Many people are fascinated by string instruments, with the guitar probably being the best known of all of them. If you have a desire to play a different string instrument, then the mandolin is a good choice. The mandolin has been around since the 19th century and has been used for everything from rock and country to jazz and classical music. The instrument has a very distinctive sound that you must like if you want to play the instrument. If you have played the violin, you will have an advantage as the instruments are tuned in the same way.Mandolins on Amazon
The mandolin is rather small, making it easy to transport. So, if you’re crazy about string instruments, give the mandolin a chance!
Top 5 Best Mandolins
If you want to choose a mandolin with ease, pick one from our comprehensive test of over 50 different instruments. I have selected some of the market’s best mandolins below so you do not have to decide for yourself which mandolin you should buy. It can be difficult if you do not know a lot about the instrument.
Best beginner mandolin
Best intermediate mandolin
Best mandolin for experts
Best mandolin for the money
Best electro acoustic mandolin
Best mandolin strings
The modern mandolin was invented in Italy. For centuries, the Italians had been known for their lute builders and classical music was very popular in Italy. The lute was developed in the 17th and 18th century in the Italian city of Naples. Here, instrument builders further developed the lute and came up with a result that was almost identical to the mandolins we know today.
Generally, there are three different kinds of mandolins.The first ever mandolin was round-backed (the most normal type). The instrument was built in Naples and it started out as a classical instrument. Classical composers of the time quickly began to compose music for mandolins. It was easy for them as the mandolin is tuned the same as a violin and, therefore, any violinist could in principle write music for the mandolin, even if you were not able to play it. Antonio Vivaldi, who is probably best known for his “4 seasons”, is one of the composers who wrote for the instrument.
As time has passed, rhythmic music has partly taken over from classical music and the mandolin is now used in these genres. Especially in folk music and in the American genre, Blue Grass, the mandolin has an incredibly important role as a rhythm instrument. As the mandolin gained great popularity in American and Italian folk music, musicians in England and Ireland also began to embrace it in the early 1900s. The mandolin is often seen in Irish folk orchestras and for Saint Patrick’s Day in Denmark, Ireland and the rest of the world, the mandolin is widely used.
Mandolin parts and construction
As the mandolin descends from the lute, it has many common features. It also has many similarities with the guitar and violin and that means that violinists and guitarists are often, without much difficulty, able to play on a mandolin as their 2nd instrument. In relation to the actual construction of the instrument, it’s a bit like a mixture between the guitar and the violin.
First of all, there is the body of the mandolin. The body is the large piece of wood on which sound holes are cut out. There are typically two sound holes and these are almost always f-shaped. However, it may vary depending on the model, manufacturer and the type and the year of the mandolin. On the body there can sometimes be a big hole in the middle like on a guitar. It is rarely seen, but the hole in the middle has the same function as the f-holes. For creating resonance. – And all these types of holes are also called sound holes or resonance holes. Their function is to amplify the vibrations from the strings so that they can be heard more easily. Mandolins are traditionally acoustic instruments, but it is also possible to buy electric ones.
At the end of the body is what you call the bridge. Here, the first part of the strings are attached. The strings then run up along the neck and fretboard, to finally be tightened in the tuning pegs. It is therefore the bridge and the tuning pegs that keep the strings tight, and make sure that the instrument can actually make sounds. As the last part of the body we have a small screw. This screw is attached so the musician can connect a strap for comfort. Traditionally, there has been no screw, and the musicians previously sat on a chair or played with it in the hand. A mandolin is not particularly heavy, and you can easily play with it without extra support using a strap. However, it can be impractical if you enjoy running around on a stage.
Attached to the body, either with help of screws, nails or glue, sits the neck. The neck is a long piece of wood on which the various frets are attached. This is where the musician places his fingers to force different tones. The mandolin’s neck is longer than that of the violin, but much shorter than that of the guitar. A piece of thin wood is always mounted on the neck. It is called the fretboard, which is more fine and fragile. Inside the fretboard, metal rods are inserted into grooves in the wood. These are called frets, and their function is to change the selected tone. It happens by the musician pressing the string down on these frets. When a string is pressed down on one of these frets, the string is shortened or extended. The shorter the string, the higher the tone. And the opposite – the longer the string is, the deeper the tone becomes. It is, therefore, not possible to force a deeper tone than the tone you play if you hit a string without placing your fingers anywhere.
Both body and neck can be made of many different types of wood, and the choice of wood is a whole science. When it comes to choosing wood for instruments (whatever instrument), it depends on the sound you want. Sound is somewhat subjective, and therefore it is up to the individual musician what they prefer. However, there are some species that are more popular than others. And when we talk mandolins, the most commonly used woods are rosewood, teak and lime tree.
Manufacturers have become worse and worse at choosing the best woods. In the old days, all instruments were made as perfect as possible. But the fact is that virtually all instruments today are made on assembly lines. This means (unfortunately) that many manufacturers buy cheaper wood to create greater profit. In the old days, making instruments was a highly respected craft but unfortunately this has changed over time. That being said, there are many instruments that are partly produced on assembly lines. In addition, there are of course still instrument builders and manufacturers who make handmade instruments.
The last large part of the mandolin is found at the top of the neck. Here we have the headstock. The headstock and neck are separated by what is called the nut. In the nut, the strings are clamped so that they do not move around when playing on the instrument. On the headstock, the ends of the strings are attached and from here the strings are tightened or loosened. Typically, the headstock is also beautifully decorated – mandolins tend to be characterized by beautiful decorations and the like.
A mandolin typically has 8 strings. Sometimes they can have 10 or 12, but 8 is undoubtedly the most normal number. Although there are 8 strings, they should be seen as 4. This is because the strings are in pairs. They sit so close that they are almost impossible to play separately. In these couples, both are tuned in unison. That is, the two strings are tuned in exactly the same way, tuned to the exact same tone, and it creates a truly unique sound. Unlike the guitar, the mandolin is tuned in what we call perfect fifths – not fourths like on a guitar. A violin is also tuned in fifths and is actually tuned in exactly the same way. The strings are called (basically to the highest): G, D, A, E.
Choosing a mandolin
Just as when you are looking to buy a violin, you should perhaps consider that mandolins can also be purchased used. Some believe that old mandolins sound better. But be aware that it is NOT the case that all old mandolins sound good. It is quite true that there are some old mandolins that are the best in the world, but mandolins that are so good are also extremely expensive, so they are most likely out of the picture, especially if you are a beginner. The first advice is therefore not to think about the age of the mandolin. As a beginner, especially, this means nothing.
One of the most important things to do when investing in your first instrument is to get it into your hands. That is, you have to take the time to sit down with the instrument and become familiar with it. Spend a few hours playing on it – even if you haven’t learned how to play yet. Notice how it feels. The right instrument should always feel good to have in hand, no matter what type of instrument it is. Then you have to figure out yourself whether it sounds good or not. An instrument that you have to play and practice for many hours must also sound good. These two things are the most important things you have to consider, regardless of which instrument to buy. That said, it is not always necessary to try your mandolin before purchase. There are many online reviews of instruments, and I have already tested over 50 mandolins and found the best ones at the top of the page.
You can also consider whether you want a new or used instrument. There are advantages and disadvantages to both choices. In the used market you typically get more value for money and the range of instruments is usually also larger. The problem with the used market, however, is that you do not have a guarantee and you do not know how the instrument has been handled before. If you buy your mandolin in a music store, you will get a guarantee and often a free adjustment (or ‘set up’) of the instrument after purchase. Used instruments often have to be adjusted after purchase and it costs money. Therefore, you do not always save money by buying used. I would therefore always recommend to beginners and intermediates to buy their mandolin as new in a music store.
Something else to consider is how much money you want to spend on your instrument. There are instruments in all price ranges. Are you convinced that you would like to play a lot and practice many hours on the instrument? Then the money may be well spent and maybe you should not be so afraid to pay a little more. On the other hand, if you are buying the instrument for your 8-year-old niece (who has just started playing mandolin), who has a birthday right around the corner. Yes, then you should think more about the price. Especially with children, there is a great risk of a decline in interest in playing – if it ever existed. Therefore, it would be a shame to buy a new mandolin for hundreds of dollars, and then sell it again with a loss. It is said that from the moment you step out of the music shop, the value of the instrument drops by 50%.
Most important is that you buy a mandolin of good quality. The interest quickly disappears quickly if the instrument is not comfortable and comfortable to play. Quality does not have to cost much. You can get some very fine mandolins for about 100-300 dollars.
There are, of course, many different mandolin strings. Thickness and quality vary according to brand and price. I don’t want to go into more depth, but I will still tell you which brands you should look for:
- Curt Mangan
- Ernie Ball