7 Best Mandolins 2022 – We Review The Most Beautiful

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Best Mandolins 2021

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If you’re interested in buying a mandolin, you’re in luck.

Whether you’re looking for a change of pace from playing other instruments, or your new mandolin will be your first musical instrument, we’ve assembled a list of the seven best mandolins.

Whether you’re looking for the best overall, shopping on a budget, or even if you consider price to be no object, we cover them all and everything in between.

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Ibanez M522S Mandolin: The Best Overall

Ibanez M522S Mandolin

If you’re looking for a well-made mandolin from a top name in stringed instrument manufacturing, you don’t have to look any further than the M522S from Ibanez. And, you won’t need to break the bank to get one into your hands either. It’s available at a very reasonable price point, though it looks and feels like it could cost two or three times more than it does.

This 8-string mandolin features premium materials, including a rosewood fingerboard, an adjustable bridge, Pearloid tuners, and gold hardware accents. The instrument’s arched top has ornate f-holes cut through it for richer sounds and more sustain. Plus, you can see inside the instrument and locate its manufacturer stamp and seal with the instrument’s unique information.

Playing this mandolin is easy, thanks to its simple wide frets and simple fret inlays that make navigating the fretboard easy and quick, even for a novice.

Product Highlights

  • 8-String
  • Flamed Maple Body
  • Spruce Top
  • 13.78” Scale
  • F-Style Arch Top
  • Adjustable Bridge
  • Mahogany Neck
  • Rosewood Fingerboard
  • Acoustic


If there is a bit of a knock on this mandolin, it’s that its out-of-the-box strings could stand for replacement, but that is fairly common with any new instrument. Different players like their mandolins set up differently, and everyone has preferred strings. So, don’t be surprised if you decide to upgrade the strings. A new set only costs a few dollars.

And speaking of minor modifications, the tuners on this Ibanez model could be a bit better at getting and keeping tone. At this mandolin’s price point, the included tuners are more than adequate. But for professional players or those who prefer extremely precise tuning, a quick upgrade could be desirable.

Don’t worry, though. You don’t have to be an experienced, expert luthier to change the tuners if you desire. It’s fairly simple to do. This video shows the process of changing the tuners on a guitar, which is very similar to how it would look on a mandolin:

You don’t need a whole bunch of tools either. If your tuners match your existing tuners, all you’ll really need is a set of screwdrivers for the small attachment screws on the back of the tuning heads. Then you’ll need to restring and retune your mandolin.

Even without any modifications, this mandolin offers a surprising level of quality. Changing the tuners will move this mandolin into the extremely high-quality range at a reasonably affordable price.

And if you don’t like the dark sunburst color, you may also be able to find the same instrument in a lighter shade called the brown sunburst

Eastman MD515CC, F-Style Mandolin: The Best Premium Option

Eastman MD515CC, F-Style Mandolin

This mandolin is perfect for players who don’t mind paying a bit more for the very best. The Eastman company isn’t as old as some of the biggest names in instrument manufacturing. Still, they are well-regarded as a premium maker or mandolins, as well as guitars and wind instruments.

Mandolins need resonance, and his example from Eastman stands out from the pack, featuring an ebony fingerboard and bridge for outstanding tone, particularly in the middle and bass frequencies. That richness translates into room-filling sound without being overly jangly like some less resonant, cheaper mandolins.

Ebony is a bit of a step up from rosewood as a fingerboard material, both in quality and price. And, since it isn’t sealed, your fingers play right on the wood, not on some kind of coating.

You will have to regularly oil it, though.

The finishing touch that puts this mandolin over the top is its authentic bone nut at the head end of the neck. Rather than the dull resonance of plastic, bone nuts are full of warm sustain and add to the power and resonance of this instrument.

If you want, you can also order this instrument with an optional pickup for playing through an amplifier. But, with this mandolin, you won’t need to think much about driving your sound electronically unless you’re playing in a rock band. And even then, you might actually prefer to play directly into a microphone, remaining unencumbered by an instrument cord and amplifier connection.

Product Highlights

  • 8-String
  • Spruce and Maple Body
  • 13.78” Scale
  • Real Bone Nut
  • F-Style Arch Top
  • Adjustable Bridge
  • Maple Neck
  • Ebony Fingerboard
  • Acoustic
  • Optional Electric Pickups

This mandolin comes with a custom hardshell case, so you can store and travel with it safely. Beauty is subjective, but this instrument will be an eye-catcher wherever you bring it. And once you strum a chord or two, you’ll have the attention of everyone in earshot.

Vangoa A-Style Mandolin: The Best Budget Option

Vangoa A-Style Mandolin

Some players aren’t looking to make a splash with their mandolin. They just want a simple tool to get the job done without forking over their whole paycheck.

This Vangoa mandolin fits that criteria quite well. It’s not as much of a showpiece as the Eastman, and it’s less than half the price of the Ibanez. It doesn’t feature fancy and expensive tonewoods like rosewood or ebony, opting instead for much more affordable mahogany and basswood. But, out of the box, you have a complete, playable, A-shaped mandolin.

Plus, as a little bonus, this sunburst mandolin ships with an add-on pickup for connecting to an amplifier, extra strings, a tuner, strap, picks, and a backpack for convenient portability. At this price, that is a huge bargain.

And when you see this instrument, it doesn’t look cheap. Instead, it looks and feels solidly constructed with elegant f-holes, chrome accents, and twenty frets. You will find limitations in its tone and resonance, as expected with lower-quality tonewoods.

For a beginner or student mandolin, or even for a pro who wants to travel and not worry too much about damaging a prized premium instrument, you can’t go wrong with this package deal.

Product Highlights

  • 8-String
  • Basswood Body
  • 13.78” Scale?
  • A-Style
  • Adjustable Bridge
  • Mahogany Neck
  • MahoganyFingerboard
  • Acoustic/Electric

Vangoa is new to the instrument manufacturing game. Since their inception in 2017 as an e-commerce platform, they have been focused on delivering quality Chinese-made instruments to musicians, particularly students, who aren’t working with a large budget.

Gold Tone OM-800+

Gold Tone OM-800

The OM-800+ from Gold Tone is another mandolin with a premium ebony fingerboard. As you would expect, it packs a lot of punch. It lacks the f-holes you see on some other mandolins, and that seems to bring a little bit more of a traditional look to this instrument.

One thing that makes the OM-800+ unique is its setup. As it is tuned down one octave lower than a standard mandolin, this setup offers a bit of a singular sound. It lends itself to adding a capo to the neck for creating distinct tunings that complement other instruments in a group or standout solo.

Gold Tone enjoys a reputation as a fine maker of musical instruments, with many professional players like Bela Fleck using their equipment exclusively. This mandolin’s manufacturer specifications are more exacting and detailed than some advertisements, but you can rest assured that this is a premium instrument.


Just don’t be too surprised to see that it also has a premium price tag.

Product Highlights

  • 8-String
  • Mahogany and Spruce Body
  • 22.5” Scale
  • A-Style
  • Adjustable Bridge
  • Maple Neck
  • Ebony Fingerboard
  • Acoustic/Electric

The older Gold Tone OM-800 had no pickup. The newer OM-800+ has a passive bridge pickup for playing through an amplifier. This mandolin also comes with a hard case.

Kentucky KM-150 Standard A-model Mandolin

Kentucky KM-150 Standard A-model Mandolin

The Kentucky KM-150 is manufactured using European choice tonewoods for excellent resonance and tone. It’s a fairly simple A-shaped design without any excessive adornment or over-the-top accents. It probably won’t win any beauty contests, but it’s by no means ugly.

If you’re looking for something a little bit showier, Kentucky does offer other models that feature gold-accented tuners and figured woods. But, you’re not going to miss those artistic touches while you’re playing this mandolin.

The KM-150’s materials are solid, with no laminates or glued-on veneers, per the manufacturer. The adjustable bridge works well with the rest of the instrument and its tuners for accurate and dependable tuning that stays locked in pretty well, even during serious jam sessions.

This is a bit of a goldilocks instrument, as its price is in the low end of the premium range, but the mandolin features some very high-end touches and sounds as good as some that cost much more. It’s not so expensive that it’s unattainable, and it’s not so inexpensive that it suffers from manufacturing issues, poor craftsmanship, or cheap materials.

Product Highlights

  • 8-String
  • Alpine Maple and Spruce Body
  • 13.88” Scale
  • A-Style
  • Adjustable Rosewood Bridge
  • Solid Alpine Maple Neck
  • Rosewood Fingerboard
  • Acoustic

Despite its name, this mandolin is not made in Kentucky or even in the United States. Instead of the home of bluegrass, its origin is a factory in China. That’s not a knock in and of itself, but as a result, the mandolin suffers from a quality-control perspective.

For instance, sometimes, the pickguard is very loose and needs tightening or outright removal. And you’ll probably have to do a little work on the setup for this mandolin, including an adjustment to the bridge.

Here is an excellent guide for how to adjust the bridge on a mandolin. They do a great job of explaining how to bring your mandolin into tune across the fretboard. Though it’s not this exact model featured in the video, the process is the same.

Doing a setup is not a big deal in and of itself, but the quality control issues may occur enough to make you consider the long-term reliability of the instrument carefully.

Lucky Penny A-Style Left-Handed

Lucky Penny A-Style Left-Handed

For a novice left-handed mandolin player, you can pretty much just order this right now. It’s very difficult for a left-handed player to try and learn to play right-handed.  For a lefty who just wants to get into playing the mandolin, this is one way to do so without spending much money while gauging your commitment to playing.

It’s undoubtedly an entry-level model, but it doesn’t look cheap at all. The construction of this instrument blends some premium materials with some less expensive ones for an extremely budget-friendly mandolin that feels solid and plays well.

It does lack some of the punch and resonance of higher-end models, but that’s to be expected when a single big bill out of your wallet covers the entire cost of your mandolin.

Product Highlights

  • 8-String
  • Basswood Body
  • A-Style
  • Adjustable Bridge
  • Nato (mora wood) Neck
  • Rosewood Fingerboard
  • Acoustic

If this Lucky Penny mandolin seems too low-budget but you need a lefty model, you could speak with a luthier about converting a nicer right-handed model to left-handed playing. That’s going to cost some more money, but if you’re seriously committed to playing the mandolin, it may be a better option in the long run.

Ibanez M510 A-Style Mandolin

Ibanez M510 A-Style Mandolin

If you’re an Ibanez fan who isn’t ready to commit to the expense of an M522 model mandolin, this less expensive option might work for you and your budget. By blending some interesting and less expensive woods, the total cost of the mandolin stays low and quite reasonable, but it doesn’t feel or sound cheap.

It’s available from the manufacturer in three colors (brown sunburst; dark violin sunburst; open pore vintage sunburst), so you can find one that suits your style and color palette. In fact, this mandolin looks good enough to hang up on the wall or set out on a stand as part of a room’s decor.

That’s quite an achievement for a fairly inexpensive mandolin. It will probably need a little bit of TLC out of the box, including a setup and new strings. But then you’ll be able to take advantage of its Ibanez craftsmanship and enjoy its decent sustain and reliable playability.

Product Highlights

  • 8-String
  • Sapele and Spruce Body
  • 350mm Scale (Comparable to 13.78” Scale)
  • A-Style
  • Adjustable Bridge
  • Solid Alpine Maple Neck
  • Purpleheart Fretboard and Bridge
  • Acoustic

This instrument ships in a box without a case included, so you should plan on buying a gig bag or hard-sided case. Ibanez offers cases, or you can easily find a generic one online.

What to Look For in a Mandolin

When you’re shopping for a mandolin, there are some things you need to understand. Otherwise, you won’t be able to make effective comparisons between your options.

Since there are so many different mandolins with price tags that range from a couple of dollars to the equivalent of a mortgage payment, you should arm yourself with some knowledge before going shopping to better inform your potential purchasing decision.

Consider this a bit of a buying guide to help you choose the best mandolin.

Overall Construction Materials

Like most musical instruments, a mandolin’s construction materials are integral to its overall quality. Some manufacturers use engineered woods, compressed and glued tightly together and then covered with a veneer to create a classic look without the expense of higher-end wood.

The wood choice makes a huge difference in the quality and character of the tone of any instrument, but especially a mandolin. The same is particularly true of acoustic guitars. When evaluating your options for a new mandolin, keep a careful eye on the construction techniques and the materials used.

We’ll talk a bit more about the different woods used to build mandolins in a second. 

A-Shape Vs. F-Shape

Choosing a traditional A-shape mandolin or a more ornate F-shape mandolin really comes down to preference. Some players will make ridiculously definitive statements like, ‘you can only play bluegrass music on an F-shape mandolin.

Then others might say only an A-shaped mandolin can be used to play traditional Irish folk songs. If you play regularly, you’ll quickly realize that it’s up to you to find the shape that fits your frame, playing style, and fingerings best.

A-shape mandolins don’t have a deep cutaway at the neck like F-shaped mandolins. That definitely makes it a bit harder to finger the highest notes on the fretboard. But it’s not nearly as restrictive as some would lead you to believe.

It’s always a very good idea to actually pick up and play an instrument before you purchase it. The length and dexterity of your fingers, the instrument’s frame and how it fits your body, and the heft and size of the instrument all come into play when you’re playing it. The last thing you want is an awkward-feeling instrument strapped to your neck.

The shape of the instrument doesn’t determine what kind of music you’ll be able to play! That’s up to you as the player.

Acoustic Vs. Electric

Mandolins are very well-suited to acoustic jam sessions and playing with friends. They have a punchy and resonant tone that complements other acoustic instruments, like guitars, basses, banjos, and fiddles quite well.

That’s why many mandolins don’t have any electronics. They’re quite loud already.

Players who need more powerful sound projection can play in front of a microphone to boost their overall noise level. Another option is to install a simple aftermarket pickup to pump up your playing volume through an amplifier.

It’s quick and easy to mount a pickup; some high-quality models have multiple heads to capture the sound from various parts of the instrument. They attach to the external or even internal body, and a tail wire allows you to plug in an instrument cable leading to your amp.

Other mandolins come with a pickup pre-installed. It really doesn’t make much of a difference which you choose. Just keep in mind that factory-installed internal pickups are difficult to remove or swap with something different.

Price

The price of mandolin varies pretty significantly, and for a good reason. Let’s look at the main cost drivers that result in some mandolins that cost barely a hundred bucks and others that cost many thousands of dollars.

Body Construction

To keep prices down, some manufacturers use engineered woods to build mandolins or other stringed instruments. Instead of using an expensive solid piece of a traditional body wood like spruce, mahogany, or maple, they use pressed layers of wood that are more inexpensive.

Then, they commonly add a thin veneer of a more traditional, expensive wood over the top for appearance’s sake. It does almost nothing to improve the tone, but it looks better with the veneer. This technique is very common on the top of the mandolin in particular.

There is also tremendous variation in the expense, tonal properties, and overall quality of woods used to build mandolin bodies. For example, basswood is fairly common and offers an inexpensive option, while spruce or maple are more expensive, though still very common.

Tonewood

Superior tonewoods are expensive. Probably the two most prized woods for fretboards are ebony and rosewood. They have superior resonance, and they don’t need to be sealed with chemical coatings to preserve them. That makes fingering notes on the fretboard smoother.

Most players who get used to a rosewood or ebony fingerboard won’t want to go back to something coated, as doing so tends to make them feel like their fingers are dragging on the playing surface.

Less expensive tonewoods or laminates aren’t up to the same quality standard. But, they are significantly less expensive. For novice players or beginner’s instruments, it makes little sense to spend big money on premium tonewoods.

After a few years of dedicated playing, that upgrade will be well worth it and more appreciated. And when combined with an integrated bridge of the same premium wood, with a bone nut, the resonance and sustain of a mandolin increase exponentially.

Tuners

The tuners on a stringed instrument hold the tune of the strings. That sounds simple enough, but their gearing needs to be sturdy enough to maintain tautness, and precise enough for fine adjustments.

The quality of tuners varies tremendously. Some sets with high-gearing ratios can cost multiple hundreds of dollars. On the flip side of that coin, there are abundant options for lower-quality tuners with less precision that cost only a few dollars.

And that only factors in the mechanics of a tuner. Some tuning heads are plastic, others are jade, or even more exotic materials. The tremendous variability can be a big factor in not only the cost of the instrument but how well it can be tuned and its ability to retain it.

Craftsmanship

Old-school hand-crafted instruments are expensive. It takes many hours for a person to shape, hone, sand, and finish a mandolin. The manufacturing process is very different when computer-guided cutting tools and automated machinery take over a build.

There is a lot of variation in quality between a mostly handmade instrument and one that came from an assembly line. So, you should expect to see mandolins from overseas factories that cost just a few dollars, and even in that category, there is significant variation in terms of craftsmanship and quality.


The more hand-crafted a mandolin is, the more the price will go up. But the durability, quality, attention-to-detail, refinement, and playability will also increase tremendously.

Shape

Due to the expense of performing the complicated scrollwork on an F-shaped mandolin, they are usually a bit more expensive than their A-shaped counterparts. But they aren’t necessarily better to play or required for certain styles of music.

An A-Shaped mandolin looks a bit more like a lute or a banjo than one of its distinctively shaped F-style mandolin counterparts. One thing that is decidedly different on A-shaped mandolin is the lack of a cutaway at the neck, as compared to an F-shape, making some higher notes on the fretboard harder to reach.

But, your choice of shape is really a matter of preference and budget. 

A-Shaped Mandolins

  • Usually less expensive
  • No cutaway
  • Harder to access high notes on the fretboard

F-Shaped Mandolins

  • Usually more expensive
  • Cutaway
  • Better access to high notes on the fretboard

Accessories

Accessories are pretty much required for playing the mandolin. Just like for a guitar player, you’ll need a pick, a strap, maybe some new strings, and a tuner to play the mandolin. But don’t be fooled by gimmicks that throw in low-quality accessories as a way to make a crumby instrument more wallet-friendly.

It’s pretty likely that if you’re getting a mid-range mandolin, you will want a decent tuner, not something that is so cheap they throw it in as part of your deal. And you should also want to try a few kinds of premium strings on your mandolin, so don’t be swayed by an extra set of unbranded cheap strings.

All that said, if you’re just looking for a simple starter package for your new hobby or a kid’s first instrument, package deals are the way to go. You pay one price, get all the accessories you need with your new instrument, and can get playing right out of the box.

Best Mandolin Brands

A few names stand out from the rest when discussing mandolin manufacturers.

Eastman

Eastman’s reputation is that of a stellar instrument manufacturer. The company was founded as Eastman Strings in 1992 after the owner, Qian Ni, graduated from the Boston University School of Music. He is an accomplished flutist.

Over its nearly three-decade run, the company has grown into a major global manufacturer of fine instruments. That’s quite a journey, especially when you consider their humble origins, working out of the back of Qian Ni’s car.

Traditional craftsmanship, hand-carving and varnishing, in-house aging for superior finishes, and a dedication to customer service are the hallmarks of Eastman instruments.

Ibanez

Ibanez is probably best known as a guitar maker. They started out in 1908 as a sheet music store called Hoshino in Nagoya, Japan. In the mid-1940s, at the tail end of WWII, the original Hoshino began distributing a distinctive Spanish guitar called ‘Ibanez.’ By 1970,  Hoshino owned the rights to the Ibanez name and started selling guitars under that brand name in the United States, mostly through mail order.

Their journey continued with the opening of a brick-and-mortar store near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Ibanez made a trade of copying famous guitar models and selling them at very low prices. As you can imagine, the major manufacturers eventually sued Ibanez and brought an end to their time as a copier.

Instead of accepting defeat, they had already diversified their products with original offerings, building on the success of their collaborations with famous music acts. Ibanez has weathered more than a century of storms and is widely regarded as a top manufacturer of stringed instruments today.

Gold Tone

Gold Tone mandolins enjoy a strong lineage in folk music. In the late 1970s, folk musicians Robyn and Wayne Rogers opened a music center. Now, piggybacking onto the wild popularity of Wayne’s custom-designed and manufactured TB-100 Travel Banjo, their product line includes all kinds of string instruments.

Gold Tone instruments include four- and five-string banjos, banjitars (six-string banjos), steel guitars, resonator guitars, and of course, mandolins. If you ask them, their entire product line is dedicated to inspiring the expression of each individual’s musical ideas through high-quality fretted instruments, all at the fairest prices possible.

To learn more about how they thrive as a manufacturer, check out this video featuring Robyn Rogers. And, if you’re shopping for a mandolin, it can’t hurt to check out some of the models from Gold Tone.

Best Mandolins Ever, Final Thoughts

After considering all of the factors, the best mandolin in this review is the Ibanez M522S Mandolin. You can’t beat its quality without spending at least twice the amount of money, and for most players, they won’t feel the need to.

Sure, it can benefit from an upgrade of its strings. But that is a simple solution that will significantly enhance its tone and playability. To really put it over the top, add some new tuners for much better tuning precision. Working on the tuner upgrade will also help you become more familiar with your new mandolin as well.

If you’re thinking about a new Ibanez M522S, don’t hesitate to buy one. Unless, of course, you prefer the M522Bs, with a lighter sunburst color!

P.S. Remember though, none of what you've learned will matter if you don't know how to get your music out there and earn from it. Want to learn how to do that? Then get our free ‘5 Steps To Profitable Youtube Music Career' ebook emailed directly to you!

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