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If you’re thinking that you’ve never heard a mandolin before; turns out that yes, you have. While it’s not as common as a century ago, the mandolin still occasionally shows up in popular songs – think R.E.M’s “Losing My Religion,” Led Zeppelin’s “Battle of Evermore,” and the Goo Goo Dolls’ “Iris.” While they’re most commonly used in folk and rock songs these days, the best mandolins can be played across any and all types of music, often accompanying a violin since they share the same tuning.
From its early days in Italy, evolving from the lute, the mandolin has woven its way through Europe, Asia and eventually America, contributing to multiple genres and styles, such as classical, orchestral, baroque, folk, country and bluegrass.
What You Need To Know About Mandolin Cases
Mandolins come in many shapes and sizes. And that, right there, is a big problem when it comes to finding a good mandolin case.
Whether you’re a seasoned mandolinist or a beginner just starting out, finding the right case will depend entirely on what type of mandolin you own. Similar to guitars and basses, mandolins have builds that vary in width, length, and shape. While there are plenty of “mando” designs all over the world, some unique to each country and even region, there are three commonly-used types that you’re likely to find when looking to buy one: flat-back, carve-top and round-back.
The flat-backed mandolin, which shares the most similarity with an acoustic guitar, has a body made of thin strips of wood, braced for strength on the inside, and can be found in Irish, British and Brazillian folk music. The carved-top’s back is also made of wood, but less layered, with an arched back and top. If you’re playing American folk or bluegrass, this is your go-to choice. Finally the round-backed, possibly the oldest and most common type of mandolin, gets its sound from the deep bottom, with wood glued together into a bowl shape. European and traditional classical music is where you’re most likely to hear this one.
Since each of these not only have their own sound, but also their own shape, it’s important to check and see if the case you’re interested in is likely to fit your type. Another key factor in case shopping is what you’ll be using it for. If you’ll be traveling and touring with other gear and bandmates, a hardshell case that can stand up to road life is an absolute must. If you’re most likely playing at home, or taking your instrument to the occasional lesson or jam session, a durable nylon gig bag might be just what you need.
1. Carrion Hardshell A-Model Mandolin Case
For mandolinists consistently traveling, playing live shows, and going from studio to studio, this case is built with a little of everything to protect your instrument at all costs.
Its core is crafted with heavy-duty, multi-ply wood, giving it solid strength and resiliency to the roughness of road-life. The exterior’s black Tolex (a waterproof, vinyl material) is ready to stand up to snow, sleet, rain, and being crammed into a van night after night.
The interior looks comfortable enough to take a nap in – thick foam padding in a stylish black plush lining offers the perfect place for cushioned protection. There should still be enough room inside to fit your instrument’s strap alongside the body as well.
This case is built for the long haul. Lock it up with its high-quality chrome-plated lockable latches, grab the sturdy hinged handle, and hit the road.
PROS: Will keep your mando safe for years to come. The little storage bin inside the case is a nice bonus, and a convenient spot for tuners, picks and other small accessories.
CONS: While it’s more resilient than a soft-shell case, it’s not indestructible. Also: there may be a strong odor of glue or plastic when first opened, but that fades after a couple weeks.
2. Gearlux A-Style Mandolin Hard Case
The GearLux has most of the same attributes as the other cases, with two uniquely noticeable features.
The first is the lockable hardware (with two keys). If your gear is being left onstage or backstage unattended until you go on, this is an excellent extra step to protect it from theft. The locks line up when the case is closed, and are made with solid chrome. It’s also well-protected externally, with a hardshell case and textured finish; inside, find plush padding that holds your mandolin snug. (And if not, you could also add a rolled-up towel at the bottom).
The second unique feature is the little chrome feet on the case. It’s a nice extra touch, and provides you with a slightly more stable option to stand it up/set it down on its side, without worrying if gravity, amp vibrations or a clumsy bandmate will knock it over.
PROS: Looks sleek, sharp, and professional. Also includes the option to lock it up, and feet to stand it up.
CONS: Fits most A-style mandolins, but not all. Some say that since the case isn’t arched to compensate for their mandolin’s bridge, they were unable to close it, and would need to remove all the strings and the bridge in order to do so.
3. Hola! Heavy Duty A & F Style Mandolin Gig Bag
The Hola! is an option when a hard case isn’t necessarily needed. While they offer greater protection against general roughness, hardshell cases can be incredibly bulky, unbalanced, and awkward to carry. This is a much lighter choice, and for a collapsable soft-shell gig bag, the Hola! does offer a decent amount of protection.
The exterior waterproof protective padding is made of Oxford Nylon fabric, plus there’s a little extra patch up top to shield the headstock too. The outside pocket is also a nice touch for any finger-picks, tuners, spare strings, extra playing accessories, or sheet music.
Zip it up with the two-way wraparound zippers, strap it on (or carry with the comfortable grip handle) and you’re good to go.
PROS: Lightweight with thick, padded protection, two options for carrying (soft handle and shoulder strap), and an overall well-made construction.
CONS: While this is a great case for toting around town, it’s not a hard-case: the material is plenty suitable for road travel, but not worth the risk for how airline handlers throw luggage around. Also important to note that this is only for A and F style mandolins.