The mandolin is the smallest, highest-pitched and most popular instrument from the “mandolin family,” comprised of the mandolin, mandola, octave mandolin, mandocello, mandobass and other related instruments.
Mandolins come in a variety of build styles, including Neapolitan/round-backed, archtop and flat-backed types. The instrument types are commonplace in European classical and traditional music, American folk and bluegrass, and world folk music, respectively.
Since mandolins are such beloved instruments, it makes perfect sense that there are plenty of options to choose from on the market. This isn't only true of individual instruments but also of solo luthiers and larger brands.
Of course, the brand is far from the most important aspect of an instrument, though it's still worth considering for general knowledge and judgement. In this article, I'll share my take on the top mandolin brands (including the other members of the mandolin family).
Though obviously subjective and prone to biases, I've done my best to list out these brands based on the following metrics (in no particular order):
- Company reputation
- Performance of the mandolins
- Longevity of the mandolins
- Variety of mandolins available
- Accessibility of the mandolins (how easy they are to find/buy)
- The company must currently be in operation
With all that being said, let's list out the brands.
The top 10 best mandolins brands are:
Let's get into each of these brands in greater detail and explain why they belong in the top 10 best mandolin brands. I'll share their country of origin, a bit of history, an example of a notable mandolin, and a link to their official website.
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Tom Ellis began making surfboards in his teen years because he enjoyed woodworking in his house's shop. By 1972 he had already made his first mandolin and, soon after, moved to Austin, Texas, to a large 3-acres facility to make mandolins for a living.
His talent and passion opened many doors and got him praise from some of the most important mandolin players in history. Nowadays, his name has become a synonym for amazing craftsmanship, a unique sound, and beautifully-crafted instruments.
Notable mandolin: Ellis F5 Reserve (link to check it out at Ellis Mandolins)
Tom Ellis keeps a wood reserve only for special projects. Those are the woods used to build this majestic F5. But that's not all because this instrument is the perfect blend of impeccable craftsmanship and the finest materials available. Furthermore, the intricate Torch and Wire headstock inlay, triple-bound binding on the top, sides and peghead, and the golden Waverly tuners make this an instrument of superior playability and astonishing looks.
Official website: ellismandolins.com
Ellis was founded by Tom Ellis in 1972. Currently, the company headquarters are located in Austin, Texas, USA.
Pava's history of working with wood goes back to her high school years when she chose carpentry as a course for after-school time. Then, her early beginnings building furniture in Croatia and finally, as an apprentice for one of the best-known mandolin luthiers on the planet: Tom Ellis.
Moreover, she worked with him on the models that made Tom Ellis the go-to choice for legends around the world. By 2012, and after having worked with wood for almost three decades, Pava opened up her shop to show the world the skillset a lifetime dedicated to the craft has left her.
Notable mandolin: Pava F5 (link to check it out at Pava Mandolins)
Featuring an Adirondack red spruce top with solid red maple back, sides, and neck, this is a resounding mandolin made with the finest materials on the planet. Moreover, the ebony fretboard with subtle mother of pearl markers and the Ellis bridge give the instrument snap, reliability, and the quintessential look to shine on any stage. The Shellac (gloss or satin) finish is perfect for letting the wood's natural grain stand out. Finally, it ships inside a superior deluxe hardshell case.
Official website: pavamandolins.com
Pava Knezevic founded Pava in 2012. Currently, the headquarters are in Austin, Texas, USA.
Bill Collings is a case of a man with dreams that matched his skills. Indeed, he dreamt of being the go-to luthier for legends the size of Brian May or Pete Townshend, and by the mid-1980s, his reputation was so huge those players were lining up to get a Collings built for them.
The company's reputation was built one player at a time, and Bill's legacy continues to fuel every decision the brand makes. As a result, every mandolin, archtop guitar, or acoustic guitar bearing the Collings logo is certified to be a great instrument.
Notable mandolin: Collings MF5 Deluxe V (link to check it out at Collings Guitars)
This mandolin represents the outstanding craftsmanship the brand is capable of. Moreover, it is the perfect combination of flawless craftsmanship and the finest handpicked woods. The top is solid Adirondack spruce, and the back, sides, and neck are made of eastern highly-flamed maple. Also, the bridge and the fretboard are made with ebony; the bridge features an adjustable-saddles design for perfect intonation. Finally, it ships inside a TKL deluxe hardshell case.
Official website: collingsguitars.com
Bill Collings founded the company in 1973. Currently, headquarters are in Austin, Texas, USA.
Gibson is one of the three most important guitar brands of all time. Indeed, the Gibson logo can be seen across the history of music in a plethora of different genres and has been the go-to option for musicians the size of Jimmy Page, Slash, Angus Young, John Lennon, and many more.
Although most musicians in the world know Gibson, few know that Orville's passion started with the mandolin. Later, the company invented the archtop guitars, following the violin and mandolin-making tradition. Gibson has been making state-of-the-art mandolins for 12 decades; it's about time you try one.
Notable mandolin: Gibson F-5 Master Model (link to check the price at Guitar Center)
With a red spruce top, figured maple back, sides and neck, and an ebony fingerboard, this instrument pays homage to the first mandolins that made Orville Gibson so famous at the beginning of the century. Moreover, the simple inlay on the headstock, the thin, brush-applied varnish, and hand-applied French polish make this mandolin resonate and vibrate as mandolins did 100 years ago—finally, the instrument ships inside a Loar-era reproduction hardshell case.
Official website: gibson.com
Gibson was founded by Orville Gibson in 1902. Currently, the headquarters are in Nashville, Tennessee, USA.
Adrian Bagale had many positions in Saga Musical Instruments and could oversee the production of mandolins in countries like the USA, China, Korea, and Japan. During those years, he travelled and lived in all those countries, gathering experience, learning the trade, and perfecting his craft.
As a result, when he decided to open his own brand, he had the know-how and the connections to make an international brand work with two main facilities, one in Michigan and the other one in Qingdao, China.
What you can expect from Northfield is a consistent instrument perfectly made with cutting-edge technology.
With a solid Adirondack red spruce top, highly-figured maple back, sides, and neck, ebony fingerboard and bridge, and finished in a spirit varnish, this instrument not only sounds amazing, but also looks astonishing. Moreover, the nickel-plated, engraved Northfield tailpiece, simple headstock inlay, and Gotoh deluxe tuners round up a top-notch instrument for the demanding player. Finally, the sunburst is made by hand in every instrument before leaving the factory.
Official website: northfieldinstruments.com
Adrian Bagale founded Northfield in 2008. Currently, headquarters are in Marshall, Michigan, USA.
The origins of Weber can be traced back to a company named Flatiron Mandolins that was purchased by Gibson in the late 1980s, soon after its foundation. After ten years of working with one of the biggest mandolin-making brands in the world and learning all the secrets of the trade, Gibson decided to relocate the factory. The original members of Flatiron decided to reunite and create a different brand to make the best acoustic instruments and mandolins on the market.
Nowadays, after over two decades of hard work and relentless innovation, every Weber mandolin leaving the factory is ready to make music history.
The 3A Adirondack spruce, hand-voiced top, and highly-figured maple back, sides, and neck are the quintessential combination for any classic-sounding mandolin. That being said, the modern design includes a completely revamped dovetail neck joint for added comfort and durability. Also, the company innovated with a brand-new Fern Burst nitrocellulose lacquer finish that allows the wood to breathe and vibrate longer, generating more volume and oozing tone. Finally, it ships inside a Custom Ameritage case.
Official website: webermandolins.com
Weber was founded in 1997 by Bruce Weber, Bob McMurray, Joe Schneider, Paula Lewis, and Steve Birch. Currently, headquarters are in Bend, Oregon, USA.
This company has achieved the perfect balance between state-of-the-art CNC machinery and manual craftsmanship. Eastman manufactures some of the best-made, affordable string and wind instruments, creating affordable yet great-playing mandolins and traditional folk instruments.
Moreover, this reputation for being some of the best-sounding entry-level instruments has made it the go-to option for students worldwide. If you want a great mandolin to learn on that won't break the bank, Eastman is a great company to check out.
Notable mandolin: Eastman MD915 (link to check the price at Eastman Guitars)
This instrument is the best mandolin currently being made by Eastman and can surely satisfy beginners and seasoned players alike.
The back, sides, and neck are made of highly-figured maple, and the top is made of solid Adirondack spruce. Moreover, the ebony fingerboard is sonically and visually striking since the entire instrument is finished in clear lacquer. Finally, the black binding and headstock are the perfect match for the figured maple used in the body and neck.
Official website: eastmanguitars.com
Eastman Strings was founded in 1992 by Qian Ni. Currently, the company's headquarters are in Pomona, California, USA.
Although most people associate the Ibanez Company with high-tech guitars made for some of the most outrageously virtuoso players in the world like Steve Vai and Joe Satriani, Ibanez started as an acoustic instrument company. Indeed, the name comes from working with a Spanish luthier named Salvador Ibañez.
Therefore, for almost 70 years, Ibanez has been refining the construction of archtop, acoustic, and traditional instruments to deliver the world the perfect blend of cutting-edge Japanese technology and Spanish acoustic tradition. Try an Ibanez mandolin before buying anything else; they will surprise you.
Notable mandolin: Ibanez M700S (link to check the price at Sam Ash)
Featuring a solid engraved Sitka spruce top and maple sides and back, this mandolin sounds like a hybrid between a guitar and a mandolin delivering a tad more midrange thanks to the Sitka spruce top. Moreover, the highly-figured flame maple neck bears a purpleheart fingerboard (with a matching bridge), giving this mandolin a unique sound. The white dot inlays, golden mandolin tuners with acrylic buttons, and the antique violin sunburst high gloss finish make it look like the quintessential mandolin you could expect from a world-class brand like Ibanez.
Official website: ibanez.com
Ibanez was established by Hoshino Gakki in 1957. Currently, headquarters are in Aichi, Japan.
After decades of being made in Japan, Korea, and China, Kentucky mandolins have amassed a large number of fans flooding online forums to learn more about their instrument. Moreover, the company opened a new facility in 2011 in China where all the carving is handmade, thus elevating the standard for the company.
As a result, nowadays, Kentucky mandolins cover a wide spectrum offering affordable models for beginning musicians and state-of-the-art hand-carved instruments for seasoned players. Regardless of the price, all instruments ooze the same quality standards across the catalogue.
This mandolin is a great example of what the new shop in China for hand-carving instruments is capable of. Indeed, the solid hand-carved Adirondack spruce top combines with the solid carved flame Michigan maple back and sides to deliver rich tones with extra punch, volume, and clarity. Moreover, the slim flamed maple neck makes it very comfortable for the player, while the premium ebony fingerboard adds the needed snap to every note.
Official website: sagamusic.com/products/mandolin-family/kentucky/
Parent company: Saga Music
Kentucky was established by the Saga Corporation in the early '70s. Currently, headquarters are in San Francisco, California, USA, and production is carried on in China.
Musician's Friend is a resource for beginners and seasoned players alike to find the best gear at an affordable price. While offering these services, the company found a gap in quality and price in the beginner-oriented line. Therefore, they established Rogue as a brand to offer quality instruments at affordable prices for beginners; in other words, to fill the gap.
Such was the success the line had that it kept expanding to include basses, mandolins and other stringed instruments, along with amplifiers and effects pedals. Moreover, after almost three decades of success among beginners, Rogue has become the go-to choice for musicians who need affordability and quality at their best.
Notable mandolin: Rogue RM100F (link to check the price at Musician's Friend)
With a body made of maple and a spruce top, this mandolin is ready to cut through any mix with musical, singing highs. Moreover, the 24-fret neck allows players to create complex landscapes using one of the broadest musical palettes on the market. Also, the nickel tuners, ebony bridge, and overall craftsmanship will make you look at the price tag twice. This is the perfect mandolin for players who want to sound great without breaking the bank.
Official website: musiciansfriend.com
Parent company: Musician's Friend
Rogue was established by Musician's Friend in the mid-1990s. Currently, headquarters are in Westlake Village, California, USA.
- Gold Tone
- Gretsch (no long produces mandolins)