Best Beginner Mandolin (2020)

The mandolin is a great instrument for young and old to begin to learn, but it can be hard to know what mandolins to look at, or even what sort of thing might suit you. Luckily, this handy guide is here to take you through some of the best options, answer some of your most pressing questions, and remind you of a few things to consider before you buy. Mandolins are a kind of lute, and they come in a variety of styles, prices, and qualities.

Musicians love them because of their distinctive sound and their global nature, mandolins are played across the world in a variety of different genres and styles of music, making them one of the most versatile instruments in the world. Once you’ve got your mandolin, you’re sure to find a style of play that suits you!

Best Beginner Mandolin

Top 5 Best Beginner Mandolins

OUR TOP PICK

Donner A Style Mandolin Instrument Sunburst Mahogany DML-1 With Tuner String Big Bag and Guitar Picks

Summary

First, up is a mandolin meticulously constructed by Donner, who for simplicity’s sake have also designed a beginner's bundle included with the instrument that includes everything the beginner needs to get started including, a case, tuner keys, a PVC pickguard, and extra strings. Beginner’s bundles can be a great way to save money and get to grips with the gear you need for a new instrument without having to spend more time and money tracking down what you need.

It also means that you learn quickly what things you need for your playing and what you don’t, so beginner’s bundles can be a really great value and are well worth considering. This mandolin has been made with high-quality wood, which results in a great hand feel. The tone sounds lovely, but you’ll definitely notice a difference if you compare the sound to something a bit more professional, but this is a mandolin designed with beginners in mind and if you’re just starting you probably won’t notice the difference. The small neck makes it very easy to get your hand around and if you’ve played the guitar or other similar instruments you may find this easier to play. The frets are nice and firm and give a good tactile impression.

Donner clearly knows what they’re doing in the construction of this instrument, and this is a great starter instrument that should last you at least until you master the basics and want to move on to something a little more advanced. The company offers a 30-day return policy which is plenty of time to work out if you actually want to play the mandolin. While the sound quality wouldn’t be able to compete with a professional level instrument, the mahogany body helps create a rich and bright sound, and the instrument is a solid start for beginners and could continue to be used as a practice instrument if that’s what you wanted.

Pros

  • Durable and well-constructed with a mahogany body

  • Rich and bright sound, very passable in a beginner’s instrument

  • A great option for beginners and could easily be used as a practice instrument once you’ve moved up

  • Includes beginner’s bundle, with all the gear you need to get started

  • The small neck makes this an easy instrument to get the hang of the basics on

Cons

  • Not going to be suitable for professionals or advanced players

Donner A Style Mandolin Instrument Sunburst Mahogany DML-1 With Tuner String Big Bag and Guitar Picks
  • 1.8-string traditional a style Mandolin in glossy Sunburst finish, suited for all styles of music.
  • 2.Right-hand design, smooth and accurate, Mahogany body bring you richer and brighter sound.
  • 3.Chrome plated open gear tuners and tailpiece
  • 4.Extra Accessories: Comes with gig bag, strings, digital clip-on tuner , polishing cloth and guitar picks.
  • 5.30 Days Unconditional Money Back Guarantee Backed Up By Our Awesome Customer Support, you can rest assured to buy our products.

EDITORS CHOICE

Mandolin A Style Acoustic Electric Mandolins Instrument Vintage Red Sunburst Mahogany Wood for Beginner Adults, by Vangoa

Summary

You may not have heard of Vangoa before as they were only set up in 2017, but since then they’ve gone on to create some high-quality instruments at a low cost, and they’re a great way to try out something new without having to break the bank. This model is a striking red mandolin that’s sure to make you stand out from the crowd of browns and blacks of other instruments.

The glossy finish and chrome knobs make this instrument one of the best looking on the block, and if you want something that looks great to encourage you to practice then this is a very good option. This is another option that comes with the accessories you need to get started, so you could start playing as soon as you’ve unboxed if you wanted to. The option can be plugged in and amplified or played acoustically giving you a wide range of options for your particular play style and makes it possible to use this mandolin in front of an audience should you reach that level.

The quality of construction on this mandolin marks it as a durable instrument that with the right maintenance and care could last you a long time. The sound is rich and full, with an excellent tone and a great finish. If you’re looking for an instrument that looks great and sounds great than this could well be the one you’ve been waiting for. While professional-grade mandolins will be of a higher quality, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better instrument at this price.

Pros

  • A great glossy finish and unusual color so you’re sure to stand out from the crowd and look great while you do it.

  • Electric and acoustic giving a great range of options on how to play

  • Includes all the accessories you need to get started straight out of the box, including a gear bag and electric tuner

  • Full rich sound and tone

  • 1-year full warranty

Cons 

  • You will need to upgrade at some point if you do decide to stick with the mandolin and take your music a bit more seriously

Mandolin A Style Acoustic Electric Mandolins Instrument Vintage Red Sunburst Mahogany Wood for Beginner Adults, by Vangoa
  • 8 strings traditional a style mandolin in glossy red sunburst finish can be suitable for all styles of music.
  • Right handed mandolin with mahogany Body and solid wood bridge brings a warmer and brighter sound to you.
  • Chrome plated closed gear tuners and tailpiece is to keep the mandolin always in tune and adjusting the strings easier.
  • The mandolin comes with guitar picks, Vangoa sticker, digital clip-on tuner, extra strings, strap and padded gig bag, which is perfect for beginner.
  • Warranty: Our acoustic electric mandolin also automatically comes with a full one-year warranty that protects against any damage or defects. Buy it with confidence.

BEST VALUE

Rogue RM-100A A-Style Mandolin Black

Summary

Next up is a mandolin designed to last you from beginner to advanced skills. Made from durable premium materials, such as a maple neck and a rosewood fretboard help to give this instrument it’s bright full sound.

The metal Rogue has used is chrome, again to make this instrument durable and likely to last you a good few years. This is also a nice and loud instrument, capable of outstripping most ukuleles and possibly even some guitars! If you have played guitar before then this is a good option to ease you into a different kind of stringed instrument and you may find that you’ll master the basics quicker on this model than other options.

You will outgrow this instrument as your primary mandolin, but it’ll always be a great practice mandolin or a good option to take on the road with you, so you don’t have to worry about breaking something more expensive.

Pros 

  • Bright and clear sound

  • Built from high-quality material for a durable mandolin

  • A good option for those who’ve played guitar before

  • Great for beginners, and will easily fulfill the role of a good travel mandolin

  • Great level of volume so could work as a mandolin on smaller gigs

Cons

  • You may find the mandolin goes out of tune quite easily, but this is easily fixed by replacing the strings 

Rogue RM-100A A-Style Mandolin Black
  • Maple neck
  • Rosewood fingerboard
  • Adjustable compensated rosewood bridge
  • 12th-fret neck joint
  • Chrome tuning machines

RUNNER UP

Ibanez M510DVS Mandolin, Dark Violin Sunburst

Summary

Next up is a supremely well-constructed mandolin, especially at beginner’s prices. Ibanez has tried hard to build a quality instrument without compromising on an affordable price, and they have succeeded.

You may be able to hear the difference when compared to some more prestigious instruments, but for a beginner, this is a great sounding instrument that could easily be used in performance if that’s something you want to be able to consider. Like with all stringed instruments at some point you’ll need to restring the mandolin, and you may want to do so sooner rather than later for a higher quality sound, but this certainly won’t be a problem for beginners just starting and you will need to get to grips with the maintenance of your mandolin at some point if you want to keep it in working order for a long time anyway.

With a spruce top, and mahogany back and sides, this instrument’s quality words result in a smooth, clear sound which consistently sounds great. The finish of the instrument is also high quality, and you can rest easy knowing if you do decide to perform in front of an audience you’ll look great.

Pros

  • Made from high-quality materials, with a spruce top and mahogany back and sides

  • High-quality glossy finish, making this an instrument that looks as good as it sounds

  • Smooth and clear sounds suitable for performance if you wanted

  • Can be played straight out of the box with a little tuning

  • Lightweight and easy to carry, perfect for taking on the go

Cons

  • Does not come with a carry case so this will need to be bought separately

Ibanez M510DVS Mandolin, Dark Violin Sunburst
  • A-style mandolin
  • Select spruce top
  • Mahogany back & sides
  • Chrome hardware
  • Pearl Dot Inlay

RUNNER UP

Hola! Music A Style Mandolin Instrument with Adjustable Truss-Rod Model HM-3TS, Glossy Sunburst Finish

Summary

If portability is an important factor to you, then this could well be the mandolin you end up looking at. One of the most interesting features about this mandolin is the strap pin, where you can attach a standard strap to help you strum while you stand up. The ABS pickguard is also in place to help protect the woodwork of your instrument from any aggressive plucking and the walnut bridge is adjustable so you can move it up or down to get the sound you’re looking for.

This is a great durable instrument, thanks to the quality of the materials and construction and it could well be an instrument you keep playing no matter how high your skill level gets. The turning heads also aren’t adjustable which can mean that the instrument sometimes goes out of tune, and there can be a slight rattle while you play, though this is mostly drowned out by the volume of the instrument and it’s not particularly noticeable.

Neither of these issues will particularly affect the quality of your playing, especially as a beginner. The truss rod is a great addition and adds to the durability of this model. It might not be the perfect mandolin, but it could certainly help you master the basics and then some!

Pros

  • Great sound and tone

  • Made from high-quality materials for a durable mandolin that should last several years at least

  • Strap pin so you can strum while standing up

  • ABS pickguard to protect your woodwork and keep your mandolin looking great

Cons

  • Not electric which reduces your performance spaces down

Hola! Music A Style Mandolin Instrument with Adjustable Truss-Rod Model HM-3TS, Glossy Sunburst Finish
  • 8-string traditional A style Mandolin in glossy Sunburst finish
  • Maple top, back, sides and neck. Adjustable compensated Rosewood bridge
  • Adjustable Truss Rod inside the neck - wrench included
  • 20 silver nickel frets. Chrome plated open gear tuners and tailpiece
  • Black ABS pickguard. White ABS binding around body, neck and head

Best Beginner Mandolin Buying Guide

Before you buy any instrument, you have to ask yourself, what sort of option is going to suit your needs. Hopefully, you now have some idea of the options available to you and how much you want to spend on your mandolin, but there are other things to think about before you make a decision. The most important thing is that you get a mandolin that suits you and the music you want to play, and it’s much better to get it right the first time. This section of the guide is here to take you through some of the things to consider about the mandolin you want, and some general information about mandolins, so you can make the best decision for you!

Body

One of the most important things to consider about mandolins is the type of body you want. Mandolins come in three types of body style: bowl-backed, A-style, and F-style. The style of music you want to play, how much you want to spend, and which look you prefer all influence the sort of body you get. The oldest and most traditional of the three is the bowl-backed. This type of mandolin had a dark tone that folk musicians prefer, and it’s usually used in folk music, classical and mandolin orchestras. Most beginners find this style hard and even finding a good quality instrument in this style is challenging. Most beginners start with either an A-style or and F-style of the mandolin as these are easier to pick up and they’re both very similar.

An A-style mandolin has a tear-shaped body, and they are often called flat-backed mandolins to differentiate them from the bow-backed despite A-style also having a slightly rounded back. These are easier to build and less expensive normally than F-style but if you’re looking to play classical, folk or Celtic styles of music than this is probably the one for you. F-style mandolins are more ornately carved and have two F-holes rather than the single O hole on an A-style. They are more comfortable to play sitting down due to the points sticking out of the lower half of the instrument and most country and bluegrass musicians choose this style.

Material

The wood of the mandolin also has a huge effect on the mandolin’s sound and tone and the wood chosen for your instrument is considered to be the most important aspect of the mandolin’s construction. Mandolins generally are made of multiple different types of wood as different parts of the instrument are placed under differing types of stress. The top or soundboard has a massive effect on tone and is normally made of a wood that is strong but lightweight like spruce, most stringed instruments including guitars use spruce in their soundboards. Mahogany can also be used for a darker tone, but these instruments do less well in a band or ensemble as they may not be able to cut through the sound of other instruments.

If you’re just starting out, your mandolin might have a laminate top which makes for an inexpensive instrument that is strong but doesn’t have as high sound quality. The back and sides of mandolins are usually made of maple, which is strong, though mahogany can also be used. Fretboards are often made of ebony or rosewood. The top is the most important thing in terms of tone production, so it’s a better idea to go for a solid top and laminate back and sides if you’re worried about the price. This will keep the price down, but not affect the tone of your instrument too much.

FAQs

How expensive are mandolins?

Like any instrument, a mandolin comes in a range of prices, and the more high-quality instruments obviously cost more. Don’t worry though, it’s perfectly possible to find an instrument in your price range that delivers the sound and tone you’re looking for. Many brands spend a long time developing their beginner’s instruments to be quality instruments at lower prices because they know that when you decide to upgrade your more likely to stick with a brand you know and trust. Look around and find something that suits you.

Is it hard to learn the mandolin?

Some people who have already played the guitar will probably find the basics of the mandolin quite easy, as the techniques are quite similar. It has fewer strings than the guitar and a dedicated learner will have mastered the basics inside of a couple of months. Of course, the mandolin-like most instruments takes a long time to master, but it’s unusual nature and the versatility of the music you can create makes this a joy rather than a chore!