Best Mandolins in 2020 – Buyer’s Guide

Mandolins are one of the oldest fretted elements that always bring a nostalgic touch to any song. A standard mandolin has four courses of double strings, which brings your total to eight/ however, five and six courses exist. 

You might think to yourself, “why play the mandolin when I can learn to play the guitar?” and truth be told, guitars are way more popular than mandolins, which – in my humble opinion – is enough reason to consider playing the mandolin. Think about it, if a lot of people play the guitar, then it won’t be that impressive for you to play it too! 

Also, if you know how to play the mandolin, playing the guitar or the ukulele will be a piece of cake for you since they are less complicated. 

Another reason why you rather play the mandolin is that it has a bigger room for experimenting, and its sound is so mallow, which brings an old sense to it that never fails to make people stop and just listen to that beautiful sound.

The only issue that you might face while choosing your mandolin is that mandolins aren’t that common. This is why many people find it confusing. Some of the brands are not too popular, and you can hardly find an honest review to tell you where to go. 

Lucky for you, you stumbled upon this guide. Now, we can sort things out for you. 

What are the best mandolins you can currently find? Why should you choose a particular model? How long does it take to learn this instrument? And many other questions might be going through your mind. Let’s answer them all! 

List of the Best Mandolins: 

Comparison Table:

MandolinTypeTopBack/sidesfingerboardColorWeight
Rogue RM-100AA-styleSpruceMapleRosewoodsunburst2.85 lbs.
Ibanez M510DVSA-styleSelect SpruceMahoganyNot specifiedDark violin sunburst2.5 lbs.
Kentucky KM-140 A-styleSitka SpruceMapleIndian rosewoodSunburst3 lbs.
Savannah SA-100A-stylespruceNot specifiedBounce rosewoodNot specified2.8 lbs.
Ibanez M522SBSF-StyleSolid SpruceFlamed mapleRosewoodBrown sunburst2.5 lbs.
Stagg M50EA-styleNatoNatoRosewoodRedburst3.15 lbs.

The 6 Best Mandolins in 2020

1. Rogue RM-100A A-Style Mandolin Sunburst – Best Overall 

Rogue RM 100A A Style Mandolin Sunburst

The first mandolin on our list is a popular one between all the professional mandolin players and Amazon’s best-seller, the Rogue RM-100. 

Although it is made of laminated wood, it is well-built, and you can say it is a compact mandolin. This is thanks to the high-quality material used in its construction that make it durable and resilient. 

It might strike you that the laminated wood affects the clarity and loudness of the instrument, but fortunately, that is not true. Rogue RM-100 has such a clear and resonant sound. Actually, many players consider it to be a little too bright. 

As you could tell from the title, this mandolin is A-style. It has a Maple neck and a rosewood fingerboard that features 12 frets. 

One of the things that makes this mandolin pleasant to look at is the chrome tuners and the nickel-plated frets. The finish of the instrument makes it look professional. A lot of people might think that it costs you a fortune when, in fact, it doesn’t. 

Another reason why you will love this model is that it only weighs 2.85 pounds. Lightweight is an advantage to anyone who worries about not being able to play comfortably, especially those who perform for extended periods. 

Rogue RM-100 is available with a case, or you can buy the instrument separately. 

Pros:

  • Beautiful design 
  • Looks professional 
  • Clear and bright sound 

Cons:

  • Some might feel it is a little too bright 
  • The case is sold separately 

Final Verdict 

Rogue RM-100 is one of the best mandolins you can currently find on the market. It might be a little bit expensive, especially for those who decide to get the case with it but, it certainly looks way more expensive than it actually is. 


2. Ibanez M510DVS Mandolin – Best Beginner Mandolin

Ibanez M510DVS Mandolin

Ibanez M510DVS is quite an impressive mandolin that has been on the market for a long time, and even though new brands and models keep coming out, this one is still a better choice for many players.

The mandolin has a classic A-style and with laminated mahogany back and sides and a spruce top. The instrument is as sturdy as you would want it to be with an exceptionally rich and warm sound. 

Ibanez knew where to head with the design of the model. The chrome hardware gives the instrument such an appealing appearance with pearl dot inlays that makes it even more admirable. 

When it comes to playability, you will be pleased with the rosewood fingerboard that allows you to have better tones and a fantastic bright intonation. 

The simplicity of the design of the instrument with the high-quality workmanship is what makes this one of the best mandolins that will never go out of style. 

However, we should set your expectations that the strings that come with this mandolin are not as high-quality as the instrument. This is not an issue because, at one point or another, every player needs to replace the strings of their instruments, so you might as well do it first thing when you purchase this mandolin. 

Pros: 

  • Impressive design 
  • Has an exceptional rich resonance
  • Affordable 

Cons:

  • Needs to be set-up by a professional 
  • The strings that come with the instrument aren’t the best 

Final Verdict

Ibanez M510BS deserves to be on the top of the list of the best mandolins; it is a well-earned title. Between the affordability and the simplicity of the instrument, any beginner would be satisfied with this beautiful instrument. 


3. Kentucky KM-140 Standard A-Model Mandolin – Best Affordable Mandolin 

Kentucky KM 140 Standard A Model Mandolin

Kentucky M510BS is another great option to go with if you want to start playing this beautiful instrument. It is made of maple, which adds some warmness to its sound. The top is made from solid carved Sitka spruce. The overall construction of the instrument gives it a crisp and bright tone. 

The fretboard of the Kentucky KM-140 has 12 frets with the classic MOP script inlay. This gives any player the space to experiment with a variety of tunes and increases the playability of the instrument. 

The design of this mandolin is one of its best features. It has a vintage appearance with a high gloss sunburst lacquer finish. No one will argue that it looks beautiful. 

What adds to the affordability of Kentucky is that it comes with a gig bag that is superior to many of the currently available ones from other brands. This makes it one of the best mandolins for anyone who is on a budget. 

Pros: 

  • Affordable 
  • Comes with a superior gig bag 
  • Beautiful design 
  • Crisp and bright sound 

Cons: 

  • A little difficult to set-up 

Final Verdict 

Kentucky M510BS is the perfect mandolin for anyone who is on a budget. If you want to save some money without compromising the playability and the build quality of the instrument, then you have just found what you’ve been looking for. 


4. Savannah SA-100 A-Model Mandolin – Best Cheap Mandolin 

Savannah SA 100 A Model Mandolin

Savannah SA-100 makes another affordable option for all those who want to find a mandolin under $100. 

When it comes to construction, the mandolin has well-built craftsmanship, although it might need some maintenance from time to time. 

The top of the instrument is made of spruce, and it features a hard maple neck with a rosewood fingerboard and dot inlays. It has a sunburst and a black finish. The overall design won’t bother you, but you will need to pay extra care while handling the instrument because, just like many other instruments, a bad fall can break it. 

Savannah SA-100 has a 3-ply pickguard that protects it from any scratches. 

You will be surprised by the sound of the instrument, and the tuners are nothing but impressive. In fact, they are worth a lot more than their actual price. 

Pros:

  • Excellent tuners 
  • Three-ply pickguard against scratches 
  • Beautiful design 
  • Bright sound 
  • Affordable

Cons: 

  • Construction isn’t the best 
  • It needs some maintenance from time to time 

Final Verdict 

Savannah SA-100 is the best mandolin under $100. It is great for beginners who are on a budget and want to experiment a little. 


5. Ibanez M522SBS F-Style Mandolin – Best High-Quality Mandolin 

Ibanez M522SBS F Style Mandolin

Ibanez M522SBS is such a stylish, fancy mandolin you will come across. It is designed for professionals who are looking for an instrument that sounds good, looks good, and also affordable. 

As per the title, the mandolin is F-style. We will talk about the difference between A-style mandolins and F-style ones in a bit. However, when it comes to the construction, the mandolin has a flamed maple body with a solid spruce top.

The build is quite impressive and contributes to the sturdiness of the instrument. The neck is made of mahogany wood with a rosewood fingerboard and pearl blocks inlays, which flatters the mandolin even more.   

It has gold die-cast tuners with Pearloid knobs. They make the tuning process as simple as it can be and offer amazing tones. Everything is put together in a professional clean way to produce such a deep and rich sound. 

If you are looking to have a great player experience, then you don’t need to think twice, this is the one mandolin for you. 

Pros: 

  • Excellent built-quality 
  • Looks stylish 
  • You can adjust the height of the strings
  • Durable

Cons: 

  • Doesn’t come with a case so you will need to pay extra to buy one 

Final Verdict 

The Ibanez M522SBS is the best high-quality mandolin you can currently find. Although you might think it is an electric mandolin from its looks, unfortunately, that’s not true, and if that’s what you are looking for, then this is not the right instrument for you. Yet, it is quite a bargain for all the professional players who want to upgrade to a more durable and fancier instrument. 


6. Stagg M50E Acoustic-Electric Bluegrass Mandolin – Best Electric Mandolin 

Stagg M50E Acoustic Electric Bluegrass Mandolin

Finally, for all the electric music lovers, it’s your stop. Stagg M50E is the best mandolin to make your music come to life. 

The instrument has a Nato body with a black maple bridge, a rosewood fingerboard and pearl dot inlays that make it look rather sophisticated. 

The bridge is adjustable and allows you to control the intonation of the instrument. One thing that will truly impress you is the tuners. There are eight open gear nickel tuners that can help you adjust the frequency and get an amazing articulation.

Let’s jump to the electric specs; the mandolin features a single pick up coil with two knobs for volume and tone controls. All in all, you will get a bright tone with a crisp deep sound while playing different music genres. 

Pros:

  • Vintage looks 
  • Excellent built-quality 
  • Supports electric playing 

Cons: 

  • You need to pay extra to get it with a case 

Final Verdict 

If you are looking for the best mandolin to play electronic music, then Stagg M50E is the way to go. It is elegant, it sounds incredible, and it is easy to adjust. 


What to Look for When Buying a Mandolin 

1. Type of Mandolin 

From what we talked about earlier, you should already expect that there is more than just one type of mandolin. In fact, there are three body styles for mandolins: A-style, F-style, and bowl-backed. 

The first thing you will notice from this is that there are no bowl-back mandolins in our list. The reason is, bawl-backed mandolins are the oldest type, and they are of low quality, so chances are, people, don’t buy them despite their low prices. 

The second type of mandolins is the A-style, which, unlike the bowl-back, is perfect for beginners and not as challenging to play. The A-style mandolins are tear or pear-shaped, but instead of having a bowl back, it is a flat one in comparison. 

An A-style mandolin will typically have one “O” hole, which is one of the differences between it and F-style mandolins. Also, they are easier to build, which is the main reason behind the price difference. Typically, an A-style mandolin cost less than F-styles.

If you take a look at an F-style mandolin, the first thing you will notice is that they have a more curved body. This is the one major difference between the two. However, other differences exist like the soundboard that has two “F” holes, one on each side. 

 F-style mandolins are more comfortable to play, and they are a better option for country artists. 

2. Type of Wood

No one can deny that the style of the mandolin has its effect on the sound that the instrument produces. Yet, if there is one major factor that impacts that sound, it will definitely be the wood that is used to build the instrument. 

A lot of times, beginners expect an instrument to be made of a single type of wood, but the reality is different. Each part of the mandolin might have a different type of wood that is more suited for the function of this part. This is what defines whether your instrument has low or high quality. 

The part that has the biggest impact on the sound of the instrument is the top. Typically, high-quality mandolin features a solid spruce top. This adds more value to the instrument, and if anything, it makes it more expensive. The thing is, spruce isn’t only used in making mandolins. Actually, it is used in making guitars, pianos, and other instruments. 

The reason many brands use spruce in manufacturing high-quality instruments is that it is lightweight, but at the same time, it is strong. 

If you check out any of the budget mandolins, you will notice that most of them have mahogany or cedar tops instead. While this doesn’t necessarily mean they will sound awful – there is a big chance they will sound okay – but they would sound much better if they featured a spruce top instead. 

Another thing that we should talk about when it comes to the type of wood that is used to construct mandolins is whether it is laminated or solid. Many players already know that solid wood is much better. However, it is something that many beginners might miss or give no attention to. 

Laminated wood is formed by pressing several layers of wood together instead of carving a shape from solid wood. Many companies will use spruce for the top layers, but the inner layers will be made of woods of lesser quality, for instance, mahogany. 

The advantage of doing this is that laminated tops offer a stronger build; meanwhile, they cost less, which draws the attention of many players. Unfortunately, this has a negative impact on sound quality. Yet, mandolins with laminated tops make a great choice for beginners on a budget that is not looking for the best possible sound, just a good sound for a decent price until they get the hang of things and decide to upgrade their instruments. 

When it comes to the rest of the body, spruce isn’t per se the best option. Instead, it is better to use a stronger wood, preferably maple. Also, other strong woods like mahogany and Koa make a better choice. 

One thing to be pointed out is that laminated sides and backs make a less expensive option for anyone who is on a budget. This doesn’t significantly affect the tone of the instrument, but it does save you a good deal of money. 

Another thing to look at is the wood that is used to build the fingerboard. The goal here is to use solid wood with a smooth surface. This is why many brands use rosewood. It allows you to have a good grip and move your fingers smoothly across the fretboard. 

One more part to examine is the neck of the instrument. The neck of any fretted instrument is one of the parts that are highly susceptible to bending. This is why it is actually preferred to have a laminated neck; they are much stronger. 

Last but not least, the bridge of the mandolin. Unlike guitars, mandolins feature movable bridges that are usually made of rosewood or less commonly ebony. 

3. Price

When picking any instrument, the price is one of the crucial things to consider. Of course, there is a wide variety when it comes to mandolin pieces depending on the brand and the features of the instrument itself. 

However, no matter how little or how much you are willing to pay, it is important to make sure you are putting your money right where you should, and you will be getting what you are looking for. 

What I mean here is that you shouldn’t buy a certain instrument without trying it out first. Sure, you will do your research and find out more about the instrument and all but, will you feel comfortable while playing it? Does it sound as good as you expect? These are important things for any player to check before they make any purchases. 

Meanwhile, if you are a beginner and you have no idea what the answers to these types of questions are then the one thing you should do is to listen to other people playing the instruments you have your eyes on and decide which one you like the most. This will definitely narrow your choices and help you make the right decision. 

Frequently Asked Questions: 

Are Mandolins Harder to Play than Guitars? 

There is a lot in common between these two instruments, and both can be a bit challenging for any beginner. It all depends on how fast you can make progress and whether you have played a fretted instrument before. 

What I’m trying to say is, if you are a guitarist, then playing the mandolin won’t be much of a challenge, but if you are a beginner, then you will have some challenges with both instruments, so it’s pretty much the same deal.

What Is the Best Mandolin for Beginners? 

The best mandolin for beginners is the Ibanez M510DVS. It sounds fantastic, and it has a decent price.

How Long Does It Take to Learn the Mandolin? 

Before answering this question, let’s point out that the time frame I’ll give you right now is purely out of my experience, and this is not a rule in anyways. Some people learn faster than others, and some will take a long time but eventually get there. 

Usually, a beginner will take around three months to get the hang of this instrument, suggesting that they practice daily for at least 30 minutes. 

Final Thoughts

Choosing a new instrument is always a challenge. However, this guide should help you find the best mandolin for you. If you want an instrument that will sound good, have a reasonable price, and stays in good condition for a long time, then Rogue RM-100A should be on the top of your list. 

The Ibanez M510DVS is a more decent option for beginners who still want a decent instrument. However, if you are on a tight budget, then Kentucky KM-140 and Savannah SA-100 are more suitable options.

On the other hand, if you are looking for a high-quality option, then the Ibanez M522SBS F-Style Mandolin will make a great choice, whereas the Stagg M50E is the most suitable option for an Acoustic-electric mandolin.

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