Best Beginner Mandolins

Ever consider picking up the mandolin? If you're a guitarist, you know how to pluck and pick and just need to learn new chord shapes and tunings. If you're a violinist, the tuning of a mandolin is exactly what you're used to, and it's really just a matter of mastering a new playing position and picking style. Either way, if you're interested in adding another stringed instrument to your arsenal, the mandolin is a fantastic and inspiring choice.

But where do you start once you've decided to buy? We at Reverb want to make the quest for a great beginner mandolin a little easier for you by laying out some of the best choices. Below, we’ll explore the specs of the Michael Kelly Legacy Dragonfly, the Washburn M1 Series, and the Kentucky KM-150/160.


Michael Kelly Legacy Dragonfly

Michael Kelly offers a range of beginner-friendly mandolins, with prices as low as $200 for its all-solid wood A-style models. If you’re willing to invest a little more in your first mando, the Michael Kelly Legacy Dragonfly is definitely one to consider. This is the only F-Style mando on our list, and it’s a gorgeous one. It’s not a bad thing to look for a little style when you’re picking an instrument, and the Legacy Dragonfly’s definitely got it. On top of its spiraling body, it sports a beautiful vine inlay on the fingerboard made out of real pearl and abalone.

Of course, the most important aspect of any instrument is its playability. The Legacy Dragonfly makes it particularly easy for beginner mandolinists to play because of its comfortable, radiused fingerboard designed to match the curvature of your hand.

Like many beginner mandolins, the Legacy Dragonfly has a solid spruce top and flamed maple sides and body. What makes this mando unique, however, is its one-piece tailpiece integrated to really pull ring and resonance out of the instrument. The Michael Kelly Legacy Dragonfly would be a solid choice for an invested beginner or intermediate player looking to spruce up their collection.

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Washburn M1 Series

The Washburn M1 Series includes the M1SDL, the M1K, and the M1S—each of which is crafted with an A-style body. The M1 mandolins are often praised for their resonance and projection and have been favorably compared to mandos triple their cost. Their rosewood bridges make full contact with the solid spruce tops to capture and transfer the vibrations of each string, providing even stronger resonance.

Each of the M1 Series, particularly the M1K, is long-lasting and easy to play. The construction and materials used to make the M1 Series add a significant amount of volume, resonance, and tone.

Maple in particular is awesome for adding brightness and capturing that classic mandolin sound. Though the M1 Series is a bit of a dark horse in the beginner mandolin category, you’ll find nothing but love for these instruments due to their killer projection and bright, loud sound, especially for the price.

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Kentucky KM-150/160

Poke around in the mandolin community a little bit, and you’ll find that a ton of players started out playing a Kentucky—particularly a KM-150 or KM-160. And if you poke around a little more, it’s obvious that everyone who’s owned one has nothing but fond memories of their time playing it.

Kentucky is well-known for the craftsmanship of not just its higher-end instruments but its beginner models too. As anyone who’s played a string instrument will tell you, being made of solid wood rather than laminate is a definite plus, and that’s something the KM series boasts. Kentucky also has a reputation for making instruments that stay in tune for ages, so you won’t have to do any of that pesky re-tuning in the middle of practice.

The older models don’t have a particularly bluegrass-y sound, but newer instruments certainly have a fatter, warmer tone. Kentucky KM-150s and KM-160s are consistently praised by mandolin players for being super playable, as they sport a thin and rounded neck and produce fantastic-sounding tone for an even more fantastic price.

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