How To Choose Best Mandolin – A Complete Buying Guide

Before buying any instrument, you may already have some features you are looking out for; like the sound, playability, ease of tuning, ability to stay tuned, wood material and of course, quality hardware.

​These are what should guide you in choosing the best mandolin to meet your needs. So when you come across a brand that has features you are looking for, you can decide to settle for that.

​Mandolin Terminology

​Arched Back:

​An arched back means the back of the instrument is not level or flat. The mandolin is arched to help enhance its loudness. Sound energy from the strings is projected outwards instead of bouncing around the mandolin’s body.

Carved Top:​

​Means the top of a mandolin carved into the arched shape of the instrument as against being pressed.

​Pressed Top:

​The pressed top refers to a mandolin made into shape with the aid of a machine. It is usually performed using pressure and heat.

​A-Style:

​A –style is used to designate the Gibson’s model teardrop shaped mandolin. This model also lacks the scroll.

​F-style:

​The F-style mandolin comes with a scroll. It does have much difference in construction.

​Scroll:

​The scroll offers an attachment point for a strap. It consists of wood wrapped around itself and placed on top of the instrument.

​Current Types of Mandolin

​Mandolins are currently grouped into two main families.

​1. Bowlback Mandolins

2. Flatback Mandolins

BOWLBACK MANDOLINS​

​This mandolin type is used majorly for Italian, classical as well as Greek music. The current mandolin orchestras available may include any of the organs below

  • Mandolin (soprano)
  • Piccolo mandolin
  • Altmandolin
  • Octave mandolin (Tenor Mandola)
  • Mandola (or tenor mandolin)
  • Octave mandolin (tenor mandola)
  • Bass Mandolin
  • Mandolone (guitar shaped bass)

FLATBACK MANDOLINS

The flat mandolin type is primarily used in countries like the USA. It is used for playing jazz, bluegrass, etc.

​Examples of flatback mandolins have already been provided in the list above, but for the sake of clarity, we are going to list them again.

​FLATBACK MANDOLIN:

​The flatback mandolins we have currently had already been provided in the list above. But we are going to repeat in below to give a better understanding.

​F-style or bluegrass mandolin

It has the arch top, jazzier sound than the bowl back mandolin, f-hole soundholes, and the sound is also less bright.

​A-style mandolin

​It has the arch top as well, and design by Gibson round or f-type soundholes.

​Flatback Mandolin

​As the name implies, it has a flat back and much cheaper and easier to build than the other types.

Knowing the Different Mandolin Parts

Mandolin Parts

Body:

Plays a vital role in the quality of sound produced. However, the type of wood used in constructing this part determines the quality of sound and the price of the mandolin. The top of the body is known as the soundboard.

​Back & sides:

​These parts are commonly made of birch, maple, rosewood or mahogany.

​Sound holes:

​This is where the sound comes out of the mandolin's body via air movement. The two types of sound holes are the

​Round hole: Commonly used in the A-type and bowl-back mandolins

F-shaped holes: These holes are almost exactly as the sound holes of the violin.

Scroll:

The scroll though may affect the sound but plays more of a decorative role and commonly found in the F-type mandolins.

Bridge:

The bridge performs two functions. First, it acts as a guide to line strings up and transfers vibrations from the strings directly to the top part of the mandolin body.

Tailpiece:​

​The tailpiece is both a functional and decorative part of the instrument. The strings are attached to this part of the mandolin that is why it is attached to its body and does not fall off when removing the strings. It also comes as cast or stamped piece of metal.

​Fretboard:

​A thin piece of wood glued to the neck.

​Frets:

​Metal strips placed vertically on the fingerboard.

​Tuners:

​Used for tuning the instrument.

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