Mandolin vs Guitar: Which Instrument is Better to Play?

By Danny Trent | Learning

It’s very common for people to consume mandolins and guitars, are they are both stringed instruments that look a little similar.

However, experienced musicians know that you should never make the mistake of confusing a mandolin and a guitar with each other.

If you didn’t know that there was such a huge difference between the two instruments, that’s okay! Now you know and will be able to impress your music friends with your new-found knowledge.

Upon further closer look, it’s actually pretty easy to tell the difference between a guitar and a mandolin. Even if you don’t have a whole lot of musical training, there are indeed differences between the two that you will be able to point out. Let’s get stated!

Main Differences Between the Mandolin vs Guitar

The main differences between teh Mandolin and Guitar are:

  • Guitars have either 6 or 12 strings, whereas a mandolin has 8 strings
  • Guitars are typically tuned in forths, whereas a madonlin is tuned in fifths
  • Guitar pitch is generally lower, whereas mandolin pitch is higher

What is a guitar?


Well, if you have ever been around music, ever listened to any music, ever seen a live concert, chances are you have probably seen a guitar. The guitar is one of the most commonly sought-after instruments, but not a whole lot of people take it to the next level of actually being able to play the instrument.

One of the great things about the guitar is that you don’t need to lean a new technique or chord patterns if you are interested in switching between acoustic guitar and electric guitar (Or vice versa). When it comes to learning how to play the instrument, both electric guitar and acoustic guitar are the same.

There are two roles that you can use a guitar to fulfill: creating a rhythm or creating harmony. If you are interested in creating rhythm, you should find lessons that teach you how to strum properly. If you are more interested in creating harmony, you should find lessons that show you how to build proper finger strength.

What makes a guitar unique?

guitar 1

One of the biggest distinctive factors of a guitar is the neck of the instrument.

Most guitar manufacturers create their guitars with different neck widths. There are different neck sizes for different playing styles, such as finger picking.

When it comes down to purchasing a guitar, you will have to figure out what your personal preferences and what you’re looking to play on your guitar when it comes to deciding the neck width of your instrument.

The materials that go into the composition of a guitar also will adjust the sound of the instrument. For example, if you are looking to play your guitar in the metal genre or the rock and roll genre, you will want to pick up a guitar with heavy gauge strings.

On the other hand, if you are more interested in getting into playing country or blues, you will want to pick up a guitar with light gauge strings.

What is a mandolin?

The mandolin is a stringed instrument that has eight strings and is tuned in perfect fifths like a violin (G, D, A, E). Since the mandolin is tuned in perfect fifths, generally the chord shapes that you learned on guitar (if you have prior guitar experience) won’t be of any help when you go to pick up a mandolin.

While this isn’t entirely true for all chord structures, it’s probably easier if you think of the mandolin chords as the bottom four strings of a guitar turned upside down.

There are several different versions of a mandolin, just as there are with a guitar. You can find and listen to mandolins when you listen to the classical genre, bluegrass, jazz, and even in some Celtic and Irish songs.

What makes the mandolin unique?

mandolin 1

The sound of the mandolin is much different than the sound of a guitar, which is great if you don’t really enjoy the sound that a guitar produces.

The sound that mandolins produce easily slice right through the sound of a band, which makes it a great instrument if you are interested in doing a lot of solo work.

If you have any experience playing guitar, you will find that your strumming/picking hand will have an easy time adjusting to the transition. This makes it easier for you to focus all of your attention on your other hand, which will have you earning new note positions and chord shapes.

What are some challenges that come with playing the guitar?

When comparing the guitar to the mandolin, the guitar is much more difficult to learn than the mandolin because it has more strings. But, the mandolin has eight stings, and the guitar has six strings- how is that possible?

The mandolin does have eight strings, but it only has four strings that are repeated twice (G, D, A, E, G, D, A, E). However, the guitar has six strings (E, A, D, G, B, E) that you have to learn; the more strings the instrument has, the more chords you are going to need to learn.

It may take you a good period of time to learn the chords that you need to know before you can get into refining your playing techniques. There are also different techniques that you need to learn in order to fluently play the guitar, such as strumming, string-bending, finger picking, plucking, and a few others.

What are some challenges that come with playing the mandolin?

mandolin 2

In comparison to sizing, the mandolin is much smaller than your average acoustic guitar. This can pose some difficulty if you are someone who has a larger stature or larger hands, as both the body and the fingerboard on the mandolin are much smaller than they are on the guitar.

The mandolin is also different when it comes the techniques that are needed to be able to play the instrument fluently. You will have to learn both right and left-hand techniques, which shouldn’t be too much of a problem if you have ever played a stringed instrument before.

It’s very common for people who get into playing the mandolin to run across techniques such as ‘chops’, ‘tremolo’, and ‘cross picking’. These are very common mandolin techniques and will be something that you need to master if you are looking to get into learning a lot of mandolin music.

Another common struggle that comes with learning the mandolin is that you will have to get your fingers used to play double strings.

In other words, your fingers are going to have to get used to holding double strings, which isn’t an easy task as the frets on a mandolin are very narrow. This can be a really big problem if you have larger hands or fingers.

It can also be difficult to play mandolin if you are someone who has smaller hands or smaller fingers. With the mandolin, you are going to need to hold two strings at the same time, which can really hard to do if your fingers are too small to reach.

If you are someone who is larger hands, you may find that you really have to squish your fingers to be able to get the correct notes. So even if you have years of technique built up from learning guitar, it may take you a while to switch over to mandolin and produce quality sound if you are someone who has larger hands and don’t have a whole lot of experience playing a smaller fretboard.

Since the strings have much more tension on them due to the short neck, you may feel like you struggle to push the strings of the mandolin down. This will cause your fingers to ache, and it will feel almost like you’re learning guitar again for the first time.


guitar and mandolin

If you are looking for an easy instrument to learn, you should probably re-think your mindset. If you are looking to truly learn an instrument and eventually become a master of sorts, no single instrument is easy to learn.

The more effort that you put into learning your instrument, the more you’re going to see out of it.

There will most likely always be a debate between guitar and mandolin, as there are always going to be people who have their favorite instrument.

It is true that there are some advantages to playing the guitar over the mandolin, but there are also some advantages to learning mandolin versus learning guitar.

At the end of the day, both mandolin and the guitar offer a lot of benefits to musicians, but they also come with a few drawbacks. The guitar may be a bit more of a universal instrument to learn if you’re not really certain about what genre you’re looking to play. However, if you are interested in learning a not-so-commonly played stringed instrument, the mandolin is the way to go.

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