The Best Tenor Ukuleles in 2020: reviewed and rated right here!
We’ve been asked many times about the best tenor ukulele we would recommend. The problem is, we couldn’t recommend just one. Different players have different needs and wants, so instead of picking out one tenor ukulele to rule them all, we’ve decided to share nine ukes that would satisfy different players.
We’ve selected the best tenor ukulele models from trusted brands such as Kala, Cordoba, Gretsch, Lanikai and Martin. These ukes were chosen for sound quality, craftsmanship, features and overall value for money. We’re sure you’ll find one or more to your liking. Here are our top seven terrific tenors!
Our Top Tenor Ukulele Picks
|Kala KA-T Tenor Ukulele||The Kala KA-T is part of the brand’s Satin Mahogany line and as such features a mahogany body and neck with a sleek satin finish. It also has a cream binding that adds to its simple, classic look. We love the eye-catching grain of the KA-T, but there’s more to this uke than its appearance - it sounds amazing too!|
|Cordoba 20TM Tenor Ukulele||Another model that can easily earn the title of best tenor ukulele is the Cordoba 20TM, which boasts a solid mahogany top and laminate mahogany back and sides with a satin finish. It also features a charming wood pattern rosette with a dual herringbone design that adds to its beauty. The Cordoba 20TM also sounds as good as it looks.|
|Gretsch G9120-SK Tenor Ukulele||From Gretsch comes the G9120 SK, an all-mahogany tenor ukulele that delivers a warm and alluring tone and offers a comfortable playing experience. It has a classic charm owing to its vintage-design rosette, abalone position markers and a semi-gloss finish. The Gretsch G9120 SK also features a rosewood fingerboard and bridge, rosewood binding with herringbone purfling and Aquila Nylgut strings.|
|Kala KA-SMHTE-C Tenor Ukulele||The Kala KA-SMHTE-C tenor ukulele features a solid mahogany body with a Venetian cutaway for easier upper-fret access. The use of solid wood gives this uke lots of resonance and a sound that improves the more you play. This model is also equipped with electronics so you can easily plug in when you need your sound to be amplified.|
|Martin T1K Tenor Ukulele||If you can only buy one tenor ukulele in your lifetime, make it a Martin. The Martin T1K features a solid koa top, koa back and sides, a morado fretboard and a Tusq nut and saddle. It may cost a pretty penny, but the premium build and exceptional sound of this uke will make the investment worth every hard-earned dollar.|
|Kala MK-T Tenor Ukulele||The Kala MK-T Makala Tenor ukulele is one of the best tenor ukuleles you can get at a beginner-friendly price. This uke sports a vintage look and delivers an amazing sound for its price. The MK-T Makala Tenor ukulele features a mahogany body and neck, a walnut fingerboard and a smooth satin finish. It’s also available bundled with ukulele accessories!|
|Lanikai LUTU-21T Tenor Ukulele||Another terrific tenor ukulele that would make for a fantastic beginner instrument is the Lanikai LUTU-21T. Nato or eastern mahogany wood is used for its top, sides and back, while rosewood is the material of choice for the fingerboard and bridge. This uke produces a wonderfully mellow tone that is sure to please. It’s easy to play and sounds great!|
This tenor ukulele is part of Kala’s Satin Mahogany line. Like its siblings, the Kala KA-T features a satin-finished laminate mahogany top, back and sides as well as a mahogany neck, also with a satin finish. The mahogany grain pattern gives the KA-T a bold, striking and traditional look while the cream binding adds a classic appeal.
The laminate mahogany construction makes the Kala KA-T better equipped to handle changes in temperature and humidity. Despite the body being made of laminate, the ukulele still delivers a rich tenor tone with just the right punch and woody sound.
The 18-fret fingerboard of the Satin Mahogany Tenor is made of walnut. The color of the walnut is lighter than the mahogany on the body, providing a nice contrast but not straying too far from the traditional design. This tenor ukulele also features a GraphTech NuBone nut and saddle and Aquila Super Nylgut strings for the best intonation.
The KA-T, being a tenor uke, has a scale length of 17 inches and an overall instrument length of 26.125 inches. For players who find soprano and concert ukes too small for their hands, this tenor can prove to be a more comfortable alternative.
- Money-saving package options available
- Simple, classic look and feel
- Quality materials and construction
- Laminate construction not for those looking for solid-wood ukuleles
- May look too simple for some
- No strap buttons
Cordoba instruments are some of the most highly regarded in the music industry. The company’s dedication to making exceptional guitars using time-tested techniques and quality materials extends to its ukuleles such as the Cordoba 20TM. This tenor ukulele features a solid mahogany top, complemented with laminate mahogany back and sides and a natural satin polyurethane finish.
The solid top gives the Cordoba 20TM a solid and punchy tone. As a tenor, this ukulele has a greater emphasis on the bass and treble than smaller ukes, but there is still a good high-end response. The sound coming from this tenor uke is something that you’ll want to hear over and over.
The Cordoba 20TM also has an 18-fret rosewood fingerboard with pearloid dot inlays, a rosewood bridge and a rosette with a dual herringbone pattern. It comes fitted with Aquila Nylgut Tenor strings and Cordoba nickel tuning machines with pearl buttons. This tenor uke has an overall instrument length of 26 inches.
The Cordoba 20TM is a good investment for ukulele players of all skill levels. With its solid top, it’s bound to sound better the more it’s played. It has a good playing feel, it’s well-made and it sounds amazing.
Up next in our list of recommended tenor ukuleles is the Gretsch G9120 SK. Gretsch has been making quality instruments since the late 1800s. Over the years Gretsch instruments, particularly guitars, became more popular. Many of the world’s top musicians played Gretsch guitars including Chet Atkins, Bono, Pete Townshend and George Harrison, among others.
How about Gretsch ukuleles? While not as popular as their six-stringed siblings, Gretsch ukulele are also known to be of high quality. This is evident in the G9120 SK, an all-mahogany ukulele that looks and performs like a more expensive model. This tenor uke has a laminated mahogany top, back and sides, and the neck is made of mahogany as well. This construction gives the ukulele a warm, woody sound.
The Gretsch G9120 SK Tenor Ukulele is part of the company’s Roots Collection, which is inspired by tradition and features timeless designs. The G9120 SK does have a classic feel to it with its mahogany body and neck and vintage mahogany stain with an open-pore semi-gloss finish. The G9120 SK also has a 19-fret ovangkol fingerboard and bridge, Grover 9NB Sta-Tite geared tuners, bone nut and saddle and Aquila Nylgut strings. It comes with a fitted gig bag too!
The Kala KA-SMHTE-C is Kala’s solid mahogany tenor ukulele with a cutaway and electronics. Part of Kala’s Solid Mahogany line, the KA-SMHTE-C boasts a solid mahogany construction, from its top, back and sides to its neck.
The use of solid wood results in a richer, fuller sound that gets better as the wood matures. This means that the more you play, the more beautiful the sound will be.
This tenor ukulele also features a walnut fingerboard, tortoise binding, a satin finish, a classic slotted headstock and a Venetian cutaway for easier access to the upper frets. It’s fitted with a GraphTech NuBone nut and saddle, Aquila Super Nylgut strings and UK-300TR electronics.
It has the same scale length and overall instrument length as the Kala KA-T – 17 inches and 26.125 inches respectively.
The built-in electronics with EQ is an extremely useful feature to have if you are planning on recording music, busking or performing on stage. And even if you’re only just getting started playing the ukulele, the KA-SMHTE-C would be a great investment because it’s built to last for years. You can also purchase it bundled with a gig bag, tuner, polishing cloth and an instructional DVD.
It’a little heavy on the pocket for a ukulele but it’s truly one of the best tenor ukuleles around, so if you want the best, consider the Martin T1K. Martin has long been a trusted name in the realm of stringed instruments because of its dedication to quality, and its ukuleles are a reflection of that.
The Martin T1K tenor ukulele has a full-bodied voice thanks to its solid Hawaiian koa body. Koa is a tonewood native to Hawaii and is one of the traditional materials used in making ukuleles. The solid koa top gives the uke a balanced tone that would give off more sparkle the more you play, while the solid koa back and sides add resonance.
The neck of the T1K is made of select hardwood and topped with a solid morado fingerboard with 20 frets. The morado fingerboard helps in keeping the tone balanced and provides a smooth playing feel. The bridge is also made of morado wood and it is paired with a white Tusq saddle.
Other specs of the Martin T1K include open-geared nickel tuners with white buttons and a high-quality hand-rubbed satin lacquer finish. The ukulele also comes with a Martin gig bag.
The Kala MK-T Makala Tenor ukulele is something that beginners and players on a budget will surely appreciate. It can be difficult to find a great ukulele at an entry-level price, but Kala has made it easier with the Makala Classic line.
The Makala Tenor ukulele boasts a mahogany top, back and sides with a satin finish. The dark wood and grain pattern evokes a retro vibe. The neck is also made of mahogany and sports the same satin finish. What makes the MK-T so affordable is the use of alternative materials – the nut and saddle are made of plastic, but it doesn’t compromise the playability and sound quality of the instrument at all.
The Kala MK-T is tailored for beginners to intermediate players but this doesn’t mean advanced or experienced ukulele enthusiasts won’t enjoy playing their favorite tunes on it. What’s great about this uke is that you can buy it bundled with a gig bag, a polishing cloth for keeping it clean, an instructional DVD so you can learn the basics and a handy clip-on tuner. If you’re just starting out on your ukulele journey, this bundle has everything you need!
- Comes bundled with ukulele accessories
- Beginner-friendly price
- Good sound for an entry-level model
- Plastic washers around tuning pegs are loose
- Factory-installed strings not the best
The Lanikai LUTU-21T makes it to our list of best tenor ukuleles because of its affordability, playability, sound and build. It’s not expensive but it’s not cheaply made either. And since we’re all about helping beginners get their uke groove on, we’ve chosen the LUTU-21T to be one of our recommendations.
The Lanikai LUTU-21T ukulele features a nato top, back and sides. Nato, or eastern mahogany, has a grain that is very similar to mahogany and it produces a treble-rich tone. This uke also has a rosewood fingerboard. The tonewood combination brings out a nice, mellow tone with midrange highlights. The quality of the sound is uncommon in entry-level ukuleles, which makes us love this Lanikai all the more.
The chrome die-cast tuners are geared and have a very good grip, keeping the ukulele in tune for a long period of time. Of course, this is after the strings have properly stretched and settled.
The LUTU-21T is a great tenor ukulele for beginners because it’s easy to play and it’s very well-made. It also sounds awesome for a uke in its price range, plus you can get it bundled with the essentials, including a gig bag and a clip-on tuner.
- Comes with ukulele accessories
- Impressive sound
- Affordable price
- Stock strings not the best - replacement recommended
- Metal fret ends can feel sharp - filing may be necessary
- Some reports of the ukulele not staying in tune
The Best Tenor Ukuleles and Their Tonewoods
Those are the best tenor ukuleles we recommend for players of various skill levels and budgets. If you’ve noticed, we always made sure to mention what kind of wood the ukulele is made of. Why is this important?
Well, the materials used in making a ukulele affect how it sounds. There’s a lot more than can influence the sound of a ukulele of course, such as the design, internal bracing, fretwork, even the strings. For now we’ll focus on the tonewoods and how they shape the sound of a tenor ukulele.
The tonewood is the material that transmits the vibration to create the sound of the ukulele. It properties such as its density, cell and pore structure, thickness and specific gravity determine its overall tonality. Acoustic guitar and ukulele makers take all of these into consideration when manufacturing their instruments.
Let’s do a brief review of the best tenor ukuleles on this list and their body woods. The neck and the fretboard wood also have an effect on the sound, but to a less significant degree so we’ll skip those in this discussion.
● Kala KA-T – laminate mahogany top, back and sides
● Cordoba 20TM – solid mahogany top, laminate mahogany back and sides
● Gretsch G9120SK – laminate mahogany top, back and sides
● Kala KA-SMHTE-C – solid mahogany top, back and sides
● Martin T1K – solid koa top, back and sides
● Kala MK-T – laminate mahogany top, back and sides
● Lanikai LUTU-21T – laminate nato/eastern mahogany top, back and sides
So here we’ve got three kinds of tenor ukulele tonewoods: mahogany, koa and nato. Here’s an overview at the properties of each.
Mahogany seems to be the most popular tonewood of choice among makers of the best tenor ukuleles. It is lighter and less dense than other hardwoods such as rosewood but is more dense than softwoods like cedar and spruce, producing a more open-sounding, rounded tone with an emphasis on the midrange.
Ukuleles with a mahogany top would often also have mahogany on its sides and back. The mahogany back and sides can put just enough emphasis on treble and bass notes and give the ukulele a warm, woody sound.
Having a low density, mahogany is flexible and allows the top to vibrate freely. This results in the soft and sweet ukulele tone. This material is best for ukulele players who want a clear, direct sound without too much overtones.
Koa is considered to be the most ‘authentic’ ukulele tonewood as it’s the material most Hawaiian ukes are made of. As koa only grows in the Hawaiian Islands, it’s a highly prized (and priced) hardwood and is the preferred material for the best ukuleles.
Like mahogany, koa also has a low density, which is why it’s often used for the entire ukulele. It’s slightly denser and heavier, but it still produces a sweet, mellow and warm tone. Its tonality resembles that of mahogany – warm and clear pronounced mids, but with a little more brightness. It has a good sustain.
Nato is also a popular material for ukulele bodies and is usually found on beginner or entry-level models. It’s commonly called eastern mahogany because it shares a similar grain pattern and tonality, which is also why it’s often used as a replacement for mahogany in some ukulele models. However, nato comes from a different tree family. Nato wood also tends to be more dense than mahogany and produces a tighter tone with more emphasis on treble notes.
Laminate vs. Solid Wood in Tenor Ukuleles
What about whether the ukulele is built with solid or laminate wood? Both have their own pros and cons:
● Laminates make ukuleles more affordable because they’re less expensive than solid woods. This means that tenor ukuleles made from solid wood are usually more expensive.
● Laminated ukulele tops can feel stiff, preventing them from vibrating freely
● The laminating process can take away the tonal qualities of the wood. Laminate mahogany tops may not produce the same rich sound as that from a solid mahogany top.
● Laminate wood is less susceptible to changing atmospheric conditions. This makes laminate ukuleles more durable and more suitable for traveling than those made of solid wood.
● Solid-wood ukuleles require more care to maintain. You need to make sure they’re kept in a place with just the right humidity and temperature so the wood doesn’t warp.
● Ukuleles with solid wood bodies would often have high-quality components as well (saddle, bridge, tuners)
● Solid woods produce a more mature sound as they age. The more hours of play you put in with a solid wood ukulele, the better it sounds.
So which of the tenor ukuleles on this list is the best? The choice is completely up to you depending on your own needs, budget and sound preferences. We believe that a tenor ukulele, or any acoustic instrument for that matter, made using good quality wood and manufacturing techniques will sound good. Do check out as many of these best tenor ukuleles as you can to help you determine which one truly is ‘The One’.