Have you decided to get a ukulele? If so, let me tell you my friend that you have entered the right place. It is obvious that you have a question which uke is the best of them all? Well… the answer is not that easy. Nowadays, there are so many ukuleles available on the market. Some of them are affordable, while others are cheap. Actually there is a big difference between affordability and cheap in overall quality of performance, craftsmanship, and other features. All instruments are advertised in the best way possible, so you might get easily deceived, especially if you are a beginner. Do not worry, that is exactly why I wrote this article. I made a throughout research into this matter. In this article I will review best ukuleles that are on the market today and give you some general, background information about the instrument itself. It is good to know which ukulele is the best, but even better to understand why it is best. That’s why I will explain everything the best way I can. Trust me the feeling that this amazing instrument gives is worth all the fuss with the choosing part. It feels like the sound teleports you into a different reality, somewhere on a champagne sandy beach, Hawaii maybe, looking down the clear blue water. The sensation is truly hard to describe, you just have to relax and let the sound lead you. Hope the article will help you in making the first step towards it. Here goes the list enjoy.
Table of Contents
- Top 9 Best Ukuleles – All Categories
- Ukulele for Beginners
- Soprano Ukuleles
- Concert Ukuleles
- Tenor Ukuleles
- Baritone Ukuleles
- Electric Ukuleles
- Ukuleles for Kids
- Ukulele Shape
- Solid Vs Laminated Ukulele
- Best Ukulele Brands
Top 9 Best Ukuleles – All Categories
Ukulele models from the list above are truly the best of the best. Hope you made up your mind about which one to get, but if you did not, that is totally okay. Furtherly, I will give you some general information about the instrument itself and how to distinguish what is good and what is crappy. Here we go.
I guess you are wondering why ukuleles are considered as symbols of Hawaii and how did they develop in the first place. Well, the history of ukuleles dates back to the end of the 19th century. At that time there was a high demand for new labor workers due to the increased sugar cane markets in California. Hawaii was one of the few places to produce big quantities of sugar canes, therefore people in search of work, moved to Hawaii. Immigrants mostly were from Portugal. By the end of the 19th century, they were already settled in Hawaii. As usually happens, when two cultures merge, foreign nation brings their traditions etc. to the new location. One of the things Portuguese people brought was a musical instrument called Machete de Braga. This instrument had four metal strings. It was relatively simple to play and had wonderful sound so locals fell in love with it immediately. As time passed by, native Hawaiians started to modify de Braga according to their wish. Its shape and sound developed until the point when it could be considered a predecessor of modern day ukulele. After that famous local luthiers decided to modify it even more, and transformed what was left from Machete de Braga into Ukulele. Since then it has not changed even a tiny bit. Locals fell in love with ukuleles and they started to use it on daily bases. But the most important historical part about why it became symbol of Hawaii is linked to king Kalakaua. He cherished local culture a lot, but also adored art and music. The minute he heard the sound of ukulele, he gave order to use it in royal ceremonies. From that point it was established in the nation as a national musical instrument. It spread all over the world and is one of the most popular instruments nowadays.
Now that you know the history of these amazing instruments it is time to jump to its general review.
As you might already know, there are four shapes of ukuleles available. They differ from each other with their size, sound, style etc. From smallest to biggest the order will go like this: Soprano, Concert, Tenor, Baritone. I will describe each one of them briefly.
Soprano ukulele is the smallest in relation to other types. It is considered to be original uke, with its size and body structure. Soprano ukulele is 20 inches (51 cm) long. The instrument has 12-15 frets, so you do not get much of a wide range as in the case of tenor uke for example. Sopranos have simple structure. They are much more compact, so it is easier to carry it on your adventures. For people who have larger fingers it is difficult to play as the frets are too close. Sometimes you might accidentally bend a string out of tune, as strings have less tension. As soprano ukes are very inexpensive, they are the ones that beginners usually get, so consider one if you are just starting out.
The size of concert uke is approximately 23 inches long (58 cm). Concert ukuleles have up to 20 frets so their sound range is wider than soprano’s. Longer neck enables your hand to move comfortably. Due to the bigger body size, concert ukuleles sound much fuller and have more power and the tone. Here you get bigger space between frets, so more room for your fingers to move. That surely is a nice feature that delivers nice overall playability.
Tenor ukulele size goes up to 26 inches (66cm). Additional frets deliver wider range of sound. Due to the large size, they have more powerful sound with more clarity to it. This kind of uke is perfect for performances on stage, as it still delivers that beautiful tone of ukulele, but adds more volume and power. The instrument is very popular among professional musicians. One of the most famous ukulele players-James Hill used Tenor ukulele while performing usually.
Baritone ukulele is 30 inches (76 cm). It differs very much from other kinds of ukuleles. It sounds more like a guitar and is big in relation to other ukuleles. It has deep, rich sound with a lot of power. One of the most attractive qualities of ukulele is its portability, with amazing uke sound. Baritone uke seems to lack it and for this reason it is not very popular, even though it has wide range of tones due to many additional frets and nice overall sound.
One thing I want to state in the article is that people often think that ukulele is something like mini guitar. The first time I saw it, that was the thought that crosses my mind. In reality it is not. It has completely different tuning system. So, knowing how to play guitar is not really helpful, as you will have to learn new chords due to each string being keyed in a different way. Ukulele has four strings and its standard tuning is G – C – E – A. The sound of uke differs a lot as well, so the only thing in common is I guess visual part, nothing else.
Let’s explain every part of ukulele. They have three major parts – body, neck, and hardware.
- Body – As you can see Ukuleles very much look like classical guitars. To be short ukes’ shape is an hourglass contour with your standard treble and bass bout. Due to ukes’ being acoustic instruments, their tone is affected by craftsmanship and tonewood used a lot.
- Neck – Ukulele necks are relatively short as you can see yourself. They differ in every type of ukulele. The average scale size is 21 inches. Ukuleles have different kind of strings due to their size and tuning.
- Hardware – it implies bridge, saddles, nut and tuning of uke. Those features are pretty similar to usual acoustic or classical guitars. Tuning machines and the bridge are highly important in case of ukuleles. It they do not operate properly and are of a low quality, you will run into big problems.
One of the most important things while getting a ukulele is to pay attention to wood material. There are lots of materials that can be used for making uke, like- monkeypod, mahogany, mango, koa, rosewood, cedar, acacia etc. The list goes on and on, but generally most common ones are Koa, Mahogany and Spruce.
- Koa– is mainly used in crafting very expensive ukes. The origin of material is Hawaii, so Hawaiian ukes are generally made of it. The sound produced by koa is very sweet and warm.
- Mahogany– is a solid material for ukuleles. The sound it delivers is a bit softer than Koa. Mahogany generally is less expensive, so perfect if you are looking for an affordable instrument.
- Spruce– is usually used on the lower end ukuleles (e.g. Mahalo’s). It produces a nice, full, vibrant tone.
Solid Vs Laminated Ukulele
Before we “combat” these two materials, let’s define them as it is highly important to know if you want to get a solid wood uke or a laminated one. Solid material means that the same wood is used for the inside and outside of the instrument. It is pretty expensive and affects the sound of an instrument a lot. As for the laminated one, it is a much cheaper version. In this case cheaper wood is used on the inside, thin layer of nice wood is used on the outside. It surely gives a nice look to uke but does not make a difference in sound. Therefore, I would like to highly recommend you to splurge a bit when it comes to materials as they make a significant difference in sound.
At the end it all comes down to your preferences. The models from the list above are truly best of the best. They all will make a reliable partner, but each one in their own, unique way. Some ukes might even look pretty similar, but there is always a difference. Consider its ups and downs. Make sure your hand easily glides on the fretboard and the whole body should feel comfortable, standing or seated. If you ask me comfort is the most important factor when you are getting a new instrument, as you will not be able to enjoy your uke at its best if you get tired easily and do not feel comfortable playing it. Makeup your mind about what you want, go to the store, check everything and you will find your perfect match.
Best Ukulele Brands
Imagine a sunny afternoon in a small town populated with little two story buildings and family owned cafes, breweries and artists shops. A town where everyone knows everyone, a place called Petaluma. North of San Francisco this little town is where Kala, one of the most renowned and well known companies was born and resides. In many ways the spirit of the company embeddies the town – full of authentic artistry and talent and subdued beauty. While the company originated in a small town its impact and name are far reaching. Kala probably has one of the biggest selection of ukuleles and much more. Whether you are looking for a cheap beginner model that will cost under $100 or something more high end, Kala has got you covered. The company offers over 200 ukulele models including the ones from the more affordable, beginner series called “Makala” to the more expensive series – “Kala Elite USA”. Whether you choose a beginner ukulele or something more professional and high end you can rest assured that people at Kala poured in all their knowledge, expertise and love for their craft to deliver on an instrument that will brighten and color your experience with ukuleles. I guess I have to disclose my bias towards Kala. My first ukulele was by Kala and while I can admit that one of the reasons why I loved it was because it was my first instrument the more important factor was that the quality of the instrument was really what made me fall in love with this quirky instrument and continue with my journey.
Ukuleles have come to dominate the musical instrument market and for a good reason. They are easy to learn (well… more or less), cheaper than most other string instruments, and just damn beautiful in sound and appearance. And while there are probably hundreds (don’t quote me on that) manufacturers who craft ukuleles of all sorts, almost none can claim to be as prominent and well-known as Luna. While having a big chunk of business in guitar manufacturing, Luna also has a wide and diverse range of ukuleles. From soprano to concert, baritone, bari-bass, and tenor, Luna offers pretty much all you can imagine and a bit more. Founded by Yvonne de Villiers, Luna aims to create unique instruments for people who don’t just want standard stuff. The company prides itself on making instruments for everyday people as well as professionals musicians. Their main goal is to deliver quality ukuleles that just feel right in your hands. The task of crafting affordable instruments without compromising the quality is pretty damn hard and Luna’s ability to do that is why so many people love their products. The other reason being that Luna is pretty big on the looks of their instruments. The company wants to represent the culture of ukuleles as much as possible. That is why you will see a lot of their models have tribal ornamentation artwork on the topwood.
We all know the name Martin, but many of you might not know the journey of their ukulele production. The company itself is quite old, as it was set up in 1833 by C.F. Martin. The legacy he created has been passed from one generation to another, expanding an initial workshop to a massive factory. Though their guitars have always been impeccable, their entry into the ukulele production wasn’t that smooth. The first ukes they created were built like guitars. For some reason, the manufacturers didn’t consider the fact that there’s more to this instrument than just its shrunken size. What I mean is that the first models were built like guitars: they had too much bracing (made from spruce) that compromised the tone. Rather than being bright, it was dull. But luckily, the team of Martin quickly learnt from their mistakes. They modified the amount of bracing, swapped spruce with mahogany and wonderful ukuleles were born. This time the crowd liked them so much that the brand had to expand its factory with an additional wing. With certain estimates, in the 1920s the sales of this instrument were twice as high as that of guitars. Since then, they have created a number of ukuleles, the majority of which are high-end. Though these fellas might be expensive for those who are used to the models under 100, you know you are paying for quality when you purchase Martin.
While Fender is primarily renowned for its electric guitars, their venture into the world of acoustics began as early as the 1960s. The story started with a master luthier, Roger Rossmeisl. He joined the team and convinced Leo to start the production of acoustic guitars under the name of Fender. Though the journey wasn’t pleasant all the time, the brand has continued to create acoustic instruments. Ukuleles are prominent members of that family. The company started to manufacture them actively after they gained mass appeal in the 2000s. After the popular resurgence, Fender, too, decided to put their name on these small instruments. In 2009, Ukulele Hau’oli, Ukulele Nohea and Ukulele Pa’ina were introduced. The line continued with the Ukulele Mino’Aka concert and Ukulele U’Uku soprano. In 2017, California Coast Series of ukuleles were created, expanding the selection even more. Fender isn’t the brand that jumps to your mind when you think about ukuleles, but it certainly should. They have succeeded at creating certain models that are so characteristic to the brand. They have blended together the qualities of the instrument and the electric spirit of the company. That way, they’ve set apart their ukuleles from the crowd. And let’s face it, who doesn’t want to play an uke that looks like a Strat?
Just like Fender, Donner isn’t primarily associated with ukuleles. I don’t know about you, but once I hear their name, the first thing that jumps to my mind is their effects pedal. I always remember how affordable and compact the majority of them are, and then think about the quality. But we can’t forget about their instruments, and ukuleles in particular, because they repeat the same pattern. They are inexpensive, the quality is usually amazing and the sound will easily satisfy your needs whether you’re a beginner or not. Donner is a newer brand and it doesn’t have as much history as others, but it certainly has a lot to offer. Since they were born in this century, they always strive to create simple devices and instruments. They manufacture everything for playing and music – and that’s their main focus. They won’t complicate your performance with confusing features. They will, in fact, give you a wonderful ukulele that you’ll be able to start playing right away. I’ve seen people looking down on instruments (and various units) just because they are cheaper. But the truth is, if you know which brands to trust, you won’t have that generalized feeling. After all, companies such as Donner have proved many times that they aren’t less than others.
The name Lohanu was created by combining three words: Love, Ohana (which means family and community in Hawaiian) and Unity. But these aren’t just words embedded in the name – they are concepts that the brand follows via their ukuleles. This instrument is their only focus, diverting all their attention to it. They know how to recreate Hawaiian culture, even though they are based in Canada. They mainly sell bundles that enable players to buy everything that they need within single purchase. Not only do they steep their ukuleles with quality and tonal characteristics, but they also make the whole performance way easier for everyone. What could be better than purchasing the instrument along with all the essentials from a brand that you know you can trust? Lohanu ukuleles are affordable as well, motivating hesitating people to just take a risk and start learning. Speaking of which, once you make a purchase and register your warranty, you get access to exclusive lessons that will help you start playing easily. As you can see, Lohan is a brand that offers a whole (and an extensive) package, and adds love and care on top.
Take a minute and think about Hawaii and its islands. I’m sure the image of the blue ocean, sandy beaches and magnificent nature will spring to mind. O’ahu is one of those picturesque islands. Its beauty is really hard to describe with words, but it’s possible to feel it through music. And Lanikai is the brand which has devoted its whole essence to that purpose. The island I mentioned is where they manufacture their ukuleles, in other words, they create authentic Hawaiian instruments in Hawaii. They have grown significantly throughout the years and they continue to develop themselves till this day. They offer a wide selection of ukuleles to any player from beginner to professionals. Their affordable line is steeped with models that are comfortable to play and are accessible to novices. But they do also have high-end ukes that are built with exquisite woods and prove their worth with their sonic quality. Lanikai is a brand that you’ll hold proudly in your hands. Every time you pick up their instrument, you’ll feel connected to the birthplace of uke. And that connection is something nobody can put a price on.
Founded by Tim Micklaucic over twenty years ago Cordoba has become one of the frontrunners in music instrument industry. They have an amazing track record with nylon string guitar so when they decided to venture into the ukulele business, as you might expect, a lot of people were very excited. Cordoba managed to apply their expert craftsmanship of guitars to ukuleles, crafting some of the best built, comfortable ukuleles on the market. But quality comes at a cost so if you are looking for a $50 deal model, Cordoba is not the way to go. Most of their instruments start from $100 mark. That being said, there is a reason, and a good one for their prices being “higher”. While the $50 package deals are popular right now, if you are looking for a long-term instrument on an entry or intermediate level that will only get richer and deeper tones and better feel, Cordoba ukes are your best option. Their choice of superior tonewood and functional, durable hardware makes most of their models twice as exciting and interesting as the more affordable ones. Cordoba also creates acoustic-electric ukuleles and if you are on the market for that, I could not recommend anything more than that.
Founded in 1965, Alvarez has mostly been known to the general public for their acoustic and acoustic-electric guitars. Like many companies, Alvarez has shifted most of their manufacturing to China but with a impeccable quality-control regulations. Alvarez still produces some of the best instruments, including ukuleles. If you are a beginner or an intermediate player, Alvarez probably has a ukulele that will perfectly fit all your needs. Fortunately, Alvarez does not associate beginner with cheap. When they create ukuleles, they create them to last long and it does not matter if it is for an absolute novice or one of their most well-known musicians. The companies dedication to quality wood and craftsmanship translates to ukuleles as well. While the market has become very used to the affordable, bundle deal ukuleles, the company, thankfully, persists on producing quality over quantity/price products. When you look at some of Alvarez’s ukuleles you see elegant, simple design, functional hardware. You hear deep and rich tone and know that this is not a show-off instrument, this is an instrument for actual music enthusiasts and aficionadas. Because of that and many more reasons Alvarez’s ukuleles have and will remain some of the best ones on the market but are still deeply underappreciated.
If you have had experience with guitars, name Oscar Schmidt probably rings a bell. The company is one of the most well-known and trusted guitar manufacturers. So it should not be a surprise to anyone that their ukuleles, a much lesser known of their products – and might I add criminally underrated – are pretty good damn in quality. Just like with their guitars, Oscar Schmidt puts a lot of thought in making top-notch quality instrument without them having to cost too much. One of their biggest advantages, in fact, is that they always offer some of the best prices. Did you find an amazing, close to perfect ukulele that you have been dreaming about for years? Yes? Now go on to Oscar Schmidt’s website and find pretty much the same quality one but for a smaller cost. The company, in my opinion, is underrated in the ukulele market. They offer Koa Series, Comfort Series, Spalted Mango Series and so much more. All of these series and specifications are geared towards different markets. Are you a beginner who does not feel comfortable with baritone ukes? They have a lot of soprano ukes that feel like extension of your body from the first moment you pick them up. Are you more into bulky instruments but want to have a uke? OU has some of the highest quality baritones that are specifically crafted for people with bigger hands. In case you want to checkout any of these brands more specific models, we have quite a few reviews of some of the best ukuleles.
To sum up the article, I have reviewed top instruments that are available on today’s’ market. I have also given you the general idea about ukuleles, as I believe that background knowledge about the instrument you are going to get is super necessary. It is good when you know what is the best, but even better to know why it is the best. The uke hunting process can be a real headache, trust me I understand, been there. But also trust me about the fact that it is all worth it. I remember the first time I heard ukulele play, the sound went straight through my body to my heart. I loved it so much that I bought my first ukulele the next day and we have never been apart since then. I take it with me everywhere. It’s simple to carry, and so nice to have around and play my favorite ukulele song “Somewhere over the rainbow“ by Israel Kamakawiwo’Ole . The sound of ukulele teleports my mind into a whole new reality. I feel that special Hawaiian vibes. It’s like I am on the sandy beach, feeling the breeze, looking down the crystal-clear water. Everyone should have opportunity to experience that feeling, and it’s good that you are on that path. Hope the article about best ukulele will help you make a choice in the best way possible. Wish you all the best in your ukulele hunt.