The 6 Best Mandolins for the Money (Review and Guide)

The 6 Best Mandolins for the Money (Review and Guide)

If you play guitar, chances are, you may decide to branch out and play the mandolin. And why wouldn’t you? A mandolin is a stunning instrument to look at (especially an F-style mandolin, see below), is unique, and sounds great. It has a signature bright and warm tone that is sure to make you fall in love with it. You especially might be interested in learning to play mandolin if you like folk, bluegrass, or Celtic music.

The question you might ask, then, before heading out to buy your new mandolin, is what is the best mandolin for the money? Which mandolin should you go out and buy?

Let’s take a look at some of the best mandolins available on Amazon right now and see which of these mandolins are right for you.

Disclosure: Product links may be affiliate, meaning I get a commission if you click through and/or purchase.

The Best Mandolins on Amazon

ImageProductFeaturesPrice
Donner A Style Mandolin Instrument Sunburst Mahogany DML-100B With Tuner String Big Bag and Guitar Picks, BlackDonner A Style Mandolin Instrument Sunburst Mahogany DML-100B With Tuner String Big Bag and Guitar Picks, Black

An all-in-one mandolin kit that comes with all the accessories you need to get started.

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Ibanez M510DVS Mandolin, Dark Violin SunburstIbanez M510DVS Mandolin, Dark Violin Sunburst

A beautiful beginner mandolin from Ibanez.

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Ibanez M522S F-Style Mandolin Dark Violin SunburstIbanez M522S F-Style Mandolin Dark Violin Sunburst

An affordable, good quality F-style violin.

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Kentucky KM-150 Standard A-model Mandolin - SunburstKentucky KM-150 Standard A-model Mandolin – Sunburst

A renowned violin with a beautiful sound.

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Kentucky, 8-String Mandolin, Traditional Sunburst (KM-270)Kentucky, 8-String Mandolin, Traditional Sunburst (KM-270)

An A-style mandolin with one O hole for sound.

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Kentucky KM-256 Artist A-model Mandolin - Transparent BrownKentucky KM-256 Artist A-model Mandolin – Transparent Brown

Another great A-style mandolin from Kentucky.

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Donner A Style Mandolin Instrument Sunburst Mahogany DML-100B With Tuner String Big Bag and Guitar Picks, Black

Donner A Style Mandolin Instrument Sunburst Mahogany DML-100B With Tuner String Big Bag and Guitar Picks, Black

Our #1 pick for beginner mandolin comes with all the equipment you need to get started!

This isn’t only an affordable mandolin, it is a mandolin kit that comes with everything you need to get started on your mandolin journey. The kit comes with an A-style mandolin, gig bag, tuner, picks, polishing cloth, and spare strings. 

The A-style mandolin has two F-holes for sound, one on each side of the strings. It has a black glossy finish and a black pick guard to protect the mandolin from scratches. The top, back, and sides are made of mahogany. The C shaped neck has 20 frets.

This mandolin kit is a great choice for a beginner, since it comes with everything you need to get started at a very affordable price point. The instrument is built well and sounds good with a nice tone even though it is a lower-end instrument. This mandolin is a great choice for someone who is trying to decide if they want to actually play mandolin or not. 

Ibanez M510DVS Mandolin, Dark Violin Sunburst

Ibanez M510DVS Mandolin, Dark Violin Sunburst

A brand-name mandolin at an excellent, affordable price point.

This A-style mandolin also has two F holes for sound. It has a spruce top and mahogany back and sides, chrome hardware, and pearl dot inlay. It comes in a beautiful dark brown sunburst finish which you are sure to fall in love with. This beautiful little instrument plays like a dream once you change the strings to a higher quality set, but it still sounds good even without changing the strings. As one reviewer wrote, this mandolin “looks good, plays good, travels good with no fear of damage.” 

If you are a beginner mandolinist, this Ibanez is a great choice. It is a brand name instrument at an unbelievable price point, and still has a nice sound to let you get the feel for the mandolin in general. 

Ibanez M522S F-Style Mandolin Dark Violin Sunburst

Ibanez M522S F-Style Mandolin Dark Violin Sunburst

A gorgeous – and affordable! – F-style mandolin. 

This F-style mandolin is absolutely gorgeous (as most F-style mandolins are). It has a dark brown sunburst finish and a gorgeous, curling scroll at the bottom of the body. It has a solid spruce top and a flamed maple body, mahogany neck, and rosewood bridge and fretboard. It has 2 frets on its flat fretboard, pearloid block inlays on the neck and headstock, and a high gloss finish. It delivers a warm, rich, sound, and is ready to be played right out of the box. 

The solid spruce top offers crisp, bold tones, while the mahogany neck and rosewood bridge and fretboard offer lasting tone and sustain. The gold hardware and pearloid tuning knobs create a striking contrast against the dark brown body, which adds to the charm of this stunning instrument. 

This Ibanez is a great choice if you are looking to spend a drop more than bottom-of-the-barrel prices, but still not spend too much money on a mandolin. You definitely will not regret this purchase!

Kentucky KM-150 Standard A-model Mandolin – Sunburst

Kentucky KM-150 Standard A-model Mandolin - Sunburst

A beautifully made A-style mandolin from a renowned mandolin company. 

The Kentucky KM-150 A-style mandolin is a known name in the mandolin world, and for good reason. It is completely solid wood. It has a solid spruce top and solid maple back, sides, and neck. It has excellent tone and playability. The solid spruce top gives the instrument clean articulation and a crisp, bright tone, and the slim, solid maple neck gives comfortable, easy action. The smooth fingerboard has a silky smooth playability, and the high-gloss sunburst finish gives it a traditional mandolin look. There are two F-holes for sound, instead of only one O-hole.

Reviewers love this mandolin. They say the sound is very mellow, it is easy to listen to, and easy to play. They say this is an amazing sounding instrument, but caution that you need to make sure the floating bridge is set up correctly, otherwise you will not be able to tune the mandolin. Once you do have it set up, the mandolin stays in tune very well. 

Kentucky, 8-String Mandolin, Traditional Sunburst (KM-270)

Kentucky, 8-String Mandolin, Traditional Sunburst (KM-270)

An A-style mandolin with one O hole for sound. 

This A-style mandolin has one O-hole for sound. It has a solid carved spruce top and solid maple back, sides, and neck. It has a smooth rosewood fingerboard and a high-gloss sunburst finish for that traditional mandolin look. This mandolin is hand-carved to produce an instrument with the tone, look, and quality of a much higher end instrument. 

The solid spruce top offers clean articulation and a crisp, bright tone, and the solid maple back and sides add an extra punch. The slim maple neck has comfortable, easy action that makes the mandolin very easy to play. There is an adjustable truss rod to ensure the neck is in exactly the right place to carry the best tune possible. The round O-hole gives a nice, mellow sound to the mandolin. 

The bridge comes in place already so there is no set up necessary. You can play this mandolin right out of the box and it will sound amazing!

As with most instruments, if you change the strings to higher-quality ones, it will sound even better, but that is not absolutely necessary to get a good sound out of this quality mandolin. 

Kentucky KM-256 Artist A-model Mandolin – Transparent Brown

Kentucky KM-256 Artist A-model Mandolin - Transparent Brown

Another great A-style mandolin from Kentucky.

This A-style mandolin has two F holes for sound. It has a solid spruce top for a bright tone and solid maple sides and back. Its solid maple neck and rosewood fingerboard provide comfortable, easy action and silky smooth playability. It has a high gloss finish in three color options: transparent amber, transparent brown, and traditional sunburst. This mandolin offers great volume and balance and is an excellent choice for any mandolin player, not just a beginner. 

Mandolin Buying Guide

There are a number of different features to look out for when buying a mandolin. We’ll discuss these one by one so you have all the knowledge you need to make an informed purchase. There are a number of mandolin features to look at or keep an eye on. 

Body type: bowl-backed, A-style, F-style

There are three main body types that a mandolin can have: bowl-backed, A-style, or F-style. 

Bowl-backed is the oldest body type, based on lutes. The back of the mandolin’s body is like a round bowl. Bowl-backed mandolins have a dark tone suitable for folk music, mandolin orchestras, or classical music. However, bowl-backed mandolins are often junky and poorly made, so it is not recommended to buy a bowl-backed mandolin. 

A-style mandolins have a pear-shaped body. They may be called “flat back” but do still have a slightly arched back. They can either have one O hole in the middle of the mandolin or two F holes for sound, one on each side of the body. They are typically cheaper than F-style mandolins because the body of an A-style mandolin is not so ornate. A- style mandolins are typically used for folk, Celtic, or classical music.

F-style mandolins have a much more ornately carved body with a “scroll.” They generally have two F holes (as opposed to one O hole) and are shaped to be more comfortable to rest on your lap when you play sitting down. An F-style mandolin is always more expensive than an A-style mandolin of equal quality because of the detailed scroll that is harder to make and more labor intensive. F-style mandolins are typically used for country and bluegrass music.

Wood type

Just like with guitar, the wood that the mandolin is made of has a big influence on the instrument’s sound and tone. Different parts of the mandolin are usually made from different types of wood. 

The highest quality mandolins have a solid spruce top. Spruce is lightweight but strong and has a great sound. Lower-quality or not as expensive mandolins will have solid cedar or mahogany tops instead of spruce. The cedar or mahogany tops lend the mandolin a deeper tone than a spruce top would. 

Laminate woods (thin layers of wood pressed together) are stronger and last longer, but don’t sound as good. As a compromise, mandolins (and guitars) often have solid tops and laminate bodies. 

The back and sides of a mandolin is generally made from solid maple (or laminate maple, on a lower-end instrument), which is stronger than spruce. Other common woods the mandolin body may be made of is mahogany or koa.

The fretboard of the mandolin is most commonly made of ebony or rosewood. Both of these woods are hard and smooth, and therefore easy to play on. 

The neck of a mandolin needs to be hard and very strong, since it is susceptible to bending due to the tension of the strings on the neck. Maple and mahogany, which are very hard woods, are often used. Laminate may actually be better for a mandolin neck since it is stronger and less likely to break.

Mandolins have a moveable bridge, unlike a guitar. The bridge is most commonly made from rosewood or ebony. 

Is there a truss rod?

A truss rod in the neck allows you to adjust the neck of the instrument to make it sound perfect how you like it and to tune it well. Cheaper instruments generally do not have a truss rod, and the neck is solidly attached to the body and cannot be adjusted. Better quality instruments have a truss rod and an adjustable neck. This will help you get your mandolin better in tune and have an overall better sounding instrument.

Finish on the mandolin

All mandolins (and guitars, for that matter) are finished to protect the wood from damage. The principal thing they are trying to protect the wood from is actually the acid in your skin. However, a very heavy finish can impact the sound of the mandolin, since it can prevent the wood from vibrating properly.  Finishes can be lacquer or varnish. Lacquer is generally applied in a thicker layer, which leads to the reputation that varnish finishes sound better. Really, any finish applied in a thin layer should be fine.

Acoustic or Electric

Just as in guitar, mandolins can be acoustic, electric, or acoustic-electric. Acoustic mandolins create sound by vibrating the air inside their hollow body, and the only way to amplify the sound is with an external microphone. Electric mandolins create sound via electric signals sent to an amp. Electric mandolins can easily be amplified – just turn the dial on the amp higher!

The in-between option is an acoustic-electric mandolin. These mandolins have what is called a “piezoelectric hookup” underneath the bridge that amplifies the vibrations of the mandolin’s strings.

Price

There is a huge variation in prices of mandolins. You can find cheap mandolins for under 200 dollars, while top-of-the-line mandolins can cost in excess of twenty thousand dollars. Unfortunately, cheaper mandolins are often very low quality. This is partly because of the economies of scale when comparing guitar prices to mandolin prices.

Many more guitars are sold than mandolins, so luthiers can make good profits on guitar sales even when only making minimal amounts per guitar. This way, they can keep guitar prices low but still make money. However, if they are only selling a few mandolins, they need to earn more money per mandolin that is sold. This is why a mandolin that is comparable quality to a cheap guitar will cost a lot more money. 

In addition, keep in mind that an F-style mandolin is generally much more expensive than an A-style mandolin. This is because the ornate scroll in the body of the F-style mandolin takes a lot of time and effort to carve, and that raises the price of the instrument. For a beginner, buying an F-style mandolin is generally a waste of money. You can get a comparable quality A-style mandolin for a much lower price.

Accessories

Another thing to look into when buying a mandolin is if the instrument you are purchasing comes with any accessories. Many mandolins come with a gig bag, which is easy to transport the instrument in. However, if you plan on traveling with your mandolin often, or are nervous it may get banged around, then you may want to consider investing in a hard-shell case to protect your instrument. 

Another accessory to look into is strings. Cheaper mandolins often come with junkier, lower quality strings. You can drastically improve the sound of your instrument by merely exchanging the strings for some better-quality ones. It is definitely a worthwhile investment to improve your instrument. 

The last accessory you might want to consider is a clip-on electric tuner. This will make tuning your mandolin a breeze, which is good for a beginner player. The easier you can make things for yourself, the better!

Mandolin Frequently Asked Questions

How much should I pay for a mandolin? 

As you can see from this list, mandolin prices vary widely. You can get a beginner mandolin for a little over $100, but for a quality instrument, expect to pay closer to the few-hundred-dollar range. 

What is the best beginner mandolin? 

I would recommend the Donner DML-100B. It is a decent quality beginner mandolin, plus it comes with all the equipment and accessories you need to get started. 

How difficult is mandolin to play? 

Mandolin is not that difficult. It is considered easier to play than guitar, since it only has 4 strings (rather, 4 sets of 2 strings) compared to guitar’s 6 strings. That means that there are fewer chords to learn, and the tablature and chords are easier to read as well.

What to know before buying a mandolin? 

For all the detailed information on what you need to know before buying a mandolin, check out the mandolin buying guide above!

Is mandolin harder than guitar? 

Nope! Mandolin is actually easier than guitar, since it has fewer strings. That means easier to read chord charts and fewer chords to learn. 

Mandolins actually have 8 strings, which sounds like more than a guitar’s six strings. However, each of the strings are paired up and played together, so it is as if there are only four strings on the mandolin that have to be played. 

Why are mandolin strings doubled? 

The double strings in mandolin are tuned in pairs. The first pair of strings is tuned to G, the next pair to D, the next pair to A, and the last pair to E. The double strings on the mandolin vibrate together and cause the note to last longer. 

What is the difference between a mandolin and a banjo? 

Mandolins and banjos are completely different instruments. Mandolins have hollow wooden bodies, with two F holes or one O hole for sound. Banjos are usually constructed of a ring of wood with a plastic piece similar to a drum in front. The body shapes are also very different- the mandolin is shaped like a teardrop, while the banjo is round. Besides for shape, they are also completely different sizes. The mandolin is a small instrument, while the banjo’s neck is very long, similar in length to a guitar. They also have a different number of strings. Mandolins have 8 strings (in pairs of two) while banjos have four or five strings. 

Do you strum or pick a mandolin?

A mandolin is generally strummed with a pick, not fingerpicked. This is because strumming with the pick produces a louder sound, and a mandolin is a quieter instrument (due to its smaller sized body).

Conclusion

A mandolin is a great addition to any guitar-player’s repertoire. It is a unique instrument that sounds great and is easy to learn. Mandolins come at many different price points, so this list ordered them by price, low to high, and listed the benefits of each so you can decide which is the best mandolin for the money. For a beginner, we recommend the Donner mandolin kit, so you can get all the gear you need to get started for an extremely affordable, beginner-friendly price.

If you change your mind and want to buy a guitar instead, check out our best acoustic guitars under 100, under 200, or under 1500.

Happy playing!