Buying Guide

Buying Guide: Mandolins

What to Consider When Buying a Mandolin

There are a lot of good reasons to pick up a mandolin. For beginners, the mandolin's small size and simple, basic chord structures make for an inviting launching point into the world of making music. For experienced guitar or violin players, the commonalities those instruments share with the mandolin mean you can probably pick out a song or two almost immediately.

If you came to this page for some guidance on how to choose a mandolin, you’re in luck. Today, there are tons of excellent options and deals awaiting mandolin aspirants of every sort. With this page, we'll offer some exceptional picks for beginners, outline various considerations and factors to weigh when buying any mandolin, and provide some additional info on various mandolin-family instruments and beyond.

In this video, mandolinist Sierra Hull offers an overview of some of the types of mandolin she's played over the years.

Excellent Beginner Mandolins

If you're just getting started, consider these beginner mandolin picks.

What to Consider When Buying a Mandolin

Price Range

  • On today's market, you can find excellent mandolin options starting as low as a couple of hundred dollars. In the sub-$400 range, most models will be relatively similar in terms of parts used and overall playing experience. For many, it's worth saving up a little more and springing for something higher-end. Keep in mind though, if you buy a more affordable mandolin to start, you can always resell it on Reverb to help fund the leap to something a bit fancier later on.

A-style vs. F-style, F-holes vs. Oval

  • Most mandolins have flat or slightly curved backs and arched tops. They come in one of two main body styles: A- and F-style. F-style mandolins are all modeled after fabled Gibson models of the 1920s and are favored by bluegrass players due to their history and the defined "choppy" nature of their sound. A-style mandolins have a generally milder tone that can be at home in just about any genre and are often found with oval-shaped holes rather than the violin-style F-holes found on F-style mandolins. A-styles are typically more affordable as well, and for beginners, the choice between the two is mostly a matter of aesthetic and price.

Bowlback Options

  • In contrast to A- and F-style models, you may also encounter "bowlback" mandolins—sometimes referred to as Neapolitan or "taterbug" mandolins— on the used pages of Reverb. These instruments represent a different lineage and older playing style than what most modern players are after. While there are some excellent classical bowlback instruments out there, most are lower-quality instruments that are not good options for beginners, even with their attractive low used prices.

Acoustic vs. Electric vs. Acoustic-Electric

  • While primarily thought of as acoustic instruments, there are plenty of electric mandolin options out there. Unless for some reason you know that you specifically want to play electric mandolin, most beginners start on a traditional acoustic. There are also plenty of acoustic mandolins with built-in electric pickup systems. These are called acoustic-electric mandolins and are often marked by an "e" in the model number or name. Most beginners will find a better value out of a regular, non-electrified model unless they have a specific gig or need that requires amplification.

Solid Wood vs. Laminate

  • In mandolin (as well as acoustic guitar) construction, there's a line between the use of solid woods and layered or "laminate"' woods. Typically, mandolins with solid wood construction will have better tone and overall quality. That said, there are plenty of affordable laminate-style mandolins that can sound just as good, especially with today’s modern construction techniques.

New vs. Used

  • Mandolins can be delicate instruments. Often, lower-end models are susceptible to warping or other condition issues. While this might make the prospect of buying used seem a little unnerving for novices, there are still plenty of fantastic deals on used instruments to be found. The key is to examine listings on an individual basis—and feel free to reach out to any Reverb seller directly with questions. With older mandolins especially, be on the lookout for mentions of high action or neck warping.

Shop All Used Mandolins on Reverb

Intermediate Mandolins

If you're ready to branch upward a bit from the entry models listed above, these slightly higher-end mandolins have earned high marks from modern players.

High-End Mandolin Makers

If you're interested in getting into a truly remarkable instrument, today's crop of masterful mandolin builders are carrying the handcrafted traditions of the past century to new heights. Here are some top-tier mandolin makers to consider.

Electric Mandolins

While most beginners stick with acoustics, there are plenty of inspiring electric mandolin players and styles which may pique your interest. Keep in mind that if you're buying an electric mandolin, you will need something to plug it into. Any old guitar amp should do the trick.

Electric Mandolins on Reverb Right Now

Vintage Mandolins

Vintage mandolins, like vintage guitars, can command high prices by collectors and players seeking the sound of a specific era or model. For instance, Gibson F-5 Mandolins made under the management of Lloyd Loar in the 1920s can command hundreds of thousands of dollars.

At the other end of the spectrum, there are plenty of cheaper vintage mandolins from the likes of Harmony and Kay from the '50s and '60s. These can be a bit hit-or-miss in terms of quality, though there are certainly good deals to be found. Old Martin mandolins, which typically have flat tops in contrast to the carved tops of Gibson and others, can also be a great value.

Vintage Mandolins on Reverb Right Now

Mandolin Family Instruments

Beyond the classic mandolin epitomized by the F-style design, there's a fascinating array of mandolin family instruments and offshoots out there. What's cool about learning the basics on mandolin is that the same techniques and chords shapes can later be applied to all of these instruments, giving mandolinists a multi-timbral palette of instruments and sounds to explore.

Try adding searches to some of these instruments to your Reverb Feed to keep an eye out for cool used examples.

Mandola, Octave Mandolins, and Mandocellos

Mandolas are larger-sized mandolin family instruments that were first made by Gibson over a century ago and are tuned a fifth down from the range of the standard mandolin. Many makers still build them. Mandolas offer mandolin-like textures in a lower, more guitar-like register. Lower on the register still are octave mandolins (a full octave below a mandolin) and the mandocello, a fifth below that.

Manditars, Banjolins, and Resonators

Some companies such as Gold Tone also make mandolin-style instruments tuned like guitars. Known as manditars, these instruments are an even easier entry point into mandolin sounds for guitarists. For mandolin players looking for a different sort of sound altogether, consider mandolins with banjo-style bodies (sometimes called banjolins) or resonator-style mandolins.

Essential Mandolin Accessories

From Picks and Strings to Stands and Cases