Are you chasing that authentic Hawaiian tone? Are you a guitarist looking for a smaller instrument to practice on? Whatever the reason for getting a ukulele, only the best ukulele that's suitable for you should ever touch your fingers.
These instruments may be small but they can sound amazing – you already know. Of course, if you’re shopping for your first ukulele, or perhaps a new one, it pays off to know what features and materials are important for a superior sound. To illustrate, here are some of my top uke picks, some for each of the major size categories.
Best Soprano Ukuleles
Table of Contents
- Best Soprano Ukuleles
- Best Concert Ukuleles
- Best Tenor Ukuleles
- Best Baritone Ukuleles
- The 7 Best Ukulele Brands
- What to Take from the Different Ukulele Sizes
- What You Should Know about the Materials
Starting out with a soprano ukulele is often a good idea. It costs less than the larger ukuleles in general, and it has the iconic sound that most people associate with the ukulele. The Kala LTP-S is a soprano ukulele in a starter kit that has a lot to offer for all the beginner players out there.
The pre-strung and pre-tuned ukulele comes with its own gig bag and a small booklet that contains a quick how-to guide. The information is easy to follow, whether you’re getting this ukulele for an adult or a young student.
In terms of sound, the LTP-S ukulele is loud enough for its size. The mahogany body gives it some nice accents and a warmer tone. The ukulele comes tuned in the standard G, C, F, A. Playing chords should come with ease after just a few hours of studying, thanks to the close proximity of the strings and the tightness of the fret spacing.
If you’re also looking for something affordable, the LTP-S should be more than okay. Remember that you won’t be getting just the instrument but also a carry bag and a well-written quick start guide to get you prepared for online lessons.
Another beginner-friendly ukulele starter kit comes courtesy of Ranch. This ukulele features an arched back that will give you better sustain than most standard models, including a slightly richer sound.
At 21” tall, the Ranch soprano ukulele is slightly bigger than the standard. This means that you’ll have better fret spacing and you should be able to pick up some licks faster. On the downside, that makes it less ideal for kids compared to other soprano ukuleles. The kit includes a gig bag, a clip-on tuner, a strap, a set of spare Aquila strings, and a cleaning cloth.
With the cloth, you’ll be able to maintain the polished body in pristine shape and avoid scratching the wood and messing up the natural wood grain. Although this ukulele has been designed for beginners, it’s also a good practice instrument for professionals.
It sounds good and thanks to the extra sustain, it can be used to practice harmonies alone or in a duet with a guitar. Another reason why I recommend this ukulele is the smooth polished edges on all the frets. This should enhance your ability to play fast across the fretboard.
The Donner DUS-1 is a mahogany soprano ukulele. The use of real mahogany wood gives this instrument good durability and a deeper sound than you would expect from a soprano ukulele. It also gives it a nice look, on an almost professional level that belies the price.
I noticed the slightly arched back design which more and more manufacturers are incorporating, even in budget-friendly models. This will give you more sustain and a slightly deeper sound. The mahogany also contributes to the darkening of the tone.
The DUS-1 also feature side-cast tuners which keep the string tension for longer. It’s also impressive that the DUS-1 needs little tweaking once you get it. The factory setup is good enough that you’re unlikely to find unwanted ringing on any string.
This soprano ukulele can be fun for the whole family. It comes in a wide range of vibrant colors. The HM-21 also comes with a simple carry bag, three picks, and a colorful strap. However, a tuner is not included.
Depending on your preferences, you might appreciate the slightly warmer tone created by the maple body. The walnut fingerboard and walnut bridge give the HM-21 good string tension resistance and make it adaptable to different tunings.
Unlike most ukuleles, all HM-21 models include the application of a thin layer of paint at the factory. This helps to preserve the wood, give the ukulele a loud and striking look, and at the same time, preserve the sound since the wood will fare better under heat and cold exposure.
Of course, you’ll still have to store somewhere where it’s not too hot, cold, dry, or humid. In addition, you also won’t have to worry about taking it out on the beach every day and playing your favorite tunes.
The Kmise soprano ukulele is a 21” vintage model with a bit of extra volume and depth. It’s a very beginner-friendly instrument for the slightly larger frets. This should make it easier to play when you’re just developing your left-hand accuracy.
The ukulele also comes with a tuner, a strap, extra strings, and a canvas gig bag. I also like the use of the 18:1 gear tuning machines. They should offer better tuning retention so that you can play more than just a couple of tunes before you have to stop for adjustments.
Another reason you might want to consider this model is actually because of the stock strings. They’re D’Addario carbon nylon strings that are specially designed for ukuleles, and pretty good ones at that. The low action is practically at maintaining the integrity of the neck.
The materials used are mahogany for the body (top, back, and sides) and walnut fretboard and bridge. This creates a professional-looking and durable ukulele in spite of the affordable price. That said, you won’t get to benefit too much from the acoustic properties of a full mahogany resonator box.
Best Concert Ukuleles
The Kala-LTP-C is the manufacturer’s flagship concert ukulele, sold as a starter kit for beginner players. Although modest in pricing, the instrument itself is nothing if not comfortable to play. Slightly bigger than your average soprano and with a lot more volume.
In terms of quality, the ukulele has a GraphTech NuBone nut, saddle, and open gear tuners and Aquila strings. The strings should last a few good months given their mid to high-end quality. The body of the ukulele is full mahogany.
That’s why the LTP-C has such impressive resonance. The sustain is impressive too but not too much more long-lasting than the soprano Kala LTP. The kit doesn’t come with a lot of accessories, just a canvas bag and a small booklet with a sprinkle of standard ukulele lessons.
Access to Kala’s online lessons platform also comes with the kit. However, there aren’t as many free lessons as you would expect.
This model is perhaps one of the most impressive I’ve seen. Yes, it’s a concert ukulele so it has more kick in both volume and tone richness. But what really made an impact was the gorgeous artwork of a Polynesian style tattoo on the lower half of the body.
For looks alone, I would recommend it in a heartbeat. But don’t worry, there’s more to the Luna Tattoo than just the aesthetics. It has good tonal clarity, a fairly light body, and very good tuners too. The ukulele also comes with a gig bag for dust-free storage.
To build on the looks, I liked the detail on the fretboard too. The inlays are stylized and not the same old boring dots that almost everyone uses these days. Does it really sound as good as it looks? It does, but then it should at this price range.
The Cordoba 15CM-E is a concert ukulele that I can recommend to just about anyone. It’s big, loud, consistent-sounding intonation, and most importantly, it’s an acoustic-electric ukulele that’s capable of handling everything from practicing at home to playing in small venues and recording in a studio.
It comes with a Cordoba pickup and reasonably priced all things considered. The Cordoba pickup is powerful for this price range.
Another thing I like about the 15CM-E is its setup. Out of the box, the uke sounds good already. Of course, you’ll have to tune it, but that shouldn’t be a difficult thing to do. The strings have high action, which should be beginner-friendly enough.
But the one drawback of the 15CM-E is its very specific nut and bridge configuration. You won’t be able to restring it for a left-handed player without also going into more complex restructuring.
Another Donner ukulele – so you might have guessed my fondness – only this time it’s the concert model. The DUC-1 is a bigger and more versatile ukulele. Still beginner-friendly, perhaps even more so given the better fret spacing. At 23” long and with a larger scale length of 18 frets, the DUC-1 is something you can study on and play live and entertain friends and family.
The fully mahogany build produces a rather rich sound that’s on the bright side. Something that a soprano ukulele can’t match. And yet, the DUC-1 still has a recognizable ukulele tone.
I also like the use of chrome-plated tuners. They’re both stylish and effective, having the tuning retention properties most associated with acoustic and classical guitars.
Concert ukuleles are just as beginner-friendly as their soprano counterparts. It should come as no surprise that they’re often sold in starter bundles, such as this one. The LU-21C uke comes with its own canvas gig bag, clip-on tuner, microfiber cleaning cloth, and DVD with some basic beginner lessons to get you started.
The uke features a rosewood fretboard and Nato back, sides, and top, all finished in a dark brown color. The white binding works great against shades of dark brown and the white inlays have good visibility. I should also stress that the LU-21C is part of two bundles.
One bundle offers a gig bag and the other a hard case. In terms of sound quality, the LU-21C has clear acoustics and a bright tone. It’s not as warm as that of most concert ukuleles, but it should be loud, clear, and with minimal ringing.
Best Tenor Ukuleles
Cordoba’s reputation in ukuleles is unquestionable. The Cordoba 15TM is part of the brand’s budget-friendly series, which covers almost all uke sizes. The tenor 15TM is an impressive instrument made with quality materials and configured for a rich, deep, and powerful projection.
The uke features mahogany on the sides, top, and back. The satin finish gives it a natural look and the subtle artwork brings everything together. One thing I did notice was the absence of a few dot inlays. The 15TM only has inlays on the 5th, 7th, 9th, and 12th positions. I would’ve liked to have at least two more up to the 20th fret.
That said, if you know your way around a uke, the absence of fretboard notations shouldn’t be a big issue. One thing that gives the uke a more beginner-friendly vibe is the use of smooth fret edges. This will make the uke more approachable to beginners and those with untrained fingers.
If you’re looking to step up your game and squeeze out a bit more volume, all while having more frets to play on, the Ranch tenor ukulele might be a good starting point. This uke is beginner-friendly but also capable of shining during live performances.
The Ranch tenor uke is 26” long. It has 18 frets, which offers a lot of range compared to smaller ukuleles. The larger size and the arched back design provide the uke with a good amount of sustain and a tone that’s more similar to that of an acoustic guitar.
The wider fret spacing should come in handy if you have big fingers. It should also make soloing easier as you will be able to avoid pressing on two frets at the same time when your attacking the higher frets.
Another thing I like about this uke is the tuning system. It’s guitar-like with chrome die-cast tuning pegs. This is a sign of good tuning retention, which is often an issue with these instruments.
The Lohanu LU-T is a premium quality ukulele. It offers 19 wide frets with rounded fret edges. The arched back gives more space for the resonator box, which translates into a louder sound projection. The bigger the resonator box, the bigger the note sustain too.
This uke also comes as part of a bundle. Three picks, strings, a strap, a tuner, and a gig bag are also included. The gig bag has an exterior storage pocket that’s big enough for sheet music. An even nicer touch is the paracord hanger which you can use to put your uke on display.
I also like the finish on the body. It’s smooth but with a natural texture. Chrome die-cast tuners are also used in this 26” uke. The fretboard is made of technical wood and the frets have wide spacing, making it easier to hit the correct notes on every string.
The quality of the materials is also impressive, with sapele wood body and mahogany on the sides, top, back, and neck. All things considered, it’s hard to find any flaws in the Lohanu LU-T. That said, it may not be the most affordable uke to get for a beginner.
The LU-21T comes as part of a complete starter kit for ukulele enthusiasts. This tenor uke is 26” long and features 18 full frets that provide an extended range compared to that of the smaller soprano and concert ukuleles.
You also have the option of selecting a bundle that suits your needs. If you travel a lot, you may appreciate the gig bag bundle more. If you’re looking for more protection, you could opt for the hardcase bundle.
Both bundles come with a microfiber cleaning cloth, a clip-on chromatic tuner, and an instructional DVD. The DVD contains beginner-friendly lessons, nothing too extensive or exhaustive but enough to offer a grasp of the fundamentals of ukulele playing.
The chrome die-cast tuners give the LU-21T good tuning retention. The rosewood fretboard is a nice touch and gives the uke a much nicer feel. As far as the other materials are concerned, you’ll find Nato for the top, back, and sides.
This 26” uke is made of solid mahogany. This type of wood body offers greater sustain and better projection or more volume. At least compared to most laminated entry-level ukes, this Aklot design reigns supreme.
The sound is also warmer because of the mahogany resonator box. The hardware is also no joke, which includes 18:1 copper tuning gears for superior tuning retention. You can also get more out of your uke due to the premium tuning gear and high-end bridge. That’s because this will allow you to lower the tuning without worrying about putting too much tension on the uke.
Another great touch is the addition of premium-grade nylon carbon strings. Along with the strings, the Aklot tenor uke also comes with felt picks, a gig bag, a comfortable strap, a tuner, and an instruction manual. The manual includes basic ukulele setup and how to play basic notes and chords.
Although this is a larger uke compared to soprano and concert ukes, the overall value of the bundle makes it a good entry-level choice. With its superior clarity, it can also satisfy more advanced uke enthusiasts.
Best Baritone Ukuleles
It’s time to move on to the more serious stuff. The Kala MK-B. This ukulele is perhaps the easiest baritone ukulele to play on if you’re a complete beginner. It’s a large model with wide frets and a resonator box with similar properties to that of an acoustic guitar’s.
Volume is no problem for the MK-B. Even though this instrument can be heard throughout the house, it still projects a soft and warmer sound that maintains a balance across all the registers. The vintage design offers an authentic tone that’s not too bright and maybe even reminiscent of an acoustic guitar.
Apart from the very appealing sound, the MK-B is also built to last. It features mahogany neck, walnut fingerboard, walnut bridge, and smooth rounded brass frets. With the amount of sustain and great tension resistance, the MK-B performs above its price range. As you can imagine, most baritone ukuleles are not sold with in bundles, unlike smaller beginner ukuleles.
I should also point out that this uke comes with the D G B E tuning, which is slightly warmer and richer than the standard tuning on smaller uke sizes. These are basically the high four strings in the guitar standard tuning.
For a baritone uke, the Cordoba 20BM has a rather slim profile. Its body is not as bulky as you would expect but rather stretched out. This gives it a very unique sound. Still recognizable as that of a ukulele, but the sound is also quite a bit different than that of most ukes of this size.
The 20BM features high-end materials such as mahogany for the top, sides, and back and rosewood for the fingerboard and bridge. The stock bridge setup is also very good and will allow you to get a very clean string action that’s crisp and devoid of ringing.
The included Aquila Nylgut strings mean that you won’t have to change the strings for a very long time. These are as high-end as they come, where many professional players prefer them over more exotic uke strings.
Tuned in D G B E, the uke offers a warm tone, better definition on the low-end, and of course, impressive sustain courtesy of the mahogany body. Although the body of the uke makes it beginner-friendly, I would’ve liked to see more dot inlays on the fretboard. The only notations are on the 5th, 7th, 10th, and 12th frets.
This may be slightly confusing if you come from a guitar background. If you’re new to string instruments though, this may not be an issue at all.
Talk about a natural vintage tone. The Kala KA-BG baritone ukulele is one of the best-sounding ukes for players of all skill levels. If you’re a beginner, then the extra size, fret spacing, and string separation should make it easier to gradually improve your left-hand accuracy.
If you’re a pro, the KA-BG will allow you to play anywhere you want due to the loud projection and clear tone. In terms of aesthetics, the KA-BG is a sight for sore eyes. The glossy finish gives it a vintage look and the grainy texture combined with the authentic white binding create a powerful effect.
As for the sound quality, there’s not a lot that the KA-BG won’t be able to give you. It has a long sound projection, tonal clarity, warm sound, and very good note sustain thanks to the mahogany body and arched-back resonator box.
All things considered, the Kala KA-BG is one of the best sounding ukes regardless of price. While it may be marketed as an entry-level instrument and as being beginner-friendly, the price tag indicates that this uke is destined for more than just beginner chords and pop culture licks.
I’ll cover in the guide section in more detail why baritone ukuleles are the most versatile ukes. But the inherent versatility aside, the Caramel CB103 is a very impressive baritone uke for the fact that it’s an acoustic-electric uke. You can play it quietly, loudly, with effects, during shows – pretty much however you want.
The CB103 comes in a zebra wood body which doesn’t have a lot of projection compared to most baritone ukes. However, it provides impressive sustain when you plug the uke into an amp. The mirror polish is not something to go crazy over, but I’m sure that some people will be excited to see it.
Although you may find the CB103 a bit less beginner-friendly, don’t let the 3-band EQ or the built-in tuner fool you. This uke is easy to personalize and configure in a way that enables you to play faster and more accurately.
For example, the adjustable truss rod will let you adjust the string action to suit your needs. The wrench is included so you won’t have to buy one separately. Like most baritone ukes, the CB103s’ strings are tuned to D G B E.
The tuning, the full body, and the EQ allow the CB103 to have a superior tone, better definition across all registers, and the ability to cut through a mix. The only minor drawback of the CB103 is the lower volume when unplugged.
Just because you’re getting an entry-level ukulele doesn’t mean you won’t be able to showboat with it. A good example would be the Kmise KMU30B. This is a budget baritone ukulele with wide frets that help improve accuracy and a .110” string action on the 12th fret. If you’re ever looking for something that favors a fast playstyle, this may be the model for you.
The KMU30B comes in D G B E tuning, which alone gives it a rich sound and more presence in the lower register. The tuning retention is also great but not really a surprise with the 18:1 tuning gears. High-end strings are also included.
The uke comes with a gig bag, picks, strings, and a strap. And, it also comes with an Allen wrench. Why? Because the uke has adjustable action. This means that you can adjust it to fit your particular level of experience or preference.
I also recommend the KMU30B for the very smooth fretboard. All in all, it has a desirable finish, choice of materials, and fret edges. Combined with the adjustable string action, these features will allow you to take your uke playing to the next level.
The 7 Best Ukulele Brands
Kala is one of the most recognizable ukulele brands. The California-based manufacturer uses a wide range of materials to create authentic-sounding ukes for prolific musicians and beginner enthusiasts, and there are even complete starter kits. One of their most well known models is the Kala KA-15S soprano. It’s a massive brand, but also one that knows how to cater to its legions of fans of all ages and backgrounds.
The Donner DUT-1 is one of the most recognizable four-string instruments on the market. But that’s just one of many impressively crafted ukes made by the American manufacturer. What’s also surprising is that this brand has only been around since 2012. The folks behind Donner must have been doing something right as it didn’t take long for Donner to become a leading authority in the field, and be especially known for making some of the best ukuleles for beginners.
Not all prolific guitar manufacturers can make a good transition from classical and acoustic guitars to small-scale instruments like ukuleles. Fortunately, Cordoba is one of the proud exceptions. You’ll also be pleased to know that the brand fares well in the acoustic-electric niche. The Cordoba 15CM-E, for example, is one of the manufacturer’s flagship ukuleles, affordable and beginner-friendly, and ready for professional gigs.
You probably wouldn’t peg Canada as the resident country for one of the top ukulele manufacturers. Well, that’s where Lohanu, makers of the impressive LU-S uke, among many others, hail from. This brand has put its print on ukuleles in all styles and sizes. Furthermore, as it’s quite a trend among uke makers, Lohanu doesn’t have a problem delivering high-quality with its low-cost instruments either.
If you’re looking to keep things authentic, you can’t go wrong with any Lanikai uke, whether it’s the popular LU-21 tenor or any other well-crafted uke. This Hawaiian-based manufacturer makes a wide selection of entry-level, midrange, and high-end ukuleles of all sizes. Though the quality is unquestionable at every price point, the entry-level instruments are perhaps the most popular and most used.
Luna is one of the top ukulele manufacturers that don’t sacrifice quality for the sake of affordability. All Luna instruments on both ends of the spectrum will sound good with minimal adjustments. In terms of visual, you may also notice that Luna is a brand that goes the extra mile, as demonstrated by the artwork on the Luna Tattoo concert ukulele.
Oscar Schmidt acoustic instruments have a very good reputation. But this is not a brand that you only see on acoustic guitars. Oscar Schmidt ukuleles have a certain air of professionalism about them, even something as affordable as the OU5 Koa. They sound authentic yet unique. They’re always well-polished and come with high-end hardware to boost performance and durability.
What to Take from the Different Ukulele Sizes
Ukuleles come in four sizes, and knowing which one fits your playstyle better is very important if you’re going to be happy with your purchase. To start things off, the most commonly seen ukulele size is the soprano. This ukulele is usually around 20” long and creates a sound that most people associate with the ukulele.
Concert ukuleles are the next step up in size. They’re roughly 23” long and feature the same four string design but with larger frets. Although they create the same recognizable ukulele sound, they are louder because of the larger body and easier to play on because of the larger frets.
Tenor ukuleles are 26” long. They have a deeper richer tone and walk a fine line between sounding like a ukulele and a classical guitar. Because of the extra tone richness, tenor ukuleles are often used by professional artists on stage and for recordings.
Last but not least, the baritone ukulele is a beast. Compared to the soprano, this type stands at 30” tall and has a very deep tone. It’s the only ukulele that has much in common with a guitar. Baritone ukuleles also feature a different kind of tuning.
Although they can sound really cool and projected, not a lot of ukulele enthusiasts opt for them since they tend to defeat the purpose of maximum portability. Still, they only have four strings and the generous string and fret separation which should make them the easiest to play on.
What You Should Know about the Materials
Unless you’re buying a toy, any ukulele worth getting your hands on should be made of wood. Koa is perhaps the most common material as it’s native to Hawaii. This wood has a nice grain and creates a warm resonator box with a unique sound.
However, it’s not uncommon to also see spruce and mahogany ukuleles. Cedar, mango, and acacia are also in use. Ukuleles can also be made of solid wood or laminate. It all has to do with where the ukulele is made and the price range.
Generally speaking, spruce is the material of choice for budget-friendly ukuleles while solid mahogany ukuleles tend to occupy the other end of the spectrum. Which one sounds better? Solid wood will usually give you a clearer projection and a nicer tone.
At the end of the day, the accuracy of the craftsmanship matters just as much as the materials. What you should also look out for are the exact solid wood parts. Some manufacturers use solid wood only on the exterior, which may look great but not necessarily mean much in terms of sound quality.
Ukes Come in All Shapes and Sizes – The Choice is Yours
OK, this one is slightly exhaustive, but that’s because it’s important to have enough research material when selecting a ukulele for the first time. Knowing all the sizes of ukuleles and what separates them will only help you make a better decision.
As you can see, there are plenty of entry-level ukes in all the size categories. But, the options shown in this article take things a step further in that each of them also offers a more professional-level sound quality, which means that any of them can serve as a transitional instrument as well. May you end up with a ukulele that you’re proud to tell all your friends about, in person or on social media.