Top 10 Best Ukuleles – The Ultimate Guide To an Epic Instrument from Hawaii

Ever since ukuleles hit mainstream, the market for this instrument has seen an explosion of new models filling just about every segment you could imagine. Because of that it might be hard to figure out which ukulele to get as a beginner, or even as an intermediate player. The purpose of this guide is to help you deal with this issue and give you all of the necessary information you could need. First we will show you our top 10 picks for the best ukulele on the market, and then we’ll discuss how to choose the right ukulele for you.

Top 10 Best Ukuleles:

PRODUCT

FEATURES

PRODUCT

IMAGE

PRODUCT

FEATURES

Lanikai-FBCETT-300x300

AR RATING 99/100

  • Great build quality and attention to detail.
  • Features awesome on board electronics.
Kala-KA-SA-B-300x300

AR RATING 98/100

  • Impressive Kala build quality and quality control.
  • Features impressive sound and plenty of volume.
Fender-Montecito-Tenor-300x300
  • Impressive build quality coming from a very reputable brand.
  • Made completely out of solid koa tonewood.
Oscar-Schmidt-OU57-R-U-300x300

AR RATING 88/100

  • One of the best looking ukes out there for sure.
  • Features spalted mango tonewood which is super rare.
Kala-KA-SSTU-300x300

AR RATING 85/100

  • Impressive build quality from Kala as usual.
  • Features spruce top which gives it warmth.
Luna-Ukulele-Heartsong-300x300

AR RATING 82/100

  • Good build quality for the money.
  • Comes with a great rosette design.
Kailua-Soprano-Ukulele-300x300

AR RATING 77/100

  • Great build quality for the price.
  • Comes with a great set of strings.
Caramel-CB103-300x300

AR RATING 75/100

  • Great build quality and attention to detail.
  • Features exotic tonewood and interesting materials.
Kala-Learn-to-Play-Ukulele-300x300
  • Awesome value for the money.
  • Comes with a great set of accessories.
Vangoa-Soprano-Ukulele-300x300
  • Decent build quality for the price.
  • One of the best looking beginner models.
Lanikai-FBCETT-300x300

AR RATING 99/100

Lanikai is definitely one of the best brands in the business right now. So much so that they can come up with a completely unorthodox model such as the FBCETT and still make it sound incredibly good. As you can probably tell simply by looking at it, this uke is a thin body model. Lets talk about what that means.

Thin body ukes are most often acoustic electric and are somewhat limited in terms of acoustic volume. However, being made out of figured bocote, and sporting a very nice preamp system, Lanikai FBCETT won’t leave you feeling limited in any way, shape or form. Its acoustic sound is good but the whole things sound impressive once you plug it in.

WHAT WE LIKE

  • check
    Great build quality and attention to detail.
  • check
    Features awesome on board electronics.
  • check
    Made out of figured bocote tonewood.

WHAT WE DON'T LIKE

  • minus
    Thin body ukes take some getting used to.
Kala-KA-SA-B-300x300

AR RATING 98/100

Kala is another awesome brand that dominates the ukulele market at the moment. Their KA-SA-B represents one of the best baritones you can find in this price range. We all know that baritones aren’t the hottest type of uke right now but if there ever was a model that could change the our collective minds, it would be this one.

When it comes to tonewood and other specs, you are looking at a full acacia build and great hardware. Acacia is a fairly exotic wood in this segment but definitely one that has a lot of good benefits to it. The sound it offers is full of range, offers great volume. As far as baritones go, this one definitely rocks.

WHAT WE LIKE

  • check
    Impressive Kala build quality and quality control.
  • check
    Features impressive sound and plenty of volume.
  • check
    Made out of pretty exotic tonewood.

WHAT WE DON'T LIKE

  • minus
    Baritones are an acquired taste for sure.
Fender-Montecito-Tenor-300x300

AR RATING 97/100

Fender is a giant of guitar world but not many expect to see them in the ukulele universe. As it so happens, Fender makes some of the best ukes you can get right now. One model that comes to mind is the Montecito tenor. This is probably the best bang for the buck choice on this entire list right now. 

Made out of solid koa all around, Montecito promises to deliver that traditional, conservative ukulele sound most are after. We would classify its looks as traditional as well, however that Telecaster style headstock really breaks up the immersion. Overall, the sound you get from this tenor is impressive to say the least. Montecito is a perfect workhorse for the money.

WHAT WE LIKE

  • check
    Impressive build quality coming from a very reputable brand.
  • check
    Made completely out of solid koa tonewood.
  • check
    Features awesome sound for the money.

WHAT WE DON'T LIKE

  • minus
    The iconic Telecaster headstock doesn’t sit very well on ukes.
Oscar-Schmidt-OU57-R-U-300x300

AR RATING 88/100

Ever since they got acquired by Washburn, Oscar Schmidt has started entering more and more different markets. Their ukuleles are quickly becoming some of the best out there. The main reason for this is the fact that Oscar Schmidt is applying their know-how from the acoustic segment the ukulele segment. Oscar Schmidt OU57-R-U is definitely a great example of this

For example, this uke features spalted mango tonewood, which is more or less unheard of in the industry. The sound it offers is pretty awesome and has that traditional vibe to it despite how exotic the tonewood is. Another byproduct of using spalted mango is the fact that this uke looks incredibly good. They have added abalone binding as well.

WHAT WE LIKE

  • check
    One of the best looking ukes out there for sure.
  • check
    Features spalted mango tonewood which is super rare.
  • check
    Grover hardware ensures good key retention.

WHAT WE DON'T LIKE

  • minus
    This uke size takes a bit of getting used to.
Kala-KA-SSTU-300x300

AR RATING 85/100

If you’re after a good soprano in the mid range, check out this Kala KA-SSTU. This uke offers a great combination of performance and build quality at a highly competitive price range. Kala being Kala, they pretty much over-engineer their ukes even in the more affordable segment of the market. This is the type of uke we can stand behind.

One interesting thing about this uke is the selection of tonewood Kala has chose for this build. They went with a spruce top and mahogany back as well as sides. The resulting sound gives it a very traditional uke vibe with a lot of warmth in the mix. Spruce isn’t all that traditional but it definitely adds to the quality.

WHAT WE LIKE

  • check
    Impressive build quality from Kala as usual.
  • check
     Features spruce top which gives it warmth.
  • check
    Gives you that classic, traditional ukulele sound.

WHAT WE DON'T LIKE

  • minus
    Factory strings don’t really do it justice.
Luna-Ukulele-Heartsong-300x300

AR RATING 82/100

Luna is a very interesting brand. They’re best known for their acoustic guitars but they also make a whole bunch of other instruments such as ukuleles. What all of these have in common is Luna’s alternative style. You’ll often see moon motifs on their instruments along with other often mythical influences. With that said, their products always feel high end

Luna went with a full spruce top and mahogany sides. The uke features a nice, neutral finish, binding that goes all around the top and the fretboard, as well as a custom made rosette piece. Also, you have the built in preamp which allows you to plug this uke in and enjoy its sound over loudspeakers. It’s a great choice.

WHAT WE LIKE

  • check
    Good build quality for the money .
  • check
    Comes with a great rosette design.
  • check
    Features a good built in preamp.

WHAT WE DON'T LIKE

  • minus
    The tuner it comes with isn’t always 100% accurate.
Kailua-Soprano-Ukulele-300x300

AR RATING 77/100

Kailua is a brand that is specializing in building affordable ukes that offer good bang for the buck. Their soprano model which we are looking at here is definitely one of their best products. Despite their Hawaiian sounding name, this brand is not Hawaiian. That doesn't stop them from building awesome ukes, though. On the contrary, Kailua is pretty competitive.

These ukes sport a full mahogany build with plenty of components which are hand crafted. You shouldn't mistake hand crafted components with a handcrafted instrument, though which this isn't. Even so, you're getting a great sounding uke with plenty of volume and that classic uke vibe to it. It's very playable and a great place to start your uke adventure.

WHAT WE LIKE

  • check
    Great build quality for the price.
  • check
    Comes with a great set of strings.
  • check
    Packs a nice, rich sound.

WHAT WE DON'T LIKE

  • minus
    Their choice of finish isn't really traditional.
Caramel-CB103-300x300

AR RATING 75/100

Caramel CB103 represents one of the best ways to get into baritone ukuleles on the cheap. There is a lot to appreciate with this uke, especially considering that baritones are anything but cheap on the average. Caramel is one of the few brands that offers a very decent option in this regard. They are definitely worth looking into for sure.

The uke itself is made out of zebra wood which puts it right up there with the more exotic models. This tonewood looks awesome, but it also adds a whole new type of color to the sound. Then there is the built in 3 band EQ, which really ups the ante. In all honestly, at this price CB103 definitely rocks.

WHAT WE LIKE

  • check
    Great build quality and attention to detail.
  • check
    Features exotic tonewood and interesting materials.
  • check
    Comes with a built in preamp.

WHAT WE DON'T LIKE

  • minus
    Factory strings aren't the best on this model.
Kala-Learn-to-Play-Ukulele-300x300

AR RATING 70/100

If you're looking for a more affordable uke which comes with all of the accessories you could ever need, Kala's Learn to Play kit is definitely worth checking out. Not only does Kala make some of the best ukes on the market, but their accessories are definitely up there with the best. It's a great way to get into ukes.

The kit includes an awesome soprano uke made by Kala, a small gig bag, a tuner, and a whole lot more. These accessories allow you to really experience your new instrument the right way. Speaking of which, the uke you get is built tough and is surprisingly playable overall. The overall value this kit offers is too good to ignore.

WHAT WE LIKE

  • check
    Awesome value for the money.
  • check
    Comes with a great set of accessories.
  • check
    Great overall build quality and quality control.

WHAT WE DON'T LIKE

  • minus
    It needs a tune up right out of the box.
Vangoa-Soprano-Ukulele-300x300

AR RATING 69/100

Being an absolute beginner can be challenging, especially when you re trying to find your very first uke. For fortunately for everyone, there are awesome starter kits out there which won't break your bank. Vangoa Soprano bundle is by far the best one we could find. It is very affordable, offers great accessories and comes with a very solid ukulele.

Overall, the entire kit is aimed at getting you started on the right track efficiently. It won't be the best uke you will ever play, but that is one of the reasons why it is so cheap. It's a beginner's tool which should help you figure out what you like your ukuleles and point you to the right direction.

WHAT WE LIKE

  • check
    Decent build quality for the price.
  • check
    One of the best looking beginner models.
  • check
    Comes with a great set of accessories.

WHAT WE DON'T LIKE

  • minus
    Factory strings will need to be changed.

Category Breakdown 

Beginner Ukuleles

Everyone has to start somewhere and when it comes to ukuleles, that place is with beginner models. Fortunately for everyone, the market is currently saturated with awesome beginner ukuleles, most of which offers a great value for the money. These instruments are usually basic, affordable and come with a number of accessories meant to get the person started as soon as possible. With that said, most of the beginner ukuleles are not something that could keep up with an intermediate player.

Under $100

Ukuleles under $100 are partially overlapping with the beginner segment. The main difference here is that you will run into some models which are better in terms of construction and overall build quality. This segment of the market is still focused mainly on beginners and offers a pretty basic set of features. One more thing worth mentioning is that there are rarely any solid wood ukuleles in this segment. Most of these feature laminate tonewood.

Under $200 

When you increase your budget to around $200, you’re effectively opening your options to ukuleles which bring great bang for the buck. This is where you will start seeing various types of ukuleles aside from the usual soprano. On top of that, you will also see different types of tonewood, accessories. Another new thing worth mentioning is the appearance of built in electronics as you come close to that $200 mark. Acoustic electric ukuleles are great for performers as well as those who need a uke for studio use.

Under $300

Ukuleles found in the $300 price range are considered to be the sweet spot of the entire market. This is where you will find the best combination of features, quality and performance for the money. In terms of options, ukes from this segment come in all shapes and sizes, with all possible features you could imagine, including a whole lot of exotic tonewood options. We generally suggest that you look into this segment if you are an experience uke player or a performer who needs a good workhorse for everyday use.

Under $500 

Models in the $500 segment represent the top tier of commercial segment. In other words, this is where you will find the best of the mass produced ukuleles. This kind of money gets you a lot of awesome materials, great build quality, bulletproof hardware, good electronics and impressive performance right out of the box. If you need something better, you will most likely have to find a luthier and get a custom piece made. Naturally, that is going to cost way more than $500. Naturally, this isn’t a rule and there are commercial models that cost more, but those offer a diminishing return of investment.

Soprano

Soprano ukuleles are the most popular type these days. With current trends, that may not be the case in the future, but right now sopranos are all the rage. Models in this segment will include any uke that fits the soprano guidelines. As it so happens, that includes a whole lot of beginner and entry level models. Of course, there will also be a bunch of higher end ukes in there as well.

Concert

Concert ukuleles are slightly larger than sopranos and offer a number of benefits of their own. This category isn’t as popular as sopranos, although most of the times you might see concert ukes being passed as sopranos. The main difference is in size and volume as these sound pretty much exactly like sopranos. The price isn’t going to be much different either.

Tenor

Tenors are promising to become the next big thing in the world of ukuleles. Their sound is fairly different compared to that of sopranos, but they offer a great bang for your buck if you need powerful tone, plenty of volume and great projection. Tenors are considered to be large in comparison to other ukulele models with only the baritones being larger.

Baritone

Last and biggest type of ukuleles are the baritones. These are nowhere near as popular as the other types, but they definitely have a number of benefits to offer. As you can probably imagine, being much larger thees ukuleles also offer a much higher volume and great projection. However, these change the way you play ukulele due to different tunings and more. We will cover these changes further down in the guide.

How To Choose a Ukulele? 

To a complete beginner, ukuleles come across as a very simple instrument. Apparently, there is something about its small size which drives many newcomers to see it as a toy more than an actual instrument. The number of parents who go out and buy an ukulele for their kids thinking it is a toy guitar is really high. Because of all this, it is important to understand what ukuleles are and what types of ukes are available in order to be able to choose the right one. In this segment of the guide, we will try to explain all of this.

What Are Ukuleles? 

Contrary to what a good number of beginners think, ukuleles are not tiny guitars. They are in fact a whole different type of stringed instrument. Ukuleles were first invented by Portuguese workers who moved to Hawaii in the 19th century. These initial ukulele luthiers took a lot of ideas from already existing Portuguese instruments such as the cavaquinho and timple.

Over the years, ukuleles have evolved to take the form which we are familiar with today. Even so, ukuleles are considered to be a Hawaiian instrument and have a very important place in Hawaiian culture. As a matter of fact, ukuleles have broken into the mainstream fairly recently thanks to a few famous performers such as the late Israël Kamakawiwo'ole.

Different Types of Ukuleles 

Much like other stringed instruments, ukuleles come in a number of different sizes. You have the soprano, concert, tenor and baritone. Each of these offers a number of benefits. However, there is a considerable difference in the way some of these sound. Because of that, it is important to know what each size of uke is all about before you go out shopping.

Sopranos 

Sopranos are the smallest type of ukuleles and one most people generally associate with this instrument. Their sound is what you would call traditional, and has that standard uke vibe. If you were to find a random song that uses a ukulele at some point, that uke would most likely be a soprano. Sopranos measure up to 20 inches and are the smallest type of ukes available. It is worth mentioning that sopranos are dominating the entry level segment of the market.

Concerts 

Concert ukuleles are the next size above the soprano. These measure 23 inches in length and are generally larger than sopranos in every way. Their size adds a bit more flavor to the sound, although you still get to retain that classic ukulele tone which many associate with this instrument.

Tenors 

Next come tenors, these are considerably larger than sopranos and measure some 26 inches in length. Tenors are becoming more and more popular these days, especially among professionals. Their sound is powerful and louder in volume thanks to their larger size. Also, tenors are the size where you fist start noticing a very guitar like sound in this instrument.

Baritones 

Last come the baritones with their 30 inches of length and a much larger body. These are similar to travel guitars in terms of size and sound. Another interesting thing about baritones is the fact that they use a completely different tuning. Where most other ukes are tuned to the standard GCEA tuning, baritones use a DGBE tuning. Those of you who play guitar may recognize this tuning as the top portion of a standard EADGBE guitar tuning.

Tonewood 

Now that we know where ukuleles come from and what different types there are, lets talk a bit about the tonewood. Ukuleles are acoustic instruments. As such, their tonewood plays a fairly significant part in the way they sound. The most traditional tonewood for ukuleles is Koa. This is a native Hawaiian tonewood which explains why most ukes to come from these islands are made out of Koa.

Since most ukes these days are made outside Hawaii, trying to make them out of koa would be inefficient to say the least. Because of that, manufacturers had to find a replacement tonewood. Mahogany was the perfect choice for the job. Don’t be surprised to find some of the best ukes out there featuring a full mahogany body. Aside from koa and mahogany, spruce and cedar have found their way into this industry as well.

Laminates VS Solid Tonewood 

Speaking of tonewood, lets just touch upon the laminate vs solid wood discussion. This issues is mostly reserved for acoustic guitars, but since ukes are similar in construction, it translates well to them too. However, due to their small size, the negative impact laminates have on sound are heavily dampened. This is why you will find laminates used in some pretty expensive ukes. With that said, solid tonewood is still the preferred choice.

What Makes a Good Ukulele?

A good ukulele can be found for very little money, or it can be found in the top tier segment of the market. The key is to find one which meets a certain criteria (we used similar criteria for our electric guitar and bass guitar guides as well). That criteria is exactly what we are going to discuss in this segment of our guide.

Build Quality 

As we have mentioned earlier, the type of tonewood you get won’t affect the sound too much, especially when you deal with sopranos. What is much more important is the build quality. Unfortunately, you can’t really tell how well a uke is made without handling it yourself. That’s why we highly suggest dealing only with proven brands. Names such as Kala, Lanikai or Martin will yield great build quality no matter what.

Hardware 

Hardware is the next important factor when it comes to quality ukuleles. You want a good set of tuners and reliable nut/saddle material. Bridges usually tend to be alright no matter how cheap an ukulele is. One good thing about looking for good hardware with these instruments is the fact that strings don’t exert nearly as much strain on the neck or any of the components. That means that tuners won’t have too hard of a time retaining a key nor will the saddle and nut be under too much strain.

Features 

In the world of ukuleles you won’t find too many interesting features. These are simple instruments which are very traditional across the range. However, there is one extra feature you might want to consider and that is a preamp. Acoustic electric ukuleles are awesome and definitely have their place in the grand scheme of things. Modern uke preamps are generally great no matter which segment of the market you look at.

Conclusion 

Ukuleles are becoming more and more popular these days, which is great. Our goal with this guide was to show you exactly what you can expect to see in this market and what to look for. Hopefully you’ve gained all the information you need to make an educated decision. We strongly suggest that you explore our more specific guides about different types of ukuleles if you are trying to fin the optimal uke for your specific needs. Whatever you end up with, we are certain that you will have a lot of fun learning how to play this awesome instrument.

Reader Interactions

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

HOW IT WORKS

The appropriate research can do wonders if done properly. We are here to help you and save your time and money at the same time. In our website you will see our personal recommendations based on our knowledge and extensive research. What we base our rating using the product details and customer feedback.