While many brands create great ukuleles, there are some brands that just stand out more than others. Sometimes it’s because the sheer amount of good quality ukes they make. Other times it’s because they create a ukulele so far superior to their competitors.
In this article, you will learn what differentiates the top ukulele brands, which ones to avoid, and what models are best for you.
First up is Luna. Luna is an example of a brand that cares about precision and detail for its beginner and intermediate customers. For the prices that Luna offers on their models—many of which are solid instruments with electric pickup ability—you will be shocked at their aesthetics and sound quality.
Compared with other companies geared towards beginning ukulele players, one of their most unique features is that they offer every size from soprano to baritone. This flexibility means that no matter the size of your hands or skill level, you can find an instrument that sounds good. Additionally, the thoughtful design makes these instruments visually appealing.
Luna is similar in quality to Kala, which you can read about in detail below.
Luna Tattoo Concert Ukulele
The Luna Tattoo Concert Ukulele (available to purchase on Sweetwater, Amazon) has a body of mahogany wood that provides a dark and rich tone. In this particular model, that rich tone is complimented even more by the projection and depth of the larger concert ukulele size.
With a fingerboard made from walnut, this instrument has a fantastic response for its size. You can expect the challenging/technical passages to feel effortless as you advance—assuming you have also practiced those melodies!
Luna Tattoo Tenor Ukulele
The Luna Tattoo Tenor Ukulele (available on Sweetwater, Amazon) has a similar design to the previous model. But as a tenor instrument, it will be longer and wider. Besides this size accommodating larger hands and fingers, a bigger resonating space also produces more depth and projection of sound.
A bonus of this instrument—and a hint about its name—is the design patterns of traditional Hawaiian shapes that ornament it and give a sense of visual authenticity. You are not paying the price of an authentic professional instrument from a brand like KoAloha, but the sound and look certainly feel authentic!
Next up is Kamaka, one of the most renowned names in the ukulele world. Kamaka instruments have existed since 1916, and their top draw is the handcrafted mastery of products made in Honolulu.
They use Hawaiian koa wood for all their instruments, which means that even the tiny soprano models have a rich sound that can project. Considering this brand paved the way for many other companies selling ukuleles today, you can rest assured that these are quality instruments.
If price is not your primary limitation and you appreciate the traditional element of ukuleles coming from Hawaii, these instruments are worth the investment. The professional models from Kamaka are among the top ukuleles you will find.
Kamaka STANDARD (HF-1)
The STANDARD (HF-1) is a soprano ukulele and one of Kamaka’s most popular models. As a soprano size, you can expect that classic small and compact sound most people associate with Hawaiian ukulele playing. You can rest assured that handcrafted specialists craft all the models, even the more affordable ranges, with care since sound quality and design are the most crucial factors.
This Standard HF-1, like all of Kamaka’s models, uses koa wood with a lacquer finish. Additionally, this model comes with a custom case!
Kamaka CONCERT 4-STRING (HF-2)
The CONCERT 4-STRING (HF-2) is an upgrade from the HF-1 model, which was more standard and perfect for players new to the ukulele or those with smaller hands. This concert-sized model is big enough to have more resonance and body but still small enough to make learning relatively easy.
There are 16 frets, and the total length comes to 23½ inches. As you would expect from the larger-sized instruments, this model will produce a fuller tone than the smaller soprano instrument.
Like Kamaka, KoAloha is another traditional Hawaiian brand of ukulele, which is why you will find it difficult to find it for sale in the more popular retailers. But since instruments from Hawaii have a unique value in terms of authenticity, you should know about this brand if you are serious about ukulele playing.
As you would expect from a traditional and handcrafted line of instruments, KoAloha ukuleles sound fantastic, and there is a ton of flexibility in size and sound quality. To be clear, these are high-quality professional instruments with a price that reflects the superb sound and feel they provide.
But if you are looking for some of the best and most authentic ukuleles, you should at least be aware of this brand.
KoAloha KSM-00 SOPRANO
The KoAloha KSM-00 SOPRANO is a beautiful instrument that will give you that traditional ukulele sound you expect from a smaller instrument. But one of the unique aspects of KoAloha instruments is that even the small models like this KSM-00 blend brightness and warmth.
Brightness is the easier quality to get and most soprano instruments will achieve that. But to balance that with warmth is the part that takes the time, patience, and skills of a master. This brand might not be as old as Kamaka, but this soprano model demonstrates its expertise.
KoAloha KCM-00 Concert
The KoAloha KCM-00 Concert is more expensive than the previous soprano model, but the increase is comparable to the greater length and width. As a concert-sized ukulele, this model has 18 frets and enough width to accommodate larger fingers. And the projection of a larger instrument like this makes performing much more realistic.
Depending on your playing needs, be aware that KoAloha does make a long-neck version of this model. Or, if you need the larger size and projection, you can consider their tenor-sized model, which also has a long-neck version.
Lanikai makes instruments of many qualities ranging from beginner to professional models. You can find some of the top instruments made in Hawaii by Lanikai, and the brand also produces some more stripped-down models around the world.
If you see a model with LK in the name, you can assume they make it in Hawaii—this does not assume high quality, but it does give a sense of authenticity to an instrument so closely associated with that region. But like many brands, its sustaining popularity over the years gives a strong sense of expertise and authentic workmanship.
The Lanikai MAS-T (available on Sweetwater, Amazon) is a tenor ukulele made of mahogany. The fingerboard is made from a rosewood material that has a great response and projection. The combination of mahogany and rosewood gives this instrument a uniquely dark sound.
Unlike many soprano ukuleles that produce a dense and harsh sound, the combination of size and material in this model makes a warm and mellow tone. If you have larger hands or plan to use a ukulele in performance settings, it might be worth the extra cost of this instrument.
The Lanikai ACST-T (available to purchase on Sweetwater, Amazon) is slightly more expensive than the previous MAS-T, as its material is acacia wood. This model also captures the warm and mellow sound of the previous instrument, but the maple binding against the acacia makes a higher-quality sound.
The fingerboard of the ACST-T is also of rosewood, and the neck will feel comfortable for a wide range of hand sizes. These Lanikai instruments are more expensive than the budget beginner models, but you will notice the difference in quality, even as a beginner.
Many of the best ukulele brands did not start as ukulele makers—they transitioned after perfecting other instruments like guitar. But Kala has been loyal to and focused on ukuleles since the beginning. While it is no guarantee of quality, that does say something about the brand’s dedication to the art of making ukuleles.
More importantly, Kala is the kind of brand that has an option for almost everyone, ranging from the budget-sensitive beginner to the expert looking for the best. Based in California, Kala is also great about continually updating its line of ukuleles. You can count on this brand regularly releasing new models to showcase the latest features and ideas.
Many ukulele brands can produce one aspect of the instrument that people love, either the clear high tones or the dark mellow chord sounds. Kala manages to make instruments that can accomplish both of these qualities.
The Kala KA-15S (available online at Sweetwater, Amazon) is a soprano ukulele that is the perfect price and quality for a beginner looking to get started. Considering Kala’s reputation, there is no beating this price, and you can assume they are not cutting the kind of corners that would make for a low-quality instrument.
The KA-15S has a mahogany body and construction that still resonates with the sound. While you will not get the kind of depth and resonance of a professional tenor-sized model, this instrument will surprise you. It is the perfect option for beginners who want to capture the percussive sound of a small ukulele.
And as you will read towards the end of the article, you should stay away from the cheapest ukulele models that use plastic and cheap designs—put simply, they do not sound good or stay in tune. But if budget is your concern, this Kala model is one of your best options.
The Kala KA-CG (available on Sweetwater and Amazon) is a concert-sized ukulele, coming in at a slightly higher price than the previous Kala soprano instrument. The all-mahogany construction looks stunning, and it also sounds great at this size. You can expect this model to have a much richer sound than the previous KA-15S soprano size.
If budget is less of a concern for you—and also if your hand size is not too small to handle a larger instrument—you should highly consider this model over the KA-15S. And while soprano ukuleles represent the classic Hawaiian sound, anyone who wishes to advance into a more difficult fingerpicking technique will want an instrument this size or larger.
Donner is quite new compared to some of the above brands with histories well over one hundred years. Founded in 2012, Donner makes many musical instruments, and they are particularly well-known for making high-quality electric instruments.
So even though the top ukuleles are acoustic, there are a ton of benefits to having electric pickups and EQ included in your instrument. If you did have your mind set on an electric model, Donner would be a great brand to consider. This company loves innovation and is not afraid to experiment with new designs and materials.
So while many brands prefer to connect to the traditional and authentic standards of older instrument makers, Donner is a great option that combines build quality, innovation, and technology to make playable instruments at affordable prices.
Donner Concert Ukulele
The Donner Concert Ukulele (available on Amazon) is a beginner instrument, but it has a mahogany material that still produces a warm and rich sound. While many beginner instruments at this price are soprano-sized ukuleles, the fact that this model is concert-sized is a nice bonus.
This model also comes as a bundle packed with lots of accessories you would normally need to buy elsewhere, including:
- A gig bag
- A strap
- Extra strings
- Four picks
- A cleaning cloth
Donner Electric Tenor Ukulele
The Donner Electric Tenor Ukulele (available on Amazon) is similar in construction to the previous concert model, including the mahogany body and neck material that helps resonate a warm and full sound. And because this is a tenor model, the larger size will naturally make a warmer sound that is fantastic for melodic playing.
But the stand-out feature of this ukulele is its electric EQ settings that let you adjust the tone quality if you plug it into a sound system. The larger size and EQ ability make this instrument flexible enough to play casually at home or in an official concert setting.
If you are familiar with the music world, there’s a decent chance you have heard of Martin as a famous guitar manufacturer, as they have been making guitars since the 1800s. And while their ukulele making does not have the same long history, Martin is taking the same standard of craftsmanship to their production of ukuleles.
As such, total beginners might want to stay away from this brand if budget is one of the top priorities—even the beginner models can be a bit pricy. But compared with the exorbitant price of some of the completely authentic Hawaiian makers, Martin’s ukuleles are almost as good and much more affordable.
Intermediate and professional players should keep this brand in mind as they determine what specific instrument is best for their situation.
Martin T1K Tenor Ukulele
The Martin T1K Tenor Ukulele (available on Sweetwater and Guitar Center) is one of the more expensive models in this article, besides the instruments built in Hawaii by Kamaka and KoAloha. But it is worth noticing that this Martin tenor ukulele uses the same Hawaiian koa wood to capture that authentic sound—the so-called “island tone.”
Besides the Hawaiian koa wood on the back, sides, and top, there is Sitka spruce on the bracings that gives the instrument strength without taking away from the tone and resonance. This instrument is not a budget option, but if you are eyeing options in this price range, consider a high-quality ukulele like this.
Martin 0XK Concert Ukulele
The Martin 0XK Concert Ukulele (compare prices on Sweetwater and Guitar Center) roughly sells for half the price of the previous T1K model from Martin. Besides some minor material differences, the 0XK is a smaller concert-sized ukulele. You can expect the sound quality to be warm and rich but not quite as professional as the T1K.
This instrument is made from a high-pressure laminate koa wood, and it visually has a unique varied grain pattern to the koa. The neck material is birch material and the neck/fingerboard is mahogany, providing a flexible and responsive feel.
Lohanu is another brand you can set aside as fantastic for both beginners and intermediates. Their LU line of ukuleles is particularly great for beginners because they usually come as a bundle, providing you with other accessories such as a tuner, extra strings, and a case you need to get started.
Lohanu also has glossy makes and maple-topped instruments that look beautiful. While sound quality is usually the top priority for folks, an authentic and visually appealing instrument is also a crucial detail. While advanced and professional players might want one of the more expensive brands, beginners and intermediates should keep these instruments in mind as they decide what is best for them.
The Lohanu LU-S (available on Amazon) is a soprano ukulele that is perfect for beginners—it is also an affordable gift if you are looking to surprise someone with a fun musical instrument. Even the Lohanu beginner instruments look appealing, and the fact that they come as a bundle makes it an even better gift.
The bundle includes:
- A strapped case
- A tuner
For beginners, having a tuner is such a benefit!
Lohanu Cutaway Electric
The Lohanu Cutaway Electric (available on Amazon) will be slightly more expensive than the LU-S because of its electric capabilities and larger concert size. This model has a cutaway body, an electric pickup unit, and an EQ band with three channels to adjust the sound quality.
Like the previous Lohanu product, this Cutaway Electric model comes as a bundle with everything a beginner might need. If you’re buying a ukulele for someone who already owns musical equipment, the electric model might be worth the extra cost.
Cordoba began making guitars in 1997, and the company is mostly known for making classical guitars in the Spanish tradition. But like Martin, the skills for building guitars transfer well to the ukulele craftsmanship. Cardoba puts a unique spin on their ukulele instruments, giving them a wider neck than most models.
Cordoba’s wider neck gives their instruments a particularly loud and clear sound, making the transition from guitar much easier.
Cordoba 15CM Concert Ukulele
The Cordoba 15CM Concert Ukulele (available on Sweetwater, Amazon) is a better option than the cheapest beginner models on here, and it will probably surprise you with its tone quality. This instrument has a solid projection, and there is an ivoroid binding material that you would normally find on more expensive models.
With a satin finish and mahogany for the top, back, and sides, this instrument will sound and look great.
Cordoba 20TM Tenor Ukulele
The Cordoba 20TM Tenor Ukulele (available to purchase on Sweetwater, Amazon) is an acoustic-electric ukulele that shows off one of the higher-end Cordoba models. Besides being the larger tenor size, the 20TM ukulele also has built-in electronics.
The EQ control offers only two bands, but the mahogany top, sides, back, and neck will provide a warm tone that won’t need much electrical adjusting.
What Kind of Ukulele Has the Best Sound?
When it comes to musical instruments, you can generally expect the more expensive and professional model instruments to have the best sound quality. But aside from that caveat, you should be aware that even within the same standard of an instrument, different sizes and designs produce unique sounds.
The main types of ukuleles, in order of increasing size, are:
If you want the most classic ukulele sound possible, consider buying a soprano model. This size produces that compact and thin sound that most differentiates a ukulele from a larger instrument like a guitar.
What Is a Concert Ukulele?
Compared with the smallest soprano ukulele, a concert ukulele is longer by an inch and has a wider neck. There are more frets than on a soprano instrument, and the wider spacing of the frets makes it easier to play for those with larger hands.
Like most instruments, the larger size of the concert ukulele produces a warmer and fuller sound than the smaller-sized instrument. While the soprano size is ideal for traveling and casual playing, a concert ukulele is large enough to project its sound with more resonance. If you plan to perform, it might be better to invest in the concert ukulele.
What Size Ukulele Should I Get?
If you are buying a ukulele for a younger player, then a soprano size is ideal. It will be the right size for their fingers, and it will have the most traditional ukulele sound. This size is also best for any player whose hands will comfortably fit, and it is the perfect size for traveling.
But as you read above, concert-sized ukuleles are longer and wider, giving anyone with larger fingers more room to work. You can also expect a warmer and deeper sound as the instrument gets bigger.
The tenor size comes after the concert, and it is even longer, wider, and heavier. Professional players tend to use this size because it is ideal for the more advanced fingerpicking technique. The baritone size is even larger than the tenor and has a similar sound and technique to the guitar. If you have extremely large hands or want an easy transition from guitar, a baritone size might be worth considering.
Ukulele Brands To Avoid
Avoid ukuleles from large retailers like Walmart because they are usually made with the cheapest materials, in most cases plastic. And when it comes to musical instruments, going for cheap material—no matter how tempting the price might be—is almost always a mistake.
The quality of an instrument comes down to the quality of the vibrations and resonance that the instrument’s material supports. This sensitivity is why hand-built instruments by skilled makers can get so expensive. And if you go with the cheapest plastic brand you can find, you will be disappointed by the sound quality.
So considering how affordable many of the models in this collection are, you should avoid unrecognized brand names that use cheap materials.
Which Ukulele Brand Is Best?
Because it is such a popular instrument, many fantastic ukulele brands exist. But like all musical instrument purchases, choosing a reputable company that has proven its capabilities is crucial—buying a new instrument and being disappointed in the sound quality is always unfortunate.
But giving a firm recommendation on the best ukulele brand without more knowledge is complicated. Depending on your skill level, hand size, and other needs, different brands and models will be ideal for you. And since everyone has unique budget considerations, price is also a factor.
So before learning about the best ukulele brands in detail, let’s explore the considerations worth knowing.
Best for Beginners
Generally speaking, a beginner ukulele player does not need to spend much money on professional-quality instruments, since they likely will not be able to appreciate the advanced response and sound quality.
So the best beginner ukulele brands compromise quality and price to make affordable models that still sound great. You might not be able to perform advanced fingerpicking melodies at a concert, but you can strum that classic ukulele sound and be happy with the quality. Many of the brands and models below make impressive instruments considering their price.
With beginner models, look for deals that bundle in a case and other accessories to help get you started. If you have a low budget, you can also consider buying the instrument secondhand.
Best for Intermediates
There is no firm line between the beginning and intermediate models and brands, and many of the beginner brands sell intermediate instruments that are slightly more expensive. While beginner models are often $100 or less, intermediate instruments can be a few hundred dollars.
With intermediate models, look for a wider size offering that allows for a more advanced picking technique and that richer, fuller sound that is ideal for performing. Intermediate models will also tend towards better quality wood material and often come with a glossy finish that makes them look more beautiful.
Best for Professionals
Professionally-built string instruments can be expensive. And even though ukuleles do not come close to violins, they can still have steep prices. But on the flip side, an advanced player can make these instruments sound incredible, and their sound will carry and project whether in a small space or a large concert hall.
The highest-priced professional models can be over $1000 and usually come from an authentic and traditional Hawaiian maker—Kamaka and KoAloha are examples of these brands. But other popular brands like Martin also offer advanced models with the same manufacturing standards as their guitars.
For professional models, you should also keep an eye out for those with electric and equalization (EQ) capabilities.
Top Ukulele Brands, Final Thoughts
Whether you’re a beginner trying to learn how to strum a few chords to capture that classic Hawaiian ukulele sound or an advanced player looking to upgrade their instrument, there are plenty of fantastic brands to choose from.
Some of the best ukelele brands only produce advanced models and sizes—such as the Magic Fluke ukuleles—and others are ideal for beginners. Whoever you are, hopefully, this has motivated you to commit to this unique instrument!