Many people ask me to recommend a best ukulele to start out with. Due to a lack of reliable information on the Internet, it can be difficult to choose between the various models available. Another problem stemming from this lack of information is that prices vary greatly from store to store. Here, I will list some of the best ukuleles for beginners commonly found on the internet. I’ve only listed sopranos, but the information is still relevant for other sizes, provided they’re the same brand.
This doesn’t pretend to be a definitive list (it can and probably will be expanded on) and only includes instruments that I know and have myself had or tried out.
Ukulele Shopping Guide For Beginners
Unlike the guitar, which produces the same sound whether it is a “junior” guitar or a full-sized one, as the ukulele’s size varies, the sonority also changes significantly. According to size, ukuleles can be divided into four categories:
The soprano is the smallest one. This is the classical ukulele size (around 21” or 53cm), and it produces the well-known acute sound. The concert design is the most used ukulele, and there are many different models of this size (24” or 60cm). The tenor size produces more gave sounds and has more space for fingers (26” or 66cm). The baritone size (30” or 76cm) is the biggest one, and it produces the gravest sounds. It also has the largest margin of error for the player.
Size is of particular importance because of its effect on the sound the instrument produces. That being said, you should also consider that any size that fits your hand size will work while you are still learning how to play.
Just like a guitar, high-quality wood is used to make the traditional ukulele. However, we can find some ukuleles made of more simple wood or even plastic materials. Your personal experience and your individual preferences will determine which one in better for you. If this is your first instrument, you should probably buy a more economical model instead of the purchase of a top notch ukulele that you won’t be able to get the most of. Because the ukulele is not a particularly expensive instrument, you can always choose a nobler model when learning how to play, and get a better instrument as you become a better musician. Anyhow, you should look for a ukulele with a fine tuning fork and good strings. If these parts are not good quality, the produced sound will reflect it. Besides, these models are harder to tune and to keep in good conditions.
The manufacturing process is essential when creating a high-quality string instrument. Every piece must be built in a very clean manner. This kind of instrument must not have unnecessary elements or reinforcements. A high-quality ukulele has an entirely straight alignment of the soundboard and the neck, every fret is perfectly located, tuning pegs turn very smoothly and keep the strings tension at all times. Of course, the humbler models won’t be totally perfect in every one of these aspects. Buying the more expensive models give you the right to demand perfection in every aspect of its manufacturing.
Best Ukulele For Beginners 2017 – Analysis and Award Winners
Best Ukulele #1: Kala KA-15S Mahogany – Best Ukulele For Beginners
Other sizes from this range: KA-P (pineapple soprano), KA-C (concert), KA-T (tenor), KA-B (baritone).
Best Ukulele #2: Lanikai LU-21 – Good Cheap Ukulele
A good choice for anyone looking for a cheap soprano. It’s not as good as the Kala KA-S in terms of quality control – I’ve seen some great ones and some terrible ones, but this is essentially the same instrument. Even the finish of both is very similar – they’re probably made in the same factory. The Lanikai model is cheaper, being from a Hohner subsidiary company, but I don’t think it’s worth it. Note: I do not recommend the Lanikai HU-212 or the KU-212 (which is actually a Kohala, an inferior range). They are identical to the Kalani, which I don’t recommend either.
WARNING: Some Lanikai ukuleles on the market are of a different quality to those found in the United States. Those I’ve seen have aesthetic defects, buzzes and inferior sound quality.
Other sizes in this range: LU-21P (pineapple soprano), LU-21C (concert), LU-21T (tenor), LU-21B (baritone).
Best Ukulele #3: Cordoba 15CM – Best Sound Quality Ukulele
Best Ukulele #4: Luna Mahogany Series Tattoo – Best Overall Ukulele
Best Ukulele #5: Ohana SK-10S
Another good choice, possibly even better than the Lanikai LU-21S. The Ohana is made by a smaller company, like the Kala, focussing only on ukuleles. As far as I know, it has good quality control and is cheap. I have seen some sellers on ML using its picture to sell the GBS Pro ukulele, and when I asked I was told it was the same uke, under a different brand.I thought this was strange, and as a result I’d avoid it.
Other sizes from this range: PK-10s (pineapple soprano), CK-10s (concert), TK-10s (tenor), BK-10s (baritone).
Best Ukulele #6: Makala MK-S
A surprisingly good instrument. Makala is a second line by Kala, and has some colourful, bargain instruments. Made with a simple finish, the tuners are pretty ugly, but it has a very similar sound to the Kala KA-S. It can be rather difficult to find, due to being in the same price range as inferior instruments such as the Kalani, but if you’re looking to save some money its a good choice.EDIT: I tried some in a shop and they weren’t very good, but with a new setup and strings, it might just have something.
Other sizes from this range: MK-P (pineapple soprano), MK-C (concert), MK-T (tenor), MK-B (baritone).
When buying, it’s worth looking at the tips on how to make your ukulele sound better.
In-depth Analysis and Reviews
Cordoba 15CM Concert Ukulele[/su_heading]
Among another entry-level ukulele, I truly love the sound quality that the Cordoba 15CM produces. Considered as the #1 best-selling ukulele of Cordoba, the 15CM will sing out to you every string you strum and pluck without any muffled sounds.
The 15CM will instantly catch your eye because it’s made with all mahogany top and body, rosewood for the fingerboard and bridge and satin finish. Plus, with the abalone rosette and the ivory binding, it adds an old world, classy appearance to the ukulele making it more appealing to the eye and creating its rich, full sound.
What makes the Cordoba 15CM different from other ukuleles is that it has the sound quality that can easily match or outdo more expensive ukuleles. With its concert body shape and Aquila Nylgut strings, you’ll find yourself surprised at how loud and definite this baby can sing. It has a lot of depth and is very consistent with its quality that will surely make you love it once you play it.
The 15CM is relatively light for its size. It measures 35mm in the nut width, 375mm for the scale length and 70mm for its body depth. With its price, you really can’t expect to have great features and extra stuff come with it. It’s already equipped with premium Aquila Nylgut strings which add to the tone and resonance of this uke.
The tuners are made from open geared, Chrome with pearl buttons which can be standard at most, but you can’t really complain at this price range. What I like the most is the finish because it’s smooth enough to help you go up and down the neck with ease. Plus, it doesn’t slip out of your arms which are really a great thing.
The only thing I noticed with almost all Cordoba ukuleles, and this one included, is that the fingerboards and frets are a little bit dry, but it can be easily solved with a little fingerboard conditioner and some patience wiping it off.
#2: Kala KA-15S Mahogany Soprano Ukulele
The cheapest ukulele in this list is the Kala KA-15S which has a price tag of under $60 but has a high quality that can be considered as the best ukulele in its price range. The best thing about this uke is that the attention to detail of Kala has been brought out.
You’ll notice that the fingerboard has been finished and polished that you can easily mistake it for an $800 uke. The nuts are apparently made from plastic but have been cut with attention and precision that gives this uke its excellent intonation and projection. Plus, you won’t see and feel any excess wood on the frets which can give a lot of difference when going through the neck and chords.
Just like other entry-level ukuleles, though, the KA-15S is made with affordable materials. It uses mahogany for its top, back and sides, rosewood for the fingerboard and bridge, and also is finished off with satin. All of these wood materials, the finish, and the concert body shape add up to the mellow tone of the KA-15S and its surprisingly loud projection.
The playability of this uke is great which is easily comparable to guitars with a more expensive price range. It measures 35mm in the nut width, 348mm for the scale length and 60mm in body depth. It’s not just the overall measurement that helps this guitar playable, but it’s also the simplest features it’s equipped with. It has pre-strung premium Aquila Nylgut which enhances the uke and die-cast chrome that helps it stay in tune.
But what’s best about the KA-15S is its outstanding sound quality that sings out all the notes with perfect balance and harmony. I truly didn’t expect this from such a cheap uke, but Kala Company is known to produce such beautiful works. The only thing that bugs me with the KA-15S is the tuners that can be slippery during my tuning, but it’s just a small problem for its affordable price.
#3: Luna Mahogany Series Tattoo Tenor Ukulele
For the ukulele that’s best of our overall quality, the Luna Tattoo will be just right under your budget of $100 and will definitely give you a run for your money with its exquisite looks and outstanding sound quality.
The Luna Company is known to produce ukuleles that usually focus more on their female market which is why most of their products have laser etching and inlays, mainly white tattoos. Because of their intrinsic design, a lot of people are attracted to their ukes, even men, who would like to have that Hawaiian or Reggae feel.
The Tattoo, in particular, is made from all mahogany body and rosewood for the fingerboard and bridge. It’s designed with black tattoos, black waves, and geometric patterns to give it a more earthy feel to the one using it. They used a natural satin finish which is the perfect choice in my opinion because it doesn’t steal the show for the uke, but only enhance the tone of the mahogany.
They equipped it with Pearloid open gear for tuners and Aquila Nylgut strings which give this uke a mellow sound that has rich intonation which is somewhat close to a sound of a classical guitar. With the measurement of 432mm on the scale length and 35mm on nut width, that Tattoo has surprisingly loud sound and responds great when plucked and strummed.
The uke itself is comfortable to play because it has the right balance and very light in weight. Although I’ve mentioned that this is the best overall quality uke, you can expect it to have some disadvantages.
First of all, you may notice some sanding marks right on the frets and glue on the fingerboard. Plus, some of the edges may come sharp at times so you may need to file it out yourself. Just like the other two ukes, the tuners may be slippery at times so you would need lots of patience when tuning it, but no doubt it can be the best ukulele for you.
Things To Consider When Choosing The Best Ukulele For Beginners
It’s understandable to feel confused when you’re shopping for your first ever ukulele. You would want your uke to be within your budget, has the looks that you can bring anywhere you go, and sound that you can be proud of.
With all the options in the market today, finding the best beginner ukulele that’s suitable to your playing style is a tedious task. So how do you choose a ukulele best suited to your needs and playing? Here are some of the things that you look for in a uke:
- Size: You’ll find four different sizes in a uke. Soprano being the smallest is best for people with small hands, concert and tenor are mid-sized ukuleles that are not too small or big (I recommend the concert the most) and the baritone which is the largest of the fours and best suited for people with big hands. Read more Ukulele Models – The Complete Beginner’s Guide.
- Budget: After considering the size you’re most comfortable with, the next factor that you should consider is your budget. Set a price range for which you’re willing to spend. It’s important to take note that if you’re a beginner or would just like to have fun, there are ukuleles that are within $20-$100 price range.
- Tuning Pegs: Once you’ve set an amount, the next thing that you should look for is the tuning pegs. Different manufacturers use different tuning machines on their ukes, as well as different prices. You should look for a tuning machine that can sustain the strings and will not give you much trouble when you’re trying to tune in the uke.
Criteria for Evaluating the Best Ukuleles
When choosing the three listed ukuleles above, I used a set of criteria to evaluate their strengths that give them an edge compared to other ukes. Here’s a quick list of the criteria I’ve used:
- Size: Just like what I’ve mentioned earlier, it’s important to consider the size of your uke. The three listed ukuleles above are in the middle-size which can be just right for everyone.
- Price: For entry-level players, the three ukuleles are just within the right price range. Plus, they offer better sound quality and construction compared to cheaper ukes which are under $50 and can be comparable to products higher $100.
- Sound quality: When you’re buying a ukulele or any musical instruments for that matter, you should make sure that you try to play it at least once to make sure that you like how it sounds (mellow or bright). You should first play the three listed ukuleles above because they surely have outstanding sound quality. After playing the three, you can try out other ukuleles with higher prices, and you will surely notice how great my choices are.
- Tuning Pegs: I know I’ve mentioned that the tuning pegs of the three ukuleles are a little bit troublesome, but I assure you that you won’t get anything better with their prices. The sound and built quality overthrow this disadvantage a thousand times.
Choosing the best ukulele for beginners may not be as tiring if you already know what you’re looking for. The three ukuleles above will surely give every cent of your money back and more. What I recommend the most is the Kala KA-15S Mahogany Soprano Ukulele, not only is it the cheapest among the three but because it has excellent sound quality.