To generate free content for you when you purchase through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The best beginner mandolin - buying guide

The best beginner mandolin

Mandolins are beautiful and versatile instruments that can add a unique sound to any genre. For beginners, It can be difficult for them to sort through all the different models and manufacturers out there. You might wonder what features to look for, how much to spend, or which type of mandolin would suit your needs best. 

That is why we have put together this comprehensive buying guide to help you find the best beginner mandolin for your musical journey. From the different types of mandolins to their materials, sizes, and brands, we will cover all the essential factors you should consider before making your purchase. Let’s dive in and explore the world of mandolins.

Types of Mandolins

It’s important to know the differences between mandolins before buying one so you can pick one that suits your playing style and musical tastes. Here is a more thorough description of each variety of mandolin:

A-style


The A-style mandolin is one of the most popular types of mandolin. It is commonly used by beginners. It has a teardrop-shaped body with a rounded soundhole on the top. The sound of the A-style mandolin is bright and clear, making it well-suited to various musical styles, including bluegrass, folk, and classical music.

The A-style mandolin is a versatile instrument that can be played in various positions, including sitting down or standing up. It is often more affordable than other types of mandolins, making it a popular choice for those just starting.

F-style


F-style mandolin is a type of mandolin that is more ornate and visually striking than the A-style. It is named for the ornate scroll-like design on the upper bout, which sets it apart from other types. The F-style mandolin was developed in the early 20th century by the Gibson company and is now closely associated with bluegrass music.

In addition to its distinctive appearance, the F-style mandolin also has a unique sound. It has a warm, resonant tone that is well-suited for playing leads and solos, and it is often favored by bluegrass musicians for this reason.

The F-style mandolin is generally more expensive than the A-style due to its more complex design and the additional work required to produce it.

Bowl-back mandolin


The bowl-back mandolin or Neapolitan mandolin, is a type of mandolin with a rounded, bowl-shaped back. This back design gives the instrument a distinctive look and a unique sound. The bowl-back mandolin is ideal for classical music and other genres that require a more delicate sound.

The bowl-back mandolin originated in Naples, Italy, in the 18th century and quickly gained popularity across Europe. It was often used in classical music and became a staple instrument in mandolin orchestras. The bowl-back design allows for a larger resonating chamber, which enhances the instrument’s sound and makes it more suitable for solo playing.

Today, bowl-back mandolins are still widely used in classical music and are a popular choice among mandolin enthusiasts. However, they are also used in other genres, such as folk and traditional music, where their unique sound adds a distinctive flavor to the music.

Mandola

Mandola is a larger instrument than the mandolin with a deeper, richer sound. The mandola is typically tuned lower than the mandolin and has a longer scale length, which allows for a wider range of notes.

Here’s a table that highlights the main differences between mandolin and mandola:

Feature

Mandolin

Mandola

Size

Smaller

Larger

Body Shape

Teardrop-shaped

Round or pear-shaped

Tuning

High-pitched

Lower-pitched

Scale Length

Shorter

Longer

Sound

Bright, clear

Deep, rich

Musical Use

Lead instrument in Bluegrass

Backing instrument

Recommended Skill

Beginner to intermediate

Intermediate to advanced

Overall, The mandola offers a deeper, more resonant sound than the mandolin. It is often used as a backing instrument in folk and traditional music, and its larger size and tuning make it suitable for intermediate to advanced players.

the best beginner mandolin

Parts of the Mandolin

The mandolin is comprised of several parts. Each part of the mandolin affects its sound and functionality. Here are the essential parts of a mandolin:

  1. Headstock: The headstock is located at the top of the mandolin and is where the tuning pegs are attached.
  2. Tuning pegs: The tuning pegs are used to adjust the tension of the strings and tune the mandolin to the desired pitch.
  3. Nut: The nut is a small strip of material located at the top of the fingerboard that separates the strings and helps maintain their proper spacing.
  4. Fingerboard: The fingerboard is a long, thin piece of wood located on the neck of the mandolin. It is where the player presses the strings to produce different notes.
  5. Frets: Frets are small metal strips inserted into the fingerboard at specific intervals. They help the player achieve accurate intonation by dividing the fingerboard into precise intervals.
  6. Soundboard: The soundboard is the top of the mandolin’s body, made of a thin sheet of wood. It is responsible for projecting the sound of the instrument.
  7. Bridge: The bridge is a small piece of wood located on the soundboard that holds the strings in place and transfers their vibrations to the soundboard.
  8. Tailpiece: The tailpiece is located on the bottom of the mandolin and is where the strings are anchored.
  9. Body: The body of the mandolin is usually made of wood and can be either an A or F shape, depending on the model. The shape of the body affects the tone and projection of the instrument.
  10. Pickguard: The pickguard is a small piece of material that is attached to the soundboard to protect it from scratches caused by the player’s pick.

Each part of the mandolin plays a vital role in producing the instrument’s unique sound and allows the player to create a wide range of melodies and harmonies.

Our Top 4 Picks Best beginner mandolin

Kentucky KM-150

mandolin for beginners

Eastman MD305

The best beginner mandolin

The Loar LM-110-BRB

Rogue RM-100A

Kentucky KM-150

mandolin for beginners

This is an excellent option for beginners as it is affordable and produces a good sound. It has a solid spruce top and a solid maple back and sides. It also has a comfortable playing action and a durable finish.

Features:

  • Solid German spruce top gives you clean articulation and a crisp, bright tone
  • Solid Alpine maple back and sides for extra punch
  • Slim Alpine maple neck for comfortable, easy action
  • Choice tonewood fingerboard ensures silky smooth playability
  • High-gloss sunburst finish creates traditional beauty and luster

Eastman MD305

The best beginner mandolin

This mandolin is also affordable and has a solid spruce top and solid maple back and sides. It has a warm tone and good projection. The fretboard is made of rosewood and the instrument is finished with a classic sunburst finish.

Features:

  • Solid Spruce Top, Solid Maple back & sides
  • Rosewood fingerboard & adjustable ebony bridge
  • A-style body with F-holes for liquid tones and excellent projection
  • Apportioning includes a traditional-style ebony bridge and an ebony fingerboard

The Loar LM-110-BRB

This is a great beginner mandolin with a good sound and a vintage look. It has a solid hand-carved spruce top and a maple back and sides. It also features an adjustable ebony bridge and a comfortable playing action.

 

Features:

  • Hand-Carved Solid Spruce Top
  • Maple Neck with Thin ”V” Profile
  • 1-1/8” Nut Width
  • Satin Brownburst Finish

 

Rogue RM-100A

Best affordable mandolin for beginner

This is the most affordable option on this list, but it still produces a good sound for a beginner mandolin. It has a maple neck, rosewood fingerboard, and a maple body. The instrument is finished with a natural gloss finish and has a comfortable playing action

Features:

  • Maple neck
  • Rosewood fingerboard
  • Adjustable compensated rosewood bridge
  • 12th-fret neck joint
  • Chrome tuning machines

Mandolin Construction Methods and Woods

Building a mandolin is a complex process that includes choosing the right materials, assembling them correctly and fine-tuning the instrument for optimal sound quality. So that you can choose the instrument that suits you best, below are some common construction methods and woods used in mandolin production:

Top wood

 

The top wood of a mandolin is one of the most important components in determining the instrument’s overall sound. The top wood is the thin piece of wood that forms the soundboard, which is responsible for projecting the sound of the mandolin.

The most common woods used for mandolin tops are spruce, cedar, and redwood.

  • Spruce: Spruce is the most commonly used wood for mandolin tops due to its excellent balance of tone and resonance. Spruce is a softwood that produces a bright, clear, and responsive sound due to its high strength-to-weight ratio.
  • Cedar and redwood: Cedar and redwood are also popular choices for mandolin tops, but they are less commonly used than spruce. Cedar produces a warm, mellow tone, while redwood has a more complex, dynamic sound.

Back and side wood

 

The back and sides of the mandolin can be made from different woods such as maple, mahogany, and rosewood. 

  • Maple is the most commonly used wood for mandolin backs and sides because it produces a bright and clear sound that complements the spruce top. 
  • Mahogany provides a warm and rich tone
  • Rosewood produces a more mellow sound. 

The choice of wood for the back and sides can significantly affect the overall tone and projection of the instrument.

Neck wood

 

The neck of a mandolin is typically made of maple or mahogany wood. Maple is preferred due to its strength and durability, while mahogany provides a warm and rich tone. The neck is where the fingerboard is attached, and the player presses the strings to produce different notes. 

The shape and thickness of the neck can affect the playability of the instrument, so it’s essential to choose a mandolin with a neck that fits comfortably in the player’s hand.

Fingerboard wood

 

The fingerboard of a mandolin is a long, thin piece of wood located on the neck of the instrument. It is where the player presses the strings to produce different notes. The fingerboard is typically made of hardwoods such as ebony or rosewood, which provide a smooth and durable surface for playing. 

The fingerboard also has frets, which are small metal strips inserted into the fingerboard at specific intervals. These frets help the player achieve accurate intonation by dividing the fingerboard into precise intervals.

Bridge wood

 

The bridge on a mandolin is a small piece of wood that is located on the soundboard. It holds the strings in place while transferring their vibrations to the soundboard. It can be made of different types of wood, including ebony, rosewood, or maple. Among these, ebony is the most preferred because of its excellent tonal properties and durability. The bridge plays a vital role in the mandolin’s sound projection and must be adjusted correctly to achieve optimal sound quality.

Soundhole

 

The soundhole on a mandolin is a circular or oval-shaped opening on the top of the instrument. It allows the sound produced by the plucked or strummed strings to escape and resonate, creating the unique sound of the mandolin. Larger soundholes make instruments sound louder and more resonant. Additionally, some mandolins may have multiple soundholes, such as an F-style mandolin. F-style mandolin has two soundholes on either side of the fingerboard. 

Bracing

 

Bracing refers to the internal support structure that reinforces the soundboard of the mandolin. The bracing pattern can vary depending on the manufacturer and the model of the mandolin. But the most common pattern is the X-brace. It consists of two braces crossing each other at the center of the soundboard. The bracing serves to distribute the sound evenly across the soundboard and provides structural support to the instrument. A well-designed bracing pattern is critical for achieving optimal sound quality and sustain.

Ready to start?

Ready to start your mandolin playing journey? Whether you are a beginner or an experienced player, there is always more to learn and discover. Take the first step and explore our selection of beginner mandolins and accessories today. After you have chosen the best mandolin for you,  with the right instrument and resources, you will be well on your way to mastering this beautiful and unique instrument.

Get more quality reviews