It is a simpler process to learn an instrument than it has ever been before, and many are turning to instruments like the Mandolin or Banjo as either their main instrument or to go along with other instruments they can play. We’ve searched long and hard and compiled a list of the best beginner mandolins to help you get started on your road to playing this wonderful instrument. Mandolins can be perfect for bluegrass, folk and all sorts of other types of music, but if you don’t make the right decisions when starting to play it can be all too easy to give up.
With some instruments, as long as you steer clear of the really cheap end of the spectrum you’re probably going to be fine, but with the Mandolin this is not the case. Even if you spend a fair bit of money, there are some really poorly reviewed products out there. Avoiding the pitfalls is key.
Ibanez M510 A-Style Mandolin
Ibanez may be a brand we associate a lot with guitars these days, but they actually have quite a long history of making Mandolins, and the M510 is another superb model for people not looking to spend a huge amount of cash. An A-Style, “teardrop” design Mandolin, this stands out for its incredibly rich tone. Many Mandolins have a lot of high-end frequencies, but this is strong across the board with a full, rich low-end too, great for recording as well as practicing.
This is another Mandolin which offers a rosewood fretboard which gives such a great clarity to the tone and a really luxurious feel when playing. The “dark sunburst” design is quite unique, and it looks great. Quite a talking point among musicians, and it stands out from other Mandolins which tend to have the lighter sunburst look to them. A gloss finish nicely round off a wonderful sounding and good looking guitar to suit even a hobbyist budget. This definitely gets the thumbs up from us.
Kentucky KM-140 Standard A-model Mandolin
Kentucky A-model mandolins are pretty iconic in the world of Mandolin playing. The brand has struck a sweet spot between value and professional sound, and this instrument is exceptionally popular.
This has a solid top, and back and sides created from hand-chosen maple wood. The Sitka spruce top helps to create that shimmering tone we all love from the best Mandolins.
With a glossy sunburst finish and classy looking F-Holes as well as a rosewood fretboard, this certainly looks the part. An adjustable truss rod gives the player even more control and overall, this product oozes luxury at a price that should mean mediocrity. There are better Mandolins out there, but for a beginner, if you’re not looking to spend a huge amount of money, the Kentucky KM-140 is a realistic option. Deluxe tuning machines and amazing workmanship mean that this stays in tune and is a sturdy, reliable instrument that with the right care can last many years of Mandolin playing!
Kentucky’s brand can be a little elusive, but they do have an active Facebook page where you can connect with their users.
Cheaper Mandolins for Beginners
If you’re starting out playing pretty much any instrument, you probably don’t want to go straight for the most expensive model. You need to learn the basics and see if the Mandolin is for you before you buy the elite product or get something customized. For that, there are some good cheap beginner mandolins which will serve a decent purpose while you get used to the instrument.
Hola! Music A-Style Mandolin
It is easy to be skeptical when looking at the price tag of the Hola music Mandolin. This isn’t a hugely well-known brand or one you are likely to see at high-end gigs with amazing musicians, but as a stepping stone instrument for starting to learn Mandolin, this can be a very good affordable choice.
The build quality of this Mandolin actually surprised us. It is an A-Style shape with a sunburst design, 20 frets and impressive chrome plated tuners. It even has some decoration on the tailpiece, a surprising amount of finesse for such a cheap mandolin!
Like many of its more expensive competitors, this has an adjustable bridge, which can be a big help when finding your own unique style of play and what is most comfortable for you.
We didn’t expect to find such quality and impressive reviews at this price tag. For youngsters looking for a ‘pocket money savings’ instrument, or just those of us who don’t want to splash the cash before we know that Mando is for us, this is a great option.
We’ve selected a Mandolin which is realistic for beginners on a budget. Some Mandolins cost $500 or more, but this model can be picked up for a fraction of that cost, and has the basic features a learner will need to get started.
Rogue isn’t the most prestigious brand ever, but it has done a great job with the RM-100A. This Mandolin has the A-model shape, and a maple neck combined with a rosewood bridge which is adjustable so you can get an action you are happy with. The action is set quite low to start with, which is great for beginners who still need to build up their finger strength.
In terms of looks, this is not a tacky and cheap looking product at all. It has the “look” of a good Mandolin, and the F-hole and gold tuners make it look and feel like more than just a product for beginners. A quick look at some of the other consumer reviews out there will tell you that the majority of people who buy seem to be very happy with the 100A Mandolin, with people praising the projection, overall sound and reliability of this instrument. It isn’t up to the standards of professional Mandolins, but offers great value for money and can be a perfect first step.
Styles of Mandolin
We’ve mainly reviewed the A-Style Mandolins, and truth be told, most beginners will be looking for this particular shape and design, but there are others out there too. The F-Style mandolins tend to be more expensive. They have a great look to them, usually with either one sound hole or two F shaped soundholes. They are not symmetrical and there are some lovely designs out there. These F-Shaped mandolins are quite specialist and in my opinion, it is harder to find one with a reliably good sound. That said, I have been very impressed with the Loar LM-370-VSM model. Designed for bluegrass and solidly, intricately built using Maple and Rosewood, this may be a little pricey for some beginners, but those who can afford it will certainly be in for a treat learning on such a great sounding instrument.
For more info on “A” vs “F” styles, check out the video below:
Top Tip: Mandolin Cases
We plan to provide a full guide to Mandolin cases here on Subreel sometime in the future, for now, we are offering a very basic piece of advice which we so often see ignored! If you are spending any considerable sum on a Mandolin, buy a decent case. Hardshell cases are readily available for A-style and F-style Mandolins. If you have invested your hard-earned cash into buying a Mandolin, the last thing you want is for it to get damaged. Some of the models we’ve reviewed are even sold as packages which come with cases when you buy them, which is a win/win scenario.
The Mandolins we’ve selected are mainly in the sweet spot where they provide quality as well as value for money and reliability. Nobody wants their first instrument to be going out of tune and require maintenance all the time, but we want it to create a rich sound too and not cost the earth. All of those things combined means it can be quite challenging to go through Mandolin reviews and find the best, but those we’ve mentioned below won’t see you far wrong. We’ve included different options at a variety of price tags to suit your budget, so even if you want a cheap mandolin there is something that can do a good job for you.
With its origins in the ancient ‘Lute‘ instrument, it can be easy to think of the Mandolin as archaic. The truth is that the modern music industry are still producing products which are arguably better than ever, and this incredible sounding instrument can add a new dimension to your band or music project. A wonderful, original instrument to learn which can be picked up online if you find the right course or tutor, the Mandolins we’ve mentioned each have their merits when it comes time to learn to play.