The mandolin which evolved from the lute family in Italy is a stringed instrument that can be plucked and strummed. It belongs to the soprano member of the mandolin family, which includes the mandola, octave mandolin, mandocello, and mandobass.
Before we begin with the purchasing tips, it is good to remember that the type of instrument you choose has a characteristic trait and sound quality associated with it. The different types of mandolins are used to play particular forms of music.
For example, the Neapolitan mandolins feature prominently in classical and traditional music, while carved-top instruments are common in folk and bluegrass music. Flat-top instruments, on the other hand, are not restricted to a particular genre.
Types of Mandolins
Acquaint yourself with the types of mandolins available before making a purchase. Your choice of music will also be crucial in deciding what type of instrument you pick up.
The Neapolitan or bowl-back mandolins, also known as gourd mandolins, are used to play classical and baroque music genres. These taterbug mandolins are stereotype mandolins and are a hybrid version of the violin and the lute put together. Their unique bowl-type shape is what gives them their name.
The teardrop models come with either two f-sound holes or an oval sound hole. While an oval hole gives stronger bass, more resonance, and warmer sound, the f holes are known to give a clearer sound with more projection and cut.
F-style mandolins are more fancy than their A-shaped counterpart. F-styles allow you to play country music and bluegrass, and resemble a violin. These models are heavier, both in terms of money as well as the actual weight of the instrument.
Material of Construction
The tone of the instrument depends largely on the material from which it is constructed. Most mandolin soundboards are carved from spruce, so make sure you conduct a tap test to check its inherent resonance.
Check the lip of the sound hole to know if the material is laminate or wood. Ensure you check the grain lines along the body of the instrument to differentiate between pressed wood and their natural counterparts.
Inspect the Instrument
Ensure that the joints, seams, and bindings are strongly held together. Also, check for cracks, missing parts, and dents. Ensure the neck of the instrument is straight or bent. Lift the neck of the instrument to eye level to check the distance between the strings and the fretboard.
As a rule, you should test the mandolin before you purchase it. Strum each string individually to check for tuning and tone quality. The strings should not buzz while you strum them. For that matter, play a couple of instruments before you settle for the perfect instrument.