Best Ukulele for Beginners 2020 – Buyer’s Guide

I stumbled upon many ups and downs throughout my musical endeavors with almost every instrument. Having had enough with the complex technicalities, an urge pushed me to get started with an instrument that’s enjoyable to play, easy to master, and cost-efficient to maintain. Yes, that’s the 9-word synonym for ukuleles!

Four strings, two pairs of tuning machines, and a maneuverable fingerboard—how isn’t that easy to get the hang of? With the help of simple, free videos, I was glad I could quickly nail these pull-offs to open strings to finalize my phrases with a majestic chord strike on my ukulele!

After some trial-and-error purchases, I’ve found that spotting the best ukulele for beginners is a tad hard in a ukulele market flooded with replicas whose fret wires are glued poorly, for instance. 

I even remember landing on a great choice just to find myself asking: “what’s a concert ukulele, anyways?” Well, let’s rub the dust off our 7 ukulele-shaped gems and arm you with knowledge!

At a Glance:

  1. Kala KA-C – Best Overall
  2. Cordoba 15CM – Premium Choice
  3. Official Kala Learn to Play – Best Budget
  4. Kmise Ukulele – Best Tenor Package
  5. Makala MK-B – Best for Guitar Players
  6. Kmise UK-24 – Best Electro-Acoustic
  7. Makala MK-SD/BK – Best for Kids

The 7 Best Ukuleles for Beginners 2020

Are you ready to pluck some nylon ukulele strings? Before we get into our best ukuleles, bear in mind that you shouldn’t worry about making instant progress. However, getting a high-quality or “cooperating” ukulele will encourage you to master the technique that poorly-crafted ukuleles fail to execute. Now, let’s get started with our top picks!

1. Kala KA-C – Best Overall

Kala KA-C Ukulele

One look at the Kala KA-C, and you’ll notice the brown satin finish, a glossy finishing touch that Kala adds to this instrument’s trans-brown color. Since many low-quality ukuleles deceived me, I gave the soundboard a knock with my knuckles and let out a sigh of relief, knowing it’s genuine tonewood. 

The body of this ukulele is entirely crafted out of mahogany. Even the back and sides are connected using the same slab of mahogany. I’ve always believed that mahogany is a great tonewood since it achieves a balance between midrange and treble-sounding tones. 

What further helps this ukulele achieve an improved tonal range is the walnut fingerboard, which contributes to the resonance of a warmer timbre that cancels out any overly bright sound from the nylon strings. 

Unlike soprano ukuleles, this concert ukulele offers more space among frets for you to navigate the fingerboard easily. Also, it’s soothing to know that you’ll stick to the concert size even if you reach an intermediate level. Among all beginner ukuleles, the KA-C boasts one of the best-geared tuners. However, with extensive use, you’d want to oil them to achieve a stable tuning.

Beginners will cherish when they know the embarrassment of riches that Kala includes in this ukulele starter kit! Alongside the ukulele, you’ll get a black gig bag, strap, cleaning cloth, set of Aquila Nylgut strings, and a clip-on tuner. I’m happy that Kala pre-strings the instrument with the same great Nylgut strings, so you can start strumming right off the bat!

“How am I supposed to play?” you ask. Luckily, Kala includes an instructional DVD from Austin Bazaar where you can start learning the instrument’s basics: from chord voicings and melodic phrases to strumming patterns!

One thing I frowned upon, though, is that the ukulele doesn’t have any fastened strap. However, you can get these pins at local stores.

Pros:

  • Mahogany top, back, and sides
  • Great tone balance
  • Accessories included
  • Pre-strung with Aquila Nylgut
  • Step-by-step lessons

Cons:

  • No strap pins

Bottom Line

With a DVD course, a myriad of accessories, and a great tonewood, the Kala KA-C concert ukulele will happily take you from the newcomers’ hall to mastery. From an instrument-oriented perspective, Kala brilliantly manages to find a halfway between a bright and warm timbre, making the KA-C our best beginner ukulele!


2. Cordoba 15CM – Premium Choice

Cordoba 15CM Ukulele

Every instrument is easy until you take it seriously—that’s a consensus among musicians, and the same applies to ukuleles. If you’re planning to unleash the virtuosic self within you one day, then the Cordoba 15CM concert ukulele is your loyal companion!

Out of the box, this ukulele looks pretty standard with the mahogany top, back and sides. When I carried the Cordoba 15CM to contemplate its mesmerizing high-quality satin finish, I noticed that it has some extra weight incorporated into it—that’s how solid the build quality of this concert ukulele is.

Unlike the KA-C, Cordoba’s well-crafted instrument features a rosewood fingerboard instead of a walnut one. Rosewood does the magic of finding a great compromise between the already happy-sounding high tone of the mahogany and a dark timbre, resulting in midrange-quality tone articulation.

Thanks to this rosewood bridge, the midrange’s depth is further boosted from the mahogany soundboard of this concert-sized ukulele. Similar to the build quality, the nickel-plated tuning machines succeed in keeping the Aquila Nylgut strings in tune. In other ukuleles, my E string’s tuning always drops. So, it seems like the 15CM has a tug of war contest going on!

I tested the intonation throughout the fingerboard using a third-party tuner, and I’d say that Cordoba perfects it here—it’s been a long time since I strummed beginner ukuleles without ear-butchering flat notes down the neck. 

Did I say a third-party tuner? Yes, unfortunately, this stand-alone concert ukulele doesn’t come with any accessories. If I had another thing to complain about, it’d be the hefty price, although serious beginners wouldn’t deem it high.

Pros:

  • Great for aspiring beginners
  • Solid build quality with mahogany top and rosewood fingerboard
  • Mid-range tone profile
  • High-quality tuning machines
  • Accurate intonation

Cons:

  • Pricey
  • No accessories

Bottom Line

I won’t act like I’m surprised by how well-built the 15CM is—this instrument was born when Cordoba’s world-class craftsmanship transcended to the ukulele world. I mean, what do you need to carry on strumming other than a great intonation, action, and tonewood?


3. Official Kala Learn to Play – Best Budget

Official Kala Learn to Play Ukulele

Unlike the previous 2 concert ukes, we’re laying our hands on a soprano ukulele this time. Having experimented with a plethora of low-quality ukuleles for beginners, I couldn’t believe that Kala crafts this instrument from authentic mahogany. I shouldn’t have lowered my expectations because the top, back, and sides here are literally molded from a mahogany chunk!

Although the fingerboard has a dark tone, it can’t be made from rosewood—that’s definitely walnut. However, the timbre balance here is almost identical to the KA-C, making this ukulele one of the best budget-conscious ukes that boast a bright-warm tone merger.

Note that this small soprano ukulele has two pairs of mediocre tuning machines. You may be prone to double-checking the strings before practicing your strumming patterns. Seemingly, Kala doesn’t include a clip-on tuner in the purchase. Instead, it presents a proprietary app on iOS and Android that comprises a virtual tuner for all its beginner ukuleles.

Alongside the ukulele comes a range of free accessories and add-ons that beginners are always fond of, including a gig bag, free lessons upon registering your instrument on Kala’s website, and a Quick Start booklet to familiarize you with chord shapes.

Despite all the freebies, I believe that ukuleles for beginners, especially kits, should come with a spare set of strings in case the pre-strung set goes out of control, which always happens when the instrument is left untended in warehouses.

Pros:

  • Affordable
  • Superb tonewoods incorporated into the build
  • Comes with a gig bag and a Quick Start booklet
  • Access to lessons on the app and website
  • On-point tonal balance

Cons:

  • Unstable tuning gears
  • No string set included

Bottom Line

There are many aspects to how great this beginner ukulele is. Just let us bow before how Kala has made a soprano ukulele, which is naturally bright-sounding and produces a pronounced midrange tone profile! Personally, I’d condone any shortcomings in exchange for such a tone and a cost-efficient deal, and that’s what the Kala Official Learn to Play ukuleles offer!


4. Kmise Ukulele – Best Tenor Package

Kmise Ukulele

Some musicians are unsatisfied with soprano ukuleles’ tight fret spacing, and beginners deem that as an obstacle, especially those with large hands. Fortunately, my hunt for a tenor-sized ukulele package that’s priced similarly to the Official Kala to Play has yielded results with Kmise!

At first glance, you’ll be looking at a ukulele soundboard made entirely from AAA mahogany. These three As refer to how pure the mahogany is, and it’s second-to-last on the quality scale. Combine this with the larger tenor form factor, and you’ll hear a more resonating sound coming out of the hole with every note you finger.

Speaking of notes, the fretboard is constructed from walnut, featuring a more seamless surface to slide through than hard rosewood. Overall, I liked how this instrument doesn’t cast a shadow over low-end notes at the expense of high-end ones. This tenor ukulele definitely emphasizes the mid-range better than concert ukuleles.

Surprisingly, for a ukulele for beginners, this instrument employs 18:1 copper tuning machines. Apart from corrosion-resistance, the machines’ gears hold the strings in tune for ages—I recall leaving it for 3 days and coming back to find that the vicious E string had dropped the tuning only a half-step down!

Included in the ukulele package are a strap (with pins this time), a gig bag, a clip-on tuner, D’Addario carbon nylon strings, and a Quick Start Booklet that teaches the basics. Alternatively, you can register your ukulele on Kmise’s website to get started with step-by-step lessons!

Pros:

  • Affordable
  • Resonant soundboard
  • High-quality mahogany 
  • Steady tuners
  • Accessories included
  • Free lessons

Cons:

  • Some fret wires aren’t well-sanded

Bottom Line


If you’re a beginner with relatively large hands and looking for something in a ukulele to make you comfortable, don’t think twice between concert and tenor, for the Kmise Ukulele is here to grant you the utmost freedom if you plan on shredding the fingerboard one day!

5. Makala MK-B – Best Ukulele for Guitar Players

Makala MK-B Ukulele

Beginners transitioning from playing guitars to ukuleles may have their fingers baffled on the fretboard of concert and tenor ukuleles. I’ve been there and found refuge in a baritone ukulele for beginners like the Makala MK-B!

If you take a glimpse of this ukulele, you’ll notice it looks like a downsized ¼ guitar with standard spacing for the 18 frets. Fingering chord shapes in the higher register is far more effortless on this baritone ukulele!

I could easily guess that Makala is a Kala sub-brand from the weighty, all-mahogany body and the soft walnut fingerboard. You can execute slides, hammer-ons, and pull-offs like a breeze since this ukulele’s fret wires are slightly recessed. Moreover, the pre-installed nylon strings boast a thicker gauge that aids the soundboard in generating a warmer tone quality.

Another thing that makes this ukulele well-suited for beginners who are familiar with the guitar is the tuning. The MK-B has its four strings tuned as those of a guitar or an acoustic bass. You’ll also feel a string tension similar to guitars, which helps with the techniques that add color to your dynamics like bending and vibrato.

Unlike ukuleles that fall under the concert size, this baritone ukulele has thicker tuning machines for string retention. However, I felt that it wouldn’t stay in a precise tuning for long. So, if you were looking for something to help you become an aggressive strummer, you’d want to twist these machines after each practice session. 

As baritone ukuleles are bigger and, in turn, demand more materials to be manufactured, it’s a bummer we have no accessories here for such a ukulele for beginners.

Pros:

  • Affordable
  • Warm tone profile
  • Spacious frets
  • Easier to master techniques on

Cons:

  • Subpar tuning machines
  • No accessories

Bottom Line

Suppose you want to experience a guitar-like sensation on a ukulele. In that case, the Makala MK-B is your absolute go-to instrument that’ll render your techniques as vivid as a guitar soundhole. This ukulele is a trinity in unity among a warm tone, jumbo frets, and sturdy build!


6. Kmise UK-24 – Best Electro-Acoustic

Kmise UK-24 Ukulele

At some point, I felt that it’s time to crank up the amp to get great tone flavors from my ukulele; however, the majority of ukuleles are acoustic. That’s where the Kmise UK-24 comes in with its piezo system that picks up string frequency for your playback to reverberate from an amplifier!

Yes, I’d undoubtedly grab this ukulele for the soundboard’s catchy paint job, but there’s more lying behind this ukulele’s brilliant craftsmanship. Just take a look at this Spruce top—Spruce is a brighter tonewood than mahogany, giving off a treble-heavy sound. However, it can let you derive different timbres as you subtly change the dynamics of your playing.

Sapele is also a great choice to mold the UK-24’s back and sides; this tonewood is harder than mahogany and adds to the durability of these two fragile sections of the ukulele soundboard. It’s thoughtful of Kmise to reinforce this ukulele with an arched back to boost the concert size’s futile sound amplification.

The pre-amp here is pretty minimalistic with 3 EQ functions for treble, mid, and bass for tone blending and a built-in digital tuner. I was overhyped to see chrome-sealed tuning machines on this ukulele, meaning that the gears have a chrome-plated cover to preserve their lifespans—no intonation problems with this instrument whatsoever!

I know this ukulele comes with an onboard tuner. Still, we don’t have the luxury of included accessories here. I also noticed that the sound is overall bright, even when I turned the treble knob off. This must be owing to the Spruce top.

Pros:

  • Built-in EQ and tuner
  • Excellent tonewoods with an arched back
  • Stylish visual on the soundboard
  • Covered tuning machines
  • Accurate intonation

Cons:

  • Tone can become treble-heavy
  • No accessories

Bottom Line

With resonant pickups and a simple yet on-point pre-amp, the Kmise UK-24 refutes the common misconception of electro-acoustic ukuleles being reserved for virtuosos. Every inch of this ukulele is a testimonial for Kmise’s uncompromised craftsmanship that has never let beginners down.


7. Makala MK-SD – Best for Kids

Makala MK-SD Ukulele

Trying to get your little one to venture into the world of music? Fortunately, there are ukuleles for beginners in both life and music, and the Makala MK-SD is a great-sounding instrument that solves this equation.

Typical for a ukulele for beginners, this kid-oriented instrument comes in 4 different finishes: black, blue, pink burst, and blue burst. This soprano ukulele has a compact, 11-fret fingerboard that kids find easy to maneuver during the first stages of learning triads and simple melodies.

Crafted from Agathis, the top of this ukulele produces an emphasized warm tone similar to what mahogany tops generate. I’m slightly disappointed with how Makala chose to craft the back and sides from wood-plastic composite since it’ll affect the sound amplification of this instrument, though.

The dolphin-shaped bridge also hints at a reference that children love—Makala cares about the aesthetics here. Besides, this ukulele ships with a tote bag to complement its portable form factor. 

A great thing about this uke is how Makala crafted the fretboard from rosewood, perfect for toughening your kid’s fingertips in the long run. However, a problem your little one might face with this ukulele is the subpar tuning machines, especially that the bridge is made of plastic, not wood.

Pros:

  • Affordable
  • Comfortable to hold for kids
  • Agathis top to enhance dark tones
  • Rosewood fingerboard
  • Bag included

Cons:

  • Tuning drops frequently

Bottom Line

For long, the Makala MK-SD has been the gate that unveils a world where music-evoked dreams get realized. I even believe that the choice of rosewood fingerboard wasn’t arbitrary—it’ll help your kid’s fingers adapt to a challenging fretboard from the get-go!


Best Beginner Ukulele Buying Guide and FAQ

After a detailed overview of our 7 best ukuleles for beginners, it’s still essential to learn the basics of the instrument whose strings you’ll be plucking. Moreover, I’ll give you quick tips on identifying craftsmanship defects that are widespread among many ukuleles for beginners.

ukulele for beginners buying guide

Size

Ukuleles fall into 4 different categories that appeal to every musician. You’ll find yourself in front of 4 sizes: soprano, concert, tenor, and baritone.

Soprano

Soprano ukes are what pops in people’s minds when they picture standard ukuleles. With a cap of 15 frets, it’s noticeable that sopranos have a compact design and thinner fingerboards, making them great for kids and beginners with smaller hands. A drawback to this size is the unstable tuning machines, though. The strings’ pitch may get altered after extensive playing.

Concert

The concert size marks the sweet spot in the realm of ukuleles. These ukes have larger soundboards that allow strings to thump efficiently for a richer sound. You get up to 17 frets, giving you great access to the higher register. Unlike the strings of a soprano, concert strings won’t fall out of tune with bending or unceasing strumming.

Tenor

Tenor ukuleles are where the fingerboard starts to get considerably wide, granting freedom to play more advanced tunes in the future, like 7th chords, string skipping, and advanced patterns. Due to the weightier form factor, tenor ukes’ soundboards excel at emphasizing the dynamics of your tunes, especially with mahogany or spruce tonewoods

Baritone

The baritone size stands on top of the ukulele hierarchy with the roomy fret spacing, massive soundboard, and the longer scale length that allows for more frets to be carved. While soprano, tenor, and concert ukes are tuned to GCEA, baritones adopt a standard guitar tuning of GDBE for a deeper, darker tone profile.

Intonation

Intonation refers to how the instrument retains the pitch quality as you move down the fingerboard. For instance, if your E string is precisely tuned, then the 1st fret on that string (F) should be accurately in tune as well.

When you get your ukulele, grab a tuner and test the accuracy of every fretted note to the 12th fret. In low-quality ukes, notes tend to sound flat as you go down to the higher register on one string, which may ruin your playing experience if not detected beforehand.

Action

In ukuleles, the action is the height of strings in reference to the fingerboard. The higher the action, the more difficult it is to fret the notes, and the more you’ll be prone to accidentally mute strings when strumming. 

To evade that, you should look at the neck from the bridge’s level to determine whether the gap is considerable. If proven, then the bridge may need extra sanding, or the neck may be twisted. In this case, you should ask for a refund.

Which Type of Ukulele Is Best for Beginners?

If you’re a beginner taking ukuleles as a hobby, I’d recommend opting for soprano ukes—they’re great at playing simple tunes. Otherwise, you’ll find that most beginner ukes are concert-sized since the extra fret spacing allows for more freedom.

Can I Teach Myself Ukulele?

Definitely! You can be a great self-taught ukulele player in a couple of days via instructional DVDs that come with beginner ukes or free online lessons to learn the instrument.

What Are the Techniques That Make Me a Good Ukulele Player?

If you want to be a distinctive uke player, you should nail strum patterns, mono strums (strumming one string while muting the others), string bending, octaves, and string sliding. A consensus among musicians is that you should learn these in context.

Conclusion

Starting to play the ukulele is like a pursuit for happiness—you get to see instant results with every practice session. Now that you’re ready to uke on with confidence, I’d crown the Kala KA-C as the best ukulele for beginners. With almost every accessory you can think of, this uke measures up to the criteria that other instruments fail to fulfill!

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