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It’s not hard to see why so many musicians fall in love with the humble ukulele. While significantly smaller and softer than its big brother the guitar, the ‘uke’ has an undeniable charm. The ukulele’s sound is rich and warm with a wistfulness that evokes long, languid summers and simple romance.But the question is What are the best ukulele brands?
In recent years, the stringed instrument has featured on many different albums with artists such as Ingrid Michaelson and Eddie Vedder championing its use. Not only does it sound fantastic, but it’s also easy to play. It’s certainly easier to master than the guitar or mandolin because it only has four strings. Yet, knowledge of chord shapes and scales can still be transferred to most other stringed instruments.
Add to this the fact ukes are small enough to be portable, less pricey than guitars and unbeatable showstoppers at parties. Have we convinced you to give it a try yet? Maybe our guide to the best brands will help make up your mind. If you’re buying a new ukulele, this article offers advice on the best makers.
What Are the Best Ukulele Brands?
Kala is probably one of the recognizable ukulele brands on the planet. The maker has an exceptional reputation and is considered to be among the best. Kala sells a diverse array of ukulele models with instruments designed for learners and experienced musicians.
From its California headquarters, Kala designs and builds ukuleles with magical voices and long lives. The company prides itself on its build integrity and conducts some of the most rigorous quality control processes of any instrument maker.
For this reason, its products can sometimes be a little pricier than rivals. Yet, it doesn’t stop Kala from being our all-time favorite brand. If you pay more for quality, you’re guaranteed to get it from a Kala. For a mid-priced ukulele, try the Kala KA-15S Soprano.
- Balanced, even tone across the whole range
- Affordable prices for impeccable quality
- Use of woods which produce wonderful tones
- Probably needs an extensive (maybe pro) set up
Official Kala Ukulele Soprano Starter Kit
Kala KA-15S Mahogany Soprano Ukulele
Lanikai is a slightly more traditional manufacturer for musicians who prefer to keep things authentic. The brand makes ukuleles in a ‘traditional’ style with soft, light tones that sound closer to what you might think of as popular uke music.
These magnificent instruments sound joyful and they’re a delight to play and experience. If you want to know what are the best ukulele brands, Lanikai is surely one of them. The company’s motto is ‘makes me happy’ which should tell you about its values.
Lanikai ukuleles are some of the most affordable. You’ll find them among the cheapest available. This is no comment on their quality because they are built reliably, demonstrate marvelous craftsmanship and provide a great start for new players. We’re especially fond of the Lanikai LU-21 Soprano.
- Generally fantastic build quality
- Sometimes uses atypical/interesting materials
- Always comes with a superb set of strings
- Very rare craftsmanship errors (not common, but sometimes)
Lanikai Ukulele (QMBLCET)
Lanikai Ukulele (QMBLCEC)
If you’ve been playing for a while already, your first ukulele might have been a Mahalo. Surprising numbers of people begin with a uke from this particular brand. While it also produces more sophisticated ukuleles for experienced players, it is best known for making superb starter instruments.
Mahalo’s understanding of what makes a perfect beginner uke is invaluable. You’re unlikely to find fancy designs and nifty add on features here, but the quality levels are consistently high. The brand makes simple looking, gorgeous sounding instruments with a classic shape and familiar tone.
We recommend Mahalo to first time players. If you’re learning to play the ukulele, these instruments can make the whole experience more enjoyable. However, if you’re taking a step up – buying a second or third ukulele – you might find Mahalo ukes to be overly plain. The Mahalo Kahiko MK1TBR is one of our favorites.
- Always gives well balanced tones
- Classic, simple, uncomplicated styles
- Among the best ukes for beginners
- Sometimes the intonation is off
Mahalo Ukuleles MR1LBU Rainbow Series
Mahalo Ukuleles MK1TBS Kahiko Series
Mahalo Hano Series MH2 Concert Ukulele
What’s the best ukulele brand around? It’s a complicated question, but we do know the answers aren’t all big names. You may not have heard of Hola because it’s a smaller manufacturer that is just starting to gain traction.
Hola has soared in popularity in recent years because beginners love the cute, neat appearance and crispy tone of its ukes. Like Lanikai, it’s known for producing affordable instruments that are user friendly and non-intimidating to beginners.
We noticed during our tests that intonation sometimes needed adjustment right out of the packaging. In a couple of cases, a change of strings was required to get the instrument sounding precise. The low price of these ukes is worth the risk of a little extra work in our opinion. Try the Hola! HM-21 Soprano for a ukulele with a gorgeous shape, great tone and formidable build quality.
- Crisp, balanced tones across the range
- Comfortable contours for pain free playing
- Some interesting uses of tone wood
- Strings are okay, but sound better with an upgrade
Hola! Music HM-21BU Soprano Ukulele Bundle
Luna makes a wide variety of musical instruments and is a highly trusted international manufacturer. Lots of musicians use Luna’s ukes, guitars and other products, so you may know the name already. The brand produces some truly outstanding high end ukuleles.
We can praise its starter instruments – they really are very good – but the real magic is in Luna’s premium ukuleles. They look exceptionally beautiful with intricate designs expertly carved into mahogany bodies.
Instruments like the Luna Honu Soprano are significantly pricier than some of the other products on our list. They’re definitely worth it though. The Honu, in particular, delivers a strong, unwavering tone which makes it sound like it costs three times its actual price tag.
- Beautiful, intricate etched/carved designs
- Tone punches above its price bracket
- Some of the most unique ukes for their price range
- Factory strings aren’t great (may need replacing)
Luna High Tide Koa Concert Acoustic/Electric Ukulele
Luna Honu Tribal Turtle Soprano Ukulele Pack
6. Oscar Schmidt
Oscar Schmidt is another brand that’s better known for producing full sized acoustic and electric guitars. In fact, its guitars are so popular they can overshadow the brilliance of its traditionally styled ukuleles. Oscar’s ukes are affordable, versatile and very nice to look at.
Several years ago, the company invested a lot of time and money in the production of its ukuleles. Quality and tone are noticeably better and there are some wonderful designs to choose from. Take the Oscar Schmidt OU5 Concert Ukulele, a gorgeous piece of kit with abalone binding and a Nyatoh neck.
For those looking to combine quality and style, these ukuleles are a great place to start. Versatile, bright and crispy, they sound fairly classic. Expect good intonation right out of the packaging and a satisfying balance of build integrity and tone.
- Fantastic intonation right from the start
- Robust, versatile tones across the range
- The ukes with koa bodies are gorgeous
- At the upper end of affordable
OU2T-A-U 4-String Mahogany Tenor Ukulele
OU28TE-A-U 8-String Tenor Ukulele. Satin Finish
OU2P-A-U 4-String Pineapple Concert Ukulele,Satin
We include ADM on our review of the best uke brands because the maker’s precision and attention to detail are next level. The company isn’t as well-known as Mahalo or Luna. It’s a smaller brand with a limited range. However, its starter ukuleles expertly meld durability, classic aesthetics and clear, crisp tones
ADM instruments like the ADM Koa Concert Ukulele sound just as precise picking out metal tunes as they do jazz or country songs. We want to point out the ADM Soprano Mahogany Ukulele is one of our favorite choices for children. The cutaway upper body allows plenty of room for flexible wrist positioning.
These stylish ukuleles are also available in some of our favorite colors. If you can bring together clear, sweet notes, decorative engraving and a delicate sunburst varnish, do you have the perfect uke? We’ll let you try one and find out for yourself.
- Student grade ukes for novices and pros
- Affordable but with high end features
- Ukes come with fingerboard stickers for beginners
- Tuning can be a little stiff/awkward at first
Concert Ukulele Ranch 23 inch Professional Wooden ukulele
ADM Soprano Ukulele Beginner Ukulele
8. Diamond Head
Diamond Head is another less well-known brand, but its excellent ukuleles are worth your time. The majority are made from mahogany which gives Diamond Head’s ukes a great deal of resonance and clarity.
Again, they look fairly traditional. The Diamond Head DU-200C Concert Ukulele is even purposefully shaped to help it produce a solid and clear signature note. We found the strings to be a little unreliable. However, there’s a lot of quality to enjoy for a mid-priced instrument.
Diamond Head ukuleles aren’t the most exceptional on the market. If you’re looking for perfection, we’d recommend one of the other brands on our list. What they do deliver is reliable performance, an attractive design and a foundation for learning.
- Body shape facilitates the signature tone
- Trademark tenor wood is crisp, consistent
- Some of the most affordable full sized concert ukes
- (Sometimes) come with minor craftsmanship errors
Diamond Head DU-150 Soprano Ukulele
Diamond Head DU-134 Vintage Series
Diamond Head DU-200 Deluxe Natural
Cordoba produces ukuleles in a variety of shapes and styles. Our favorites are the tenor ukes. With impressive craftsmanship, a trademark tenor tone, solid build quality and a sweet price tag, it’s hard not to love them.
For this reason, we recommend Cordoba’s ukes if you want to get really intricate and hone your fingerpicking skills. Its instruments tend to be fairly bright in their aesthetic. The woods used are light and clean which contrasts with some of the darker ukuleles put out by brands like Mahalo.
If you’d prefer a concert uke, the Cordoba 20CM Concert Ukulele is one of our brand favorites. It delivers impressive resonance, volume and clarity, three characteristics you should look for in all good concert ukes. For a beginner, it’s a tad expensive. Perhaps you could start off with one of Cordoba’s more affordable ukuleles and treat yourself to this sophisticated beauty when you’re ready to level up.
- Cordoba rarely fails where quality is concerned
- Guaranteed a good set of strings
- Beautiful, traditional styles
- Some of these ukes can take an age to tune
Cordoba 20TM Tenor Ukulele
Donner is one of the youngest brands to be featured in this review. The maker has been producing ukuleles for less than a decade. It might not sound like a big deal, but it’s more unusual than you might think. Most of the world’s celebrated instrument manufacturers have a rich and varied history to fall back on.
Donner was launched in 2012 with the goal of ‘creating new music and performance experiences.’ Its ukuleles are frequently lauded for their affordability, tone and overall build integrity. For instance, the Donner DUS-3 is a spruce topped soprano with a cheery and focused tone.
The use of spruce means it plays with exceptional clarity. It’s a wonderful ukulele for performance whether on a stage or at home with your friends. Donner doesn’t have the reputation or history of the bigger boys – the brand is still growing and winning round fans – but we promise you won’t be disappointed.
- Affordable with similar qualities to high end ukes
- All wood is screened and age dried over years
- Often come with lots of accessories/freebies
- Some starter ukes look a little flimsy
Donner Soprano Ukulele Mahogany DUS-1 21 inch
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What Are the Different Types of Ukulele?
There are four main types of ukulele. These are the soprano, concert, tenor and baritone ukulele. They vary according to their tones and the types of sounds they can produce. It’s useful to think of all the different voices in a choir. Some sound higher and ‘sweeter.’ Others produce a much deeper tone with more bass.
They’re played in much the same way (only the baritone differs a little). So, the right ukulele for you will depend on the type of sounds you’re trying to produce. The soprano produces higher pitches and emits minimum bass. It is often what people think of when they imagine ukulele music; jangly, sweet and romantic.
Concert ukes are larger than sopranos with a slightly longer neck. This shape makes it easier to pluck up and down the frets. Concert ukes are great for starters because they are fairly simple to master. They are a little deeper than sopranos where tone is concerned. However, the difference is probably less than you think.
Tenor ukuleles are steadily increasing in popularity as more people use them for solo performances. They cover a broad range of frequencies and can hit lower notes and tones than the soprano or concert version. In fact, tenor ukes are probably the closest match to a regular acoustic guitar.
Baritones ukuleles are the trickiest to learn because they are tuned differently to the rest. They’re less popular and their specific requirements mean it’s harder to transfer songs mastered on a soprano or concert to a baritone uke. They don’t sound too different from regular guitars, but they’re not the obvious choice for a beginner. That is unless you’re happy to put more work into lessons.
Q: I’ve Never Played Before. What Type of Ukulele Should I Buy?
The only rule for beginners (who don’t want to make things really tough for themselves) is to steer clear of baritones. They are by far the hardest ukes to master and play skillfully. The tenor, concert and soprano versions all come with their own unique benefits and are completely suitable for starters.
While the soprano ukulele is where most beginners start, it can pose problems for larger players with bigger hands. If you are worried about size, opt for a concert or tenor because both will give you a fatter, friendlier fretboard.
Once you’re a comfortable, confident uke player, you can always switch to a different instrument and try something new. As a beginner though, it’s best to keep things simple.
Q: How Much Should an Affordable Ukulele Cost?
The amount you should spend, particularly on a first uke, is entirely dependent on your preferences and level of interest. If this is a new passion, it makes sense to spend more on an instrument you love.
If you’re not sure ukulele playing is for you, but want to find out for sure, opt for something cheaper. That way, if it doesn’t work out, you haven’t spent a great deal of money (and you have a beautiful new ornament).
There are ukuleles out there for as little as $20. We strongly advise against buying an instrument this cheap. Even if you’re a pretty casual learner, a poor quality uke is going to leave you uninspired and unmotivated to play.
Our recommendation is to work with a minimum of $50. If you’re looking for a knockdown ukulele, this is still a very cheap price. If you shop carefully though, you can find very impressive instruments in this bracket. Ideally, you want to be spending between $80-$100.
The Final Word On Best Ukulele Brands
If you want to know what are the best ukulele brands, first identify your preferences and personal goals. What do you want to do with this instrument? Are you learning? Would you like to sound better onstage? Are you just looking to try a uke with a different type of shape and sound?
All of these motivations are valid and, depending on your own goals, should inform your decision. There is no single best ukulele or victorious ukulele brand because the perfect shape, style and tone are different for everybody. This is our review of the brands we love and think you should consider.
As they’re quite a varied and diverse bunch, we’re confident there’s something to suit everybody. The most important thing is to do your own research even if it’s just a little time spent reading customer feedback. If you’re buying online, make sure to use a company with a robust returns policy. You can never be sure about an instrument until you’ve picked it up and played it.