Looking to get your first left handed mandolin but don’t know where to begin? Let’s get you started…
Left handed mandolins are truly a niche within a niche, so you won’t be surprised to discover that beginner lefty instruments are few and far between. You certainly aren’t going to find many (if any at all!) in your local guitar store, which makes purchasing online pretty much unavoidable.
In this article I’ll suggest a few affordable beginner left handed mandolins that are readily available online, as well as talk you through extras such as accessories and you know, actually learning to play the thing!
Let’s start out with the absolute basics…
What IS a Mandolin?
In a nutshell, the mandolin is a small-sized instrument descended from the lute family. Although there are 10 and 12-string versions, the most common mandolins feature 8 strings split up into 4 ‘courses‘. Each course consists of two strings which are typically tuned to the same note in order to give the instrument its distinctive chiming sound. The most common tuning is G-D-A-E, which is the same as a violin.
A-Style, F-Style or Bowl-Back Mandolin?
Which style is best? Although there is little variance between designs in terms of tones produced, there are some key differences between each style.
A mandolin which is oval or tear-shaped is referred to as A-Style. This type of design is generally the most affordable because they are simpler to build due to the lack of decorative scrolls and points which are found on F-Style models. Due to their much lower price, an A-Style left handed mandolin is going to be the best choice for new southpaw players wanting to dip their toes in the water.
F-Style mandolins (sometimes referred to as Florentine mandolins) are instantly recognisable thanks to their luxurious body scroll and points, generally accompanied with additional lavish appointments. They were introduced by Gibson in the early 20th century, and most modern designs are based on these original instruments. The points on the bottom of the mandolin have a small impact on the sound produced, and also provide a handy resting point for when playing seated. F-Style mandolins are generally most popular amongst country, bluegrass, and roots style players.
Finally, Bowl-Back mandolins tend to be favored for classical, renaissance, and other historical styles of music. As you can probably tell by the name, these mandolins feature a rounded back, helping them to produce a deeper tone than the two styles above.
Best Beginner Left Handed Mandolin
Even right handed players might struggle to find a local store which stocks more than a handful of mandolins, so as a left handed player you’re almost certainly going to have to purchase online. I’ve listed a few good choices below, complete with links to buy.
Unless you are completely in love with the look of the F-Style, beginners should really opt for an 8-string A-Style model as you’ll get a higher quality instrument for the same money. When you first start out, a mandolin sounds like a mandolin. Once you’ve been playing a year or two you’ll be in a better position to feel confident about dropping extra money on a more advanced instrument.
- Barcelona A-Style – click here for pricing info
- Oscar Schmidt OM40 F-Style – click here for pricing info
- GoldTone GM-55A A-Style – click here for pricing info
- GoldTone GM-70+ F-Style – click here for pricing info
1. If you are new to mandolin and aren’t ready to spend too much cash, then the Barcelona A-Style is definitely going to be the instrument for you. It’s super affordable, widely available, looks great with its violin-burst finish, and most importantly, plays and sounds just peachy. This bargain beauty is unbelievable value for money at around $100 and is easily our best selling left handed mandolin. It features a basswood body coupled with a nato neck and bound rosewood fingerboard. Click here to hear how it sounds. The video shows a demo of the Stagg M20 – this is simply the same mandolin branded under a different name. If you prefer the color of the Stagg, it is available here.
2. If you’d prefer the styling and features of a F-Style mandolin, then the Oscar Schmidt OM40LH is currently the most affordable left handed option. Oscar Schmidt is a bit of a team favorite here at LeftyFretz, as these guys really help to fill a void in the niche left handed instrument market. The mandolin features a select spruce top, maple back/sides, mahogany neck with rosewood fretboard, gold hardware and pearloid tuners. It’s certainly a step up in the looks department when compared to the Barcelona, but all of these extra appointments come at a much higher price. Click here to hear how it sounds.
Numbers 3 and 4 are probably going to be out of most beginners’ price ranges, but I’ve included them as great options for those who are happy to drop a little extra coin. Both are made by GoldTone, a well respected name in folk instruments.
3. The A-Style Gold Tone GM-55A is a real quality mandolin, featuring a solid spruce top, flamed maple back, maple sides, maple neck and ebony fretboard. It also utilises a special, super-thin hand-oiled finish which allows the instrument to resonate better. Click here for a quick video demonstration.
4. Finally, those looking for a great quality, but still reasonably priced F-Style mandolin might like to check out the Gold Tone GM-70+. This beauty features a solid spruce top, solid maple back and sides, maple neck and ebony fingerboard. Click here to see it in action.
If this will be your first mandolin, there are a few extra bits and pieces that you may also like to pick up if your instrument doesn’t already come bundled with them.
Picks. Most mandolin players prefer to use a thick pick, of at least 1mm.
Tuner. My choice would be an inexpensive Snark ST-8 clip-on tuner. This little gadget clamps on to your headstock and tunes very accurately via vibration (although it also includes a built in mic).
Strap. Mandolin straps are a little different to regular guitar straps. The most popular option is this beautiful brown leather Planet Waves strap.
Gigbag. Protect your mandolin when travelling to lessons or gigs with a good case or padded gigbag. Here are my 2 favorites.
Strings. Most stores won’t put a fresh set on before shipping, so who knows how old the strings will be on your new mandolin. Grab a few sets to make sure your mandolin sounds its best. The most popular set for mandolin is the D’Addario J74 Phosphor Bronze pack.
Learn to Play Left Handed Mandolin
Ok! So you’ve got your new mandolin and a bunch of shiny accessories – now what? At this point it would probably be a good idea to learn how to make some sweet, sweet music, right?
Obviously your best option is going to be finding a good mandolin tutor. However, not all of us can afford pricey one-on-one lessons, so there’s no reason why you can’t teach yourself using free resources such as video lessons on YouTube. I would suggest that if you decide to go the self-taught route, make sure to supplement with a good beginner book to ensure that you have a little structure in your education. A great book is Mandolin Primer for Beginners by Bert Casey, which includes an accompanying CD.
There’s really no reason to look for lessons specifically aimed at left handed players. The only slight disadvantage you have is that you will need to read chord diagrams backwards – not exactly a difficult task! However, I know that some new players can struggle a little at first. So if you want to make sure to get started on the right foot, William Bay has a great left handed mandolin chord chart.
Solid Body Electric Mandolins
Back in the 50s, Fender produced a solidbody electric mandolin which players came to call the ‘Mandocaster’. Today quite a few other brands produce electric mandolins, and fear not, there are a handful of great lefty options.
On the left is the Eastwood 8-string Mandocaster which features an alder body, bolt-on maple neck with rosewood fingerboard, and two singlecoil pickups for a variety of tones. You can check out a great demonstration video here, or buy your own here.
Another cool option is the Gold Tone GME-4 shown above on the right. This model has 4-strings, alder body, maple neck and fingerboard and a single neck pickup. See it in action here, or click here for purchasing info.