If you’re looking for the best mandolin on the market, it’s currently the Hola! Music A-Style Mandolin HM-3TS. This model packs style and quality side-by-side. It’s an eight-string with a glossy sunburst finish and also has a white ABS binding around the body, giving it a beautiful appearance.
The other mandolins also excel in various attributes. We’ve compiled the seven best mandolin models and four mandolin brands to make your work easier.
The current best mandolins are:
- Hola! Music A-Style Mandolin HM-3TS
- Vangoa Acoustic/Electric Mandolin
- Kentucky KM-140 Standard
- Rogue RM-100
- The Loar LM-520-VS
- Washburn M1SDLB
- Donner DML-1
Reviews of the Best Mandolins
This is an A-style mandolin and is popular with folk and Celtic musicians. The top, sides, and back are made out of maple wood. The neck is also made of maple and has a flatback and sleek shape that’s comfortable to hold and play.
The instrument has eight strings with an adjustable bridge made out of rosewood to allow total control of how high or low the player wants to go.
This mandolin has 20 silver-nickel frets and chrome-plated gear tuners for durability. It also has a strap pin that’s hardly found in acoustic mandolins. All these enhance the quality of the instrument. In general, the Hola! Music A-style mandolin is well-constructed and is a high-quality instrument.
Best Hybrid Mandolin
This Vangoa mandolin is an excellent option if you’re looking for a hybrid instrument. It’s rare to find an acoustic/electric mandolin that balances the best of both styles of mandolin sounds.
Everything about this mandolin classy—it features a mahogany body construction, an extra-smooth fingerboard and curved body. The engineered wood used on the fingerboard is typically a blend of natural wood fibers and synthetic materials, including adhesives. This overall construction delivers accuracy in tone and durability.
The hard mahogany body also makes it super resistant to wear and tear. In addition, we particularly like that it comes with an electric pickup that can be mounted on the body and uses a cable to connect to an amplifier. This setup provides the player with limitless mobility while on stage. It also makes it possible to record without acquiring an extra microphone.
Kentucky KM-140 is another mandolin that’s built using maple and spruce, giving it a warm, clear sound. These materials give quality tonewood, and there’s no doubt this model has an unmistakable sound.
It has an incredible sunburst and a beautiful glossy finish. When combined with high-end strings, the Kentucky falls at the end of the spectrum of top-notch mandolins.
Kentucky KM-140 standard has a bound fretboard made of rosewood and comes with adjustable truss rods.
Best Mandolin for the Money
The Rogue RM-100 is the best cheap mandolin and the best suitable for those who wish to play bluegrass. You may be tempted to assume that it has a lower quality because of the price. But, it has all the features, such as a neck and adjustable bridge, that a newbie can use to learn and grow before scaling up.
The Rogue RM-100 has a gorgeous finish and a bright tone with lots of bark. However, it doesn’t look as flashy as the bigger mandolins. It comes with an electric tuner and is the best cheap mandolin.
Rogue RM-100 has a 12th-fret neck joint, and the tuning pegs are made of chrome material.
Chrome materials on tuning pegs can deliver full and a rich sound that will remain unchanged — even after several thousands of hours of rehearsals and playing.
Easiest to Use
Laden with amazing strings that perfectly hold their tune. The Loar LM-520-VS mandolin is the easiest to use on this list. Unlike most mandolins, you can use it immediately with minimal adjustments.
The adjustable ebony bridge ensures that the instrument stays in tune after a long time of playing. Most parts of this The Loar model are handcrafted, giving them a personalized look and feel.
This mandolin has a gloss finish with vintage sunburst. The instrument also comes with Grover — having Pearloid buttons for easy tuning that are durable. Grover tunings ensure this mandolin has good intonation and stays tuned even after hard play for long hours.
The top is made of solid, hand-crafted spruce. Spruce is strong, and the closed cells of the wood keep the wood from absorbing too much lacquer that could diminish the acoustical features.
The back and sides are made of solid, hand-crafted maple. Maple wood is strong and dense and produces high-definition tones. This instrument is easier to use because it has an adjustable bridge made from ebony wood.
It’s considered the true embodiment of the Italian sound. The Washburn is an A-style instrument that has an oval hole that adds a distinct and loud, unique sound. As such, this instrument produces an excellent and loud sound. Another stand-out feature of the Washburn is its glossy black finish that merges seamlessly with gold-plated hardware.
It has an arched back made of maple wood and has 20 frets. This instrument produces a deep, powerful attack sound.
Best Beginner Mandolin
An A-style mandolin that comes at an affordable price with all features considered. The Donner DML-1 is an excellent option for a beginner as it comes laden with accessories. Donner packages come with a gig bag, an electric tuner, extra strings, and a polishing cloth, which is suitable for professions as well.
What makes the Donner the best beginner option is the considerations made by the manufacturer. The handle is of suitable thickness, and the chord distance is just right for the hand to move without straining.
The tuner makes most of the fine adjustments, and this reduces the burden on a newbie user. This mandolin has chrome-plated tuners and tailpiece with sunburst finish. It also comes with a tussle rod and a compensated bridge with 20 frets. Donner DML-1 is a right-hand orientation mandolin.
Best Mandolin Brands
The best brands right now include the following:
The vibe we get from Vangoa is one of energy and youth. It specializes in sourcing the most modern musical instruments and delivering them to the market. In doing this, it also has its proprietary range of products, which are highly revered.
Some might think not solely focusing on mandolins is a bad thing, but we feel that this gives the company a depth of knowledge to expand its knowledge on the different sounds and tones that different instruments make.
It isn’t adverse from sourcing in the best Chinese products for its customers while spreading itself across the likes of digital keyboards, guitars, accessories, as well as its own mandolins.
Saga Music — Kentucky
Even though our second choice is a “Kentucky” mandolin, it’s a brand of mandolins made by Saga Music. The Kentucky range is by far its broadest, with as many as 28 different models on offer. This contrasts with its other brands—Flinthill, Rover and Trinity College—with less than 10 available in each.
Saga’s focus is on the Western style of acoustic music, with a range that includes mandolins, guitars, ukuleles, violins and other folk-like instruments.
There’s a clear focus on quality and only using the very best raw materials with Saga. Its site mentions how they scour the world to consistently deliver the very best mandolins to the market.
The Loar’s focus is on instruments from the 1920s and ‘30s, ensuring that all instruments embody the Golden Age of mandolins. It does through its range of acoustic and electric archtop mandolins, as well as the F-style and A-style versions.
It’s so confident in the quality of its products that each carries a five-year warranty for materials and workmanship.
One of the oldest mandolin makers in the USA, Gibson has been around for over a century. It was started by Orville Gibson and has grown over the years to establish itself as a commanding force in the industry.
Some of the Gibson models are loved by many, including the F9 models and the F5Gs. Gibson mandolins don’t come cheap, though. They range from between $5,300 to about $25,000.
You’re more likely to find a Gibson mandolin in the hands of a professional player than a beginner, with its world-famous guitar range featuring the Les Paul models.
Classification of Mandolins
On the surface, mandolins look almost the same. It takes a trained eye to tell them apart, and they can be grouped into four broad main categories:
The mandolins that fall under this category are used to create Italian, Greek, or classical music. Notable ones that belong to this family include Soprano, Bass, Tenor mandolin, octave mandolin, and the Mandoline.
Most of these mandolins are manufactured mainly in Europe, where the long history of mandolins has developed. Japanese luthiers also make these types of mandolins. None of the mandolins in this belong to this category.
Mandolins categorized as flatback are more American in nature and origin. They are used in jazz and bluegrass genres of music, among others. Examples include the Bluegrass mandolin, and the Flatback mandolin itself.
Flatback mandolins are regarded as having a mellow or warm tone that is suitable for small audiences and folk music. The sound from these instruments doesn’t punch through the sound of other players.
Archtop mandolins are a relatively new style of mandolins that were developed at the end of the 19th century. The carved back and top construction draw inspiration from the violin family. This type of mandolin includes the F-style mandolin that has a decorative scroll near the neck.
Similarly, A-style mandolins are in this category, and they are generally pear-shaped with a simple headstock. Most of the mandolins on our list are in this category, such as Vangoa Acoustic/Electric Mandolin and the others.
They are also known as double back mandolins, and they refer to mandolins that luthiers are currently experimenting with. However, their origins can be traced back to the 19th century. Manufacturers have been experimenting to achieve a better sound.
What to Consider When Buying a Mandolin
There’s a myriad of factors to consider when shopping for a mandolin, but these are the essentials:
- Acoustic or electric.
- Range of strings.
Typically, the sound quality of a mandolin depends on the quality of the wood used. The best wood enhances the sound and makes the instrument last longer. However, the only caveat is that you’ll have to spend more as they aren’t cheap. A plywood or laminate-constructed mandolin is less costly compared to solid wood.
Mandolins with spruce soundboards have the best tones. Spruce is a quality hardwood, but spruce mandolins tend to be expensive.
By now, you have nailed down your style of music. Use that to find the most appropriate mandolin that matches your style. Your style should help you narrow down on your instrument, whether it’s A-style or F-style.
F-Style mandolins are suited for bluegrass and country music, and they look more attractive. They also cost more compared to A-style mandolins. The The Loar LM-520-VS Mandolin is a classic example of an F-style mandolin.
A-style mandolins are good for beginners and are used in Irish and classical music, old-time tunes, rock and roll, as well as bluegrass. We’ve featured the Hola! Music HM-3TS as our top-rated A-style mandolin.
Standard mandolins have eight strings with four courses. Strings adjacent to each other are tuned in unison of two at a time. The ease of pulling this off without messing up the overall performance plays a part while shopping for one. A good tuner should have a tight grip.
Acoustic vs. Electrical
Electric mandolins cost relatively more, and they require extra add-ons to give optimum performances, which is why they’re best suited to more experienced musicians.
Traditional acoustic mandolins are very basic, with electrical versions featuring everything an acoustic has, but with some extras.
If neither appeals to your creative side, then you can go for a hybrid mandolin. Hybrid mandolins are typically the ordinary acoustic with an additional piezo pickup.
If you’re a member of a band, we recommend an electric mandolin, whereas a beginner should look at an acoustic or hybrid mandolin. Electric mandolins can amplify the sound of an instrument that would otherwise be muted by other instruments.
Electric mandolins also have magnetic pickups mounted on the bridge and, therefore, have volume and tone controls.
The electric pickups convert vibrations of the strings to electrical impulses and transmit them through a preamplifier mounted on the instrument.
The preamplifier raises the signal strength and sends them through a cable to a sound system or an external amplifier.
Range of Strings
Some mandolins have a limited range of compatible strings. You’re better placed getting a mandolin that has a broader scope. The last thing you would want is to have to import new strings in case of damage.
Mandolins are built from wood, mainly mahogany, rosewood, maple, and spruce. Different types of wood have different properties suitable for different parts of the instrument. For instance, the soundboard needs to generate vibrations, and the neck has to be strong enough to resist bending.
Spruce is the favorite choice for constructing the soundboards, also known as tops. This is due to its dense grain. Spruce is unmatched in transmitting every nuance of a musician’s skill on strings. However, due to the cost and scarcity of high-quality spruce, some manufacturers use mahogany or cider, which produces a relatively deeper tone.
High-quality soundboards are typically hand-carved from solid spruce. However, some may have arched tops, while others have flat tops. On the other hand, low-cost mandolins always have tops laminated with many layers of wood pressed together. In contrast, moderately priced instruments may have tops made of solid spruce while the body is laminated wood.
The mandolins’ fretboards are mainly made from ebony or rosewood—both of which are hardwoods. They have smooth surfaces and allow fast fretting of fingers.
The neck of the mandolin is made using mahogany or maple to ensure maximum rigidity. Our best overall mandolin, the Hola! Music HM-3TS is a good example of this.
The neck of a mandolin is typically made of two or more types of wood glued together. Laminated necks, unlike the tops, are often regarded as a plus.
The majority of mandolin necks have embedded metal truss rods. These truss rods allow the adjustments of the neck to improve the playability and intonation of the instrument.
The bridge of mandolins aren’t fastened to the top, but they’re held in place by the strings. They’re often made of rosewood or ebony.
- Tuners: The best-quality tuners should have smooth-operating gears with solid construction to hold the strings and tune the instrument.
- Tailpiece: The tailpiece can also contribute to the volume of the mandolin. It varies considerably in design with elaborate decorations to enhance the visual appeal of the instrument.
- Cosmetics: Other cosmetics contribute nothing or little to the sound of the mandolin. However, they can affect the pride of ownership and cost. Some of the cosmetic parts include headstock inlays and fretboard, which could be made of abalone shell or mother of pearl.
Best Mandolin Strings
Being well-informed on mandolin strings is essential. Strings create the sound, and there are thousands of them in the market. Before deciding on the string to buy, here are three things that you should be on the lookout for.
Gauges are important in all stringed instruments. They come in three types:
- Light: Produce bright sounds with light tension and are the easiest to play.
- Medium: Fall between light and heavy in both sound and tension.
- Heavy: A much deeper sound but are harder to play.
The string material directly affects sound quality. Phosphor bronze is the most commonly used, and it produces bright sounds, while stainless steel produces darker tones.
Strings come coated with different materials to reduce wear and tear of the fingers. The nature of the coating affects playability, the tone, and the general feeling. The most popular is an 80/20 bronze with Nanoweb, which provides a smooth finish with a bell-like tone.
Like other instruments, owning just the mandolin body alone is half the journey. To bring out the best of your mandolin, you’ll have to spend a little extra to acquire accessories. The most vital ones include the following:
- Straps: There’ll be occasions where you’ll play your mandolin while standing. As much as they aren’t heavy instruments, having a strap helps you focus your energy on playing while providing support.
- Capos: A capo is a device fixed on the fretboard that allows you to raise the pitch on the fly. The device comes in handy when dealing with songs written in higher keys.
- Cases and bags: Keeping your mandolin in mint condition ensures it lasts longer. Mandolins are sensitive to humidity and direct heat from the sun. Cases and bags help you keep them out of sight, taking them out only when you need to play them.
- Strings: Mandolins come set with strings. However, you never know when the original set might break. Getting extra sets of strings are part of being a professional player. You never know when they might come in handy.
- Tuner: Tuning is an everyday activity in the life of a stringed instrument. Having a quality tuner makes the process much easier and lowers the risk of damaging the strings.
So, What’s the Best Mandolin Model?
The Hola! Music A-Style Mandolin HM-3TS is far superior to the other mandolins in the list. The instrument features a stylish finish and quality that’s hard to beat.
The closest challenger is the Vangoa Acoustic Electric Mandolin. Hybrid mandolins are relatively new and novel designs, so we’re impressed with how popular this one is. The two-in-one feature also makes it a contender for the best mandolin under 1,000 dollars.