The 5 Best Mandolins for the Money Reviews

MandolinIt’s true that when it comes to stringed instruments the guitar reigns supreme when it comes to popularity. Yet quite a few people still search for the best mandolins for the money.

The main appeal of the mandolin has to be the sound. It’s not so common these days, and yet it’s so old-timey in its appeal. Obviously bluegrass music fans appreciate it too.

Its size is also a factor.  You can travel with it with fewer problems than with a guitar. You can stash it into an airplane overhead compartment with no trouble. You can play it with people sitting right beside you.

Also, it’s unusual. Some people just like to stand out from the crowd, and the musical crowds these days are all playing guitars and keyboards. So a mandolin is much more distinctive.

Plus, it’s cute!

Top 5 Mandolins for the Money: Comparison Chart


Name of product
Top Wood
View On Amazon
Laminated wood
27.3 x 13.3 x 4.2 inches
2.85 pounds
Select spruce
27 x 3 x 10.5 inches
2.5 pounds
Select solid German spruce
29 x 13 x 4 inches
5 pounds
29 x 13 x 5 inches
1.5 pounds
Solid spruce top
29 x 13 x 4 inches
2.6 pounds

Best Picks of Mandolins for the Money

#1: Rogue RM-100A A-Style Mandolin Sunburst

This is arguably the most popular mandolin in the world. That’s because it’s extremely cheap, but the quality is definitely not too shabby at all. It offers an amazing level of bang for your buck.

You know how mandolins can be more expensive than guitars, especially entry-level models? This is an exception to the rule, just as it’s an exception to the adage that an absolutely low price comes with an absolutely low quality.

It’s not often that you can come across a mandolin that costs as much as a lunch or a visit to the cinema (with snacks) for two. It’s that affordable. It may even seem like a toy if you judge by the price. But its features and qualities are exceptional at this price range.

Rogue RM-100A A-Style Mandolin Sunburst
  • Maple neck
  • Rosewood fingerboard
  • Adjustable compensated rosewood bridge
  • 12th-fret neck joint
  • Chrome tuning machines

Last update on 2020-05-03 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

It’s true that it has laminated wood for its soundboard, but it doesn’t sound all that bad. After all, newbies can really tell the difference but they can tell that the sound is actually nice enough.

It comes with a rosewood fingerboard, which is good enough for your fingers as they slide along the strings as you make your chords. You do have chrome tuning machines and nickel-plated frets.

Also, you even have an adjustable compensated bridge made of rosewood, and this keeps your mandolin in tune.

The sound is good enough for you to play bluegrass and folk music by yourself or with other people. Sure, it doesn’t sound as nice as a custom mandolin. But for newbies it’s certainly sounds good enough and very few people wish to become a professional mandolin player anyway.

Keep this in mind: you can find plenty of other mandolins out there that cost 2 or 3 times as much as this one—and yet they will sound basically the same as the Rogue RM-100A A-Style.

It’s easy to play as well. When you begin to get better at playing the mandolin, you can switch to heavier strings to make it sound fuller.

In addition, the Rogue RM-100A A-Style is also surprisingly sturdy. Lots of people expect it to be shoddily made because of the price, but that’s not the case at all. It will last for quite a while, and it can certainly help you become a much better mandolin player.

At this price point, plenty of experienced musicians buy one as a reserve. So if they’re going to a park drinking and playing music with their buddies, they can trot this out and they won’t have to worry that it may get damaged when things turn rowdy. It’s so affordable you won’t be heartbroken if this gets damaged. You can simply buy another one without busting your budget.

It’s understandable why so many people regard this as the best beginner Mandolins guitar. You can practice with this without making too much of a financial commitment. If you don’t like playing the mandolin, you can just give this to your friends or family.

Highlighted Features
  • The sound isn’t bad.
  • It’s not liable to break too quickly.
  • It looks nice enough too.
  • It’s a good beginner’s mandolin, yet the price is unbelievably affordable.

#2: Ibanez M510DVS Mandolin, Dark Violin Sunburst

One way to entice yourself to play and practice more with an instrument is if that instrument looks cool. That’s a good adjective to use with the Ibanez M510DVS Mandolin, as it certainly looks gorgeous. It has 3 “Sunburst” color schemes, and whether you get the brown, vintage, or dark violin sunburst model you’ll have an instrument that will call to you. It’s like some sort of work of art.

With this Ibanez M510DVS Mandolin, you have an A-style version that doesn’t look bland. Go for the Dark Violin Sunburst, which looks dramatic and it can look like it belongs in a classical orchestra. You get spruce at the top, mahogany for the back and sides, and chrome for the hardware. You also get pearl dot inlays.

Ibanez M510DVS Mandolin, Dark Violin Sunburst
  • A-style mandolin
  • Select spruce top
  • Mahogany back & sides
  • Chrome hardware
  • Pearl Dot Inlay

Last update on 2020-05-03 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

The quality of the build is excellent as well. It’s an upgrade, even compared to the affordable RM-100A. This entry-level mandolin from Ibanez certainly doesn’t look cheap at all.

The sound is also great. This is mainly due to the use of select solid spruce at the top. It projects its sound very well, so when you’re playing with other musicians your sound won’t get drowned out. When you’re playing alone the sound is rich and full. If you’re a newbie, the sound is great and even for more experienced mandolin players the sound isn’t disappointing at all.

This can last for a long while. This isn’t just due to the excellent quality of the build, but also because of the use of a truss rod. Because of the truss rod, you can adjust the neck of the mandolin so it’s not as easy for the neck to bend out of shape due to the pressure of the strings.

With the M510DVS, Ibanez tries to achieve a good balance between quality and affordability. Its price is a bit higher than the RM-100A, but then it’s not as if the price is too much. Its quality is also much better, so you do get your money’s worth. This will also last a long time, so you won’t have to buy a new one too soon because of wear and tear.

Of course, as you become better at your mandolin you may want a better sound. But for many, the sound of the M510DVS is good enough especially if you take it to a pro to set it up properly.

Highlighted Features
  • It looks great.
  • It’s very well-made.
  • With spruce as the top wood, it sounds great.
  • It’s quite durable.

#3: Kentucky KM-150 Standard A-model Mandolin – Sunburst

This comes in a solid top version, but for a few dollars more you can simply go with the all-solid version.

This costs twice as much as the M510DVS, but then Kentucky took a lot of care in using the best materials they can find for your mandolin so you get a nice sound. At the same time, they also managed to make sure that the price is still within the affordable range.

So let’s see what we have here. For the top wood, we have solid high quality German spruce. This gives a tone that’s bright and crisp, and you get to enjoy clear articulation. You won’t get any sort of muffled dull tone.

Kentucky KM-150 Standard A-model Mandolin - Sunburst
  • Solid German spruce top gives you clean articulation and a crisp, bright tone
  • Solid Alpine maple back and sides for extra punch
  • Slim Alpine maple neck for comfortable, easy action
  • Choice tonewood fingerboard ensures silky smooth playability
  • High-gloss sunburst finish creates traditional beauty and luster

Last update on 2020-05-03 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

You even get an extra punch to your sound due to the use of solid alpine maple for the back.

For the neck, Kentucky used alpine maple as well. This wood allows for easy action as you play, and the slim width makes it quite comfortable to hold and play.

The smooth playability of this mandolin is also enhanced by the choice tonewood in the fingerboard. Your fingers can glide easily along the fingerboard as you play your chords.

This comes with a comfortable shape that won’t give you any trouble when you play it. There’s a peghead with a traditional snakehead shape, and a modified dovetail neck-body joint attaches that peghead to the mandolin body.

Tuning the mandolin is also not troublesome, and you can breathe easy with how it can keep in tune for a long while. For that, you have open-geared tuners that are quite accurate. The tonewood bridge is also adjustable, so you can really keep it in tune.

This is a high quality mandolin, but somehow it’s still an entry-level instrument. Compare it to other Kentucky mandolins, and you find them in a much high quality at also much higher prices. It’s just that Kentucky doesn’t really want to offer substandard mandolins even for beginners, which explains why this KM-150 A-style is so good.

Highlighted Features
  • For a beginner’s mandolin, it’s very high quality.
  • The woods have been chosen with special care.
  • It sounds great.
  • It’s easy to tune and it’s also easy to keep it in tune.
  • It’s very playable with smooth action.

#4: Stagg M-30 Bluegrass Mandolin with Spruce Top – Redburst

Now let’s get back to more affordable mandolins. That’s one way to look at the Stagg M-30 Bluegrass mandolin, which costs less than half that of the KM-150. We’re referring to the acoustic model. Surprisingly, this also comes with an acoustic-electric model that only costs a few dollars more. If you want to record your music or use an amplifier, then the electric version may be a better choice.

But for newbies and casual players, the acoustic version is affordable and good enough as well. There’s a redburst pattern, though a goldburst pattern is also available.

Stagg M-30 Bluegrass Mandolin with Spruce Top - Redburst
  • Basswood Back and Sides
  • Nato Neck
  • Rosewood Fingerboard
  • Red burst

Last update on 2020-05-03 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

The top wood is spruce, so you can rely on its bright sound. It has a nato neck, which is a good alternative to mahogany in this function. You have rosewood for the fingerboard and basswood for the back and sides.

This may require a bit of an adjustment, so you may want to consult a pro. Afterwards, the action is more than acceptable for this mandolin. The sound is also terrific, compared to what you may expect from a mandolin in this price range.

Highlighted Features
  • It’s quite affordable.
  • There’s an acoustic electric version for only a few bucks extra.
  • It looks good.
  • The sound is more than acceptable.

#5: Kentucky KM-140 Standard A-model Mandolin – Sunburst

If the KM-150 is out of your price range, then Kentucky offers this more affordable KM-140 for you. This is the new version of the KM-140, as it now sports a solid top made of select narrow-grained spruce. Its tone is quite marvelous, especially for a beginner’s mandolin.

Actually, everything about the KM-140 has been crafted carefully and artistically. It has a traditional look that offers excellent visual appeal. It comes with features such as maple back and sides, a solid maple neck and a rosewood fretboard.

Kentucky KM-140 Standard A-model Mandolin - Sunburst
  • Solid spruce top, Maple back and sides
  • Multi-ply top binding, Adjustable compensated rosewood bridge
  • Bound rosewood fingerboard with M.O.P. dot inlays, One piece maple neck with dovetail neck/body joint at 12th fret
  • Adjustable truss rod, Classic M.O.P. Kentucky script inlay and dot markers
  • Deluxe tuning machines, Nickel-plated hardware, Traditional high-gloss Nitrocellulose lacquer finish, Sunburst finish
  • Solid carved Sitka spruce top gives you clean articulation and a crisp, bright tone
  • Maple back and sides for a vintage look and warm resonance

Last update on 2020-05-03 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

It even has features you don’t always find in an entry-level mandolin. These include an adjustable truss rod and an adjustable rosewood bridge. This bridge is also compensated for better tuning, and it’s already been adjusted in the shop.

Highlighted Features
  • You can play this almost right away out of the box. You just need to tune it properly.
  • It offers a traditional design that looks great.
  • It’s a solid piece of work that will last long.
  • The tone is excellent for a newbie’s mandolin.

Mandolin Terminology Explanation

So there’s no confusion about what some of the mandolin terms might mean, let’s define them:

  • Arched Back. The back of the mandolin is shaped a bit like a bowl, unlike other instruments that have a flatter back.
  • A-style. This refers one of the types of Mandolins guitars that have a slightly rounded back. They’re different from arched-backed mandolins. With the A-style, you have a mandolin body shape that looks like a tear or a pear. This A-style mandolin is generally easier to build, and so it’s consequently more affordable.
  • F-style. In contrast to the A-style, the F-style is much more ornamental when it comes to the look of its body. The carvings are more intricate and lavish. They also tend to have two “F” holes on each side of the soundboard like the holes in a violin. That’s in contrast to the “O” hole like what you see in acoustic guitars. Everyone accepts that the F-style looks better than the simpler A-style, though there’s an ongoing debate as to whether or not the F-style has a sound that’s much better.
  • Pressed top. If your mandolin is a pressed top, it means the top was pressed into shape by a machine, using pressure and heat. It’s a cheap way to build a mandolin, because you can automate the process.
  • Carved top. In contrast to the pressed top, the carved top mandolin has a curved top that’s been carved in to shape, usually by hand. It’s a more expensive process, but it makes the mandolin sound better.
  • Scroll. You know that bit of wood wrapped around the top of the mandolin? That’s called the scroll. It makes the mandolin look much better. On the other hand, this makes the mandolin a lot more expensive and yet it doesn’t exactly boost the sound quality at all.

How to Choose the Best Mandolin for the Money

If we are judging mandolins based on thieve value for money, it stands to reason that you will need to take the price first into account. The old rule about price and quality stands in the mandolin industry, but just like everything else there are notable exceptions.

For beginners, you will want to consider the immediate playability of the instrument right out of the box. Some mandolins require a lot of tuning and extra customization before the instrument sounds good. If it’s not loud enough, you may have to go on the hunt for the best pickups for Mandolins.

The sound quality will obviously be another crucial factor as well. For beginners, however, there’s scarcely any difference between a good-sounding mandolin and another top Mandolin Guitar with an excellent sound. So for newbies, an expensive mandolin with an exquisite sound may not be a sensible purchase, as beginners may not have the ear to discern the difference.

Durability will also be a factor, especially in terms of bang for the buck. A cheap mandolin isn’t really cheap at all if it breaks down in a very short time.

To find out about these factors, you will want to consult any experienced mandolin player in your social circles. They can tell you about their personal experiences with their mandolins, and recommend the ones that suit your playing skill and budget

You should also read a lot of reviews (like ours), as well as customer reviews too. Customer reviews tend to be more accurate as a whole compare to mere advertisements.

Things to Consider before Buying a Mandolin for the Money

So when you’re reading these reviews, exactly what should you focus on? Here are some of the crucial factors:

  • In general cheap mandolins will offer you cheap quality and a bad overall experience. But there are exceptions, and in fact one of our reviews covers the most popular cheap mandolin of them all.
  • Body style This is basically a choice between arch-backed (or bowl-backed), A-style, and F-style mandolins. The bowl-backed style is more traditional and its dark tone is best for classical music and traditional folk music. A-style mandolins sound better and the simplicity of the design makes them more affordable than the F-style versions. These F-style mandolins are more ornamental in their design, though the ornate shape doesn’t necessarily make it sound better.
  • Top Woods The wood used for the mandolin determines the sound, especially the soundboard (top). Generally, the best wood you can get is solid spruce. If you want to save money, you can settle for cedar or mahogany. These woods result in a darker tone that can get lost among the sounds of a full band. Laminate is the cheapest wood as the sound quality isn’t as good, though it’s usually a tough wood.
  • Woods for other parts You’ll want a hard wood with a smooth surface for the fretboard. That means ebony or rosewood. You also want a rigid neck, so mahogany and pale are preferred so they don’t bend. A laminate neck is actually a great choice. A movable bridge can also be made from rosewood or ebony.

Top Mandolins Guitar Brands

Here are some of the more recognizable brands in the mandolin industry:

  • No list of mandolin brands is complete without Rogue. It’s probably the topselling mandolin brand in the world, because they can offer acceptably good mandolins for beginners at outrageously low prices. Many consider Rogue among the best mandolin manufacturers because of the excellent bang for the buck they offer.
  • This is an iconic brand in the industry, and they make premium mandolins for newbies as well as experienced bluegrass professionals.
  • Despite its Hispanic-seeming name, this brand is actually based out in Nagoya, Japan. Since 1957, they’ve been producing excellent musical instruments, and their guitars are certainly famous. They also make affordable mandolins.
  • Stagg Music produces a wide variety of musical instruments encompassing virtually the whole range of musical styles. It’s based in Belgium, and they’ve been around since 1995. They make lots of different folk and bluegrass musical instruments, including mandolins, ukuleles, and harmonicas. If you’re looking for the best slap bass guitar, you can get it from them too.

Final Verdict

Any of the mandolins here can work very well for you. If you’re not sure about the mandolin, then the Rogue RM-100A should work for you. It’s absolutely cheap while its quality is certainly not cheap.

The challenge for you is to find the right balance between quality and affordability. For that’ perhaps the KM-140 from Kentucky is your best bet. It sounds great, the playability is good, the durability is undeniable, and it looks stunning. Yet the price is still entry-level, and it doesn’t require too much of an investment. All the models listed here are among the best mandolins for the money, but if you’re not sure then you should really consider the Kentucky KM-140.

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