More Beginner Guides
The ukulele, an instrument characterized by its soft lilting tone, is a great fit for accompanying singer-songwriters. It’s also experienced a resurgence in popularity, inspired in part by folk’s resurgence as a segment of the Americana movement.
However, just like any instrument choosing the right ukulele for your needs can be challenging. Since the market is so flooded, choosing the best beginner ukulele is even more of a challenge. With that in mind, this list is targeted exclusively at people looking for cheap beginner ukuleles.
Not everyone can afford to drop hundreds on an instrument. So, since we’ve already covered more expensive ukes, we’re keeping every entry on this list under $60 (with the exception of our editor’s pick, which generally retails in the neighborhood of $100).
- The Best Ukuleles For Beginners
- Things to Consider When Buying a Beginner Ukulele
The Best Ukuleles For Beginners
|Makala MK-SS Shark||91||225+||$48|
|Makala MK-SD Dophin||90||450+||$49|
|Kala MKA-S Limited Edition||89||275+||$55|
|Luna Vintage Mahogany||88||10+||$59|
The ukes below are some of the best choices available for musicians looking for a uke that won’t break the bank. Since these ukes are all aimed at beginners there may not be a high-quality video available for some of them, but we’ve included videos for ukes that have them available.
As always, remember that professional quality videos aren’t entirely representative of an instrument’s tone. They will give you a basic idea, but videos made with a high level of professionalism are recorded in ideal recording environments. So they may not sound quite as good when you receive them, though they will be in the same ballpark.
Hola! HM-21 Soprano Ukulele
The Hola! HM-21 Soprano Ukulele is arguably one of the best ways to get into playing the ukulele without dropping a lot of cash.
Unlike many ukuleles in this price tier, the Hola! reportedly has hardware (tuners, nut, and saddle) that’s of a high enough quality to allow beginners to get a feel for the instrument without getting too frustrated.
The sound isn’t going to blow anyone away, which for a cheap uke isn’t surprising, but it’s capable enough. According to user reviews, the uke has a warm (if somewhat dull) tone.
The main drawback of this uke is that it doesn’t have a lot of volume, though if you’re just planning on playing on your own this probably won’t be too much of an issue.
ADM Deluxe Soprano Ukulele
The main draw of this uke is that it’s one of the cheapest naturally finished ukes available.
What we mean by “naturally finished” is that the uke’s wood isn’t covered by paint, but rater by a satin gloss. The uke also has a rosette, which is etched onto its surface by a laser.
The hardware is also sufficient for a beginner’s needs, with the uke’s standout feature being its geared tuners.
It also comes with a rosewood fingerboard, which will hold up to consistent playing better than a cheaper wood.
While a slight step up from the Hola! above, you’re not going to notice a world of difference between this uke and its positively received competition.
Caramel CC102A Concert Ukulele
Unlike the ukes preceding it, the Caramel CC102A Concert Ukulele is a concert sized uke. The concert size is a tad bit bigger than the soprano size, so ukes of this body size will be a bit louder and have a slightly warmer tone.
The Caramel CC102A also has a very distinctive patterning, which it owes to its zebra wood construction. Because this uke is made from laminated wood there isn’t going to be a huge difference in tone, but the uke definitely has an aesthetic flair which is impressive for it’s price.
Interestingly, the uke also comes with a bone nut and saddle. Bone, as opposed to plastic, helps to increase the amount of vibration transferred from the strings to the body. This gives the uke a richer and fuller tone when compared to instruments which use plastic for their nuts and saddles.
Kala MK-SS Makala Shark Soprano Ukulele
The Kala MK-SS, a part of the Makala Shark series, is a great soprano uke for musicians who want an instrument with a distinctive look.
The shark shaped bridge is a unique aspect of the uke's design which will most likely appeal to younger musicians.
The Kala MK-SS also comes with a nylon carrying bag, which helps to justify its increased price when compared to the ukes above it.
It also comes with brass frets and geared tuners.
Makala MK-SD Soprano Ukulele
Another entry in the Shark series, the main feature that differentiates the MK-SD from the MK-SS is that the MK-SD uses a Kauri Top as opposed to the MK-SS’s agathist.
Apart from that, there really isn’t a substantial difference.
The MK-SD still has brass frets, geared tuners, and ships with a nylon carrying case.
Here's a view of the back:
Kala MK-S Makala Soprano Ukulele
The Makala MK-S is a great entry-level uke with a more traditional construction.
The intonation (how in-tune the notes are when fretted) is a main selling point of this uke, as it’s considered to be significantly more accurate than the other traditionally constructed ukes higher up in the list.
With that being said, while the Makala shark series may not be very traditional in appearance they are on a similar level of quality.
Like the other Makala ukes above, the Makala MK-S comes with brass frets and geared tuners. Unfortunately, it does not appear to come with a carrying case (though most nylon cases are only $10 or $15).
Kala KA-15S Satin Mahogany Soprano Ukulele
The Kala KA-15S is one of the best ukes to start with if you’re looking for a cheap instrument with a good tone.
It’s made from mahogany, and it’s built to a high enough level of quality to showcase the tonal elements associated with the wood. Because of this, the uke has a very warm tone with plenty of volume.
The uke is also well outfitted, sporting geared tuners, fretboard markings, a rosewood fingerboard and bridge, as well as a satin finish.
Kala MKA-S Limited Edition Makala Soprano Ukulele
Contrary to what the product descriptions would have you believe, the slight increases in price for ukes in the Kala line actually reflect slight increases in overall quality and worksmanship (even though the various ukes are made from the same materials).
The only real aesthetic difference with this uke when compared to other Kala ukes is that the MKA-S Limited Edition comes with gold and black geared tuners.
The body is also made from agathist, which gives this uke a slightly brighter sound than the KA-15S above.
Like the Kala uke above, this ukulele comes with geared tuners, 12 brass frets, and a rosewood fretboard and bridge.
Luna Guitars Vintage Mahogany Soprano Ukulele
Like many of the company’s instruments, the Luna Guitars UKE VMS RDS Vintage Mahogany Soprano Ukulele is a stunning instrument. The company is unique in that the vast majority of the instruments they produce are visually distinctive and generally pretty imaginative.
As far as the actual tone and quality of the instrument is concerned, the Luna UKE VMS RDS Vintage Mahogany Soprano is a marginal improvement over the Kala ukes above.
The mahogany construction offers a pleasingly warm and rich tone (for the price range), and the uke comes with geared tuners. However, it appears to sport nickel tuners which is a slight improvement over the brass utilized by the uke’s competition.
This video is for the same uke in a different color but it still has the same sound:
Donner DUS-3 Spruce Soprano Ukulele
The Donner DUS-3 Spruce Soprano Ukulele is the first instrument on this list to feature a spruce top. Spruce is known for its bright and jangly voice, a tendency which is well reflected in this ukulele. The back and sides of the instrument are made from mahogany, which gives the uke a very balanced tone (not too thin, not too dark).
An interesting component of the uke's design is that it actually has guitar-style tuners, which help to keep it in tune a bit better than the cheaper ukulele tuners outfitted on the instruments above. Though, while noticeable, the difference isn’t extreme.
The uke also comes with a carrying case, a strap, and a digital clip-on tuner.
Note: The video for this uke is actually for the concert sized version of the uke. However, the tone of both the concert and soprano sized instruments are going to be pretty similar.
This is where we sometimes offer additional choices that didn't quite fit into the list above, but which we'd still like to recommend. In this case it's a higher priced option that's worth considering if your budget can stretch a little further.
Cordoba 15CM Concert Ukulele
While substantially more expensive than the ukes above, the Cordoba 15CM Concert Ukulele is a significantly better choice for musicians who are serious about learning how to play the ukulele.
This uke offers a much higher quality of sound than the ukes higher up on the list, and while it’s a bit more expensive it’s still well within the reach of most people’s budgets.
While not comparable to professional instruments, is easily capable of being a solid gigging instrument. It also has the volume and warmth necessary to produce a pleasing accompaniment to any ensemble or singer-songwriter.
The uke also is designed a bit more elegantly, featuring an abalone-style rosette, an ivoroid binding on the body and fingerboard, and pearl tuner buttons.
Things to Consider When Buying a Beginner Ukulele
Buying a ukulele is a lot like buying a car. There’s a lot of terms and jargon that you’re not going to know until you’ve either immersed yourself into the community or done some independent research. To make the process of buying an instrument a bit easier on you, we’ve collected a handful of things that you’ll have to know if you want to get the best ukulele for beginners (we’ve omitted some of the more technical aspects of buying an instrument since this guide is aimed exclusively at beginners).
Geared vs. Friction Tuners
While friction tuners are becoming increasingly less common as building an instrument and its hardware becomes more and more automated, there are still cheaper instruments which utilize the design. Basically, friction tuners hold a string through friction. You pull the tuning peg away from the headstock a bit, turn the tuner, and then push it back down. This design is problematic since it’s really easy for the string to lose said tension.
All of the ukes we’ve collected in our product section have geared tuners, which hold the string’s tension with a gear. Should you choose to go with a different uke, make sure that it has geared tuners before you buy it. This is a really easy thing to check for, all you have to do is look on the back of your ukes neck and check to see whether or not there’s a gear (or a little metal box near where you tune your ukulele).
We went over different ukulele sizes in depth in our article The Different Ukulele Sizes Explained, so we’re just going to briefly gloss over the subject here. Basically, the bigger a uke is the warmer (more bass and mid frequencies) it will sound and the louder it will be. The two biggest sizes (tenor and baritone) don’t sound as traditional as the three smaller sizes.
The sizes, listed from smallest to largest, are as follows:
Soprano and Pineapple (these two body sizes are essentially the same in response)
While the ukulele may be more approachable than the guitar, starting to learn any instrument can be intimidating. It’s even harder if you’re not a musician who’s buying a uke on behalf of a child, because they’re going to need to get some help to get started.
Below we’ve collected a few videos that’ll help you get started. We’d recommend bookmarking this page and then referring back to it after your uke arrives. Happy strumming!
How to String a Ukulele
How to Hold the Ukulele
How to Strum the Ukulele
Must-Know Ukulele Chords
Cheap Beginner Ukulele Selection Methodology
We looked at all the Ukuleles available from major online American retailers that were priced below $60 because this is the price range that contains the uke's that best suits beginners. We short-listed 22 of them and added them to the Music Gear Database for further analysis. We then collected ratings, reviews and comments about each one from retailers, videos and forum discussions and processed those data with the Gearank Algorithm to produce a Gearank score out of 100 for each one. We then selected the 10 highest rated ukes to recommend above. For more information about this process see How Gearank Works.