When buying any instrument it is always wise to spend the right amount, if you go too low there is a good chance it will not be a playable instrument.
Luckily ukuleles have always been rather affordable, in fact if you look at vintage ads and adjust the prices for inflation, things haven’t changed much. There has always been a middle range price that will usually leave you with the best ukulele to leave a smile on your face. Of course it’s still true the more you spend the better chance you have of finding a high quality ukulele.
- Top 10 ukuleles
- Soprano Ukuleles
- Concert Ukuleles
- Tenor Ukuleles
- Baritone Ukuleles
Top 10 ukuleles
|Kala KA-15S||Mahogany soprano|
GraphTech NuBone saddle
|Buy on Amazon|
|Lohanu Lu-C||Sapele/mahogany concert|
Bundle with case and tuner
|Buy on Amazon|
|Oscar Schmidt OU5||Koa concert|
Bundle with gig bag
|Buy on Amazon|
|Luna Tattoo||Mahogany concert|
|Buy on Amazon|
|Kala KA-C||Mahogany concert with white binding|
Silver nickel frets
GraphTech NuBone saddle and nut
|Buy on Amazon|
|Cordoba 15CM||Mahogany concert|
Abalone style rosette
|Buy on Amazon|
|Donner DUC-1||Mahogany concert|
Clip-on tuner, gig bag, and strap
|Buy on Amazon|
|Kala MK-B||Mahogany baritone|
Gig bag, tuner, strap, online lessons, Austin Bazaar DVD
|Buy on Amazon|
|Luna Vintage||Spruce soprano|
Gig bag, tuner, and Austin Bazaar DVD
|Buy on Amazon|
|Lanikai LU-21T||Nato tenor|
Gig bag, clip-on tuner, Austin Bazaar DVD
|Buy on Amazon|
All of the examples above are in the top 10 ukulele brands. Now we will dive into some reasons as to why these are all the best ukuleles to buy. Keep in mind some of the differences at this price can be very basic and, in the end, it is little preferences that may help you decide on a final choice.
Kala KA-15S Mahogany Soprano
Kala has a pretty great reputation for the best ukuleles to buy. This is the usual mahogany body, but a little different with a walnut fingerboard (perhaps because of rosewood restrictions). It has a nice design around the sound hole, usually lower priced models don’t have any graphics or images besides their brand name. If you are looking for a great starter soprano, the KA-15S is a good ukulele. It won’t have the greatest projection and ring to it, but it will give you one of the best ukuleles to buy in that price range. Buying a Kala is rarely a bad decision.
“As an elementary educator I bought 25 of these for my classroom. The Kala is very durable and the Aquila strings sound beautiful. The most impotent part is it stays in tune which is necessary when playing in a classroom setting! Whether buying for yourself or for students I highly recommend it.Boris M.
“I bought this for my dad as a holiday gift as he needed a new hobby. While it’s not the greatest quality it is perfect for beginners. The case is sturdy and ok quality, all it needed was a tuner. A great uke for first time players.”Justine W.
Luna Vintage Mahogany Soprano
This very simple and affordable soprano is made with a laminated spruce top and mahogany body. It comes with a gig bag, tuner, polishing cloth, and Austin Bazaar instructional DVD. This fretboard is still rosewood unlike the common walnut that has been seen lately. For the price it isn’t just plain wood, but a unique Luna design around the sound hole. It is near the bottom range of ukulele prices, so you will want to be sure that you check and make sure it has no major flaws. If you want a little extra on design for a lower price ukulele than Luna is one of the best ukulele brands to stick with.
“I already have a tenor, a couple concerts, and a soprano. Being no stranger to the ukulele I really like this, it sounds wonderful and looks nice (the artwork being one of the factors that made me buy it). This Luna is in my top three favorites!”Cristian L.
“I purchased this for my ten year old daughter, and she loved it, it was her favorite gift! Everything needed is all ready to go in the bundle. Not only did she love it, I ended up buying me a tenor ukulele for myself!”Finley A.
This concert ukulele is made of laminated sapele and mahogany. It comes in a bundle with a soft case, a strap, strap buttons, picks, a string for wall hanging, digital tuner, and video lessons. Now that is a lot of accessories! It is a very nice looking ukulele; it has the look of a higher end model. Of course if you don’t need all of the accessories than that can be a downside. Otherwise this is a good price range to be shopping in. The Lohanu is a good quality ukulele and a worthy purchase.
“I love this ukulele, so pretty and well made. The sound is great, I can just sit and strum single strings in the chords all day, I never get tired of it. All the accessories really helped me get started too.”Maia Barnett
“This uke has a loud and bright sound, nearly as good as a Kala I also own. However it was not setup out of the box, it took a couple tunings before it stayed. I am told this is normal, but I didn’t realize at first. The action is ok, no fret sharp edges, overall a good quality uke.”Coach
Oscar Schmidt OU5
The OU5 is a concert made of koa wood. This top quality ukulele includes a bundle with a gig bag, tuner, DVD instruction, online lessons, and even a polishing cloth. It may be a little out of the beginner’s price range, but it is one of the best ukuleles for such price. Again if you don’t need the accessories than the extra money may not be worth it. A note from the author, I bought an OU5 back in 2007 when music stores carried only a few ukes and the craze hadn’t hit. To this day my OU5 has been used at shows and in sold music, I truly got my money’s worth! Oscar Schmidt is not only a good brand of ukulele, but of many other instruments as well.
“I decided to learn ukulele at 55, after giving up on many other instruments. I love this beautiful concert and it has no flaws. This Oscar Schmidt is finally the instrument that got me playing real tunes!”Andreas Beltran
“The best beginner ukulele on the market, a fantastic clean sound with great intonation and no buzzing. The gig bag is well made, and the tuner works perfect, couldn’t be happier.”Rylie G.
Luna Tattoo Concert
This concert ukulele is a laminated mahogany with satin finish and walnut fretboard. It has ornamentation on it unlike other ones of this price range. The only extras are a gig bag. Along with the fancy design it has stylized sharks’ teeth as fret markers. It is one of the top ukulele brands out there and generally gets great reviews. The one downside is some of your money is going more to cosmetic features. Which for some may not be a downside, as it is an appealing and aesthetic design. Luna is known for having Hawaiian type monochromatic tribal artwork. For those who want something nice looking but not the higher price of other ukulele models, look to Luna.
“This thing is so much fun, and it sounds so heavenly. I have to say I love it. I decided to get the concert over the soprano and who would have known my first ukulele would get me so addicted! Now I want a soprano. And a tenor!”Hermione
“My 15 year old daughter bought this to upgrade her current ukulele. I didn’t expect it to be much of an upgrade but, She couldn’t be happier! Best purchase I made all year.”Alex L.
This is another top ukulele for the Kala brand, a concert mahogany with a satin finish and white binding. It frankly looks more expensive than it really is. The Kala concert also has the well-known GraphTech NuBone nut and saddle and the beloved Aquila strings (the GraphTech is a composite and the NuBone is meant to simulate animal bones like they used to use). This Kala comes with no extras, all you are getting is the instrument. It is a very pretty ukulele and getting into the right price range for which ukulele to buy. The only real downsides to it are if you want a different size or perhaps another style.
“I have had this Kala for about a year now and after playing other a couple other ukes and sizes I can say that this concert is the best. Little did I know I got lucky. If I were buying a ukulele as a gift for another, I would purchase this concert again.”Buzz
“Lovely little instrument. The build is solid and neat, I was worried about a laminate uke, but I was worried for nothing! This Kala will put a smile on your face. It’s fabulous!”anonymous
Cordoba’s are one of the top ukulele brands, and this concert with mahogany top, back, and sides is a great uke. The finish is satin with an abalone rosette with ivoried design around the sound hole. It doesn’t have any special accessories, whistles or bells, but it has a very nice sound and it looks like a more expensive ukulele with the abalone. Every penny is going towards the build and tone. It is right in the perfect price range and the only downsides are if you want a different size or are not happy with the design.
“I wanted to buy the Cordoba as it was on every Top 10 Ukulele Brands list. The strings took a while to stay in tune but after a week it was stretched and keeping in tune. A family member happens to have a cheap soprano, so I wasn’t expecting much, boy was I wrong. You get what you pay for. If you increase our budget by just a little you will have a great uke.”Johnathan Davis
“I have always wanted to play a musical instrument, and I am so glad I picked this starter ukulele. Even when playing in minor keys it puts a smile on my face!”Gretchen
This brand may not be as well-known as other brands, but clearly from the reviews many folks are buying it and happy. Donner is very similar to other good brands of ukuleles out there. It is a laminated mahogany concert uke and comes with a gig bag, clip on tuner, strap buttons and a strap. It comes with Aquila strings which can make a bad ukulele sound good. The fretboard is Indian rosewood and it has a very simple rosette design around the sound hole. The price is a little low and remember at the lower costs you will be dealing with more potential cosmetic or sound issues. Clearly though many users of the Donner are satisfied.
“As a complete beginner this uke is the perfect size for me, I tried the soprano and it was too small. I wasn’t expecting much for the price, but the sound is great. It is a little frustrating at first to keep it in tune, but just keep at it and eventually the tuning stays.”anonymous
“Amazing, my granddaughter wanted a ukulele and I was afraid to spend too much on something she may not end up liking. Well not only does she loves her Donner concert; I bought her another tenor and she is ecstatic!”Andrew H.
Lanikai LU-21 Soprano
Lanikai has been around for a while and is one of the top ukulele brands that are affordable. This particular tenor has a rosewood fingerboard and the body and sides are nato wood, sometimes referred to as “eastern mahogany.” It is a very simple ukulele with no fancy designs or frills. It is right about at the best entry price for a good quality ukulele in the tenor size. It also comes with a gig bag, clip on tuner, and an Austin Bazaar instructional DVD. If you are looking for ukulele recommendations for great entry level tenors, you will do ok buying the LU-21T.
“For the money this uke can be beat. Yeah, the strings took a little longer than normal to settle in but be patient and it will get there. Tenors are usually much more expensive so if you want a good ukulele under $100 this is the brand to stick to.”Lena N.
“As a guitar player I wanted to get my son into playing an instrument, since the guitar is so big, we decided on a ukulele. When looking I felt the soprano and concert was now too small (like Goldilocks!) so I went with the tenor. Now I need to get a Lanikai as I can’t keep borrowing my sons!”Jared Prince
This mahogany body baritone has a walnut fingerboard, and once again Kala is well-known as one of the best ukulele brands out there. A baritone at this price range is quite a deal, years ago they used to be hard to find for under $200. Now many builders carry various baritone ukulele models. That’s one reason why this is a very basic looking uke with no frills, to keep the cost down. It does come with a tuner, gig bag, Austin Bazaar instructional DVD, even a strap and strap buttons to hold it. Usually straps aren’t necessary for ukuleles, but maybe it will help with a baritone. It has great reviews and if you are really itching to get a baritone then try the Kala MK-B out!
“As a Hawaiian I have been playing ukulele forever. I admittedly bought this uke as a gift for a beginner. I didn’t except much, even felt a little guilty for paying so little. Well I was wrong, once the strings are set and staying tuned it sounds incredible. I was very surprised.”Gordon H.
“This baritone sounds lovely for the price; I have a soprano and was so desperate for a bari that I pulled the buy trigger too soon. Luckily my frugal behavior was rewarded. While the sound is great, the build is not meant to stand up to a lot of rough treatment so take it easy when playing.”anonymous
Finding the Right Ukulele Size.Often when thinking of the question “What ukulele should I buy?” one of the first aspects is which size to buy. They all have their merits and if it is your first ukulele then stick to soprano, concert, and tenor. The baritone ukulele is a great instrument but usually it is purchased on the second or third ukulele buy (they are addictive!). If you like old school ukulele and want to stay true to the original concept, then a soprano is the choice to make. If you really want to be vintage and proper on a soprano you will tune it to ADF#B instead of the GCEA and get that 1930’s uke vibe.
The baritone is different, it is (sometimes) the same size and tuning as a tenor guitar. The normal tuning is DGBE, but they do now make special strings so you can also tune it as GCEA. (If you attempt to tune DGBE strings to GCEA you will damage your ukulele). Some don’t mind the higher tuning while others feel it lacks the baritone feel. If you are a full blown ukulele addict than a baritone will eventually come along. Or if you are a songwriter you may want to pick one up now. It has the slight vibe of the ukulele but with a hint of guitar added, this is a wonderful thing for those who write their own music. The best ukulele brands will usually make all the major sizes, so it’s all a matter of what you finally decide.
There are a few other styles of ukulele that may be of interest, if you are wanting to break free of the mold. They have a size even smaller than the soprano, known as the sopranissimo and sopranini. It is very tiny and likely going to be pricier than the soprano because it is not commonly made. They also have bass ukes, which are arguably maybe not ukes at all, but they have a little niche. These bass ukes use really fat rubber band like strings and pretty much have to be plugged into an amp to hear them. A situation where a bass ukulele may come in handy is in a ukulele orchestra perhaps, they would be an excellent addition for the crowd to see. And then of course we have resonator ukes. Resonator ukes can come in concert or tenor size and they have metal cones around the sound hole. Just like resonator guitars these metal cones increase the resonance, giving the sound more projection and a bit of a twang. If you are a beginner and want to stick out with not just the best ukulele, but a unique one, then try out a resonator (read our “Best Ukuleles for Beginners” article). Otherwise I would stick to the regular soprano, concert, or tenor.
How Much Specifically Does a Good Ukulele Cost?Spending a minimum of $100 will usually get you a playable and good ukulele. Of course there are many variants that may affect that price range. For example many popular ukulele brands offer kits and bundles, sometimes these are great deals, other times they are just padding to sell a cheap uke at a higher price. If you truly feel you need accessories like gig bags, straps, tuners, then you will have to include that in the cost. Otherwise stick to just the ukulele and free online resources and tuners. There are many quality ukuleles that look and sound wonderful to choose from in the $100 range (read our “Best Ukulele under $100” article).
If your definition of “good” is more like top quality ukulele, well then you will have to break $100 and move up in budget (read our “Best Ukulele Under $200” article). At those prices you can stick to features like solid wood and quality tone woods. Solid wood is always going to have the better sound (well at least until technology gives us something better!).
This is one of the main areas where people can potentially set themselves up for failure. Usually the cheapest ukes end up being gifts. Parents or other family members want to give the gift of music, but often they go to cheap. They assume the student will either like it or not and if they do end up liking it, well they can get a better one. However, if they can’t play it in the first place because of poor craftsmanship well then you can’t move to something better! If you receive a ukulele as a gift and it is low quality, there isn’t much to do about that. The best you can do is educate yourself and others on appropriate instruments to buy. If you are buying the uke yourself than be forewarned that too low of cost does not always equal a good ukulele! It’s a matter of luck then.
What are the Best Ukulele Brands?When it comes to finding the best ukulele brands, that is an always changing answer. There are some very established companies like Kala, Lanikai, Cordoba, Luna, and Oscar Schmidt have been making autoharps and guitars for many years. If you buy a good ukulele and then take a couple years before finding another, you will find all new companies in the mix. No doubt some of these startups are making garbage, but most will be providing the same quality. The real difference between many lower end ukulele models is very little, they all have the potential to be great or bad. Plus there are some companies out there that aren’t very popular, yet they make astounding ukuleles! You don’t hear about them as they are small and do custom orders. Whether the company is established or new, reviews and research are the best ways to tell who has the best ukulele brands.
Do Strings Matter?Absolutely! Often lower end models come with bad strings. For example some bundles above come with Aquila strings, but they aren’t put on in the first place. The quality ukulele brands will come with great strings like Aquila already on them. Aquila is by far the most popular brand and the common one you see in bundles. They can make a low cost ukulele sing!
However, don’t think Aquila’s are always the best. Depending on the tone woods and build sometimes Martin fluorocarbons are better. The best thing to do is don’t skimp on strings, buy the best quality and try out different strings. If you are a beginner wait to restring it until you are comfortable playing a few songs, but when you do try the best string you can. If you really want to get crazy you can try old fashioned gut strings, back when strings weren’t nylon polymers but made from real animal intestines. Some musicians swear by real gut strings. Just make sure to learn some ukulele and get playing songs before you head down the path of true gut. (For you animal lovers, no worries, the polymers are good enough and what we almost all use!).
Don’t forget to buy the right size strings for the right size ukulele. If you try and tune DGBE strings to GCEA your ukulele can likely break!
The Differences Between Spending $50 or $500This seems like a real silly question, of course for $500 you will get a better instrument (thanks, Cap 😉), but what will the real difference be? Well for starters for the low end you will get laminated wood, the high end of prices will get you solid wood. Solid wood of course sounds phenomenally better and projects more acoustically. Cheaper ukuleles will sometimes have no finish, the wood will be rough, while top ukuleles have beautiful finishes. One of the biggest differences in the bottom and top is the quality control. A low end ukulele will come off a factory line with a cursory glance from a worker, it has every chance of getting sent to you with problems. For a beginner a ukulele that is not setup can be a real struggle to get it tuned. It helps when the uke comes nearly tuned and ready to go (shipping and extreme weather can make it a little off, but even then, it should still be close to playable when you get it). High end models have very strict checking of every aspect in the building process. Not only are they checked but the best ukuleles for the money are setup, intonated, and tuned ready to go.
Should I Buy an Electric-Acoustic Ukulele?This depends on what you want to use your ukulele for. If you know you will be playing shows and concerts than an electric-acoustic is exactly what you need. A ukulele is made electric by putting a pickup inside, these pickups can be super cheap or incredibly expensive. The cheaper electric-acoustics won’t have the best sound, they are almost a novelty electric. To get a quality electric-acoustic you will have to increase your budget as it will add on to the final price.
The good news is if you buy an acoustic, you can put a pickup in it later yourself or take it to a music store. Pretty much any acoustic instrument can have a pickup added to it. It’s up to you whether you prefer to plug your ukulele in for an audience or just play close to a mic. These days there are also full electric ukes that look like little electric guitars. They border on the definition and sound of the normal ukulele. Usually those are bought when in full-fledged ukulele addiction! If you are an absolute never before played beginner and want a good ukulele the best bet is to stick to acoustic now and worry about electric later.
Is a Guarantee and Return Shipping Important?Absolutely, it is essential to have some sort of return policy and preferably with return shipping paid. Large ukulele makers will likely have this free shipping and a generous return policy, they should also include a shipping label or send you one if there is a problem. As mentioned, many of these instruments can be the ‘best ukulele” to buy, all the popular companies make great products. However, in mass production you have a slight chance of getting a lemon of a uke, one with serious problems. That is why a return policy is so important, if anything is wrong at all a reputable company would make it right.
So there you have some simple pointers for knowing how to find good ukuleles vs top ukuleles. Your main determining factor will of course be budget, take that number and start looking. Regardless of the number you will find something that works for you. With some research and patience you will be on your way to finding the best ukulele for you!