In 2019, I sold the mandolin I had owned for over a decade and bought a mando guitar with the proceeds.
So what is a mando guitar, anyway?
It’s a hybrid between a mandolin and a guitar with:
- the body of a mandolin and
- the same number of strings as a guitar with the standard tuning of a guitar tuned one octave up.
The tuning of a mando guitar enables you to play in the same tonal range as a mandolin but with a standard guitar tuning.
So you can play the same licks and chord shapes on the mando guitar as you would on the standard guitar.
Mandolin Vs. Mando Guitar Vs. Guitar Sound
You’ll probably notice a slight difference in sound between the mandolin and the mando guitar.
The mandolin’s sound is so distinct because the strings are tuned in pairs making the notes resonate in a way that’s different than the mando guitar’s single strings.
This difference may be obvious to the musician with a trained ear, especially when seeing the obvious difference between the mandolin and mando guitar.
But when I asked my wife who is not a musician to listen to (not watch) me playing a riff on mandolin and then that same riff on my mando guitar, she said it sounded like they were being played on the same instrument.
This goes to show that the majority of non-musicians out there will probably just think you’re playing the mandolin when you’re actually playing the mando guitar (if they even know what a mandolin or mando guitar is).
Mando Guitar Pricing and Types
Like I mentioned in my guitar vs. mandolin article, mandolins are typically more expensive than guitars of similar quality.
Because guitars are more popular than mandolins, they’re high demand drives down prices compared to mandolins.
Unfortunately, this is even more so the case with mando guitars because they are less common than mandolins.
As a result, it’s very difficult to find an entry-level mando guitar.
Basically, you must skip straight to a mid-range instrument in the $400 to $600 range.
The good news is:
Gold Tone makes excellent mando guitars that are reasonably priced (with most purchasing options including a hard case).
I personally own the performance ready mando guitar Gold Tone F-6 model linked above (and discussed further in the section below) and can’t recommend it more highly if you’re interested in owning a mando guitar.
Gold Tone is one of the only manufacturers I know of that makes mando guitars.
As such, if you’re planning on buying one, odds are it will be a Gold Tone mando guitar model.
Let’s run through the different types of models and what they offer.
Gold Tone F-6 Model
This is Gold Tone’s flagship mando guitar model shown above in a picture of me with my Michael Kelly mandolin on one knee and the Gold Tone F-6 on the other.
Looking at the mando guitar side-by-side with a standard mandolin, you will notice a few differences like:
- a larger body on the mando guitar,
- a wider neck on the mando guitar,
- a trapeze tailpiece below the bridge which provides additional support for the strings against the bridge and body on the mando guitar.
Otherwise, it has most of the features of a standard mandolin like that classic sun-burst body coloring, a floating bridge, a scroll, etc.
This is Gold Tone’s performance-ready model featuring:
- a pickup so you can plug in and play live,
- a body shape conducive to using a strap with a strap button at the base of the instrument and the other end of the strap wrapping easily around the scroll.
Gold Tone A-6 Model
This Gold Tone model is the more affordable version of the F-6 featuring the classic tear-drop mandolin body style.
I don’t consider this instrument performance ready as it doesn’t have a built-in pickup or two strap buttons.
Because I’m at a point in my life where I try to only invest in performance-ready instruments, I decided to purchase the F-6 over the A-6 model.
However, the A-6 has a beautiful sound as you can tell from the video above, and it appears to be nearly identical to the F-6 except for the body shape and lack of pickup.
If you’re looking for a high-quality more affordable mando guitar that’s often sold for between $100 and $200 less than the F-6 model, this one’s for you.
Gold Tone F-12 Model
In the video above, you can see two musicians demoing the Gold Tone F-12 and F-6 model side-by-side.
The F-12 is Gold Tone’s 12-string version of the F-6 model.
Like a 12 string guitar, the F-12 Gold Tone mando guitar has the following tuning: EeAaDdGGBBEE (with lower case letters representing notes one octave higher).
However, the 12 string mando guitar is actually tuned one octave higher than the standard 12 string guitar.
Apart from the 12 strings, this model is the exact same as the F-6 model with it’s body style, built-in pickup, etc.
If you’re a 12 string guitar player interested in guitar hybrids, this is a great model for you.
Gold Tone GME-6 Model
Gold Tone even makes a mando guitar model for musicians who prefer electric.
As you can see in the video above, the instrument has mostly the same features as the other models with a bit more of a traditional guitar body style and shape.
If you want to shred or simply play more on the electric than the acoustic, this mando guitar is the right instrument for you.
Why you might want to add this instrument to your collection
I think any moderately serious guitarist could use a mando guitar in their collection.
There are several reasons to consider purchasing a mando guitar.
I’ll list a few below.
You enjoy the tonal range of the mandolin but you don’t want to learn a new instrument.
The mandolin’s (and mando guitar’s) range is an octave higher than the standard guitar.
So these instruments provide a beautiful and complimentary higher note range to a musical ensemble (especially one whose highest range without the mando guitar is the standard guitar).
If you’ve been craving that mandolin range of notes but don’t want to learn the mandolin, you should check out the mando guitar.
You love country, folk, or bluegrass and want to play an instrument besides guitar that sounds great in these genres.
Just like the mandolin, the mando guitar is perfectly suited for playing folk, bluegrass, or country music.
So if you’ve been itching to play in these genres as a guitarist but don’t want to play the standard guitar, the mando guitar is a great choice for you.
I enjoy playing in these genres and I think any guitarist who does could use a mando guitar in their instrument collection.
You want to bring a unique sound to your jam sessions.
It’s hard to be a guitarist and find a jam session that needs another guitarist.
Guitarists are so common that most people who jam are looking for someone who can play something (anything) else.
I know this from personal experience.
Every jam session I’ve ever been a part of has had at least one guitarist in addition to me which makes jamming as a guitarist that much more difficult.
However, if you can bring an instrument to a jam session other than a standard guitar (like a mando guitar), you can easily make yourself an invaluable member of the jam session.
You’re in a musical rut and you’re looking for something to spark creativity in your music life.
Any musician who has played an instrument for several years knows what it’s like to be in a musical rut.
Musical ruts can be brought on by:
- waning passion for your instrument,
- a difficult stage of life that prevents you from playing as much as you’d like,
- and so much more.
If you’re stuck in a musical rut and you’re looking for something to spice up your guitar life, a guitar hybrid like the mando guitar is a great way to do it.
The mando guitar can provide that spark of creativity needed to find greater joy with the guitar and begin playing original licks and tunes.
Downsides of the Mando Guitar
The mando guitar is a beautiful instrument and I highly recommend it.
I’ve had a blast playing it ever since I got one after years of not enjoying my mandolin very much.
But the instrument does have some limitations compared to the standard guitar.
Here are a few difficulties mando guitarists face:
The mando guitar is not easy to capo.
Because everything about the mando guitar is small compared to the standard guitar, it’s not easy to capo.
Its narrow frets and short fret board resulting in a lack of capoing mean that you need to be comfortable playing in open keys.
This is a challenge for me as I capo frequently on the standard guitar but can’t as easily on the mando guitar.
The mando guitar is very small.
Because the mando guitar is so small with such narrow frets, it can be difficult to play especially for people with large hands.
Thus, when a guitarist picks up the mando guitar for the first time, (s)he shouldn’t expect to be able to play it seamlessly.
Bar chords are particularly difficult on the mando guitar as well as chord shapes that require placing your fingers on the same fret of different strings (like the open A chord shape).
If you have big hands or fingers, you may want to try playing a mando guitar at your local instrument shop if they have one.
And if they don’t have a mando guitar available, try playing a mandolin to see if the size presents a problem to you.
The mando guitar is more expensive and difficult to purchase and maintain.
Like I mentioned in the pricing section of this article, mando guitars are more expensive than entry-level standard guitars.
Also, if you take your instrument to a luthier (someone who specializes in instrument repair) it will cost you more to do work on it compared to a standard guitar.
Plus, replacing strings on an instrument with a floating bridge like the mando guitar is more difficult and time-consuming than replacing strings on a standard guitar.
Though the cost to buy and maintain this instrument are greater than that of a guitar, it certainly shouldn’t be cost-prohibitive.
The cost should simply be something a prospective buyer is aware of.
Which strings are best for the mando guitar? 6 string mando guitar strings are lighter gauge (thinner) than standard guitar strings because they are tuned to a set of notes one octave higher than the standard guitar tuning. Thus, they must be able to support tighter/higher tension. Gold Tone has made custom strings to support this higher tension with the following gauges: .008 .012 .018 .024 .032 .042. These gauges refer to the diameter of the string in inches in order of the high E to the low E string. I have restrung my F-6 Gold Tone mando guitar with my favorite strings, Elixirs. Although Elixir doesn’t make mando guitar strings or strings with the gauges mentioned above, I used Elixir super light electric strings with the following gauges .009 .011 .016 .024 .032 .042. Because these electric strings are nearly the same gauge, they put the instrument under the same tension as Goldtone’s mando-guitar strings. However, they are made of materials that don’t resonate as well as acoustic strings. As a result, my mando guitar doesn’t quite resonate like it would if it were strung with acoustic guitar strings. But it always prefer Elixir strings to any other type because they have a corrosion-resistant coating that makes them sound great even after months of use. Because the electric Elixirs don’t quite resonate the way acoustic strings would, I plan on stringing my mando guitar with extra light Elixir acoustic strings with the following gauges .010 .014 .023 .030 .039 .047 the next time I’m due for a string changing.