Are you just starting out with mandolin and not sure what you need? Well this is the page for you! The below are what I’d consider required items for new players along with some links to purchase these items. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me.
Choosing a Mandolin
Choosing the right mandolin for you boils down to a few things – your budget and your commitment. If you’re just starting out and not 100% sure mandolin is for you, there’s no shame going cheap.
My first mandolin was a very inexpensive Rogue mandolin I got for $50 (actually it was a deal for a guitar and mandolin for $100 haha). It wasn’t great – but as a beginner, it was good enough to get the basics down. If you gave me that same mandolin today though, the low quality would be super noticeable.
F Style vs A Style
Before getting in to price ranges, let’s talk about the difference between the most common types of mandolins – F style and A style.
While there are some obvious differences between these types (like how the mandolin feels), most players agree the real differences between the two styles is really just looks.
A style mandolins are utilitarian – they sound good and don’t have extra fancy add ons.
F style mandolins are a bit more fancy looking – they have a scroll, a fancy headstock, and etc.
Generally speaking, F style mandolins are more expensive than A styles for the same relative quality. So if you’re on a budget or just want to stretch your dollar – A style’s are likely a good choice.
F holes vs Oval holes
The sound holes in a mandolin are an important part of the overall tone. The general rule is basically:
If you are going for a bluegrass sound – look for a mandolin that has F holes.
If you are going for more classical sound – look for a mandolin with oval holes.
Weber Mandolin’s site does a good job of explaining the differences between the two.
Where should I buy from?
For anything under $500, I don’t think it matters much. If you use the Amazon links below, I get a commission which is always nice – but your local music shop likely needs that sale too.
When you start getting to the $1,000+ range, either go to a local music store that sells mandolins, go to the Mandolin Store online, or use the Mandolin Cafe’s classified section.
I’ve bought many instruments both the Mandolin Store online and the Mandolin Cafe’s classifieds (they are not related to each other). I’ve had great experiences with both places and would highly recommend them. The Mandolin Cafe has a great forum as well – great place to ask questions!
Here’s some suggestions based on price ranges:
- $500 or less – mostly A styles and may need extra setup. Likely you’ll outgrow these within a year or two of regular playing. These are great if you’re really just testing the waters and aren’t sure if mandolin is for you.
- Rogue RM-100A – about $100 – $150. This was the same style as my first mandolin. These are decent and not bad starting mandolins
- Loar Mandolin – about $100 – $150 generally. These are decent and not bad starting mandolins
- Oscar Schmidt – about $450, so a little pricey for a beginner mandolin, but this was my second or third mandolin when I decided to upgrade. It’s an F style too!
- $500 – $1,000 – nicer quality, usually still needs some setup. It’ll take a while for you to outgrow these. If you are serious about playing mandolin, I’d suggest $500+ as a price range. I have a lot of friends that have used these
- $1,000 – $2,000 – even nicer quality than the previous, but may still require a setup. You can find many touring mandolin players using these mandolins – so these could be very long term mandolins for you.
- Eastman MD505
- Kentucky KM858
- Kentucky KM-756
- Kentucky KM-656
- Washburn Americana M3SWE
- $2,000+ – at this price point, there’s a lot of options which are too many to list here. Feel free to contact me if you have questions.
Digital tuners are important. You could use your phone and download an app, but those tune by sound – which make them difficult to use at a jam.
I recommend just using this tuner – it’s ~$20 and USB rechargeable so you don’t need to deal with the annoying batteries and works well. I have 2 (one in my case, one in my studio).
Again, you could use your phone but there are two issues with that. First, if you wanted to record yourself playing so you can gauge progress (a great idea by the way), using your phone for both the metronome and the recording is problematic. Second, if your phone is slow for some reason (older, lots of CPU being used etc), the metronome app may “slip” a beat. The second issue may just be a relic from my past experiences.
With that in mind, I use a Matrix Metronome I’ve had since I started playing – though I can’t find them online anymore. Here’s two cheap options and an expensive one for the heck of it:
$25 option Lekato
$20 option Lekato
$280 WITTNER Metronome
Soft case or hard case is usually the big question. Most mandolins will come with some type of case, which is great and may be all you need. I generally recommend having a hard case as your primary and maybe having a soft backpack case for walking around at festivals – or a hard case with backpack straps. Below are some options I’ve used.
TKL A style – hard case. These are the most common cases that come with new instruments
TKL F style – hard case. These are the most common cases that come with new instruments. I use this for my mandolins.
Crossrock – hard case with straps – kill two birds with one stone!
Case Saddle – This allows you to turn your hard case into a backpack. Really neat.
Alpine soft case – My go to soft gig bag. The pockets / storage (and beverage holder on the side) make it a great festival case!
Any more questions?
If you have any questions, feel free to contact me.