home.
- Built-in strap pin.
- Great value for craftsmanship.
- Built-in pickguard limits damage to the finish.
- No included accessories.
- It doesn’t project higher-end instruments.
The Ibanez M510E A-style Acoustic-Electric Mandolin has a special and fresh sound that projects very well whether it’s played acoustically or by the single-coil magnetic pickup.
Because of its convenient maple neck and rosewood fretboard, this electric mandolin is easy to play. The A-Style body is one of the best mandolins for the money that delivers a satisfying acoustic tone.
The M510E’s magnetic pickup produces genuine mandolin sound without batteries and is balanced by the onboard passive volume as well as tone controls for plugged-in performance.
- Great shape, mahogany back and sides.
- One of the best mandolins under $300.
- The Ibanez provides a good tone and stays in tune.
- Decent pickup.
- People often find the electric pickups very weak.
If you have tried a banjo from Ibanez, then you would know what to expect from this mandolin in terms of quality. This mandolin is solidly constructed, looks brilliant.
The mandolin generates great sound and it is extremely loud also. If you have a good background with guitars, then you will love this Ibanez mandolin.
This elegant 8-string bluegrass machine is one of the best mandolins under $500, which is prepared to hit up the jams out of the box. This F-style Ibanez mandolin comes with a strong spruce top and a flamed maple body for fresh and striking tones.
The mahogany neck, the rosewood bridge and the fretboard offer sustaining tone while the gold tuners keep the mandolin holding the notes in the key. With a high gloss finish, the Ibanez M522SBS F-Style Mandolin stands out in a striking style.
- Stylish look with flamed maple back and sides.
- All-wood construction is high-quality and durable
- The bridge allows you to adjust the height of the strings.
- You can choose the level that suits your playing best that makes it easier to play.
- It needs a good set-up by a professional.
Kentucky KM-150 Standard A-model Mandolin is one of the best mandolins for the money. Kentucky KM-150 Standard A-model Mandolin is not from a cheap brand at all. This brand offers an incentive to everyone who is searching for a less expensive mandolin with a traditional tone.
The primary thing about this mandolin is that it’s available in both solid-top and all-solid design. The solid top model is about $100 less, but it will worth your penny. The more you play this mandolin, the sound will be better.
An essential thing about this mandolin is that it has a slimmer neck than the Loar, which is its main competitor. If you have very large hands you might enjoy playing it.
The hardware on this Kentucky KM-150 is excellent considering the price. You won’t need to worry about having a great deal of tuning issues since it has an offset bridge you will be able to set it up to have sound as good as the other fretted instrument. You may like that there is no fretboard extension. The Kentucky KM-150 also has a truss rod, which is standard at a mandolin in this price range. The bound fretboard is decent as well.
The Kentucky KM-150 is a great mandolin, especially for beginners. While not having very much volume as The Loar, the brand is known to have better quality control over The Loar. This mandolin is less expensive and if you are on a budget, The Kentucky KM-150 would be one of the best mandolins to buy.
- High-quality woods and high-gloss finish.
- It’s functional with every feature and element designed for best playability.
- It comes to you already shop adjusted. So, you can start playing the mandolin right out of the box.
- The durability and ease of use make it an excellent mandolin for beginners.
- It doesn’t come with a hard case. So, you will have to buy the case separately. And that can be expensive.
- The floating bridge on this mandolin can be hard to set-up precisely. Kentucky recommends visiting a shop if you are worried about fixing the floating bridge.
Stagg M50E Acoustic-Electric Bluegrass Mandolin includes Nato sides that are back and neck with Rosewood fretboard. It has an elegant look due to f its red burst finish with high gloss. The pearl dot inlays improve its look by including modern touch.
Stagg M50E features a flexible black Maple bridge that permits you to control the sound. The headstock has 8 open geared nickel tuners that give precise and defined tuning. You will get excellent frequency effect and clear sound.
This mandolin generates a fresh, sweet and deep sound. Stagg M50E offers decent playability and incredible tone that is a vital feature of the best mandolin. This mandolin is a bluegrass electro-acoustic that will bring life to music. You can also use it for a wide range of musical genres.
Stagg M50E Acoustic-Electric Bluegrass Mandolin features 2 knobs, one is for volume and the other is for tone. The single picks up coil generates a brilliant tone. The F-Hole design is incredible for remarkable sound projection. The tailpiece of the Stagg M50E mandolin has an engraved design that makes it a vintage and authentic look.
The Stagg M50 E Acoustic Mandolin is a good choice for playing in every event.
- High-quality body material
- It offers beautiful tones, durability, and playability.
- It can be used for different musical genres and playing styles.
- Besides versatility, it provides you with many practice sessions.
- It features nato and rosewood for its different parts, as well as open-gear nickel machine heads.
- The red burst finish will make your performance with visuals.
- Available in an acoustic version.
- The black-stained maple bridge can be set so to adjust the sound whenever needed.
- The strings might not be as durable as expected.
The cheap mandolins are a great way to decide an instrument to buy. The worst mandolins lack the basic tonal qualities of a custom mandolin, but they can be set up to play. If you are not ready to spend much on a mandolin, this Rogue is one of the better options available.
The features are fine according to the price. It’s completely covered wood. It’s made with unknown generic tuners while the bridge is compensated, which ensures better intonation over a non-compensated bridge.
The main thing about this mandolin is it doesn’t come with additional items like a tuner or picks. This is normal at this price, but if you want a big pack or a couple of picks, it would cost you more than $20.
The sound of the Rogue isn’t unique, but to the inexperienced player, it will sound great according to the price. It does not have a high gloss finish, but it will sound like a good learning instrument.
This cheap mandolin comes with high-quality control. Considering the price, Rogue RM-100A can be the best mandolin for the money. If you are an experienced player, you might want much higher-end mandolin.
- It offers decent quality considering the price.
- It allows trying out the mandolin without investing too much while you can always upgrade later.
- Perfect training instrument.
- Strong construction.
- Bad strings.
The Seagull S8 Mandolin SG is one of the best mandolins for the money in terms of uniqueness. It is made well to make it delightful to play. This mandolin gives perhaps the best sound available. The players can find its full degree by trying it. This mandolin is remarkable and most parts of this mandolin are made by hand that gives it a sturdy and great vibe. The fingerboard feels great as it is made of rosewood.
It is perfect for players who need to travel and perform. You won’t need another mandolin once you have tried this. The main issue is the price.
- High-quality mandolin.
- Great sound quality.
- Sturdy construction.
- Might take some time to settle in.
- A bit expensive.
What should you look for buying the best mandolin for the money?
Before you buy your best mandolin brands, ensure that you have a basic idea of what you are searching for in your new instrument. Then you can compare between mandolin brands to realize what will be the best mandolin for the money.
Most people search for the best mandolin for money available that is hand-carved and resonates. On the other hand, if you are a beginner then you might be searching for a mandolin for the money that is less expensive. It will get you through learning the instrument as well.
Now, if you are going to buy your first mandolin or if you are a guitarist looking to add new sounds to your collection, what to look for while buying the best mandolin for the money?
We have the solution for the best mandolin for your money and what you need to look for. By going through more than 100 best mandolins reviews, we can assist you with finding the best mandolin for the money that suits your style and budget.
So what should you search for while buying the best mandolin on a budget? We have gathered some FAQs that will assist you with narrowing down your options. There are a large number of mandolin varieties and we can just cover a few here. However, if we consider these facts which are given below, that will help you to get your best mandolin for the money.
Most available acoustic mandolins can be categorized as A-style or F-style. These styles were made by Gibson, one of the best mandolin brands. With a multi-piece bowl-shaped back and flat canted top, Gibson made mandolins that drew influence from violins, which include arched tops and backs. The Gibson’s two mandolin styles, the A-style id featured a balanced teardrop body.
On the other hand, the F-style features a brightening look on the upper bass side round and different points to hold out of the body. These mandolins were well known and most mandolins created today are designed according to these two styles.
Also, don’t forget to see our post on mandolin vs banjo.
So how body style influences the sound of the best mandolin?
Most mandolin players will agree that the quality of tone wood, craftsmanship, and sound hole type influence an instrument’s sound. If you want a mandolin under 500, you will find A-style mandolins are more affordable than F-style mandolins compared to quality due to additional work required to make the scroll and points.
There are some other mandolin body styles out there including guitar-shaped bodies, modern bowl back mandolins and double-cutaway style. However, most acoustic mandolins you see will be either A-style or F-style mandolins.
Based on sound holes, best mandolin brands fall into two groups: those with f-holes similar to a violin and those with round sound holes like a guitar. The f-holes give a bright and clear tone while round sound holes give warm and sustaining tone. The outcomes will vary from instrument to instrument, based on tone woods and other construction features.
Mandolins with f-holes are stronger than round sound hole mandolins. If you play in acoustic like a bluegrass jam where you have to play with a banjo, the f-holes mandolins would be the best mandolin for the money.
Due to these differences, the bluegrass players will prefer f-holes mandolins while the people who play old-time music tend to prefer round sound holes. So the type of sound hole is a significant consideration, but don’t be hesitant to try both types of mandolins to know the sound you prefer.
Mandolins feature a couple of tone woods. The back and sides are produced using maple that is valued for its purity. The regular wood for the top of the instrument is spruce. However, the variety of spruce can affect the sound of a mandolin.
The Sitka spruce is the most well-known that gives a clear and balanced tone to hold its focus at loud volumes. Engelmann spruce offers a warmer and complex tone that reacts well to a lighter touch.
Adirondack spruce was the most recognized top wood but hard to find for a long time. It is available tone wood that offers a clear and engaged tone that stands up to heavy playing.
The Red cedar is often used for tops to give the mandolin a warm and passionate sound. The backs and sides are often made with mahogany to give a woody tone.
The instruments made of strong wood are more attractive than the instruments built using laminated wood. The strong tops and backs can either be carved into an arch shape as well.
If you play at home or in acoustic jam sessions, you may not need a pickup. If you play in medium to huge venues, you need to see some pickup options. A few mandolins come with a construction installed pickup system.
However, there are a lot of aftermarket pickups that work well indeed. Many pickups need to be installed under the bridge since we advise you to install professionally.
Some mandolin pickups are passive instead of the active pickups found on numerous acoustic guitars. The essential thing you have to know is that active pickups use a power source that is generally a 9V battery to help the instrument output.
On the other hand, passive pickups give a less powerful signal. So you might want to buy a mandolin for the money that features a decent preamp to help your signal.
Besides, another option can be a solid electric mandolin. These are excellent for playing noisy clubs, using electric guitar-style impacts pedals or different places where feedback matters. However, if you carry them to an open-air jam, you will need a battery-powered amplifier.
These guidelines will provide you with some guidance while looking for the best mandolin for the money. If you have the chance, try a lot of instruments and see what suits your taste. There is a lot of best mandolins out there.
Find the best mandolin reviews (as we have mentioned below) to find one according to your budget and taste. As you progress, you might find another mandolin that better suits your way.
Also, don’t forget to see our post on how hard to learn mandolin.
Types of Mandolins
The Bluegrass mandolin is based on two Gibson models introduced around the 19th century. Gibson sales representatives promoted mandolin brands that consisted of mandolin, mandola, mandocello and the mandobass. The two principal mandolin models were the A style and the F style. The A style is a teardrop-shaped and the F style has the extra scroll and points. These mandolin body shapes are available with oval or F sound holes.
There are 2 kinds of bluegrass mandolins:
- F-Style: They are the standard bluegrass mandolin that is very costly.
- A-Style: These are used in folk and Celtic music. They are less pricey.
The old design is the F-style body with its elegant hand-carved scroll. It takes a skilled and reliable woodworker to make and attach this compact design. The scroll joins the top of the mandolin and in a hand-carved swallowtail.
Generally, the F-style has a wing on the opposite side of the scroll and a point at the lower bout to make it accessible to grip. The F-style body is known for its punchy volume often considered as chop.
The F-style is created by Gibson master luthier Lloyd Loar regarded to be the Holy made it famous. Later it is valued by young players like Nickel Creek and Punch Brothers’ virtuoso Thile, who allegedly plunked down $200,000 for a Loar-signed 1924 model. The advanced brand is recognised as The Loar that makes both A and F-style mandolins. They say its instruments are inspired by Lloyd Loar’s legacy.
Most F-style models have body points on the deeper side of the instrument, which impact the tone and gives a convenient resting point on the player’s thigh. Some old luthiers and mandolin manufacturers have made branches that use few features from the original F-style models, though they have added their modern touches.
The Epiphone’s MM50E Professional model brings from the legacy of its corporate owner with classic F-hole styling while adding latest gadgets and a favorable price point. Most bluegrass players approach toward the F-style.
A less complicated pear-shaped design is known as an A-style body. It is usually more affordable as it uses less woodworking skills. The body brings more smooth and well-balanced sound.
This is to define tear-shaped and oval-bodied mandolins, which don’t fall under the F-style or bowl-back groups. The term came out of Gibson’s A-type mandolins built in the early 20s. Many have carved tops and backs with the back in few for being shaped like a violin. Though, A-style mandolins with arched backs are often described as having flat backs to depart them from bowl-back mandolins.
Some A-style models have more guitar-like profiles these days. Because they lack the ornate scrolls and points found on F-style mandolins, they are easier to produce and are often less expensive. A-style models tend to be popular with the classical, folk, and Celtic artists.
Both A and F-style mandolins can be seen with F or oval sound holes. The Kentucky KM950 is an A-style with F-holes, while the F-style Eastman MD814 and Breedlove Premier Series Fo both have oval sound holes.
Whether A style or F style, these Bluegrass mandolins have a flat back and their production costs lower than a classical bowl-back mandolin. The distinction between A-style and F-style models is exquisite. These both types generate a similar and sound same. However, the F-style mandolin has more decorations especially the scroll on op left side that increases its price.
To be honest, you won’t see bluegrass mandolin players playing an A-style mandolin.
The classical mandolins are also known as bowl-back mandolin. The classic mandolins are used in the old style or classical music and traditional world music.
These mandolins follow their Italian ancestors just as traditional lutes with their rounded backs. They are still known as Neapolitan mandolins due to the kinship with their Italian forerunners. You might see them considered by the more country term “tater bugs.”
The high-quality bowl-back mandolins are honoured with artists who play classical, Baroque, renaissance, and other authentic musical styles. Because of the volume of their bodies, the bowl-backs mandolin generates a deeper and rounder tone than other mandolin body types.
The classical mandolins are made of different wood staves connected together to create the back, where the American mandolins can be carved into single pieces of wood and have a flat back.
These mandolins are played in solo backgrounds and they have a less projecting sound with less bass, compared to the country or bluegrass mandolins. If you want to play classical songs, this is the mandolin you will want to purchase.
The electric mandolins have started to come in the late 1920s in the U.S.A. Then their fame has kept on increasing due to having the ability to be heard close by louder instruments in bands and the portability for on-stage musicians.
Gibson and Vega both have launched the best electric mandolin models during the 1930s. The following improvements are included in the 4-and 5-string models.
These electric mandolins are generally played and tuned like their standard acoustic brothers. Their body types can differ as well. The way they are equipped with also varies. Such as – some being furnished with pickups also used on electric guitars, while others are acoustic instruments with a pickup that transmits the mandolin’s output to the sound system.
The way of these mandolins are electrified that varies, some being provided with pickups while the other mandolins are acoustic instruments with a pickup that gives the mandolin’s output to a sound system. Let’s take a look at the most widely recognized electric mandolins here –
They have a wood center block going through the body inside that gives tame to create feedback that can be an issue with completely hollow electric mandolins.
The acoustic-electric mandolins look like the traditional acoustic mandolins. However, they include a bridge-mounted piezo-electric pickup that changes the vibrations of the strings to electrical driving forces. These electrical mandolins are directed through a preamplifier mounted on the top rim of the mandolin.
The preamp builds the signal quality and sends it via a link to an outside sound system. The preamp adds volume and tone controls and may also add a built-in electronic tuner. Most players tend to prefer acoustic-electrics as an option to using a mic while performing since using a mic can cause feedback and keeps the player planted in one spot.
The octave mandolins are set one octave lower than conventional mandolins, which makes the sound like a guitar in terms of the pitch. The Octave mandolins are not called as mandocellos, which are tuned simply like a regular cello: CGDA, where octave mandolins are tuned like a regular mandolin but only an octave lower. The mandocello is usually defined as being to the mandolin what the cello is to the violin.
If you want to play the cello and want to try a pluck string instrument tuned the same, then you can try Octave mandolin.
Also, don’t forget to see our post on how to tune a mandolin.
What type of mandolin should I choose?
There are several types of mandolin that are designed to suit precise music and these mandolins will have either eight or ten strings. But there are mixtures where one specific kind of mandolin can be appropriate for different genres. After going through all types that we mentioned above, it is up to you which type you want to buy.
How much should I pay for mandolin?
A mandolin can be a costly instrument. With instruments running from $50 to $20,000, how much does a mandolin cost?
If you are a beginner, you need to rule out the cheapest and expensive models to leave with a reasonable price range. Most of the players may need to decrease the price range further due to their budget. There is nothing to worry about since decent quality mandolins can be found at almost every budget level. So what is the best mandolin for the money?
We expect you to spend a minimum of $300 for a decent mandolin. However, this doesn’t mean that each $300 instrument is of good quality. Certainly, having $300 in your budget, you need to be careful when looking for the best mandolin for the money. Many instruments at this value should be avoided.
A decent mandolin is hand-carved with a chisel. The extra work required to make a mandolin can double or triple the mandolin price over a similar guitar. If we see average instruments, a mandolin that costs $600 will be about a similar quality range as a $300 acoustic guitar. There will some few exceptional cases where mandolins that stand out as outstanding qualities.
If you want to look into detail price ranges of mandolins, check our another blog about how much does a mandolin cost.