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Guide to the Best Mandolins of 2019

Kayla Carstens

The mandolin is an eighteenth-century string instrument that evolved from the sixteenth-century mandora. The mandolin has eight strings, which are tuned in unison by pairs. The mandolin is generally played by plucking or strumming with a pick. Though the mandolin is considered to be an ancient instrument and out of the modern trends, it is used nearly all over the world by the majority of countries and nearly always in a different style. The mandolin is the perfect instrument for someone who wants a unique instrument that can play thousands of styles.


We’ve composed this buyer’s guide to help you make the right decision when selecting a mandolin. It'll help you:

  • Choose the right type of mandolin,

  • See useful tips about that type of mandolin,

  • Select the right brand of mandolin,

  • Find accessories you may need for your mandolin.

Types of Mandolins

Types of Mandolins:

  • Mandolins come in 3 types of styles known as A shaped mandolins, F shaped Mandolins and Bowl-backed Mandolins:

    • A Shaped Mandolins:

      • A shaped refers to mandolins that are in the shape of an oval or teardrop.

      • Most A shaped mandolins have arch type tops and tend towards a guitar-like profile.

    • F Shaped Mandolins:

      • F shaped mandolins tend towards a complex shape with scrolling on the body and a more decorative look.

      • Most F shape mandolins are called florentine mandolins and are best used for country, bluegrass and root-music.


    • Bowl-backed Mandolins:

      • This type of mandolin is named after it's carved back and its resemblance to eighteenth-century mandolins.

      • Bowl-backed mandolins are mostly used for older music such as classical, baroque and renaissance music.

What reviewers say

Items that Can be Used with Your Mandolin:

  • Mandolin Pick

    • A pick is a small piece of plastic that an instrumentalist uses to pluck or strum strings when they don’t want to use their fingers or if they want a sharper sound.

  • Polish Cloth:

    • This is a cloth that you use to keep your mandolin clean and pristine with no smudges or dust on it.

  • Mandolin Strings:

    • After a lot of playing, strings tend to break and it is therefore wise to purchase and keep spare strings handy for any emergencies.

  • Mandolin Strap:

    • This is a strap that you can attach to your mandolin to make holding and placement easier whilst playing.

  • Mandolin Case:

    • This is a specially designed case to store your mandolin in and transport it and any accessories safely.

  • Mandolin Bag:

    • This is a specially designed bag to store your mandolin in and transport it that is not as heavy as an mandolin case but it is softer and can’t prevent damage from rough handling.

  • Mandolin Stand:

    • This is a specially designed stand for you to place your mandolin on when you are not playing or when you don't need to place it in a case.

  • Humidifier:

    • Extreme heat or cold and dry air can damage the wood of your mandolin and therefore it is very important to use a humidifier on the wood to avoid cracking and chipping,

  • Pickups and Preamps:

    • Pickups and preamps are little receivers that you can attach to your mandolin and connect to an amplifier in order to amplify the sound.

  • Mandolin Tuner:

    • This is a small device that you clip to your mandolin and use to help you tune your strings to the appropriate pitch.

Important Features

Tips for Consumers :

  • Types of tonewoods:

    • Sitka Spruce:

      • Mainly used for the top of the mandolins.

      • Sitka spruce the densest wood used and is believed to balance out the pitch of the mandolin.

    • Engelmann Spruce:

      • Mainly used for the top of the mandolin.

      • The Engelmann spruce has a deep rich tone but still balances the pitch of the mandolin.

    • Red Spruce:

      • Mainly used for the top of the mandolin.

      • The red spruce has the exact same sound as the Sitka spruce but only differs in look.


    • Norway Spruce:

      • Mainly used for the top of the mandolin.

      • The Norwegian spruce is much like the red spruce in that it only differs from the Sitka spruce in look but sounds similar.

    • Cedar:

      • Mainly used for the top of the mandolin.

      • Cedar has more woody sound, similar to that of a Spanish guitar.

    • Brazilian Rosewood:

      • Mainly used for the sides and back of the mandolin.

      • Brazilian rosewood is very rare as the trees are an endangered species due to being cut down for farmland.


    • Indian Rosewood:

      • Mainly used for the sides and back of the mandolin.

      • Indian rosewood is the standard for most mandolins.

    • Madagascar Rosewood:

      • Mainly used for the sides and back of the mandolin.

      • Like the Brazilian rosewood, the species is now endangered and is very rare to find in mandolins.

    • Honduran Rosewood:

      • Mainly used for the sides and back of the mandolin.

      • Honduran rosewood has a brilliant acoustic sound and is considered best for acoustic and folk music.

    • Cocobolo:

      • Mainly used for the sides and back of the mandolin.

      • Cocobolo is mainly coveted for its look and figure.

    • Ovangkol:

      • Mainly used for the sides and back of the mandolin.

      • Ovangkol is around the mid-range price for mandolin wood.

    • Honduran Mahogany:

      • Mainly used for the sides and back of the mandolin.

      • Honduran Mahogany has a woody sound with rich bass tone and a good thumping sound.


    • Paduak:

      • Mainly used for the sides and back of the mandolin.

      • Similar to Honduran mahogany, paduak has slightly tighter trebles and more of a balance

    • Flamed Maple:

      • Mainly used for the sides and back of the mandolin.

      • Flamed Maple is a crisp and tight sounding type of wood for a mandolin.

    • Flamed Koa:

      • Mainly used for the sides and back of the mandolin.

      • Koa is very rare and produces the same tone and volume as mahogany with none of the booming quality.

  • Mandolin Tuning:

    • The mandolin strings are tuned by unison in pairs with the notes from lowest to highest; G, D, A and E.

  • Parts of the Mandolin:

    • Body:

      • The body of the mandolin refers to the bulk of the mandolin connected to the neck over which you pluck or strum the strings.


    • Headstock:

      • The headstock is the piece of wood at the end of the neck that the tuning pegs are strings are connected to.

    • Tuning Peg:

      • The tuning peg is a small knob that the instrumentalist can turn to either tighten or loosen the strings and change their strings.

    • Strings:

      • The strings refer to the metal wires connected and strung across the body and neck of the mandolin. The instrumentalist plucks or strums the string to play certain notes and melodies.

    • Neck:

      • The neck of the mandolin is the slab of wood connecting the body of the mandolin to the headstock. The strings are pressed down onto the neck of the mandolin when an instrumentalist is playing.

    • Soundhole:

      • The soundhole is a cutout in the body of the mandolin and allows for increased vibration throughout the body and therefore a better tone and level of volume.

    • Bridge:

      • The bridge of the mandolin pushes the strings up and creates tension thereby achieving the correct pitch.

    • Tailpiece:

      • The tailpiece refers to the small metal tag at the bottom of the body of the mandolin which protects the mandolin from damage if placed upright.

Top-Rated Brands

Different Brands of Mandolins:

  • Ibanez:

    • Ibanez is a Japanese guitar company that is owned by Hoshino Gakki. Starting off as a company importing guitars to one of the biggest guitar producers in the world. Ibanez is currently found in Nagoya, Aichi, Japan and ships to countries all over the globe.

  • The Loar:

    • The Loar is guitar and mandolin manufacturer with a love of the 1920s and 30s designs of musical instrument. They aim to create instruments of the best sound, playability and timeless beauty. The Loar is named after brilliant Gibson sound engineer and luthier Lloyd Loar.


  • Gretsch:

    • Gretsch was started by Friedrich Gretsch in 1883 when he started a shop in New York and made drums, tambourines and other instruments. Today Gretsch is a manufacturer of instruments for customers around the globe, providing a wide array of instruments. The Gretsch Headquarters can be found in Scottsdale, Arizona.

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