A vs. F Style Mandolin (Differences & Which One Is Better?)

A-style or F-style mandolin, which one is better? This is one of the most frequently asked questions when individuals first shop for mandolins. And it is a vital question! Especially when their appearances are so different, and most of the pros that we see play F-style mandolins. 

What should you go for? An “A” or an “F” Style Mandolin?

For this question, there is no definite answer. However, we can start by stating that given equal quality, we have no major difference in tone between an A and F Style mandolin.

You heard that, right! Regardless of the different appearances, the A and F are quite close in all areas that are determinants of playability and tone. The differences between the two mandolins are cosmetics.

How are the two not so different?

Forget about the scroll and points, and the bodies as they are similar. The points are solid and play no part in the sound chamber. It is similar to the scroll. There is a solid wood block which fills up the greater part of the scroll. What we are left with is a top and back, which produces similar outcomes for all reasons and functions.

Read more about the different types of mandolins.

Is an F-style Mandolin better than an A-style mandolin?

A brief answer would be no. Typically, there might be differences among various mandolin models. However, getting an A or F style mandolin doesn’t really matter if you have to consider no other factors.

An F style creates a different balancing point when a strap is wrapped around the scroll from an A style with the strap around the headstock. Perhaps we could put this under playability. However, this is not something we can be overly concerned about. 

What makes an F-style mandolin more costly than an A-style? 

The scroll, headstock, and points on the F-style mandolin call for significant handwork to produce than those on an A-style. This is to the extent that an F-style can cost as much as 30% to 50% more than the price of a similar quality A-style mandolin.

If that is the case, then you may wonder why someone would ever pay so much more for an F-style mandolin! To answer your curiosity, just have a look at the F-style mandolin. It’d be hard to deny the beauty of the F-style mandolin.

Don’t be embarrassed, and you are not alone! Nearly everybody prefers the appearance of the F-Style mandolin, and a lot of people are at will to pay the premium price to possess one.

Why would an A-style mandolin be a better value for money?

The simple explanation that an A-style mandolin does not require much labor to build would best answer this question. Therefore, an A-class will nearly cost less for the same quality all the time.

Does a player need an F style for bluegrass?

There is a conventional notion that you require an F-style mandolin to play bluegrass. While this is not evidenced as far as tone is concerned, among a number of players, it is assumed that you should get an F- style mandolin.

Since there are traditions diehard, you will possibly have a hard time making people believe otherwise. The truth of the matter is, an A-style mandolin sounds precisely similar to an F-Style mandolin.

The mandolins merely have different looks. In the long run, if you long for peer recognition, you can buy an F-style mandolin. If you don’t care about what the others think and wish to get the best playing mandolin and save your money, The A-style mandolin should be the way to go.

However, as a general guide to buying a mandolin, here are two simple questions for a guide;

  1. What kind of music do you wish to be playing? Is it Celtic, bluegrass, or fold?
  2. How is your budget?

Looking at it from another angle, however, no mandolin would be best for all kinds of music. Below is a list of compromises you will have to make before deciding which mandolin is the best for you. 

  • An A-Style mandolin would be best for Celtic, Irish and folk music.
  • An F-Style mandolin is much traditional for bluegrass music.
  • An A-Style body having “F” soundholes is possibly the best trade-off if you wish to play bluegrass, and you’re on a small budget – that is, below $500.
  • Going for a used F-Style -for instance, a Gibson F-5 is similarly an excellent way to get yourself a nice mandolin for playing bluegrass music.
  • The “F” soundhole design can change and sound nice while playing Irish, folk, and Celtic music better than the oval soundhole design can change over and nice while playing bluegrass music.
  • In most instances, it would be better to have different mandolins playing different kinds of music in place of attempting to have a single instrument to play all kinds of music.
  • In the event that you are planning to be playing Celtic music, a flat style A-Style mandolin would be your way. And it would be best with an oval soundhole. However, an “F” sound whole flat style mandolin would also work well.
  • The archtop, F-Style mandolin, is way more adaptable for playing all kinds of music than an A-Style with an oval soundhole or flat style mandolin.

Final Thoughts

From the above overview, it is evident that the difference between an A-style and an F-style mandolin lies in looks. However, there are many other slight differences between the two, which lie in other factors, which include playability, the kind of music the mandolins play, and much more.

Before you proceed to purchase a mandolin, be sure to research properly. You might consider asking around from friends and relatives, mandolin playing pros, music shops, or researching online, be sure to buy a mandolin within your budget, do enough practice, and it shall be well.

Remember that having an A-style mandolin does not mean you own less-it’s still a mandolin!

The F-style would be expensive just for the looks, and we are always likely to go for the most beautiful things-you know, the cars, clothes and all that. All the best in your mandolin playing, and good luck!

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