You’ve been taking lessons for a while and you know that you plan to stick with the ukulele. To celebrate – and to enjoy your playing even more – you’ve decided that it’s time for an upgrade.
The good news is that you have plenty of amazing instruments to choose from. And in a way, that’s bad news too: There are so many great ukuleles on the market now that it can be tough to make a decision.
Quick Look at Our Top Picks:
- Best Inexpensive Upgrade: Kala Ebony Tenor Ukulele
- Best Value Koa Wood Ukulele: Martin C1K Concert Ukulele
- Most Unique Upgrade: 8-String Tenor Ukulele
- Best Moderately-Priced Upgrade: Kala Ziricote Ukulele
- Luxury Upgrade: Handmade Lanikai Ukulele
That’s where we come in. We’ve put our heads together and come up with a guide to choosing a ukulele based on your goals as a player as well as some other factors, plus we’ve done some deep comparison shopping to create a shortlist that includes five of the best ukuleles for intermediate and advanced players. Ready to upgrade? Here’s the scoop.
Price: How Much Should You Spend?
If you’re moving from beginner to intermediate, you might really like something in the under $200 range. Ukuleles in this category tend to offer better tuners, better tonewood, and better components overall. Most are crafted with more attention to detail, and most sound absolutely beautiful.
If you’re making the transition from intermediate to advanced, you might want to spend more than $200 but don’t worry if your budget doesn’t support the added expense right now. Of course the ultimate ukulele for any advanced player is a customized instrument made by an expert luthier! If your budget can handle it, go support your local ukulele maker or take a trip to Hawaii for an in-person look at some of the finest ukes ever to grace the music scene.
Size: Different, or the Same?
Many beginners start out with soprano or concert ukuleles and find that they want to expand their horizons along with their skills. A tenor ukulele might be perfect for you if you’re thinking about upgrading.
At the same time, you might be perfectly happy with the same size you chose before, or perhaps with something smaller. We recommend listening to ukulele music from different instruments and thinking about how the same sounds and range might translate over to your own playing. It’s worth noting here that many ukulele players like having a few different instruments to play. There’s nothing wrong with building a collection!
Materials: Good, Better, or Best?
When you’re upgrading from a beginner ukulele to an instrument designed for more advanced players, better materials can make a difference in everything from the way your music sounds to the way you feel about presenting yourself and your instrument to others either in social settings or onstage. Pick an instrument that suits your personal aesthetic! You’ll be happier with your choice when you take appearance and overall quality into account.
Strings and other Extras: Neither Here nor There
We really like it when manufacturers offer nice extras with their products, particularly for beginners. We considered making this one of our criteria for helping you choose, but the truth is that the quality of the instrument should be more important than anything else. For example, you can buy a set of great strings if you’re not thrilled with the ones that come with your new uke, and you can treat yourself to a quality case if you need one, maybe saving up for something really nice that will protect your instrument for years to come. Problem solved!
With these and a few other factors in mind, here’s our list of the five best ukuleles for intermediate and advanced players.
Kala Ebony Tenor Ukulele: Best Inexpensive Upgrade
Kala is famous for offering quality ukuleles at surprisingly affordable prices, and the Kala KA-EBY-T is the perfect example of an outstanding instrument in the under $200 range. Made with exotic Indonesian ebony laminate, it features contrasting Maplewood binding.
The satin finish doesn’t pick up a lot of fingerprints, and the walnut bridge and fingerboard offer more natural warmth to the appearance. There are 19 frets, with fret position marks located at the 5th, 7th, 10th, and 12th frets, both on the fingerboard and on the neck, which is made of mahogany. The nut and saddle are made with graphtech nubone, and the ukulele is pre-strung with Aquila strings. The open gear tuners have simple black buttons that complement the dark, beautiful ebony wood.
Soundwise, this ukulele is just incredible. Punchy, rich, and sweet, it provides lots of resonance and plenty of volume. The sound is a shade warmer than Kala’s solid cedar top ukulele, which is another excellent choice in the event that you’d like to spend a bit more. If you’re looking for the best Kala ukulele money can buy, consider one of the 3KOA Kala Elite series ukuleles.
- Looks incredible
- Has a very bright, sunny sound
- Excellent quality overall
- Might need to change setup; as with many other ukuleles purchased online, string height may need to be adjusted to suit your preference
Martin C1K Concert Ukulele: Best Value Koa Wood Ukulele
If nothing but a concert will do, Martin has you covered. With solid Hawaiian Koa wood top, sides, and back, the Martin C1K concert ukulele features a gorgeous satin finish. The neck and neck joint are made with select hardwood for durable reliability, and the headstock features Martin’s traditional shape. In keeping with the company’s outstanding reputation for quality, this ukulele offers a rich, complex sound with incredible tone and tons of resonance. With 17 frets, the morado fretboard has a lovely feel and the Tusq man-made ivory nut and saddle are of outstanding quality. The open-geared nickel tuners are fitted with ivory-colored buttons and are visually complemented by matching fingerboard position markers. There are two markers at the 7th fret and one each at the 5th and 10th fret. A padded gig bag is included.
- Solid koa wood; nothing else sounds quite like it
- Exceptional quality for the price
- True Hawaiian sound
- Not quite as nice as a Kamaka or a KoAloha
8-String Tenor Ukulele: Most Unique Upgrade
If you’d like to expand your musical horizons and try something that’s truly different, you’re definitely going to want to take a look at an 8-string ukulele. There are a few different ones on the market and Kala’s 8-string tenor ukulele is among the best. This fantastic acoustic-electric ukulele features a solid acacia body that provides a rich, sweet tone that might remind you of koa. The rosewood fingerboard and bridge offer beautiful contrast, as do the rosewood binding and herringbone purfling.
This ukulele also comes in Gloss Mahogany. In case you’re up for an interesting challenge and an even richer sound, it is available in Baritone size, but with Cedar and Acacia woods instead. Oscar Schmidt and Luna make 8-string ukuleles too; these are priced a bit lower but aren’t quite as nice as higher-end models.
- Solid wood looks great and creates beautiful tone
- Unique sound, ideal for playing different music styles
- Fun to learn, and you can create some very interesting effects
- Best for medium to slow songs; fast ones can sound a bit fuzzy
Kala Ziricote Ukulele: Best Moderately-Priced Upgrade
Looking for something different? Kala’s Ziricote ukuleles are incredible in terms of appearance, sound, and overall quality particularly considering the prices, which hover around the $200-$300 mark depending on the size you choose. These ukuleles are made with exotic ziricote wood, which offers a dramatic appearance with fine grain lines, occasional swirls, and other visually pleasing patterns. The most interesting thing about this wood is the contrast between the dark, mature wood and the pale sapwood at the center. This gives every ziricote ukulele a gorgeous, distinctive appearance that never fails to fetch compliments.
Kala’s ziricote ukuleles feature glossy finishes that make the most of the wood’s characteristics. All have walnut fingerboards, GraphTech NuBone® nuts and saddles, and attractive black binding. They come with Aquila Super Nylgut strings, which contribute nicely to the full, rich, resonant sound. Soprano, Concert, Tenor, and Baritone.
- Beautiful, unique appearance
- Rich sound with good projection
- Best-in-class components
- Glossy finish looks amazing but does pickup fingerprints
Handmade Lanikai Ukulele: Luxury Upgrade
If you’d like to treat yourself to the best of the best, then consider the KAENA Lanikai Ukulele. This incredible instrument is handmade in Hawaii using solid Koa wood for the body, premium rosewood for the fingerboard, and seven abalone inlay fret position markers as well as an abalone inlay on the headstock. The hand-rubbed oil and wax finishes contribute to this instrument’s beautiful, traditional appearance while providing natural protection for the koa wood.
As expected, this ukulele offers a sweet, rich sound that immediately transports you to the islands. A ukulele like this is the closest you’ll come without visiting Hawaii in person!
- Handmade in Hawaii
- Built to last a lifetime
- Exquisite sound
- None that we could find
Your perfect ukulele is out there! Now comes the difficult part…which one to choose? We hope that our list helps you find an instrument that meets your needs and encourages you to keep on playing. Whether it’s just for fun or if you have dreams of becoming a professional player, all of these high-quality ukuleles are certain to provide you with many years of pleasurable strumming. Enjoy!