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Tenor ukuleles have a rich, deep tone and a commanding presence. They are the choice for performers or for uke enthusiasts who want to take their playing up a notch.
If you’ve decided the smaller soprano or concert ukuleles aren’t for you, want to get serious about playing on stage, or just want to add the beauty of a well-crafted tenor to your uke arsenal, here are some of the best tenor ukuleles.
Fender Dhani Harrison – Best Overall
The best tenor ukuleles are made of more than excellent construction and gorgeous looks. They should also feel good in your arms and have good vibes. The Fender Dhani Harrison tenor ukulele (compare price on Sweetwater, Amazon, and Guitar Center) has all of these qualities in spades.
The Fender Dhani Harrison is a Fender signature series ukulele designed in collaboration with Dhani Harrison, the son of George Harrison, a musician in his own right. This tenor ukulele was inspired by Dhani’s memories of his father’s collection of ukuleles and how joyful he found playing the ukulele.
Made from ovangkol, this lightweight, acoustic-electric tenor is thinner than other tenors and carries a resonant, bright, clean, rich tone. It has a comfortable nato neck and fingerboard for maximum playability. It features real bone nut and saddle and open-back geared tuners for stability and tonality. It also includes upgraded Fender electronics with a built-in tuner, making it an excellent choice for a performer.
The Fender Dhani Harrison is a gorgeous instrument with a tranquil turquoise stain, the iconic Fender headstock, Shive moon phase fretboard inlays, and a Shiva yantra engraving on the back of the ukulele.
The Fender Dhani Harrison is an affordable uke for a tenor and could still be called entry-level. It’s friendly enough for a beginner but has the craftsmanship and quality a seasoned player will be happy with. It is a stunning instrument, but it’s not all flash and beauty. It really delivers.
Number of Frets: 19
Scale Length: 17”
Kanile’a Honu Tenor – Premium Option
For a premium tenor, if you have the budget, you must consider one of Hawaii’s legendary manufacturers of handcrafted ukuleles. The Kanile’a Honu Tenor (see price at Guitar Center) is like a luxury car of tenor ukuleles.
Made from deluxe curly koa, the wood for an authentic Hawaiian sound, this ukulele has a beautiful rich tone, mellow, clear, and complex with excellent projection. The satin neck with a radiused back makes for optimal playability. It features gold, open-geared tuners with Pearloid buttons.
The Polyester UV coat gloss finish makes the Honu shine and highlights the natural wonder of the curly koa. You’ll probably be staring at it when you’re not playing it. The front of this ukulele features three New Zealand paua abalone honu, or turtle, inlays.
The Knanile’a Honu is the premium tenor ukulele to play if you want to make an impression when you walk into the room. Kanile’a ukuleles are among the most expensive ukes you can buy, but from design to craftsmanship to beauty, they are worth it.
Cordoba 15TM – Best Budget Option
Cordoba took their extremely popular 15CM concert ukulele for this instrument and sized it up. There are many differences between concerts and tenors, so there are many reasons this shouldn’t have worked. But it did.
The 15TM is made of mahogany top, back, and sides, giving this instrument a complex, bright, and clear tone. It has the warmth and the volume mahogany is known for. For an affordable tenor, it is highly playable and has impressive projection.
This ukulele is also lovely, with an abalone rosette and ivoroid bindings that are usually only found in more expensive instruments.
Because of its affordability, natural quality of tone, and playability, this is an excellent choice for an entry-level tenor. It is also perfect for anyone who wants to add a worthwhile tenor to their collection on a budget.
Number of Frets: 19
Scale Length: 17”
Kala KA ZCT-T
The front, back, and sides of the KA-ZCT-T are made from the exotic ziricote, a wood from tropical Central and South America. The ziricote makes for an intensely figured look, with attractive, unique grain patterns. Its deep, dark, reddish-brown color gives even the look of it a depth other ukuleles do not have. With a high-gloss finish, this tenor shines.
Besides making the KA-ZCT-T an attractive ukulele, the ziricote is a dense wood, with attack and clarity to its bright but warm tone. It is also full of projection and volume.
It has a mahogany neck and walnut fingerboard, which are both smooth and playable. It included GraphTech TUSQ nut and bone saddle for tonality.
The KA ZCT-T is another affordable tenor that would work beautifully for a beginner while also satisfying a seasoned player looking for something different.
Number of Frets: 18
Scale Length: 17”
Martin 1T IZ
Israel Kamakawiwo’ole, also known as Bruddah Iz, or just IZ, was an influential Hawaiian musician. On the mainland, he’s most known for his cover of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” The Martin 1T IZ (Compare price on Sweetwater, Amazon) is a worthy tribute and celebration of IZ.
This is a tenor in the premium category, and you will need a larger budget to manage this one. If you can afford it, this is a spectacular ukulele.
With solid quilted mahogany front, back, and sides, this is a tenor with a loud, full-bodied sound and a bright, sweet, and warm tone. The East Indian rosewood fingerboard and mahogany neck are highly playable. This uke is a great example of the craftsmanship and care Martin is renowned for.
On the headstock, “Iz” is inlaid in Hawaiian koa on top of a hibiscus flower with a pink awabi pearl inlay. The inside label of the uke features a picture and memorial to IZ.
This lovely instrument is as much an homage to IZ as it is to the history, heritage, and beauty of ukuleles.
Number of Frets: 20
Scale Length: 17”
For a mid-range tenor with an understated beauty, the Kremona Mari (compare price on Amazon and Guitar Center) is worth a look. This beautifully crafted ukulele honors the lineage of the ‘ukulele from Portugal to Hawaii.
This tenor is made from a solid mahogany top, back, and sides with a clear, resonant, layered tone with gorgeous sustain. The satin polyurethane finish highlights the natural beauty of the mahogany.
The Mari will run you more than an entry-level ukulele, but if you want the tone and specialness of an all-solid wood uke, you will not get it at a lower price, and once you see and hear it, you’ll know why.
The Mari has an African mahogany neck and Indian rosewood fingerboard, bridge, and headstock overlay. It features a gold-plated machine head, bone nut, and saddle. Its dovetail neck joint facilitates energy transfer.
This uke has an unusual horizontal oval soundhole that adds just a flick of something unique. The headstock stands out in a shape reminiscent of a mermaid’s tail.
It is a playable and fun ukulele, and it would be great for any uke playing graduating from beginner to tenor.
Number of Frets: 18
While many alternative material options are available for sopranos and concerts, you won’t find as many for tenors. The Enya Nova (see price on Amazon) offers an attractive option if you are looking for something other than wood.
The Nova is an affordable ukulele available in soprano, concert, and tenor. Made from carbon fiber composite, it is incredibly lightweight, strong, and durable. It is also water resistant, easy to clean, and can handle extremes in temperature and humidity levels. If you want a tenor, you can take it everywhere with you and maybe knock around a bit, this is the one.
The front of the Nova has a fabulous feather-shaped cutout, and the soundhole is on the side for better self-resonance. It has metal frets with rounded edges. The cutaway body shape allows for access to all of the frets. Strap buttons on the top and bottom will enable you to easily attach a strap for stability when playing.
Even though it’s not wood, the Nova has a nice bright tone, warm and crisp, with strong resonance and astounding volume. It is available in a selection of colors and comes with a bag and a color-matching strap and capo.
The Nova is a good choice if you’re looking for a cheaper tenor, a travel tenor, or just one you don’t have to worry about.
Lanikai A CST-T
The A CST-T is constructed from a solid acacia top with acacia laminate back and sides. When you buy ukuleles with wood in mind, it’s important to note that unless a wood is labeled as solid, it’s most likely laminate. That’s fine, but solid wood produces a more interesting tone. A solid top alone will drastically improve tone if you can’t afford a full solid-wood body. The A CST-T has you covered here.
Koa is a Hawaiian wood in the acacia family that is a premium wood for ukuleles and gives the instrument the authentic Hawaiian sound. Koa is pretty rare, though, and can be quite expensive. Acacia wood is often used as a substitute or alternative for people who want a sound close to koa but don’t have the budget for koa.
Lanikai’s A CST-T is a mid-range, beautifully crafted tenor. Its maple binding adds a lovely contrast to the acacia, and a satin finish makes the whole instrument smooth and shiny. It has a rosewood fingerboard and a wide neck for comfort and playability. It features NuBone XB nut and saddle, and open-geared tuners with chrome buttons, for stability.
This ukulele produces a deep tenor sound with a warm, mellow tone. It’s a gorgeous, classic-looking ukulele and would be an excellent choice for any player looking to take the next step up to premium.
Number of Frets: 17
Because of their bigger size, tenors are notably less portable than the smaller ukulele sizes. The Kala KA-SSTU-T (compare price on Sweetwater and Amazon) attempts to solve that problem. Kala’s travel tenor is slim, with a body depth ranging from 1 ¼” to 1 ¾ “. The ukulele is easier to carry around and store with a thinner body.
Made from a solid spruce top and mahogany back and sides, the KA-SSTU-T boasts a full, bright, warm tone with ample projection. The spruce adds a nice punchy attack to the tone. This uke is as fun to play as it is to carry around. Also, the rosewood fingerboard and bridge make a smooth playable surface for comfortability in playing.
The KA-SSTU-T features a satin finish and a black/ white/ black/ white binding with a black rosette. It also comes with a synthetic bone nut and saddle and die-cast chrome tuners with black buttons for tuning stability.
This affordable tenor would work well for an entry-level player, someone on the road a lot, or someone who wants an instrument that’s easier to store.
Number of Frets: 19
Scale Length: 17”
Luna Vineyard Tenor Koa Bevel Acoustic-Electric Tenor
The Luna Vineyard has a solid A-grade koa top and koa back and sides, making it an excellent choice for a player who wants koa but cannot afford an all-solid koa tenor. With the solid koa top, this ukulele has a bright, well-rounded tone that will mature over time, opening up into a warmer, richer tone full of sparkle. The figure of the koa is gorgeous, and the gloss finish sets it off.
The mahogany neck, rosewood fingerboard, and cutaway body style ensure comfortable playability. The Luna Vineyard also features a slotted headstock, stunning mother-of-pearl vine inlays along the fingerboard, and the soundhole. It also comes with a bottom strap button which makes for easy playing and performing.
An acoustic-electric, the Luna Vineyard comes equipped with a Fishman Kula preamp system with EQ and a built-in tuner. It is a beautiful ukulele with a unique personality and would suit any ukulele player who wants to step up their game.
Number of Frets: 18
Scale Length: 17”
Epiphone Les Paul Acoustic-Electric Tenor
The ukulele is suited to all styles of music, and who says just because you have two fewer stings, you can’t rock? With the Epiphone Les Paul Acoustic-Electric Tenor (compare price on Sweetwater, Amazon), all you need is four strings to rock your heart out.
Modeled after an iconic guitar, the Gibson Les Paul, this entry-level tenor ukulele features the Les Paul-shaped cream pickguard and Les Paul signature on the headstock. Available in vintage sunburst and heritage cherry sunburst, this ukulele makes a bold impression.
The Epiphone Les Paul tenor has a select spruce top and mahogany back and sides, giving the uke a clear, bright, mellow tone. This ukulele has a small sound hole and might not have the resonance and volume of other ukes, but it is fitted with an onboard piezo film under-saddle pickup. It is meant to be plugged in and has a fantastic amplified tone.
With a granadillo fingerboard and a solid mahogany SlimTaper C-profile mahogany neck is responsive and incredibly playable. The Epiphone Les Paul tenor also features premium open-back tuners and strap buttons on the top and bottom of the instrument.
The Epiphone Les Paul is a stunning tenor uke and an excellent price point for all you get. The Epiphone Les Paul ukulele would be perfect for a beginner who wants to start out rocking, for a seasoned player who wants to take their sound electric, or for a uke player who wants a cool-looking ukulele in their collection.
Number of Frets: 19
Scale Length: 17”
What To Look For in a Tenor Ukulele
Tenor ukuleles can be so much fun to play and learn on. They can take you from your first chords to your first encore.
There are so many variations from one tenor to the next. Before buying a ukulele, do some research and soul searching. Think about what you want and what you need. Here are some tips to help you find the perfect tenor ukulele.
Tenor refers to the size of a ukulele, but that doesn’t mean all tenors have the same dimensions. Tenor ukuleles are usually around 26″ in total length, but the size standard is more of a range than an exact measurement.
Some tenors have longer necks. Some tenors have thinner bodies. Some are heavier than others. It is always a good idea to try some ukuleles out in person when you can. You can get a feel for how a particular tenor feels by actually holding it and seeing if it’s something that feels comfortable.
Tenors are the second largest of the standard ukulele sizes. They are an excellent choice for anyone who feels crowded on the small fingerboard or a soprano or concert. They are also a perfect size for fingerstyle playing.
Tenors tend not to be made with plastic, and only a couple are made from carbon fiber composite. If you go that way, carbon fiber makes for a super light, super durable tenor you can take and play anywhere. However, for those who have started to get serious about the ukulele and the tones possible, it’s all about the wood.
Some common ukulele woods include mahogany, koa, acacia, maple, and spruce. Each different type of tonewood expresses a different tone. There are also differences in wood pairings. The best way to feel what kind of wood you prefer is to listen to many ukuleles. Check out some videos on the internet, listen, and see what grabs you and what sound you’re drawn to.
Wood is expensive. The front, back, and sides of cheaper ukuleles are all made from laminate. A decent tone is still possible with laminate, but it is limited. These are great, though, for taking around with you. They can be durable, and certainly damaging a budget uke is better than injuring a high-end uke.
Mid-range ukuleles are often made from a solid wood top with laminate back and sides. The added depth to the tone is noticeable. You’re looking at an expensive higher-end model for a complete solid-wood-bodied ukulele. It comes down to what you want and what you can afford.
Again, pay attention to the description and the specs when buying a ukulele. If a wood isn’t labeled “solid,” it’s safe to assume it’s laminate.
Because tenors are bigger than soprano or concert ukuleles, they also cost more.
In general, a decent tenor that’s worth buying at all will run at least $100. You can find a good mid-range uke in the $350-$500 range. Higher-end, all solid mahogany, or all solid koa tenors start at about $1200 and go up from there. Once you’ve reached that price point, it is worth considering having a custom tenor uke built.
Once you figure out how much you can spend, think about what aspects of a tenor are crucial for you and which you can compromise on.
Tenor ukuleles generally have a deeper, fuller, more resonant tone than concert or soprano ukuleles. This is part of what makes them so good for performing and recording.
Material is a huge factor in tone and sound. Things like soundhole size and placement and the structure and build of a ukulele can significantly affect the projection and volume.
Another decision to consider when purchasing a tenor is whether you’d prefer an acoustic, acoustic-electric, or electric one.
If you’re playing for people, it is nice to have the option to plug in, though you could also mic an acoustic. If you are interested in purchasing an acoustic-electric, go to a brick-and-mortar music store or look up some videos online and listen to the ukulele plugged and unplugged. Some ukes lose tone when amplified, and some acoustic-electric tenors sound better plugged in.
Electric ukuleles are rare, but they are an excellent choice for players who are going to use them like an electric guitar and don’t need unamplified sound. They are also perfect for players who live in a situation where they need to practice silently. They can simply plug the electric tenor uke in, plug in some headphones, and practice without disturbing anyone.
Playability with a tenor, as with any ukulele, comes down to making sure there is nothing about the instrument that gets in the way of you playing it.
Sharp fret ends, action that is too high, a neck with a weird shape that makes it hard to reach the fingerboard or move effortlessly up and down, or tuners that don’t keep tension can ruin the experience of playing an otherwise fantastic ukulele. Pay attention to reviews and advice that mention these issues.
If possible, order from a retailer that will do a set-up before shipping your ukulele so that most of these problems will be caught and taken care of. Otherwise, you can take it in for a set-up, which is a good thing to do with a new instrument to ensure it will be playable for you.
Some features help to make a uke more playable, like C-shaped necks and cutaway bodies. If you know you’ve had issues with moving around a fingerboard or reaching down to the higher notes, these features might be something you need.
Most ukuleles come with Aquila Nylgut strings, which are good high-quality strings, but they don’t work for every player or every instrument. If you don’t like how your strings feel or sound, don’t be anxious about trying something else.
You should like the look of your tenor. If all goes well, you’ll be playing it a lot. The look of an instrument is also about self-expression, so pick one that feels like you or one that you’re drawn to.
Unlike the smaller ukuleles, there aren’t many tenors available in rainbow colors and graphic designs. There are some brands, like Luna, that etch and emboss designs in their tenors.
For the most part, though, visually, tenors are different types of wood with their unique figuring and grain.
You can find some ukes with interesting fret marker inlays or inlaid designs over other parts of the instrument. Rosettes around the sound hole are very common and can be anything from black circles to abalone.
Knowing why you’re purchasing a tenor will go a long way to ensure you’re getting the right one. It can even help you determine a budget. If your goal is solely to pick up tenor as your first ukulele, you don’t need to spend thousands of dollars.
If you want to record an album, sound and playability might be more important to you than look and budget.
If you’re going on a month-long camping trip and want to work on becoming a better player around the vampire, you’re going to need to think about durability, and you most likely wouldn’t want an acoustic-electric.
This is where you decide what you need based on how you’re going to use your ukulele. Be honest with yourself. There are no wrong answers.
Best Tenor Ukulele Brands
With the ukulele’s surge in popularity, there’s also been a flood of manufacturers, some of which are great, some of which are substandard. If you’re buying a tenor uke for the first time, it can be hard to know where to look and who to trust.
Here are some brands with a reputation for making quality, great sounding, and great playing tenors.
Kala Brand Music Co.
Kala Brand Music Co. was started by Mike Upton, who wanted to make quality ukuleles that were accessible for everyone.
Kala and their budget line, Makala, are well-known and respected by beginners and seasoned uke players alike. They offer ukes in all sizes, shapes, materials, designs, and price points. They offer everything from a super affordable entry-level tenor to a solid wood tenor with onboard electronics.
Cordoba started as a guitar company, but when they branched out into ukuleles, they brought their commitment to quality and to classic and Spanish-inspired design with them.
Known for their beautiful-looking and sounding instruments at an affordable price, their tenors are as perfect for beginners as for advancing ukulele players. You often get much more than you pay for with a Cordoba.
Martin is a well-known maker of guitars, but they’ve been making ukuleles since the 1900s, longer than most current ukulele manufacturers.
With Martin, you can find mid-range or high-end tenors made with keen attention to detail, quality, materials, and sound. They are consistently rated highly and beloved by anyone who has one.
Kanile’a was founded by Joe Souza, a Hawaiian of Portuguese descent who had grown up playing the Braguinha, a Portuguese predecessor to the ukulele. After apprenticing with a master luthier, Souza began crafting his own ukuleles and founded Kanilie’a’ Ukulele in 1998.
Kanile’a handcrafts their ukuleles from Hawaiian koa. For serious players with a serious budget who want a tenor with a traditional Hawaiian sound and look, with the ultimate in quality and craftsmanship, Kanile’a is the place to go.
Top Tenor Ukuleles, Final Thoughts
Purchasing a tenor is exciting whether you’re looking for your first or eighth ukulele. There is an air about them that makes them seem more serious, more professional, and more mature than the smaller ukuleles.
Finding a tenor you love to play and look at can be nerve-wracking, but all it takes is a little research and a little self-knowledge, and you’ll find it in no time.