Searching for the best ukulele to buy in 2021?
Your search is over: Welcome to the ultimate buyer´s guide.
This is going to be my contribution to those looking for the best Ukulele to buy.
Why? Because when I set out to buy the best ukulele in the market, I found myself overwhelmed by options.
Thus, I became utterly obsessed with the topic and went the extra mile to narrow it down to my now favorite ukebuddy.
What you are about to read will help you choose the best ukulele for beginners and will also (hopefully) give you a better insight into what to look for when buying this type of instrument.
Are you ready to find the four-string companion for years of musical happiness? Read on and buckle up, because this is your one-way ticket to ukulele-land.
The best of the sopranos
The quintessential ukulele is the soprano. For some, it is the best ukulele around and for most (myself included before doing research) is the only shape and size that exists.
Some people consider the soprano a kid’s ukulele but it is indeed a very comfortable, easy-to-carry, great-sounding musical instrument. Indeed, it is far better for kids to learn how to play on one of these than a guitar because of size and price.
But don´t be fooled by its dimensions, a ukulele soprano can be your only companion for an entire bonfire cover session.
Our Top 3 Choices For Soprano Ukuleles
- Kmise soprano ukulele – This is the ultimate student package. The company added extra strings, a strap, a gig bag, and a tuner into the same price. Also, the soprano ukulele is made of mahogany for added bass boost. I particularly enjoyed the little neck and the feel of the fret wire, smooth and soft. It is equipped with tuners featuring an 18:1 tune ratio, and D´addario strings. This uku is a killer choice for beginners.
- Kala soprano ukulele – Buying a Kala ukulele, regardless of its size is a quality guarantee. This little fellow is also built using mahogany and a GraphTech NuBone nut and saddle. This is great news since it is the best material for those parts of the uku. The beginners’ package is great for those who like video lessons since the 20-page included learning book is coupled with a very good app and great online lessons.
- Makala mahogany soprano ukulele – Makala is Kala´s second brand. Both share the same high-quality standards. This ukulele is for those who already play and want a great instrument to strum the night away without breaking the bank. It does not include all the goodies the previous ones do, but it is a solid, great-sounding ukulele that will give you years of joy and entertainment. If you don´t need a lesson bundle and want a solid instrument, this uku is for you.
You can check out this YouTube link to hear an example of the Soprano ukulele.
The best of the concert
The best concert ukulele sits somewhere between a soprano and a tenor. For grown-ups with small hands and kids, this is a great entry-door for the ukulele and for playing music in general.
Our Top 3 Choices For Concert Ukuleles
- Enya concert ukulele – This bundle includes (besides the ukulele): capo, LED tuner, sand shakers, gig bag, a pick, a polish cloth, a strap, a gig bag, and learning lessons. On top of all that, the ukulele is very well-built (solid mahogany), and sounds great at this price range. Finally, the die-cast tuners, and richlite fingerboard work and feel perfect.
- Kmise concert ukulele – This ukulele by Kmise is very different from the rest. It is built using a solid spruce top that works as a soundboard. This allows the ukulele to sound bright and full as an acoustic guitar would. On top of that, the rosewood fingerboard adds a little bite to the sound. This is a great uku for beginners and seasoned players alike.
- Kala KA-15 concert ukulele – This Kala ukulele would work wonders on its own, but the company decided to go the extra mile and add a complete bundle of accessories. Let me start by telling you that the matte-finish mahogany makes this little companion a great-sounding machine. Whether you´re starting out or a seasoned player, you will find a home very easily with one of these on your hands.
You can check out this YouTube link to hear an example of the Concert ukulele.
The best of the tenors
Moving up to the bigger sizes, we have the rundown for the best tenor ukulele. For musicians with slightly bigger hands and those who want to take their first steps in music as grown-ups, this is the category for you.
Our Top 3 Choices For Tenor Ukuleles
- Vangoa tenor ukulele – This great bundle features everything you need to start playing from day one. By this, I mean strap, picks, tuner, capo, a gig bag, and extra strings. Besides the bundle, this acoustic-electric tenor ukulele is made of mahogany and using Vangoa´s own arched back design for added lows. If you are planning on your first shows, this ukulele is a must-try.
- Kala KA-15T tenor ukulele – This ukulele offers a great tone in a convenient bundle from a brand that guarantees good quality, performance, and superior craftsmanship. The matte-finished mahogany construction feels and sounds great. The fretboard is a joy to play and the goodies in the package will get you playing in a heartbeat. This ukulele is a serious option, giving it a try before deciding is a must.
- Cordoba 15TM tenor ukulele – This is a no-frills approach to a great instrument. Cordoba created this little strummer entirely out of mahogany. This allows the lows of the slightly bigger body shape to shine through and give body to every performance. If you already play and want a good tenor ukulele that won´t break the bank, this Cordoba ukulele is for you.
You can check out this YouTube link to hear an example of the Tenor ukulele.
The best of the baritones
A baritone ukulele is the biggest available size for this instrument. This category is for those who have bigger hands, already play guitar, or want to enjoy the added low frequencies of the extra-big body. On the other hand, they are not the most comfortable to carry around since they are similar to a small guitar in size.
Our Top 3 Choices For Baritone Ukuleles
- Lanikai baritone ukulele – Another brand that´s a synonym for good ukulele quality and serious craftsmanship in Lanikai. This mahogany-made unit adds to that reputation delivering full and rich tones that can entertain a small crowd in a small room with no extra amplification. This is a good ukulele for strumming and having fun with friends.
- Kmise Baritone ukulele – We´ve chosen Kmise ukuleles for each size because they are a company that manufactures and retails some great-crafted instruments. This is a particularly interesting unit because it comes equipped with an adjustable truss rod (like a guitar). This means you can fine-tune the intonation of the instrument ensuring on-pitch sounding year-round. The bundle comes with a strap, picks, a gig bag, and the wrench to adjusting the truss rod. This is a great option for beginners with large hands.
- Kala KA-BE baritone ukulele – This acoustic-electric incarnation of the legendary Kala instrument is a great option for those in the need of an instrument to play a show. Every working musician knows that if you are playing live, you have to plugin. This particular ukulele sounds just as profound, bassy, shimmery, and beautiful in both scenarios. You can strum the night away unplugged or plugged in and have just the same amount of fun.
Yes, I know, we started the article from the end giving you the selected choices. Now, it´s time to reverse engineer the process and start talking about the characteristics that made me choose those ukuleles for the article.
Are you ready for the ultimate ukulele buying guide? Here we go!
Let´s talk sizes
First of all, we need to talk about ukulele sizes:
- Soprano – The smallest ukulele size in the market and also the quintessential one (the first ones from the 1800s were sopranos). These are great little strummers to take around and have some fun with friends. They sound mostly treble-oriented; they work wonders for voices with a natural high pitch.
- Concert – This is the smallest of the mid-sized ukuleles. Still, the size is transportable and the sound is treble-oriented, but for those who come from playing guitar, there´s a little more space for the hand. A concert ukulele can be a great second ukulele.
- Tenor – Increasingly popular, this is the turning point when it comes to ukulele selection. In this size, they start sounding more like a guitar and drift a little away from that classic, thin, ukulele sound. The bigger body results in bigger low frequencies and the longer, more comfortable scale makes it more playable. Tenors are great for ukulele players wanting more of a hybrid with a guitar.
- Baritone – The baritone ukulele is the closest you´ll get to the tone of an acoustic guitar-playing ukulele. These instruments are even tuned differently from all the rest of the ukuleles and can be a great companion for a soprano or a concert. If you want a hybrid, full sound, these are great choices; on the other hand, if you want a more classic ukulele tone, you should go for a smaller size.
To learn more about the sizes of ukuleles and how each of the types of ukuleles differs in sound, we have written an article called Top 4 Types of Ukuleles, to give you more insights.
How do sizes affect the sound?
The bigger the body, the bigger the sound. This, as a rule of thumb, can help you navigate through the deep waters of understanding musical instruments and their sound.
That being said, the smaller the body, the more resonant ukuleles get. So, tenor and baritone ukuleles produce loud, rich, bass-driven ukulele sounds while sopranos and concerts produce resonant sounds more on the treble side.
It´s all about size
Beyond the sound of each ukulele, it is important to think about your hands. By this, I mean that the space in the fretboard, especially in sopranos and concerts is very small.
Hence, if you have large hands, and a small ukulele feels cramped and impossible, just give it a try with a tenor. In other words, your size also matters.
Let´s talk woods
Ukuleles are made from wood and each wood type features different tonal characteristics. This means that it isn´t the same to buy a koa, mahogany, or spruce ukulele, they will all sound different.
The wood you will find the most is mahogany, which is a very common choice for musical instruments in general. The timbre is dark and rich and works great with smaller sizes of ukuleles.
On the other hand, when buying bigger sizes of ukuleles like a tenor or a baritone, you could find and enjoy a similar approach to acoustic guitars: mahogany back and sides and a spruce top. The spruce top allows the higher notes to pop out allowing more brightness to the overall sound of the instrument.
Finally, there are some other common wood types in the market like koa and acacia (similar to mahogany), maple and cedar (closer to spruce), and rosewood (a very expensive, tonally rich wood type).
Laminated or solid?
As a rule of thumb, you should always choose a solid wood acoustic instrument if you have the choice. This is because laminated wood does not vibrate harmonically resulting in less harmonic overtones and a reduced volume and richness in the overall tone of the instrument.
Also, what you are thinking is right; the price difference is usually big between these choices. It is much more expensive to create an instrument from a single plank of solid wood than from small pieces. Thus, solid instruments tend to be pricier.
Let´s talk tuners
Regardless of the instrument, and especially when starting, you need to play in tune. In the first place, because it is what we call “ear training”; which means that the more your ear hears in-tune playing, the more it´ll recognize “out of tune” playing.
Besides that, everything you play (regardless of your skills) will sound terrible out of tune to anyone listening. Moreover, if you don´t tune properly and play in tune to do ear training you might not even know in the future that you´re out of tune.
Because of this, the tuners in your ukulele need to be of a ratio of 15:1, to say the least. Furthermore, buying a tuner (in a bundle or not) is a must.
Let´s talk add-ons and goodies
It is time to talk about ukulele accessories. What should you buy besides the instrument itself to have the best experience with it? Let´s take a look:
- Tuner – For everything we said earlier, having a tuner for your ukulele is a must.
- Gigbag – Regardless if you´re playing out or not, having a gig bag to store your instrument securely outside or inside your home will extend its usable life.
- Learning material – This is something that comes with some of the bundles we reviewed at the beginning and it can be a great inspiration to play since day one.
Other than these absolutely essential accessories, most bundles also offer extra strings, a cloth, a strap, and many others.
Celebrities who play the ukulele
We said at the beginning that ukuleles are getting increasingly famous, but just how famous are they? Let´s take a look at some of the biggest artists and celebrities playing ukuleles.
- Eddie Vedder
- Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson
- Taylor Swift
- Pete Townshend
- The Beatles
- Barack Obama
- Billie Elish
- Tom Petty
To get that ukulele vibe going, here´s Eddie Vedder playing a Pearl Jam cover on his ukulele. You will surely enjoy the epic scenery in the video as well as his playing and singing skills here.
In conclusion, what´s the best ukulele for you?
By now, I hope you are, at least, informed about what to look for on your next ukulele purchase. It took me a long time to put together this info and make my choice so I hope it served its purpose for the second time and you´ll be strumming on your new four-string friend in no time.
For those starting out, I would recommend buying a soprano to get that quintessential ukulele tone and getting used to that fretboard and tuning. A concert ukulele makes a great second step in the ukulele world.
Once you graduated from the small ukuleles, you can add a tenor and a baritone to your collection and start enjoying the nuances and the dynamics of a bigger-body instrument. Also, if you have large hands, a tenor makes a great start too.
Choose wisely, practice a lot, and make your way to number one with a ukulele on your hands.
George Harrison teaches Tom Petty to play the ukulele in one day!
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Or… If you simply want to sharpen your skills on the Ukulele, here are our top ukulele learning books. Pick up a copy of either of these books and you’ll be entertaining your friends in no time!