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 Overall: Romero Creations RC-GT-K Grand Tenor Ukulele
- Runner Up: Ohana TK-35GCE Tenor Ukulele
- Best Value: Kanilea OHA-C Premium Koa Concert Ukulele
- Best Moderately-Priced Upgrade: Kanile’a 2019 Platinum Edition Solid Koa Pineapple Tenor
- Luxury Pick: Kanile’a 2020 Platinum
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.
Master the Ukulele in 30 or less, Guaranteed
- Great for the beginners
- Master Half Notes, Quarter Notes, and Eighth Notes
- Develop amazing right hand strumming technique
- Learn how to play in ‘time’ and keep a solid rhythm
- Memorize essential major, minor, and 7th chords
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.
Kanilea OHA-C Premium Koa Concert Ukulele “Leopard” – Best Value Hawaiian-Made Ukulele
- Solid Koa Top
- Solid Mahogany Back and Side
- Concert Scale Length 15 1/4 Inches
- Nut Width 1 1/2 Inches
- Solid Mahogany Satin Neck
- Walnut Fingerboard, Bridge and Headplate
- Kanilea TRU-R Bracking System
- Chrome Kanile`a open geared tuners
- Black TUSQ NuBone Nut and Saddle
- New Kanilea UV Natural Satin Finish
- Black Poplar Fret Markers\
- G-C-E-A Tuning with High G
If you’ve always wanted to upgrade to an authentic koa wood ukulele, here’s the perfect opportunity. This beautiful Kanilea concert ukulele is made in Hawaii. It features a solid koa wood top, which is complemented by a solid mahogany back and solid mahogany sides. This combination of woods allows Kanilea to offer this instrument at a far more affordable price than you’d pay for solid koa wood. The company positions this particular ukulele as a “median-priced Hawaiian instrument.”
The OHA ukulele’s neck is made with solid mahogany, which is a nice contrast to the walnut fingerboard, headplate, and bridge. Black poplar fret markers are a gorgeous finishing touch, and they’re complemented by a black TUSQ nubone nut and saddle.
What’s inside this ukulele counts just as much (or maybe even more!) than its exterior. The modified TRU-R bracing system provides outstanding sustain and resonance while ensuring that the instrument retains its integrity. Sound-wise, we’re pretty sure that you’ll fall in love the second you hear Kanilea’s sample. Uke Like the Pros packages this ukulele in a Uke Crazy hard foam case, which is a really nice extra.
Like this ukulele but prefer tenor sizing? You’re in luck: The Kanilea tenor OHA ukulele is still available!
Romero Creations RC-GT-K Grand Tenor Ukulele Koa “Hammerhead” – Most Unique Upgrade
- Designed by Pepe Romero
- Handcrafted, all solid, Koa wood (Top, Sides, and Back)
- Tenor scale length 17 Inches
- Ebony fingerboard & bridge
- 3 Inch Body Width
- 1 1/2 Inches Neck Width at Nut
- Romero Signature on Headstock
- Setup with Low G
- Pepe Romero Strings: UT2 Tenor Ukulele Set (Low G)
If you’ve never heard of a grand tenor ukulele, you’re not alone! This is a unique instrument that can be pretty hard to find, and it’s one that isn’t discussed much in beginner circles.
We’re giving you a quick introduction to the grand tenor ukulele here, but you’ll want to listen to the demo to get the full impact! This incredible instrument has an oversized tenor body that produces a sound that’s fuller, richer, and deeper than the standard tenor uke.
The grand tenor ukulele has a wider neck, which provides more room for string spacing. If you’re into fingerstyle, you’ll absolutely love what that additional space can do for your playing.
As for aesthetics, this ukulele has them: Pepe Romero hand-built this ukulele with solid koa wood, adding an ebony fingerboard and bridge, then finishing it up with Low G Pepe Romero Strings and the Romero signature headstock.
Kanile’a 2019 Platinum Edition Solid Koa Pineapple Tenor “The Experience” #69 of “69 Dreams” – A rare find!
- Master Grade Koa body (top, back, and sides)
- Tenor Scale Length 17 Inches
- 2 1/2 Inches Width At Nut
- Radiused back
- Ebony armrest
- Black front binding
- Radiused back
- Ebony armrest
- Black front binding
- Curly Mango rosette with Black trim
- Pineapple side sound port
- Solid Mahogany neck
- Ebony fingerboard, bridge and head plate
- Kanile`a Cobra Slotted headstock
- Curly Mango fret markers
- Curly Mango / Green Poplar limited edition pineapple shaped logo
- Gotoh Stealth Cosmo Black tuners with Kanile`a knobs
- Ebony bridge pins
- Black TUSQ nut and saddle
- UV cured High Gloss body / Silk neck finish
It’s the last of its kind. We wish we were joking, but we’re not: This Kanile’a solid koa pineapple tenor was the last one in the entire production run. Kanile’a made 69 of these tenor pineapple ukuleles, and this is the last brand-new one available. It’s signed by Joe Souza, Kanile’a master builder and company founder, and it is numbered #69 of 69.
You’ll understand why this instrument is called “The Experience” when you see and hear it in action during Terry’s demo. Made with Master Grade premium koa wood, which shows off that beautiful wavy grain and a unique tiger stripe flame, it has a strong mahogany neck along with premium curly mango rosette and fret markers. The body is protected by a UV-cured high-gloss finish, and the neck features a silk finish.
There’s more: This master-level ukulele features a pineapple side sound port, an ebony armrest, Gotoh Stealth Cosmo black micro-tuners, and an ebony fretboard. A black TUSQ nut and a matching saddle add to the ukulele’s elegant appearance.
- Top: Solid Mahogany
- Back: Solid Mahogany
- Sides: Solid Mahogany
- Sound-hole: Rosette in black/ white/ black
- Finish: Gloss
- Body Binding: Wood w/ white/ black purfling
- Body Length: 10-15/16″
Want to step up into a tenor ukulele? Ready for something just a little bit nicer than that old uke that you’ve been playing for years? We think you might really appreciate this ukulele from Ohana!
It’s made with solid mahogany that provides a rich, gorgeous sound, and it’s got a cutaway body that provides unfettered access to the fretboard, where you’ll find a total of 19 frets.
Ohana put plenty of thought into the fit and finish: this sweet little uke features wood body binding with black and white purfling, which goes nicely with the black and white rosette that surrounds the sound hole. A glossy finish makes for a stunning finishing touch.
In case you’re ready to perform, you’ll be glad to hear that this ukulele is, too! It’s fitted with an active pickup and a set of Grover open gear tuners, and it is outfitted with Aquila strings. It features a real bone nut and saddle, along with pearloid side markers to help frets 5, 7, 10 and 12 stand out. Be sure to take a listen to Terry’s demo. Afterward, you might just feel like trying this ukulele for yourself!
Kanile’a 2020 Platinum Limited Edition Super Tenor Ukulele “Kolohaha” #003 – Most Luxurious Upgrade
2020 PLATINUM SPECS:
- Kanile`a Original, Super Tenor Body
- Master Grade Koa Front, Back and Sides
- Ebony Fingerboard, Bridge, and Head-Plate
- Platinum Crown Slotted Headstock
- Gotoh Stealth Cosmo Black Tuners with Kanile`a Knobs
- Ebony Bridge Pins
- NuBone Nut and Saddle
- Gloss Body, Silk Neck Finish
- Beach Sand Side Position Markers
- Beach Sand Logo Inlay in Retro 1998 Kanile`a Old English
- Beach Sand Inlay on Soundboard and Fingerboard
- D-Shaped Soundhole with Kolohala and Sand Alternating Rosette
- Oval Side Sound Port with Kolohala Trim
- Curly Maple Front and Back Binding
- Curly Maple Back Strip
- Curly Maple Tail Strip
- Kolohala Armrest
- Kolohala Bevel
Here’s proof that you don’t have to travel to Hawaii to get your hands on one of the best Kanile’a ukuleles ever made! Brand new for 2020 and #3 of its kind, this super tenor ukulele brings out the absolute best in your playing. It’s a gorgeous option for anyone who performs, thanks to Master Grade koa wood construction throughout, and an incredible inlay made with beach sand that works its way along the body, neck, and platinum crown slotted headstock.
The 2020 Kanile’a Platinum ukulele is protected by a Gloss finish on the body, and a silk finish on the neck. The side position markers are made with beach sand, and the D-shaped sound hole is embellished with a rosestte that shows off more beach sand and special Kolahala trim. A second oval side sound port is also surrounded by kolahala trim.
Kanile’a used more kolahala wood for the armrest and bevel, then worked in additional contrast by incorporating curly maple into the back strip, tail strip, and binding.
Soundwise, it’s everything you’ve every dreamed about and everything we’ve come to anticipate whenever Kanile’a releases limited edition ukuleles. Listen to the demo to take it all in!
KoAloha KSM-02 Soprano Longneck Ukulele “Heartstone” – Best Soprano Ukulele Upgrade
Love soprano ukuleles? Want to experience the best of the best? It’s hard to beat the KoAloha KSM-02 Soprano Longneck Ukulele. In case you’ve never seen one of these beauties, you’ll want to take a closer look at Terry’s demo.
Essentially, a longneck soprano ukulele is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a soprano ukulele with a standard size body and a longer neck. The main advantage is that you get far more room to play, which makes life easier for you when playing fingerstyle or if you just happen to be someone with longer arms. True, everyone can play a soprano ukulele, but as Terry says, this style is just so much easier than standard size.
Now that we’ve gotten body style out of the way, let’s take a quick look at some other features that make this instrument stand out. First (and most important!) it’s made with solid koa wood. And to top it off, it was handcrafted in Hawaii. This ukulele has a big, rich, warm sound that might surprise you if you’ve never heard a truly high-quality koa wood soprano ukulele being played.
Fit and finish are as good as it gets: The nut and saddle are made with durable TUSQ material, the high-gloss finish looks incredible, and little details like the abalone fretboard markers and headstock logo add to this ukulele’s standout appearance. A hard case is included and this ukulele is protected by KoAloha’s “Better than the weather” lifetime warranty.
Best on Amazon:
- 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
1. 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
2. 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
3. 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
4. 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
5. 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!