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Want to pick up the uke, or planning to buy one for a loved one? With all the different kinds of ukuleles, deciding on the right beginner ukulele can be overwhelming…
… well, it would’ve been if you hadn’t found this guide. 🙂
Here are the best ukuleles for beginners and everything you need to know when buying your first ukulele.
Cordoba 15CM – Best Overall
A beginner’s ukulele doesn’t have to be a cheap instrument you’ll want to replace as soon as you learn how to play it.
The Cordoba 15CM (see the price on Sweetwater, Amazon, and Guitar Center) is a bit more expensive than some entry ukuleles. Attention to its materials and construction means it will be smoother to play, easier to enjoy, and more pleasant to listen to right out of the box.
This 15CM, Cordoba’s concert-sized ukulele, sits smack dab in the middle of the spectrum of ukulele sizes. This concert is perfect for those who want a small instrument that’s not too small.
Made from quartersawn mahogany, the front, back, and sides give this ukulele a rich, lively tone with loud projection. The Cordoba 15CM also features ivoroid binding and an abalone shell rosette, gorgeous embellishments usually only found on much more expensive instruments.
Capturing the classic ukulele look, it boasts a satin finish. The fingerboard and bridge are made from rosewood. It also includes chrome tuners with pearl buttons and comes fitted with Aquila Nylgut strings.
Overall, this ukulele is highly playable and an excellent value for its price point. The respect and care put into its construction prove that the ukulele is a serious instrument and that even beginners deserve to play a beautiful one.
Number of Frets: 18
Scale Length: 14.75″
Martin T1K – Premium Option
You can go many different ways with a premium ukulele and drop a couple of thousand on a beautiful high-end, hand-crafted instrument. As a beginner with a desire and budget for a premium ukulele, you don’t necessarily want to choose something you are too intimidated to play.
Martin has a long history and outstanding reputation in making guitars and ukuleles. The Martin T1K (see the price on Sweetwater or Guitar Center) is an excellent choice for a beginner looking to invest in a premium ukulele.
The T1K is a tenor ukulele. The tenor is one step up from the concert ukulele, but it is still significantly smaller than the average guitar. This Martin ukulele is made from solid Hawaiian koa back, sides, and top, which capture the heritage, history, and full, rich tone of a traditional Hawaiian ukulele.
Sitka spruce bracing gives the T1K a solid but flexible structure and provides the foundation for the ukulele’s resonance. Other features include a sipo fingerboard and bridge to capture the traditional style, a dovetail neck joint, nickel open-geared tuning machines for look and stability, and a hand-rubbed satin finish highlighting the koa’s natural grain and beauty. It also comes with a soft gig bag.
Most of the extra cost of this ukulele comes from the materials, but if you want that traditional Hawaiian sound, it is the best way to go, and this premium option is one of the more affordable ways to get it. Other than being beautiful, it is highly playable and sounds exquisite.
Number of Frets: 20
Scale Length: 17″
Makala Shark – Best Budget Option
A small budget or a fear of commitment should never get in the way of purchasing an instrument to learn. With the beginning of the ukulele boom about ten years ago, more cheap ukuleles began flooding the market. You might be able to find a ukulele for around twenty dollars online or in a store, but you should leave that ukulele there.
For slightly more money than hastily produced, poorly constructed ukuleles, you can get a Makala Shark ukulele (see price on Amazon or Guitar Center) and start your ukulele journey off with a fun and well-loved budget beginner uke.
Makala Shark ukuleles are available in a dizzying variety of colors. If your favorite color is white, tangerine, lavender, surf green, or anything in between, you should be able to find one in a color that makes your heart happy. The Shark takes its name from their shark-shaped bridge. Makala also makes a dolphin line, the only difference being the bridge is shaped like a dolphin.
The Shark is a soprano ukulele, which is the smallest standard ukulele size. This ukulele is an excellent choice for an adult or child beginner. The top wood is Philippine mahogany. The back and sides are made from composite. They don’t have the depth of tone of more expensive ukuleles, but they are resonant and bright enough to enjoy. They are also an instrument you can take anywhere with you and not have to be precious with.
The fingerboard is rosewood. The nut and saddle are plastic. This is very obviously a budget instrument. However, it plays and sounds better than any other ukulele at its price point.
Depending on where you purchase your Shark, it may come with terrible, black plastic strings. Switch those out for Aquila strings. It is also a good idea to either purchase your Shark through a retailer that will do a set-up or take it somewhere that will. Sharks are a good instrument, but sometimes they need a little help for maximum playability.
Number of Frets: 12
Scale Length: 13.625″
Fender Dhani Harrison
Known for its iconic guitars, Fender also makes ukuleles. The Fender Dhani Harrison (see the price on Sweetwater, Amazon) was conceived and built as a collaboration between Fender and George Harrison’s son, Dhani Harrison. Harrison grew up around ukuleles and designed his signature ukulele with affection and attention to detail.
This ukulele features the recognizable Fender headstock. It is an acoustic/electric tenor ukulele with Fender electronics. It is perfect for beginners who want to plug in or for performing musicians who want to try their hand at playing and including the ukulele in their shows.
This ukulele is made from ovangkol with a nato neck and walnut fingerboard. It also includes a bone-nut and open-back geared machine heads.
Visually stunning, the Fender Dhani Harrison’s unique fingerboard inlays depict the moon’s phases. It has a lovely, peaceful turquoise stain and an engraved design on the back.
Smooth to play with a bright tone, this would be an excellent choice for a beginner who wants a cool-looking ukulele and doesn’t mind spending a little more for a well-conceived and constructed instrument made by a well-known and well-respected manufacturer.
Number of Frets: 19
Scale Length: 17″
Part of the allure of the ukulele and part of why ukulele players often have several ukuleles is the different sizes offer so much variety. Each size ukulele brings its sound and characteristic to the party. Here’s another one from Martin for the beginner with a little more to spend.
The Martin S1 (see the price on Sweetwater, Amazon) is a stunning, handmade, classic-looking soprano. The front, back, and sides are made of solid mahogany, which gives this ukulele a well-projected, layered, and rich sound. It is a ukulele truly suited to playing any style of music.
The S1 includes a satin finish, bone nut, nickel peg tuners, and a multi-stripe rosette. It has an applied dovetail neck joint, a non-scalloped brace, and a standard taper neck. It comes with a gig bag.
Mahogany sopranos are a classic combination for ukuleles, giving the style and sound most people are used to. The level of attention and care Martin puts into the design and construction of the S1 makes it an excellent choice for the beginner who wants a beautiful-looking and easy-to-play instrument.
Number of Frets: 17
Scale Length: 13.614″
One of the pleasures of playing the ukulele is experimenting with the woods. A nice solid wood top is beautiful and offers superior sound; each type of wood affects the instrument’s tone.
The Lanikai ACST-T (view the price on Guitar Center) is a tenor with a solid acacia top and acacia laminate sides and back. The acacia gives this uke a warm tone and is a wood often used for a similar sound to koa at a much lower price.
The Lanikai ACST-T features a wider nut for a wider neck, making playing more comfortable, especially for a beginner. It also includes a responsive rosewood fingerboard for playability. The Deluxe Grover chrome open-backed tuners ensure accuracy and stability in tuning. This uke also comes with chrome strap buttons. Most ukuleles do not have strap buttons, but with the larger size for the tenor, it is an excellent idea for a beginner to use a strap for proper posture.
This is a beautiful ukulele with maple binding and rosette that contrast stunningly with the acacia. All in all, it is an excellent instrument with great sound and sustains. It is highly playable for a beginner, although it does come in at a higher price range than some of the other ukuleles on this list.
Number of Frets: 17
For beginners concerned with the sustainability and renewability of materials, Kala offers an attractive option.
The Kala KA-BMB-T (see the price on Sweetwater and Amazon) is constructed of a solid bamboo front, back, and sides. Bamboo is sustainable, renewable, and makes for a durable and resilient ukulele. The bamboo neck and fingerboard are smooth and easy to play, making it a great beginner option. This model is a tenor, but the Kala KA-BMB is also available in soprano and concert.
This is a beautiful ukulele. The multi-layered straight grain of bamboo has a cozy and natural look. The satin finish makes the light color of the bamboo shine.
The Kala KA-BMB-T is known for its rich harmonics, bright tone, and substantial volume, which entices both beginners and experienced players. This ukulele is also an excellent option for a beginner who wants a uke with a natural look that is different from the rest of the woods out there. This uke makes a statement with its clear tone and simple, stunning beauty.
Number of Frets: 18
Scale Length: 16.75″
The baritone ukulele isn’t just larger than the tenor. It has a lower, darker, and richer tone than the smaller ukuleles. Also, while soprano, concert, and tenor ukuleles are all tuned to G-C-E-A, baritones are tuned to D-G-B-E, which mimics the bottom four strings of a guitar. This can potentially make it easier to learn for guitar players.
The Kala MK-B (see the price on Sweetwater and Amazon) is an affordable entry-level baritone ukulele. The MK-B is made by Makala ukuleles which is the less expensive brand owned by the same company that owns Kala. They are both names you will come across often in your search for a beginner ukulele.
The MK-B is made of mahogany front, back, and sides, giving this baritone a great tone. In conjunction with the mahogany, the satin finish ensures this ukulele will age well. The responsive fingerboard is made from walnut, making for a highly smooth and playable experience.
While the baritone isn’t the most popular choice for beginners, it is an excellent choice for a current guitar player or for someone who wants a deeper tone or a larger ukulele and who doesn’t mind re-learning chords when they buy a smaller ukulele in the future.
Number of Frets: 18
Scale Length: 20.25
Again, baritones aren’t often marketed to beginners, but for those who are coming from the guitar, who have larger fingers, or who are just drawn to their look at sound, a baritone ukulele can be a good choice for a first ukulele. Here is another one at a slightly higher price point.
The Cordoba 20BM (see the price on Amazon and Guitar Center) has a solid mahogany top and mahogany back, sides, and neck. It boasts a satin finish and a natural wood pattern rosette. Like most Cordoba instruments, it has a classic style and a gorgeous look.
The rosewood fingerboard is smooth and comfortable. The string spacing on this ukulele is perfect for fingerstyle playing. It has great, playable action. Its playability makes it an excellent choice for a beginner.
The all-mahogany uke is well constructed and has a mellow, deep, rich tone with good resonance and projection. Cordoba has a reputation for making beautiful instruments with care, and if you’re looking for an affordable baritone with a lot to offer, the 20BM is an excellent choice.
Number of Frets: 19
Scale Length: 20″
One of the biggest perks of learning to play the ukulele is that it is an instrument you can take anywhere. Some brands and designs make this even easier.
The Kala KA-SSTU-T (see the price on Sweetwater and Amazon) is a slim travel tenor ukulele with a shallow body depth that makes it easy to transport and store. It also comes with a gig bag, so it’s ready to travel with you right out of the box.
This affordable ukulele is made with mahogany back and sides for full tone and projection. The solid spruce top gives it a punchy brightness. It comes with high-quality chrome tuning machines with black buttons. The fingerboard and bridge are rosewood. It has a synthetic bone nut and saddle. The black/white/black/white binding and black rosette give it a classic folksy appeal.
The Kala KA-SSTU-T is an excellent option for the beginner who prefers the size and sound of a tenor ukulele but wants a uke they can throw in the car and take everywhere with them. Even if you’re not planning to carry it everywhere you go, it has a nice look, and the spruce mahogany combination gives it a great tone that’s a little different than some other wood pairings.
Number of Frets: 18
Scale Length: 17″
Luna Vintage Mahogany Pineapple
Most ukuleles share the figure-eight body shape of the guitar. However, another popular shape said to have been invented by Samuel Kaialiilii Kamaka is the pineapple. The pineapple ukulele’s body shape is oval. With the neck sprouting up from the top of the oval, it resembles its namesake fruit. Because of its more prominent front and back panels, allowing it to hold more air, the pineapple is louder and has a more mellow sound than standard bodied ukes of the same material, quality, and brand.
The Luna Vintage Mahogany Pineapple (see the price on Sweetwater, Amazon) is a budget-friendly, entry-level soprano pineapple ukulele from a brand well known for the designs and embellishments on their ukes.
This ukulele is made with a mahogany top, back, sides, and neck, which give it a rich and full tone. Its satin-finished neck with a C-shaped profile means it plays fast and smooth, ideal qualities for a beginner. The walnut bridge enhances vibrational transfer for a clear tone.
A visually attractive ukulele, the Luna Vintage Mahogany Pineapple features mother-of-pearl inlays modeled after shark teeth and a tribal patterned rosette.
This ukulele is a good choice for a beginner looking for a ukulele that will sound great, be fun to play, and be a solid and exciting instrument to continue playing as their skills increase.
Number of Frets: 12
Scale Length: 13″
Kala is one of the top-selling ukulele brands out there for a good reason. They make solid, affordable instruments that a beginner can play and that an intermediate or professional musician wants to.
The Kala KA-C (see the price on Sweetwater, Amazon) is an excellent example of a simple ukulele that is a pleasure to play. It is a concert ukulele with a classic, but no-frills, understated look with its all mahogany (front, back, sides, and neck) construction and contrasting cream binding.
The all-mahogany build gives the KA-C a lush, warm sound with a full-bodied, balanced tone. The rosewood fingerboard and satin-polished neck make it comfortable and easy to play. It has ultra-stable die-cast tuners and comes with Aquila Nylgut strings.
This concert ukulele is well-loved and highly praised. Because of its affordability, it would be a good choice for any adult beginner or for a child who wants a serious beginner’s ukulele that isn’t brightly colored. It might look a little plain, but it offers a lot of bang for the buck.
Number of Frets: 18
Scale Length: 14.87
While most ukuleles, especially soprano ukes, are super portable and can go with you anywhere, you might not want to take your all-mahogany or koa uke with you to the beach or the lake.
For beginners who want a uke, they can learn poolside, while camping, at a beach bonfire, or on a boat. The Kala Waterman (see the price on Sweetwater, Amazon) has you covered. Inspired by the 1950s Maccaferri ukulele, Kala designed the Waterman with an outdoor lifestyle in mind.
This take-anywhere is made from a lightweight, durable ABS composite plastic and is available in concert or soprano. It is water resistant and easy to clean. The only non-plastic components are the tuners, so you can even submerge this ukulele in water if you dry the tuners afterward. It has a bright sound and decent projection.
An affordable, budget ukulele, it is perfect for adults, kids, and college students. The Waterman comes in black, white, and a variety of bright colors, some of which are transparent. If you’ve been dying to learn to play ukulele on an instrument you can see through, this is the one for you.
Number of Frets: 18 (concert)
Scale Length: 14.75″ (concert)
Epiphone Les Paul Acoustic-Electric Tenor
Maybe you want a beginner’s ukulele that doesn’t look like a ukulele. Maybe you want one that looks like a guitar. Perhaps you want a ukulele that makes you feel like a rock star from the first note.
The Epiphone Les Paul Acoustic-Electric Tenor (see the price on Sweetwater, Amazon), available in Vintage Sunburst and Cherry Sunburst, comes with that rockstar look, complete with the Les Paul-shaped cream pickguard and the Les Paul signature on the headstock.
This cut-away ukulele has a spruce top, mahogany back and sides, granadillo fingerboard, and an onboard piezo film under-saddle pickup for when you want to plug in and pump out some serious ukulele sound.
The Epiphone Les Paul Acoustic-Electric Tenor has a full, sweet, mellow found. Its SlimTaper C-Profile mahogany neck makes it a playable and responsive instrument. It is a relatively inexpensive ukulele and is an excellent choice for a beginner looking for an acoustic-electric.
Number of Frets: 19
Scale Length: 17″
Technology is constantly evolving the instruments we play and how we play them. For beginners who want an extra cool ukulele and have a little extra money to spend, this is an exciting time.
The Lava U (see the price on Amazon) is made from carbon fiber composite. This material makes the ukulele weather resistant and able to handle high and low temperatures, as well as high and low humidity levels. This is the first uke to feature a screwless machine head. It is an easy-to-clean, take-anywhere ukulele available in 23″ or 26″, in a variety of sparkly colors.
The super cool thing about the Lava U is its L2 mini preamp which gives excellent sound quality but also enables you to play with built-in effects like reverb, delay, and chorus without even having to plug in. This is a uke you can not only take anywhere, but it’s one you can perform with anywhere.
It comes with a Space Case, a unique space pod case with a clear window at the front to showcase your ukulele as you carry it around. It even comes with its own pick, the Ideal Pick Flow. Most ukulele players don’t use a pick, but it’s a nice touch. All in all, this is a pricey but sleek-looking and easy-playing ukulele.
Number of Frets: 19 (23″)
Scale Length: 14.96″
Enya Nova U
If you want the look and feel of the future but have a tighter budget or just aren’t sure you want to invest too much in a beginner ukulele, there are options.
The Enya Nova U (see the price on Amazon) has a carbon fiber composite polycarbonate body, which makes it waterproof, and easy to clean. It features an arched back, radius fretboard, and cut-away body, making the instrument comfortable and easy to play for any beginner. Its side sound hole design gives this uke a bright sound and strong resonance.
It is a lightweight and thin ukulele but well-constructed and durable. It would make an excellent ukulele for a kid or teenager. You can also bring this one along to the beach, camping, or traveling without having to worry about damaging it.
Available in soprano, concert, and tenor sizes, the Nova U comes in a variety of colors and designs. It even comes with a color-matching case, strap, and capo. This ukulele manages to look cute and cool at the same time and is an excellent option for the beginner who wants to take their uke wherever they go and grab peoples’ eyes as they do so.
Ibanez UICT10 Iceman
Ibanez is a familiar name to anyone who plays the guitar or bass, and they bring some serious rock and roll vibes to the ukulele world.
The Ibanez UICT10 Iceman (see the price on Sweetwater, Amazon) is an affordable, mid-range ukulele that echoes the appearance of the Ibanez Iceman electric. It’s a black, high-gloss tenor with curves and sharp angles. It’s a visual stunner and will make an impression and smash stereotypes about ukuleles wherever you go.
Made with a spruce top and Okoume body, it has a sweet tone and strong projection. The Okoume neck with purpleheart fingerboard makes it a smooth and playable uke. The cut-away body gives comfortable access to the upper frets, perfect for a beginner looking to solo or explore chord possibilities. It comes with Grover open-gear tuners for tuning stability.
The Iceman is an acoustic-electric with onboard Ibanez AEQ2U electronics with tuner and EQ. It has a magnificent amplified tone and the ability to control tone shape. With this uke, you won’t just look rock and roll. You’ll sound it too. It’s an excellent choice for a beginner who wants to learn the ukulele but wants to explore a harder, heavier side to the look and music it is capable of.
Number of Frets: 20
Scale Length: 17″
Magic Fluke Co Flea
UAS or “Ukulele Acquisition Syndrome” is a real thing. As a beginner, you start with one ukulele, and then you see another one that catches your eye, and then another one that’s different from any other you’ve seen, and then another, on and on.
Get ahead of UAS with a beginner-suitable ukulele you’re going to want to buy later, anyway. The Magic Fluke Co Flea (see the price on Amazon) has a unique look, with its oval shape and flat bottom that allows you to stand your uke up on its own.
The Flea comes in soprano or concert in a wide variety of colors and designs. The available top woods are Australian hoop pine, walnut, koa, and spruce. The back and sides of the Flea are made from injection molded thermoplastic. The back and sides are one piece, molded into a round shape with a good depth that leads to solid projection.
The neck of the Flea is made from maple or walnut, and the fingerboard, depending on the model, is made from either polycarbonate or, for the higher-end selections, hardwood. Customization and upgrades, including electronics, are available on the company’s website.
The Flea is a good-sounding, fun instrument to play and is one you can happily travel with. The plastic fingerboard and frets might take some getting used to for a beginner who has played another stringed instrument, but it does facilitate smooth movement up and down the neck.
Number of Frets: 14 (soprano) 15 (concert)
Scale Length: 14” (soprano) 15.5” (concert)
Luna Crescent Spalted Maple Concert Ukulele
Luna was co-founded by Yvonne de Villiers, a stained glass artist who had a vision of creating instruments that were playable works of art.
That vision is apparent in every Luna ukulele, and the Luna Crescent Spalted Maple Concert Ukulele (see the price on Sweetwater and Amazon) is stunningly obvious. The spalted maple top has such a stunning ripple/marble effect between the brown and blonde tones, and the satin finish shows off an arresting effect. The crescent-shaped soundhole and mother-of-pearl inlays modeled after the phases of the moon give this ukulele a whimsical and ethereal quality.
The back and sides of this concert ukulele are made from mahogany. It has a mahogany neck and walnut fingerboard, which makes for smooth and easy playability. It has a walnut bridge and open-gear tuners.
This ukulele has a rich tone and is an excellent choice for a beginner who wants a nice-sounding entry-level concert ukulele that is pretty and is as enjoyable to look at as it is to play.
Number of Frets: 18
Scale Length: 15″
What To Look For In A Ukulele For Beginners
The sheer number of options can be overwhelming when looking for a ukulele for beginners. You might not be familiar with what specs mean. Especially if it’s your first instrument, you might not even know what you want or need from a ukulele.
With a bit of introspection and a little research, you will be able to find a beginner’s ukulele you’re happy with. Here are some areas to keep in mind.
Because ukuleles come in different sizes, this is usually the first thing to think about when buying a beginner ukulele. Each size has a slightly different sound and is suited to different purposes and different players. There are four basic sizes of ukulele:
- Soprano – 21″
- Concert – 23″
- Tenor – 26″
- Baritone – 30″ +
The soprano ukulele is the smallest standard ukulele and the first size to gain popularity. It tends to have a bright, thin, jangly sound. Since it is the smallest, it is also the easiest to travel with. The soprano is especially suited to children or anyone with small hands. People with larger hands might find some difficulty with the minimal space between frets and strings.
The concert ukulele is just a little bigger than the soprano. It has a slightly fuller tone. It is an excellent choice for a beginner who wants a small instrument but finds the soprano a little too small. There is also more room between the frets, but most adults with small hands should still find it comfortable to play.
The tenor ukulele is, again, just a little bit bigger than the concert and with an even fuller sound. There are more frets on the fingerboard than the smaller sizes, meaning you have access to higher notes. This is an excellent ukulele for a beginner with big hands or who just wants a larger ukulele but wants one that still uses standard tuning. The tenor is also a popular choice for performing.
The baritone ukulele is the largest of the ukuleles and produces the deepest sound. People with small hands might find they have a hard time or have to stretch to reach the frets. The strum on the baritone isn’t as crisp as it is on the smaller ukuleles, but it is an excellent choice for blues players and fingerpickers.
Something to keep in mind is that the soprano, concert, and tenor are all tuned to G-C-E-A, which means once you learn the chords for one of them, you’ve learned the chords for all of them. Baritones, however, use a D-G-B-E tuning. This is the same as a guitar, so guitar players will have an advantage with the baritone. But those beginning on baritone may have a hard time with online lessons meant for a G-C-E-A tuned uke.
It might not be the first thing you think about when buying a beginner ukulele, but playability is the most critical factor. Playability will not only determine how long it takes you to learn the uke, but it is also crucial to whether you keep playing. No one wants to play an instrument that is too difficult or uncomfortable to play.
Whenever possible, try out the ukuleles you’re thinking of buying. How do they feel? Even if you don’t know what you’re doing yet, slide your hand up and down the neck, and press the strings down on the fingerboard. Do you feel like the instrument is fighting you or inviting you?
Some key terms to keep in mind when buying a ukulele online:
- Action – In simple terms, this means how high the strings sit above the fingerboard. The higher the action, the more effort you’ll need to hold down the strings.
- Playability – When a ukulele description or review mentions playability, this often has to do with the neck, its curve, how easy it is to move your hand up and down the neck, and how easy it is to reach the fingerboard.
- Fingerboard – Fingerboard material makes a difference in how it feels to go up and down the neck and hold chords. Most fingerboards are made from rosewood or other hardwood. Plastic or composite ukuleles with plastic fingerboards can feel too slippery for some people.
Check a potential ukulele, too, for even frets that don’t jut out from the sides of the neck or any other issues with the hardware.
If you buy a ukulele that does have playability issues, or you purchase a budget beginner’s uke, it is a good idea to take it in for a set-up so it will be in the best condition possible and be as easy for you to play as possible.
Having a good idea of what you can spend and what you want to spend on a beginner’s ukulele will help you narrow down your choices and steer you towards something you’ll be happy with.
It’s helpful beforehand to decide:
- Do you just want the best cheapest uke to see if you even like it?
- Are you willing to spend a little more for a look and a sound you love?
- Do you have a higher budget and commitment level and want to start with the absolute best ukulele that you will still enjoy playing/ performing in the years to come
Decent, playable entry-level ukes can start as low as $40 to $60. A good midrange begins at around $100. From there, of course, the sky’s the limit, with customs and famous Hawaiian ukulele makers that reach into the thousands.
Ukuleles are usually made from wood but can also be made from plastic or carbon fiber composite.
Ukuleles made from carbon fiber or a type of plastic are often very durable, easy to clean, and have good projection. Some, like the Flea, will have a wood top, while others, like the Waterman or Lava U, won’t. These ukes can have a good sound and strong projection but can sometimes not produce the bright sound that wood can.
There is a whole art and science when it comes to wood for ukuleles. Most ukuleles, even those with a labeled “solid wood top,” will have back and sides made from laminate. This is standard. Purchasing an all-solid-wood ukulele can be pretty expensive, and they are also vulnerable to humidity.
Different top woods are known for adding different tones. You might come across the term tonewood. There are also different tones from various combinations of wood – a mahogany body with a spruce top will sound different than a mahogany-bodied uke with a maple top. All the varieties and possibilities can be mind-boggling.
The thing to think about as a beginner when deciding on what you’d like your uke to be made out of is not overthinking it. To Find something that you like the look and sound of. Look at videos of ukuleles made of different materials. See if there is a sound or look you’re drawn to.
However, If you want that Hawaiian uke sound, go for koa, or its cheaper alternative, acacia. Mahogany is also a classic choice for the classic ukulele sound.
Ukuleles are most often in the figure eight style of a guitar, but they can also come in a pineapple shape. Because of the shape of the pineapple, reaching the higher frets can sometimes be more accessible than on a standard body. There are also cut-away ukuleles, which look fantastic but also enable you to comfortably reach higher frets. Some brands go crazy with style, trying to emulate jazz guitars or flying v’s.
While body style can be a practical decision, and specific body types will feel different to hold and use, people often choose a style they just really like the look of. See what stands out to you, what you’re drawn to.
The visual style of a ukulele on its own has nothing to do with how it will play or sound, but there are so many options, from ukuleles modeled after classic Hawaiian ukuleles to clear fluorescent pink ones to ukuleles covered with a picture of an alien. There are some fantastic ukes out there that just also happen to come in candy colors.
You’re going to learn how to express yourself with your uke, but you can also use it as a visual expression of yourself. Your beginner’s uke will look like something. If you find a couple of great ukes in your budget and can’t decide which one to get, ask yourself which one you’re more attracted to.
Acoustic, Acoustic-Electric, or Electric
Most beginning ukulele players opt for an acoustic ukulele. It is the standard and traditional way to go. You can take an acoustic ukulele with you anywhere, and most of them have good enough projection that you and those around you can hear it. They also tend to be cheaper and fit most ukulele players’ needs just fine.
However, if you’re going to perform on stage with your uke, want to play around with effects, or even just have the option to plug in, an acoustic-electric is versatile and can be a fun way to mix it up and experiment once you’ve got a few songs under your belt.
There are a couple of brands that offer electric ukes that have no sound hole or capability of producing un-amplified sound. These aren’t extremely popular, but they usually look strange and are fun to play, though they aren’t the best ukulele to learn on unless you’re in a situation where you can’t play an instrument without upsetting people. Then you could plug this type of ukulele in and use headphones so that you can practice and no one will know!
Sound is affected by a ukulele’s construction as well as the materials it is constructed from. Some ukuleles get inventive with their soundholes, either with the shape or placement. Everything that’s on a ukulele shapes its sound.
Two different ukuleles can be described as bright and rich, but those two ukuleles are still probably going to sound completely different from one another. That’s why it’s a great idea to try different ukuleles out in person and to watch demo videos of them online.
Another factor that has to do with sound, as well as playability, is strings. Some ukuleles used to come with these horrid black plastic strings. Most ukuleles these days are strung with Aquila Nylgut strings. These are standard, high-quality strings.
Before purchasing a ukulele, check what it is strung with. This is not a deal breaker, of course, but if they are lower-quality strings, order some new ones along with the ukulele, and remember, even if you discover later they are terrible strings or that you don’t like the Aquila’s, you can always buy and try different types of strings. Just talk to someone at the store for advice to make sure you are purchasing the correct material strings for your instrument.
Your Goals and How You Plan To Use Your Ukulele
Before you decide on your beginner ukulele, think about your goals and how you plan to use your ukulele.
If you’re just interested in checking it out and want a low commitment, a budget ukulele might be perfect for you. If you decide you don’t like it, or if you’re going to switch out to a different ukulele later, you won’t have much to lose.
For those who want a ukulele they can take anywhere, a soprano is a great choice. Think about getting one that can withstand water and weather, and being knocked around would be the best choice.
If learning to play in a particular style or sound is important to you, find a ukulele with a sound best suited to that type of music.
If you’re a guitar player who wants an easier transition to the uke, you might like baritone the best.
If you have larger hands, go with a larger ukulele.
Knowing what you want from a ukulele and how you plan on using it will help you find the perfect one for you. If you can use the ukulele the way you want to, then you’ll be more motivated to learn and to keep playing.
Best Beginner Ukuleles Brands
It can be a little daunting when you begin your search for a beginner ukulele since you probably don’t recognize brand names or know their reputations.
There are quite a few brands known for creating good-quality, good-sounding, extremely playable ukuleles suitable for beginners. During your search, pay special attention to these brands.
Kala and Makala
Kala and Makala ukuleles are technically two different brands owned by Kala Brand Music Co.
Makala is the company’s budget brand and offers some of the top-selling entry-level ukuleles. The Kala brand ukuleles fall more in the mid and high range but are still an affordable option for their level of quality.
Kala Brand Music Co. was founded in 2005 by Mike Upton, who wanted to make his favorite instrument more affordable and accessible for everyone.
Luna Guitars was founded in 2005 by a professional stained glass artist. Luna started as an acoustic guitar brand. Eventually, they expanded to include ukuleles and other instruments.
Luna ukuleles are well-known among uke players for their affordability, design, and wondrous artful etchings on their instruments.
Lanikai is owned by the parent company Hohner, most known for its harmonicas. Hohner does a lot of research before releasing an instrument, and that research shows with the Lanikai ukulele brand.
Lanikai is recognized for its high quality, dependable, and affordable entry-level and mid-range ukuleles suitable for beginners.
Cordoba is a guitar company committed to designing and building guitars in the Spanish tradition. They bring this same mission over to their line of ukuleles that capture that Spanish/ classical guitar look.
Cordoba ukuleles are respected for being affordable fine-crafted, beautiful sounding instruments with excellent playability, perfect for beginners.
Guitar maker Martin has a longer history with ukuleles than most other ukulele brands. Martin made its first ukulele in 1915. Martin’s ukuleles had a lot to do with the popularity of the instrument through the decades in the US, but the ukuleles also helped bring attention to Martin’s guitars, cementing the company as a legend.
Martin ukuleles can cost two to three times the amount of budget entry brands. However, they have a glowing reputation and history of quality and gorgeous, playable instruments, making them a popular choice for beginners who want to make their first ukulele purchase an investment.
Top Ukuleles For Beginners, Final Thoughts
Ukuleles are fun. Beginners are often drawn to them because they are an instrument that genuinely feels like play. If learning an instrument has stressed you out in the past, the ukulele is a delightful one to try.
Don’t let all the possibilities and options scare you. Once you have an idea of what to look for, you have a better chance of finding it!
The best beginner ukulele, no matter what it looks like or sounds like, is the one that fills you with joy.