Shopping for your first uke can be a little overwhelming. There are so many different brands, styles, and prices that it’s difficult to make sense of all the options.
As the former manager of a locally owned music store, I’ve had the chance to play dozens of entry level ukes, and in the process I’ve learned a lot. Here’s my advice on finding a good beginner ukulele for under $100.
There are a number of cheap ukes available for under $20, and as a general rule I’d stay away from these. Many of these ukes are little more than toys, and they usually have a number of playability issues that will just end up frustrating you while you’re trying to learn.
However, if you just want an inexpensive “beater” ukulele or are buying a beginner uke for a child, then there are a few less pricey models that are definitely worth checking out– see my cheap ukulele guide for more.
Pick a Size
Ukes come in four sizes:
- Soprano (smallest)
- Baritone (biggest)
Sopranos, while more traditional, are very small, and I think this makes them more difficult to play. Sopranos also have a less powerful voice–I think that the larger concert and tenor size ukes sound much fuller and richer.
Baritone ukuleles are tuned differently than the other three sizes, so they can’t be used with the majority of chord charts and song books.
For beginners, I’d recommend going with a concert or tenor size uke. These are good middle-of-the-road sizes which shouldn’t be too big or small for most beginning players.
Concert ukes are a bit smaller than tenors, which may make it easier for people with small hands to play certain chords. It’s also worth nothing that concerts are generally a little cheaper than tenors.
Choose a Brand and Model
There are a number of uke makers out there, and it can be tough to tell them all apart.
I spent several years working a local music store that had a awesome uke selection, so I’ve had a chance to check out quite a few different brands. While there are many good manufacturers out there, I think that Lanikai and Kala make the best entry level ukes.
Even the least expensive of the Kala and Lanikai ukuleles are very straight, playable instruments, and they sound great. When I was working at the music store we almost never had people bring them back to us with problems.
As far as specific models are concerned, I recommend the Lanikai LU-21C or the Kala KA-C. These concert size ukes cost around $100 at most retailers, and for the money they’re hard to beat. For more detailed information about these models, see my article on the best beginner ukuleles.
You should always try to buy from a local dealer. Kala and Lanikai are pretty popular brands, so there’s a good chance a music store near you carries them:
If you don’t have a dealer nearby, you can also get these ukes from Amazon:
While you don’t need much in the way of accessories when you’re just getting started, I highly recommend picking up a good tuner (I like the Snark SN-2) and a case. Read more about these on my ukulele accessories page.