When you’re searching for a new musical instrument it’s important to do your research first. So if you’re looking for a mandolin for sale but don’t know where to start, sit back and read this short but helpful guide…
The Irish Mandolin
The mandolin is descended from the lute which dates back to Medieval times. Today three main types of mandolin are played throughout the world – the Neapolitan or Italian style bowl-back mandolin; the arch-top mandolin and the flat-back mandolin.
The flat back model is the one most commonly played in traditional Irish music, and is often referred to in Irish music circles as the ‘Irish mandolin’.
The mandolin is a small instrument with a pear shaped body and narrow neck, featuring 8 strings that are tuned in pairs (also known as courses). Notes are played by placing your fingers on the fretboard whilst strumming or plucking the strings with a plectrum, similar to the banjo, bouzouki or guitar.
Many think the mandolin and bouzouki are related, however the mandolin belongs to a different category of instruments. It’s the soprano member of a family that includes the mandola, octave mandolin, mandocello and mandobass.
Mandolins have become quite popular amongst Irish traditional musicians over the years. In addition to their bright sound and compact size, one reason for their popularity is the ease with which Irish fiddle and banjo players can transition to the instrument due to sharing the same left hand fingering.
Fiddles and mandolins share the same note range, and are both tuned to GDAE. Irish tenor banjos are also tuned to GDAE but due to their larger size they sound an octave lower. Many prominent Irish mandolin players such as Andy Irvine favour a drop D tuning, but if you’re just starting out I highly recommend starting with standard tuning.
A-Style Mandolin vs F-Style Mandolin
Flat back mandolins can come in two distinct styles: Oval Hole and F-Hole. Irish mandolins are typically flat-backed instruments with oval sound holes – known as an A style mandolin.
The difference between these two stringed instruments is largely visual. A-style mandolins feature a pear or teardrop shaped body, with 2 oval sound holes. F-style mandolins feature an elaborate decorative scroll on the upper bout, above the neck, in addition to 2 F sound holes (just like those found on a violin).
Aside from the difference in looks, oval hole mandolins (A-Style) often have a warmer, woodier tone and offer greater sustain and resonance – particularly in the lower register.
F-hole mandolins offer a brighter tone, with more volume and a stronger attack. Sometimes, they can offer a slightly more percussive sound, depending on the instrument.
Traditionally, oval hole mandolins are more commonly used to play traditional Irish music and folk music, while F-hole mandolins are played in bluegrass, country, and folk rock.
You can of course play any style of music on whichever style of mandolin you prefer.
Famous Irish Mandolin Players
If you’re looking for some musical inspiration make sure to check out the musical stylings of these great players:
Have a listen to this brilliant recording of Dublin musician Conor Lyons of The Bonny Men in action on the McNeela premium Irish mandolin:
Where to Find a Mandolin for Sale?
The good news for mandolin enthusiasts is that this popular instrument is widely available today at a range of affordable prices. It’s easy to shop around and get a good deal without having to search far and wide.
McNeela Instruments stocks a wide range of mandolins perfect for playing any style of music. Check out the McNeela Mandolin Store to browse our full range.
Mandolin Price Guide
Depending on make and model, mandolins can range in price from as little as $150 / €140 to several thousand dollars. As with any musical instrument, if you’re just starting out, you don’t want to be spending too much money on a starter instrument. You can always upgrade in the future once you’ve progressed to the next stage.
A good quality beginner mandolin for example will typically cost between $150 – $300/€140 – €280. Far more accessible than other categories of instruments.
Price will vary based on brand, type of mandolin, quality of construction, materials used, whether it’s electric or acoustic, and more. Vintage mandolin prices will vary depending on the condition of the instrument.
If you’re looking for more information about mandolins for sale, make sure to check out the McNeela Irish Music Blog. It’s packed full of handy hints and tips, tunes and more – it’s got all the tools you need to get started on your musical journey.
Don’t forget you can shop our exciting range of instruments, accessories and music gear in the McNeela Online Music Store.
HI Paraic: I play both mandolin and fiddle. Also guitar and bass.
I had the good fortune to acquire a Martin round back mandolin many years ago.
Beautiful instrument but hard to hold! In the 1970's I made a copy of a Gibson A model.
I think A models have a better low range. With the oval hole, the body better supports the
low pitches. I recently finished making an octave mandolin (pattern by MacDonald).
Wonderful BIG sound.
Nowdays, there are Asian copies of the Gibson A model for $200 to $300. But my house is already full of instruments.
I really enjoy the Irish repertoire, especially tunes by O'Carolan.
Do you know about the Facebook "virtual guided sessions" with Shannon and Matt Heaton?
The sessions are intended to be "play along". Irish repertoire. Most all their tunes are public domain. It's a great idea but their tempos are usually too fast for me.
Houghton, Michigan USA
Nicely done but
I do find the bowl backs a little tough to hold myself Chuck – it’s easier with the bouzouki as I find the longer neck helps it to sit better. You’re absolute right about the A models having a richer low end – I would be of a similar opinion myself. The difference is slight, but noticeable to a familiar ear. And I feel your pain, with such great access to quality instruments these days it can be tough to resist expanding the collection. I wasn’t familiar with the group but I must check it out. Don’t be afraid to keep the tunes slow, there’s nothing wrong with moving at your own pace.