There’s a lot more to the mandolin than you may realize, let’s look at the essentials and guide you towards finding the best beginner mandolin.
Due to the success of the Ukulele and Banjo, the Mandolin has had a surge in popularity. They a widely used in modern day music, with REM, Led Zeppelin, Jerry Garcia, Grateful Dead, White Stripes, Goo Goo Dolls, Rolling Stones, Steve Earle, The Band, Chris Cornell, and Rod Stewart, all incorporating this historic instrument into their music. Imagine ‘Maggie May’ without it! Or REMs ‘Losing My Religion’, unthinkable.
They’re a pretty unique and beautiful sounding instrument.
How To Choose A Beginner Mandolin:
What’s Best For Me & How Much Should I Spend?
It’s a good idea to start with a cheaper mandolin, especially if you are a complete beginner. That’s not to say if you have a higher budget, aim at a better quality of the instrument. Just because a mandolin is cheap, it doesn’t mean you can’t have fun and learn properly. In fact, it’s a great practice to get a luthier or technician to set up your mandolin when you first receive it. This makes so much difference, this will see you through the learning period without any tuning aggravation.
After 25 years of playing guitar, I still take my instruments to a local guitar doctor to be set up and maintained.
Electric Or Acoustic?
This all depends on your situation. An electric mandolin can amplify sound, this gives you total control in a band scenario. You can mix your sound up and down with the other instruments in the band. It’s also handy if you’re playing a gig outside or in a small quiet setting. In fact, they sound amazing through an amp. If you’re looking to learn or play from home, then an acoustic mandolin is fine
Essential Tips To Consider For Before Buying
Firstly, decide on a budget. If you have 300, then try not to go too far below this amount. Get the best mandolin pound for pound your budget allows.
What Will My Budget Get Me?
Let’s look at what you can expect for your budget:
- Low Cost (up to 300): ‘A-Style’ mandolins are made from laminate wood. Most likely built in Japan. With a lesser construction reliability comes a lesser quality of tone, compared to the higher-level products. This isn’t to say these are bad, far from it. You can still grab a good starter mandolin around this budget.
- Mid Range (500-1000): A step up in the quality of wood used. A much prettier instrument. Most of the time the wood used in the build is solid wood, rather than the laminate pressed construction. Solid wood makes a big difference in tone and will handle dings and bumps much better. If you want to gig with your mandolin, then I would suggest starting at around 600.
- Top End (2000+): Hand carved instruments, using finer top notch woods, outstanding tones to be had. The finest F-Style instruments come within this price bracket. Ideal for live and studio use. Beautiful instruments with the scroll feature on top for the pro player.
Mandolins are built from a variety of woods. As different parts of the instrument are put under different stresses, certain woods are required in certain places. Now, I could write a whole article about the different types of wood, there are… a lot. It’s a wealth of information that isn’t important at this particular time, so let’s look at the basics:
Mandolins use different woods for different parts, as mentioned above.
The ‘soundboard’ (top) is the most important piece. Spruce wood is commonly used here. There are also cedar soundboards but are not as common. Before buying a mandolin, look for the wood type of the ‘top’. Be aware, some retailers use the term ‘Select Spruce Top’. This is a bit naughty in my eyes, it’s basically laminate, they just don’t want to write that.
A simple rule of thumb would be to follow this:
- Spruce (Laminate: made from various pieces of wood glued together. Vibrates less)
- Select Spruce Top (Laminate)
- Solid Spruce (Solid wood, made from one piece of wood. Vibrates better)
- Maple (Generally back and sides)
- Rosewood or Ebony (Fretboard)
My last tip is probably the most important but gets overlooked so many times. Buy a hard case with your beautiful new instrument. It’s incredible the number of times I’ve seen musicians turn up to a gig with a soft case and an expensive instrument inside!!
A soft case is 100% necessary for home storage, but not much else. Protect your instrument. The hard case for my guitar costs quite a bit, it’s worth every penny. You’ll also need a good clip-on tuner. This should be your second purchase. Click here for Authority Guitar Best Tuners.
Quick Glance: 5 Best Beginner Mandolin
- Hola! Music A-Style Mandolin Instrument with Adjustable Truss-Rod Model HM-3TS, Glossy Sunburst Finish
*Check the full review below.
Mandolin Terminology Made Easy
If you’re reading through a few details regarding mandolins, you might see it advertised as A Style or F Style. Again, it’s important to know what you’re buying. Let’s have a look at the meanings behind the terminology:
- A-Style : A tear-shaped and oval-bodied mandolin
- F-Style : A tear-shaped mandolin with added scroll and points (also known as Florentine). Both A style and F are available with oval or F soundholes
- Carved Top : The top is carved into the classic arched shape rather than pressed
- Pressed Top : Pressed by a machine using heat and pressure. Inferior to ‘carved’
- Arched Back : As opposed to a straight back. The arched back makes the mandolin louder, the sound is pushed outward rather than bouncing around a straight back body.
- Scroll : You may find it at the top of the mandolin. It serves no acoustic function at all to the scroll, it is purely aesthetic. Hides the strap button, that’s it.
Is Mandolin Easy To Learn?
Yes! You can play almost any song with three chords.
With all this free time at the moment, now would be the best time to try your hand at learning an instrument. Due to the small size, you have the benefit of taking it everywhere. A mandolin is easier to learn than a guitar or piano. Bear in mind, the best instrument to start with is the one you’re most interested in. Sounds ridiculous, but it’s very true
Ukuleles are probably as easy to learn, but some people find them too small. Mandolins have a far superior overall sound than a uke.
Mandolins generally come with four courses of doubled metal strings (8 strings). There are five (10 strings) and six (12 strings) stringed mandolins too. Don’t let this put you off, a decent tuner is your best friend. The sound you get from learning a couple of chords will have you hooked within minutes. Get yourself a mandolin chord chart and you’re away.
Mandolins are perfect for a complete beginner and very affordable.
Did You Know?
Ludwig Van Beethoven loved playing the mandolin. That’s right, although better known as a Pianist, Beethoven would hang his favorite mandolin beside his piano.
Beethoven composed at least six works for mandolin, only four of which survived. None were published during his lifetime. It shows the rich history of the mandolin dating back to Italy in the 18th century.
Other players to rock the mandolin were Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Vivaldi.
The 5 Best Beginner Mandolin Review
Hola! Music A Style Mandolin Instrument with Adjustable Truss-Rod Model HM-3TS, Glossy Sunburst Finish
Best A-Style Mandolin
- Pros : Great Beginner Choice, Very Nice Tone, Value For Money, Hola Has Great Customer Support, Vintage Look
- Cons : Tuning Heads May Slip After A Little Use
8-string traditional A-Style mandolin in glossy Sunburst finish. Built with a maple top, back, sides and neck. A Walnut fingerboard and adjustable compensated rosewood bridge. Beautifully crafted chrome plated tailpiece. A very popular choice at a reasonable price. I can’t see a better sounding instrument at this price.
I really love the Hola designed. It looks so traditional. With a crisp vintage sound, the Hola HM-3TS is already a favorite of mine. Check out the video below and you’ll love the tone.
Listen to the calming tones of the Hola HM-3TS:
Best Lower Price Mandolin
- Pros: Holds Tuning, Easy To Play, Good Enough To Gig With, Solid Wood Build, Value For Money, Child Friendly
- Cons: Nut Sits A Bit High
Stagg M40S is a solid performer at a friendly price. A surprisingly loud mandolin that can be used in gig scenarios. It certainly has a bark.
Built from ‘solid’ spruce wood, solid maple back and sides, a rosewood fingerboard, and an adjustable bridge. Another beautiful nickel engraved tailpiece. A traditional bluegrass type mandolin which gives you a bright tone and lots of volume. Perfect starter instrument, even for children as it’s light and very pretty. At a totally insane affordable price, the Stagg M40S is very popular, a good beginner mandolin. So be quick, as you’ve found your new toy!!
This girl really can play! Here’s some very clean Irish Traditional music : Stagg M40 S
Best Medium Priced Mando (F-Style)
- Pros: Hand Crafted, Smart Buy, Deeper Tones, Perfect For Guitarists, Minimum F Style Mandolin Price
- Cons: May Need Setting Up
Straight from your first strum, you’ll get a 1920s authentic tone. The Loar Mandolin is a cut above the rest in build and tone. The price does reflect this. Its certainly head and shoulders above the rest if you have a higher starter budget.
The thin “V” profile of the maple neck fits comfortably in the player’s hand, easy to strum without getting hung up on the extended upper frets. The action is set up lower, which makes a big difference. The strings are closer to the frets and so much more comfortable. This makes it easier to learn in comparison to the cheaper instruments.
The Loar LM-310 gives you a surprisingly lower, deeper tone. I actually prefer this sound on a mandolin. The Loar has a professional dark look about it, in fact, it looks much more expensive than it really is. If you have a higher budget, it’s worth the stretch in the price difference. If you’re after an ‘F Style’ mandolin, this would be the best at the lowest price.
Beautiful deeper tones shown right here, wow: Loar LM-310 F Mandolin
Rayzm Traditional Bluegrass Mandolin in Shinny Sunburst Color with Padded Gig Bag, A-Style 8-String Acoustic Mandolin, Linden Body, Walnut Fingerboard, Mahogany Neck
Best Entry Mandolin
- Pros: Comes With Soft Bag, Budget Price, Child Friendly, Perfect Entry Mandolin, Stays In Tune Well. The Price!
- Cons: Cheap Wood, Tone on the Tinny Side
Rayzm has produced a starter mandolin for those looking to dip their toe in. A Solid walnut fingerboard & bridge, solid mahogany neck. A beautiful shiny look, with quality ABS binding on the body and fingerboard. Comes with an adjustable walnut bridge. A very well constructed instrument considering the price. A little on the tinny and thin side of tone for my liking.
A really popular instrument worldwide, which tells me a lot. You’re not going to be gigging with this. Its small, durable, good looking mandolin, so inexpensive. The Rayzm is my choice for a lower budget player wanting to get into music from home.
Donner Mandolin Instrument Mahogany Black A Style with Tuner, String, Gig Bag, Guitar Picks (DML-100B)
Best Budget Starter Pack
- Pros: Accessories, Well Balanced Volume, Brighter Sound, Adjustable Neck
- Cons: Short Sustain, High Action
Donner produces all sorts of instrument accessories, guitars, and ukuleles. This starter pack comes with a tuner, four picks, spare mandolin strings, a digital clip-on tuner, and polishing cloths. Now, I like this. They are covering a lot of requirements complete beginners may need. Most beginners may break a string, then what do they do? They have to find out the string size and a local shop that sells one string. Once that string has broken a lot of beginners give up. I really like the thought they’ve put into the pack.
A mahogany body gives you a richer and brighter sound. Chrome-plated open gear tuners and tailpiece, adjustable truss rod inside the neck. The tuner is a 100% must buy for every new musician, and Donner have added one into the mix. This will have the beginner musician in your house strumming away in no time.
Here’s a great video of the unpacking and playing of the Donner DML series mandolin:
Don’t Forget Your Mandolin Essentials:
Overall Winner: Best Beginner Mandolin
After considering all the options carefully, i decided the Stagg M40S 8-String is my clear winner. After all, we are looking for a mandolin that is suitable for the complete beginner (or a child). At a friendly price that won’t break the bank, but is good enough to assist you with learning and having fun.
As the Stagg M40S is a solid-bodied instrument, i’ve gone for this. Not only does it last the bumps and scrapes better, the overall sound is much superior to a laminated mandolin. It’s very pretty in looks ( and comes in in slightly different models: Black and a Redburst). The Stagg holds it tuning well, it’s easy to play and can be gigged with due to the superb resonance.