Mandolins are one of the priciest musical instruments you can find in the market.
One key thing you need to be clear about, though, is that a higher value instrument doesn’t necessarily come at a higher cost.
You can find a decent quality mandolin at almost every budget level. All it takes is a little bit of research and the ability to judge the quality for yourself, rather than pinning it on a price point.
I’m here to help with that.
Mandolin Price Ranges: Which is right for you?
|Mandolin Type||Price Range|
|Beginner-Level Mandolin||$100 – $400+|
|Intermediate-Level Mandolin||$500 – $800+|
|Professional-Level Mandolin||$700 – $3,000+|
Expect to pay about $300 for a good quality mandolin that has a decent tone and offers good playability.
However, many of the mandolins within this price range lack quality, so you have to be careful with your selection and know what to look out for.
One thing to note is that all mandolins within this price range will be the A-style type of mandolins. F-style mandolins typically cost more, and it would be impossible to find a decent quality one priced at $300.
Even with the A-style mandolins at this range, you should definitely expect that some corners had to be cut.
Regardless, the compromise should be that what the manufacturer left out isn’t something that would critically impact the tone or playability of the instrument.
Expect the decent mandolins in this range to be plain-looking, devoid of inlays and decorative elements.
Another thing to expect is that the mandolin will be constructed from layered laminate rather than solid wood.
Regardless, be sure to find a mandolin that comes with good name brand tuners.
A lifetime warranty is highly recommended as well, but do not expect to find that on many instruments within this price range.
All in all, it is possible to find a gem at this price point that would be a lifelong instrument that you can grow with.
At this price point, you can now begin to see some F-style mandolins.
There is a notable improvement in the playability of instruments within this range, and some beginners prefer these mandolins because they can master notes with less effort.
The instruments should now boast much better features, including nicer inlays for aesthetic appeal.
The soundboard is typically hand-carved from solid wood, and you will begin to see ebony fingerboards and better-quality tuners as well.
The most significant difference with these mandolins is improved craftsmanship and generally a more structurally advanced instrument.
These instruments feature more aesthetic touches, including elaborate, more durable inlays and flamed maple wood elements.
The mandolins begin to boast of some elegance and prestige. The strings used are much nicer, and you could even spot gold hardware on some models.
Instruments within the $700 range can be pretty impressive in sound, aesthetics and playability. So much that quite a number of professionals go for these mandolins.
At $1,000, expect to find some pretty high-quality instruments befitting the price tag.
These are the type of mandolins you would find in recording studios, in concert halls, or being used by trainers in music schools.
Over $1,000 Mandolins
More of what you are paying for at this top dollar level is detailed work and intense craftsmanship, including an entirely hand-crafted instrument.
As such, it is not surprising that most instruments in this category are the F-style mandolins.
The mandolins are made from woods of a much higher grade and feature a perfect finish, such as a thin nitrocellulose lacquer finish.
This mandolin is designed to five a perfect fit, and there will definitely be big names on the headstock.
As much as the price here is due to detail work, that doesn’t mean that the instrument is all about aesthetics.
Some detail work can translate into a better tone, which can also be enhanced by using better-quality woods.
That being said, this is more or less regarded as the point of diminishing returns. This is because you are paying twice or thrice as much for minimal improvement in the instrument’s performance.
Custom Made Mandolins: Are They worth it?
These are the most expensive mandolins in the market and can easily cost over $20,000.
Typically, instruments in this category do not have a price tag. Instead, the price is determined by the brand.
These are the kind of instruments you will spot on a famous icon on tour, given to them as customized gifts.
At this higher-end market, emphasis is more on branding than on improved instrument quality.
See, quality has limits, and past a certain point where top quality has been reached, it becomes more about a ‘different’ instrument, rather than a ‘better’ instrument.
Cosmetic upgrades on a mandolin will hardly have any noticeable impact on the instrument’s sound, but they impact the instrument’s value and the pride of ownership.
The most common aesthetic improvements are the fretboard and headstock inlays.
Factors Affecting the Price of a Mandolin
Mandolin Body Style
- A-Style Mandolin
A-style mandolins typically cost much less compared to F-style mandolins.
A-style mandolins are more affordable because they are less ornamented, having a very streamlined and simple design. As a result, they are easier to build and less time-consuming, too.
A-styles are popular with classical, folk and Celtic musicians.
- F-Style Mandolin
It can take twice as long to build an F-style as an A-style mandolin.
F-style mandolins come with a fancy, delicate body scroll and lavish appointments.
All these elements result in more work when it comes to crafting the instrument. More so, the fancy details have to be hand-carved with a chisel, so it is a very demanding and time-consuming process.
F-styles are a popular choice for musicians who play country, bluegrass and roots music.
- Bowl-Back Mandolin
These are also known as Classical or Neapolitan mandolins.
Bowl-back mandolins are a rare find, and since they are hardly made anymore, the available ones are antiques and typically run a high cost.
High-quality bowl-back mandolins are sought after by musicians who play classical, Renaissance and Baroque musical styles.
Woods and Construction Methods
- Solid Wood
The best quality mandolins have their soundboards carved from solid pieces of spruce.
Spruce is the preferred wood for mandolin soundboards, which are the tops. This is because spruce has dense grain, and as such, provides a bright and articulate response in the instrument.
Spruce not only enhances the instrument’s tonal quality but also adds to its aesthetic appeal. The only thing is that spruce is pretty expensive, so expect such instruments to be costly.
Lower cost mandolins feature laminate soundboards.
This is whereby several layers of wood have been pressed together, and then a thin veneer of attractively grained wood is laid on top of it for aesthetic appeal.
Laminate soundboards are pressed into place, not carved. This allows for lower production costs and eliminates the need for elaborate craftsmanship, which is why laminated mandolins are cheaper.
Nonetheless, laminate tops can still produce a very acceptable sound.
Moderately-priced mandolins have a solid wood top, with the rest of the body being made from laminated wood. This is a nice compromise that allows for a good tone but while keeping the price tag low.
Better quality mandolins have a body made from solid maple, mahogany, cedar Koa, or other hardwood.
The higher-end hand-built mandolin market is dictated more by branding than by any other aspect or feature on the instrument.
Quality has limits in terms of materials used, construction techniques employed, finishes used, etc.
As such, when it gets to the point where top quality has been reached, there is no way to improve the instrument. One can only make it different.
When looking at mandolins priced over $3,000, all the instruments will essentially sound alike and have similar degrees of playability. The only difference comes in in the aesthetics and the name behind the mandolin.
Some names simply command more authority in the market, which is why they can price their instruments much higher than others.
This is why it is prudent to be able to look out for a good bargain. Essentially, this refers to the mandolins that are built to the highest standards but lack the big-name capable of commanding higher prices.
When considering a new mandolin, the rule of thumb is to disregard the cheapest and the most expensive options.
What’s left will give you a more realistic price range, and you will clearly be able to see the differences in value at each price point.
Essentially, the cost of a Mandolin can be as much or as little as you are willing to spend. You just need to be clear about what you are looking for and what you need.