A mandolin is in the same family of instruments as the lute. It comes in different types and, of course, these types have their own peculiarities and sounds.
Mandolins are quite different from guitars, even though there’s a small resemblance. So, it is quite understandable that making a purchasing decision for this somewhat, less popular instrument can be difficult.
But not to worry, that’s why we’re here. From detailed reviews of our ten favorite mandolins to tips to choosing the best one for you, we’ve got you.
So just sit back and relax, we’ve done all the hard work so you can do the easy job of making a choice!
Top 10 Best Mandolin On The Market Reviews
But just before you dive into the reviews proper, you might want to spare a few seconds and check out our quick comparison table.
|Kentucky KM-140||29 x 13 x 4 inches||3 pounds||Acoustic|
|Stika spruce||Maple||Indian rosewood||Sunburst|
|Ibanez M522SBS||27 x 3 x 10.5 inches||2.5 pounds||F-Style||Solid spruce||Flamed maple||Rosewood||Brown sunburst|
|Kentucky KM-270||27 x 10 x 2.5 inches||2.75 pounds||A-Style||Stika Spruce||Maple||Indian rosewood||Traditional Sunburst|
|The Loar LM-520-VS||26.9 x 10.5 x 1.8 inches||2.9 pounds||F-Style||Fully graduated Spruce||Fully graduated maple/solid maple||Bound rosewood||Sunburst|
|Ibanez M510DVS||27 x 3 x 10.5 inches||2.5 pounds||A-Style||Select spruce||Mahogany||Not specified||Dark violin sunburst|
|Savannah SA-100||28 x 13.5 x 4 inches||2.8 pounds||A-Style||Not Specified||Not specified||Bound rosewood||Not specified|
|Washburn M1SDLB||28.2 x 13 x 4.3 inches||2.2 pounds||A-Style||Solid Spruce||Maple||Bound rosewood||Black|
|Guitar Works, Inc.||27 x 10 x 2 inches||3 pounds||A-Style||Laminated spruce||Not specified||Not specified||Wineburst|
|Rogue RM-100A||27.3 x 13.3 x 4.2 inches||2.85 pounds||A-Style||Not specified||Not specified||Rosewood||Sunburst|
|Donner DML-1||24.4 x 24.2 x 4.7||3.53 pounds||A-Style||African Mahogany||African Mahogany||Not specified||Sunburst|
1 Kentucky KM-140 Standard A-Model Mandolin – Great Entry-Level Mandolin For Beginners
The Kentucky KM-140 is a fantastic mandolin if you’re considering getting a mandolin as a beginner. It’s great and comes with a beautiful sound that you’d love. And it is also very affordable which means that you don’t have to spend so much getting one that you’d mostly use for practice.
However, here’s something you need to know, though. You’ll need to set this mandolin up properly, else it will hurt your fingers while you’re playing. You could do that at a music instrument store. But it’s going to cost you a couple of bucks, of course.
We love the sound of this mandolin. It’s made of spruce and maple which is a pretty solid combination when talking about mandolins. Thanks to the quality of wood used to build this instrument, the sound is really warm, crisp, clear, and loud.
The sustain is also really amazing and it’s quite the versatile mandolin. Whether you’d like to strum or you prefer picking, this mandolin makes a nice choice.
Alright, to the other things about this dude… it has a pretty nice build and finish. So, it does look good.
The case that’s included is also pretty solid as well.
So, all in all, this is a great instrument and we recommend this to every person who wants to begin playing the mandolin.
2 Ibanez M522SBS F-Style Mandolin – Fantastic Tone Great For Beginners And Advanced Beginners
This is a really beautiful mandolin from Ibanez. If you’ve tried a banjo from Ibanez, then you probably know what to expect from this mandolin by way of quality. It’s solidly built and it looks really lovely.
The sound is out of this world too and it is really loud as well. If you want, you could even install a pickup. But pickup or not, here is a fine sounding mandolin.
For those with a background in guitars, you would absolutely love the Ibanez mandolin. And you will actually need some of the knowledge from guitars to work on this for it to sound great as well.
The action is a little high, so you might need to lower the bridge a little.
The tuning pegs are okay too, although some people might prefer to replace them with some Grovers. To us, though, they aren’t a deal breaker.
The strings though, you’re going to have to change those out. They won’t count for much for long. It’s best to start out with quality strings if you want the mandolin to sound really nice.
3 Kentucky KM-270 Artist Oval Hole A-Style Mandolin – Vintage Oval Hole Mandolin
From history, mandolins came as A-style with an oval hole. Over time, that has changed and such mandolins are getting rarer. However, Kentucky says you can have this classic instrument at a very affordable price!
With the oval hole, you can be sure of a fuller, richer, and even more “mandoliny” sound. It’s a mandolin used only by the most discerning musicians.
Thanks to the quality of wood with which this mandolin is built, the mandolin comes with such a beautiful, rich tone that is totally out of this world.
And since we are talking about the build, isn’t it just great to know that this instrument is hand crafted? This means that you can be sure of the quality and durability of this mandolin.
Now, here’s one thing, the mandolin is not set up. You’d have to do that yourself if you don’t want to have a mandolin that’s hard to play on your hands.
The strings are pretty decent but feel free to change them for strings of better quality. It does hold its tone, though. But still quality wise, it’s just there.
We also like that the mandolin does not generate that annoying fret buzz that many badly manufactured fretted instruments usually come with.
So, generally, this is a great mandolin worth the money.
4 The Loar LM-520-VS Performer F-Style Mandolin – Great Mandolin, Already Setup With Great Playability
One thing that really stands out for us with the Loar, is its playability. This mandolin is so so easy to play. Everyone will find this quite playable, even right out of the box.
We would like to say no setup required but that won’t be entirely true. Okay, chill out. Here’s the story…
The Loar LM-520-VS is pretty well set up, to a very large extent. But then, one or two things need to be fixed. One of them is the most common problem you’d find on mandolins bought online – the bridge.
You’d just need to bring down the bridge a little. But aside that, every other thing is A-okay. The mandolin is ready to play right out of the box which is more than we can say for most mandolins.
The strings are great and they hold their tune. The build of the mandolin is also of good quality and you can tell when you look at it.
Aside that, the tone is quite beautiful as well or why else will it make it to our reviews? If you need a fantastic mandolin, then you shouldn’t miss out on this one.
5 Ibanez M510DVS Mandolin – Beautiful And Affordable Mandolin
This is one beautiful mandolin. Be careful, though, it’s not as satiny as it looks in real life. It actually comes with a glossy finish. But here’s one thing we will agree on, the Ibanez M510DVS is very beautiful.
Alright, let’s get to other aspects of the mandolin… it is very playable. When you get this mandolin, you’ll find that you can take it right out of its box and begin to play it immediately… well, except for two things…
Of course, it is going to need set up as most mandolins you purchase online would. So, think of taking it to a store to get the instrument properly setup.
And then again, the strings… they could be better. You want to replace the strings immediately. They are poor quality and they do not hold a tune. In fact, they don’t allow the beauty of this mandolin to shine through.
So, if you want this baby to really sound the way it was built to sound, then replace them with strings of a higher quality.
And, of course, we will not forget the fact that this mandolin is oh so affordable. Pretty great deal for such an affordable mandolin, if you ask us.
6 Savannah SA-100-BK A-Model Mandolin – Well-Built And Ready To Play Right Out of The Box
Alright, this is perhaps the mandolin closest to the “mandolin-as-it-should-be” on our reviews. It is so well built, you’d have very little to change about it once you get it.
It looks really lovely and also looks like it was made of great materials. You can trust that it will last a long long time.
Now, you will still have to set up the mandolin anyway… It is a very normal part of buying a new mandolin, especially when you’re not getting it from a brick and mortar store.
Aside that, we found something really remarkable about this mandolin that we found rather rare among other mandolins that we reviewed.
It actually comes with a moderate action. It is neither too high nor too low. This means that your mandolin will be very easy to play even if you’re a beginner. What are we saying? Even professionals do not appreciate playing with a mandolin that has a too high action. It hurts the players’ fingers and all.
As to the sound, this mandolin might be really low end but then, it sounds totally off the hook. The tone is great too, thanks to the quality of the wood used to build the mandolin.
And the volume? This mandolin is very loud and still maintains a very clean tone.
Yeah, the strings… the strings are pretty good too. They hold their tune. Like, they are pretty decent. But, you could still, change them out if you so please.
Altogether, we totally love the Savannah mandolin and we think you should try it out.
7 Washburn M1SDLB A-Style Mandolin – Loud Volume, Beautiful Italian Sound
This is another beautiful mandolin and this time it’s from Washburn. It is really loud and it produces such a beautiful sound. The tone of the wood is great too.
It’s an A-style mandolin with an oval hole. What does that have to do with anything? Well, here’s one thing you should know about the oval hole.
The oval hole has this certain quality it adds to the sound and tone of a mandolin. For one, it makes the mandolin louder. And two, it makes the mandolin produce a more exotic sound.
So, if you love the Italian style music, then this is the mandolin you want to get.
And it is really loud like we mentioned earlier. It is actually much louder than an A-style mandolin with an F-hole. You play it and the sound literally jumps out at you and fills the entire room.
It’s a beautiful looking mandolin as well, and it looks well made….
The strings could be better, though. You’ll need to replace them with better strings to get that Italian groove from your mandolin.
Another adjustment you’d have to make is to adjust the position of the bridge so the action is just right. But by now, you’re probably already used to coming across mandolins that require a reset of the bridge, right?
8 Guitar Works Inc. A-Style Mandolin – Already Set Up From The Manufacturer, Great For Lefties
Wow, isn’t this just so thoughtful of them? If you’re a leftie and you’ve been finding it difficult getting a mandolin you can play, then all your dreams have come true. Here is one mandolin that is absolutely fantastic for lefties.
We found out from a teeny bird that if you need your mandolin set up for a leftie, Guitar Works Inc will do that for you. But that’s not even the best part. You want to know what the best part is?
They will do it at no cost to you. They’ll do it for free!
We really commend how the manufacturers did a lot to ensure that this mandolin is playable by almost anybody.
For one, it’s ready to play right out of the box. Yep. We know you may not believe because it’s contrary to all other mandolins you’ve seen and everything you’ve heard. But the truth is that this mandolin actually comes set up by the manufacturers.
Granted, you’d have to tune this up but it’s just a normal part of owning any fretted instrument, even the most high end ones.
This mandolin comes with a carrying case as well which is pretty lovely and sturdy.
The sound, of course, is heavenly and rich. And the strings, even when new, can play as long as nearly half an hour before you have to retune them again. Those strings are D’Addario light phosphor bronze, baby. We’re talking top shelf stuff here.
You just gotta love this guy.
9 Rogue RM-110 A-Style Mandolin – Probably The Most Affordable Mandolin Ever!
Guys, we cannot get over how affordable this dude is. It’s like so affordable!
Of course, that already tells you that this is an entry level mandolin but don’t mistake that for cheap. No, it wasn’t built to compete with other mandolins in the $1000+ echelons, but on its own, this mandolin is not half that bad.
So, if you recently picked an interest in mandolins, or you’re looking to make an unsure transition from guitars to mandolins, here’s you guy. At least, until you’re sure about your new found love for mandolins, this guy will be by your side helping you to build that skill for the higher end model you end up with.
And the manufacturers even threw in an electric tuner. How nice! The tuner makes the work of tuning a lot easier. You know how new fretted instruments can be. You’d have to keep tuning them for the first few times. A good tuner always comes in handy.
So, we’ve got to hand it to this guy. It comes with decent value.
Now, as for the build, well, it is just okay. It doesn’t feel amazing but then again, you’ll be getting this mandolin at a ridiculously cheap price. So, compromise maybe?
But for looks, it does look really good; that’s for sure.
And it’s ready to play right out of the box too with a really good sound. No, we are not exaggerating. The sound from this mandolin is really good, especially since it’s coming from a mandolin that’s so affordable.
10 Donner DML-1 A Style Mandolin – Best Value
Hey guys, here’s where you get amazing value for your money. The Donner DML-1 is affordable but it doesn’t end there. It comes with many accessories so you don’t have to spend extra getting them. Talk about value!
The package comes with:
- A solid gig bag.
- Some nice picks, if that’s how you like to roll.
- A good working tuner.
- Extra strings.
- And even polishing cloth cos we got to keep our mandolin all shiny!
It’s a great buy if you want to gift this to a beginner mandolin player since all the accessories are included. But even more importantly, it is a good buy because it comes very easy to play.
The electric tuner is actually pretty good so it takes the stress off tuning.
Again, it’s already adequately set up so you don’t have much to do before you begin playing. Simply take it out of the box, tune it up, and start playing.
The stings are pretty great too. For new strings, they do hold their tune for a bit. It’s so amazing, it kinda feels like they’ve already been broken in a bit before now.
In all, we love this instrument and if you’re still doubting, stop questioning and start ordering. You won’t regret this purchase we can tell you for free.
Best Mandolin Buying Guide
Mandolins are classified into two main families. They are:
- The Bowlback Mandolins.
- The Flatback Mandolins.
Let’s discuss each of these families very briefly.
The Bowlback Mandolins
Bowlback Mandolins are mostly used to play classical, Greek and Italian music. Examples of the mandolins in the bowlback family include the following:
- Sorpano mandolin.
- Bass mandolin.
- The mandola (tenor mandolin).
- The tenor mandola (octave mandolin).
- Mandolone (a bass mandolin shaped like a guitar).
The Flatback Mandolins
Flatback mandolins are more American than exotic. They are used in the USA to play genres of music such as bluegrass, jazz, etc.
- F-style/Bluegrass Mandolin: This gives a less bright, jazzier feel to its sound.
- A-style Mandolin: Just like the F-style mandolin, the A-style mandolin comes with an arch top.
- Flatback Mandolin: Comes with a flat back just like the name suggests. It’s the most affordable type of mandolin as it is the easiest to build.
Now to the parts of a mandolin and how they affect the quality of your mandolin.
Parts Of A Mandolin
The quality of sound a mandolin produces depends on the kind of wood used to build the body of the mandolin. It also affects the price.
Back And Sides
The back and sides of a mandolin are usually made of rosewood, birch, mahogany, or maple.
As the name suggests, the sound of the mandolin comes out through the sound holes. Sound holes are of two types: the F- hole that is identical to that of a violin. And then there is the round hole which you’d find more often in bowlback and A-type mandolins.
Scrolls are more decorative than functional when it comes to the mandolins. However, a scroll could also have an impact on the quality of sound in a mandolin.
There are two primary functions of a bridge in a mandolin. It guides the lining of the strings. Also, it helps to transfer the vibrations produced by the strings to the top of the mandolin.
The tailpiece, just like the scroll, is both decorative and functional. The tailpiece is the part of the mandolin where the strings get attached to the instrument. It either comes as a cast piece of metal or as a stamped one.
This is a piece of wood added to the neck of the mandolin. And the frets are just like you have on a guitar. Metal strips that run across the fingerboard.
This one is quite obvious, they are used to tune the mandolin.
In the end, there are no straitjacket rules to choosing a mandolin. You’d have to learn to trust your hands and ears. If you love the sound and feel, then, by all means, get it. No matter what anyone tells you, feeling great about your instrument will help you practice better and get the best out of it.
Another thing to consider is that mandolins come in the traditional acoustic style, the electric mandolins, and the acoustic-electric mandolins. Of course each of these styles have their peculiarities. Again, trust your hands and ears to make the choice of the best mandolin for you.
We love all the mandolins on review today but if we absolutely must go for one, it would easily be the Savannah SA-100-BK A-Model Mandolin. It’s such a super mandolin, it was so hard to fault it.
We love the tone of the instrument, and it’s also quite loud. But even more importantly, in this instrument, we were able to find one mandolin out of many that came set up from the shop… with a moderate action! And then the looks and the strings too are topnotch.
We just couldn’t help it, guys. We fell hard for the Savannah Mandolin. Who wouldn’t after seeing the top value it is actually loaded with.
PS: Lefties would love the Guitar Works Inc. A-Style Mandolin. It’s our second favorite mandolin for this singular reason.