Finding the perfect mandolin is no easy feat. Whether you’re a beginner or a professional, deciphering which brands and manufacturers best suit your needs and budget can feel nearly impossible.
As an antidote to the chaos, we’ve concocted a list of the best mandolin brands to consider when making your first purchase.
We’ve been careful to choose companies that cover the wide range of options there are, from those that are beginner-friendly to the strictly high-end makers.
Hopefully, this article will provide you with a strong foundation to help guide you through your journey.
These are the best mandolin brands on the market right now:
The most affordable brand
While these mandolins may not have the best sound, you’ll be hard-pressed to find anything that beats the price of a Rogue. For beginners simply looking to see if they’ll enjoy the instrument or not, these are a great choice to look into.
The Rogue RM-100A (check Amazon’s price) sits comfortably around $100, and there won’t be much of a notable difference between this mandolin and one that’s worth two to three times as much.
The laminated wood may scare some of you into thinking that the sound quality is poor, but this simply isn’t the case.
Yes, the Rogue won’t be able to match the depth of tonal clarity found from a $1500 mandolin – but for its price, the sound is more than perfect. So if your budget is limited, this is a great place to start.
The features on these instruments aren’t fancy but they get the job done. Provided that you string it up properly and adjust the bridge – the Rogue performs just as well as any other model.
Be warned that these won’t come with a case or anything extra like picks or tuners, so expect to spend an extra $20-30 after you make your purchase. To make the mandolin sound fuller, we advise you to invest in some heavier gauge strings.
We’ll give Rogue our award for the most affordable brand.
- Clear sound.
- Case sold separately.
Perfect instruments for aspiring musicians
Ibanez might very well be a household name to many of you. Over the past several decades the company has steadily climbed up the ranks of guitar manufacturers, now on even status with Fender and Gibson.
The company is best known for its guitars and amplifiers, but Ibanez also has an impressive line of mandolins to look into.
The best-selling model the company has to offer is the Ibanez M510 (check Amazon’s price). This mandolin has been on the market for some time now, and even though new models and brands continue to come out and flood the market, this one is still considered to be one of the best choices for any player.
The design is simple, yet elegant. The back and sides of the mandolin are made of laminated mahogany, while the top is spruce. The choice of rosewood on the fingerboard provides the instrument with a warm and rich sound that won’t disappoint even the most well-versed players.
You can find them easily for only $170, making it one of the best options around, especially for aspiring musicians.
The one minor downside is that the strings the instrument comes with are substandard, to say the least. However, this is such a small issue it’s barely worth mentioning. Picking up a new set of strings may cost you $15 at most, and restringing is easy and straightforward.
Ibanez gets our award for being the best brand for aspiring musicians.
- Warm and rich tone.
- Beautiful design.
- Low-quality strings.
The most reliable brand
The Kentucky mandolin company is only one of the myriad of brands owned by Saga Musical Instruments. Saga has always kept itself to a high standard; maintaining time-honored designs and great attention to craft.
They sell a wide range of different models, from mandolins starting at around $300 and to others that begin to break into the four digits.
The Kentucky KM-140 (check Amazon’s price) is one of the most popular models when starting to look into higher-quality mandolins. The instrument is made of solid maple, offering a crisp and clean tone that will only get better through age.
It’s a great choice to start out on for beginners, but professionals needn’t look elsewhere. The build is immaculate, and the sound leaves little to be desired.
Of all the mandolin makers, Kentucky may very well be one of the best options for anybody. Kentucky wins our award for being the most reliable brand.
- Bright sound.
The best all-around maker
We here at Higher Hz, are big fans of Gold Tone Music Group. Founded in 1993 under the name, Gold Tone Banjos, the company has gone on to be one of the leading innovators in the world of bluegrass. Rooted in proven vintage designs, Gold Tone creates amazing instruments for musicians of all levels.
Beyond the mandolin, the company also has pioneered a number of new and exciting hybrid instruments – from banjolas to banjitars and even bouzouki mandolins.
Gold Tone remains on the forefront of “folkternative”, and curious musicians may very be tempted to look into the wide variety of instruments the company has to offer.
While many of their mandolins tend to veer towards the pricier side, the instruments are well deserving of the investment. Each instrument that Gold Tone has to offer sounds phenomenal and all of them play extremely well.
The Gold Tone GM-35 (check Amazon’s price) is an incredibly popular model even though it’s priced around $460. This may not be the best option for those of you with a limited budget, but for anybody who’s serious about playing and willing to spend the money – the price is unbeatable.
Today, Gold Tone wins our award for the best all-around mandolin maker.
- High-quality sound.
- Immaculately built.
The best high-end brand
There are so few modern companies that have been able to maintain a balance between making affordable mandolins, while not cutting corners when it comes to capturing the pure character of the instrument.
In our opinion, The Loar is the finest example among this small handful of mandolin makers. Their mandolins are based on the legendary designs of Lloyd Loar, who most notably was the mind behind the original Gibson F-5 mandolin.
Of their top models, we recommend the Loar LM-520-VS (check Amazon’s price). It’s a fabulous choice for the price, considering it’s fully hand-carved.
The benefits of having a hand-carved instrument are numerous, but the main points to keep in mind is that: the sound is gorgeous, and the sound will get better over time as the wood continues to age.
For those of you who are worried about shelling out a little under $600 for one of these, it’s important to remind yourself that for most hand-carved instruments the price will be far greater. Normally, you’ll be looking at mandolins upwards of $1500, or sometimes even closer to $3000.
However, The Loar does have a weak spot – quality control. While it is uncommon, people have reported minor flaws in the mandolins that they purchase from The Loar.
So best to keep an eye out if you do decide to run in this direction, as you may find yourself having to put a little bit more money aside to have it set up correctly. This certainly isn’t the worst thing, but it isn’t the best.
Either way, once you have your mandolin ready to go you’ll be in awe of the instrument’s full potential. All this being said, the Loar gets our award for the best high-end brand.
- Amazing sound.
- Quality control.
- Not budget-friendly.
There are many factors to consider when buying a mandolin, but ultimately your needs and desires will inform the right decision. Buy the instrument that will work best for you, whether because of its tone, its looks, or its price.
All of these companies are worth diving into, so don’t get too in your head about which is better. The only thing that matters is that you find the mandolin that’s perfect for you.