Mandolin VS Guitar

by | Mar 19, 2021 | Guitars, Musical Instruments

Deciding to learn a string instrument is easy, but the real confusion appears when you will have to choose between the Mandolin and guitar. 

Well, it might seem like the same kind of instrument in the first place due to their design resemblance. 

Many people, including me, had faced the same confusion when we went to buy a string instrument in the music store

But in reality, a guitar differs from Mandolin in many aspects, especially when it comes to the tone quality and the way you play them.

Mandolin VS Guitar

If you are new to instruments and not aware of the difference between the two instruments, then you won’t have to worry. 

In this article, we will highlight all the crucial factors that will tell you how guitars are different from mandolins. 

Even if you don’t have a lot of knowledge regarding music, you will be able to understand the dissimilarity between both the string devices quickly.  

So without further ado, let’s dive into the differences;

Main Difference Between Mandolins and Guitars

Main Difference Between Mandolins and Guitars

The difference between mandolins and guitars may not be visible to beginners, but seasoned musicians can easily differentiate between the two. 

Although both the devices may come with almost the same fret and body design but they are a lot of contrasts.

In Short:

  • The guitar comes with six strings while Mandolin gets four pairs.
  • They have a considerable difference in the pitch of their sound.
  • Guitars come in various sizes, but mandoline is limited to one type.
  • Guitar offers more versatility than Mandolin when it comes to genres.
  • The availability of guitars is much better than mandolins. 
  • Dissimilarity in the availability of the learning resources.
  • There is a vast difference in their entry-level price range.
  • Both of the instruments are tuned differently. 

Difference In Size 

Difference In Size

When it comes to size, the dissimilarity between guitar and Mandolin is quite evident, and even an untrained eye can grasp it. If you keep both the device side by side, the guitar, whether acoustic or electric, will have a larger size than any mandolins. 

A guitar not only gets a more substantial body, but they also come with a more significant fret and headstock than a mandolin. 

A mandolin, on the other hand, receives a compact body with a thin neck and small headstock.

Due to the smaller size, many enthusiasts, especially children, prefer to play Mandolin over a guitar as they can easily move their hands on the small fretboard

Plus, the tiny body makes it easier to hold, and the thin neck makes things comfortable to play. 

Also, these kinds of instruments are attached to strings of the lighter gauge, so you won’t have to press much to get the required sound. 

This advantage makes Mandolin a lot more appealing, but it doesn’t necessarily imply that you should start your string instrument journey with a mandolin rather than a guitar. 

We agree that it is not easy to move the hand smoothly on the long neck of a guitar, but with proper practice, you can easily cover each section of the fret with ease. 

Difference In Size

If you have a large hand, it would be difficult to rest your strumming hand due to the small area in the Mandolin’s body. 

Plus, they get narrow and short tuning pegs, which are not easy to rotate when you are in a hurry to tune up the instrument. 

It might be surprising, but some fret areas of a mandolin are difficult to press, and those narrow places can be utilized only if you can precisely place your fingernail.  

On the contrary, guitars might get a large body, but it also makes things convenient for you by facilitating you to rest your strumming hand comfortably. 

With the large surface area below the string, you can easily play different notes at a high pace and that too without slipping it. 

Handling the tuning pegs in a guitar is much more straightforward as they are large and offer a good grip while you are turning them.

Importantly, if you feel comfortable learning notes on a small string instrument, then you can also choose small-size guitars that serve as a viable option. 

Basically, the guitar comes in various sizes apart from their standard full-size avatar so that size won’t come in between your comfort and guitar learning process. 

Some guitars even come with thin bodies meaning you won’t face any discomfort while playing those types of guitars.  

If you already own a full-size and not finding it more comfortable to play, then you can light gauge strings to make things convenient for you. 

You can even lower the strings so that you won’t have to press hard to play chords or notes.

Difference In The Way You Hold

Difference In The Way You Hold

Well, holding a mandolin is a lot easier than a guitar due to obvious reasons. 

But the problem arises when you have to stand and play as most of the Mandolin doesn’t come with a strap. 

It becomes problematic to support the string instrument with both your hand and also play them simultaneously. 

To play them, you will have to move the neck in an upright position with your pitch hand and support the body with your strumming hand. 

However, it won’t be comfortable in the first place, but after a few days of playing, you will get used to it. 

Nowadays, some people are using thin DIY straps to hold them, but the installation process is slightly tricky.

However, when you decide to hold a guitar while standing, you won’t have a problem, and the credit goes to the option for the installation of straps. 

They come with a dedicated strap button so you can easily use a belt while you want to stand and play. 

The straps not only makes them easier to play but also makes it easier to carry while you are not using a guitar bag. 

Many guitar straps get specialized foams to reduce pressure on your shoulder and allow you to play for a long time without any discomfort.  

Difference In String Arrangement

Difference In String Arrangement

The significant difference between a guitar and Mandolin is the dissimilarity in their string arrangement. 

A standard guitar comes with six strings with separate thickness, while a mandolin incorporates four sets of strings.

The strings on the guitar maintain an adequate in between them so you won’t face any challenge when pressing or moving a particular string. 

Plus, the strings come in varied thickness that makes them easy to recognize when you are learning to play the string instrument. 

However, when it comes to Mandolin, it will be tricky for you to handle four-string sets, especially when you are just learning to play it. 

If you branch out to mandoline after learning guitar, you will face many hurdles as you will have to play chords and notes with four primary strings instead of six. 

However, the double string set up with a thin gauge creates the main challenge and creates confusion in the mind of many beginners. 

Even though they get a thinner string setup than guitar’s but they are doubled up in such a way that your plectrum won’t get stuck in between. 

Moreover, once you get used to playing the Mandolin, the double string setup will feel like a single string.   

Difference In Tuning And Tonal Output

Difference In Tuning And Tonal Output

Well, as you already know, both guitar and Mandolin come with different string setup, so subsequently, it leads to distinctiveness in their tuning and tonal output.

Each string of a guitar is tuned differently, and they are generally arranged in the order of thickest to the thinnest string.  

You can start from the lowest note E and gradually proceed from A, D, G, B to the highest note. Since you can tune every string to match different notes so you can utilize the guitar to play a variety of tunes. 

Unlike Mandolin, you can use this string instrument to play almost any genre, whether it is rock, heavy metal, country music, pop, classical, etc. 

Due to their varied tonal output and tuning option, you can utilize it to collaborate with other musical instruments like drums, keyboard, sitar, and many more. 

However, when it comes to high-pitch output like Mandolin, they are no match, and it is almost impossible to replicate the tonal production of a mandolin and you can improve it by the use of envelop filters.   

Mandolins are known for their unique sound output, and they mostly offer ear soothing high-pitch sounds. 

Difference In Tuning And Tonal Output

Based on eight strings, every string pair on this device is tuned at the same notes. 

Like the guitar, the strings are arranged from thickest to the thinnest manner, and they also follow the same note pattern except, this device gets GDAE formation.  

Mandolins are basically a blend of violin and guitar, where they are tuned in the same manner as a violin while you can play it like a guitar. 

Due to their distinctive high pitch sound, they are well suited for specific genres like classical, folk, blues, and country. 

Nowadays, many players are using Mandolin in different modern styles as it is helping them to create a unique sound output of various songs.

You will find many YouTube music stars are using a mandolin to create an acoustic composition of different songs. 

However, if you want to explore a varied amount of styles and genres, then a mandolin won’t suit your needs. 

Difference In The Construction

Difference In The Construction

By the look of guitar and Mandolin, you must have already guessed that both the devices are constructed differently. 

The main distinction in their construction lies in the bridge placement.

A typical guitar is geared with a fixed bridge that stays intact when you change the strings without causing any slight change in the arrangement. 

Since the bridge doesn’t change its position, so the sound of the guitar remains the same even after several restringing processes. 

Most importantly, guitars are easy to maintain as you can easily change the string and maintain the original tonal output. 

As a beginner, you won’t get nervous while opting for regular maintenance on your guitar. 

On the other hand, Mandolin comes with a floating bridge that will fall when you open up the strings from the head. 

Although it comes handy to churn out different tones from the four-string instrument. But if you can’t place it correctly, then you won’t get the desired tone output. 

So replacing the strings for regular maintenance is not easy as guitar, and you will have to recalibrate the bridge position after you restring your Mandolin. 

Not only beginners, many seasoned players still get intimidated when it comes to bridge placement, as it is really a complicated process.  

Difference In Popularity and Availability

Difference In Popularity and Availability

When it comes to popularity, Mandolin doesn’t come close to guitar, and most of the beginners still prefer playing the guitar than a mandolin. 

Due to immense popularity, you will find a lot of choices for your first guitar. Most importantly, you won’t be limited to specific options, and you will find different types like acoustic, electric, classical, bass, etc. 

Almost every music store in the US has guitars in their inventory, y so  you can stay assured that availability won’t be an issue.

However, we can’t say the same for Mandolin, and as they are not preferred by many people so you will find them only in a few stores. 

The number of brands associated with this instrument is also less, so you won’t find ample choices when you decide to purchase them. 

Moreover, you will find a low amount of learning resources associated with Mandolin, which is a big issue for beginners.  

Since mandoline requires expert craftsmanship and human artistry, so they usually are more expensive than guitars. 

You can easily get a good beginner level guitar within the range of  $100-150. Unfortunately, to own a good quality entry-level mandolin, you need to spend around $600 to get a quality sound output. 

So, if you are short on budget, then we would recommend you to opt for guitar rather than Mandolin as budget mandolins are really poor.   

Choosing A Mando-Guitar As Alternative 

Choosing A Mando-Guitar As Alternative

Still not sure whether a guitar or Mandolin would suit you? Well, what if I tell you can enjoy the specific qualities of both the instruments in a body of one. 

A mando-guitar serves as the best alternative that gives you the tone of a mandoline while facilitating to play it like a guitar. 

Although this hybrid instrument looks similar to a mandolin, but it comes with a six-string setup that is tuned in the same way as the guitar. 

But they are tuned one octave so that it can high-pitch tone like a mandolin.

You can play this instrument like a guitar but will enjoy sounds and notes similar to standard Mandolin. 

A significant advantage of this kind of device is that you can play chords and notes of a guitar and enjoy them with a mandolin tone. 

However, if you play this instrument besides a mandolin, you will find subtle differences in their tonal quality, whether the latter is more inclined towards high-pitch notes. 

You would be limited to certain choices if you wish to buy this kind of hybrid instrument, and most of them come in a high price range.  



We hope by now, we were able to clear all your confusion by highlighting all the differences between mandolins and guitars. 

Whether you want to play a guitar or Mandolin is totally up to you and your requirement. 

So if the size of the instrument is not an issue, and you want to explore different genres and styles, then the guitar would be the right choice. 

Learning a guitar would be great if you are restricted to a short budget range.

However, if you don’t want to play a large string instrument and want a device that you can carry while traveling, then you should stick to Mandolin. 

You will be restricted to specific genres due to the high pitch tone. 

Plus, you will have to spend a considerable chunk of money if you want to play a high-quality mandolin.  

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