Photo by Paul
Like any other instrument, finding the right ukulele for your needs can be a bit of a challenge. There are dozens upon dozens of different options, all of which have come with their own pros and cons.
So if you’d like to learn more about this distinctive instrument, you’ve come to the right place! This article will give you all the information that you need to make an informed decision, as well as giving you a few solid recommendations.
Eddie Vedder proves it's quite possible to look cool with a ukulele.
Soprano A soprano is what people typically think of when they picture a Ukulele in their heads. It is the smallest of the most popular variants, which gives it the brightest tone that typically cuts through the song in that characteristically ukulele fashion.
Concert Concert sized ukuleles are generally more comfortable for full-grown adults. This size and larger are more comfortable to hold and play for larger hands.
Tenor: The bigger the instrument the deeper the tone. The tenor will fit in between the concert and baritone, and be more bass heavy than the concert and soprano. Ukuleles sized tenor and smaller typically utilize the same tuning.
Baritone: The biggest ukulele, the baritone body size is generally tuned a fifth lower. The voicing of the instrument also sports characteristics similar to that of a classical acoustic guitar.
Solid Top/Back/Sides: When a ukulele is advertised as sporting a solid top (or a solid top, back, and sides) it means that that section is made out of solid wood as opposed to laminate. Generally, a solid wood instrument is considered to have a richer tone than its laminate counterparts.
Acoustic-Electric: When a ukulele is advertised as being acoustic-electric, it has a pickup (generally a piezo) that allows the instrument to be amplified.
So, What Does A Ukulele Do?
So generally, the ukulele is used to either provide extra texture to a song (like how modern country uses the mandolin) or to give a song a more Hawaiian feel. Because the instrument is tuned in the same intervals as the top four strings of a guitar (top meaning highest pitched in this context) the instrument can easily be picked up by the average guitar player. However, there are a few extra considerations involved in choosing a ukulele because of the different mechanics at play in the instrument.
Similar to the mandolin, it takes a lot of care on the part of the manufacturer to build a good ukulele because of the instrument’s small size. The overall size of a ukulele is a lot smaller than a guitar, so in order to have a similar amount of response across the frequency spectrum a ukulele actually needs to be made of better quality wood than the average guitar.
Another thing to consider is the fact that a ukulele is never going to reach the volume of the average dreadnought acoustic. So if you plan on jamming with your buddies, you’re going to need to invest in an acoustic-electric instrument.
How Much Should I Spend?
Unlike a guitar, the average listener isn’t really going to be able to tell a good ukulele sound vs. a mediocre one because the instrument simply doesn’t get as much exposure as a guitar. I mean, off the top of your head how many popular songs can you think of that used the ukulele? Now think of how many popular songs have used the acoustic guitar. The number of the latter definitely dwarfs the former.
So while that may frustrate a few of you who are really into the ukulele, it actually makes things quite a bit easier on the rest of us. Because the average listener rarely hears a good ukulele sound, odds are they won’t be able to easily pick out a cheaper one.
Considering that, if all your looking to do is add some ukulele sound to your songs you really don’t have to spend a lot. For that purpose, you can easily get a useable instrument for under $200.
However, for those of you who want to pursue the ukulele seriously (and more power to you for doing so!) you’re going to want to shell out a bit more.
Personally, I’ve found that you don’t start getting a great ukulele sound until you hit the $400-ish mark, which is admittedly still pretty cheap when you consider how much time you’ll be spending with the instrument.
How Did We Choose The Winners?
The ukulele is an instrument that means different things to different people. For some of you, it’s just a novelty instrument that you use to add some variety to your songs. And there’s nothing wrong with using it like that. And for some of you, the ukulele is the instrument that you’ve chosen to seriously pursue. Again, that’s perfectly fine. However, because of this we’ve chosen to highlight the pros and cons of a variety of instruments.
Also, I believe that it’s important to clarify what the word “best” means in this context. For the musicians out there who simply want to experiment with the ukulele, buying a $700 custom made instrument is ridiculous. And for those of you who view the ukulele as their main instrument, buying a sub $200 isn’t a great option either.
Just try to remember that the “best” option is always going to vary from person to person. And what works for you may or may not work for your neighbor.
So without much further ado, here are the best ukuleles as decided by Equipboard.com.
- Kala KA-15S Mahogany Soprano Ukulele
- Epiphone Les Paul Acoustic Electric Ukulele
- Lanikai CK-C Natura
- Fender Nohea Tenor
- Luna Guitars Tattoo Concert
- Cordoba 35TS-CW
- Riptide ECUT-2CS Tenor
- Kala Spalted Maple KA-SMTE
- Ibanez UEW15E Concert Ukulele
- Godin 36080 Ukulele
Kala KA-15S Mahogany Soprano Ukulele
You won't find many people who won't recommend this Ukulele as a great instrument at a very reasonable price. The value you get from the Kala KA-15 series is nothing short of amazing at this price point. With the Kala KA-15S, you'll find a mahogany instrument that is very playable.
At this price point, we half expected to find a instrument that had cheese graters for frets (often times cheaper instruments with shoddy craftsmanship will leave sharp edges where the metal frets meets the wood of the neck, shredding your hands). However, with this Kala, the fit and finish of the instrument was really an unexpected and pleasant surprise. Too many people put down their instruments because of the physical discomfort or frustration at not having the strength and dexterity to play the notes on stringed instruments. However, the KA-15S was so well put together, we don't see that being an issue. The setup was good on our Uke straight out of the box and was very user friendly to pick up and start strumming.
The KA-15S sports a mahogany top and sides, which are satin finished. The satin finish on our model was really well done and gives the instrument an understated vibe where the grain of the wood and the pores are still visible, but the ukulele has a subtle styling appeal and has a vintage simplicity about it. The neck felt great and the 12 brass frets were fit into the rosewood fingerboard well. The neck features position markers along the side where the fretboard is also marked at the 5th, 7th, and 10th frets. The nut works very well, and is made of a plastic material that kept the strings in place and avoided intonation issues. The one area we think could be notable improved is the open geared tuners. If we're being picky, the tuners felt cheap and second class. It's not that they don't work, but the pearl buttons feel a bit plastic-like for our liking. Having said that, we feel a bit odd complaining about that because of where this instrument is priced and overall, the fit and finish are excellent value for the money.
The sound of the KA-15S is where the instrument shines. As a soprano, it has the classic ukulele sound and excels at having an even and balanced tone. It is telling that most people when hearing this would never be able to tell the difference between this and an instrument that costs ten times as much. And, with as good as it sounds and feels in hand, you are still not afraid to take it to the beach or use it around the campfire because it is so accessible.
Epiphone Les Paul Acoustic Electric Ukulele
If you’re looking for a ukulele with a unique aesthetic, the Epiphone Les Paul Acoustic Electric Ukulele is a great place to start. Sporting a AAA grade flame maple top, a built-in piezo pickup, as well as top quality 14:1 geared tuners, this ukulele sports more than enough utility to impress even the most discerning musician.
Lanikai CK-C Natura
A part of the highly revered CK series, the Lanikai CK-C Natural is a great example of a quality traditional Hawaiian instrument. Constructed with distinctive curly koa top, back, and sides, this ukulele is guaranteed to turn heads and sound great doing it!
Fender Nohea Tenor Ukulele
When it comes to instruments, Fender has a well deserved reputation of constantly delivering a quality product. No exception to this trend, Fender’s Nohea Ukulele packs a lot of great tone and features into its small size.
The ukulele is constructed with laminated Koa top, back, and sides, scalloped fan bracing, and features a genuine mahogany neck.
Luna Guitars Tattoo Concert Ukulele
Featuring a Distinctive heart song rosette as well a unique “tattooed” aesthetic, the Luna Guitars Tattoo Concert ukulele offers a great value to the budding ukulele player. The ukulele features a solid spruce top, mahogany back and sides, as well as a mahogany neck.
Handmade with a solid-spruce top and solid acacia back and sides, the Cordoba 35TS-CE is a great option for the intermediate to advanced ukulele player looking to invest in a quality instrument. The 35TS-CE features a genuine rosewood bridge and fingerboard, as well as a L.R. Baggs Five-O pickup.
Riptide ECUT-2CS Tenor
Sporting a distinctive design, the Riptide ECUT-2CS hosts a staggering array of great features for the intermediate to advanced ukulele player. The standout feature on this ukulele is the soundport located on the side of the body, allowing the instrument to easily be heard by both the musician and his/her audience.
Kala Spalted Maple KA-SMTE
Sporting a spalted maple body, the Kala KA-SMTE is a great option for the musician on the hunt for a solid mid-range ukulele that won’t break the bank. The ukulele features a rosewood bridge, as well as a synthetic bone nut and saddle.
Ibanez UEW15E Flame Mahogany Concert
If you’re on the hunt for a solid performance instrument, the Ibanez UEW15E Flame Mahogany Concert Ukulele is a great place to start. Constructed with flamed mahogany, the UEW15E features a genuine rosewood fingerboard as well as a Ibanez under saddle pickup and UK-300T preamp.
Godin 36080 Ukulele
Hand crafted in Canada, the Godin 36080 is a great option for the intermediate to advanced ukulele player looking for a professional quality instrument. The 36080 comes with either a solid spruce (a brighter voicing) or cedar (a bit warmer) top, a chambered mahogany body, as well as a on board pickup and preamp.
So how did you feel about our ukulele buyer’s guide? If you have any experiences, opinions, or personal anecdotes that you’d like to share, feel free to tell us all about it in the comments section below!