the Ukulele version of “La vie en rose” by the Mother in HIMYM? That scene kind
of made ukulele a hip instrument. This miniature version of a guitar may look
easy to play but looks can be deceptive, right?
Learning to play ukulele is one of the most challenging things I’ve done in my life. While the chords and chord progression took years of practice to perfect, I’ve to admit that choosing the right instrument to play was no easy feat either.
No matter whether you are a beginner or a seasoned player, choosing the right instrument is always going to be a daunting task. To make your decision a tad less difficult, I’ve spent countless hours researching about the best ukuleles for all budgets and playing styles. No matter what your skill set, preference or budget this, this list features something for everyone. So, let’s begin:
Reviews of the Best Ukuleles of 2019
Cordoba 15CM Concert Ukulele
This particular brand is revered by professional and intermediate ukulele players alike for the sheer variety and versatility of instruments they make. It is essentially a concert ukulele which is believed to be easier to begin with than its soprano and tenor buddies.
The incredibly balanced tonality and exceptional playability of this model come from the quarter sawn mahogany wood it is made of. The tonewood chosen for sculpting the body of this instrument produces a loud and clear yet mellow and sweet sound.
On top of that, the body is completely handmade which adds to the durability, attention to details and aesthetics of the model. It looks classy with abalone rosette, silver tuners studded with pearl buttons and a sleek satin finish. It is a pleasant surprise for a budget ukulele to have features usually found only in its high-end ukes.
One of the most common issues with a budget uke is the sound. Thankfully, the Cordoba 15CM doesn’t suffer from the same issue, The premium tonewood coupled with a strong and firm neck and premium Aquila strings render a crisp, well-defined, concert-worthy sound. It is easily tunable, the uke holds a tune for a good amount of time.
All these strengths come together to make this model a perfect suit for beginners and experienced players alike. Another feature I couldn’t help but adore is the intonation. It is just spot-on right out of the box and can be easily tweaked with filling as well. Concert ukuleles are known for their accurate fret work and this model is no exception. The body of this instruments features a total of 18, well-spaced frets paired with smooth inlays. To sump up, Cordoba 15CM has rightfully earned the top spot in my list with its elegant, handmade design, amazingly rich sound and easy playability that will cater to uke players of different skill sets.
- Excellent build quality.
- Aquila strings.
- Rich, crisp and clear sound.
- Classy vintage appearance.
- Easily playable and tunable.
The C string produces a little buzz which can be a turn off for some users.
Fender Soprano Ukulele”Piha’eu”
If you have spent some time researching about soprano ukuleles, there’s a great chance that you have come across Fender’s masterpiece “Piha’eu”. There are a great many things going for it. For starters, the premium mahogany body, rosewood bridge, and a solid black neck make for just the tip of the iceberg.
The classic, charming vintage appearance of the soprano will leave a smile on your face. I was also pleasantly surprised to find Fender’s Headstock open-gear tuners on this model, rendering the instrument considerably easy to tune. When you play the uke in open position, the projection and tonal clarity it offers is sure to leave you stunned.
However, much like the previous model, this
one too produces a slight hum on the C string and the humming becomes more
annoying as you progress towards the upper frets. Nonetheless, the bridge
saddle and synthetic nut materials reduce the number of dead-spots on the
fingerboard, thus producing a well-pronounced tonal quality. If you are a
beginner and want to steal the show in beach parties and camping nights, this
model would be ideal for you.
What makes it a great choice as an entry-level ukulele is its easy playability. Most beginners struggle with the chord progression. I bet you will find changing chords on its delicate strings easier than you’d imagine.
However, I’ve to admit that although it produces nice and warm tones, the sound lacks the richness and oomph factor of authentic hardwood ukuleles. So if you are a serious uke player with a very nitpicky ear, you should look elsewhere.
- An all-mahogany instrument boasting of warm and dark tones.
- Provides a decent tonal response and projection.
- Comfortable in hands.
- Makes chord progression easy.
- Good for playing acoustic blues.
- Not a true hardwood instrument, lacks depth and clarity of actual hardwood sound.
- A light buzz on the C string.
Kala Satin (KA-C) Mahogany Concert Ukulele
If you are somebody transitioning from guitar to ukulele or a uke enthusiast just starting out, this instrument seems to be heaven-made for the likes of you. The price might be a little on the higher just for uke-dummies but if you are really serious about your sound, the price tag shouldn’t deter you.
This concert size this ukulele is perfect for jamming family get-togethers and friends reunion. The all-mahogany body looks like a dream and adds to the warmth and richness of the tone. The minimalist mahogany design of the uke is perfectly complemented by a seamless, cream binding.
The strings also play a major role in providing a well-balanced sound, especially when you play single notes. It features chrome die-cast tuners that make tuning the instrument super easy for newbies and provides great tuning stability.
Like most low and mid-range ukuleles, this one has an issue with playing sharp in the C string. However, the problem is easily fixable. All you have to do is replace the existing intonate saddle with a bonnet saddle.
The NuBone synthetic material used in the nut and saddle tries hard to reproduce the sound of a “real bone” but doesn’t succeed much. But for what it’s worth, the combination of premium tonewood and above-average hardware emulate a great, deep sound.
The lows and mids are crisp and even the highs are mellifluous. As expected from a good concert ukulele, the volume is pretty loud and clear, good enough to make your tunes sound well-defined to all the listeners in a big room.
- Produces rich and crisp tones.
- Solid and durable build.
- Minimalistic design.
- Comfortable to play for a long time.
- The size is great for players
transitioning from guitar to uke.
- The setup requires quite a bit of time and hard work.
- Produces high action.
Yamaha GL1 Guitalele Guitar Ukulele
The next model on my list is a hybrid of a guitar and a ukulele. While I don’t personally like hybrids, the warm and nicely pronounced tones of this “guitarlele” sort of changed my mind. The tuning of this 17” string scale ukulele is pitched up to A and is a delight to play if you don’t expect too much from it. Like my previous pick, this one too is a strong suit for folks switching from guitar to ukulele.
The instrument is tuned to ADGCEA and is meant to sound like a classical guitar capo’d on its 5th string. The volume of the guitarlele is slightly higher than what we hear on standard classical guitar. For a small ukulele, the nut width of 49 mm is way wider than what I’d expected.
And again, for a small ukulele, the depth of sound is way better than what I’d expected, partly due to the higher positioning of the strings. The device holds the tune quite well. The- tie block bridge and roller tunes make tuning the instrument a breeze for guitarists willing to become a ukelele-ist.
In case you are a purist and get easily annoyed by high action of the strings, you can easily replace the existing strings with something fancier like D’Addario Pro Arte.
- Fun and easy to play.
- Emulates resonant and sweet sound.
- Highly portable.
- Sounds like a guitar capo’d on the 5th string.
- Great volume.
- The stock strings might need to be
replaced for better sound quality with lower action.
Kala KA-KTG Tenor Hawaiian Ukulele
Tenor ukes like KA-KTG are considered to be the ideal uke size by many. It is not just the perfect size that makes Kala KTG a veneered product among ace instrumentalists. The robust volume and deep bass provided by this tenor uke are unparalleled, even by many of its higher-end counterparts.
The piece de resistance of the Hawaiian ukulele has to be the tonewood used in its construction- the Hawaiian Koa. The solid body of the ukulele is beautifully accentuated by its Koa top and back. There’s a reason why Tenor ukuleles are called “enhanced sopranos”. It is the choice of tonewood that adds depth and richness to the volume of tenors. Ukuleles like KA-KTG are like old wine of instruments. They sound better with age.
What’s more, you don’t have to be an experienced musician to get a hang of this uke. The robust volume coupled with rich, bass-driven tone is sure to steal the hearts of your audiences. For the strings, the KTG has opted for my favorite D’Addario which only enhances the resonance, volume, and depth of sound of the uke.
If you want something even better, sure you can replace them with Fluoro. But I don’t think that’d be necessary once you strum this bad boy on stage. The instrument is packed with 19 frets.
While I personally have to gripe about the fretboard, fretting will be a steep learning curve for newbies. Another minor drawback of the instrument is the glossy finish. While it makes the device look dope, it also increases the chances of getting smudged easily.
- Made from Hawaiian Koa, one of the most sought-after tonewoods for tenor ukuleles.
- Glossy finish with maple trim and white dot inlays.
- D-Addario strings.
- Easily tunable.
- Robust volume and bass-heavy tone.
- The frets aren’t well spaced out.
Martin C1K Concert Ukulele Natural
It is never easy to find beginner-friendly all solid Hawaiian Koa Concert ukulele without breaking a bank. But guess what? I found one. Martin has managed to keep the cost down by focusing less on the cosmetic aspect and more on the performance.
a novice on a budget, this might be exactly what you need to hone your
ukuleleing skills. Instead of the expensive laminated wood, the makers have
opted for a relatively affordable solid koa for the body. What makes this
particular type of tonewood a perfect choice for the beginners, besides the low
price, is the warm, mellow and mellifluous tone it rings out.
I can also swear by the incredible playability and projection. Thanks to its loud and crisp volume and projection, this could be your go-to instrument at small parties and gatherings.
Another significant feature that often goes unnoticed by many is the open-back Grover tuners it sports. For a budget uke like this, the accuracy of these tuners is way above what I initially expected.
The only tiny flaw I noticed was the slightly high action of the strings, something non-slide players might find a bit bothersome. Something that could be improved but doesn’t qualify as a dealbreaker.
- Warm and rich sound of the tonewood.
- Great playability.
- Quality of the tuners.
- The body is made from all solid Koa.
- Decent intonation.
- High action of the strings.
Mitchell MU70 12-Fret Concert Ukulele
It’s essentially a uke for beginner and intermediate-level players. Its sound is brighter than many other ukuleles of the same price range or slightly higher and has an above average intonation. The heirloom-worthy guitar body is sculpted from laminated spruce top and its beauty is further accentuated by the rosewood back, high gloss finish, neat inlay patterns, and abalone binding.
As far as the sound and tone are concerned, this ukulele is nearly flawless. The tine is full, well-balanced and most importantly, extremely soothing to the ear. The volume is loud and clear enough to fill a small room full of audiences. In fact, it is one of the loudest mid-level I’ve come across during my research.
However, the tuners of Martin C1 beats the tuners of MU70 hands down. Maybe the issue is product-specific but I should point it out the uke loses its tuning after every 2-3 songs.
Another minor issue is that the knot of the first string is too small. However, the problem is easy to fix. To conclude, Mitchell MU70 is a real eye-candy. Although it’s a tad bulkier than a beginner would have liked, the complex and rich tone of the instrument makes up for the tiny drawbacks.
- Loud, clear and complex tone.
- Good intonation.
- Beautifully crafted.
- Uses premium Aquila strings.
- Makes picking up a song easy for the
- The tuners could be better.
- The knot on the first string is small.
Lanikai LU-21 Soprano Ukulele
This Soprano ukulele derives its enviable and jaw-droppingly beautiful looks from the Nato wood grain it’s made of. Like the previous model, this one too sports my all-time favorite Aquila strings but is far better at holding the tune compared to MU70.
Soprano ukuleles are known for their bright and mellow tone. This one does meet the golden standard of soprano ukuleles to a great extent. However, I’ve played and heard brighter and richer sounding soprano ukuleles which cost nearly the same as LU-21.
Having said that, it does pair up quite well with vocals and manages to create the majestic tropical sound ukuleles are famous for, thanks to the midrange projection. Another thing that makes it model a popular starter uke is its easy playability.
Probably the best thing about ready-to-play ukes like this is that you don’t have to restring the bad boy the first time you take it out of the gig bag.
- Great tuners and premium strings.
- Warm, bright and rich tone.
- Comes ready-to-play
- Comes neatly packaged in a solid gig bag.
- Aesthetically pleasing and sturdy construction.
- Slight buzzing when you play E major
Hola! Music HM-21PP Soprano Ukulele
This uke might not be the most well-known models doing the rounds of the market right now. But brand name and popularity were never at the top of my checklist while narrowing down the best ukuleles for my readers.
Music HM-21PP is the most competent travel-friendly ukuleles on my list. It is lightweight and super easy to play. If you are considering gifting a ukulele to a teenage music aficionado, this is simply one of the best choices you have.
major highlight of this uke is that it works wonderfully for left-handed
players as well. Something I can’t say of even some of the most luxurious
ukuleles. All you have to do it simply reattach the strings in the opposite
direction if you are a leftie and you are good to go.
The composition of the guitar body is quite interesting as well. The body is sculpted from maple while the neck is built from Nato grain wood and the bridge and fingerboard from walnut. The body has a thin layer of paint which helps to amplify the characteristics of the tonewood.
The uke comes with premium Italian Aquila Nygut strings. During the first few days of use, the strings won’t be able to hold the tune for more than one or two songs. That’s because the strings take a while to “break in”.
After a few days, the guitar will begin to stay in tune for a longer period of time. Coming to the soul of any musical instrument, the uke sounds like a ukulele version of Little Miss Sunshine.
The tone is extremely soothing, even to the most trained ears. By preserving the natural effect of the wood, the ukulele manages to replicate the relaxing yet charismatic mood of a Hawaiian afternoon at the beach (with some Pina Colada and Tequila, of course!)
- Beautiful and durable maple body.
- Bright and warm tine.
- The learning curve of the uke is super easy.
- Holds the tune quite well after a few days of playing.
- Packed with solid open-gear tuners
and Aquila strings.
- Using the straps might take a little while to get used to.
Fender Montecito Tenor Ukulele
I’ve always had a soft corner Fender acoustic guitars and when I chanced upon their latest roll out in the ukulele market, my expectations soared in an instant. The Montecito looks like a fascinating piece of instrument, with its fancy wood grain body, double bout shape, and high gloss finish.
The bridge of the model is made of what dealers call “laminate rosewood”. It sports a small bridge plate just like Martin Ukes, as opposed to big bridge plates used in most Tenor ukuleles. I find small bridge plates better for tenor ukes as they do not restrict the vibration of the top.
The uke is equipped with solid tuners. Even after a long period of heavy strum, the uke holds the tune reasonably well. The fourteen frets are easily accessible, and thus, making this instrument a perfect choice for picking up a new song for the player, irrespective of his skillset.
I found no issues with the intonation and the action is also decent. If you love playing big chords, you will fall head over heels for this uke in no time. Each string provides a full response and the clarity of sound is amazing in the top and mids.
However, I was quite surprised to find that a uke of its caliber doesn’t have a pickup. For this reason alone, it doesn’t qualify as a brilliant choice for gigs in large auditoriums or rooms.
- Made from premium tonewoods.
- Great tuners.
- Excellent tone range.
- Easy learning curve.
- High playability.
- No pickup
- The volume is on the quieter side.
Best Ukuleles under $200
Ukeleles under $200 are considered midrange. While finding a good ukulele that looks dope and sounds even doper can be a tricky task, with some tedious research and knowledge of how the instrument works, it isn’t a Herculean task either. This segment is dedicated to folks on a limited budget, who aren’t yet ready to invest in a crazy expensive uke but dead serious about the quality of sound.
Here are my recommendations:
Cordoba 20TM-CE Acoustic Electric Tenor Ukulele
Cordoba is my go-to brand for classical guitars since I began learning guitar. When they ventured into making ukuleles, they made sure to bring forth the same level of expert craftsmanship and elegance in the creations. The first ukulele on my $200 is nothing short of a revelation.
It exudes a shrewd use of tonewoods to enhance
the tone of the guitar. While the top of the uke is made from mahogany, the
back and sides are dressed with laminated mahogany. To top it off, the dark
grain and refined satin finish take the glamor quotient of the instrument
several notches up.
The uke derives its high playability from the soft cutaway shape of its body that allows easy access to the higher frets. The sound is almost on par with Cordoba’s much sought-after classical guitars when you fingerpick. What’s even better is that the tone resonates after you pick the strings.
The intonation is near perfect and the gorgeous, warm and rich tone coupled with a great projection make it a perfect instrument for unplugged gigs. I’ve to point it out it doesn’t offer a great volume but with the help of a guitar amp, this issue is easily fixable.
It comes with Aquila nylon strings. As you might have already learned by now, nylon strings require some heavy strumming before it starts holding the tune well.
- Laminated mahogany back and sides, satin finish and features a beautiful
- Herringbone rosette.
- Warm, soothing and rich tone.
- Excellent intonation and projection.
- In-built Piezo pickup.
- Doesn’t require frequent tuning when the strings get stretche
- Not quite loud.
Kala KA-PWT Pacific Walnut Tenor Acoustic Ukulele
I have a sweet spot with guitars and ukes with dark grain patterns. They exude a certain elegance and seriousness that can sweep purists like me off my feet. The Pacific walnut body combined with Mahogany neck is responsible for the crisp, clear and well-rounded tone of the ukulele.
I must say that walnut is not the go-to material for a ukulele top but Kala has definitely put a lot of thought into it. As a result, the sound of the instrument is deeper than most ukuleles in this price point.
The tonewood also elevates the tonal richness of the uke to a great extent. The package also includes top-of-the-line accessories like open -gear tuners that make tuning the instrument a breeze.
- Pacific walnut body adds to the richness of tone and depth of sound.
- The frets are easily accessible.
- Comes with Grover open gear tuners.
- Gorgeous aesthetics.
- Crisp and clear tones.
- The action is a bit high.
Fender Seaside Soprano Ukulele
This is one of those Fender’s low-end ukuleles that has managed to capture the essence and rich sound of the famed brand, without drilling a crater in your wallet. Sounds too good to be true? Well, initially I thought that too.
But I was more than happy to be proved colossally wrong when I dug deeper. As quite evident from its name, it is one of those instruments you’d want to carry with you to a beach to kick back the stress. What adds to the easy portability and playability of the soprano uke is its distinct C-shaped design.
As a uke aficionado, I was more than glad to find 2×2 headstock on it. I also loved the inclusion of no-tie bridge which takes the fuss out of restringing. The fingerboard bindings look awesome and the frets are easy to access, so no wonder why it’s one of the most sought-after entry-level in the market.
Coming to the tone, Seaside Soprano’s gleeful harmony that’ll resonate with your audience. The only major drawback is its ability to keep the tuning. Even after playing it for consecutively 2-3 weeks, you will have to tune it a lot.
After a lot of thought, I think a quick fix to this problem would be replacing the existing strings with fluorocarbon strings. However, that would mean a significant change in the sound which you may or may not like.
- Elegant design.
- Easy to change the strings.
- Loud, crisp and full tone.
- C-shape makes it easy to carry and play.
- Robust build.
- Has to be tuned frequently.
Kala KA-STG Tenor Ukulele
This gorgeous looking ukulele features a Sitka spruce top perfectly complemented by the Mahogany back and sides. The beautiful bindings along with a glassy gloss finish rounds off the look. The choice of tonewood contributes to the complexity and richness of tone this uke rings out.
It comes packed with die-cast sealed gear tuners that make tuning the instrument a breeze. Also, after 1 or 2 weeks, the top-grade Aquila Nylon strings stretch in properly and hold the tune for a longer time. The frets feel good and it offers a range that’ll allow even ukulele dummies to be bold and experimental with their sound.
- Sitka spruce top along with Mahogany back and sides.
- Calming sound and well-balanced, complex tone.
- Great tuning stability.
- Easily accessible frets.
- Great projection.
- Crimp on the C string.
Luna Tattoo Concert Mahogany Acoustic/Electric Ukulele
The intricate geometric motif laid on the spruce top of this ukulele makes it a real eye-candy. But a musical instrument should never be judged based on its looks alone. The cutaway neck of the ukulele will let you utilize the uke’s range to the maximum.
Perhaps that’s why it is one of the more popular choices among intermediate as well as advanced musicians. However, there’s one glaring flaw of the electronics is that the pickup is a bit too sensitive. As long as you don’t intend to use the electronics too often, this shouldn’t be a huge issue.
One of the best things about an acoustic-electric ukulele like this is the onboard preamp you can use to amplify the sound. The sound itself is mellow with super clear highs and mids.
The perfect finishing of the frets is another salient feature. The sound of the chords on the acoustics are extremely well pronounced and I daresay, on par with many of the larger ukuleles I’ve used in the past.
- Pearloid tuners for great tuning stability.
- Cool and hip design.
- The frets feel well.
- The acoustics sound extremely bright and relaxing.
- Cutaway neck enhances the playability.
- The onboard preamp doesn’t work very well.
- The pickup is a bit too sensitive.
What to Look for When Buying a Ukulele
Finding the Right Size
Ukuleles come mainly in 4 sizes: soprano, tenor, concert, and baritone,
Soprano is the most popular size of ukulele because of its dainty stature. The rule of thumb you need to remember is that the bigger a uke is, the deeper is its sound.
Soprano ukuleles resonate the classic ukulele sound, characterized by bright and warm tones. Soprano ukes have a very relaxing and happy sound. Due to the small size, it is perfect for a starter kit for children as well as adults.
Tenor ukes are much bigger than soprano ukes, therefore the sound it produces is also way deeper. However, these instruments are not as large as baritone guitars and can be easily traveled with.
The usual size of such ukuleles is 26” and the tuning is G-C-E-A just like its soprano counterpart. It is best suited for stage performance because of its deeper and fuller sound. If you are an adult beginner with long fingers, you will find the bigger fretboard easy to manipulate.
The size of a standard concert ukulele starts from 23”, which is slightly bigger than standard soprano models which are around 21” in size. The pitch of these ukes are higher than that of soprano and the tone is significantly brighter as well.
Baritone ukulele sounds almost similar to acoustic guitars. As it is the biggest brother of the ukulele family in terms of size, the sound is deep and bass-driven. It features a ukulele tuning of D-G-B-E and usually come with 18 to 21 frets.
About Electro-acoustic Ukuleles
Whether you need an electric-acoustic uke or not completely depends on skillset and playing style. If you are buying a ukulele to hone your skills, the possibilities such instruments provide are huge. And if you are a stage performer then having an amplifier jack is definitely an added advantage. However, you have to bear in mind that electro-acoustic guitars fall on the costlier side of the spectrum.
If you are on a budget and looking for a Hawaiian-style ukulele to play in small beach parties or simply for your own pleasure, you are not going to use the electronics much. In that case, investing in a good acoustic guitar would be your best bet.
Choice of Tonewood
The kind of tonewood you should go with depends strictly on the kind of sound you’re looking for and of course, your budget.
For the lovers of the happy and warm Hawaiian ukulele sound, Koa would be the best choice. In terms of popularity, mahogany tops the chart as the go-to tonewood for most ukulele brands. The tonewood has a distinctly warm and complex tone seasoned players look for when buying a ukulele. If you want to emphasize on range and volume, then you should opt out for spruce. For low overtones and mid-range, my go-to recommendation for tonewood would be rosewood.
Other most commonly (and uncommonly) used tonewoods for ukuleles are walnut, maple, cherry wood and for the budget instruments- laminated wood.
Guitar shape is the most ukulele shaped and preferred by many over its pineapple-shaped counterpart. The most striking cosmetic aspect of guitar-shaped ukes is that the upper bout or upper portion is smaller than the lower bout.
Pineapple-shaped novelty ukuleles are more of a thing of advanced and experimental musicians who are keen on pushing the envelope.
Top Ukulele Brands
Kala is the brainchild of Mike Upton and it made its debut since 2005. Since then, there has been no looking back for this brand. Kala ukeleles are noted for their complex tones and easy playability. All these make it a very popular choice among beginner, intermediate as well as advanced instrumentalists.
Cordoba was founded in 1997 by Tim Micklaucic and has been ruling the roost for years with its jaw-dropping collection of classical and flamenco guitars as well as ukuleles. If you are ambitious enough to get your hands on a concert size electronic-acoustic ukulele or a humble yet really competent gig-ready Mahogany acoustic uke, Cordoba has more to offer in various price ranges than any other brand I know of. However, the only issue I have with their electronics is the lack of a dedicated EQ.
Be it a mahogany uke producing a bright sound or a Hawaiian koa uke noted for its rich and mellow tone, Fender’s wide range of ukuleles are sure to make your audiences swoon over your tune.
Some of their signature tenors, soprano and concert guitars have achieved an iconic status due to their impeccable design, choicest use of tonewoods and superior hardware.
Other than these top brands, relatively newer kids on the block like Lanikai, Luna are also crafting both entry-level and high-end models that meet the golden standard of ukulele design and playability set by iconic brands like Kala and Cordoba.
The Bottom Line
So that was all I had in store for you. There’s no such thing as the best ukulele. What might be a great uke for a beginner might get a cold from ukulele purists. However, there’s one aspect common to every great piece of instrument on Earth- the sound. No matter how cool it looks or how superior its hardware is advertised to be, if it doesn’t sound divine, it is not worth its salt. So make sure to learn in-depth about the factors that play a major role in defining the sound of your ukulele before finalizing your purchase.