Top 10 Reviews for Soprano, Acoustic Electric and Composite Ukuleles
The islands of Hawaii are full of some truly amazing things, from the gorgeous sites to the unbelievable foods. Even if you’ve never been there, you’re probably already familiar with its unforgettable music, which includes the lovable sounds of the ukulele.
The ukulele is a wonderful instrument, but a bit unlike its big brother the guitar (as I quickly found out). As a lifetime musician looking to branch out into the ukulele, I was very surprised to see that there were so many different options and styles out there. So I did some serious research to make sure I understood this instrument from top to bottom.
This website is the result of all of that research. I wanted to make sure that I could share everything I found out with all my fellow music lovers, and anyone else who wanted to try out the ukulele. Below are my picks for the top 10 ukuleles on the market today, complete with reviews of all their best features. I also put together some extra information that I think you’ll find very helpful.
Best Soprano Ukulele
Kala KA-15S Mahogany
The original, classic ukulele. Whenever you see someone playing a ukulele on TV or performing outside, they’re most likely playing a soprano ukulele. It’s the second smallest size of all the variants, and has the distinct miniature shape. This model is built to deliver a great sound, thanks to a sturdy solid mahogany body. If you’re looking for a traditional, straightforward ukulele with a great musical range, this is the instrument for you.
Versatile and Balanced Build
Just like with other types of instruments, the type of wood that is used in the construction of a ukulele has a big impact on its overall sound and performance. This ukulele from Kala has a mahogany body and neck, which means that they didn’t skimp on the design by using a cheaper wood for the upper portion and sneaking in a composite body behind the top. It also has a rosewood bridge and fretboard, which combine with the mahogany to create a warm, rich sound without having to make any modifications. These woods also help keep the ukulele light in terms of weight, so it’s easier to hold in your hands.
Sturdy Frets and Hardware
Another great feature of this soprano ukulele are the twelve brass frets that run all the way down the neck. This means that it not only has a full range of notes, so that you can play an incredibly variety of songs without the need to turn to special tunings, but that the frets also deliver a clean sound. Using plastic or other materials in the frets can cause the strings to buzz or, worse, allow the frets to get worn down by the strings. Worn frets require more effort to achieve a clean sound, and can become costly to repair. I also love that this ukulele has geared tuners, which help hold the strings in place nice and tight so they don’t slip out of tune while you’re playing.
Best for Beginners
Hola! HM-21 Soprano Ukulele
If you’re new to musical instruments and looking for a reliable beginner’s ukulele, than this is definitely the model you’re looking for. It’s made out of good, strong wood and has a lot of nice features that will make it easier for you to get comfortable with the instrument while you learn how to play. This model has everything you would want on a learner’s ukulele, making it an ideal choice for a student of any age or skill level.
Built for Beginners
One thing that I always look for in a beginners stringed instrument is fret markers, as they visually help you quickly identify where key frets are while you’re still memorizing the positions. This model has simple inlay markers at the 5th, 7th, and 10th frets; all it takes is a quick glance to orient yourself and keep playing without missing a beat. It’s also pretty light, which is important while you’re getting used to holding the ukulele and strumming without a strap. There is the standard number of 12 frets, just like you would expect on a soprano ukulele, along with silver, geared machine heads to keep the strings tight and make tuning much easier.
Stylish yet Practical Design
Ukuleles are a fun instrument because of their small size and playful sound, so it makes sense that there would be models available in fun colors, too. Whether you want a fiery, bright red or a mellow, cool blue, there are a lot of colors for you to choose from here. Finding a unique color also makes beginners feel more connected with the instrument, since the color often lines up with an aspect of their personality. Unlike other models, though, this ukulele is able to give you bright colors while still using a good quality wood. These models have a maple body and neck, which is a great wood for beginners because it is strong enough to withstand the wear and tear that comes from learning to play while still providing a nice, rich sound. It’s also got a rosewood bridge and fretboard, which provide some extra sturdiness and give it a beautiful, professional look, too.
Best Concert Ukulele
Luna Mahogany Series Tattoo
Concert ukuleles are a little bit bigger than soprano ukuleles and are able to deliver a louder sound while still hitting the same musical range. This concert ukulele is made of high-quality wood for a great sound, and also includes the extra little touches that any performer will appreciate. As a bonus, it also comes with a distinct appearance that will definitely make it stand out, whether you’re on stage or practicing in your garage.
Easier to Play Live
The best thing about a concert ukulele is that it’s got just enough extra space in the design to make playing it a little bit easier. A standard soprano ukulele has a length of around 21 inches, whereas this concert ukulele has a length of 23 inches. This allows it to have an impressive 18 frets without getting too cramped further down the neck. More frets means a greater musical range and more options for playing chords or utilizing different tunings. Also, the larger size helps to create a slightly deeper tone, which allows the ukulele to stand out a bit more when played with other instruments. It’s also going to be louder, which is a huge benefit when playing without any amplification.
Distinct Hawaiian Design
There’s a lot to enjoy about the look of this ukulele. To start off with, it’s got a beautiful finish, thanks in part to its spruce and mahogany construction. Moving into the finer details, the rosette has a geometric design that draws inspiration from traditional Hawaiian imagery. This imagery extends to the top, which features an elaborate etched design that resembles a Hawaiian tribal tattoo winding around the lower portion of the body. The fret markers, which are modeled off an image of a shark’s tooth, complete the distinct appearance and unify the entire Hawaiian feel of the design.
Best Starter Bundle
Kala MK-S Makala Ukulele
Anyone starting out on the ukulele for the first time might want to consider picking up a bundle, since it includes a gig bag and some extra goodies in addition to the instrument. This bundle includes a beautiful soprano ukulele made out of strong and reliant materials, so you don’t have to worry about accidentally banging it up while you’re learning to play.
Agathis Wood for Beginner Balance
Like I said, when you’re just starting out playing a new instrument, you don’t want to get something made out of a fancy wood, because that gets in the way of the natural learning process. It’s like practicing to drive in an expensive car – you’re going to be so worried about damaging it that you’re not going to be paying attention to the regular driving rules. This ukulele uses agathis, which is part of the alder family of wood, so you still get a great sound without having to pay a fortune. The rest of the ukulele features rosewood and mahogany, for some extra sturdiness added in.
Useful Bundle Accessories
The mark of a good instrument bundle is the type of accessories that it includes, and this one covers all the bases for any musician. First up is a gig bag, which is essential to keep the ukulele safe when you take it with you. It won’t offer the same amount of protection as a hardshell case, but for most beginners that type of case is way too much to start out with. Next up is a clip-on tuner, which will absolutely be helpful in keeping the ukulele in tune while you play. Ukuleles use a different type of tuning than traditional guitars, so the tuner ensures that you can keep it in the right key. Finally, it features an instructional DVD to get you started, and a polishing cloth so that you can keep the strings and body free of oils and dirt.
Best for the Money
Mahalo Ukuleles MR1BK Rainbow Series
Some people looking to purchase a ukulele simply want a reliable instrument to have around for fun, as a gift for children or simply as a backup instrument for at-home playing. That’s why this ukulele really stands out as an amazing choice for anyone operating on a budget; it combines quality construction with quality performance without costing you an arm and a leg.
Affordable Without Sacrificing Quality
The biggest factor influencing the price of an instrument like this is the wood it uses, since the wood has a huge impact on the tone of the ukulele. Most ukuleles on the lower end of the price scale will try to use composite materials, sneak in multiple types of low-quality wood, or bypass the wood completely and use a cheap, flimsy plastic instead. This ukulele is made out of a combination of mahogany and sengon, so you’re still getting a quality sound without the price tag skyrocketing upwards. It also has geared Dolphon machine heads, which will help keep the strings tight and in tune. The whole idea behind this ukulele is to provide an instrument that anyone can enjoy playing, without reducing it to the level of a toy in terms of craftsmanship and construction.
Lots of Color Choices
Mahalo Ukuleles named this model the Rainbow Series because it’s available in a huge range of colors. The materials it uses in the construction process actually make this possible, since staining other types of woods in such fun and vibrant hues is actually quite difficult. With all the color options available, you can rest assured that you’ll be able to find a ukulele to suit your personality. It’s also great for giving as a gift, since you can pick up a ukulele in the recipient’s favorite color to make it even more special. As an added bonus, these ukuleles also come with a gig bag, which you’d be hard pressed to find in any other model at this price range.
Best Acoustic Electric Ukulele
Kala KA-SE Mahogany Series
Finding a quality acoustic electric instrument is a tough task in and of itself, and at first it seemed like it was actually going to be harder to find a good one in the ukulele family. Thankfully, this model from Kala stands head and shoulders above everything else I saw. It uses high-quality wood and great hardware, and includes electronics that make it possible to play through an amp without any hassles.
Amazing Quality Materials
You just can’t go wrong with a ukulele that has a mahogany body, since it’s a type of wood that delivers such a wonderfully rich sound. It’s also so sturdy that you don’t have to worry as much about cosmetic damage or little scratches affecting its ability to deliver good sound. This ukulele also has a rosewood fretboard and bridge, which really give it an expensive look in addition to helping it achieve better overall sound. You can also find geared machine heads so that tuning is a breeze, and a set of Aquila strings that are a wonderful brand to find included right out of the box.
Perfect for Gigs
This acoustic electric model features UK-300-TR Electronics already installed, so you don’t need to perform any tricky actions to get it up and running. These electronics mean that you can plug the ukulele right into an amp and start playing, just like you would with an electric instrument. There’s a control panel on the side of the body facing upward, so you can easily adjust the tone and treble while you play. This is incredibly convenient, since miking an acoustic instrument can be a real pain and might lead to subpar sound. Kala used some solid technology in this, so that you can get a great output when you play.
Best Portable Ukulele
Kala MK-SWT/Clear Makala Waterman Composite Soprano
If you’ve ever tried to bring an instrument with you on a trip, then you know how difficult it can be to fit it in along with all of your other belongings. Not to mention how stressful it is worrying about it getting damaged by weather conditions. This ukulele is built to be ultra-portable , so you can easily take it with you pretty much anywhere. And, unlike most traditional instruments, the composite construction makes it resistant to a whole slew of environmental factors.
Weight is by far the top concern for any portable instrument, and this ukulele is about as light as they get. It clocks in at less than half of a pound thanks to its unique composite plastic build. Once you put it into a gig bag and sling it over your back, you might just forget that it’s in there. Unlike a lot of other ukuleles that use plastic specifically to cut corners, this ukulele is designed to take advantage of the plastic without sacrificing on the overall sound and playability of the instrument. To this end, the model comes with a set of Aquila Super Nylgut strings, so you can start playing right away and continue to make beautiful music without having to switch to a better-quality string.
Weather Resistant Design
By using a polycarbonate plastic material in the construction, the ukulele is able to withstand exposure to water and moisture. This doesn’t mean that it’s water-proof, so I wouldn’t recommend dunking it into a pool of water. Still, you can take it out in the rain or with you to the beach and you won’t have to worry about the water warping the wood and compromising the body or neck in the slightest. The full plastic design and nickel geared machine heads also help keep the guitar in tune, especially when it gets wet. So you can keep playing through some troublesome weather conditions without the ukulele dropping out of tune in the middle of a song.
Caramel CT102A Zebra Wood
When you want to achieve a deeper tone and range of notes, that means you’re going to be looking at tenor ukuleles. When it comes to the tenor range, I haven’t found a model that offers a better combination of quality building materials, attractive design, and overall attention to detail than this model from Caramel. Playing this is definitely going to be different compared to a soprano ukulele, which is why this construction process used in this model makes it a great choice.
Quality Solid Wood Construction
There’s a lot you need to consider when looking at the wood used in a ukulele, or any instrument for that matter. The tone is almost always going to be your top concern, which is why I love that this tenor ukulele uses zebrawood, which delivers a strong and rich sound. It’s on the harder side of woods, which means that it can also withstand the vibrations from the lower notes and help to keep the sound rich and deep. The zebrawood also gives it a very attractive appearance, thanks to the signature striped pattern of the finish.
Perfect Setup for Any Player
On top of wonderful use of zebrawood in the body, this ukulele uses rosewood for the bridge in order to achieve a high-caliber sound. Rosewood is not just attractive, but also very solid and capable of achieving a wonderfully rich polish. This helps combine a classy look with a sturdy build to anchor the strings and keep the sound smooth, since the bridge literally anchors the strings to the body of the instrument. The ukulele also has a rosewood fretboard, which extends the elegant design throughout the instrument but also helps promote a powerful sound. This model is also on the longer side, which means more frets and more space to play and experiment.
Kala MK-B Baritone Ukulele
This is the ukulele that a lot of you guitar players are going to feel most comfortable with, since it’s bigger than the other styles and uses a tuning that’s similar to that of an acoustic guitar. This baritone ukulele strikes an amazing balance when it comes to materials, creating an instrument that’s capable of achieving the classic ukulele sounds while also introducing a lot of interesting new features that make it something really unique.
Longer Body for Easy Transition
The thing that stood out to me the most about this baritone ukulele was how much it reminded me of an old acoustic I had when I was a kid. You can find 18 frets on this ukulele, and since it’s got a scale length of about 19 inches, this means that you can achieve a very impressive range of chords and notes right away. This model also includes two wire strings and two nylon strings, which allow it to achieve the same kind of tuning as on an acoustic guitar. All in all, this model is built like a hybrid guitar/ukulele while still giving you everything a ukulele has to offer, so it’s a great choice for anyone making the switch in instruments.
Beautiful Finish, Solid Construction
This is another ukulele that utilizes agathis in its construction, to help keep costs low while also creating a richer sound than those low-grade woods that other manufacturers like to use. I really enjoy that this ukulele has such a deep color to it, so it’s not only attractive to look at but it doesn’t give off the appearance that it’s cheap or a poor-quality instrument. In fact, when you look at its design and build, you can tell that it’s made by people that know what they’re doing. The geared tuners on the head are just one of the many different touches that show you that this is a serious ukulele made for someone who really wants to explore the musical possibilities of the instrument.
Best Ukulele Banjo
Oscar Schmidt OUB1
If you’ve never seen a ukulele banjo, sometimes called a banjulele, then it can be quite a shock at first. This model is takes the small size, tuning, and general construction of a ukulele and introduces the distinct drumhead body of a banjo to create a truly unique instrument. This model caught my eye from the moment I first saw it, and I was pleased to discover that it really brings a lot to the table for anyone looking to take ukulele playing to a new and exciting level.
Small, Easy-to-Play Design
This model ukulele incorporates some of the distinct features of a banjo into the general style of a concert ukulele, making it much easier to pick up than a standard version of either instrument. It’s still got four strings, whereas a banjo traditionally has five, and retains the same standard tuning as a ukulele. The longer neck length means there’s more room for your fingers, so it will be easier to form cords and become comfortable with strumming and picking. The strings are also just like what you would expect on a ukulele, so pressing down won’t be as hard as using steel strings, which can cut into your fingers if you haven’t built up calluses yet.
Best of Both Worlds
The component that gives banjos their distinct sound is the drumhead resonator that amplifies the vibrations of the strings off the taught skin of a drum, rather than capturing it in the sound hole of a ukulele or guitar and letting the sound resonate within the hollow wooden body. While the body of this ukulele is built off of the banjo design, the neck and headstock are exactly what you would expect from a ukulele, which means it’s very easy to hold and navigate. Also, the body has a closed back, which means you can hold the instrument and play it just like a ukulele instead of needing to rest it on your knee like a regular banjo.
Well, there you have it. My picks for the ten best ukuleles, based on all of my personal research on the different styles, models, and manufacturers out there. I sincerely hope that you found this guide helpful, and that you are able to make a more confident and better informed purchase, no matter what instrument you end up choosing. Also, don’t forget to check out the other pages on the site, since I put up some other helpful information based on some other questions I had when I first started my own search.
Happy playing, friends. Aloha!