In a world where ukuleles are downplayed as unserious instruments, tenor ukuleles come to prominence in the hands of professionals. Haven’t you seen the virtuoso, Jake Shimabukuro, wreaking havoc on the fingerboard of a tenor ukulele with his tapping technique in “Dragon?”
Although master ukulele players resort to concert ukuleles for casual playing, you’ll always hear the sound of their tenor ukes on stage. After being inspired to play a tenor uke, I realized that their sound quality is in the sweet spot compared to the treble-heavy concert and the bass-heavy baritone ukuleles.
Maybe that’s why you’re here—you want to step up your game of sound and technique! Luckily, if you’re even a beginner, tenor ukuleles are still for you. However, a defective tenor uke will negate the point of getting one; a neck that twists after some time or a blatantly off-sounding intonation will ruin your playing experience.
Since we’ve all been there, I’ll advise you on how to hunt for the best tenor ukulele as if I’m talking to my past self.
At a Glance:
- Kala KA-KTG – Best Overall
- Enya EUT-M6 – Runner-Up
- Luna Tattoo – Best Playability
- Donner DUT-1 – Best Value for Money
- Cordoba 20TM-CE – Best Electro-Acoustic Tenor Ukulele
- Lohanu LU-T – Best for Beginners
6 Best Tenor Ukuleles in 2020
Having strummed many ukuleles, tenor-sized ukes strike just the right balance between the compact form factor of small-sized ukes and playability, all while retaining that great sound dominated by warmth rather than brightness. Wielding a tenor uke made me picture my virtuoso side, where I develop my technique. Now, let’s look at our 6 best tenor ukuleles!
1. Kala KA-KTG – Best Overall
Is there a best bet for a uke other than one made with a Hawaiian spirit? Being the most well-reputed ukulele brand, Kala takes us on a journey to the high waters of the Pacific Ocean, to the Aloha State, to be precise. Meet the Kala KA-KTG, a gem that boasts a full Koa body, the official tonewood for Hawaiian handmade ukuleles!
By body, I’m referring to the soundboard, made entirely from Koa tonewood. The Koa incorporated in the Kala KA-KTG produces a sound that leans toward the mid-range while maintaining the upper-midrange timbre that we’re all familiar with in tenor ukuleles. Instead of satin, we’ve got an eye-pleasing gloss finish that brings this tonewood’s charm to life.
Around this Kala ukulele’s contours, we see a high-quality maple binding that holds the soundboard in one piece instead of the low-end cream binding. Crafting the neck from mahogany is a genius move from Kala; mahogany’s subdued sound tends to neutralize the high-end shimmer that Koa may produce.
The tone profile exhibits a balanced, great sound. But what about playability? We’re looking at a fingerboard made of Pau Ferro, a tonewood similar to the rosewood. However, it’s far denser—I appreciated that when I felt sure about fretting every note. I feel it enhances the subdued sound that Koa and mahogany collaborate to show.
One of the reasons I deem this ukulele as my best tenor model is how Kala has taken saddles and nuts into consideration. The Graph Tech NuBone nut and saddle here have never accidentally muted the strings in my experience, nor have they limited the vibrations. On the contrary, I was happy with how the chords I strummed resonated with no buzzing.
However, the Kala KA-KTG is one of those ukes that you have to get used to, owing to the high action. On the bright side, I’ve faced no problems with intonation accuracy. These gold-plated machines do a great job keeping the high-quality D’Addario strings in tune.
- All-Koa body
- Rigid fingerboard
- Premium gloss finish with maple binding
- Overall balanced sound quality
- Bone nut and saddle
- High string action
The Kala KA-KTG is the pearl I have in my tenor ukulele arsenal for a reason: it has that tone profile where the bass and treble reach an equilibrium for a glorious mid-range timbre, just like how an indigenously-made ukulele from Hawaii would sound like. Looking for a great tone? You can condone that high action by opting for such a challenge!
2. Enya EUT-M6 – Runner-Up
When I fretted my way through this EUT-M6 tenor ukulele, I discovered that Enya cares about sound quality as much as it pays attention to aesthetics and craftsmanship details!
I know—the fingerboard is unbearably mesmerizing, but let’s lift our eyes off that and investigate the soundboard of this tenor ukulele. This ukulele displays an all-mahogany body with two variants for the gloss finish: natural and blue. Made of an unspecified grade of mahogany, you may question the authenticity of this hardwood.
However, knowing that the mahogany here is solid wood was only two knocks away with my knuckles, and the tonewood gives off that balanced mid-range sound you’d expect from a mahogany tenor ukulele. The best thing about this tenor ukulele is how Enya slices a cutaway through the soundboard to grant you more access to the higher frets.
Speaking of frets, let’s lay our hands on this MIND-BLOWINGLY beautiful fingerboard, finished with a mesmerizing connected abalone inlay that spans all the frets. Catchy as it is, the fingerboard is made of Richlite, and so is the bridge. Being an alternative to rosewood, Richlite is inferior to real solid wood in terms of both sound resonance and durability.
Although the bridge isn’t made of a genuine tonewood, it poses no threats to the D’Addario strings’ stability of this tenor ukulele, thanks to the in-line geared tuning machines being completely closed to avoid corrosion. Unlike the Kala KA-KTG, the action took less time to get used to when I was practicing “Can’t Help Falling in Love” by Elvis!
The intonation is also on-point all the way to the 12th fret—I’m amazed at how Enya keeps this tenor ukulele with a composite bridge and fretboard! Maybe the NuBone saddle and nuts are the heroes of the day when it comes to intonation here. It’s also generous of Enya to include a sufficiently-padded gig bag with this tenor ukulele.
- Mahogany body
- Warm sound quality
- Comes in 2 finishes
- Aesthetic fingerboard with abalone inlays
- Gig bag included
- The fingerboard has a plastic feel
The Enya EUT-M6 isn’t just a clear-sounding tenor ukulele that offers an ear-filling warm tone, but it’s also a piece of art! I appreciated the soundboard’s real mahogany tonewood and the perfectly-sliced cutaway, which gave me the freedom to convey more dynamics in my playing.
3. Luna Tattoo – Best Playability
Alongside the Kala KA-KTG, the Luna Tattoo is another tenor ukulele that lets us embark on a cruise to Hawaii. The soundboard has Hawaiian ornamentation carved into it, symbolizing longevity and continuity, which was just what I expected from this masterpiece!
This one is a mahogany tenor ukulele with a satin finish, housing the exotic adornment mentioned above. I wouldn’t say the mahogany here is the high-quality tonewood we’re used to in high-end tenor ukuleles. However, the sound quality resembles a premium uke with more bias toward the mid-range warmth, thanks to the neck also being made of solid mahogany.
One look at the fingerboard and the matte black surface will give you a hint of walnut, and it’s true! That’s the reason why the Luna Tattoo is an easy to play tenor ukulele. I owe too much to this walnut fingerboard for helping me conduct chord progressions like a breeze.
I like how Luna stamps a final touch on the walnut with the shark’s teeth inlays to help me remember positions and fret numbers—another testimonial for Hawaiian aesthetics! Fortunately, we also have a walnut bridge. Bridges made of real tonewood are bound to keep the tuning intact.
Now, let’s see whether the perfect intonation recipe applies to this tenor ukulele. First off, the tuning machines have open gears, leaving the pegs prone to corrosion. While the pre-installed strings never slipped out of tune with me, this tenor ukulele took a while to stay in tune when I restrung it with a new set of Aquila Nylgut strings.
I found out that the Aquila strings had to adapt to the plastic nut and saddle—if it weren’t for them, this tenor ukulele would’ve been a masterpiece of craftsmanship. Still, I do love the satin gig bag that Luna includes!
- Solid mahogany tenor body
- Mid-range sound
- Buttery-smooth walnut fingerboard
- Traditional Hawaiian visuals on the soundboard
- Sturdy walnut bridge
- Gig bag included
- Drops in tune with new string sets
- Open-gear tuners
I believe that the Luna Tattoo is the mahogany tenor ukulele to opt for if you’re an intermediate player craving to showcase the dynamics of your techniques via an easy-to-fret fingerboard. Apart from the playability and sound warmth, people who saw the satin finish of my version of this tenor ukulele downright mistook it for an antique from the past century!
4. Donner DUT-1 – Best Value for Money
A tenor ukulele is inevitably expensive—you must’ve predicted that just by looking at the fingerboard’s increased width. However, this Donner tenor ukulele manages to break the hefty price notion associated with tenor ukuleles with its DUT-1 ukulele bundle!
The best craftsmanship-related touch in this Donner tenor ukulele is the arched back. The mahogany body has an inward bulge that augments the soundboard’s parameter, allowing for improved sound resonance. Overall, the sound quality inclines toward the warm register, especially that the neck is also made of mahogany.
At this price, I couldn’t wish for solid mahogany on top of that satin finish. However, I like that the back’s arched angle acts as a sound booster, fixing the subdued volume levels that mahogany suffers from as a result of warmth.
Glued to the neck is a well-made rosewood fingerboard, known for its rigid surface that helps develop muscle memory regarding techniques like chord changes, legato phrasing, and tapping. Now, let’s look at how this tenor ukulele performs precision-wise, starting from that high-quality rosewood bridge, which is so dense to keep the carbon nylon strings intact.
Taking a glimpse of the quasi-closed tuning machines, I hoped for flawless intonation that surpasses that of the Kala KA-KTG. However, when I restrung this tenor ukulele with Aquila Nylgut strings, I noticed how it gradually slips out of tune in prolonged sessions. The culprits are the definitely low-quality, plastic saddle and nut.
Now, to the good news! In this tenor ukulele bundle, Donner includes a well-padded gig bag with an extra compartment, a strap (pins are installed), a clip-on tuner, four picks, and a cleaning cloth.
- Arched back for sound enhancement
- Mid-range tone profile
- Solid rosewood fingerboard and bridge
- High-quality AAA-grade mahogany
- Accessories and gig bag included
- Plastic nut and saddle
- Tuning problems
This Donner tenor ukulele bundle comprises the best tenor ukulele you can get for the money. It’s rare to see an arched-back ukulele with balanced, warm sound output at this price range. Not anymore, though, thanks to the quality mahogany that Donner employs in every inch of the body!
5. Cordoba 20TM-CE – Best Electro-Acoustic Tenor Ukulele
Cordoba’s well-versed luthiers’ touch appears at first glance when you look at the natural satin finish of this ukulele. Underneath it lies the solid mahogany top, conveying all the implications of sound warmth to tenor ukulele players. Also made out of high-grade mahogany, the back and sides are connected with a seamless, rounded binding that doesn’t spoil the design uniformity.
Like the Enya tenor ukulele, this Cordoba has a cutaway sliced into the soundboard’s left side, further boosting your playability down to the frets beyond the 12th. The fingerboard’s deep brown finish suggests it’s molded out of rosewood, and so does the bridge, which holds the Aquila strings in place better than the composite ones found in cheap tenor ukuleles.
Despite being electro-acoustic, this tenor ukulele sits at a considerably lower price tag than the Kala KA-KTG, and it comes with the better Nylgut strings!
How about we amplify this warm sound? Let’s look at that Cordoba EQ preamp, powering the undersaddle piezo pickup that sends the raw string frequencies to the amplifier. Featuring 2 faders for treble and bass, you can control the tone’s warmth or brightness to customize your signature tone!
One thing that I frowned upon is the string action. Despite the top-notch saddle and nut, the action is pretty elevated, especially at the 1st fret, rendering barre chords changes challenging at first. Other than that, the tuning consistency and intonation accuracy are on-point.
- Solid mahogany with uniform binding
- Warm sound
- Ships with Nylgut strings
- Rosewood bridge for stability
- Cordoba 2-band preamp
- High action
We always earn the rite of passage where we are destined to embark on a stage, plug our ukuleles, and show off the peak of our technical abilities. If you wonder how it’s possible to do that, meet the Cordoba 20TM-CE ukulele, the best tenor ukulele that urges every player to grab an audio cable to crank up the amp!
6. Lohanu LU-T – Best Tenor Ukulele for Beginners
Many musicians believe that only professionals hold a tenor ukulele because of its larger soundboard. Yet, Lohanu ventures into the tenor realm with its all-around bundle for beginners who want to stand up to the challenge!
The body of this ukulele presents a merger of Sapele and mahogany, the first being known for its upper-midrange shimmer that tends to articulate high-end notes. Meanwhile, the mahogany contributes to producing the depressed, warm tone we’re all acquainted with in tenor ukuleles. What’s impressive about this beginner tenor ukulele is the arched back, like that of the Donner.
The back adds to the volume level since the sound has a roomier space to rebound, which is exceptional at this ukulele’s price point. Although rosewood isn’t as smooth as walnut, I’m in favor of the rosewood fingerboard here since it’ll allow beginners to adapt to the string tension as they practice. However, the tonewood blend of this ukulele is mostly laminate, not hardwood.
The fret wires’ edges are well-sanded, and the action is optimal for beginners. The fully closed tuning gears are an indicator of the tuning stability; however, the intonation goes slightly off beyond the 5th fret on the high A string.
Along with this ukulele, Lohanu’s generosity comprises an extra string set of Aquila Super Nylgut, a clip-on tuner, a strap (with strap pins installed), and a gig bag. Additionally, the founder of Lohanu, Joseph Chung himself, will be at your disposal as a tutor in the included lessons bundle—does it get better than learning from a confirmed ukulele master?
- Refined tonewood blend
- Neutral tonal quality
- Arched back
- Accessories included
- Comes with gig bag
- Beginner lessons
- Subtly off-sounding intonation
The Lohanu LU-T is one of the best tenor ukuleles that act as a gateway to the world of intermediate playing. This one will take you from the beginner realm into musical maturity, thanks to the quality content that Lohanu invests in the lessons.
Tenor Ukulele Buying Guide & FAQ
Manufacturers shed light on their tenor ukuleles since they bear the top-of-the-line ukulele size, the crossroads where professionals, intermediate, and beginner players meet. That’s why you need to pay attention to two factors that collaborate to mold the best tenor ukulele for you. Also, make sure to check the frequently asked questions for much-needed insights!
Wood Type: Hardwood vs. Laminate
The wood type of tenor ukuleles directly impacts the tonal quality, and that’s why people call them tonewoods. For example, mahogany has a subdued, warm tone, whereas Sapele has more bias toward the higher register with a sparkly tone profile.
On the other hand, Koa stands on top of that food chain with its completely neutral sound that gets better as it ages. So, you’ll find the best tenor ukuleles made from Koa, and they’re prone to sound brighter at first, then become louder with more inclination toward warmth. Amid all this variety, tonewood diverges into two categories: hardwood (solid wood) and laminate.
Hardwood is the pinnacle of authenticity found in high-end tenor ukuleles. It boasts a genuine tone articulation compared to the synthetic laminate. However, authentic tonewoods are prone to be damaged by humidity and scratches, unlike laminate ukes that stand the test of time. Yet, the tone produced by laminate tops isn’t as nuanced and sophisticated.
So, which one should you choose? Hardwood is a top priority for professional musicians who want the best tenor ukuleles for their career, whereas laminate is for everyone since it’s much cheaper. The tonal quality exhibits a huge difference between both. But if you’re not seeking music as a career, go for laminate!
Intonation: Finding the Inaccuracy Culprit
Intonation denotes how far a particular note deviates from precision when you fret it in different positions on the neck. In the best tenor ukuleles, the note on the 12th fret should be as accurate as the note that resonates when you strike the open string, despite being in different octaves.
In this regard, the faulty intonation may have a plethora of reasons, like a twisted neck (can be fixed by having a luthier adjust your truss rod), a poorly-sanded saddle, or a nut with overly-recessed slots. For that, I recommend that the first thing you do after buying your tenor uke is to turn on a tuner and compare the accuracy of a given note all across the fingerboard.
Is a Tenor Ukulele Good for a Beginner?
Tenor ukuleles are the absolute go-to for beginners who want to play ukuleles seriously and take their technique to the next level. It’s generally better to strum a tenor uke for players who have larger hands that a concert or a soprano ukulele won’t accommodate.
Should I Get a Tenor Ukulele?
Definitely! Tenor ukuleles are optimal when it comes to string tension, allowing all players to execute dynamics like vibratos, hammer-ons, and pull-offs with more expression and emotion.
Which Is Better: Soprano or Tenor Ukulele?
Generally speaking, soprano ukes are well-suited for casual playing; most players who bring their ukes to the beach hold a soprano size for their portability. In contrast, tenor ukes have a bigger form factor, suitable for more organized playing at home or on stage.
Tenor Ukuleles: Your New Endeavor?
It’s a delight that tenor ukuleles welcome any player with open arms. They’re what masters hold, beginners practice on, and where intermediate players see their technique developing! Now that you have a solid understanding of tenor ukes, the time has come to select the best tenor ukulele for you.
I’d personally recommend the Kala KA-KTG for its full, resonant Koa body that produces unprecedented warmth with every note you strike. Plus, The Koa of this Kala is like wine—it betters with age!