With its happy and perky sound, the ukulele craze has swept music stores all over the world. And I must admit, even I fell for this instrument for a good reason. Ukulele, or uke, is a four-stringed instrument that’s easier to learn than guitars. It’s also smaller, lighter, and less intimidating. But the ultimate question is this: what is the best ukulele for a beginner? In this post, I will share my top five picks as a long-time musician and uke player.
Last update on 2021-01-19 at 21:26 / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
Contrary to common beliefs, ukuleles didn’t originate in Hawaii, but in Europe. It just happened that a Portuguese immigrant brought his branguinha guitar to Hawaii, which then adapted the Hawaiian name ‘ukulele’. From then on, the Hawaiians developed a deep fondness for the instrument.
Nowadays, the ukulele is associated with the beach, summer, and the tropical vibe. It’s a fun instrument to learn, even for those with no musical background. Young kids who want to learn an instrument will also thrive with a ukulele as an introductory string option.
Take note that ukuleles are available in different sizes and tonewood material. If you want to skip the hassle of scouting among the hundreds of options in the market, here are my top five picks:
1. Bondi Ukuleles Concert Mahogany Uke
If you’re in the market for an entry-level option with excellent sound and build, you should get the one from Bondi Ukuleles. This is a 24” concert uke with an African mahogany body and black ebony fretboard. It’s also fitted with Italian Aquila Nylgut strings for the best sound.
Beginners will have a great start with this ukulele. As a concert size, it has 18 frets, which is a favorite among adults who are just getting started to learn the instrument.
The best thing is that this ukulele comes with a starter kit bundle. With that, the package also includes a colorful padded case, tuner, uke strap, extra strings, felt picks, cleaning cloth, bookmark, chord chart, and training videos. It’s complete with everything a beginner needs to start playing.
Overall, this ukulele is well-made and has good sound. I also like that the frets aren’t sharp, unlike other cheap beginner instruments I’ve purchased online. The only thing I noticed is that the fretboard is a bit dry, but it’s easily fixed with a drop of fretboard oil.
In my opinion, this is the best deal for beginners. The free lessons really help a lot, and as an experienced musician, I’m quite impressed by the sound quality for its price range.
- Complete bundle kit
- Comes with free lessons
- Excellent sound quality
- The fretboard needs hydrating, but it’s only a small issue
2. Lohanu Spalted Maple Ukulele
If you have knowledge of stringed instruments, the Lohanu Spalted Maple Uke is a great choice if you want to learn another instrument. It’s available in concert and tenor sizes, on which both are made of spalted and laminated maple wood. Meanwhile, its fretboard is made of technical wood fitted with Super Aquila strings.
One thing I like the most about this Lohanu uke is the arched back. This gives a fuller and warmer sound than non-arched ukuleles. Also, I like the bindings that add a classy look to the body of the instrument.
There’s also a built-in sounding pickup as well as tuner and 3-band equalizer. It’s gig-ready, which makes this instrument sustainable if you’re serious about playing the ukulele.
Aside from the ukulele, you will also get a strap, picks, ukulele bag, clip tuner, hanger, and extra strings.
Overall, this is a gorgeous ukulele, and I’m planning to get one to add to my collection. The best thing about this Lohanu piece is that it’s covered by an unconditional lifetime warranty. If you encounter quality issues with the instrument, call Lohanu, and they will send a replacement or refund.
- Unconditional lifetime warranty
- Built-in pickup and tuner
- Contoured hand rest
- Slightly high action, but tolerable for most beginners
3. Cordoba 20TM-CE Mahogany Ukulele
I had a Cordoba guitar before, and I’ve been impressed by the sound quality ever since. Now with their 20TM-CE ukulele, I’m happy to say that the Cordoba quality is in the works. This uke is made of solid mahogany back, top, and sides. Meanwhile, its fretboard and bridge are made of rosewood.
I’m a fan of satin finishes, and this uke did it just right. It projects the natural color of mahogany, which is very aesthetic and easy in the eyes. I also like the soft cutaway that gives this ukulele a bolder appearance. Aside from that, this uke is outfitted with a 2-band equalizer as well as a sounding pickup.
This Cordoba ukulele is modeled after the traditional and original Portuguese ukulele (branguinha). This makes the uke lighter with a one-piece neck and heel. So far, this is one of the loudest ukes I’ve ever used, which is quite impressive for its price range.
Moreover, the 20TM is available in all sizes: soprano, concert, tenor, and baritone. But for beginners, I suggest skipping the baritone.
Overall, this uke is a steal for its price range. But if there’s one thing I would add, it would be strap buttons.
- Authentic Portuguese ukulele design
- Solid neck and heel
- Built-in pickup and tuner
- No strap buttons
4. Oscar Schmidt OU5 Koa Ukulele
Another ukulele that caught my eye is the Oscar Schmidt OU5. I’m no stranger to this brand, so I’m confident that their ukes bear the same excellent sound quality. Their OU5 uke is made of Hawaiian Koa wood with a glossy finish. It also has Abalone binding with rosette on top.
This one is available in concert size, which is preferable for most beginners. It has 16 frets on a fretboard that’s made of high-quality rosewood. Meanwhile, it’s neck is made of nato wood.
The best thing about the Oscar Schmidt OU5 is the lifetime warranty. Brands that offer this kind of guarantee stands by the quality of their instruments. The package also includes a set of extra strings.
I also like the low-action strings, which makes it easier for beginners to press. The sound resonance is also impressive for a lower price range than Lohanu, Cordoba, and Bondi.
The only snags I noticed is that it doesn’t have strip buttons. Another, which isn’t a big deal for beginners, is that the back isn’t arched. Other than that, this uke is a beaute.
- Made of excellent Koa tonewood
- Lifetime warranty
- Glossy and aesthetic finish
- No strap buttons
5. Kala KA-C Makala Ukulele
For those who are on a budget, the best ukulele would be the Kala KA-C Makala Ukelele. This one has an agathis body and a mahogany neck. Meanwhile, its fingerboard and bridge are made of rosewood.
This is a concert size uke with a simple look. It’s my first time using a stringed instrument made of agathis wood, but I can say that the sound quality is decent enough for casual playing. It has a satin finish, which is aesthetic and low-key.
Moreover, the uke is bundled with a CD playing guide, bag, strap, tuner, extra set of Aquila strings, and a cleaning cloth. It’s value for money if you don’t want to spend a lot on your first uke.
I’ve talked with beginner uke players, and many have been using Kala. With its price and sound quality, it’s already a wise buy. It’s a great bundle, especially if you have zero knowledge about stringed instruments.
As much as it comes with a strap, you have to get the strap button drilled on a guitar shop. Other than that, this is a nice uke for a low price.
- Bundled with lessons and accessories
- Affordable for beginners
- Comes with extra strings
- No strap buttons
Which ukulele to buy for beginners?
When it comes to ukuleles, the last thing I want is a piece that sounds toyish. It kills the musicality of the instrument, and it doesn’t give players the chance to sustain their playing field. So if you want a beginner ukulele that sounds close to the pros, you should consider the following features.
Choose the right size
The first thing you should consider is the size of the ukulele. Ukes are available in four different sizes, which indicates its sound range. Below are the sizes so you can choose the best type of ukulele for beginners:
Soprano. This is the smallest of all ukulele sizes. It has a high and vibrant tone as well as a small build suitable for kids and those with small hands. Soprano ukuleles are traditional options, which is usually 20 inches long.
Concert. A tad bigger than soprano ukes is concert types, also known as alto size. It has a few extra frets to increase its range. Concert ukuleles are 23 to 24 inches long, which is suitable for older and slightly bigger hands.
Tenor. I personally prefer tenor ukuleles due to its wider range, louder sound, and bigger size. Tenor ukes have a standard 26-inch length with a sound similar to a classical guitar. Many professional musicians prefer tenor ukuleles because of this. For beginners, this is also a good option, especially for those with larger hands and longer fingers.
Baritone. Lastly, baritone ukuleles are the largest with a standard 30-inch length. This has a very deep sound similar to a classical nylon guitar. It’s not very popular, especially for beginners due to its size, wider frets, and higher price.
Another important part of choosing a ukulele is the tonewood used on it. Tonewoods are special selections of wood used in instrument production since they possess excellent tonal properties. The following are the widely used tonewoods on stringed instruments.
Mahogany. This is the most common tonewood, and it has excellent sound, too. Middle-end ukes are made of mahogany, giving it a rich yet softer sound than koa.
Sapele. Sapele is a popular alternative to mahogany since it has a similar shimmer and stain. I have a sapele uke, and I love its loud and well-rounded sound. Beginners won’t really notice its difference to mahogany.
Koa. This tonewood is used on higher-end ukuleles. Koa is a wood from Hawaii that gives a warm and loud sound. It has a beautiful grain as well, which gives a natural aesthetic to the ukulele.
Spruce. Spruce is usually found on lower-end ukuleles since it’s cheaper. Nevertheless, spruce gives a smooth and sweet sound.
Maple. Maple is found on higher-end ukuleles. It gives a crisp, bright, and resonant sound. If you want a durable uke, look for one made of hard maple.
Another thing you should check is the string action or the distance of the string to the fretboard. The ideal string action is 6/64 to 8/64 of an inch on the 12th fret. This is equivalent to 2.5 mm to 3 mm.
A very high string action will hurt the fingers, and it will be very difficult to press. However, avoid very low action since it may buzz and create an annoying sound.
With or without pickup?
Next, decide if you want a uke with a built-in pickup. For sure, this is an extra you’d want to have at your disposal should you need to play on a crowd or record the ukulele sound. The only downside is that ukes with pickups have a slightly higher price range.
Lastly, look for extras like a tuner (built-in or clip types), straps, strap buttons, gig bag, extra strings, and picks. If you’re a total newbie, look for a ukulele bundled with free playing lessons.
These extras add more value to your money. It also reduces the learning curve of the instrument.
What is the best ukulele for a beginner? For me, it’s a piece with the right balance of sound quality and price. You don’t have to spend a fortune on your first uke, but you wouldn’t want to pay for dirt cheap options either. If you’re in doubt, you can always consider the five options I reviewed here. As a ukulele player, I’m confident that these options will satisfy the musician in you.