There are many different types of mandolins out there. This article will focus on some of the best mandolins specifically for bluegrass music.
We’ll cover everything you need to know about these instruments, including our top six picks, what they’re used for, and how much they cost.
We’ll help you out with the always-difficult purchasing decision, and educate on the mandolins that we think will be a perfect match for you!
Let’s jump right in and go into the details.
Table of Contents
- Top 6 Bluegrass Mandolins
Buying Guide: How To Choose a Mandolin For Bluegrass
- Choose an F-5 Style Mandolin
- The Best Mandolin for Bluegrass Music Should Have Tight Strings
- When Choosing a Bluegrass Mandolin, Go for Medium and Small Sizes
- Best Types of Mandolins for Bluegrass
- Bluegrass Music Style Using a Mandolin
- What Makes a Bluegrass Mandolin Different from a Normal Mandolin
Top 6 Bluegrass Mandolins
1. Editor’s Pick – The Loar LM-520-VS
One of your top choices should be the Loar LM-520-VS Mandolin. It gives you a solid hand-crafted spruce top, as well as hand-crafted maple sides and back. The neck of the mandolin is V-shaped and made from maple.
This mandolin can offer you so many different varieties of tunes. You’ll get adjustable ebony, and this will offer you better intonation and frequency as well. This mandolin comes in gloss finishing with vintage and traditional sunburst.
The top-quality materials used to make this mandolin will ensure you get excellent intonation for your bluegrass music.
2. Best Budget Option – The Loar LM-110-BRB
This is another product from the same brand as our Editor’s Pick. The mandolin has a thin V profile, and comfortably fits in the hands of players.
In this mandolin, you can find another authentic and hand-crafted spruce top. It’s a perfect example of an authentic and traditional F-style body.
This product not only sounds great, but is also easy to play for beginners. Even with its beginner friendly qualities, though, it’s still a great pick even for more advanced players.
With its woody characteristics, it is very warm and full. It can produce some classy tones. It is very easy to play and a joy to listen to as well.
3. Best Value – Ibanez M522SBS
The Ibanez M522SBS is a great bluegrass mandolin.
The hand-carved, premium grade mahogany neck is strong and flexible. The high gloss Brown Sunburst finish provides a vintage mandolin look, giving the instrument character and establishing its identity.
The solid spruce top promotes outstanding projection while providing clarity and balance to the overall sound of this mandolin.
Die-cast tuners with pearloid knobs offer durability for tightening or loosening the tension on each string, and can be turned smoothly for quick adjustments without breaking a sweat.
The Ibanez M522SBS comes with many accessories like extra picks, strings, and an electric tuner.
4. Best Acoustic-Electric – Stagg M50E
This bluegrass mandolin brings high quality materials and excellent comfort to players. It’s another great option for bluegrass mandolin music and beyond.
The rosewood fingerboard offers a smooth feeling while playing, and the F-shaped sound holes can produce stunning tones. It comes with a basswood top and nato neck as well.
The beautiful nickel tailpiece gives off a classic and traditional appearance. The bridge is made of black-colored maple and is adjustable as well.
You can get the perfect violin burst finish as well with this one, giving you a vintage feel and an authentic look.
The sound of this mandolin is sweet, crisp, and deep as well, and it gives you a good feel of control at all times in terms of the intonation. It can produce fantastic tones that everyone can enjoy.
5. Best for Professionals – Ibanez M700AVS
The Ibanez M700AVS Mandolin is perfect for the professional musician. Crafted from solid spruce and maple, the sound is clear with a defined high end.
The deep, balanced bluegrass tone reverberates through its sunburst finish, which gives this instrument an impressive look.
Professional tooling enhances comfort when rosining your strings, and allows tuning far more easily than other instruments of its kind.
If you’re looking for a professional instrument built to provide pure, acoustic sound – you’ve found it!
6. Best for Handmade Luxury – Eastman MD315
If you want to buy a great bluegrass mandolin that is built to impress, then you should go for this one.
This mandolin comes with a classic and beautiful finish, and is created with traditional materials. It’s made with an “old-world” craftsmanship method and built to last. It features a solid spruce top that adds to how attractive this mandolin is.
You also get solid maple sides and backs with this mandolin, and a rosewood fingerboard. On top of that, you get an adjustable ebony bridge.
The F-style body looks fantastic as well, with outstanding sound and tones produced from the F-holes. It is a perfect example of clean workmanship.
Buying Guide: How To Choose a Mandolin For Bluegrass
Mandolins come in many styles and sizes. Each style and size plays an important role for different types of musicians.
The mandolin’s role in bluegrass music can be huge, so you should know what a mandolin offers that adds value to your bluegrass band.
The wide variety of mandolins makes it hard to choose your mandolin; however, with the following tips, you’ll be on the right track to pick out the best bluegrass mandolin.
Choose an F-5 Style Mandolin
Besides its elegance and flat top and F-shaped sound hole, a mandolin with this shape will produce a high-quality melody that is well-suited to bluegrass music.
If you do not want an F-5 style mandolin, you can opt for any other flat-back mandolin. They are more comfortable compared to a bow-backed mandolin.
The Best Mandolin for Bluegrass Music Should Have Tight Strings
The strings allow the mandolin to produce high notes that are responsible for setting bluegrass music apart from the best. Ensure your mandolin includes the E and B strings. Not all mandolins have all the strings that you might expect.
[Learn more about tuning mandolins strings for proper bluegrass sound.]
[PRO TIP: Find a multi-instrument tuner that works well with a mandolin. This clip-on tuner is one of the best for mandolins.]
When Choosing a Bluegrass Mandolin, Go for Medium and Small Sizes
Going for a medium or small size bluegrass mandolin allows you to use your mandolin for long hours while standing. Medium and small sizes can also produce high-quality high notes.
[PRO TIP: Whatever size you get, don’t skimp on the case. This mandolin case brings versatility with both A and F style mandolins, and has a cool retro look as a bonus.
Best Types of Mandolins for Bluegrass
As we have seen earlier, there are several types and designs of mandolins.
Only a few types of mandolins can fit well in bluegrass music. The best mandolin for bluegrass music will have the following features:
- The mandolin should have a teardrop shape. The shape allows the mandolinist to hold it comfortably as he or she stands upright. The mandolin should have a flat or nearly flat back.
- A wooden mandolin produces the best tones. You should invest in a good quality wooden mandolin to play your bluegrass music well.
- The soundboard is the most crucial part of a mandolin. Spruce wood is the best for the soundboard. However, high-quality mandolins can definitely be expensive. You may opt for a lower budget and wind up with a mandolin that doesn’t use spruce wood, but the sound quality will not be as fine as a higher-end mandolin.
- Choose an electric or an acoustic mandolin depending on how you intend to use the mandolin. If you intend to perform in a large hall or on stage, an electric mandolin will serve you well. However, if you are a beginner, you can use an acoustic mandolin.
The price of a mandolin is a limiting factor. High-quality mandolins are quite expensive. However, if you are on a tight budget, you can find a decent mandolin ranging from $50 to $100. You can use that mandolin as you save to buy a better mandolin.
Or, if you want to jump right in, you can opt for a more expensive mandolin around the $500 range as more of an intermediate option.
Whichever price-range you go with, just remember to pick up a couple of good instructional books along with your mandolin. A good book is invaluable in the beginning days when you’re learning the mandolin.
[PRO TIP: Speed up your learning process with this mandolin method book from one of the most trusted educational brands out there.]
Bluegrass Music Style Using a Mandolin
There is no bluegrass music without a mandolin. A mandolin complements the other instruments, such as banjo, guitar, upright bass, and fiddle.
All these instruments have a role in bluegrass music. However, the mandolin plays three roles.
The roles are:
1. In rhythm, mandolin creates the highest tones. They use the chunking technique to create upbeats and sometimes offbeats. The strong offbeat is the original sound that Bill Monroe created.
However, banjo and fiddle can also create chunking when the mandolinist is occupied.
2. Bluegrass music is straightforward with verses, chorus, and breaks. Showy instrumentals characterize the breaks.
A mandolin provides a unique melody that sets out bluegrass music from the rest.
A mandolinist can add their creativity to add value to the instrumentals. The mandolin is also often responsible for kickoffs and endings.
3. A mandolin creates fill and backup in bluegrass music. You will hear the fill or backup when the band is hitting some long-held tones.
Mandolins create melodies, countermelodies, and soft chopping as the band members are singing.
What Makes a Bluegrass Mandolin Different from a Normal Mandolin
Bluegrass mandolin is not so different from a normal mandolin. However, due to the unique demands of bluegrass music, it was important to make some modifications to the normal mandolin to fit bluegrass music.
As we mentioned earlier, a bluegrass mandolin will not have a bowed back. Plus, a bluegrass mandolin should have tight strings. The strings are responsible for the sharp chunking.
[PRO TIP: When it comes to strings, you can trust the bestsellers. This set of mandolin strings is D’Addario’s best-selling set.]
Finding the best mandolin for a specific sound and style of music can be hard, but we hope that we’ve helped guide you through this tough decision.
Some people prefer the sound and feel of an all-wood or laminated wood mandolin, because they provide for more warmth and bass tones to your music. Others may want the brighter tone that comes with metal strings on their instrument.
There is no right answer when it comes to choosing which type of material your mandolin should be made out of. Ultimately, you have to play around until you find what feels most comfortable in your hands. However, with some of the tips and characteristics of bluegrass mandolins that we’ve spotlighted here, you should have a much better idea of how to filter out a broad range of mandolins and hone in on the one that makes the most sense for your bluegrass playing!
What is a mandolin and how does it differ from a guitar?
A mandolin is a stringed musical instrument in the lute family, similar to a small guitar. It has eight strings in four pairs, which are plucked or strummed to produce sound. Mandolins are typically smaller and have a bright, sharp tone, making them popular for bluegrass and other traditional styles of music.
What are the different types of mandolins?
There are several types of mandolins, including bowl-backed, flat-backed, and carved-top mandolins. Bluegrass mandolins are typically flat-backed and feature a carved top, which provides a bright, punchy sound.
What are the most important features to look for when choosing a mandolin for bluegrass music?
When choosing a mandolin for bluegrass, it’s important to consider the quality of the construction, including the neck, bridge, and fretboard, as well as the type of wood used for the body. The sound and tone of the mandolin are also important factors, as bluegrass mandolins should have a bright and articulate sound.
How much should I expect to spend on a quality bluegrass mandolin?
The price range for bluegrass mandolins can vary greatly, with beginner models starting around $200 and professional-quality instruments costing upwards of $2,000 or more.
Is it better to buy a new or used mandolin?
Whether to buy a new or used mandolin will depend on your individual needs and budget. New mandolins typically come with a warranty and are in perfect condition, while used mandolins may have some wear and tear but can be a more affordable option.
What is the difference between a mandolin and a mandolin-banjo?
A mandolin-banjo is a hybrid instrument that combines the body of a banjo with the neck and tuning of a mandolin. The result is a unique sound that combines the twang of a banjo with the brightness of a mandolin.
Can I learn to play bluegrass mandolin on my own or do I need lessons?
While it is possible to learn to play bluegrass mandolin on your own, many musicians find it helpful to take lessons from an experienced instructor. This can help you to develop proper technique and get feedback on your playing.
Is it important to have a case for my bluegrass mandolin?
Yes, it’s important to have a case for your bluegrass mandolin to protect it from damage during transport. Hard cases are the best option for maximum protection, while gig bags offer a lighter and more compact option.
Are there any online resources or forums where I can connect with other bluegrass mandolin players?
Yes, there are many online resources and forums where you can connect with other bluegrass mandolin players. Some popular options include Mandolin Cafe, Mando Hangout, and Bluegrass Today.