While the world of music today is at its historical peak of diversity, there are still some aspects that get a little neglected, or that just don’t get the attention that they deserve. While it still has its use in different genres, even in rock music, a mandolin is still a pretty underrated instrument. Mandolin has a long history which goes way back to the 18th century. It has eight strings organized in four courses, doubling each string to get that unique tone. Although bearing smaller bodies, they can be as loud as guitars and are quite often played in almost the same way.
These days, we’ll mostly hear it in country, bluegrass, and folk music. There are some really exciting leaps into blues and rock music, and some musicians even implement it in genres like funk or pop. And thanks to the wonders of the internet, it seems that that mandolin’s popularity is on the rise these days. On the other hand, it might be a bit difficult to find the right instrument if you’re a total beginner. But don’t worry as we’ve done some of our own research and brought you the best beginner mandolins that you can find on the market today. Any of these examples below is a safe choice and we’ve brought something for everyone’s tastes and designated budgets.
- 1 Top 11 Best Beginner Mandolin Reviews
- 2 Beginner Mandolin Buying Guide
- 3 Conclusion
Top 11 Best Beginner Mandolin Reviews
Although not that big of a brand, Savannah are very skilled and experienced in making mandolins, banjos, acoustic guitars, and ukuleles. As far as mandolins go, their SA-100 model comes as an amazing example of a great beginner mandolin for a reasonable price. It comes with a very well-crafted hard maple neck with a rosewood fingerboard and 20 frets. The instrument also comes with an adjustable compensated bridge.
While the instrument is well-made and is fairly cheap, you may sometimes experience issues with tuning stability. It’s not a deal-breaker and it happens rarely, but it’s somewhat of a flaw with the SA-100. Other than that, it’s a fairly reliable beginner-level instrument that will serve you well even when you get into the intermediate territories. What’s more, it’s pretty stylish as well and comes in a few different color variants.
- Affordable, great deal for the price
- Decent tone
- A great choice for absolute beginners
- You may experience some tuning stability issues after longer playing sessions
For quite some time now, Rogue’s RM-100A has had a strong following. And it’s no surprise at all since it’s a very simple and reliable mandolin that’s available for a pretty low price. In fact, there’s a high chance that this is the best-selling mandolin in the world right now, which is not a surprise when you look at its qualities and its cost.
Coming with a maple neck and a very well-built body, the RM-100A model brings both the looks and tone qualities. The well-executed binding is what makes it stand out aesthetically. As far as the performance goes, you won’t have any serious issues playing this instrument. It also comes with an adjustable simulated rosewood bridge.
However, you’ll definitely need to do some setting up when you take it out of the box, so be prepared for it. Other than that, it’s a pretty great mandolin that can serve you even in more advanced stages of your playing.
- Really reliable
- Great deal for the price
- Great tone
- You should do some setting up when you get it out of the box
While most people associate Ibanez with electric guitars and some electric guitar pedals, their legendary name is also big in the world of mandolins. From their collection of products, we’re bringing M510 mandolin as one of the best examples for beginners. This one goes just a bit higher with the price, yet it brings a lot of amazing traits and features with it.
The body has a wonderful spruce top, while the back and sides are made from mahogany. This combination is typical for many acoustic guitars, and it helps this mandolin bring a tone that’s rich both in the bottom and the low end.
While Ibanez is usually known for modern-looking stuff, they really did an amazing job at making this one look really vintage-oriented. And, to be fair, we can’t find a single bad thing about it for the price.
- One of the best deals for the price
- Really great build quality
- Amazing tone
- Nothing for this price level
Ibanez M522SBS F-Style Mandolin
While we’re at it, we’re going to include yet another one of Ibanez’s fantastic mandolins. This time around, we’re taking a closer look at the M522 model. Now, the most important thing that you’ll notice is that this one is significantly more expensive. It’s not within the high-end price category, but it’s still a bit over the usual price for the beginners. Nonetheless, the M522 can come as a great choice for beginners, especially those who are really keen on reaching advanced levels of musicianship.
What makes it stand out here is that it’s an F style mandolin, meaning that it features a different body construction, more common of those higher-end mandolins. It comes with a solid spruce top, while the sides and the back are from laminated flamed maple. This combination of materials makes it a bit heavier on the higher-end of the audible spectrum, giving it a bright tone that cuts through the mix more easily.
Of course, just like with the previous model, Ibanez put an accent on a very stylish vintage-oriented design. It might be a bit expensive, but it’s an instrument that comes in handy for players of any skill level.
- Very stylish vintage-oriented design
- Amazing bright tone, great for a lead instrument
- Great build quality
- It’s a bit more expensive compared to other beginner mandolins
Hola! Music HM-3TS
Now going back to some cheaper examples, we have Hola! Music as one of the most respected smaller brands of mandolins. Here we have their simple, cheap, yet really useful HM-3TS mandolin that brings all the essentials in a beginner-friendly package. This traditional A-style mandolin is almost entirely made out of maple – top, sides, back, neck, all of it. The only exceptions are its amazing walnut fingerboard and a rosewood bridge. The instrument also comes with an adjustable truss rod and a wrench that will help you with all the required setups.
Hola! Music also didn’t forget about some nice design features. Aside from a sunburst finish, we even have a good-quality pickguard that serves both in terms of aesthetics and practicality. Additionally, we even have an amazing-looking binding on the body and the neck, giving this instrument a more high-end look.
- Really cheap and more than worth the price
- Great build quality and design
- Decent tone
- Nothing for this price level
Donner DML-1 A Style Mandolin
Those who are familiar with electric guitar pedals probably know about Donner and their cheap yet quality products. But aside from these, they’re also into instrument building. Interestingly enough, they even have some mandolins in their arsenal. This time, we’re bringing their very simple, stylish, and very affordable DML-1 mandolin. This traditional A-style mandolin comes with a mahogany body, which makes its tone mellower compared to other examples that we mentioned here. What’s more, we even have a mahogany neck, which adds to the overall smoothness of the tone.
But despite its low price, we get quality hardware here with its chrome-plated tuners and tailpiece. There’s a standard adjustable truss rod in the neck, along with its 20 frets. Sum it up with a nice vintage-oriented design, and you’ve got yourself a pretty great mandolin for the money. This one is for those who prefer a smoother and darker tone of mandolins, although it may not cut through the mix as well compared to some other mandolins that we mentioned here.
- Good build quality
- Great deal for the price
- Stylish design
- Some players may not prefer its smoother and darker tone
The Loar LM-110 A-Style Mandolin
Looking through numerous mandolins that are available today, LM-100 by The Loar is one of the best options for beginners these days. This small company is already experienced in building some amazing archtop and acoustic guitars, and the mandolin making seems like a breeze to them. Looking at this particular model, we have a slightly more expensive one, yet it retains some performance and tonal qualities of those pro-level mandolins.
Bearing a classic A-style body, the LM-100 comes with a hand-carved solid spruce top, maple sides, as well as a maple neck with a padauk fretboard. The access to higher frets is also made easier with its ergonomic design. Along with the mandolin’s harder materials which make the tone brighter, it makes for one amazing lead instrument. It’s a great choice for anyone who’s more serious about becoming a more advanced mandolinist.
- Quality bright tone
- Quality build
- Thin V neck profile
- It’s slightly more expensive
Washburn Americana M-1
Washburn is another brand that’s famous for their electric guitars. However, they also specialize in acoustic instruments, including mandolins. The Americana Series M-1 model is intended as a beginner-friendly mandolin that comes with a full package of needed gear for a novice. But what makes it stand out is its amazing quality for the price. What’s more, you’ll be satisfied with this instrument even as an intermediate or even an advanced mandolin player.
Its spruce top and maple back and sides make the tone brighter, which makes the M-1 useful as a lead instrument. The neck is also made of maple and comes with 20 frets and a total scale length of 13 and 3/4 inches. Knowing that you get some additional great stuff with it, it’s more than a great deal for the price.
- Comes with a gig bag, a strap, picks, and other additional gear
- Great deal for its price
- Great bright tone
- Can be useful even past the beginner stages of playing
- Some may not prefer the specific bright tone
Seagull built their reputation over the years for making some of the best acoustic guitars that you can find on the market. They also put their abilities to use with mandolin building and have also become popular in these territories as well. If we’re talking about beginners, we’d share their S8 mandolin, which comes with a solid spruce top and maple back and sides, resulting in a pretty bright tone. We also have a very comfortable maple neck and a very fitting gloss finish.
Although in the category of A-style mandolins, its body has a very unique shape. The access to higher frets is really comfortable, just like any part of its neck. It’s a bit more expensive compared to some other beginner mandolins, but it’s worth every penny, especially if you’re really serious about becoming good at this fine instrument.
- Amazing tone quality
- Really ergonomic and comfortable to play
- It might be a little expensive for some beginners
Oscar Schmidt OM10
Oscar Schmidt is a brand that often pops up when there’s a talk about beginner-friendly acoustic instruments. This also includes mandolins, and their models are becoming increasingly popular. Here we have their OM10 mandolin that comes with a great combination of spruce top and mahogany back and sides. The instrument also comes with a mahogany neck, fitted with a rosewood fingerboard that holds 20 frets. There’s also an adjustable bridge that’s made out of rosewood.
And as if this wasn’t enough, we even have chrome die-cast tuning machines on it, making this instrument really reliable in the longer run. The tone might not be the best option for some lead players who like to have it bright and “sharp” enough to cut through the mix, but it’s still more than a great mandolin for beginners and for the given price.
- Great build quality
- Great choice of materials
- Comfortable to play
- It might not be the best option for lead players
Vangoa A-Style Mandolin
Lastly, we’d mention Vangoa and their simple A-Style mandolin. Just like with all of their instruments, the company made this is a fairly cheap and reliable solution for beginner players. It might not satisfy the needs of some intermediate or advanced players, but its mahogany body and neck give it a warm and decent tone for the price. What’s more, this one also comes with a pickup, meaning that you can plug it into a PA system or even an amplifier. It’s a fun and useful instrument for beginners of all ages.
- Comes with a pickup
- It’s pretty cheap and worth the price
- Decent tone
- It won’t be a good solution if you need something in the long run
Beginner Mandolin Buying Guide
Choice of Materials
When buying a mandolin, one of the first things that you’ll need to know is the choice of wood. Being an acoustic instrument, harder wood like will give a brighter tone. Something like spruce will be more balanced, while mahogany will have more mellow, dark, and smooth overtones. It usually comes down to personal preferences, but a brighter tone is usually more popular among lead players, especially in country music. Neck and fretboard materials will also impact the tone, but not as much.
It’s also important to have quality hardware. Better beginner mandolins will usually have chromed tuning machines and tailpiece.
There are two main types of mandolin, the A style and the F style. A-style mandolins have that tear-shaped body and are usually more common with folk and classical music. F style mandolins appeared in the 1900s and they had a more stylish body shape that has a more guitar-like appearance. This gives more comfort if you’re holding the instrument in your lap. There are also some other more “unconventional” shapes, like the one on Seagull S8 that’s a combination of these two types.
Bridge and Tailpiece
Lastly, you’ll also need to think of the bridge and tailpiece types. Better beginner mandolins usually have an adjustable bridge and a quality chromed tailpiece. The importance of the bridge lies in its capability to keep the strings in their position and to carry the vibrations that they produce. The tailpiece is located at the very end of the body and it holds the strings in place and makes an impact on the overall tone and sustain.
Overall, the mandolin is not a very complicated instrument if you want to learn the basics. Of course, there’ll always be a lot of effort if you want to get to a pro level, but basic stuff won’t be that difficult. If you’re a beginner, any of these examples above will be more than enough to get you started. But we also included some relatively more expensive examples that will have you covered even when you reach higher skill levels. It comes down to you what you want to choose.