The best mandolin under 1000 dollars is the Seagull S8 Mandolin. It’s the strongest of the group, within budget and well worth the money.
Mandolin music adds flavor and flair to any piece. But there are so many different types, brands, quality levels and more that picking one becomes impossible. There’s also your budget to consider—instruments can be an enormous investment that not everyone has the means to make.
The best mandolins under $1000 are:
- Seagull S8 Mandolin
- The Loar LM-520-VS Performer
- The Loar LM-310F-BRB Honey Creek
- Kentucky KM-272
- Ibanez M510BS
- Kentucky KM-150
- Washburn, 8-String Mandolin
The Best Mandolins Under $1000
Best A-Style Mandolin Under 1000
This Seagull mandolin has an intriguing shape to it, making it stand out instantly. It’s an interesting look fit for a person with a unique aesthetic.
Although its looks set it apart, it remains a typically high-quality instrument. It’s the best A-style we’ve found that’s under $1000 while keeping the quality at the highest level.
It’s made of the finest tonewoods, including well-sought-after spruce for the top. The body is made of laminate maple, which is better than just regular maple. In laminate wood, the sheets are layered. So if there are any weak spots in the sheets, the sheet above and below cancel it out.
A sturdy body is necessary on an instrument like this. Small, light string instruments are easy to bang and drop.
There’s also maple in the neck, but not laminate this time. Once again, this is a great inclusion, a strong wood for the most fragile part of the instrument’s construction. However, on top of that maple is smooth rosewood, a silky wood; it’s easy to slide your fingers across. Perfect for fast, dexterous playing.
Finishing it off are open-geared tuners and a brass but nickel-plated tailpiece, vintage style. All these elements combined make a stunning, hand-finished, quality instrument with superb sound. Perfect for any beginner or pro.
Best F-Style Mandolin Under 1000
If you prefer the look of an F-style mandolin but still want the best you can get, then you’re covered. This mandolin by The Loar is of equal quality to the mandolin in our top spot. However, it’s a little pricer, because it’s a little fancier thanks to the amazing scroll.
Unlike the best A-style mandolin, this F-style one looks traditional in shape and color. The construction is perfectly standard, too. Every violin on this list has been carefully selected to make sure that even though you’re budgeting, your goodies aren’t suffering.
Yet again, we have a mandolin made of the standard, sought-after spruce and maple. Many manufacturers—especially of inexpensive instruments—forgo these woods as they’re so commonly used, they’re becoming not easily available. Luckily many of the best mandolins under 1000 dollars try their hardest to be made of the stuff.
The spruce lies in the mandolin’s top, with the maple in the back and sides. The entire instrument is hand-carved, so you know meticulous attention was paid to the detail and quality. The same can be said for the rosewood fretboard and the adjustable ebony bridge.
This is an incredible instrument any beginner or pro-level player would be lucky to have. If you’re into incredible craftsmanship and a traditional look then it may be perfect for you. But be warned, it’s on the higher side of the under $1000 budget. It’s one for a committed player who’ll take care of their instrument.
Best Mandolin for Serious Young Players
The Loar’s last mandolin on the list was second to none. (Well, technically to one.) This one matches in every way except color and price.
If you liked the last mandolin but couldn’t justify the purchase, perhaps this one will be more to your liking. It costs considerably less, but you get the same hand-carved spruce top.
It doesn’t specify that the maple back and sides were carved by hand, so perhaps that’s where the price difference lies. It doesn’t make it any less impressive, or of lesser quality, though. It just means there’s less blood, sweat and tears lingering in the wood.
There’s also less specified about this instrument than the last, but since it’s The Loar we can do some guesswork. It’s likely that the fretboard atop the maple neck is rosewood. Ebony and rosewood are the common woods used in fretboards, and if the more expensive fretboard wasn’t ebony, we doubt this one is.
All the same, it’s a stunning instrument that should suit tighter budgets and all levels of player. It should be particularly wonderful for those with smaller hands, as the neck is narrower than most. Perhaps this is a mandolin that’d suit a child prodigy.
Most Unique Looking Mandolin
Here’s an instrument with a crisp, bright, clean and articulate tone. On top of that, the sound has an extra punch thanks to the hand-carved nature of this mandolin.
The top of the mandolin is Sitka spruce, a stunning wood often used in guitars. So, it’s no surprise that one of the color options for this mandolin strongly resembles a guitar. One might think it’s a guitar that’s been distorted in a funhouse mirror.
However, it’s still an excellent mandolin, not a guitar. The other coloring, the traditional sunburst, solidifies that.
The traditional finish comes at a slightly lower price than this guitar-like one. Being unique, of course, the transparent amber finish is going to cost more, but not much. After all, the pair have the same quality construction, spruce top and maple sides.
Another feature both mandolins share is the slim maple neck with a silky rosewood fretboard. This makes it easy and comfortable to play at high speeds for any hand size.
This traditional, easy feel paired with a pleasant yet different visual is something that should add intrigue to any band or soloist’s performance. But be sure to buy it well in advance, as it requires some assembly. Best get a professional to tackle it if you’re not up to the task.
Best Budget Mandolin
If you’re really struggling but desperate for a mandolin, then this budget option should come out on top. In fact, it has some advantages over the others we’ve reviewed as it comes with some accessories—a soft case and a tuner, and it comes ready to play out of the box.
Unlike the rest so far, this is not an instrument of spruce and maple. Instead, it’s made of spruce and mahogany, a darker wood that delivers a deeper tone.
Mahogany is of no lesser quality; it just brings about a different sound. The mahogany makes up the body and neck, while spruce takes the top. Spruce is the wood that delivers the roundest sound with equal highs, lows and mids, so its use right under the strings in mandolins is genius.
This is a wonderful instrument to buy if your budget is tight, or you’d like to experiment with how mahogany sounds. If you’re a seasoned player looking for a change, maybe this instrument can help you decide if you like how the change sounds or not.
Overall, this is a great mandolin for beginners or kids who aren’t so serious about their instrument. It’s also perfect for those who want a taste of the mandolin experience without selling a kidney to afford a more expensive one.
Most Comfortable to Play
This Kentucky mandolin has all the traditional beauty and luster you could hope for. It’s glossy, desirable and solidly made for an extra punch in its sound and build.
It’s made of the classic spruce and maple, for the expected and desired tone. The spruce is on the top, for that clean, bright and varied tone. The sides are made of maple, for a punchy, resonant sound. The neck is also maple, so you know it’s strong and reliable.
Unfortunately, that’s where the disclosure about what wood is used ends. The manufacturers describe the fingerboard as being made of “choice tonewood.” This might be just whatever wood they have leftover at the end. Or perhaps it varies between rosewood and ebony depending on availability. There’s no way to tell.
Luckily tonewood is tonewood, and whatever it is will be high-quality and sound fantastic. It wouldn’t get past inspection otherwise.
This is an incredible, vintage-inspired mandolin that looks hand-carved straight out of an old tree. In actuality, it’s made of some fine, sturdy woods and is the only mandolin we’ve reviewed with an ebony fingerboard.
Somehow, this beauty manages to have all the most sought after, premium woods, look incredible, and still be within budget. The maple back and sides are strong, figured, shiny and made to last. The spruce top is sturdy and so incredibly designed you’d never be able to tell it’s spruce.
As for the ebony fingerboard, it’s shocking this instrument isn’t more expensive because of it. The smooth, popular wood should make for a fabulous playing experience no matter how experienced a player you are.
As well as a beautifully distressed F-style mandolin with a scroll, with this one, you’re getting a case too. It’s a hard shell case to protect the instrument in storage and during any transit. That’s a lucky thing to obtain at no extra cost, as you’ll certainly want to protect this instrument.
On top of all that, the instrument has a unique tone as well as look. It’ll sound deeper and resonate more as its body has been designed for that purpose. If you want to stand out, then this may be the mandolin to help you do it.
Features to Consider When Buying a Mandolin
Mandolins are variable instruments, so there are features you should take into account when buying. The features don’t impact how the instrument sounds or what type of music you can play very much, but there are some subtle differences. They don’t influence the construction, either.
The difference between the features is the overall look and of the instrument and the price.
A vs. F Style
The difference between A and F style mandolins is minimal. They’ll look different, and F-style mandolins have a scroll. The scroll doesn’t do anything other than look pretty, but it can bump the price up considerably.
The scroll requires extra handwork, so that’s the reason for the higher price range of F-style mandolins.
Though you should note, not every instrument with F-style sound holes has an F-style body. The Ibanez M510BS is an example of that.
This may only be noticeable to luthiers, but certain elements of F-style mandolins dampen sound around some areas of the instrument. Some might say this gives F-style mandolins a more focused sound, where A-style mandolins have a more open one.
The wood plays a part in how the instrument sounds. So naturally, extra features mean extra wood. Depending on the wood used, it’ll change the overall sound.
Carved vs. Pressed Top
A carved vs. pressed top is often an aesthetic preference and helps decide the price range. A carved top requires more work, so it’s going to be more expensive. A carved top may have gutters or dips around the edges, where a pressed top is flat edge to edge.
A carved top can also influence the sound of the instrument. Some people find that music resonates more loudly in a carved top instrument.
None of the instruments we’ve reviewed feature a carved top as far as we can tell, which is something to note. This helps keep the price down and doesn’t take away from their value or sound. But it’s an important thing to consider and understand when buying a mandolin.
Also, be aware, a hand-carved instrument doesn’t mean a carved top!
Wood is the most important part of the mandolin’s construction. There are a number of known tonewoods. Instruments are best constructed out of one of them. There’s no standard wood choice for the parts of a mandolin, but there are woods that are better for certain parts.
That being said, no wood choice is wrong if the sound and construction are top-notch.
Spruce is used in all sorts of instruments, not just mandolin tops. It’s in demand and for good reason. Its tonal qualities are excellent, and it’s sturdy but light.
However, this type of wood is so popular that many mandolins don’t get to have it in their construction. This is a shame for the instrument as a whole, but you can worry less about it. The mandolins we’ve reviewed feature spruce, so if it’s what you want, then it’s what you can get.
Mahogany is sometimes used in place of spruce as the top of the mandolin. Cedar, too. These woods are thicker and harder, making the sound deeper. The deeper tones may be harder to hear if you’re playing in a band, though.
Mahogany might also be used in the body in place of maple.
Laminate isn’t a tonewood; it’s usually made of unspecified, mediocre woods. Laminate is usually used in inexpensive instruments as it’s cheaper to manufacture.
The sound quality is still excellent, but less so than a tonewood. It shouldn’t negatively impact a beginner player.
Plus, laminate is strong. Being made up of layers with different weak spots means no weak spot takes the full focus. It’s often used in the neck of the instrument because of this.
However, the Seagull S8 Mandolin is the exception when it comes to laminate. The laminate used is maple, a wonderful wood often used in instruments. It’s strong and visually appealing, and that strength paired with the lack of weak spots in laminate can’t be beaten.
Maple is even stronger than spruce, with a richer sound. It’s often used in string instruments like violins and cellos. Maple is mainly used in the sides or back of a mandolin. It makes them sound wonderful while being sturdy.
Mahogany and other hardwoods may be used in place of maple. They have incredible strength, but again, they may be harder to hear. Luckily instruments like the Ibanez M510BS still sound amazing and loud, despite having mahogany used in place of maple.
Fretboards, fittings and piano keys utilize ebony, and mandolins are no different. It’s smooth, which makes it perfect for a fretboard.
However, like spruce, ebony is a tad overused. It may not be available, so alternatives like rosewood are used instead.
Ebony may also be used in the bridge, as it is with The Loar LM-520-VS Performer. Many manufacturers pay no mind to tell you the wood of the bridge. But The Loar does on occasion, and on this occasion, there’s ebony. A wonderful way to include another terrific tonewood, but in a lesser quantity.
The finish is the least important feature to consider, but there’s something worth noting. A heavy finish may coat the wood, removing some of the tonal qualities. This can impact the quality of the sound.
Most Magnificent Mandolin
So we’ve established that the best mandolin should be made from spruce and maple, with some rosewood in there somewhere. We’ve established that laminate has its excellent, useful qualities. And we’ve established the oh-so-subtle differences between A and F-style mandolins, and what warrants the higher price of the latter.
Every mandolin we’ve reviewed hits all the marks in almost every way. But there can only be one winner for each type, and that has to be the Seagull S8 Mandolin for A-style, and for F-style, it’s The Loar LM-520-VS Performer.
The non-traditional shape of the Seagull S8 Mandolin makes it stand out instantly. Then the laminate maple body sets it apart. Most laminate woods come in cheaper mandolins, usually on the top, and made of unspecified wood. But a known, sturdy wood like maple laminate in the body adds to the quality in this case.
As for our F-style friend, the wonderful The Loar LM-520-VS Performer. There are several hand-carved instruments in the group, but this one stood out to us as the best. It’s the sheer lack of faults the instrument has that tips it into that top spot.
It’s only con being that the finish could be better in one spot says a lot about the quality. In most cases, this con will be barely noticeable, where the rest of the instrument is without flaw.