Today’s article is listing the top 10 ukuleles you can buy right now. Our list goes from bucket-end budget all the way up to premium-sized models. Moreover, we’re covering both acoustic and electro-acoustic ukuleles.
We’re starting the article with comprehensive buyer’s advice. Whereas ukuleles are more straightforward instruments than electric guitars and electric bass guitars, we still got a few bases to cover.
Ukuleles first appeared back in the 1800s and have become popular thanks to pop and Latin pop musicians adding the instrument to their hit songs.
Suppose you’re a songwriter, a pop musician, or a solo performer. In that case, an ukulele can be one of your most excellent tools. And it won’t hurt your wallet as much as an acoustic guitar, for the most part.
To build the top 10 best ukulele list, we had to consider user reviews, e-commerce site reviews, YouTube videos, and personal experiences and knowledge.
We also had to consider various factors. For example, if you’ve ever searched for a Ukulele, you’ve probably seen a vast number of brands for the instruments. Even worse, you won’t recognize the name of most manufacturers.
On top of brands, we also need to cover the instrument’s body shape and construction and the type of Ukulele.
So, in short, here’s what we’re listing:
- Ukulele brands
- Ukulele types (sizes & tuning)
- Tonewoods (and budget!)
- Body shape
Ukuleles became very popular around 2008 and 2012. They are still prominent in Latin pop and reggaeton music.
Best ukulele brands
Finding a budget ukulele is very easy, but there’s a caveat. There’re brands out there that you should avoid, as well as historical brands you should trust. Moreover, there’s quite a degree of new manufacturers we don’t even know about.
A word of warning: Ukuleles are no longer from Hawaii. American, west-coast manufactures have taken control of the market.
Ukuleles were born in Hawaii. But, actually, Portuguese immigrants created the instrument by 1880. It was an alternative to the Portuguese cavaquinho.
The Cordoba brand produces one of the most popular ukuleles in the market, the 15CM-E.
Cordoba has been around since 1997, but they have gained traction pretty fast. Luthier Pepe Romero created the brand with a focus on classical guitars. As far as guitar goes, Cordoba knows their trade. Check the C7 Cordoba acoustic guitar for a fine example.
Regarding their ukulele department, Cordoba has a wide range of prices and sizes. Their product line includes electro-acoustic ukuleles, ready for the studio and the stage.
Their instruments often have impressive tonewoods. For instance, their common material is mahogany, which is a top-tier choice.
Martin is about professional acoustic instruments, so their offerings are on the high-end of the price chart.
They boost incredible craft on all of their instruments. However, their models often go above the triple zero marks. There’re some “budget” options, though, but a budget Martin equals other brands’ highest effort.
Overall, Martin ukuleles are historic and offer the best quality a lot of money can buy.
The trick is Martin only uses the best tonewoods, design, and hardware available. Moreover, much of what they do are in-house solutions. A fine example of what they can offer is the Martin 1T IZ ukulele.
Kala, unlike Martin, is more about affordability and availability than anything else. Their beginner models usually come with a bundle of handy accessories, plus a bright clear sound.
Needless to say, they have a vast range of offerings, from beginner models to elite instruments. For instance, the KA-15S uku is perhaps the most popular instrument of its kind. As a reliable beginner instrument, it does an incredible job.
But just as they create favorite beginner ukuleles, their premium instruments also stand out on any shelf. In particular, they create perfect ukes for touring musicians and solo performers. Moreover, they actually use Hawaiian Koa wood, which makes the Kala brand feel more authentic.
Still, their range of elite instruments is not as extensive as we would like.
Furthermore, Kala has become famous for its proprietary “U-Bass,” a hybrid between an acoustic bass and a ukulele.
Lanikai also operates at the beginner and intermediate markets. They also offer some elite ukuleles with significant advantages for audiophiles.
Hohner, a folk brand, is the parent company of Lanikai. Together, they create models with a vast display of materials and exciting designs. That’s why they offer unorthodox examples, like an eight-string ukulele.
Some upper-level Lanikai ukuleles include electronics and pickups. They are ready to play live through an acoustic amp or a PA system.
Lanikai also offers plenty of ukuleles made of maple, which is an amazing-looking tonewood.
Overall, the folk-related brand pushes the boundaries of the instrument without hesitation. The resulting models are different but somehow niche-specific.
Most ukulele brands come from The United States. However, there’re still some brands selling from the instrument’s original country.
You’d imagine Mahalo is a Hawaiian company with the traditional feel of the instrument. And you’d be wrong, as they are from Japan.
According to their website, they are the most popular ukulele brand in the world. We don’t know if they are wrong about that, though; it might be right. It’s among the top 5 ukulele best sellers brands in the world.
Their best models are the affordable ones. And, as you may know, “budget” Japanese standards mean careful craftsmanship nonetheless.
Another highlight is its sustainable promise. Mahalo only builds their instruments with wood from renewable sources, so that’s a plus for the company.
Lastly, their range is big but almost exclusive to kids, hobby players, and amateurs.
If you’re looking for a ukulele to have fun with, Mahalo is your best option. They even provide incredible bundles for beginners.
Fender is the most popular musical brand. You might not know that they create ukuleles, too, though. In fact, Fender’s ukes are high-quality alternatives. They even have mini-Telecaster versions.
Fender delivers the classic quality you expect on these instruments. Albeit they are not very popular, their range is quite broad. When it comes to pricing, they belong at the mid-level tier.
I have to note these ukuleles look different than most. That’s because they either follow other Fender designs, or they are quirky. Yet, they use traditional tonewoods like koa and maple.
Lastly, the tone of a Fender uku resembles a classical guitar more than the traditional Hawaiian instrument.
Oscar Schmidt is a historical brand, experts on blues, bluegrass, and country instruments.
They date from the 1800s. Back then, they were door-to-door sellers trying to reach United State’s countryside, where music stores had zero presence.
Currently, they make guitars, banjos, autoharps, zithers, and ukuleles. They are also part of the Washburn brand.
Oscar Schmidt ukuleles are mostly made of mahogany or koa. They sell for mid-range prices and present sober alternatives for intermediate players.
They don’t have high-end offerings. Still, their mid-level ukes do rise to professional occasions such as recording or concerts.
Lohanu is a Canadian brand making much noise in the tropical instrument segment.
It’s neither old nor prestigious, but they do have great budget options for beginners.
The best thing about Lohano is their warranties. With exceptional customer service, its affordable models can last a lifetime.
There’s a downside, though. Most Lohanu models don’t offer the traditional tone of ukulele instruments.
Ukulele is mostly a hobby instrument, so consider getting either an affordable or a mid-level option.
Luna’s ukuleles have risen in popularity over the last years.
For the most part, their fame derives from founder Yvonne de Villiers. She was a stained-glass artist that translated her awesome designs into ukuleles.
For instance, the Uku Owl Concert Ukulele shines because of its style. Like other Luna offerings, it’s not only beautiful: it also has excellent tonewoods plus a fantastic sound.
Furthermore, Luna ukuleles sell with access to Luna’s learning platforms.
Overall, Luna is about offering loud design choices with exciting sounds.
As far as prices go, they are a tad expensive. Yet, Luna has cult-following claiming by the brand on the Luna Tribe community.
Ukuleles’ prices go from dirt cheap to unbelievably expensive.
Another thing to consider is the size of the instrument. Naturally, they come prepared for different tasks, from livingroom fun to concert level.
These are the most popular ukuleles. They are the smallest of the four common sizes. The sound is bright, jangly, and traditional. Also, they ship with 12-15 frets and plus a standard GCEA tuning. (20” long).
I have to note Soprano is the most common ukulele choice. For the size is smaller, the space between the fingers is very tight, so it’s not a good choice for players with big hands.
These are ready for the stage with a larger body, broad sound versatility, and full sound. They have 15-20 frets and ship with the standard GCEA tuning as well. (22′ long)
Tenor ukes are even larger than concert models. That means the sound is louder and more prominent. They also have 15-20 frets. (26′ long).
These are the largest of the family. The sound is warm, full, and similar to a guitar. That means they are great for fingerpicking or “blues style” music. The tuning is DGBE -high G. (30′ long).
Check the video bellow to check the difference between uku sizes:
Finding the best ukulele widely depends on considering its construction. The tonewood quality determines the durability, stability, neck feel, voice, and tonal range.
The tonewoods drastically influence the sound of the instrument. The tone, as always, is of personal taste. Still, it’s wise to remember that “darker” woods are better for soprano and concert ukuleles; “brighter” woods work better on tenor and baritone models.
Every model has a different voice, albeit the tone does feel similar across the other brand’s other alternatives.
Commonly, the soprano ukulele has the highest voice. The concert, tenor, and baritone follow. However, baritones sound more akin to a small parlor guitar.
Also, you have to consider the re-entrant tuning.
The standard ukulele tuning is known as re-entrant tuning. This technique happens when the strings don’t have the standard lowest to the highest pitch.
Baritone ukuleles, for example, commonly have a high G (4th G) as the 3rd string (upwards).
Tonewoods (and budget, too)
Naturally, the more you pay, the better quality you get.
Regarding construction, low-end ukulele models are made of laminated pieces of the guitar instead of solid wood pieces. It’s a design choice that saves a lot of money but delivers lower durability and thinner sounds.
That said, we have to check the common wood types for the instrument. Remember, choosing the tonewood it’s about deciding on how much you want to pay.
In essence, the instrument’s main tonewoods are koa, mahogany, maple, cedar, maple, spruce, and rosewood.
Koa is the native Hawaiian wood. The sound is beautiful, bright, and charming. You’ll find it on the priciest alternatives as it only grows in Hawaii. Naturally, they provide the sound you imagine of ukuleles.
It’s the most common material for ukuleles, bass guitars, and guitars. It’s a hardwood that offers mid-warm sounds, plenty of durability, rich tones, and natural looks. It belongs at the mid-level price range and above.
maple is a high-end tonewood that produces unique sounds. The tone is strong, clear, and free of overtones. Furthermore, the material is heavy, durable, and gorgeous. Some guitar manufacturers burn the maple to give the instrument a caramel look.
It’s a cheap softwood that produces loud and bright tones. It’s quite popular on budget guitars, either as laminate pieces or solid woods.
It’s one of the most common soundboard materials on ukuleles. It’s softer and pricier than spruce. The sound is full of bass and overtones. As a result, the tone feels alive, sweet, and with plenty of bites.
Rosewood produces mid-range sounds with low overtones. It’s very common, light, and affordable. Still, rosewood produces a full voice that belongs at any price range.
Ukuleles use mostly the same materials as classical guitars.
Softer materials like rosewood, cedar, and spruce are excellent for laminated pieces. A typical quality ukulele model chooses koa, maple, or mahogany for the solid body and places laminated fragments at the back and the sides.
Also, soft materials are better for the fretboard. They feel smoother and gentler on the fingers. Maple is an exception, though, as it’s also an excellent match for the fretboard.
Other tonewoods include cherry wood, mango, oak, ebony, and more. Either way, you need to understand that solid wood ukuleles sound brighter and more complex. If you add laminated pieces, the sound mixing often turns excellent.
Ukuleles use mostly the same materials as classical guitars.
Lastly, we need to go over the instrument’s shapes, influencing its feel and looks.
It’s the most common ukulele shape. It looks similar to guitars with a curved upper body (the upper bout) smaller than the lower body (lower bout). Then, the waist -the narrow area between the bouts- allows more convenient access to the higher frets.
As the name implies, these look like a tropical fruit. With a rounded back and a curvy front, they look like novelty items.
Cutaway ukuleles have a curve on the upper body where your right-hand -or left hand- can rest. They look like guitar-shaped ukuleles but with more pronounced curves, and you can find them easily in any music store in any size.
Leho_Aleho_Pineapple_Sopran_Ukulele_ALUP-M_08344 / Zapyon / CC BY-SA 4.0 Pineapple ukuleles distinct themselves from guitars with a unique shape. The design dates back to the 1920s, and Hawaiian-born ukulele maker Samuel Kamaka takes the credit.
Top 7 best Ukuleles
After checking our buyer’s guide on ukuleles, you should be ready to pick the best instrument for you.
We’ll keep the reviews short. After all, these are simple instruments.
KA- S Soprano – Best budget ukulele
The classic KA-S sounds good and sells for a reasonable price. It’s a soprano model with four nylon strings and standard tuning (GCEA).
This model is part of the Grace VanderWaal signature series. She’s an acclaimed American musician and songwriter.
It’s made with mahogany and features the traditional guitar-shaped body with 12 frets.
The Kala-S has a mahogany laminated body on the top, back, and sides. The tonewood offers a dark tone that complements the soprano size. Plus, its subtle design it’s perfect for all setups.
It’s not a top-tier quality construction, but it’s a tasty upgrade over entry-level models. It’s also more than enough for hobby players, amateurs, and beginners.
Please don’t get fooled by its price, though. Kala knows its business. The KA-S sounds and plays like an expensive trade-off. The tone is full and balanced, albeit it’s still on soprano levels.
The mahogany construction offers a darker tone, which complements its concert voicing. A subtle body binding adds to the good looks.
Complementing the construction comes a top-tier Graphtech NuBone nut plus saddle, nickel frets, die-cast tuners covered in chrome, and Italian Aquila Super Nylgut strings.
Mahalo MR 1 Soprano – Best beginner ukulele
If you’re looking for a dirt-cheap ukulele that’s functional, look no further. Whereas serious layers will outgrow it, the entry price is forgiving enough to make peace with that idea. Needless to say, the Mahalo MR1 Soprano is a beginner’s ukulele with a design you’d expect from these kinds of instruments.
Alas, it’s not an instrument that will set the stage on fire. But with its solid sengon construction and various finishes options, it’s durable and decently sounding.
Hobby players can also grab one of these for some spare cash. Stepping towards a Kala or a Fender goes a long way in both quality and price. Yet, if you’re a beginner, the comfy and friendly approach of the Mahalo MR1 is perfect.
Overall, finding a better ukulele for beginners than the Mahalo MR1 is quite tricky. Even more when its package includes a carrying bag.
Fender Fullerton Jazzmaster Concert – Best mid-level Ukulele
Fender’s Jazzmaster series is the long-running choice for alternative musicians. Jazzmaster guitars and basses excel at versatility, smoothness, and elegant looks.
That’s precisely what we’re looking for here. The Fender Jazzmaster Concert ukulele features superb construction, a Fender-designed preamp. Even better, its plugged sound offers a piece of the authentic Fender Jazzmaster guitars’ action.
As for tonewoods, we’re looking at a solid mahogany body with a spruce top, a maple neck, and a walnut fingerboard. In particular, walnut is a top-tier material that looks just as good as it feels.
The Fullerton series follows the electric guitar designs of the brand. As you’d expect, it’s complete with a pickup system. Its preamp has separate volume and tone controls, as well as a built-in tuner.
Moreover, there’s a no-tie bridge, which makes string changes easy compared to traditional ukuleles.
As for sound, it feels like a softer, funnier Jazzmaster guitar.
I have to note the instrument sells with an online learning platform you can access. Fender Play has an expanding library of songs you can learn at your own pace.
Martin TK1 Tenor – Best professional ukulele
With a solid koa body and a tenor size, the Martin T1K ukulele offers a rich, broad, professional sound.
Needless to say, it’s a high-end ukulele that belongs at the top of the line. There are more expensive models from the brand, though (and other brands as well). However, going beyond the TK1 is, for the most part, unnecessary.
In fact, the Martin TK1 is “affordable” by Martin standards. That means it’s still way above beginner prices.
The extra money -3x times more- buys unrivaled craftsmanship. The TK1 is as smooth, durable, and playable as ukuleles can get.
Its solid Koa body and neck provide a bigger, sweeter tone than laminated wood models.
Craft is clean, with careful attention to detail. It shows on the back, sides, and top koa. That said, the TK1 is short on extra details. Aside from its satin finish, it settles with basic fret inlays plus a simple rosette.
Sound-wise. The tone is superb and talks about quality and tradition. That’s to be expected of a full koa ukulele. It sounds warm, open, and big. Moreover, it has plenty of resonance and complexity.
As far as volume goes, the projection is superb, making it a top option for solo playing and small groups.
Lastly, the T1K comes with a gig bag. It’s not super protective, though, so consider getting an extra one either one.
Cordoba 15CM-E – Most popular ukulele
The Cordoba 15CM-E model sounds more like a traditional guitar than anything else.
What we’ve got here is a concert model with an all-laminate mahogany veneer construction.
The top has a subtle sunburst touch. There’s also a single-ply cream plastic on top with an elegant abalone rosette inlay on the sound whole. You can also find mahogany laminates on the back and the sides, but without the sunburst.
To finish up the construction, it has a mahogany neck with a rosewood fingerboard that houses 19 frets.
Hardware-wise, the Cordoba model packs a modest pickup system with an under-saddle piezo plus a volume control within the soundhole. It’s a non-intrusive system that’s ready for house warming and nothing more. The lack of a tone knob asks for external preamps and acoustic pedals.
As you’d expect, the sound is quiet, with short sustain, and without too much punch. Still, it sounds mellow, cute, and catchy.
Moreover, the string-to-string balance is excellent, which makes chords sound harmonious. However, without significant sustain, the ukulele sounds a bit dead when playing with a pick.
However, I have to note the 15CM-E model is so quiet it wouldn’t even fit the kitchen table. The problem goes away once you plug the instrument, though. The volume becomes adequate for playing live through a PA system or a DI box.
The quietness also has a benefit. It allows you to drive the tone and punch it to your heart’s content without losing its quality.
Overall, if you’re an intermediate ukulele player, the 15CM-E is a good choice for you. It offers a good plugged performance for shows, home recordings, and songwriting at its price point. However, this instrument’s priority is its amplified tone, so you shouldn’t go for this one if you’re expecting a solid acoustic tone.
Lastly, the lack of a preamp can be a downside. But it also helps keep the weight and prices down while raising the tone balance and resonance.
If you’re looking for a ukulele to play plugged in, this might be the winner. It’s a conditional situation, but the 15CM-E could be your choice nonetheless.
Epiphone Les Paul Tenor – Best value ukulele
The Les Paul model is a tenor-sized ukulele with a quality choice of woods. Moreover, it follows the Les Paul design on a smaller scale, down to its Cherry Burst color.
It even has the same laminated flamed maple arched top as the original Les Paul guitar. That’s some legendary Gibson styling.
It has a mahogany body, a mahogany neck, and a granadillo fingerboard. It’s also an electro-acoustic model with onboard electronics that include separated tone and volume knobs.
Then, it packs a high-quality under-saddle pickup. It allows the wiring to route the sound accurately towards the amp while also allowing the soundhole to project the sound loudly enough.
You can easily play the Les Paul Ukulele with a PA system or record it with a studio mic to great results. It sounds bright, happy, and well-defined.
Without the amplifier, its sound is loud enough for small presentations, solo practice, and playing around the campfire with your friends.
Overall, it’s a great pick for its price. It’s the best value ukulele in the market.
Risa LP Electric Tenor – Most unique ukulele
Let’s take a look at something far more interesting. Electric ukuleles are not very common, but they do exist at various price points.
Most electric ukuleles follow the same design: nylon strings, piezo pickups, and uninspiring tone. Risa does its own thing, though: they take inspiration from Tele, Strat, and Les Paul guitars and put electromagnetic pickups.
The Risa Tenor as a sunburst, all-mahogany model that features the same wiring as a Les Paul. That means it packs two humbucking pickups with a fantastic display of versatility.
It also ships without the re-entrant “G.” Instead, it goes for the lower octave note. As a result, it sounds and feels familiar to guitar players.
AS far as sound goes, it’s not for everyone. Combining a ukulele with humbuckers sounds like a middle-ground between jazz and surf music. Take a listen: