7 Best Mandolin Players of All Time

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Are you a big fan of the mandolin? Wondering who the very best mandolin players of all time are?

The mandolin has been a big part of American folk music, particularly bluegrass, for quite a while. This acoustic instrument has been part of the music history over the years, and while it’s not as well-known as the guitar, much of the great music in the world wouldn’t exist without it.

Needless to say, the world of music has seen many great mandolin players across the years. Some of them established a lasting legacy with their skills and others have helped advance the mandolin into a more mainstream appeal, further developing the instrument in some big ways.

If you’re wondering who the best mandolin players in the world are, look no further. Here are 7 of the best players that you must acquaint yourself with.

1. Chris Thile

Chris Thile on Mandolin
Source: Eric Frommer via Flickr

Chris Thile is a contemporary mandolin player that has a rich and varied career. His mastery of the instrument dates back to his early childhood.

From as early as 12, Thile was already an adept mandolin player, having won a national mandolin contest in Winfield, Kansas.

Chris Thile currently has an unmatched reputation through his work with Grammy award-winning bands Nickel Creek and The Punch Brothers. He is also the host of the popular radio show, “Live From Here”, formerly A Prairie Home Companion.

Chris Thile has done more than any other player to advance both the technical side of the instrument as well as bringing it to mainstream audiences. His style and technique put him far above his peers in the contemporary mandolin genre.

2. Bill Monroe

Bill Monroe
Source: Brian Crawford via Flickr

Bill Monroe is known as “The Father of Bluegrass Music”. He is considered to be the one person that was crucial to the creation of the Bluegrass genre of music.

Bill Monroe started playing the mandolin as a young boy and went on to become a great player. He fused old-time music with a quicker, playing style, creating something that was exciting and new. Major rock artists of later years such as Elvis, Chuck Berry, and Buddy Holly were all influenced by Bill Monroe and his music.

During the 40s and 50s period, Bill Monroe was the leader of the Blue Grass Boys Band. Along with his band, he helped to shape the sounds of the genre and earn a truly “legendary” reputation.

3. Jethro Burns

Born Kenneth C. Burns, Jethro Burns gained fame as part of a mandolin-playing duo going by the name of Homer and Jethro, which was a comedy musical team.

He specialized in comedy and was a pioneer in the jazz mandolin world. Most of his music involves parodies of other popular songs. However, his skills on the mandolin are matched by few and he is regarded as one of the best of all time.

4. Tiny Moore

Tiny Moore was a friend to Jethro Burns. Together, they worked on several songs and ushered in the jazz mandolin. He ranks among the best mandolin players to grace the music scene.

His specialization was the electric mandolin. During his time, he mostly performed with Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys. Moore’s reputation led to his induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, posthumously.

Source: Rich Anderson

5. Adam Steffey

Adam Steffey is one of the top mandolin players of great repute in recent times.

Steffey is a five-time Grammy winner and the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) voted him the Mandolin Player of the Year ten times, which is a record.

Adam Steffey is also one of the most recorded mandolin players and has worked with many musicians and bands over the years.

6. David Grisman

Of all the many mandolin players and musicians, David Grisman has perhaps done the most to promote the mandolin to the world. Grisman has been involved in teaching, recording, performing, production, and promotion of mandolin music for many years.

Like Bill Monroe, David Grisman essentially launched a brand-new genre that many know as “Dawg music”, which is a fusion of bluegrass, jazz, and folk.

Top Mandolin Players in the World
Source: Janet Spinas Dancer via Flickr

7. Ricky Skaggs

Ricky Skaggs enjoys a great reputation as a mandolin player but is actually much more than that. Skaggs is, for many, a household name in the country genre but is also a bluegrass singer, musician, producer, and composer.

He was the youngest inductee to the Grand Ole Opry in 1982 and he also holds a range of additional musical honors and accomplishments as well.

Final Thoughts

Choosing the best mandolin players is not an easy task and doing so is definitely subjective. However, there’s no denying that the mandolinists listed above are some of the best to ever grace the world of music.

If you have a big interest in the mandolin, either as a player or as a listener, be sure that you take the time to listen to each of the great players listed above.

Want to learn more about the best bluegrass musicians in the world? Check out this list of great banjoists now.

Cover Image: Eric Frommer via Flickr