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Best Mandolins For Beginners

Updated on January 28, 2012

The mandolin is a beautiful instrument that is often underused and unappreciated!  Mandolins can be played in almost all styles of music from classical to Celtic to bluegrass and old time and even in more modern music.  Bluegrass mandolin is probably the most popular style played, but Celtic and jazz mandolin is also very common.  There are even electric mandolins, primarily intended for rock and jazz.  The music ranges from fairly simple and easy in old time and bluegrass slow jam sessions to the very fast/difficult celtic, jazz, and bluegrass fast jams.  There is something for almost everyone in this instrument!  The mandolin is played like a violin or fiddle – the strings are the same (G,D,A, and E) but the mandolin has frets and is picked or strummed, which makes it easier to play.  While it will take quite a while to gain a mastery of the instrument, most people can learn some basics quite quickly on the mandolin and be able to join in the fun!


Buying a mandolin for beginners can be an interesting experience! The better brands, such as Epiphone and Gibson mandolins, are often quite expensive comparatively and beginners often just can’t afford those prices. Even the mid-level brands such as Fender often cost several hundred dollars, which still is far from cheap. So, what else is there? Kentucky has some moderately priced mandolins that, although still moderately priced, are reasonable. There are a few other options available. They are not usually great quality, but are decent choices for a beginner who just wants to beat around and learn a bit before putting the money out for a better model.


Very Cheap but Useable Mandolins


1. Johnson Mandolins

Johnson is pretty much the cheapest mandolin you can get, usually costing less than $60. They are of moderate quality and can have some issues, but for the average person, they are a very decent choice. You can buy one for even less than $50 at times, take it to your local music shop to check out, and still have less money tied up than in any other model. Don’t expect perfection with a Johnson and you will probably want another model as your playing improves, but there aren’t many models better to learn a few chords and rhythms on and start picking up the notes. Johnson also sells some very expensive mandolins and octave mandolins, but they are out of the realm of this hub.

2. Rover Mandolins

Made by the same company that also makes the higher-priced Kentucky mandolins, Rover mandolins are also a cheap option, but quality seems to vary greatly depending on their models. Some are on about the same level as Johnson mandolins, and pretty much everything about Johnson also applies to them. Some, such as the RM-35S and similar, seems to be much higher quality - probably among the best available for a cheap mandolin. I ordered the RM-35S myself. Rover Mandolins are in the $60-100 range and are good buys at that price. Their lower priced models seem to be potentially more problematic than Johnson and Rogue, but some people love them.

Rogue Mandolins

Rogue is the last of the extremely cheap mandolin brands and on a slightly higher level than the other two on average. They also have their share of problems and should still be checked out by a musician, but their standards and quality control seem to be better than both Johnson and Rover.


Better Quality, but Still Inexpensive, Mandolins


1. Oscar Schmidt Mandolins

Oscar Schmidt is a slightly more expensive and higher quality mandolin company than the others mentioned. The cost is usually between $100-200, which is still inexpensive, yet allows for a much better mandolin on average. Reports on Oscar Schmidts tend to be good. This still isn’t a top of the line mandolin, but if you can afford the difference is much better than a Johnson or Rover.

2. Fender Mandolins

Fender has a wide range of prices on mandolins. Some model can be obtained for less than $200 and are well worth the cost. With Fender, you start to leave the cheap beginner instruments and enter into the better mandolins. These are a great choice in general for many styles of music. Fender offers both A style and F style models suitable to the type of music preferred.

3. Others

There are a few intermediate mandolins between the Johnsons and the Fenders, such as the Saga and the Kansas. Saga models are made by the same company that makes Rover and Kentucky mandolins, and seem to be pretty good. These appear to be decent mandolins, although there is not usually a lot of difference in price between them and the Oscar Schmidt. However, if your budget falls in the middle, check them out!


Mandolin is just a neat instrument! Try it out. It is a lot of fun and definitely more unique than the guitar!


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    • profile image

      jethro tull 3 years ago

      It won an academy award for, like, best mandolin EVER!

    • profile image

      Linda 4 years ago

      How good us a Luigi Gorradotti mandolin?

    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 7 years ago from North Carolina

      Thanks for the additional info. I'll bookmark your hub.

    • profile image

      frontiersman1 7 years ago from US by the grace of God

      Thanks, everyone! Travel_man1971, I should have put some music on here - I just never thought about it.

      Denise, check out some good mandolin sites or, if you can find some beginner violin books or information, try that. The mandolin has the same strings and the violin and each fret on the mandolin is the same as a half step on the violin.

    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 7 years ago from North Carolina

      Beautiful hub filled with useful information. I do own a mandolin, which I neither know how to play or know anyone to teach me. I bought it because I love the sound so much and have had experience playing the guitar. Thanks for the valuable info. Welcome to hubpages and good luck with the nominations.

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 7 years ago from United States

      Very thorough hub on the mandolin which plays such beautiful music.

    • elayne001 profile image

      Elayne 7 years ago from Rocky Mountains

      My grandfather used to play the mandolin. Very informative hub. Congrats on the hubnugget nomination.

    • travel_man1971 profile image

      Ireno Alcala 7 years ago from Bicol, Philippines

      I hope you could feature the Vivaldi Mandolin Concerto, too. Thanks for the info on mandolins. BTW, congrats on your HubNugget nomination. :D