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Whether you’re buying your first mandolin or looking for that upgrade to take your playing to the next level, we have an instrument on this list for you.
We scoured the internet and researched the best mandolin offerings. We accounted for body styles, sound quality, materials, number of strings, and more while never forgetting to factor in affordability and the intended uses for each choice.
Kentucky KM-150 Standard A-Style Mandolin – Best Overall
The KM-150 started as a cheaper, pressed wood mandolin that provides less sound quality than the current models.
Thanks to the continued improvements in manufacturing and better material components, the KM-150 is now a near-perfect mid-range offering that suits beginners and professional musicians equally well.
This A-style mandolin has a solid body made of German spruce wood. The sides and back consist of hardy Alpine maple.
Kentucky also made the neck using maple, and while being wider than usual for a mandolin, it remains comfortable to hold and play.
The fingerboard is a rosewood that is quite smooth. It’s effortless to run your fingers across the strings comfortably, but the wood also provides a sturdy grip.
As far as the finishing details are concerned, the Kentucky KM-150 features inlaid mother-of-pearl position markers, a mother-of-pearl “Kentucky” script inlay, and Nickel-plated hardware.
The spruce top looks great with its sunburst finish and offers a sound quality that rivals much more expensive mandolins.
This Kentucky mandolin is solidly built and provides a reassuring weight when you hold it. The maple sides and backing enhance the KM-150’s overall durability while remaining lightweight.
The Kentucky KM-150 mandolin is our pick for overall best mandolin because it combines excellent craftsmanship, fantastic playability, and affordable pricing that crosses every boundary between budgets and skill levels.
Gibson F-5G Mandolin – Premium Option
The Gibson F-5G mandolin (compare price Guitar Center) is by far the most expensive mandolin on this list. Still, if you ever get the chance to play one, we think you’ll agree that this premium mandolin is one of the best instruments ever produced.
The modern F-5G model is an F-style mandolin based on the 1920s original. The F-5G looks simple at first glance, but it is deceptively gorgeous with high-quality material components and exquisite detail work.
For the body of the F-5G mandolin, Gibson used carved solid spruce for the top and carved maple for the back and sides. The top features two “F” holes and an appealing dark sunburst design.
Gibson constructed the neck with solid Madagascar ebony wood, the fretboard is rosewood, and the mandolin also features a tuned parallel tone bar.
Gibson added impeccable extra touches to the F-5G, including a triple top binding, lacquered finish, nickel-plated hardware, and a flowerpot headstock inlay. Additionally, there are mother-of-pearl dot markers and a mother-of-pearl Gibson-insignia on the head plate.
Overall, this mandolin produces a beautiful, rich sound and is remarkably comfortable to play even for long periods.
The Gibson F-5G might not be the best option for beginners based on the high price tag if nothing else, but established mandolin players will get great action from this instrument. The list of F-5G players includes many professional musicians, including John Teer of the band Chatham County Line.
Rogue RM-100A A-Style Mandolin – Best Budget Option
You can’t beat the Rogue RM-100A A-style mandolin (compare price Amazon, Guitar Center) for a budget mandolin. Rogue has established a reputation for creating easy-to-play mandolins that feature surprisingly clean craftsmanship considering the wallet-friendly price tag.
The Rogue RM-100A is an a-style mandolin perfect for beginners and individuals looking to get into mandolin playing as a hobby while working on even the tightest of budgets.
This A-style mandolin has a spruce top with two “F” hole cutouts. It also features a rosewood fingerboard and a nice-looking simulated rosewood bridge. For the sides and back of the mandolin, Rogue used maple, and the neck is maple as well.
Details on the RM-100A include chrome tuning machines, nickel-plated frets, a 12th fret neck joint, and a glossy lacquered finish.
The Rogue RM-100A mandolin is not going to win any sound quality contests compared to more expensive models, but it is still one of the most popular choices for beginners for a reason. This mandolin provides a good sound for the price, and it is a comfortable instrument to play while learning mandolin.
Considering that the RM-100A mandolin from Rogue is less than one-tenth the price of other, more expensive mandolins and still gives you a worthwhile performance, we think it is the perfect budget buy option.
Loar LM-700 F-Style Mandolin
The Loar LM-700 F-style mandolin (compare price Sweetwater, Guitar Center) is another excellent option for the mid-range level of mandolins. The mandolin is an F-style mandolin well-suited to meet the needs of an advanced or professional mandolin player.
Loar is a famous brand of mandolins for a reason, and it is easy to see why the company enjoys so much success after you take this mandolin for a test drive. This mandolin’s sound production and tonal quality make it an excellent choice for playing on your own or with a full band.
The body of the LM-700 consists of a hand-carved body with a spruce wood top and flamed maple sides and back. The top features two “F” holes and a fantastic sunburst finish under an eye-catching but incredibly thin polyurethane finish.
The neck is made from a single piece of flamed maple and has an ebony fingerboard that lets your fingers glide across it effortlessly.
Additionally, the Loar built the LM-700 with many refined touches, including a bone nut, adjustable ebony bridge, vintage style Gotoh tuners with ivoroid buttons, and a Loar Fleur emblem on the headstock made from pearl and abalone.
Ibanez M510 Mandolin
It comes from the master craftsman at Ibanez, who built this mandolin as a workhorse. This mandolin features a beautiful combination of reliable durability and lightweight action, making it a viable contender in the rapidly expanding list of affordable mandolins that companies are marketing for beginners.
The M510 mandolin is an 8-string, A-style mandolin with two “F” holes and 20 frets. Ibanez built the M510 with a spruce top and Sapele body. The neck, sides, and back of this mandolin are mahogany. The use of so much mahogany significantly cuts down on the weight (and cost) of the mandolin but also gives the M510 a softer, deeper tone.
The M510 has a dark, almost subtle sunburst design and a high gloss finish. The fretboard is rosewood, as is the bridge. The open-design, chrome tuners, and other hardware complete the visuals of this mandolin.
The Ibanez M510 is an easy mandolin to learn on, while the warm tones and efficient materials make this another fantastic budget buy option.
Ibanez M522 F-Style Mandolin
The M522 is a great choice that straddles the line between a budget and mid-range mandolin. This F-style mandolin is inexpensive, but Ibanez still provides a solid performance instrument made with high-quality materials.
The top of this Ibanez mandolin is solid spruce over a laminated flame maple body. The back and sides also consist of a laminated flame maple that looks nice and, more importantly, sounds good.
Ibanez used durable mahogany for the neck of the M522. For the fretboard and bridge, they used smooth rosewood.
This 8-string Ibanez mandolin features the company’s signature Ibanez logo inlay in mother of pearl as well as a mother of Pearloid flowerpot inlay in the headstock.
Gold and Pearloid tuners, gold hardware, a high gloss finish, and a beautiful dark sunburst design complete the striking visual appeal.
The Ibanez M522 mandolin is capable of resonant, deep lows and bright highs that might surprise some players, considering the affordable price.
This mandolin is a good choice for all skill levels and has been used for many different music styles, although it seems especially popular in the bluegrass genre.
Washburn Americana M108SW Mandolin
The Washburn Americana M108SW mandolin (compare price Sweetwater, Guitar Center) is one of the best mandolins from the legendary manufacturers at Washburn Guitars. As part of Washburn’s Americana series, the M108SW mandolin is well-suited to bluegrass, country, and even the rock genres.
This punchy, F-style mandolin features a solid, hand-carved European spruce top, carved mahogany sides, and back. Combining these two kinds of wood creates warm tones and significant volume.
For the neck, Washburn used maple. The company chose ebony wood for the fretboard, allowing for more comfortable finger movement over the strings.
The bridge is also ebony wood, and the bracing for this mandolin consists of quarter-sawn Sitka spruce.
The vintage matte finish and distressed open-gear tuners give the M108SW a stylish look, while the dot inlays round out the visuals.
Washburn has been manufacturing musical instruments since the 1800s. So much expertise in the industry helps make the M108SW mandolin a great instrument that works equally well for beginners and professional mandolin players.
The M108SW delivers comfortable playing, a generous volume perfect for solo or group play, and the kind of sound quality that every musician will appreciate.
You can find this Washburn mandolin in another variation differentiated by the model name M108SW-K. Both mandolins are the same price and deliver the same excellent playing performance.
Luna Moonbird F-Style Acoustic-Electric Mandolin
Luna’s inspiration for this F-style mandolin came from the mysterious night birds that fly by night with its black satin finish and subtle details.
Luna made the top of the Moonbird from a select spruce wood which they pressed over a solid mahogany body. For the sides and back of this mandolin, Luna also chose to use spruce.
The spruce wood components give the instrument a strong presence in the high and mid-range tones, while the mahogany helps add power to the low-range tones.
Luna built the fingerboard and bridge out of dark black walnut wood and the neck from mahogany.
A Piezo pickup gives the player individual control over the volume and tone.
Finishing details include chrome hardware, black open gear tuners, and a well-crafted scroll.
The fingerboard also features a very cool series of moon phase inlays made with mother of pearl material.
Luna’s designers always intended for the Moonbird mandolin to be a unique blend of artistry and performance, and we feel that mission was largely successful.
The Moonbird mandolin performs very well, especially in the high and mid-range tones. This mandolin is competitively priced and an excellent choice for all skill levels.
Eastman MD305 A-Style Mandolin
The Eastman MD305 A-style mandolin (compare price Amazon) is a classic example of the teardrop shape of an A-style mandolin. It also features two “F” holes which helps provide better volume making it an excellent option for playing with an ensemble.
The Eastman mandolin has a solid spruce top with solid maple sides and back. The binding in the top is ivoroid.
The body of the MD305 mandolin has a dark, natural wood look under a thin nitrocellulose matte finish.
The neck material and headstock are maple wood, and the fingerboard is smooth ebony wood. Eastman also made the adjustable compensated bridge with ebony wood.
This handcrafted mandolin from Eastman also has excellent details, including inlaid pearl dots, chrome hardware, an Eastman cast aluminum tailpiece, geared tuners, and an Eastman logo on the maple headstock.
The Eastman MD305 mandolin produces a generous amount of sound with ease. It delivers bright notes that make it fun to play solo, but the punchy sound quality also makes this mandolin a fantastic choice for a band or orchestra setting.
This mandolin is an excellent choice for all skill levels. Musicians use A-style mandolins in many genres, but we recommend you pick up this Eastman mandolin if you play Celtic, folk, or classical music.
Loar LM-310F-BRB Honey Creek Mandolin
This hand-carved F-style mandolin has two “F” holes, a classic tapered v-shaped neck profile, and masterfully crafted curves that give it a vintage mandolin look.
The hand-carved solid spruce top gives the mandolin a strong projection. The back and sides are maple and offer bright resonance and durability.
Loar used maple for the neck of the Honey Creek mandolin too. The fingerboard is padauk, and, for the bridge, Loar used premium ebony wood.
This mandolin also features a cutting-edge and effective internal sound chamber with longitudinal tone bars that balance the instrument’s tone.
The Honey Creek mandolin has a brown burst coloring underneath an expertly applied high gloss finish. Other details include mother of pearl dots inlaid on the fretboard, nickel tuners with pearl buttons, other nickel hardware, and a subtle Loar logo on the headstock.
The Loar LM-310F-BRB Honey Creek mandolin is a mid-range choice that beginners or advanced mandolin players can use. This F-style mandolin is great for any music but is best suited to folk, bluegrass, country, Americana, and similar genres.
What To Look For in a Mandolin
Selecting the best mandolins isn’t always the most straightforward task. There are numerous elements to consider before buying your instrument.
Body styles, different types of wood, power capabilities, and of course, pricing all need to be considered beforehand.
Fortunately for you, we’ve categorized all of the most vital factors that go into buying a mandolin and assembled this comprehensive guide.
Once you make the choices between these options, finding your perfect mandolin will be that much more straightforward.
Parts of the Mandolin
Before looking at the differences between mandolins, it is helpful to ensure you have a solid understanding of the essential parts of the instrument.
The main component of the mandolin is called the body. We refer to the top of the body as the soundboard.
Sides and Back
The sides and back attach to the body, and most brands use a different material for these components than they do for the body.
Sound holes come in round or f-shaped designs. Sound emanates from the sound holes via air movements.
The bridge directs the strings’ vibration into the mandolin’s body.
The fretboard is a thin piece that sits underneath the strings but above the neck.
Frets sit vertically on the fingerboard and help control the pitch of the music.
Tuners sit in the headstock and are used to tune the mandolin.
A piece of metal attached to the body that helps hold the string taut.
Mandolin Body Style
There are many different styles to choose which can make narrowing the choice down to just one a tricky endeavor.
On the plus side, though, fantastic mandolins are available in every style, and the choice is only one of budget and personal preference rather than quality.
Here is our breakdown of mandolin body styles.
The A-style mandolin has a teardrop or pear-shaped body. We also refer to this style as a flat-back mandolin.
The A-style mandolin is very popular, especially among beginners, thanks to its comfort and the availability of low-cost models.
Because of its flat-back design, the A-style mandolin requires less time and effort to manufacture compared to F-style or bowl-back mandolins. This process makes an A-style mandolin the perfect budget buy for first-time mandolin players who might not be ready to sink a ton of money into a new hobby.
The holes on an A-style mandolin come in two variations: two “F” holes or one “O” hole. The “O” hole build is much more common in A-style than the “F” hole design.
A-style mandolins work for just about any genre of music, but you will frequently see them used for classical, folk, and Celtic music.
Gibson developed F-style mandolins and, unlike A-style mandolins, feature a scroll (a bit of wood wrapped around itself at the top of the neck). If scrolls don’t appeal to you, don’t worry; they are primarily ornamentation.
Usually, F-style mandolins feature two “F” holes, but manufacturers sometimes make them with a single “O” hole. These mandolins also frequently have small points on the bottom that help make the mandolin more comfortable to hold and play in a seated position.
Because of how comfortable F-style mandolins are to play seated and the wide range of affordable options, many beginners choose an F-style as their first mandolin.
Like A-style mandolins, F-style mandolins will work well with any genre of music, but you will see them frequently in country and bluegrass bands.
Arched Back (Bowl-Backed)
This style of mandolin body is the original design; when you picture a mandolin, you likely see something in this style.
As the name suggests, this mandolin body features a curved back instead of being flat. This arch design helps make the mandolin louder and focuses the strings’ sound outwards instead of reverberating through the instrument body. The bowl shape of the back also gives this type of mandolin a more profound tone.
Arched-back mandolins are not the best choice for beginner players. Because of their unique design and sound quality, arched-back mandolins can be challenging for beginners to play to their fullest potential. Additionally, because of the more nuanced design process, these mandolins tend to sit at higher price points than many A or F-style mandolins.
The arched-back mandolin is worth considering for musicians who want to play traditional folk music or join an orchestra.
The meaning is pretty obvious, but when we talk about carved top mandolins, we are referring to mandolins that have had their signature arched tops carved instead of pressed.
Carved tops are usually more expensive than pressed top versions, thanks to the increased craftsmanship and manufacturing difficulty.
Aesthetically speaking, carved top mandolins are beautiful instruments. On the downside, some musicians have noted that flat-topped mandolins tend to play louder, so if that concerns you, consider a pressed flat-top mandolin.
Pressed top mandolins are pressed into their final form using intense heat and pressure. The process and machinery used are quite similar to how manufacturers construct their acoustic guitars.
Because pressed top mandolins require less hands-on labor, they are often less expensive than carved top mandolins. The flat surface of a pressed top mandolin is usually louder than a carved top, though actual differences in sound quality will vary between models.
A scroll is not a body style of a mandolin. In fact, many mandolins don’t feature any scroll at all. It is a feature found only on F-style mandolins. A scroll is a small piece of detail work on the mandolin’s top where the designers shape the wood so it wraps around itself.
A scroll can add a unique ornamental touch to a mandolin, but the added design work usually reflects a higher price tag.
Mandolin Wood Types
While the body type of a mandolin will have a small effect on the playing qualities of the instrument, the wood a manufacturer uses to make a mandolin is probably the single most crucial component.
Which mandolin you choose in so far as its material components are concerned will mostly come down to budget and personal tastes.
Manufacturers use different wood types for the parts of a mandolin. A relatively consistent rule of thumb when looking at mandolins is that the more of the instrument that is made out of only one type of wood, the cheaper it is.
Here are some of the most commonly used woods for mandolins.
The most commonly used wood for mandolins by far is spruce. Spruce is extremely strong but also lightweight, making spruce mandolins durable and comfortable to play. Artisans mostly use spruce for the body or soundboard of a mandolin.
Because of its popularity, spruce is also harder to come by, making it more expensive than other materials. However, the downside of these different materials is they can’t produce the volume for which musicians favor spruce mandolins.
Mahogany and Cedar
Because mahogany and cedar woods are cheaper to acquire and easier to work with, manufacturers often use them for affordable, budget mandolins.
Many beginners may wish to purchase a mandolin with a cedar or mahogany body as their first mandolin if they don’t want the extra cost of a spruce mandolin. Some musicians may also prefer cedar or mahogany over spruce because these two kinds of wood produce a deeper albeit softer tone than spruce.
Some manufacturers use a variety of woods that are pressed together into layers to form a laminate. This process is usually accomplished by layering cheaper woods on the inside of the body and pressing the more expensive woods on top.
Manufacturers construct their most affordable mandolins from laminate materials. If you are a beginner or someone who knows they will beat on the instrument, a laminate mandolin is a fantastic, wallet-friendly option to research.
The significant downside to laminating materials is that you will instantly notice how inferior the tone and sound quality are when you compare them to a spruce mandolin.
Ebony is an incredibly strong wood with a tight, smooth grain, making it an ideal material for mandolin fretboards.
Most fretboards for mandolins are made with ebony, although other materials such as rosewood, maple, and some laminates are easy to find.
Maple is a strong wood that is most often used for the side of a mandolin and sometimes for the fretboard.
Because maple is so rugged (even more than spruce), it plays a vital role in protecting your instrument from wear and tear and preventing warping.
Acoustic vs. Electric Mandolin
You can divide mandolins into acoustic and electric models.
Which one you want is a personal preference, but you also should consider what type of music you’ll be playing. For something like a mandolin orchestra, you will need an acoustic. However, some styles of music, like bluegrass and other folk music genres, will most likely require an electric.
Also, consider the setting in which you’ll be playing your mandolin. For an at-home setup with minimal equipment, acoustic is the easy choice. But if you play in a band with a bunch of electric instruments, you’ll need an electric mandolin.
Finally, you should be aware that there are electric-acoustic mandolins. They can be played acoustically or plugged for electric-style playing. It is also possible to refit an acoustic mandolin to make it electric. These two options can help make it a little easier to decide what mandolin to buy.
Unfortunately, money is probably the single most impactful factor when buying a mandolin. We would all love to pick up that $6,000+ premium mandolin, but sometimes we have to make a few sacrifices as responsible musicians and choose an instrument that won’t break the bank.
The best way to do this is to determine the maximum amount you can spend and narrow down your choices as necessary.
However, if you’re a beginner, consider buying a budget mandolin, even if you can afford something more expensive. That way, you can decide if the mandolin is for you or not without wasting your cash on a costly instrument.
Best Mandolin Brands
While perhaps not as popular today as the guitar, the mandolin is a fantastic string instrument with many dedicated brands and manufacturers.
Let’s look at five of the best mandolin brands that produce fantastic mandolin instruments.
Since 2002, Eastman Guitars has been producing mandolins that focus on offering a wide range of body styles and materials.
A wide range doesn’t mean any loss of quality, though, with Eastman using handcrafting techniques and CNC machinery to create great-sounding mandolins that remain affordable.
The company offers choices for all skill levels, but beginners will want to check out this brand’s budget-friendly options.
Known for its attractive designs and premium tonal quality, The Loar brand of mandolins is one that every enthusiast should consider when in the market for a new mandolin.
Many of Loar’s mandolins are inspired by the “Golden Age” of the mandolin (usually considered the 1920s and 30s). While the warm sounds and handcrafted designs of the golden age ring true, these mandolins remain at an attainable price point.
Some of the most fantastic string instruments come from the artisans at Ibanez. And while the company might be best known for its premium guitars, they also use its 70 years of experience in the industry to deliver fantastic mandolins.
Musicians can choose from 4 different models, including A-style and F-style bodies. Even the most expensive option will be forgiving on your wallet while delivering rich, robust sound and refined details.
The Kentucky Mandolin Company is actually owned by Saga Music Instruments, which has worked hard to develop Kentucky Mandolins into a brand synonymous with quality craftsmanship.
Kentucky offers excellent premium mandolins with a dedicated facility in China, where the instruments are hand-carved.
Adirondack spruce, carved Michigan maple, and ebony wood are just a few of the beautiful materials used for Kentucky mandolins.
The Rogue mandolin brand is owned by Musician’s Friend in Medford, Oregon, and manufactured by the SungBo Industrial Company in South Korea.
The mandolins from Rogue are some of the most popular beginner mandolins ever made. The popularity of their fusion of affordability and quality has led to the company expanding its product lines to everything from bass guitars to effect pedals.
The Washburn Guitars company has been producing string instruments since George Washburn started the company in Chicago in 1883. A few years later, in 1889, Washburn became the largest mandolin manufacturer in America.
Over those 135 years of production, Washburn has created a reputation for developing some of the most delicate acoustic and electric string instruments ever made.
Washburn currently offers eight different mandolins in both F and A-style bodies. Washburn mandolins are famous for their performance abilities and attractive designs.
People mostly think of guitars when they think of the Gibson company. Still, in actuality, Orville Gibson began designing and manufacturing two different styles of mandolins about two years before founding the company that would bear his name.
It was Gibson who first used the designations of the A-style and F-style mandolins.
Today, the Gibson company continues to provide musicians with some of the best string instruments on the planet.
Gibson mandolins like the one we included in our mandolin reviews section are undeniably costly, but the skill and consideration with which the company constructs them make them more than worth the extra expense.
Because of their unbeatable quality and attention to detail, the Gibson company boasts many of the most famous mandolin players as their customers, including musicians such as jazz guitarist Eddie Lang and Bill Monroe, the “Father of Bluegrass.”
Top Mandolins, Final Thoughts
That’s it for our guide to the best mandolins available. Remember, the best mandolin for you will depend on what type of mandolin body and materials you like, how you intend to use it, and how much you’re willing to spend.
With that in mind, try to find the instrument that fits you perfectly, and you’ll enjoy a lifetime of beautiful music.