7 Best Ukulele for Beginners

2
1755
Ukulele pics2

From Amazon to big box stores, ukuleles can be purchased just about anywhere and are more accessible than ever; however, how do you know which one to choose?

Some of the most frequently asked questions that I receive from students, parents, and subscribers are “How do I know which size is right for me?”, “What is the best ukulele for beginners?”, and “What are the best ukulele brands for beginners?”.

Quick Look: Top 7 Picks:

  1. Best Overall Ukulele and Best Concert for the Beginners: Cordoba 15CM
  2. Best Affordable Ukulele for Beginners: Donner Concert Ukulele Mahogany DUC-1
  3. Best Soprano Ukulele for Beginners: Flight TUS-35
  4. Best Tenor Ukulele for Beginners: Kala KA-T
  5. Best Baritone for Beginners: Kala KA-ZCT-B Baritone
  6. Runner Up: Ohana Ukuleles SK-10 Mahogany Soprano
  7. Runner Up Best Bundle Package: Enya EUC-X1

We highly recommend looking at the comparison table we have below where we highlighted the features of each product

Cordoba 15CM

  • Great, classic design
  • Great sound
  • Solid construction
VIEW LATEST PRICE

Donner Concert Ukulele Mahogany DUC-1

  • Great value
  • Great price
  • Strung with fluorocarbon strings
VIEW LATEST PRICE

Flight TUS-35

  • Affordable
  • Durable
  • Innovative design
VIEW LATEST PRICE

Kala KA-T

  • Classic design
  • Great tone
  • full, warm, and mellow sound
VIEW LATEST PRICE

Kala KA-ZCT-B Baritone

  • Eye-catching design
  • Full tone
  • Beautiful tonewood
VIEW LATEST PRICE

Ohana Ukuleles SK-10 Mahogany Soprano

  • Popular starter soprano model
  • Made out of mahogany
  • Affordable choice
VIEW LATEST PRICE

Enya EUC-X1

  • Accessories included
  • Gentle and mellow
  • Good value for the price
VIEW LATEST PRICE

Here are some things to consider when purchasing your first ukulele.

Size

Ukuleles come in four main sizes: soprano, concert, tenor, and baritone.  Although they all look very similar, each size will impact the playability and sound of the instrument.  First of all, the soprano, concert, and tenor sizes have strings tuned to G, C, E, A, while a baritone is tuned to D, G, B, and E. Generally, a larger ukulele will have a longer neck with more frets and more space between the frets.  Below is a general guide to fret to size ratio.

  • Soprano: 12–15 frets
  • Concert: 15–20 frets
  • Tenor: 15–25 frets
  • Baritone: 18 + frets; tuned DGBE

The general rule is the bigger the fretboard, the more space between frets.  The extra space will feel less crowded for people with larger hands, making it easier to play.

On the other hand, people with smaller hands might find a smaller ukulele more comfortable to play due to the fact that there is less space between the frets, thus making it easier to form chords.

The body size will also affect the playability and tone of the ukulele. Tone wood, bracing, and even strings will be factors in contributing to an instrument’s tone.

Typically, but not all of the time, the bigger the body, the bigger the tone. Some might find a smaller ukulele to be hard to handle or control while playing, so a larger model might make more sense in this case.

Some are looking for a brighter tone, thus making the choice to play a soprano might be best. Try as many models as you can to find the right fit.

Ukulele Shapes and Types

The shape of the ukulele may affect the tone of the instrument as well as the players comfort level.  Hopefully the following list of ukulele shapes and types will help you decide what instrument will be best suited for you and your needs.

  • Figure 8: Most ukuleles have the traditional figure 8 body shape with two inward curves that were adapted from the traditional guitar design.  Because this shape is the most common, a consumer will be able to find a wide variety of ukuleles to choose from.
  • Cutaway:  Some ukuleles with the traditional figure 8 body shape have a small, C-Shaped portion cut out of the body near the base of the neck.  This is called a cutaway. A cutaway allows the player to comfortably access the upper part of the fretboard, and this feature is generally suited for the intermediate/advanced player looking to play higher on the neck.
  • Pickups/Electric:  Some ukuleles are equipped with pickups that capture the sound of the instrument, allowing the player to be amplified and/or be plugged into amp or mixer.
  • Pineapple: Ukuleles without the curves of a figure 8 are referred to as “pineapple” ukuleles because they resemble the body of a pineapple.
  • Novelty/Hybrid: From LED lit bodies to flying V shaped ukuleles, yes, flying V, there are many novelty ukuleles that could fit anyone’s taste.  You will also find hybrid instruments such as the banjolele.  A banjolele combines the neck of the ukulele and the body of a banjo, allowing the player to play banjo like songs without having to learn a new instrument.  A guitalele is a combination of a guitar neck and a uke body that offers a sound that resembles that an ukulele yet plays like a mini guitar.  Although the guitar and ukulele share similar chord shapes, they differ in tuning. For beginners, I recommend sticking with a standard uke, but novelty/hybrid ukuleles can be a lot of fun if you’re looking for something different from the norm.

Price: Affordable vs Cheap Ukuleles

Some people are looking for what I call the “unicorn” of ukuleles.  They want a good quality instrument with a great tone, and they want it as cheap as possible; however, there is a difference between cheap and affordable.

I have found that cheap instruments discourage beginners to play due to the fact that the quality, or lack thereof, causes discomfort while playing.  The majority of cheap ukuleles that I have encountered do not hold their tuning and discourage many people to even start to learn their first chord.

I’ve seen my share of cheap ukuleles with sharp frets, twisted necks, warped tops, and shoddy craftsmanship, and my advice would be to stay away from such instruments.

Brands and Bundles

A company that has been established and has survived for many years can speak positively about the consistency and quality of its instruments.

On the other hand, I am encountering newer companies that are producing great quality instruments that even rival those from more established brands.

Some companies offer bundles with extras such as padded gig bags, tuners, capos, extra strings, humidifiers, straps, and even free online lessons.

It all depends upon what you value, what you are looking for, and how much you are willing to spend.  I generally tell my students and subscribers to play as many ukuleles as they possibly can to find the one that “speaks” to them.

The following picks are affordable ukuleles but carry a reputation that will ensure the instrument’s playability and longevity.

#1 Best Overall Ukulele and Best Concert for the Beginners: Cordoba 15CM

Specs:

  • Concert size (18 frets)
  • Quarter sawn mahogany top, back and sides
  • Satin finish
  • Composite fingerboard
  • Overall instrument length: 24.21 inches
  • ABS binding (sides and fretboard)
  • Handmade
  • Chrome tuners with pearl buttons

Price:  $99

There is a good reason why the Cordoba 15CM ukulele is one of the top picks from many ukulele buyer’s guides, blogs, and articles. The Cordoba 15CM is a handmade ukulele made of quarter sawn mahogany. Quarter sawn wood has a straight grain pattern that lends itself to design. With its beautiful tone and great projection, this ukulele is the perfect balance of tone for someone looking for something not too bright, yet not too deep. Decorating the soundhole is a hand laid abalone rosette giving the instrument an overall polished look..

Cordoba has even gone the extra mile to bind the sides and the fretboard with ABS binding, and I have found that bound fretboards tend to keep frets from sprouting when the weather turns cold and dry.

The only disadvantages to this instrument are the lack of accessories with purchase (ex. no gig bag or tuner) and the fact that not everyone has $100 to spend on an entry level instrument. Other than that, this ukulele is a no brainer.

Pros:

  • Great, classic design
  • Great sound
  • Solid construction

Cons:

  • No accessories with purchase
  • Higher price point

#2 Best Budget/Affordable Beginner Ukulele -Donner Concert Ukulele Mahogany DUC-1

Specs:

  • Concert size (18 Brass Frets)
  • Laminate mahogany top, back, and sides
  • Rosewood fingerboard and bridge
  • Donner patented chrome-plated guitar style tuners
  • Comes with a bag, ukulele strap, and clip-on tuner
  • Overall instrument length: 23 inches

Price:  $59

I was first introduced to the Donner Concert Ukulele Mahogany DUC-1 by a student who purchased it on Amazon, and I was surprised by the overall quality and construction of the instrument when I learned of its price.

With its clear and vibrant tone, overall playability, and accessories, this ukulele bundle is an incredible value.  The ukulele is strung with fluorocarbon strings, which I find to be softer to the touch than nylon strings, and might lend themselves more comfortable for beginners.  The disadvantage to this instrument is the unbound fretboard.

I have found that instruments with unbound fretboards tend to sprout in dry conditions. If the owner monitors the instrument’s moisture and conditions the fretboard, I think fret sprout will not be a problem.

Pros:

  • Great value
  • Great price

Cons:

  • Unbound fretboard

#3 Best Soprano Ukulele: Flight TUS-35

Specs:

  • Soprano (15 frets)
  • Top: inden
  • ABS neck, bridge, fretboard, back, and sides
  • Arched back
  • Compensated saddle
  • Open geared tuners
  • Overall instrument length: 21.5 inches

Price – $60

The affordable Flight TUS-35 Travel Ukulele wins my pick for the best soprano ukulele for beginners.  The innovative design of the TUS-35 is durable yet enjoyable for anyone at any level to play.  Made with a body and neck out of durable ABS plastic and a linden wood top, the projection of this ukulele is surprisingly large and full.

Because the entire fretboard, frets, neck, and nut are molded out of plastic, this means everything is going to stay in place with a 0% chance the frets will sprout.  It also comes in many bright colors as well as designs. The disadvantages to this instrument would be the neck profile and the gigbag.

The neck profile is more of an oval shape and less rounded than most ukuleles with a more traditional build, and that might prove problematic when trying to hold onto the instrument if the player prefers a neck with more a “U” shape

The gig bag is made of a very thin nylon, offering no protection, and will only help you carry the instrument from place to place and keep it from getting dusty. Overall, this ukulele is a great value.

Pros:

  • Affordable
  • Durable
  • Innovative design

Cons:

  • Thin neck profile
  • Only available size – soprano
  • Thin gig bag

#4 Best Tenor Ukulele for Beginners – Kala KA-T

Specs:

  • Size – Tenor (18 frets)
  • Mahogany top, back, and sides
  • Walnut fingerboard
  • Cream binding – ABS binding
  • Chrome die-cast tuning machines
  • Aquila nylgut strings
  • Overall instrument length: 26.125″

Price – $124.99

The Kala KA-T is a beautiful tenor ukulele that is easy on the pocketbook and easy on the eyes with its traditional design, dark finish, and contrasting ABS binding.  This ukulele is a part of the Satin Mahogany series that produces a full, warm, and mellow sound.

The neck profile is not too, thin yet not too thick, where it could fit a wide range of hand sizes.  While the sides are bound with ABS binding, the fretboard remains unbound. I stated previously that someone that lives in a dry environment might find this problematic due to its susceptibility to fret sprout.

Just note that neglecting the instrument could result in fret sprout, thus making the instrument uncomfortable to play.  Fret sprout can be easily combated by monitoring the instrument’s moisture and conditioning the fretboard.

Pros:

  • Classic design
  • Great tone

Cons:

  • Unbound fretboard
  • No accessories with purchase

#5 Best Baritone for Beginners: Kala KA-ZCT-B Baritone

Specs:

  • Size: baritone (18 frets)
  • Zircote back, sides, and top
  • Mahogany neck
  • Walnut fingerboard
  • GraphTech TUSQ nut and bone saddle
  • Overall instrument length: 30.58 inches

The Kala KA-ZCT-B Baritone is an eye-catching ukulele that is crafted entirely from figured ziricote with a glossy finish.  Ziricote is a beautiful tonewood found in tropical Central and South America. The tone that this ukulele produces is described as full and warm, yet clear.

The fretboard is not bound but I would definitely say that it is sealed to prevent fret sprout.  I have never felt fret sprout of any kind on a Kala that has a sealed fretboard, and it is incredibly dry, arid, and cold where I live in the wintertime.  The disadvantages lie with the glossy finished neck and the price point.

Some players find glossy necks to be a bit sticky and uncomfortable to play and prefer a stain neck for smoother transitions up and down the neck.  Some might consider the price to be more on the expensive side when it comes to an entry level instrument. In my opinion, this baritone is worth the money due to its quality, tone, and stunning good looks.

Pros:

  • Eye-catching design
  • Full tone

Cons:

  • Higher price point

Runner Ups:

#6 Ohana Ukuleles SK-10 Mahogany Soprano

Specs:

  • Size – soprano (12 Frets)
  • Mahogany neck
  • Laminate mahogany top, back, and sides
  • Satin finish
  • Overall instrument length: 21 inches

Price: $99.00

The SK-10 is Ohana’s most popular starter soprano model.  This soprano model is time-tested, and has been used by schools and communities around the world for its quality, sound, and durability.  Because it is made out of mahogany, it has one of the most consistent tones that is true to the iconic ukulele sound.

The SK-10 is built with the same construction as other higher-end Ohana products, which makes it an affordable choice for the beginner that is looking for consistency and quality. The neck profile is not too thin, yet not too thick, so it could fit a wide range of hand sizes.

The only disadvantages that I find with this ukulele are the price and unbound fretboard. Some might consider a $99 instrument not affordable enough, and the unbound fretboard could be susceptible to fret sprout in dry environments.  If the specs fit your needs, this ukulele is a great choice.


#7 Best Bundle Package – Enya EUC-X1

Specs:

  • Size – concert (18 Frets)
  • HPL (High Pressure Laminate) neck, back, sides, and top
  • Slotted headstock
  • Strap buttons
  • Overall instrument length: 23 inches

Price: $86.99

This concert ukulele is a fantastic deal that would be great for any beginner.  The starter kit includes online lessons, a padded gig bag, strap, strap buttons, strings, capo, sand shaker, picks, and a polish cloth.  I would describe the sound of this ukulele as gentle and mellow with a mid-tone presence.

This ukulele is made of HPL (High Pressure Laminate) that is durable and easy to maintain.  The only disadvantage to this ukulele is that the HPL is printed to resemble mahogany and is not made of wood. This may disappoint some people that would like something more traditional looking. Overall, this is a very good value for the price.


Final Thoughts

Ukulele shopping can be overwhelming with so many choices on the market.  I always advise my students and subscribers to try as many ukuleles as they possibly can to find the right size and discover the right tone that suits their playing needs.   Just remember to take your time, do your research, and try to find the instrument that is right for you.

Still not sure? You can also check out our latest video on the best ukuleles for beginners review by Terry Carter of Uke Like The Pros.

We will check out the Ohana SK-10 soprano ukulele, the Flight TUS-35DB soprano ukulele, the Romero Creations Daniel Ho ST Concert ukulele, the Kala KA-T tenor ukulele, and the Kala KA-ZCT-B baritone ukulele

Previous articleCordoba Ukulele Review: Best Cordoba Ukuleles
Next articleWhat is a Guitalele? Guitalele Tuning, Chords And Brands
Katie DeNure
Katie DeNure is a classically trained singer that teaches guitar and ukulele. She earned her Bilingual and ESL Literacy certification in 2006 and has been teaching music lessons since 2008. She decided to pursue teaching music full time in 2013 at Heid Music, where she teaches to this day. In 2016, she launched her YouTube channel "One Music School", featuring ukulele and guitar lessons, which has reached over 170,000 followers. In addition to teaching, Katie has had the opportunity to teach and lead music for hundreds of special events, women’s retreats, youth conferences, and church services and continues to play and serve on a regular basis.

2 COMMENTS

  1. I especially agree about the inclusion of Donner on this list. For the money their ukes are really hard to beat. I’ve also been impressed with Lohanu and Hricane, which both have ukes that are well under $100 🙂

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here