Best Ukuleles in 2020 [The Comprehensive Buying Guide]

David Cobb

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As far as stringed instruments go one of the most popular ones is the ukulele. For those that have decided to get one and start playing the steps to get there are pretty simple. Buy one and start playing. However, there is a big question that many new and current ukulelists ask, which is the best ukulele.

For that reason today I decided to write a complete guide on buying the best ukulele. This guide is an excellent starting point for both beginners and ukulelists that want a new instrument. We are going to check out the best options in the market in the top picks section. Besides that, we are going to see what makes a ukulele, its different types, and tips on how to buy the best ukulele for your needs, among other information about ukuleles in general.

I will try to provide you an extensive amount of knowledge about ukuleles so you can make a more informed decision in the end. So without further ado, let’s get on with our guide.

Which Are The Best Ukuleles?

7. Lohanu LU-T Tenor Bundle 

For absolute beginners, it would be pretty hard to recommend anything else than the exceptional Lohanu LU-T Tenor Bundle. This is definitely a great package delivering everything you need to get going.

It is made out of laminated Sapele for the tonewood and it comes in different sizes, but I recommend the tenor or soprano size for every beginner. It is pretty playable and has tons of accessories inside of the package, including a gig bag, strap, tuner, and some spare set of Aquilla strings.

The sound of this ukulele is excellent overall and the looks are pretty attractive overall, without any weak point. While it is not the most premium or the most expensive ukulele in the market, I recommend it to every beginner.

6. Ibanez UEW15E 

Ibanez is one of the most popular guitar manufacturers in the market, delivering all sorts of stringed instruments to us, and the Ibanez UEW15E is a perfect concert ukulele for everyone. It has a rock vibe to it like every instrument in its lineup and it has no weaknesses overall.

The Ibanez UEW15E  has a concert-sized body which looks perfect with the flamed mahogany tonewood used in it, I can say that the grain is perfect overall. The detailing is nice as well and it is lovely to play.

The neck is made out of mahogany as well which is pretty excellent and it has a small cutaway to give you better access to the higher notes making it a priceless instrument. With the excellent electronics and much more Ibanez has hit the sweet spot with this one.

5. Cordoba 15TM 

For those that want to get the most bang for their buck, I recommend checking out Cordoba’s range of instruments. While the company has a countless number of models out there, the most notable of them, in my opinion, is the Cordoba 15TM which for the price is definitely the best ukulele you can buy by a long shot.

The Cordoba 15TM is a tenor ukulele and it is made out of mahogany completely. Despite its price, it has a great build quality that is pretty impressive and it has a bright clean finish that makes you fall in love with the instrument.

This ukulele manages to bring out some exceptional tones to you with bright highs, and a rich low end that makes it a capable tenor ukulele. Definitely one of the most impressive and one of my favorites.

4. Luna Tattoo Mahogany  

Luna is one of those brands that know how to make a ukulele, pouring arts, love, and craftsmanship into all of their instruments. If you are looking at their tenor range you cannot miss the exceptional Tattoo Mahogany that is one of the most impressive ukuleles out there, a highly recommended one.

The biggest selling point of this guitar is its excellent design, from which it gets its Tattoo name. It has a Hawaiian engraving on its body that is excellently implemented and looks perfect overall, designed from the Luna artist Alex Morgan.

However, this ukulele is more than a pretty face as it has some excellent qualities that make it perfect for playing. It is made completely from mahogany tonewood and a walnut fretboard that is an excellent addition.

3. Fender Grace VanderWaal Signature 

One of my favorite ukuleles in the market comes from Fender, a brand that knows a thing or two at making perfect stringed instruments. The Fender Grace VanderWaal Signature is an affordable electro-acoustic concert ukulele that delivers great looks and a perfect tone to make it your favorite.

The Fender Grace VanderWaal Signature is made out of an interesting combination of Sapele tonewood with gloss walnut finishing. It has gold hardware that enhances the looks and it has cream binding. It also has some subtle design touches that come from Grace herself and it has a classic Tele headstock.

The sound of this ukulele is pretty rich and it is a classic Fender instrument, delivering quality all over the range. Both plugged and unplugged the Fender Grace VanderWaal Signature is definitely a powerful instrument.

2. Lanikai QM-BLCEC

Coming up to the runner up in this list we have the Lanikai QM-BLCEC. This is definitely deserving of the top spot as it has some excellent features that make this the favorite of many ukulelists. It might not be a pretty cheap model, but it delivers excellent performance for its price.

It comes as a part of the company’s Sun, Sand, and Surf series, which uses a striking blue-stained quilted maple on all of its body. It has some excellent decoration and the craftsmanship is very focused on the detail, hence the higher price point of this ukulele.

It also feels pretty high end in the hands with great hardware and the super exceptional Fishman Kula preamp system that has 3-band EQ that is built with the digital tuner.

1. Kala KA-SBG 

On top of the list is the Kala KA-SBG, coming in from one of the most prominent brands in the ukulele business. This is a baritone ukulele that has combined the favorite features of many ukulelists in a baritone body. Let’s take a look.

This baritone ukulele has priceless craftsmanship and a very classic design that makes it earn the top spot. It has a 30.5-inch baritone body and is made out of the traditional combination of spruce at the top and laminated mahogany tonewood at the back and sides.

The sound is pretty much classic and pretty rich. Deep and mellow tones like a capable baritone model delivering playability and reliable hardware, top of the class.

Things To Know Before Buying a Ukulele

I can comfortably say that for those that are interested there is no better time than now when it comes to buying a ukulele. There is a vast amount of knowledge about the instrument, a lot of songs written for it and it is just easy to play overall. It is a great time to start playing the ukulele, also I can say that it is my favorite thing to gift to children and teenagers.

However, due to the rise in popularity, there are millions of choices out there, and it has become a little hard to separate the good from the bad here. This is the biggest reason behind me writing this article, there are just a lot of models out there that are not really worth your time. So it is better to go shopping informed than not.

The Story of Ukulele

There are three theories behind the name ukulele. As you know this instrument originated in Hawaii, so the first theory starts from the movement of the player’s fingers resembling the word ukulele, which translates roughly to jumping flea in Hawaii. The other theory is that King Kalakaua had an officer named ukulele, so because of the size, expertise, and flexibility, the king named the instrument after the officer ukulele. The third theory comes to form the queen Liliuokalani, stating that you translate to gift and lele to come, marking it like a gift from the Portuguese people that have embarked on the island.

The truth is that the instrument has come from three immigrants coming to form Portugal and introduced this instrument to the island, and after that, King Kalakaua promoted the instrument significantly and the immigrants were embraced, so the Hawaiian origin of the instrument was settled. This was back in the 1880s, so after like 50 years, the rise of jazz and Hawaiian music, swept the country and more people started learning ukulele which is pretty interesting. After those years the rise was a bit more stagnant, then in the last twenty years we have seen another large rise in popularity thanks to the internet, and because the instrument is very accessible for beginners.

Types

Like other stringed instruments, the ukulele has different types as well. There are 7 types in total available for you to buy, however, in the majority of the cases, you will see just four of the most popular types. Each of these ukuleles has its own distinct characteristics, and for absolute beginners, it is pretty beneficial to check all of them, study them so you can make a better initial choice. Let’s check them out.

Pocket or Piccolo

Pocket ukuleles are pretty small and measure just 41cm in length and the scale length measures about 28cm. This results in a total of 10 to 12 frets you can play around with. On top of that, it covers an interesting range that spans from G4 to E6, meaning that the common tunning of D5-G4-B4-E5 is the most popular. These are not the most popular types of ukulele but they have their place in the market.

Soprano

These are also called standard ukuleles, and due to their popularity, they are considered the smallest in the family, despite being larger than the pocket models. They have a body that is up to 53cm in length and the scale goes up to 33cm in total making itself the perfect model for beginners. The soprano ukulele has a nice range that spans from C4 to A5 with the common tuning of G4-C4-E4-A4.

Concert

Next up we have the concert ukulele, which is a little larger than their soprano counterparts. They generally go up to the 58cm length in total with a scale length of 38cm making them a little deeper and louder in the tone department, compared to sopranos that are. It has never more than 20 frets and it delivers plenty of room for fretting so you can have plenty of fun while playing it.

Tenor

Tenor ukuleles or lilies or taro patch ukuleles are pretty interesting, rocking a length of 66cm in total and a scale length of 43 cm. These tenor ukuleles deliver a more classic sound, and it has frequently more than 16 frets with a range of G3 to D6.

Baritone

Baritone ukuleles or bari ukes are like their name would imply a little deeper and more resonant in terms of sound. This is thanks to the 74cm total length and a scale length of about 48cm in total. This means that you get from 18 to 21 frets in your disposition with plenty of spacing and the range spans from D3 to A#5 which is more similar to the acoustic guitar than the ukulele tone.

Bass

We are diving into rare territory now as these ukuleles aren’t really the most popular types. However, these ukuleles deliver some pretty resonant and deep sounds overall, thanks to their excellent 76cm total length and a scale length of 51 cm. The tones are pretty warm and the output is loud overall. The range spans from E2 to B4 with the most common tuning being the E2-A2-D3-G3.

Contrabass

These ukuleles are designed to deliver the opposite spectrum of the bass sound. These are also known as U-Bass or even Rumbler ukuleles most of the time, rocking a total length of 81cm and a scale length of about 53cm. The range spans from E1 to B3 and the most common tuning is E1-A1-D2-G2, and to be honest these are extremely rare.

After reading each type, you can quickly decide which one would be better for your needs. So let’s move on.

Shapes

There are also different shapes of ukuleles available out there, which will change the overall tone. We are going to check out the most popular here.

Pineapple

This is one interesting body profile, as it is a pretty interesting shape that is of the Hawaiian origin. It is their innovation on the instrument and it looks pretty good in my opinion giving it a tropical vibe to the instrument. These are produced mostly by the Kamaka ukulele company and are pretty good overall.

Guitar

This is the most common shape when it comes to ukuleles, the guitar shape, which makes them susceptible to being assumed as miniature guitars. The shape consists of a curved portion on the upper part of the body that is smaller than that on the lower part. Some modern offerings also have some cutaways to make higher notes more accessible to the player.

Boat Paddle

Among these shapes that we mentioned these are the rarest and take a lot of effort and time to manufacture. However, the performance is a bit strange as some users hate it. It is not the most recommended type, especially for beginners.

Construction

If you know anything about the build process of the guitars you probably have a slight idea on how a ukulele is built. I ti pretty similar and the construction method and materials are the things that will affect the tone, quality, and price. We are going to talk about the construction method here, and we will check out the three most frequent methods. Effectively allowing you to get a good idea about them.

Plastic

This is somewhat pretty frequent these days, plastic ukuleles are generally very cheap and are often dedicated to children.I think that just the choice of plastic makes the whole thing pretty weird. A plastic ukulele doesn’t even sound like the real deal and is not something you should consider. While it might be a good idea to gift one to a preschooler, I wouldn’t still recommend it, as there are wood models a bit more expensive that are millions of times better.

Laminated Wood

This is the most popular choice, especially for beginner ukulelists as you get the majority of the wood tones without spending a small fortune on a small instrument. A laminated wood ukulele is made of several layers of wood that are glued on top of the other. This type of ukulele is pretty durable as well and you can use it for a long time without any crack to the body. Then again don’t expect high-end performance in the sound department from these ukuleles.

Solid Wood

These ukuleles are built out of a solid piece of wood like their name implies and deliver some pretty exceptional resonance and tones. You cannot find cheaper alternatives with solid wood, and you would have to go to the mid to high-end market to get one of these. A solid wood ukulele delivers a richer tone with a deeper tone overall, and if you want a professional option that will get you a long way from here you should consider these.

Wood Types

Now we are going to take a look at the wood types that can be used for ukuleles. Regardless if you choose solid wood or a laminated wood model, the type of wood will play a large part in the tones of your instrument. There are countless types of tonewood you can use out there, however, we are going to talk about the most popular here.

Mahogany

This is the most popular tonewood used in making ukuleles, and other guitars as well. This is because mahogany is present all over the world and it delivers some beautiful characteristics that make it excellent. It delivers some dark and warm tones with a super output making an excellent choice all around.

Koa

This is a wood that comes from the jungles of Hawaii. It is a dense tropical wood that is also a pretty popular option for a lot of ukuleles. It has very beautiful and distinctive grain patterns and it comes at different colors available. One of the most impressive things about Koa tonewood is that it delivers a balanced tone that makes it the favorite of many ukulelists.

Rosewood

Rosewood also has some interesting qualities, namely its hardness and dense body that is mostly used for fretboards, but bodies as well. It has a pretty rich color overall and is pretty resistant to rot, making it a timeless tonewood. On top of that, the tones are pretty much excellent.

Cedar

This is one of the mellower woods out there, and it delivers a softer tone. It is a softer wood as well, but it has some interesting qualities. Most importantly it is one of the most popular tonewoods used in tenor and baritone ukuleles out there.

Price

I have to note that you really don’t need to spend a lot to get a good ukulele. Of course, you will have to spend a lot for the premium models, but for the majority of us who need a good instrument to practice and perform form time to time, you won’t need to spend as much as on a guitar. There are good ukuleles under the $100 price. It is all subjective though, and relative to what you consider to be a good ukulele.

For most beginners, I recommend a nice ukulele with laminated wood from a trusted manufacturer. While the used market is pretty interesting due to the low price of these instruments I wouldn’t recommend risking it. Regardless of which price you are ready to pay for a ukulele, aim to get the most value for your dollar.

Verdict

There you have it your complete guide to buying your first or next ukulele. I can comfortably say that buying your first ukulele is a pretty special moment, a start of an interesting journey that will make you extremely happy in the long run. It can even lead to you becoming a professional musician, whichever the case, learn to have fun, and don’t give up if you stagnate with your process. Good luck.