The Highest Rated Ukulele Brands For Beginners
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Note: Only brands with lower priced models available from major US retailers were considered for this report - see the Methodology section for full details on how the list below was calculated.
The modern ukulele dates back to the 1880s, and is a descendant of several different instruments of Portuguese origin. Its precursors were introduced to the native Hawaiians by Portuguese settlers, and the ukulele came as a result of the two cultures melding. The ukulele eventually became synonymous with Hawaiian culture, and then spread beyond its homeland to become a cultural phenomenon loved the world over. Though once seen as a novelty instrument, the ukulele has grown to boast a collection of music as diverse and technical as any other instrument.
When you’re a beginning musician, or an aspiring musician trying to hunt down the right instrument, you just don’t have the experience to figure out how best to spend your money because there’s such a wealth of choice available. This is true with any instrument, and ukuleles are no exception. As you get more experience, and a better ear, you’ll start to know what you’re looking for. But in the beginning, finding the right ukulele for your needs can be really overwhelming.
To help musicians find the right uke for them, this article exists to collect an objective list of the five best ukulele brands according to user opinion (for a more detailed look at how Gearank looks, check out the “Methodology” section at the end of this article). The process used removes our subjectivity from the list, leaving you with a collection of instruments that are the best around as decided by musicians as a whole.
With that out of the way, here are our results…
There isn’t a lot of history on Caramel ukuleles. The brand is owned by the Rubin Commerce and Trade Co,. Ltd (a company based out of China), and they formerly sold their ukes as “Rubin ukuleles”. Currently, the brand is sold under the Caramel name. It’s the same story that describes tons of different random import brands, but Caramel seems to be a bit different.
Judging by user reviews, Caramel ukes seem to be extraordinarily well built for the price you pay for them. Their instruments are well finished, have a great tone quality for laminate instruments, and some of them even sport electronics in case you feel like plugging in.
A perfect example of Caramel’s price to quality ratio is the Caramel CC102A Concert Ukulele. It doesn’t come with electronics, but it does sport a genuine bone nut and saddle. Bone transfers resonance more efficiently than plastic, giving the tone of your instruments a huge boost. In fact, a bone nut and saddle is the best upgrade you can possibly do to an instrument. Bone nuts and saddles are very affordable, and once they’re properly installed they can make an instrument sound better than you could ever imagine.
Founded in 1997 Tim Micklaucic, Cordoba has become renowned as both an innovator and leader in the nylon instrument sphere. The brand makes phenomenal ukes, classical, and flamenco guitars. Pepe Romero Jr., a famed classical guitar manufacturer who later adapted his design to ukuleles, is the primary designer for the ukulele arm of the company. Though not a household name, his instruments are incredibly well received.
And while the company is generally associated with their guitars, they also manufacture ukuleles with the same dedication to quality musicians have come to expect from the brand. A perfect example of this is the Cordoba 15CM-E.
The 15CM-E is an all-mahogany concert sized uke, sporting passive electronics. The cool thing about this uke is that it comes out of the box with a great, stage ready tone that’s perfect for any musician. The mahogany body and concert size gives the uke a very warm tone overall. The concert sized body also gives the uke plenty of volume to play along with other musicians.
Cordoba’s electronics also have an excellent reputation as far as passive, non-third party pickup systems are concerned. They’re regarded to do a very competent job of transferring the tone of your instrument to whatever you’re using to amplify it. The only downside of this uke’s electronics is that they don’t have a dedicated EQ, so any adjustments in tone will have to be done at the P.A. or amplifier.
Founded in 2005, Kala is one of the most popular ukulele manufacturers currently in operation. And when you see their instruments, it isn’t hard to see why. The Petaluma, CA based brand has a variety of different models available, ranging from standard ukes to more innovative designs; ensuring that every player can find the uke of their dreams. Even better, the brand caters to musicians of every income level, ranging from entry to high-end. They also have some really unique designs, including a ukulele-esque bass and an archtop uke.
A perfect example of Kala’s ukulele’s is the Kala KA-15S Satin Mahogany Soprano, a soprano uke that packs a surprisingly musical voicing into its relatively small footprint. The KA-15S is an all-mahogany instrument which, when combined with its soprano body size, gives it a perfect traditional uke voicing. The soprano body size has a very delicate and focused voice, and the mahogany body gives the instrument the depth you’d find in instrument costing many times more. It’s a great instrument for solo play, because as a general rule warmer instruments (those with a higher representation of bass frequencies) sound better unaccompanied than brighter instruments. When you couple Kala’s dedication to quality control to the uke’s tone, it’s hard to find a better beginner’s ukulele.
Donner is one of the younger companies on this list, founded just five years ago (the company was founded in 2012, time of writing is 2017). The company’s self-described goal is to “…create new experiences in music and performance. Donner is resolved to continue to create innovative and excellent instruments which maintain the high quality that inspires professional and creators, and yet are approachable enough for anyone to play”
When looking at the company’s products, and their reputation, they’ve definitely reached their goal. Their most well-known line of products, their guitar effects mini-pedals, are consistently well reviewed and incredibly affordable. Likewise, their ukuleles have enjoyed a similar response, being prized for their affordability, quality control, and tone.
A great example of Donner’s products is the Donner DUS-3. The DUS-3 is a spruce topped soprano ukulele with mahogany back and sides, a combination which gives it a bright focused tone. As a tonewood, spruce is significantly brighter than mahogany. The cool thing about a spruce topped soprano ukulele is that it’s going to be heard more easily when you’re playing with other musicians, which is a huge plus if you’re looking to play along with your friends. Spruce instruments don’t have the warmth of mahogany alternatives, but there is a unique appeal in their bright and jangly voicing.
Another plus with buying the Donner DUS-3 is that it comes as a fully featured package. The package includes: a gig bag, a ukulele strap, and a digital clip-on tuner. With the included extras, you have everything you need to get started on the road to becoming a fabulous ukulele player.
Lohanu is a Canadian-based company, deriving their name from a combination of three words: Love (the first two letters of Lohanu), Ohana (Hawaiian for Family), and Unity (the last two letters of Loahnu backwards). There isn’t a lot of background history on the brand, however the reception their instruments have gotten is incredibly impressive.
The key selling point about the brand is that they stand by their instruments and do everything they can to help you on your way. Their instruments and their accessories all come with an unconditional lifetime warranty, meaning that you can purchase with confidence. They also offer free beginner videos, so if you’ve never played before you’ll have all of the information that you need to start playing. Even though there are a ton of beginner videos floating around on YouTube, beginners tend to benefit from a more focused education when they’re just starting. This makes the Lohanu beginner series more helpful to those who have never played before than simply hunting down videos on YouTube.
An instrument that defines the values of Lohanu is the Lohanu LU-C. The instrument has a build quality and features that go above and beyond what you’d normally associate with this price point. The uke is made from laminated Sapele, which is a very similar wood to mahogany (the main difference is that Sapele has a stronger high-end response). The LU-C also comes with a fully bound body and neck. Binding is the white lines you see across the edge of the body and the neck, and originated as a design element to increase an instruments stability.
An interesting feature of the Lohanu LU-C is that it has an arched back. When you arch the top or back of an instrument you get a strong increase in projection, which will make this uke sound very focused and make it seem louder than what it really is.
Lastly, the LU-C also comes with pre-installed strap buttons, a gig bag, an extra set of ukulele strings, picks, as well as a digital tuner.
Firstly, just a brief background on what we generally do...
We produce ratings of music gear by doing detailed statistical analysis of the reviews, ratings and comments that people make about individual musical instruments and equipment. We use the Gearank Algorithm to summarize this analysis and distill it down to a score out of 100 for each item we analyze. You can learn more about that process in our article: How Gearank Works.
How we calculated the top Ukulele brands...
We took the ratings we had produced for individual soprano and concert ukuleles from our database and grouped their scores by brand.
Only ukuleles that met the following criteria were included:
- Had to be sold at a major US retailer (EG: Sweetwater, Guitar Center, Amazon etc.)
- Had to have a street price no more than $300
We then calculated a weighted average of the ratings for each brand to arrive at a score that allowed us to rank the brands from highest to lowest. Lastly, we selected the top 5 brands to present above. In all there were 26 brands on our short-list and we processed over 18,500 reviews and rating sources to arrive at our results.
If you have any questions, please feel free to ask in the comments section below.
Submitted by Vince Vilardo (not verified) on
I finally received the tenor ukulele I ordered from Amazon however I am unable to complete the registration to validate your warranty. I have completed the form a number of times, but do not receive your email to confirm my registration. You have been so helpful in the past and I am sure this can be rectified. Than k you so much for all your help. Vince
Submitted by Jason Horton on
You should contact the company directly because they probably won't see your post here.
How do I get an instruction
Submitted by Sylvia (not verified) on
How do I get an instruction booklet? My package also did NOT include a CD as the description said
You should contact the shop
Submitted by Jason Horton on
You should contact the shop you bought it from and either get the full package they promised or get a refund.
I bought one of your ukuleles
Submitted by Steven Mihoren (not verified) on
I bought one of your ukuleles recently on amazon but was short the capo how can I get one to complete this order
You need to contact the
Submitted by Jason Horton on
You need to contact the seller you bought it from.
I bought an ukulele from you
Submitted by Sabrina Win Kyaing (not verified) on
I bought an ukulele from you a month ago.
Where can I register and have the video lessons ?
We don't sell any of the
Submitted by Jason Horton on
We don't sell any of the instruments we recommend, but we do provide links to retailers.
You should contact either the retailer you bought it from, or the manufacturer.
I have bought one of your
Submitted by Nick Cuffe (not verified) on
I have bought one of your ukulele and working my way through the videos. However, is there a workbook to go along with the practice sessions?
We provide advice on
Submitted by Jason Horton on
We provide advice on instruments but we don't sell them ourselves.
However, if you'd like to tell us which one you've bought, we may be able to help you with an answer.
None of these are the best
Submitted by Bex (not verified) on
None of these are the best ukulele brands. Not by miles. The best are all Hawaiian makers. Kamaka, Kanilea, Ko'olau. For intermediate players or beginners who want quality, Pono or Islander. THEN you get to Kalas and Cordobas, but go for a solid top if you can and get someone experienced to do set up and quality control. I recommend Hawaii music supply aka theukulelesite.
Quite agree Bex - this is
Submitted by Bazmaz (not verified) on
Quite agree Bex - this is just a shill site that lists instruments that you follow a link to Sweetwater or Amazon for which the site gets revenue. None on this list are the best brands at all - just brands they can earn some ad revenue from..
We should have provided more
Submitted by Jason Horton on
We should have provided more detail in the Methodology section above - the ranking above is only for brands selling ukuleles that met the following criteria:
Those criteria are why the more expensive and less widely available, yet highly regarded brands, don't appear in the list above.
We chose this set of criteria because we were primarily trying to help new players who often want to know what the 'best brands' are when buying one of their first instruments.
I've updated the Methodology section to avoid this misunderstanding.
I totally agree with you Bex.
Submitted by Julie Febrey (not verified) on
I totally agree with you Bex...
This article should be titled something different because the brands listed are not the best ukulele brands...aside from Kala who do have handmade models and who do create beautiful instruments that the Ukulele Site sells. Cordoba does have some upper end models as well, just haven't tried any of them. Islander, Baton Rouge and Ohana are good. I have an Uma and 2 Enyas as well as a Lanaiki which are all beautiful. I think that adult beginners should pay a little more for their instruments because you will notice a difference...
I one a Lohanu saprano
Submitted by Mandy Ruzicka (not verified) on
I own a Lohanu saprano ukulele that I absolutely love and I just got a concert Lohanu earlier today and I have to say I love them both. Great company and products!!
its Soprano but the Baritone
Submitted by tom (not verified) on
It's Soprano but the Baritone is the bomb
I received my use as a
Submitted by Blanca Trombatore (not verified) on
I received my uke as a present. I know nothing on how to play, but willing to learn. Thank you for your help and efforts to teach and support people like me. Everybody calls me Lucky.