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Mandolin Buyer's Guide

Updated on December 27, 2014

5 Tips For Buying a Mandolin

Considering buying your first mandolin? If so, the sheer number of mandolin types, brands, and price ranges may be somewhat daunting.

I have purchased two mandolins so far, and made a few mistakes in the process. In this article I will share what I learned so that you can avoid the pitfalls and buy a mandolin you will be happy with.

Below you will find 5 easy tips to help you make an informed purchase.

Image Courtesy of: plenty.r., on Flickr

Great Gift Idea:

Give the gift of music this Christmas

What Type of Mandolin Should I Buy

Mandolins come in a wide variety of types or styles including A-style, F-style, bowl- back and solid body electric types.

A-style and F-style mandolins are by far the most popular types. The A-style mandolin is a simple oval shaped instrument. The F-style is the mandolin with the fancy scroll (pictured to the right). All things being equal there is little or no difference between the two tonally. The only advantage of the F-style mandolin is that the scroll provides a convienient place to attach your strap.

With regards to sound the major consideration is the shape of the sound holes. You will find mandolins with either f holes similar to the violin, or an oval sound hole at the base of the fret board. Mandolins with f shaped sound holes offer a crisp clear sound favored by bluegrass musicians. Instruments with oval sound holes provide a rich mellow tone preferred by many Celtic musicians.

Bowl-back mandolins are popular with baroque players and are often seen at renaissance fairs. Bowl-back mandolins are also frequently used by classical musicians.

Solid body electric mandolins are a perfect fit for the guitarist looking to increase their range.

Tip #1 Spend As Much As You Are Able

This may sound like a salesman's trick but I assure you it is not. When I bought my first mandolin I was enticed by the $39.99 special. What a fiasco! For my $39.99 I ended up with a dull sounding laminated mandolin with a hard sound deadening lacquered finish, an action too high to play comfortably, and a bridge that could not easily be adjusted low enough to fix the problems with the string height. Learning to play on an inferior mandolin can be very discouraging not to mention hard on your fingers. I can guarantee you will be happier and more likely to continue practicing if you purchase a quality entry level, all solid wood mandolin.

***Top Pick*** Entry Level Mandolin The Rover RM 50

I know it doesn't make much sense to shell out thousands of dollars for a top of the line mandolin when you are just beginning to play...

I was pleasantly surprised when I tried out this mandolin. The Rover RM 50 looks good and sounds better; with good set-up it will make a great playing entry level instrument.

Rover RM-50 Affordable Entry Level Mandolin at a Great Price

Rover RM-50B Deluxe Student A-model Mandolin - Black
Rover RM-50B Deluxe Student A-model Mandolin - Black

This entry level mandolin comes with a solid spruce top and solid maple back and sides.

The Rover RM 50 mandolin sports a mahogany neck attached to the body with a traditional dove-tail joint, bound rosewood finger board, compensated bridge, and beautiful abalone inlay all features you would expect to find on much more expensive mandolins.

You will be hard pressed to find a better entry level mandolin for the money.

See more mandolins for sale...

Mandolins for Sale: An A style Mandolin offers the best value for the money.
Mandolins for Sale: An A style Mandolin offers the best value for the money.

Tip #2 For Best Value Buy An A-Style Mandolin

Get The Most For Your Money When Buying Your Mandolin

The goal when purchasing a mandolin, is to get the best instrument you can for the money you have to spend.

As I mentioned before, all things being equal there is no tonal difference between A-style and F-Style mandolins. F-style mandolins look really cool, but you are simply paying a lot of extra money for fancy scroll work that adds nothing to the sound. If you are not really adamant about having the F-style scroll, you can save a lot of money and end up with a better instrument.

The quality of the instrument does influence the sound so I recommend investing your money in a higher quality A-style Mandolin.

Image Courtesy of: Jana Obscura, on Flickr

Best Mandolin Under $350 Kentucky KM-250

Simply put the Kentucky KM-250 Artist A-model is the very best mandolin I have played in this price range. With all of the high end features I have a hard time calling this an entry level mandolin, but the price is definitely entry level. You could spend a lot more money on a mandolin that will not match this one in quality.

Kentucky KM-250 Artist A-model Mandolin - Sunburst
Kentucky KM-250 Artist A-model Mandolin - Sunburst

With a hand carved and graduated solid spruce top, hand carved flamed maple back and sides and high-gloss nitrocellulose lacquer finish this mandolin is a thing of beauty. The Kentucky KM-250 Artist A-model also features a rosewood finger board with mother-of-pearl position markers, mother-of -pearl inlayed peg head, and high quality Gotoh Tuners. With the look feel and sound of a higher priced instrument the Kentucky KM-250 is an excellent value.

See more mandolins for sale...


Top Of The Line Kentucky Mandolins - In Stock On Amazon

No matter how you measure it the Kentucky KM-900 is a top-end mandolin, offering great quality and sound at a great price.

Kentucky KM-900 Master A-model Mandolin - Sunburst
Kentucky KM-900 Master A-model Mandolin - Sunburst

The Kentucky KM-900 A-style equivalent of the KM-1000 listed above, featuring the same top quality fit and finish.

Play every mandolin you can get your hands on by Katie@! on FlickR
Play every mandolin you can get your hands on by Katie@! on FlickR

Tip #3 Play, Play, Play

Before you buy your mandolin, you need to visit your local music shops and play as many mandolins as you can get your hands on.

Try the different types and brands, listen to the sound, and look at the fit and finish. If you find a mandolin in your price range that looks and sounds good buy it. The tonal quality of mandolins even those of the same brand and model vary widely especially at the entry level.

Image Courtesy of:Katie@!, on Flickr

Tip #4 It Is Possible To Find A Good Values Buying Online

Points To Consider When Buying A Mandolin Online

Yes, you can purchase a good quality mandolin online. I purchased my second mandolin online and I have been very happy with it. Online musical instrument dealers don't have the same overhead as brick and mortar stores so in general their instruments are cheaper. Online dealers often provide a wider variety of mandolins than your local musical instrument dealer.

There are a couple of things to consider when buying a mandolin online. Not all online dealers set-up your mandolin for you in fact, most do not. Plan on $75-$125 for a professional set up once you receive your mandolin. The dealer from whom I purchased my mandolin did do the set-up and it was spot on. If you purchase your mandolin online you will not get the chance to play or hear it before buying so it is luck of the draw. Ask the dealer to pick the best of the lot many will.

Do your homework; consider the pitfalls, add in the possible extra costs and if it still looks like a good value buy it.

Professional mandolin set-up is key by Ken Mayer on FlickR
Professional mandolin set-up is key by Ken Mayer on FlickR

Tip #5 Get A Professional Set-Up For Your New Mandolin

No matter if you buy your mandolin from the local musical instrument shop, or online plan on laying out the money for a professional set-up.

A well set-up mandolin is much easier and more enjoyable to play, making any money spent on the set-up money well spent. Trust me your fingers will thank you.

Image Courtesy of: Ken_Mayer, on Flickr

Did You Purchase A New Mandolin? - Here are a few mandolin video lessons to get you started.

Resource For The Beginning Mandolinist - Mandolin Accessories Make Great Stocking Stuffers

I have been teaching myself to play the mandolin; in the process I have tried many books, a couple of mandolin tuners, and several mandolin straps, below you will find a few of my favorites. Books are great tools for learning to play but I would suggest taking a lesson or two as well just to set a good foundation. Trust me bad habits are hard to unlearn.

Amaze Music - Music articles and resources.

Enjoy Your New Mandolin

When you purchase your mandolin the door has been opened to a fun and rewarding hobby. Remember to have fun and keep playing. One last tip, beware of MAS (Mandolin Acquisition Syndrome) it can strike anywhere anytime and can be somewhat expensive cure.

A Special Thanks from The Mandolin Buyer's Guide

To all the folks that have helped me out.

Thank you to the Fisher Family Singers blog, for the fine post about "The Mandolin Buyer's Guide".

Thanks for visiting I hope you found this page helpful. If I missed something please let me know.

Tell Me What You Think Of The Mandolin Buyers Guide - Good bad or otherwise.

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    • thewarriorpoet profile image

      thewarriorpoet 4 years ago

      I wish I'd read this 5 years ago! thanks, lots of good info.

    • profile image

      Scott A McCray 4 years ago

      Great lens - I need to spend more quality time with my mandolin.

    • profile image

      ohcaroline 5 years ago

      thanks for the information on starting to play the mandolin. I do want to buy one soon so I will check back and watch the youtubes again.

    • Cdoimne profile image

      Cdoimne 5 years ago

      I may pick up a mandolin now! It looks like a really cool instrument and is something I feel I would enjoy playing.

    • biminibahamas profile image

      biminibahamas 6 years ago

      Enjoyed your lens, thanks for the great information!

    • biminibahamas profile image

      biminibahamas 6 years ago

      Enjoyed your lens, thanks for the great information!

    • BobZau profile image

      Bob Zau 6 years ago

      Awesome lens. I've always enjoyed the sound of the mandolin.

    • Wendigo LM profile image

      Wendigo LM 6 years ago

      Very nice lens and useful tips ;)

    • LisaMarieGabriel profile image

      Lisa Marie Gabriel 6 years ago from United Kingdom

      I wish I still had my mandolin, but I gave it away years ago. This is a very well presented guide to buying a mandolin. Blessings :)

    • boomerex profile image

      boomerex 6 years ago

      Really nice lens! Thanks for sharing what you learnt!

    • profile image

      MintySea 6 years ago

      I was thinking of a Recorder or guitar for a gift

    • profile image

      grannysage 6 years ago

      How odd. I was just thinking about making a lens about my dad and calling it "My Dad Played the Mandolin" and then I came across this lens. My dad was a pretty good player but although I learned the guitar, I just couldn't play the mandolin. The digital tuner would have been great for the guitar. Very nicely presented lens.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      This is my absolute favorite instrument, with the banjo being a close second! Great lens!

    • profile image

      glendacottrell 6 years ago

      This lens is awesome!

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      This is a great lens. Didn't know really much about mandolin before

    • Srena44 profile image

      Srena44 6 years ago

      nice lens

    • profile image

      ScamsOfTheHeart 6 years ago

      I bought one of those cheap ones through ebay. Still have not learned to play it. But that is due to my procrastination. Good lens. Thanks

    • profile image

      easpegren 6 years ago

      Nice lens. Lots of pictures, information, and resources.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      My cousin used to take mandolin lessons when he was younger, and I loved hearing him play. I wish more people played it today!

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Very nice lens.

    • profile image

      WeirdStuff 6 years ago

      Very nice tip. Mandolin is not heart so often these days...

    • KimGiancaterino profile image

      KimGiancaterino 6 years ago

      You did a great job! We have many string instruments at our house, but no mandolin as yet. Congratulations on LOTD.

    • profile image

      mikequinio 6 years ago

      thanks for this ...i still need some useful tips on buying an instrument. Im a guitarist and already played mandolin for a short time, but the tips on string instrument like this one benefits me because i consider these tips always applicable to all string instruments. I just want to share this one tip from an old guitarman in our place. He said when you buy an instrument, take someone with you to play it for you at a distance and you will clearly see the difference between those which you consider buying. Whether that someone know how or not, but just to be able for you to hear the sound at a distance or different angle you want...i found this helpful also...but thanks for these bundles of tips.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      many yeas ago ,i'm also have one like this , i like it every much .anyway good mandolin.

      welcome to my website also ,Ravens Jersey

    • gypsyman27 lm profile image

      gypsyman27 lm 6 years ago

      Well done, if I need a mandolin I know where to look. Really you've done good research and presented it well. See you around the galaxy...

    • profile image

      davidcam 6 years ago

      very nice lens..

    • profile image

      happynutritionist 6 years ago

      Nicely done - I love any instrument with strings - used to play violin, but now play the autoharp. Congrats on receiving LOTD today.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Congrat's on LOTD very nice lens and good info for beginners.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Congrats on purple star and LotD! My brother has a mandolin that I don't think he's played in years. I'm going to share your lens with him and maybe it will re-kindle his interest (by the way, I'm a newbie and this is my first comment on a lens).

    • YsisHb profile image

      YsisHb 6 years ago

      Good and bad and otherwise. (as everything!)

      Well, I am joking. Your lens is very helpful for an amateur who wants to buy an instrument to have some guidelines . I did make a mistake when I bought my guitar too, and this discouraged me from continuing to study the instrument.

      However I think that, if one wants just to give a try, they should better either buy a less expensive instrument or rent one, if that is possible.

    • OhMe profile image

      Nancy Tate Hellams 6 years ago from Pendleton, SC

      Congratulations on LOTD. I have a friend who sells Mandolins, too!

    • Joan Haines profile image

      Joan Haines 6 years ago

      I've been wondering about mandolins. I play the fiddle, and the mandolin has the same strings, right? I figure I may have a little head start.

    • profile image

      dogadvance 6 years ago

      very nice lens. I have not seen this much information on mandolin's in one place.

    • justholidays profile image

      justholidays 6 years ago

      At one time in the past, I owned a mandolin but don't know where it has gone since at one time, I didn't have one any more. It came from my stepfather's father homeland (Andalucia). It had a nice sound and I loved playing with it.

      Nice buyer's guide though.

    • Franksterk profile image

      Frankie Kangas 6 years ago from California

      What beautiful instruments and excellent lens. Congrats on LOTD. Bear hugs, Frankster

    • profile image

      mrducksmrnot 6 years ago

      Congratulations on LoTD. A great learning lens for sure. I can relate on how those fingers hurt with your first Mandolin. In the town where I grew up there is a store that fashions and makes Mandolins along with many more stringed instruments that you might be interested in. Their address Thanks for sharing.

    • Wednesday-Elf profile image

      Wednesday-Elf 6 years ago from Savannah, Georgia

      What a beautiful looking instrument. My hubby & son both play the guitar. Nice to have the facts about mandolins. Congratulations on this story receiving the Squidoo recognitions of both a 'Purple Star' and LOTD (Lens of the Day). Well done.

    • Faye Rutledge profile image

      Faye Rutledge 6 years ago from Concord VA

      Oh, and Congratulations on LotD!! :)

    • Faye Rutledge profile image

      Faye Rutledge 6 years ago from Concord VA

      Great tips for buying a mandolin. My grandson has one that belonged to his great-grandfather.

    • profile image

      pjspaperdoll 6 years ago

      I have always wanted to play the mandolin, this lens gives me the tools to make a better decision! Thank you!!

    • clicks-4-bricks profile image

      clicks-4-bricks 6 years ago

      This was very informative. My son recently started learning guitar and I am sure he wil be moving into additional string instruments. Thanks for the info!

    • BobBlackUK profile image

      BobBlackUK 6 years ago

      Thanks. I inherited a mandolin from my father. I am now encouraged to get it out and learn to play it.

    • pheonix76 profile image

      pheonix76 6 years ago from WNY

      This is an interesting and informative lens. Congrats on your purple star and LotD! :)

    • choosehappy profile image

      Vikki 6 years ago from US

      Congrats on LOTD!

    • Mishael A Witty profile image

      Mishael A Witty 6 years ago

      Nice! I love the sound of the mandolin. I just don't have enough money for one right now (and I don't know how to play one). Still, this is a great guide for possible future reference! :-)

    • profile image

      SofiaMann 6 years ago

      Very good. Congratulations on LOTD.

    • profile image

      curtis_alex 6 years ago

      Great lense :)

    • australiasbest profile image

      australiasbest 6 years ago

      Great lense and congrats on the LOTD!

    • OldStones LM profile image

      OldStones LM 6 years ago

      @Deeringboy LM: Be careful or you will find your banjo in a corner collecting dust and you will be a full fledged mandolinist. Kudos to your son for taking up the mandolin

    • jaredsgirl profile image

      jaredsgirl 6 years ago

      Excellent lens! Very informative and creative. Nice work.

    • Deeringboy LM profile image

      Deeringboy LM 6 years ago

      Great lens! My son has just begun mandolin lessons and it doing well. He is 8 yrs. old. When he isn't around I pick up his mandolin and learn the stuff he is working on. Have to say the mandolin is a great instrument and fun to play.

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      anonymous 6 years ago

      Congratulations on that purple star and LotD honors!

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      The mandolin makes such a sweet sound. Thank you!

    • profile image

      Natural_Skin_Care 6 years ago

      Thanks for sharing your expertise.

    • sociopath-free profile image

      sociopath-free 6 years ago

      I love the sound of a mandolin. Thanks for sharing and congratulations!

    • scaguy profile image

      scaguy 6 years ago

      I don't play but I do love the sound! Good lens!

    • Bercton1 profile image

      Bercton1 6 years ago

      Cool instrument! Congratulation on LOTD!

    • Showpup LM profile image

      Showpup LM 6 years ago

      Mandolins are such a lovely instrument. Very well laid out lens! Congratulations on LOTD. Well deserved!

    • profile image

      SandyPeaks 6 years ago

      Delightful lens, a worthy LOTD! Blessed by a SquidAngel.

      Captcha was 'brilliant' - how right it is!

    • agoofyidea profile image

      agoofyidea 6 years ago

      Congratulations on getting LOTD. It is a beautiful instrument to look at and listen to.

    • profile image

      JennySui 6 years ago

      Congrats on LOTD! You are doing wonderful job here on Squidoo.

    • delia-delia profile image

      Delia 6 years ago

      Congratulations on LOTD! I love the music that comes from a Mandolin.

    • BunnyFabulous profile image

      BunnyFabulous 6 years ago from Central Florida

      Congrats on LOTD! I don't play mandolin, but a friend does, so this is something great to pass along.

    • profile image

      aussieremovals 6 years ago

      Wow amazing great lens!

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      anonymous 6 years ago

      Congratulations. LENS OF THE DAY. Nothing to be sneezed at. You can of course sneeze at it if you wish, but I would rather watch the rank of this lens reach it's highest heights.

    • Anthony Altorenna profile image

      Anthony Altorenna 6 years ago from Connecticut

      Congratulations on LotD! We are looking for a guitar for our daughter, and your well written lens is very helpful and shares information that applies to purchasing a mandolin and other musical instuments too. Well done!

    • collierlewisjew profile image

      collierlewisjew 6 years ago

      Great lens!! My father plays the Mandolin, he has a beautiful f style, and I love to listen to him play! This is a super informative. Thanks for sharing!

    • indigoj profile image

      Indigo Janson 6 years ago from UK

      Lens of The Day! I'm thrilled for you, as I'm sure are all your new friends around here. This is a very informative and useful page. Keep up the great work!

    • journey103 profile image

      journey103 6 years ago from USA

      This is awesome and I learned so much!

    • Dee Gallemore profile image

      Dee Gallemore 6 years ago

      Congrats on LOTD ... well deserved!

    • profile image

      NidhiRajat 6 years ago

      congrats a ton......great job done....

    • Diana Wenzel profile image

      Renaissance Woman 6 years ago from Colorado

      Congrats on LotD! I would love to learn to play the mandolin. Appreciated the tips.

    • Sylvestermouse profile image

      Cynthia Sylvestermouse 6 years ago from United States

      Congratulations on Lens of the Day! Well deserved and Most Excellent!

    • profile image

      aussieremovals 6 years ago

      Great! This is really good information. Nice lens!

    • profile image

      Lucas-Kain 6 years ago

      Mandolins = win! Thanks for the guide, pretty useful. :)

    • DonMigoy LM profile image

      DonMigoy LM 6 years ago

      thanks for the info :)

    • pangaloon profile image

      pangaloon 6 years ago

      'Great Danes Are Enormous' I won't forget that. I am completely inspired- thank you so much. What a beautiful instrument it is.

    • profile image

      lindawllm 6 years ago

      Thanks for the wonderful information

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      lindawllm 6 years ago

      Thanks for the wonderful information

    • profile image

      squiddyluv 6 years ago

      Thanks. I enjoyed your lens. I didn't know there are so many types of mandolins. I love their sounds.

    • NoobWriter LM profile image

      NoobWriter LM 6 years ago

      wow....this was a nice presentation....Congrats for the LoTD

    • dahlia369 profile image

      dahlia369 6 years ago

      Such a beautiful instrument - and I'm very happy to see there's a great lens about it. Well done and blessed! :)

    • LaraineRoses profile image

      Laraine Sims 6 years ago from Lake Country, B.C.

      My mum used to play the mandolin and I enjoyed listening. I never mastered it.

      Congratulations on the well deserved Purple Star Award for this lens.

    • jlshernandez profile image

      jlshernandez 6 years ago

      Congrats on a well-deserved Purple Star. Mandolins sound so romantic.

    • Brandi Bush profile image

      Brandi 6 years ago from Maryland

      I love reading good lenses about subjects I previously knew nothing about. Congrats on your purple star! :)

    • mysticquest profile image

      mysticquest 6 years ago

      I good lens and a lot of great advise for those who are interested in taking up the mandolin.

    • KathyMcGraw2 profile image

      Kathy McGraw 6 years ago from California

      I learned a lot about buying a Mandolin, and I love the way you used your own experiences to help other people that are looking to buy one. *Blessed*

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      grannysage 6 years ago

      You brought back good memories of my dad playing a mandolin. I have no idea what kind it was. He tried to teach me to play it but I was hopeless. Good advice about learning to play on a good quality mandolin.

    • Richard-H profile image

      Richard 6 years ago from Surrey, United Kingdom

      Great presentation and very useful info for those looking to purchase a mandolin.

    • Sylvestermouse profile image

      Cynthia Sylvestermouse 6 years ago from United States

      I never would have considered purchasing a Mandolin online! Wow! Clearly the savings would be a great enticement. I adore stringed instruments and the Mandolin, like a baby grand, is just so beautiful. It is often a work of art! Beautifully written with excellent advice. Time to turn on some music :)

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      AlleyCatLane 6 years ago

      I know nothing about mandolins, or at least I used to know nothing. Excellent lens. Well written and informative.