Trying to find the best mandolin for your money? If the answer is yes, you should continue reading. In this review we discuss everything you need to know about mandolins.
We also provide a top ten list of the best mandolins available. There’s really no reason not to continue reading.
First, a quick history of the mandolin. In the United States Mandolins are known as a folk instrument. But, they actually evolved from the lute in Italy in the 17th century.
Lutes are a type of plucked, fretted string instrument. The lute’s design has carried over into the mandolin. Today, the mandolin looks like a cross between a guitar and a lute.
Want to learn more? Read on . . .
Top 10 Best Mandolins In 2020 Reviews
1 Kentucky KM-150 Standard A-Model Mandolin
Features: A-style body; German spruce, Alpine maple, and Santos rosewood wood used; and weighs five pounds.
- The high-quality woods used, and high-gloss finish makes this A-style mandolin stand out from the competition. Not only is this instrument beautiful, it is functional, with every feature and material designed for maximum playability.
- The Kentucky KM-150 Standard A-Model Mandolin comes to you already shop adjusted. So, you can play this mandolin right out of the box.
- The durability and ease of use of the Kentucky KM-150 make it a great mandolin for beginners.
- The Kentucky KM-150 mandolin does not come with a hard case. So, you will have to purchase the case separately. Beware, cases can get quite expensive.
- The floating bridge on the KM-150 can be hard to set-up correctly. In fact, Kentucky recommends taking the mandolin to a shop if you are concerned about setting up the floating bridge.
The Kentucky Mandolin Company is owned by Saga Music and is headquartered out of San Francisco, CA. However, their mandolins have been manufactured in China since 2001. So, these are not American-made instruments.
But, don’t let that scare you off . . .
Kentucky mandolins are known for their affordability and quality. The KM-150 Standard A-Model Mandolin exemplifies this reputation. It has an all-wood design. Plus, the instrument is hand-crafted, and shop adjusted. So, if you are looking for a classic and beginner-friendly instrument, then the KM-150 might be perfect for you.
2 Ibanez M522SBS F-Style Mandolin
Features: F-Style body; maple, spruce, and purpleheart wood used; and weighs 2.5 pounds.
- The flamed maple back and sides make the Ibanez M522SBS F-Style Mandolin look stylish. Also, this all-wood construction is high-quality and durable. It will stand-up to even the most demanding playing schedule.
- The F-style body gives the M522SBS mandolin a class Bluegrass shape and sound. Thus, if you want to sound like Ricky Skaggs, then this is the mandolin for you.
- The bridge of the M522SBS mandolin allows you to adjust the height of the strings. Therefore, you can choose the level that fits your playing best. And, this feature makes the M522SBS an easy instrument to play.
- Although it may look electric, the M522SBS is an acoustic instrument. If you want an electric mandolin, you will need to look elsewhere.
- You will need to purchase your own case. Plus, the M522SBS needs to be tuned before you can play it.
Ibanez Guitars has been around since 1908. But, at that time the company was a sheet music store and products distributor in Nagoya, Japan. However, in the mid-1970s, the Japanese company began distributing their Ibanez guitars in the United States. Since that time Ibanez instruments has been one of the most famous producers of mandolins in America.
But, that’s not all . . .
Ibanez’s M522SBS F-Style Mandolin is a high-quality and easy to play instrument. It is designed to be affordable as well as professional. In fact, this instrument is so affordable, it could be included on our review of the most affordable classical guitars. Obviously, a mandolin is not a guitar. But, this comparison just shows how well-made and cost-effective the M522SBS is to mandolin players.
3 Kentucky KM-270 Artist Oval Hole A-Style Mandolin
Features: A-Style; Alpine maple and Santos rosewood wood; and weighs 2.75 pounds.
- The maple and rosewood, all-wood design is durable and functional. Plus, the sunburst gloss finish makes the KM-270 look classically appealing.
- The use of East Indian rosewood for the fingerboard ensures easy playing. Plus, it feels amazingly smooth and soft under your fingers.
- The Kentucky KM-270 is a small mandolin and only weighs 2.75 pounds. However, this could be a major advantage for folk music players. The smaller size of the mandolin produces a traditional tone.
- The Kentucky KM-270 needs to be set up by a shop after you receive it. So, you will not be playing this one right out of the box.
- Like many other mandolins on our top ten list, this product does not come with a case. That extra expense may be too much for some people.
The Kentucky KM-270 Artist Oval Hole A-Style Mandolin is designed to emulate the historical oval mandolins. If you want a traditional-looking mandolin, the KM-270 is the product for you. In fact, the KM-270 has a large oval sound hole. Therefore, it creates a mellow and low sound.
Also, . . .
With the KM-270, Kentucky recreates the look and build of a collectible instrument. But, they do this in an affordable package. This is great because it opens up mandolin playing and classic styled instrument to any player.
4 The Loar LM-520-VS Performer F-Style Mandolin
Features: F-style; spruce, maple, and rosewood wood used; weighs 2.9 pounds.
- The Loar’s LM-520-VS mandolin comes with a compensate adjustable ebony bridge. So, you can modify the instrument based on your performance needs.
- All of The Loar’s products are hand-carved and all-wood. Also, the wood and finished used by The Loar’s designers create a beautiful and stylish mandolin.
- The LM-520-VS comes with Grover tuners, which ensure that your instrument stays in tune. So, it doesn’t matter hard or often you play your mandolin, it will always be in tune.
- The LM-520-VS is a minimally appointed mandolin. Therefore, it does not include many modern extras. For the right player, this paired down approach is great. But, if you want a mandolin with all of the bells-and-whistles, you need to consider another product.
- Although the LM-520-VS is an affordable product, it is still not as affordable as some of the other mandolins on this list. Some players may need to think twice before they invest in it.
The Loar is a guitar and mandolin manufacturer that emulates famous instruments form the Golden Age. The company aims to create instruments that are beautiful, traditional, and sound great. In fact, the LM-520-VS is an almost identical recreation of Gibson mandolins from the turn of the 20th century.
Speaking of the LM-520-VS . . .
This mandolin is a paired down instrument. It has low-key appointments and an all-solid wood design. And, the classic design is accentuated by the single layer of ivoroid binding. If the look of your mandolin is important to you, then you should try The Loar’s LM-520-VS.
5 Ibanez M510BS A-Style Mandolin
Features: A-Style body; mahogany, purpleheart, and spruce woods; and weighs 2.5 pounds.
- The open pore gloss on the Ibanez M510BS keeps the instrument shiny and looking nice.
- Additionally, the combination of woods in this all-wood mandolin makes for a classic A-style look. Therefore, if you want to play an affordable but traditional mandolin, this is the product for you.
- The simplicity of the M510BS’ design means that this is a perfect instrument for beginners. So, no bells-and-whistles. But, just high-quality workmanship.
- The strings that come with the Ibanez M510BS are not as high quality as the instrument. So, you would be best served to purchase your own strings for the mandolin.
- Also, the Ibanez M510BS will need be set-up by a professional before it will sound its best. Hopefully, you know of a good luthier shop near you, for you will probably need it.
Ibanez Guitars has a long and complicated history. But, the Cliff’s Notes version is that they first came to the United States in the 1970s. Since the 1980s Ibanez has been producing their own instruments, including mandolins.
Introducing the M510BS . . .
Ibanez’s M510BS A-style mandolin illustrates the quality work and affordability that has made Ibanez famous. (For examples of their guitar offerings, see this and this article.) In fact, the M510BS is designed to emulate their famous mandolins of the 1970s and 1980s, but with updated sound and style. Thus, all you need to do is look at the M510BS to see the potential in this little mandolin.
6 Savannah SA-100-BK A-Model Mandolin
Features: A-style body; maple and rosewood wood used; and weighs 2.9 lbs.
- If you are looking for the best deal mandolin that you can find, then look no further. The Savannah SA-100-BK A-Model Mandolin is an extremely affordable, but still well-made instrument.
- The SA-100-BK comes with an adjustable compensated bridge. So, you can decide how to set up your own instrument.
- The maple and rosewood on this teardrop-shaped A-style mandolin create a dark and brooding instrument.
- The shipping of the Savannah SA-100-BK has not been great. And, there are many instances of the instrument arriving broken.
- Savannah has created a great student instrument. However, if you want a professional sounding and set-up mandolin, this is not the one for you.
Savannah Acoustic is a company that specializes in acoustic folk instruments. You will find guitars, banjos, ukuleles, and mandolins in their product catalog. Also, all of Savannah’s instruments are designed to be cost-effective with great workmanship.
Drum roll please . . .
The SA-100-BK fulfills Savannah’s design promises. In fact, for the price, this mandolin is a steal. It has great-looking and sounding construction and it sets-ups easily. However, it will not feel or play like some of the higher-end mandolins that appear in this review.
7 Washburn Americana M1SD Mandolin
Features: A-style body; spruce and maple woods used; and weighs 3.55 pounds.
- Comes with a choice of black, transparent red, and transparent blue gloss finishes. So, you can customize the color of the Americana M1SD Mandolin for your own style.
- Washburn has an over hundred-year history making quality mandolins. Therefore, you can be assured of the quality product s coming out of this American company.
- The tuning pegs turn smoothly and easily, which makes keeping your instrument in tune a breeze.
- Like other affordable mandolins, the sound of the Americana M1SD may not be for everyone.
- The finish on the Americana M1SD is a little simpler than some of the other mandolins on this list. So, you will not be turning any heads with this mandolin.
Washburn Guitars has been in business since 1883. It was founded in Chicago by George Washburn. The company immediately began producing mandolins in addition to guitars. By 1889 Washburn designed and sold mandolins.
But, that’s not all . . .
Washburn’s Americana M1SD has the wood you want on a mandolin: spruce and maple. Plus, the gold hardware works well with the colors of the wood. And, the affordable price makes having a mandolin attainable for any musician.
8 Rogue RM-100A A-Style Mandolin
Features: A-style body; maple and rosewood wood used; and weighs 2.85 pounds.
- The RM-100A mandolin has a thin, easy to play neck. Additionally, the adjustable bridge also makes learning to play this mandolin quite easy.
- Rogue has created a great finish and coloring on their RM-100A mandolin. It may not cost a fortune, but it does look professional.
- For the money, the sound of the RM-100A is clear and resonant. Therefore, beginners will benefit from the easiness of the mandolin while still playing with a good sound.
- The tone of the Rogue RM-100A A-Style Mandolin is very bright. For players who want this timbre, the tone is fine. However, if you want a mellow mandolin, you need to look elsewhere.
- The case designed for the Rogue RM-100A is sold separately. So, buying the proper case may be out of the budget for some people.
Rogue is another company that creates accessible and affordable mandolins. They are a little hard to find online. However, their products are readily available and speak for themselves.
Keep reading . . .
The RM-100A is made of maple and rosewood. It has a solid construction. Plus, the adjustable compensated bridge allows you to fit the instrument to you. Overall, the RM-100A mandolin is a classically-designed, perfect beginner instrument.
9 Donner A-Style Mandolin
(Includes big bag, guitar strings, DT-2 tuner, polishing cloth, and two picks.)
Features: A-style body; mahogany wood used; and weighs 3.53 pounds.
- The open tuning peg style and metal construction of the pegs makes is easy to keep your mandolin in tune. So, you can play this instrument as much as you want. It will stay in tune.
- The sound of the Donner A-style mandolin is warm and vibrant. It sounds much better than the cost of the instrument would suggest.
- Donner has designed their mandolin to fit perfectly under your hand. Their hands-on production process ensures a comfortable fit.
- Like all mandolins, the Donner A-Style is susceptible to humidity and sun damage. Therefore, follow the company’s care suggestions carefully. You don’t want to void your warranty.
- The frets are mostly in tune but are not close enough for some musicians. Beginners will not struggle with the frets. But, if you are advanced or have perfect pitch, you may want a more accurate instrument.
DonnerDeal was founded in 2012. As a relatively new company on the instrument scene, they are still not well-known. But, their great products for less money approach will make them stand-out in no time.
And . . .
Donner creates one mandolin, the A-style Mandolin. This instrument is made with the classic A-style body with an all-mahogany design. The PVC pickguard is durable. So, even the youngest players would struggle to damage this instrument. Plus, this is the only mandolin on our list that comes with accessories like a polishing cloth and pick.
10 Kentucky KM-256 Artist A-Model Mandolin
Features: A-style body; maple, spruce, and rosewood woods used; and weighs 2.6 pounds.
- The Kentucky KM-256 is a traditional A-Style mandolin and has the expected oval sound hole. But, Kentucky has also included a set of f-shaped sound holes as well. This opens up the high pitches and brightens the tone of the KM-256.
- The all-wood design incorporates maple, spruce, and rosewood. And, the combination of these woods gives the KM-256 a highly desirable appearance.
- All of the wood on the KM-256 is hand-carved. So, you know that you are receiving a unique instrument designed to play beautifully.
- You will need to adjust the bridge when you receive the Kentucky KM-256. It is dangerous to ship the mandolin with the bridge installed because it could break. Therefore, if you are not comfortable with putting the bridge on yourself, you will need to take the instrument to a professional shop.
- The finish is easily scratched. So, make sure to handle the KM-256 with care.
The Kentucky Mandolin Company has made a name for themselves producing high-quality, affordable instruments. And, the MN-256 represents their best work. All of Kentucky’s products are handmade in China. And, this production process keeps the cost down and the quality up.
Keep in mind . . .
Kentucky gives you the best of both worlds with their KM-256. They have united the oval holes found on traditional A-style bodies with F-holes as well. Therefore, you receive the sound benefits of both A-style and F-style mandolins in one instrument. This is a uniquely designed and versatile product that will be wonderful for beginners and advanced players alike.
Best Mandolins Buying Guide
Now that you know all about our top ten list of the best mandolins, it is time to discuss how to choose between them. Also, unlike many other instruments, mandolins vary wildly. Therefore, you need to be careful when choosing an instrument. So, keep the following features in mind when you are looking for your next mandolin.
Most importantly, your preferred body style will help you choose between mandolins. The long history of this instrument has meant that comes in a wealth of styles and types. You will find bowl-back, flat-back, flat-top, A-style, and F-style mandolins. Additionally, there are mandolas and mandocellos to choose from.
Our top ten list represents a large number of mandolin types. However, two body styles are the most common: F-style and A-style. The F in F-style stands for Florentine. This type of mandolin was developed in Florence, Italy. It has f-shaped sound holes—these will look like the sound holes on stringed instruments like the violin. Also, the F-style mandolin has a scroll-and-points silhouette.
On the other hand, A-style refers to any teardrop-shaped mandolin. The sound holes on A-style mandolins are oval. A-style mandolins are usually favored by mandolin orchestras musicians. But, F-style mandolins are often preferred by bluegrass players.
Why does shape matter, you ask? Well, the shape of the mandolin determines the timbre (tone color) of the mandolin. F-style mandolins have a more striking tone than A-style’s muted color.
Like guitars, mandolins can be electric or acoustic. Most of the mandolins on our top ten list are acoustic. And, if you play in a mandolin orchestra, you will likely need to purchase an acoustic instrument. But, bluegrass and some other folk genres prefer electric instruments. Understanding the conventions of the mandolin genre you plan on joining will help you choose between electric and acoustic instruments.
Additionally, acoustic mandolins can be made electric. So, if you purchase an acoustic mandolin and need an electric one later, you can still have both. However, acoustic instruments made electric often do not have has good sound as purely electric mandolins.
In addition to the variation in body styles, mandolins come with different numbers of strings. Four, five, and eight stringed instruments are all common. And, the number of strings will determine the type of tuning system that is used.
Understanding the tuning you need will point you to the number of strings you require on your mandolin. But, even if you are new to mandolin playing, you can still make a decision. Most standard mandolin have eight strings in four courses (string pairs are tuned in unison). And, the most common tuning in this situation is G-D-A-E. Therefore, if you are a beginner, plan on finding the most standard instrument in terms of tuning and number of strings.