Best Mandolin Brands : A Complete Buyer Guide with Reviews
The mandolin is a great instrument to learn and play, and if you are planning to buy one, then it is certain you would want the best mandolin for beginners, right?
Finding a brand new mandolin is not always the problem, there are just too many options to choose from.
This brings us to why reading reviews are so important for beginners. You will get firsthand information to help you make the right choice including the review of best mandolin brands.
Relevance of This Best Mandolin Buying Guide to Beginners
This guide contains all the information beginners need to buy their first mandolin like a pro.
It has information on things beginners or buyers in general, must look out for when buying a mandolin.
In addition, it also contains reviews of the best mandolin for the money and highly recommended for buyers on a budget.
How We Picked the 10 Best Mandolins for the Money
We understand that choosing the right mandolin is very confusing to beginners or first-time buyers, considering the numerous options out there.
Now we have done all the hard work, is left for you to make your choice with the information provided.
We selected these 10 best mandolin brands out of the numerous options available, by sampling genuine reviews from real buyers, opinions from professional mandolin players and did thorough research on each of them coupled with our experience with these brands and knowledge as professional players.
Top 10 Best Mandolins for All Players
5 Best Mandolin for Beginners With Reviews
The mandolins in this category are great for players who are just starting out with learning the mandolin.Rogue RM 100A review : A-Style Mandolinburst
Rogue is one of the best mandolin manufacturers that have made a name in the mandolin making business.
The company is highly recognized for making great mandolin for beginners on a budget.
The RM-100A from Rogue has a bright tone and great projection, making it suitable for beginners itching to play the bluegrass and other related music styles.
The sunburst finish makes it look more on the expensive side. It is evenly applied on the body and offers better protection.
With a smooth action, adjustable bridge and above average steel strings, the RM-100A offers great playability which beginners looking to build finger strength would benefit from.
Fretting would not be too tiring, as strings do not require much pressure to touch the nickel-plated frets on the fretboard.
It has 12 evenly installed nickel frets for better tone and buzz-free sound. The frets are neatly placed on the fretboard, with well-finished edges to allow players to navigate on the fretboard freely without sustaining cuts.
This F-hole style mandolin comes with a short and comfortable to play neck. The neck is constructed with maple, a great quality tone wood for a mandolin at this price point. The fingerboard is made of a great wood material, rosewood.
The chrome tuners on the RM-100A holds tune well, which is great for beginners to play for an extended period without stopping all the time to re-tune.
Features of RM-100A & Buyer’s Benefits
- Great mandolin for starters once setup nicely
- The tonewood used for the body and neck are great at this price point.
- Lightweight and portable; great to travel with.
- Laminate top makes the tone a bit tinny but is perfect for players just starting out.
- Thick finish lowers the tone quality but is still a great starter mandolin to learn with.
- The high action of the strings can affect playability, though this can easily be amended with proper setup.
- The sound quality cannot be compared to higher priced models but this is the best you can get at this price point.
Final comment on this Rogue mandolin review
The RM100A is a great starter mandolin and great for players on a tight budget as well.
Though the sound cannot compare with other expensive models, it is great for beginners. In all fairness, this mandolin offers the best value for money.
In addition to our rogue rm 100a mandolin review, you can read other comments from beginners online.Oscar Schmidt Mandolin Review – A-Style
Oscar Schmidt was founded in 1871 and is one of the oldest companies in the stringed instrument making business.
They produce string instruments with quality hardware, premium wood, and budget-friendly.
The handcrafted Oscar Schmidt OM10E is one of the best mandolin brands for starters produced by the company. It sounds great both acoustically and when plugged in.
Though this mandolin has quite a bit of low volume when not plugged in, the sound level acoustically is great for practice.
Weighing in at just 4 pounds, this mandolin sports a mahogany back, sides and high gloss finish. The finish is without blemish, which is very unusual for a cheap mandolin of this sort.
The OM10E is a feature rich model. It has a passive pickup that amplifies its volume so beginners can play out loud even in a large room.
The rosewood fingerboard and mahogany neck are well crafted. They contribute to the great sound of the instrument.
Features of Oscar Schmidt OM10EWH Acoustic Electric Mandolin & Buyer’s Benefits
- Great acoustic and amp entry level mandolin
- Well setup and plays out of the box
- String to fret height is great for starters
- Great sound with more volume when amplified
- Does not have a truss rod to correct neck twisting that may result over time.
- Not a professional mandolin for playing live gigs, but great for learning the mandolin.
- There have been several complaints of the plastic of pick guard ends having some fraying.
- Strings take long to break in, but they sound great afterward.
- Thick gloss finish also detracts from its tone and is mostly felt when played acoustically.
Final Comment on this oscar schmidt mandolin review
If you are yet to decide whether to proceed with learning the mandolin but don’t want to invest heavily, then this Oscar Schmidt OM10E is the best mandolin for you.
It offers a unique opportunity for you to enjoy the acoustic and amplified mandolin even though you are on a tight budget. Reviews : Kentucky KM-500 Artist
Kentucky is another go-to brand for entry level mandolin players with a great design team having over 30 years experience combined.
The company is recognized worldwide as a great entry level ukulele manufacturer and derives its name from the Bluegrass state, Kentucky.
The KM-150 Standard A-model Mandolin is one of their most sorted after mandolin model. It is hand carved with solid Sitka spruce top to offer bright tone and great projection.
The glossy nitrocellulose lacquer finish on this mandolin is not the best of finishes but not a deal breaker. It still looks amazing with the body well protected.
The superior open geared tune keys on this mandolin make it more suitable for beginners. They hold tune well and make mandolin tuning much easier for beginners.
Features Kentucky KM-500 Artist A-model Mandolin & Buyer’s Benefits
- Adjustable truss rod
- Top, back, and sides all solid wood
- Offers greater tone, resonance and volume than other mandolins at this price point
- Great price
- The saddle and bridge need to be hand fit on arrival
- It comes with plastic strap buttons which might become slack any time.
- Not the prettiest of mandolin, but better than most at this price point.
- Great finish but not the best for a mandolin of such price tag.
Final comment on this kentucky mandolin review
If you think you can’t get a worthwhile mandolin for under $500, the KM-150 Standard A-model Mandolin will make you change your thinking.
This mandolin may not have a superior finish or design but offers great tone, projection, and playability which are the most important features to beginners. And according to other kentucky mandolin reviews, it is rated among the best mandolin for starters.Savannah
Savannah is among the famous mandolin builders in recent times. They offer a variety of mandolin models that suit every level and style of players.
The SA-100-BK A-Model Mandolin is one of the latest affordable models offered by the company. This 12-neck joint mandolin plays right out of the box. It comes with the adjustable compensated bridge and saddle already setup.
The look of this instrument is unique, with neatly applied white binding. Though it is not the prettiest, it looks much better than most at the price point.
Features of SA-100-BK & Buyer’s Benefits
- Great price
- Arrives in playable condition
- Sound better than most mandolin at this price point
- Beautiful finish
- Crisp and bright tone
- Does not project well enough
- Nuts are plastic and may need to be replaced
- Low-quality tuners makes it difficult to achieve perfect tuning
Final comment on this Savannah mandolin review
The SA-100-BK offers a solid balance between affordability and quality.
While some of the features including materials of this mandolin are better than others, its eye-catching appearance and bright tone make it a great option for beginners on a budget.
Hola has been in the string instrument making business for long. They make the list of companies passionate about helping beginners redefine their passion for music by offering high quality and affordable instruments.
The HM-3TS Delux is an A-style mandolin model, great for Folk, Celtic and Country musicians in the making.
This mandolin sounds great and plays well, but if you need something more professional, consider those in the higher price range. But at this price point, you can’t beat this mandolin.
The radiused neck of this mandolin makes it beneficial for those with large and small finger size. Those with fat fingers can fret with ease without their fretting finger touching other strings around.
Features of HM-3TS Delux & Buyer’s Benefits
- Stays in tune
- Adjustable truss rod
- Light weight makes it great to hold, play and travel with
- Simple but classy design
- Great for children and adult beginners
- Great price but if you need something more professional, go for higher price models.
- Rosewood bridge is high but adjustable
- Low-quality tuners but does their job of holding the tune well
Final comment on this Hola! HM-3TS Deluxe mandolin review
The HM-3TS Delux is a great starter mandolin. Though it has both superior and inferior materials, not unusual for a mandolin at this price point, it offers great value for the money.
Best Mandolin for Intermediate Level Players520-VS Performer F-Style Mandolin
Loar is among the few well-known modern instrument makers that manage to construct affordable mandolins that can deliver that great sound the instrument is known for.
The company draws inspiration from instruments produced in the 1920’s and 30’s, the age when groundbreaking innovations and outstanding craftsmanship were displayed.
The LM-520-VS pack a punch with its great sound and volume. The solid wood material used in constructing the back, sides, and top of this mandolin is responsible for its great volume and resonance.
The maple neck with a “v” profile is round and comfortable to hold and play. It also comes with a truss rod, great for neck adjustment.
One would expect a high gloss finish for this great sounding mandolin, but it seems the company has got their eyes fixed on other features of the LM-520, like the sound and playability and not only aesthetics.
However hard this instrument is played, it will still hold its tune; this is possible considering its top quality and simple to use vintage-style Grover tuning keys. Other Loar mandolin reviews also rate the instrument as the best for the money.
- Very playable
- Wonderful action, not too low or high.
- Offers high-end tone and great projection.
- Weighs 2.9 pounds; very light and portable to transport.
- Sound is simply amazing for the price
- Not the best mandolin in terms of beauty but well-built and plays well too.
- It requires some setup on arrival, which is expected.
Final comment on the loar mandolin review
The LM-520 is a great mandolin for intermediate players and also for beginners, though beginners may want to invest in something less expensive.
You will not regret investing your money on this instrument, even as a stage performer. It is an all solid wood mandolin, hand-carved with great accuracy and attention to details.
scar Schmidt OM10EWH Acoustic-Electric
It is impossible to mention top quality and affordable string instruments builders without adding Oscar Schmidt.
The company is also well respected by mandolin players, for using quality materials, hardware and design and yet do not compromise on quality
The OM10EWH is one of their affordable mandolin collections but sounds bright like other higher priced mandolins.
The passive electronics help to increase the volume and is loud enough to perform in a concert or play in group settings with other people and instruments.
The top is made of laminate spruce wood, and still sounds great but a bit tinny when played acoustically.
The top sports a laminate wood, which is not unusual for a mandolin at this price point. Its back, sides, and neck are made of mahogany.
The quality of the gloss finish of this A–style mandolin is top-notch for such an inexpensive instrument.
- Inexpensive given its performance
- Sounds great electronically and acoustically
- Sturdy construction
- Flat radius neck for easy navigation up and down the frets
- Strings are a bit rusty but usable.
- Plastic guide is not solid, becomes loose easily.
- The action is high, making the strings difficult to press down. However, the action can be worked upon.
- Weighs twice as heavy as other models – comes with passive electronics so that is expected.
Final comment on this Oscar Schmidt OM10EWH
The OM10EWH is one of the best mandolin brands you will find in this price range. Considering that it is both acoustic and electronic mandolin, this instrument is well worth the money.
And when properly setup, you may not think of replacing this mandolin for many years to come.
Best Mandolin for Professionals
Epiphone is one of the oldest instrument builders in America. The company started operation since 1873 and makes top-of-the-line mandolins for every single style of music.
With over 142 years experience in the instrument making business, Epiphone has grown to become one of the most revered instrument makers in history.
They sure have a high taste for quality and the F-style MM-50E mandolin which they produce is an epitome of that.
The MM-50E is the first-ever acoustic-electric mandolin that allows players to adjust the output level of each string pair to balance the volume when plugged in.
The output control feature coupled with the classic F-style body shape and neck inspired by the Lloyd Loar era places this instrument in a world of its own.
This hand-carved mandolin sports a solid spruce top with back and sides flammable maple. The thin natural finish makes it look attractive and let the spruce top resonate freely.
- Lightweight – weighs 2.2 pounds even with all the fittings and electronics.
- The pick is built with samarium cobalt magnates that capture real acoustic tone.
- Superb sound with or without amplification
- Well selected soundboard
- The neck is straight with good action
- Sounds pleasingly mellow and woody acoustically
- Proper setup is required for optimum performance
- The case is not included in the package
- The finish is beautiful but not even throughout
Final comment on the Epiphone Mandolin Review
If your fingers are itching to play a professional electro-acoustic mandolin, the MM50E may well satisfy your itching fingers.
It has a wonderful sound and plays very well. It is also great to perform with outdoor and play in group settings.
You can re-write your own version of the Epiphone mandolin review by investing in this wonderful instrument.
GWMA-2 A-Style Mandolin
Guitar Works has been in the instrument making business for decades now. They have been in operation since 1978 and respected for their excellent customer service coupled with the desire to offer quality and affordable instruments.
The GWMA-2 is a feature rich model from Guitar Works. Coupled with the fact that they offer professional setup for customers to cut down cost before delivery, this instrument is well worth the buy.
This mandolin does not offer superior projection given its laminate spruce top but sounds better than other mandolins at this price point.
Having a truss rod is a big plus to this instrument. It will help for adjustment of the neck. Some mandolin at this price point does not have the truss rod. And without it, nothing can be done to remedy a warped neck.
- Adjustable truss rod
- Comfortable to play
- Superior chrome plated tailpiece
- It comes with a hard Featherlite case
- The strings are good quality, no need to replace them
- Sports a laminate top
- Reports of rough spot at the oval sound hole not surprising considering its budget production process
- Harder to tune but holds tune well once tuned correctly
Final comment on GWMA-2 A-Style Mandolin review
While the GWMA-2 might not be the best mandolin for professionals, it is unbeatable at this price point.
In fact, it would be difficult to find such quality mandolin with such price tag, given its quality.
Best Mandolin for Travel
Z ZTDM Deluxe A Style MandolinAdjustablTruss Rod, Sunburst
Z ZTDM is the latest among the best mandolin manufacturers in the mandolin making business.
They make affordable, playable and great travel mandolin.
The company has been operating for quite some time and offer mandolin players can carry along to any destination.
The Z ZTDM Deluxe A Style Mandolin is one of their budget mandolins with great features. It comes with 20 nickel frets, all of which are seated on the fretboard evenly.
The lightweight and solid construction make this instrument a great travel mandolin. It weighs 2.2 pounds and portable to carry along with other items while traveling.
- Truss rod
- Great travel mandolin
- Amazing sunburst finish
- Acoustic strings sounds good
- Good tone wood for mandolin at this price point
- The strings sound good but not the best of quality
- Reports of minor irregularities is expected for a mandolin at this price range
- Might not be bright enough for some categories of bluegrass players due to the maple wood used for the top.
- High action, but can be fixed.
Final comment on Z ZTDM Deluxe mandolin review
The Z ZTDM Deluxe is a mandolin that suits the agenda of travelers, people who like moving their instruments along with them.
Its durable is outstand and comes prepared to travel any distance with you.
Top 10 Factors Must Know Before Buying a Mandolin
1. Electric or Acoustic; which should you get?
Generally speaking, an electric mandolin is more expensive than the acoustic mandolin, but they have the same construction and have only a few changes.
Apart from cost, another important factor to help you decide whether to choose electric or acoustic mandolin is the intended use of the instrument.
If you plan to play all by yourself, of course, the loudness of the instrument will not really matter. But in group settings, the sound quality or loudness of the instrument becomes a priority.
There are also two ways you can increase the volume of the acoustic mandolin. You can either use an amplifier or place a microphone close to the instrument to project the sound.
But in a group setting, the body of your acoustic mandolin will cause the sound from other instruments to echo into the microphone.
However, this type of problem is not experienced with the electric mandolin because it comes installed with the piezoelectric pickup in the bridge, which amplifies the sound, just the way the microphone would.
There are two ways you can amplify the sound of an acoustic mandolin without using a microphone. You can replace the bridge with a piezoelectric pickup or use a magnetic pickup.
The changes should be done by a professional unless you can do it yourself.
2. Budget size
As you begin your search for a new mandolin, one thing you must bear in mind is your budget size.
The mandolin is a great instrument for anyone on a tight budget to learn and play. There are lower priced models that cost less than $100.
However, the higher priced models could cost you about $10,000 or more, because of the quality of materials used and cosmetic differences.
But bear in mind that you get what you are paying for, and there are many fairly priced mandolin that offers great value for money.
What really counts in buying a new instrument is the satisfaction it offers. Therefore, as you plan your budget for a new mandolin, you need to be certain that what you are buying is worth it.
Read best mandolin reviews from pros, real buyers or borrow from friends to test the sound and quality of the same model you plan on buying if possible.
3. Body Style
Mandolin comes in three different body styles or shapes such as bowl back, A-style and F-style.
The body style you choose would be determined by factors such as budget size, choice of music and preferred appearance.
For classical music, mandolin orchestras and traditional folk music, the bowl-backed mandolin is the preferred choice. It delivers a dark tone and is the oldest among the three body styles with a distinctive round back.
The A-style or flat-backed mandolin has a pear body shape. Though are also called flat-backed mandolin, the back is slightly rounded. At the middle of the A-styled mandolin soundboard, you’ll find either one “O” hole or two “F” holes one on each side.
The A-style mandolin is much easier to build and preferred mostly by Celtic, Folk as well as classical musicians.
The F-style mandolin has an elaborately curved body. It comes with two F-holes and is mostly preferred by bluegrass and country musicians.
4. Hole style
Mandolin has two types of holes; Oval and F-holes. However, knowing their differences will help you in making the right choice.
Mandolin with Oval hole-styles has a 10 fret neck joint. It does not mean that the scale length is shorter but that its bridge and neck are shifted a little bit further on the body of the instrument.
The high frets are a little bit difficult to access because of this. But in all, this does not affect playability because most players are not fretting up to that point.
The major thing to consider about the mandolin hole-style is the tone. The oval mandolin has warmer and woody tone and more sustain than F-hole mandolin types.
The F-hole mandolin, on the other hand, has more punch as well as perceived volume than the oval-hole mandolin. They are also more percussing sounding than the oval-hole mandolin.
The F-hole mandolin is great mostly for rock, bluegrass, e.t.c.
5. Neck length (short or long)
Your playing style will determine the mandolin neck suitable for you. For the long neck mandolin, the bridge is placed in the middle of the soundboard and allows players to play farther up the neck.
The long neck mandolin has 14 frets to the body and will offer you more comfort and possibilities if your intention is to in the higher registers or get mid-range notes up the fretboard on the 3rd and 4th strings.
The long neck mandolin also offers more of the Oval or hybrid F-hole sound.
Mandolin with a short neck, on the other hand, has 12 frets to its body. The bridge is also shifted towards the tailpiece and offers a more tubby sound just like an old Gibson.
6. Radiused or Flat Fingerboard
There is a lot controversy when it comes to choosing fretboard style. Some players believe that the radiused fingerboard is more helpful for players with longer fingers and large hands than the extended or flat fingerboard.
A brief explanation for this is that the non-fretted strings of the radiused mandolin are on a slightly lower plane, so will not touch the fretting finger. In addition, the radiused board also acts like it is wider than the actual measurement.
Though players with longer fingers and large hands find the radiused fingerboard comfortable to play for extended periods, it doesn’t mean that players with shorter fingers or small hands can’t play the radiused mandolin for extended periods. The same thing goes for the flat fingerboard
One thing players should know is that we humans adapt pretty well to any situation. So, if you have a small or large hand size, adapting to any of the fretboard styles will only take some time.
7. Tuners (Quality)
Your choice of tuners also matters a lot. You don’t want to keep tuning to make your precious mandolin produce the right tone almost every second.Whatever brand you buy, it should come with tuners that hold tune well.
Even after playing for extended periods, it should still stay in tune no matter what.
There are a variety of tuners on the market but avoid tuners that slip or feel crappy to hold.
8. Tailpiece (stamped or cast)
The cast or stamped tailpiece is also a factor to consider when buying a mandolin. So many players have argued that mandolin with a stamped or cast tailpiece differs in tone quality but not much experiment has been conducted to support this claim.
A decent cast tailpiece, though, will help to improve sustain. There are players who prefer the long sustain and there are also players who don’t. Bluegrass players also do not go for long sustains.
Binding on the mandolin can be at the back or top, it doesn’t matter. It is pointless to the sound and playability of the instrument.
The binding has some structural purpose though. It protects the edge/end grain including the joint of the mandolin. However, ensure the binding on your mandolin of choice has a solid binding done neatly.
Some people prefer mandolin with binding at the back, while some others prefer it to be at the top. It all depends on what you prefer as a player.
The finish can influence many things on the mandolin, like the sound, durability, and ease of cleaning. In addition, some finishes are easily repairable while some are not.
The most important thing to consider in your search for the best mandolin is the thickness of the finish because it affects the sound. As a heavy finish film will mute the sound of the mandolin.
Finishes and characteristics
Making Final Decision
Maybe you have read lots of mandolin reviews or maybe not. But one thing is sure, making the decision to buy a new instrument you don’t know much about can be very challenging. Even doing research itself is stressful and time-consuming.
But we have made that easy for you by providing the features, pros, and cons to help you make the right choice as you scout for the best mandolin.
Please leave comments below about your experience with any of these instruments. If you have other information we didn’t add here, you can do us through the comment section or email us.