Best Ukuleles in 2017 – reviewed right here!
So here we go – the best ukuleles we could find in 2017 – all reviewed for you right here to save you lots and lots of your own precious time. We have separated our reviews out into several different categories based on prices to different types. You can flick through the contents below to find the sections that interest you most. Also, at the bottom of the page, we have included a ton of uke related content for you to get to grips with ukuleles if you’re just getting started out. So look no further and read our reviews of the best ukuleles on the market today in 2017!
- Best Ukuleles For Under $1000
- Best Ukuleles For Under $500
- Best Ukuleles For Under $300
- Best Ukuleles For Under $200
- Best Ukuleles For Under $100
- Best Value-For-Money Acoustic Ukulele
- Best Travel Ukulele
- Best Acoustic Electric Ukulele
- Best Ukulele For Beginners
- Best Ukulele Banjo
- Best Soprano Ukulele
- Best Concert Ukulele
- Best Tenor Ukulele
- Best Baritone Ukulele
- Best Electric Bass Ukulele
- What Does A Ukulele Do?
- How To Choose The Right Ukulele For You
- What Is A Good Size And Shape For A Ukulele?
- What Are Ukuleles Made Of?
- Which Ukulele Brands Are Most Respected?
- Where Are Ukuleles Usually Made?
- Which Ukulele Is Best For Beginners?
- How Much Should I Spend?
Best Ukuleles For Under $1000
If the thought of having a stunning solid koa concert ukulele makes your insides flutter, this Luna should be on top of your list. The Luna UKE S ORC Solid Koa Concert Ukulele with Orchid Headstock has a solid koa top, back and sides, and features a mother of pearl inlaid orchid on its ebony headstock as well as Luna’s signature fret markers showing the phases of the moon on the ebony fingerboard.
This ukulele has an ebony bridge and Grover tuning pegs, and comes with an onboard preamp, D’Addario strings and a Luna gig bag. The details are remarkable as can be expected of any Luna instrument. It’s not all aesthetics however–the sound is lovely as well, though it is more mellow than the sound you may typically associate with a ukulele because of its size. If you’re looking for something that creates a more tinkly sound, go for a soprano size ukulele.
Kala’s Elite series is made for those looking to have the fullest, warmest and riches sound out of their ukulele–it’s great for guitarists who want to try a new instrument. Made of solid Hawaiian koa and made in the company’s California workshop, the Kala 1KOA-T Elite Tenor Ukulele is built to last. This uke features a natural satin finish, a mother of pearl headstock logo, fluorocarbon strings and a slightly arched back to focus the sound up and out.
Its build makes it resonant and easy to play. The company says it purposefully designed and engineered the Elite series to feel amazing, play easily and project sound to the audience. Everything from the fret spacing to the saddle positioning are meticulously calculated to give this ukulele the best intonation there is. It comes with a hard case too, so you can perform everywhere you go.
You might need to get used to the thicker neck however. While Kala’s entry-level tenor ukuleles as 34mm at the nut, this one measures 37mm. No biggie, really!
- Deep and powerful sound
- Solid build
- A little bit of the expensive side
Best Ukuleles For Under $500
Ukuleles with eight strings have a special place in our uke-loving hearts, which is why we’re putting the Kala KA-ASAC-T8 Solid Acacia Tenor 8-String Ukulele on our list of best ukuleles.
This ukulele has an all-solid acacia body, a rosewood binding with herringbone purfling and a rosewood fingerboard and bridge. And of course, a magnificent set of strings that make the instrument one of, if not the best in its category. Great resonance, amazing tone, durable build–you’ll have a hard time putting this instrument down.
- Great and powerful sound
- Solid build
- 8 strings not to everyone's liking
The Cordoba 30T is the first of the brand’s 30 series, its premium line of all-solid tenor ukuleles built using a classical or Spanish guitar manufacturing approach. It has an integrated neck joint (also called a “Spanish Heel”) instead of a traditional dovetail joint to bring together the ukulele’s body and neck. That alone makes this uke unique, and gives it a lighter weight and provides the heel joint with greater stability, increasing the instrument’s resonance and durabiltiy over time.
This handmade tenor ukulele features an all-solid mahogany top, back and sides, and a rosewood bridge, binding and fingerboard. The abalone inlaid rosette is a nice detail to an already sleek and striking instrument. It’s finished with polyurethane that’s been hand-rubbed as thin as possible for maximum resonance.
Lightweight as it may be, it’s got a deeper and wider body–something folks who are used to smaller ukuleles need to consider before purchasing.
- Great sound and tone
- Solid build
- Looks great
- Finish is a little heavy
Best Ukuleles For Under $300
Aosdin is a fairly unknown brand, but boy does it make decent ukes. The A100C concert ukulele’s top, back and sides are made of Hawaiian koa laminate. The neck is mahogany, the nut and saffle are made of ox bone while the fingerboard and bridge are made of rosewood. It has silver-plated tuning machines that keep the Aquila strings well in tune. For the price range, this is a high-quality ukulele you won’t regret purchasing.
This Aosdin concert ukulele is shipped in a “loose state” to protect it from damage, which means it’s up to you to tune and re-tune it until it adjusts properly, which usually takes a couple of weeks. The gig bag it comes with isn’t of the best quality–it’s functional yes, but won’t offer much protection beyond surface scratches so you might want to purchase a better one.
- Cool and unique look
- Great price for this standard
- Wood is a little thin
- Some tuning issues
Kala’s KA-SMHT tenor ukulele features an all-solid mahogany top, back and sides, as well as chrome die-cast tuners and faux tortoiseshell binding with black and white purfling. It has rosewood fingerboard and a mahogany bridge and neck, Grover geared tuners and comes installed with Super Nylgut strings, which you can replace with your preferred set of strings.
This tenor ukulele has that solid wood sound and good playability. Kala has always made quality ukes more affordable, and the SMHT is just one example of that. If you want a solid, no-frills tenor ukulele, this one takes the cake.
- Solid wood build
- Great sound and action
- Sound might be to some peoples tastes
Best Ukuleles For Under $200
Oscar Schmidt not only makes great guitars; it makes great ukuleles as well. The OU5 concert ukulele is a reflection of the quality and affordability the brand is known for. This instrument features a select Hawaiian koa top, back and sides, a nyatoh neck, a rosewood fingerboard, an abalone binding and rosette as well as Grover chrome tuning machines for an overall visually impressive instrument.
Like other Oscar Schmidt instruments, this ukulele is inspected and adjusted in the United States to ensure a resonant sound quality in addition to smooth fret ends and precision low action. It comes with nylon strings however, which means you’ll have to tune the ukulele constantly in the first few days until it properly stretches or have it professionally set up to make it playable. This uke doesn’t offer much in terms of projection, so if you’re looking for something loud from the get-go, you’ll have to opt for something else.
- Punching above its weight for the price
- Solid build
- Great sound
- Strings may vibrate a little too much
It’s amazing how Kala manages to produce great ukuleles at all price ranges–the KA-PWC concert ukulele is definitely for those who aren’t looking for the most top-end or the most inexpensive, but those in the Goldilocks range of ukes.
The Kala KA-PWC boasts a Pacific walnut body that gives it an extremely rich and warm tone for a concert ukulele. This uke also features quality open-gear tuning machines for a consistent tone. Playability, a clear sound and great volume make this a ukulele you would surely enjoy. Take note that if you prefer a low or medium action, it’s recommended to have it adjusted professionally if you don’t have the tools or experience to do so yourself. Still, for the quality, this uke provides good value for the price.
- Attractive walnut finish
- Lovely full sound
- No case included
- May need frequent tuning
Best Ukuleles For Under $100
If somebody tells you that you can’t get a good ukulele for less than $100, prove them wrong by showing them the Kala MK-S Makala soprano ukulele. This uke features an agathis body, mahogany neck, rosewood fingerboard and bridge, geared tuners and has been given a nice satin finish. It’s one of the best ukuleles for beginners and intermediate players looking for a great-playing ukulele that won’t break the bank.
The ukulele bundle comes with a clip-on digital chromatic tuner, a polishing cloth, a gig bag and an instructional DVD to help you get started. Beginners would find the tuner a big help especially in the first few weeks when the ukulele is still adjusting to stay in tune.
- Build quality is fairly solid
- Comes with Aquila strings
- Comes with a soft case
- Sound quality not great
The Hricane UKS-1 features a sapele body, Aquila strings and a rosewood fingerboard and bridge. It comes with a quality gig bag with a shoulder strap that can be taken off as preferred. Lightweight and with soft nylon strings, this ukulele is a great choice for young children first learning to play. Budget-conscious adults will appreciate it too–for the price, this ukulele is definitely more than decent to play.
Some people wouldn’t expect a professional-grade ukulele for below $100, yet the UKS-1 beats those expectations. It has a sweet, rich sound with great resonance so you can play in your favorite intimate settings without an amp.
Beginners should take note that new ukuleles (and guitars, for that matter) will go out of tune quickly for the first few days or so, and the UKS-1 is no exception. It takes time for the strings to adjust properly, so you’ll have to break them in (much like shoes) until everything settles.
- Great sound for the price
- Construction fairly solid
- Comes with a soft case
- Needs frequent tuning
Best Value-For-Money Acoustic Ukulele
We’re always on the lookout for ukuleles that provide excellent value for money, and the Lohanu concert size ukulele has been on our radar for quite some time now. This uke features an all-laminate sapele top, back, sides and neck, a rosewood fingerboard, handmade ABS bindings, Aquila Super Nylgut strings and chrome die-cast tuning gears. It also has an arched back for maximum resonance.
It comes already installed with two strap buttons, and the package also includes a strap, padded ukulele bag tuner with battery included, two picks and a pick holder as well as an extra set of Aquila strings. Plus, it even comes with free online video lessons where you can learn how to tune the ukulele, a beginner’s lesson and a few must-learn ukulele songs.
The overall construction of the Lohanu concert size ukulele gives it a balanced sound, not too bright and not too dark either. Some people complain that this ukulele never stays in tune after the first few tunings, but that’s normal–it takes a few days of constant tuning for new strings to stretch and settle in.
The entire package–the ukulele and the set of accessories–is definitely worth the money. Oh, and customer service is great too–whatever questions you have, you can expect Lohanu to respond promptly!
- Doesn't need frequent retuning
- Has brilliant Aquila strings
- A steal at this price range
- Comes with a soft case
- Sound could be better
If you’re looking for a soprano ukulele that would give you the best value for your money, we definitely recommend the Kala KA-15S-H1. This is an excellent-quality uke made of mahogany, and it features a laser-etched design showing the Hawaiian Islands. The fret ends have been sanded down, so beginners and young children would find the ukulele easy and comfortable to play.
The tuners on this ukulele are what you can describe as “pretty basic”–expect them to slip a little during the tuning process, which can take a while. Once the strings have been properly stretched and tuned, you’ll see that tuning is stable enough and the ukulele stays in pitch and projects well.
- Unique and cool design
- Great build
- Excellent value for money
- Strings might not be to everyones taste
- Possible tuning issues
Best Travel Ukulele
Eddy Finn EF-TRV-C Travel Ukulele
NOTE: Currently not stocked by Amazon
If you’re looking forward to bringing a ukulele with you to wherever life takes you, it’s best to go for a ukulele that’s designed to make it easier for people to take them along. The Eddy Finn EF-TRV-C is one such ukulele, with its slim profile of only 1.75 inches deep. This concert size uke has a natural-finish spruce top, mahogany back and sides, open-geared tuning machines, bone nut and saddle and an arched back.
The EF-TRV-C also features a shark fin-shaped sound hole, the brand’s signature look. The low action ensures easy playability, and the thinness of the instrument means it’s a lot easier to travel with than other concert ukuleles of standard profiles. Buying this instrument also entitles you to a free 30-minute lesson, which can be had in a TRMC studio, via Skype video call or even in the comfort of your own home.
The ukulele doesn’t come with a bag or case however, so that’s an additional purchase for you modern traveling minstrels.
- Great sound
- Very thin and lightweight
- Great price
- Doesnt come with case
This uke may be small, but it has an amazingly full sound. At just a little over 21 inches long and 1.75 inches thick at its thickest point, this uke is something you can definitely bring with you anywhere. The back of the Kala KA-SSTU is arched for maximum sound projection.
This travel ukulele from Kala features a top made of solid spruce, while its back, sides and neck are made of mahogany. The fingerboard and bridge are rosewood. This ultra thinline and lightweight ukulele already comes with a custom deluxe embroidered travel bag to protect it when you’re on the go.
If you think a soprano ukulele is too small for you, you can go ahead and check out the tenor and concert sizes of Kala’s travel ukulele. The KA-SSTU is the smallest of the bunch of course, so if you’re looking for an excellent soprano ukulele to travel with, this is the one for you.
- Excellent build
- Bright and crisp sound
- Nice compact size
- Some possible tuning issues
Best Acoustic Electric Ukulele
Luna makes beautifully designed ukuleles that stand out not only in terms of aesthetics, but in sound as well. The Luna Mahogany Series Tattoo Concert Acoustic-Electric Ukulele’s design takes inspiration from traditional Hawaiian body ornamentation, thus its name. The shark fin mother of pearl fret marker inlays round off the overall design nicely.
This ukulele comes with an onboard preamp and pickup system that works remarkably well for its price range. Unplugged, this acoustic-electric ukulele also resonates well with a warm and lively sound thanks to its mahogany body construction and concert-size body. The amazing craftsmanship, great intonation and affordable price makes this a tough electro-acoustic uke to beat.
As with all string instruments however, it can take a while to stay in tune. You’ll really have to make time to stretch the strings to a stable state, but after that it’s just a pure pleasure to play.
- Great design
- Great build
- Beautiful bright tone
- The neck is not adjustable
If you own a Les Paul guitar (or have always wanted one, but can’t afford it) and would like to try out ukuleles, this acoustic electric offering from Epiphone should be on top of your list. This ukulele with the classic Les Paul profile is equipped with a piezo film pickup right under the saddle, so the sound of the body as well as the strings’ natural tone are accurately captured.
The Les Paul ukulele is concert-sized at 24 inches. This uke lives up to its bigger brother’s reputation though at a lesser extent–the tuners, while not exceptional, do their job well. The uke also comes with a gig bag and the strap holders are already installed.
A proper setup may be in order however–the action may be too high for some, and others may prefer to replace the default strings with a set of Aquila Nylguts. Also, while the electronics does give out a clear sound, there are no volume or tone controls. You can modify the uke and replace the electronics or put a preamp–some extra work and expense–but all things considered, the Les Paul still makes it as one of the best acoustic electric ukuleles out there.
Best Ukulele For Beginners
When learning to play the ukulele, it’s important to have one that not only sounds well, but plays well too. The soprano-size Cordoba 15SM is made to do just that. This ukulele has a mahogany top, back and sides. It also features an abalone rosette, a rosewood bridge and fingerboard and a natural satin finish for that elegant, old-world look. And though this is an entry-level uke specifically designed for beginners, it doesn’t compromise quality.
Not only is the handmade construction A-grade, the sound is rich and full as well. The factory setup may not be to your liking however, so a trip to a pro is in order for some adjustments in terms of action and intonation to improve the ukulele’s playability.
- Looks great
- Solid build and finish
- Stays in tune
- Doesnt come with gig bag
A beginner instrument of quality doesn’t have to break the bank. The HM-124MG+ Deluxe concert ukulele from Hola! Music is one such instrument that can provide many enjoyable hours of practice without the high price associated with high-quality ukes.
This uke has a mahogany body, nato neck, rosewood fingerboard and bridge, silver nickel frets, bone nut and saddle, die-cast geared tuners as well as Aquila Nylgut strings. This uke has a very good intonation, making it great for beginners learning to play and hit notes correctly.
Beginners, or those new to stringed instruments, should know that the strings will take time to stretch and stabilize. A lot of tuning is involved at the beginning–be patient–soon enough the strings will settle and you won’t have to tune as often (until you replace the strings with a new set, that is).
- Made with stylish zebra-wood
- Looks and sounds great
- Great price
- Some tuning issues
Best Ukulele Banjo
Oscar Schmidt OUB1 Ukulele – Satin
NOTE: Currently unavailable at Amazon
A ukulele banjo or banjolele is exactly what you think it is–a four-stringed instrument with a ukulele neck and a banjo body. It has the distinctive, folk-y sound of a banjo and the playing style of the ukulele. The Oscar Schmidt OUB1 is a prime example of a banjolele that offers the best features of the two instruments.
Made of solid hardwood, this banjolele is a bit heavier than most ukuleles and has a greater volume. The concert-size OUB1 features a Remo head or drum, mahogany resonator, flame maple veneer headstock and bound rosewood fingerboard. It comes with Aquila strings for the best sound–that mellow uke sound with a distinct banjo twang. It’s more banjo than ukulele though.
The OUB1 doesn’t come with a case though, so you’ll need to look around for one that fits.
- Stunning finish
- High quality Aquila strings
- Extremely well priced
- A little heavier than a standard uke
- Some fret buzzing
You’ll really have a good time with this banjolele from Deering. This concert-scale banjo ukulele has a full-size rim, which produces a louder and fuller sound. Adding to the magnificent sound quality of the Goodtime banjo ukulele are the finger-lovin’ Aquila Super Nylgut strings and patented bridge plate.
This open-back banjo ukulele features a three-ply violin maple rim, Renaissance head, an extended fingerboard and a maple neck. The Goodtime banjolele is fun and easy to play, and the light weight makes it easy to carry around too. It could use a bit of work in terms of nut and bridge adjustment–nothing someone with the right tools and know-how can’t manage.
- Strong, well-balanced sound
- Looks fantastic
- Price may put some off
Best Soprano Ukulele
There’s a reason why Kala seems to be a mainstay on our list of best ukuleles–the brand simply just comes up with exceptional and affordable instruments across size and budget ranges. This is why one of our top picks in the soprano category is the Kala KA-15S. It’s an entry-level uke even advanced players won’t hesitate to buy, and we don’t blame them.
This soprano ukulele features a mahogany laminate body and neck, geared tuners for easy and stable tuning, Aquila Nylgut strings and a rosewood fingerboard and bridge. For a laminate wood ukulele, this produces good volume. It takes a while to break in the strings but it plays amazingly well once the strings settle in. The ukulele bundle comes with a clip-on tuner and though it’s not the most accurate device to have around, it works decently. Overall a great bang for the buck.
- Excellent value for money
- Great sound
- Some tuning issues
Also making it to our list of best ukuleles is the Naneki soprano ukulele. While the brand is not as well-known as say, Kala, it has earned a reputation for producing great-sounding ukes of good quality and workmanship. Its soprano ukulele is made from fine exotic wood such as rosewood, African sapele and mahogany. It features die-cast stainless tuning machine heads and comes with an electronic tuner.
The Naneki soprano ukulele package also comes with a cloth gig bag case, a free strap and a set of spare Aquila nylon strings–all you need to get you started with your ukulele-playing. Note however that the tuner isn’t of the best quality, but once you learn how to tune the ukulele by ear you won’t need it much anyway.
- Beautiful sound
- Looks great
- Some tuning issues
Best Concert Ukulele
Concert ukuleles have become the go-to instrument of those who want a little more room to play on the fretboard but prefer a “classic” ukulele sound over the more guitar-like sound of a tenor ukulele. Among the best in this category is the Luna High Tide Series Koa Concert Ukulele, which features a built-in electric pickup for better amplification.
This ukulele is made from solid koa and is designed with abalone wave fret markers that seem to “rise” up the fretboard in conjunction with the moon’s phases. The koa body gives the ukulele a full and deep sound, while the cutaway provides comfort to players accessing the frets at the upper register. The nato/mahogany neck coupled with the rosewood bridge and fretboard add to the instrument’s tonal clarity and sustain, while the open-style tuners keep the ukulele in tune.
The Luna High Tide Series Koa Concert Ukulele is made beautifully, and sound-wise it also doesn’t disappoint, although some professional setup is required to ensure maximum playability and proper intonation.
- Beautiful sound
- High standard at this price point
- Some finishing could be better
Best Tenor Ukulele
Although it’s good to have a ukulele from well-known and respected brands, it’s also commendable to consider ukes from unknown brands, like this Hankey tenor ukulele that features a green shell inlay on the top. This uke has a koa top, back and sides, rosewood fingerboard and bridge and a mahogany neck. It’s fitted with Aquila strings and a bone nut, and comes with a padded gig bag, audio cable, polishing cloth and a set of spare strings.
This tenor ukulele is equipped with a 3-band EQ with controls for bass, middle and treble. The chromatic tuner has an LCD backlight screen for greater convenience. The overall build is impressive for the price, plus it’s already installed with strap buttons. This uke sounds good both plugged in and unplugged, so all you need to do is play–well, after a few adjustments, that is. As with other new string instruments, it’s recommended to set up the ukulele prior to regular playing. Constant tuning during the first few days is also a must, but it’s something newbie players must learn to do anyway.
- Great build
- Rich and feisty sound
- Great uke at this price point
- Some possible buzzing from the frets
This tenor ukulele from Kala, the MK-T Makala, features an agathis body, mahogany bridge and neck, rosewood fingerboard and geared tuners. It’s without a doubt one of the best entry-level tenor ukuleles on the market today. Despite its affordable price (the Makala line is Kala’s budget range of ukuleles), it doesn’t scrimp on build and sound quality.
This uke is great for beginners and intermediate players alike, especially those who don’t want something too cheaply made (and probably sound awful) and not too expensive either. The MK-T Makala tenor ukulele hits all the right spots: excellent sound, amazing durability and quality for the cost.
A quick note: It’s highly recommended to change the strings to a set with better quality to really bring out the wonderful tone the ukulele can make. Oh, and the ukulele case is sold separately, so that’s an added expense to think about.
- Great build
- Competitive price
- Looks great
- Strings are not the best
Best Baritone Ukulele
Another ukulele category, another Kala on the list. Well, the Kala MK-B baritone ukulele deserves it not only because it sounds great with a rich, mellow tone and is easy to play, but also because it has great quality for the price.
The MK-T’s body is made of agathis, which is similar to mahogany in terms of appearance and tonal properties, but is less expensive. The bridge and fingerboard are made of rosewood while the neck is mahogany. It has geared tuners and a nice satin finish.
If you’re a guitar player and would like to try out a ukulele, it’s easy to transition through a baritone ukulele, which has a D-G-B-E tuning just like the guitar’s top four strings. Speaking of strings, though you might get lucky and get an instrument in a playable state right out the box, it’s recommended to have it set up professionally first (or at least replace the default nylon strings with a better-quality set).
- Great value for money
- Sounds great
- Strings are not the best
This instrument is Cordoba’s first baritone ukulele. The 20BM features a solid mahogany top, mahogany back and sides, rosewood fingerboard and bridge, Aquila Nylgut strings, natural wood pattern rosette and satin finish. It doesn’t just excel in the “serious look” department–sound-wise, the 20BM is tops too. It plays easily, with a nice mellow tone with good sustain.
It not too loud on volume however, so if you’re looking for a good instrument to take to gigs, better look for one with a pickup. For small, intimate settings, the Cordoba 20BM would do. Some adjustments may be in order to improve the ukulele’s playability and intonation–it’s not unusual to get an off-sounding uke straight from the workshop. Get a tuner and/or learn to tune by ear–when all else fails, seek a pro to help you set it up properly.
- Looks and feels great
- Great build
- Comes set-up
- Strings are not the best
Best Electric Bass Ukulele
Playing an electric bass ukulele is the same as playing a standard bass guitar (EADG). Bass players who would like to try the uke will love the Hadean Acoustic Electric Bass Ukulele UKB-23, which comes with an integrated tuner and preamp with controls for volume, bass, mid and treble.
This bass ukulele features a walnut body and a rosewood fretboard, and is equipped with Aquila Nylgut strings. It measures 29.75 inches with a scale length of 20 inches, so it’s closest in size to a baritone-sized ukulele.
This bass uke doesn’t project well unplugged, so the preamp is really necessary. A professional setup may also be in order to address any fret buzz issues and change the strings, but all in all the UKB-23 plays and sounds well for its price.
- Well made with great sound
- Looks fantastic
- Packs a punch for the money
- Short battery life when not plugged in
- Could be a bit bulky for some
General Ukulele Buying Info
What Does A Ukulele Do?
A ukulele (also spelled ukelele in some parts of the world) is a four-stringed musical instrument that belongs to the lute family. It’s actually an adaptation of a small guitar-like instrument from Portugal called the machete, which Portuguese immigrants introduced to the Hawaiians in the 1880s.
Impressed, the Hawaiian locals and even then King David Kalakua adapted the instrument, calling it “ukulele,” which can be translated to “jumping flea” as well as “the gift that came here.”
How To Choose The Right Ukulele For You
Choosing the right ukulele for you can be challenging, with all the different ukulele brands, models, sizes, woods and types to choose from. It’s always important to research and read reviews about the ukulele you’re interested in.
If you can, drop by a music store and try out different kinds of ukuleles before settling on one. If you have friends who play the ukulele, ask if you can borrow theirs and ask for their opinion.
Choosing the right uke for you can be simplified by considering the following aspects: first, the price. Determine how much you’re willing to pay for your first ukulele. Experts recommend setting aside $50-$100, but if you have a bigger budget, consider getting a complete beginner’s kit, which would usually include a tuner, an extra set of strings and a carry bag. If your uke doesn’t come with a tuner included then you can use an online one like Uke Tuner.
Next is the size. Ukuleles come in four sizes: soprano, concert, tenor and baritone. We will discuss those in depth later, but for now you should know that each size produces a different sound–so you’ll also have to determine the kind of sound you like. You can do this by trying out different ukulele sizes in music stores or watching ukulele videos online.
Once you have narrowed down your options based on pricing and size, you’ll now be able to choose from a range of makes and models. To further shorten the list of choices, you can read verified customer reviews and watch demo videos to see and hear the ukuleles in action.
When all is said and done, it all really comes down to how you feel about the instrument. If the price is right, if the sound is something you can listen to for hours on end and you enjoy playing it at first try, then you picked the right one!
What Is A Good Size And Shape For A Ukulele?
Ukuleles come in four main sizes: soprano, concert tenor and baritone, with the soprano being the smallest. You may have also seen a much smaller one–the sopranissimo–and other types such as a bass and contrabass ukuleles, but for today we’ll focus on the four primary sizes.
The soprano ukulele is the most common one, having a size of 20 inches or 51 centimeters and a scale of just 13 inches. It’s not only the size that most folks associate the instrument with but it also makes that “classic” uku sound, with a light, soft and tinkly tone. Because of this, the soprano is commonly referred to as the “standard” ukulele in Hawaii.
The small size means the frets are positioned close to each other, and there is less room to maneuver on the fingerboard. If you have big hands or meaty fingers, you may find it difficult to play a soprano ukulele. But if you really want that traditional ukulele look and sound (and you have small hands and slim fingers) then this ukulele size would suit you well.
Next is the concert size, which at 23 inches or 58 centimeters and 15-inch scale is just a little bit bigger than the soprano. The concert ukulele has a bigger body and a longer neck, which means there is more room between the frets to play chords. It also creates the classic ukulele sound but it produces a slighly warmer and louder volume because of the larger size.
Tenor ukuleles, which measure 26 inches or 66 centimeters and have a scale of 17 inches, are growing in popularity. The size of the tenor ukulele gives it a deeper sound and more robust tone, with some likening the tone to that of a classical guitar. The longer scale creates more room between the frets, so big-fingered folks would find this size more comfortable to play than the soprano.
Concert and tenor ukuleles are considered great sizes for beginners as they are easy to play and create a tone that’s richer, warmer and more resonant than the soprano ukulele. According to ukulele players, it’s easier to learn the chords when starting out on a bigger uke with more room on the fingerboard and then shift to a smaller playing space, such as that of a soprano.
The largest ukulele is the baritone at 30 inches or 76 centimeters. It has the deepest tone and is most like a classical nylon-stringed guitar, with more bass, sustain, volume and resonance. The baritone ukulele also differs from the other three in terms of tuning and music choices or available chord sheets–most ukulele music pieces are intended for the soprano, concert or tenor ukuleles.
The soprano, concert and tenor ukuleles are tuned in the same way. The standard tuning is G-C-E-A. If you learn to play a tenor ukulele, it will be the same as playing a soprano or concert ukulele. Baritone ukuleles, on the other hand, are tuned to a lower pitch: D-G-B-E–five half steps lower. If you play the guitar, you’ll see that the baritone uke is tuned just like the top four guitar strings.
While you can play standard ukulele music on a baritone ukulele, you’ll be playing music in a different key, so the chords would sound “off.” It’s for this reason that the baritone ukulele is not usually recommended for beginners.
Ukuleles typically have figure-eight shape, like a small acoustic guitar. They also come in non-standard shapes such as an oval (called a “pineapple” ukulele), a square and a boat paddle shape.
What Are Ukuleles Made Of?
Most ukuleles are made primarily from wood. There are also ukuleles made of plastic, which some say are the best to give to young children and to take to the beach.
Different kinds of wood from around the world are used in the manufacture of the ukulele, including maple, spruce, Hawaiian koa, rosewood, elm, walnut, mango, cocobolo, mahogany, acacia, cedar, black limba, redwood, nato, cherry, sapele and lacewood, among many others. Like in the manufacture of acoustic guitars, the kind of wood used in the ukulele affects its tone, sound and overall quality.
Native to Hawaii, koa wood is the most popular and is the traditional wood of choice for use in ukulele manufacturing. Koa trees have a wide range of colors and patterns in their grain, making each koa ukulele unique. It also creates a warm sound and balanced tone.
Mahogany is another favorite because this wood has a quality that creates a mellow and warmer tone, though a bit softer than koa. This type of wood is also often used for making ukulele necks. Mahogany has great aging qualities, which means that ukuleles made from this wood type sound better as they get older.
The wood used in the body of the ukulele may be solid or laminated, with solid wood being the preferred choice for quality sound. Ukuleles made with laminates are generally more affordable than those made of solid wood. There are also ukuleles that are made with a solid tonewood for the top (which has the most impact on the tone) and laminates for the other parts of the body.
Laminate-wood ukuleles are less prone to cracking that can be a problem for solid-wood ukes in climates where it’s cold and dry. On the other hand, solid-wood ukuleles do mellow with age and produce richer tones, while ukuleles made of laminate would produce the same sound throughout.
Aside from wood, nylon, glues or adhesives, steel, coatings (lacquers for decoration and protection from the elements) and plastic are also used in the manufacture of ukuleles. Ukuleles usually come with nylon polymer strings but there are also some with steel strings.
Which Ukulele Brands Are Most Respected?
There are many good ukulele brands all offering a wide range of instruments to choose from. The following are the most popular because of the quality of the instruments that they make.
- Kala – has a broad range of ukuleles for every budget. It’s often considered the best ukulele brand for both beginners and intermediate players because its instruments are not only well-made but priced right as well.
- Cordoba – popular as a nylon-string classical acoustic guitar maker, Cordoba also has a wide variety of quality ukuleles in different sizes.
- Luna – Luna ukuleles are known for their beautiful looks and tattoo designs. The ukuleles are pleasing not by aesthetics alone but also by playability and reliability, making them a great choice for beginners.
- Lanikai – this brand offers a wide range of ukuleles, including acoustic-electric ukes for beginners and advanced players alike, all at affordable price points.
- Mahalo – Mahalo offers inexpensive ukuleles in bright colors, making them popular instruments for children and beginners.
- Flea – if you’re looking for a pineapple-shaped ukulele, Flea is your brand. Flea makes soprano and concert ukes using a combination of wood and injection-molded thermoplastic, making the instruments more resonant.
- Hola! – this brand offers a great range of well-made ukuleles for beginners. Hola! ukuleles have risen in popularity not just because of their playability and resonance but also their affordability.
- Fender – this brand is not only a respected maker of guitars; it has become a favorite among ukulele players as well. Fender’s ukes feature the classic headstock found on its guitars and have the same quality as can be expected of the brand.
- Oscar Schmidt – like Fender, Oscar Schmidt is known for its quality guitars–its ukuleles are no exception.
- Martin – Martin is often associated with high-end acoustic guitars, and now it’s also the brand of choice for ukulele players who value quality and resonance, and have a little more money to spend.
- Epiphone – yet another known guitar brand, Epiphone also has ukuleles in its instrument range. The most popular is the Les Paul ukulele, which is basically a miniature version of its iconic guitar.
Where Are Ukuleles Usually Made?
Many ukulele brands have in-house manufacturing facilities, while others have their products assembled in other countries, usually China, Indonesia, Thailand and South Korea.
For instance, Koolau Guitar & Ukulele in Hawaii also has its ukuleles made in China and Indonesia. The company uses wood grown in the country where the ukuleles are made: in China, maple is the wood of choice; in Indonesia, it’s acacia and mahogany. In its Hawaii factory, the ukuleles are made of koa and other types of wood from the U.S. mainland.
To give you an idea of where ukuleles are usually made, here’s a list of countries and the brands that call them home.
- United States – Kala, Luna, Fender, Oscar Schmidt, Martin, Hola!, Flea (Fluke), Kona, Nalu, Anakoneke, Blackbird, Boat Paddle, Cordoba, Da Silva Ukuleles, Eddy Finn, Griffin
- China – Hamano, Vineyard, WikiWiki, Aiersi
- Hawaii – Lanikai, Ana’ole, Hawaiian Ukulele Company, Honu (made and assembled in the Far East), Kamaka, Kanile’a (some ukuleles are made in China), Keli’i (made in China), KoAloha, Kumalae, Tangi, Kamoa, Lymana
- China/Korea – Epiphone
- South Korea – Kona Ukulele, Ookook
- Taiwan – aNueNue, PukanaLa, Koyama
- Portugal – APC Instruments, Lehua
- UK – Aria, Ashbury, Ashton, Clearwater, Lani (made in China), Stagg, Tanglewood, Zemaitis
- Germany – Brüko, Ortega, RISA, Baton Rouge
- Thailand – Honolele, Melokia
- Japan – Ibanez, Kiwaya, T’s Guitars, Yamaha
- Australia – Koyama, Savannah, Uluru (made in Taiwan), Barron River, Beau Hannam, Maton
Which Ukulele Is Best For Beginners?
When starting out with learning the ukulele, it’s important for beginners to consider quality, playability and reliability. You want to have the best experience possible when learning to play, so shopping around for the best ukulele for beginners is crucial.
Many brands offer beginner kits, which include a tuner, a carry bag or case and some instructional materials like manuals and DVDs. Here are some beginner ukulele recommendations to help you get started on your quest to find the best!
- Makala Dolphin Soprano Ukulele – comes in a range of colors and made of plastic but amazingly playable and has a great tone for the price (it costs less than $50).
- Lanikai LU-21 Soprano Ukulele – though made from laminate wood, this ukulele is considered a top choice for beginners who want to have the look of a solid wood ukulele but without the high price.
- Cordoba 15CM Concert Ukulele – ukulele players love the Cordoba’s combination of beauty, quality and playability.
- Kala KA-C Ukulele – beginners who are looking for a ukulele that’s high on quality yet low on price can’t go wrong with Kala’s concert ukulele.
When looking for your first ukulele, remember to shop around, read reviews and forum posts, try out all the ukes you can at music stores and ask other ukulele players for advice. If the ukulele you’re eyeing doesn’t already come with an electronic tuner, it’s recommended to add it to your purchase. Also consider buying a ukulele case or gig bag so you can protect your ukulele when traveling.
A new set of replacement strings is also recommended, as some ukulele models may not have the best-quality strings by default. Ukulele players swear by the quality of Nylgut strings, but of course you can also shop around to see which options fit your taste and budget as well.
How Much Should I Spend?
Beginners to ukulele are lucky in that there are plenty of good options no matter their budget. For instance, those who are looking for a ukulele to give to a child learning to play may not want to spend too much on an instrument until the child actually shows serious interest.
There are also those who want to start playing with a high-quality ukulele from the get-go with the intention of using it for life (and using the high price point as motivation to learn). Then there are others who have a great passion to learn but whose budgets are somewhat limited. Others want to own as many different ukuleles as they can–and we don’t blame them!
One of the best things about learning to play the ukulele is its affordability–even if you only have $50 in your pocket, you can already have a good-quality and playable ukulele you can enjoy. Keep in mind that as with other instruments, higher-quality ukuleles would have a higher price–solid-wood ukuleles cost more than laminates, for example. Higher-priced ukes tend to have better-quality hardware overall.
A beginner budget between $50-$200 is good, as it will already provide you with plenty of great ukuleles to choose from. How much you should spend on your first ukulele would depend on the price you can comfortably afford, knowing the risks that often come with “budget” ukuleles (poor performance, flimsy construction, low-quality tuners, bland sound, etc.).
If you can, go for a beginner ukulele in the $75-200 price range. If you have a little more to spare, solid-wood ukes can be found in the $200-$600 range. Expect top-of-the-line ukes under $1,000, but for beginners still testing the waters, an average amount of $100-200 would do.
Again, shop around and read ukulele reviews to see which models would fit your budget and preferences (and finger size!) before buying your first ukulele. All the homework will be worth it.