The fact that you can spend a lot of money on a mandolin doesn’t mean you should. Getting a great cheap mandolin has never been easier. It doesn’t matter what your budget is, you’ll be able to find a mandolin to play your favorite bluegrass licks or Irish jigs in no time.
Here’s our guide to finding the best cheap mandolin, from the no-frills Rogue RM100A to the Loar LM520, which I can’t believe isn’t three times as expensive!
The Kentucky KM-150 Mandolins
Summary: The no-frills mandolin offers classic tone and solid wood at an affordable price
Best for: Those looking for a solid beginner instrument or a step up from a rock-bottom cheap mandolin
Kentucky has long been known for producing great quality mandolins at affordable prices. As with most of Kentucky’s mandolins, the KM-150 has a classic look and sound with an affordable price.
Kentucky does a great job of cutting costs without cutting corners. Neither the inlays nor the bindings are particularly elaborate, and the finish isn’t flashy either. The mandolin is still attractive, however. This cheap mandolin has a traditional look without looking cheap thanks to the standard dark sunburst finish.
A more important aspect is the tone. There is good projection, and there is a good balance between the high and low strings. The intonation is also quite good, and the neck feels comfortable. While it could benefit from a perfect set-up, it’s quite playable even out of the box.
Additionally, the KM 150 is available in a variety of woods. Those on a budget will appreciate this model’s laminate back and sides, as well as its hand-carved solid spruce top. A solid wood top is great value in this price range because it is the most important part of a mandolin for producing tone. A solid wood cheap mandolin with hand-carved maple sides and back can be had for a little bit more. It will sound even better and offer even more value. Either way, you won’t be disappointed!
- Solid wood tops are available with an all-solid wood option
- Excellent tonal quality and projection
- A planer, no-frills design
Look up the price and more reviews of the Kentucky KM-150 mandolin on Amazon.com (currently out of stock, but you can check it out).
Alternatively check: Kentucky KM-1050
The Rogue RM-100A Mandolins
Summary: This is a great value mandolin that doesn’t sound or feel cheap
Best for: Someone looking for a decent-sounding mandolin at an affordable price
Despite its rock-bottom price, the Rogue RM-100A is a great option for beginners. As a knock-around or cheap travel mandolin, this one is made entirely of laminate wood. Despite not having the same projection as more expensive instruments, it still has that classic cheap mandolin sound.
In order to keep the price down, Rogue has made a big compromise on the wood. RM-100A is made of laminate wood, which produces a slightly duller, less complex sound than solid wood. In spite of this, given a good setup, the mandolin has a pleasant sound with decent volume and sustain. This mandolin is made well, and the top doesn’t seem as thick as other cheap mandolins, which helps with tone production.
There are a few advantages to laminate wood over solid wood. This material is less susceptible to changes in temperature and humidity, and is less likely to warp. This makes the Rogue a fantastic choice for travel, camping, busking, or any other activity in which your mandolin will be exposed to the elements.
With a good set-up, you can improve any cheap mandolin you buy. It is especially true of the Rogue mandolin, which can be difficult to set up right out of the box. Fortunately, it is relatively simple to adjust the action, adjust the bridge, and do other basic tune-ups. There are some great YouTube videos that can help you if you don’t know how.
058 RSW Setup and Review of a Rogue A style Mandolin
- Construction that is sturdy
- Value for money
- A slightly duller tone and less projection
Look up the price and more reviews of the Rogue RM100A mandolin on Amazon.com
Alternatively check: Vangoa A Style Mandolin Musical Instrument Sunburst
The Loar LM520 Mandolins
Summary: An inexpensive mandolin that looks, feels, and sounds like an expensive one
Best for: Anyone looking for a workhorse F-style mandolin on a budget
In terms of price, the Loar LM520 is at the top of the “cheap mandolin” category. However, it’s still an incredible value, and the cheapest F-style mandolin you can find. There is something very appealing about the Loar LM520’s distinctive scroll at the top, and it sounds and looks great.
It would be more accurate to describe the Loar LM520 as a “less expensive” rather than “cheap” mandolin. Its construction is anything but cheap. Top and back are made from hand-carved fully graduated spruce, while the sides and back are made from hand-carved maple. I think the LM520 is an attractive cheap mandolin, with an excellent F-scroll and overall a nice appearance. The inlays and bindings that you see on other mandolins won’t be on this instrument, but neither will the price tag!
In addition to a nice ringing tone, the LM520 has plenty of volume and projection. The cheap mandolin is well-suited for work as a workhorse bluegrass instrument and sounds great for soloing and chopping. The neck has a rounded V profile, and the bridge has been compensated, which contributes to playability and intonation.
Those looking for a good deal on a mandolin will find it in the Loar LM520. The cheap mandolin would be at home on a professional stage, and it is also a great mandolin to take to a jam or open mic night. Additionally, it’s the perfect upgrade from an instrument on this list that’s less expensive, so you can get a great sound without breaking the bank.
- An excellent value for an F-style mandolin
- Tone and projection are incredible
- The front, back, and sides are all hand-carved
- A mandolin at the high end of the “cheap” price range
Look up the price and more reviews of the Loar LM520 mandolin on Amazon.com
Alternatively check: The Loar LM-110-BRB Honey Creek A-Style Mandolin
The Oscar Schmidt OM10E Mandolins
Summary: This is an excellent acoustic-electric option
Best for: The person who wants to be able to plug in without spending too much
Oscar Schmidt’s OM10E is the perfect plug-in mandolin for those looking for a cheap mandolin. With it, you get a pickup and two controls similar to those on an electric guitar. Despite its unique appearance, it retains a classic tone.
The Oscar Schmidt OM10E is a laminate wood mandolin, just like the Rogue RM-100A. Because it is a bit harder than a solid-wood mandolin, it sacrifices a bit of tone and projection. While it may not be loud enough for a big jam session, it can still compete with more expensive mandolins. Here’s an example of how it compares to its more expensive cousins (and it sounds great!):
Oscar Schmidt 0M10E To Gibson F5: Comparing Mandolin Finishes At Old Town School Of Folk Music
A piezo pickup is installed under the bridge of the OM10E. When plugged in, the OM10E sounds awesome, due to the piezo pickup’s ability to faithfully reproduce the acoustic tone of the instrument. With an amplifier, the signal is nice and clean. For plugging into a PA system, a DI box might be helpful to boost the gain a bit. You have a good range of control over the sound with the volume and tone knobs.
It is also important to note that the benefits of solid wood generally disappear once the electrical power is turned on. When plugged in, the laminate sounds great, and may be all you need if you’re mainly planning to play plugged-in gigs. Despite being very easy to play, like any other cheap mandolin (including the Rogue Rm100A), it benefits greatly from a good setup.
- Plugging in is easy with built-in pickup
- A great acoustic and plugged-in sound
- Laminate wood sacrifices a bit of projection and tone
Look up the price and more reviews of the Oscar Schmidt OM10E on Amazon.com
Alternative: Oscar Schmidt OM10 A-Style Spruce Top Mandolin
Alternative: Oscar Schmidt Left Hand OM40 F-Style Acoustic Mandolin (only 1 left)
The Ibanez M510 Mandolins
Summary: This is a good budget option that is easy to customize
Best for: Someone who wants their beginner mandolin to sound like a dream
Guitarists are familiar with the name Ibanez. Their M510 mandolin is a well-built addition to their line-up, and represents a great value for a good starter instrument.
The M510 looks like a classic cheap mandolin despite its low price. Although traditionalists may prefer the normal sunburst, I particularly like the dark stain version. Considering you already own an everyday mandolin, it would make a great travel or knockaround cheap mandolin.
Mandolins such as the M510 are made from laminated wood, just like the Rogue RM100A. Despite this, it has good tone and projection due to a well-constructed body. Although it won’t cut through a noisy jam, it has enough projection to be heard in a band or smaller jam session.
Playability and setup are very good on the M510. Truss rods are one of the best features. As a result, the action can be adjusted and the neck is prevented from warping. Whether playing the cheap mandolin or any other instrument, setting it up properly is essential. Using the truss rod makes it even easier to get the neck to feel exactly how you want it to.
- Adjusting the action is easy with the truss rod
- Looks good
- The all-laminate construction reduces projection