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.