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We review the best mandolin brands on the market for 2018. It is exciting, buying a new instrument, but it is an investment that is worth taking some time to research before making a final decision.
For our list of the best mandolin brands, we looked at age and reputation of each company, as well as the materials and construction used to build their mandolins.
Seasoned mandolinists will be familiar with their brands of choice, so this article is geared toward beginner players who want to learn about the different mandolin makers in order to choose their instrument.
There are three models of mandolin on the market today: the very traditional bowlback, which is difficult to find and to hold; F style, which is favoured by bluegrass artists and has more decorative features in the body; A style, a simple pear-shaped mandolin good for beginners, folk and classical artists. The F and A styles were developed in the early 1900s by the Gibson Company.
We list the companies from lowest to highest price point.
The first Rogue instruments came out mid-1990s, and to this day are considered ideal for beginners. Their mission is to provide quality instruments at the lowest price possible to give everyone a chance, since you can’t put a price on creativity, and music belongs to everybody. You’re looking at bang-for-your-buck with Rogue, whose instruments deliver solid playability and sound quality.
Rogue makes great instruments for those on a budget, specializing in making low-cost instruments based on classical designs. This is a great brand with unbelievably low price points (you can buy a mandolin for just $40).
They make a nice looking instrument. You’ll have to make sure you buy the right case for these, as the Rogue mandolins are sometimes slightly larger than other manufacturers.
Rogues have everything you’d expect from any mandolin: the necks are straight, intonation is near perfect, and the tuning pegs hold their tune during and in between plays.
There may be some nuances in the ease of turning the tuners, but these instruments are so affordable it’s nothing to really complain about. You might want to adjust your bridge on the Rogue in order to adjust the action (height of the strings on the fretboard).
You can take your instrument to a local music shop and they will set this up for you for about $15.
Ibanez uses quality hardware and desirable features on their instruments without breaking the bank. You will find great craftsmanship and tonality right out of the box. Its spruce top is largely responsible for this, while the mahogany bodies offer perfect sustain.
The sound comes out clear and crisp, with consistency throughout use. There are no cons to using an Ibanez mandolin, for they are well built and offer good tone, at a price point of around $200.
Loar makes handcrafted instruments inspired by classical designs. Both F and A style mandolins are tried, tested and true. You will recognize the quality of these mandolins in the way they chop (a sharp, short chord, commonly used in mandolin playing).
Their instruments are designed to look attractive while fitting comfortably into the user’s hand. A neat feature is they remove the fretboard after the 20th fret, in order to allow for easy strumming.
Kentucky Mandolin company is located in San Francisco, California, owned by Saga Musical Instruments, established in the 1970s. Their goal is to maintain tradition and time-honoured designs in their mandolins.
Their mandolins are manufactured in China where they have set up their own hand-carved workshop. Kentucky Mandolins is so named for the birthplace of bluegrass.
Kentucky makes damn nice mandolins, if you pardon the language, for both students and professionals. They are rather the best low-budget mandolins on the market in terms of quality.
They are very nicely finished instruments, with decent thickness of wood, usually modeled after famous instruments. Their classic design and low price point makes them a favourite.
These instruments play easily with really nice action straight out of the box. Action refers to height of strings on the fretboard. In the 1980s, their higher-end KM-1000, KM-1500 and Dawg models were built by a master luthier.
Gretsch is another beloved instrument manufacturer, offering mandolins in the low-mid price range ($330+). Their designs are very inspired by tradition, striving to capture the sounds of generations past and celebrate everyone’s musical roots.
Gretsch mandolins are beautifully made with solid spruce tops and mahogany sides. Solid wood construction is important to an instrument’s tonal quality, as the notes have one big piece of wood to work with, making for a more uniform sound, rather than glued slabs of different woods altogether. Solid wood also holds up better to the stress put on the instrument.
The finishes on these instruments are beautifully smooth and very nice to touch. The tuners hold their tune in between uses. Great action right out of the box. Well made, nice looking instruments.