The Best Tenor Ukulele
What’s the best tenor ukulele?
The answer depends on your budget, skill level, and personal preferences. Luckily, there’s no shortage of great tenor uke options available for you to choose from!
Beginners and people on a budget will want to check out some of the entry-level models covered below.
Seasoned players or those with slightly deeper pockets should consider some of the more high-end offerings from premium brands like Martin and Kamaka.
Kala’s Best Tenor Ukuleles
I’ve worked in a music store that has sold hundreds of Kala ukuleles over the years, and I believe they make some of the best tenor ukuleles on the market at the beginner price point.
Kala’s full product lineup includes a huge selection of tenor ukes. I feel it’s tough to go wrong with any Kala, but for this article I’m going to focus on a handful of models I think are a good fit for beginners.
Kala “Makala” MK-T
The Makala brand is just Kala’s budget line of ukes. By making a few minor changes to hardware, materials, and cosmetic features, Kala can offer this line at a slightly lower price than their standard Kala series.
Makala ukes are decent for the price, but unless you’re on a tight budget I’d recommend checking out the next model on the list, the KA-T.
This is Kala’s flagship tenor model and is one of the best tenor ukulele values on the market. I’ve played dozens of KA-T ukes over the years and they have consistently proven to be great instruments.
The KA-T is a great no-frills uke and is a natural choice for players who want an excellent bang for their buck.
Kala KA-SMHT Solid Mahogany Tenor Ukulele
For folks who have a slightly higher budget, the KA-SMHT is the natural next step up from the previous two models.
It’s Kala’s most affordable all-solid wood ukulele. Why does solid wood matter? As a general rule, solid wood instruments have a warmer, richer, sweeter tone than similar models built with laminated wood. The trade-off is that solid wood ukes are substantially more expensive.
While Kala’s laminated ukes sound great, the solid wood models are worth a look for players seeking something a couple notches up the ladder.
Best Tenor Ukuleles From Other Brands
While Kala is one of the most well-known beginner ukulele brands, there are lots of other manufacturers making great entry-level ukes.
With a current price of around $100, Cordoba’s 15TM is one of the best tenor ukes around in terms of overall value. I’ve played a few and they’ve been consistently well made, comfortable to play, and great sounding.
Cosmetic features like a bound fingerboard and abalone rosette make the 15TM a bit more stylish than other models in this price range.
Luna Tattoo Tenor Ukulele
Luna’s “Tattoo” series of ukuleles feature a unique laser-etched Polynesian tattoo design.
While the engraving might not be everybody’s cup of tea, the Luna ukes I’ve sampled have been solid instruments. They may not have the name brand recognition of Kala or Cordoba, but the quality is great.
If you’re looking for something a little different, the Luna Tattoo tenor is worth checking out.
While I’ve never personally played this model, it’s currently the highest-rated tenor uke on Amazon so I felt it was worth including in the list.
It’s part of a bundle that includes a gig bag (soft padded case), tuner, and strap–a pretty good deal, in my opinion.
The LU-T has over 1,600 reviews, nearly all of them overwhelmingly positive. People also rave about the customer service.
Best Mid-Range and High-End Ukuleles
The next logical step up is into the realm of all-solid wood ukuleles from top-tier builders like Martin and Kamaka. Ukes from these builders are many times more expensive than the beginner models listed above, but they offer superior craftsmanship, playability, and tone.
If you’re looking for something a little nicer than the beginner models mentioned above but don’t want to break the bank, check out Martin’s all-solid koa T1K tenor ukulele.
Martin has been around since 1833 and has developed a legendary reputation for quality and craftsmanship. While they’re mostly known for building guitars, they also produce some of the finest ukuleles money can buy.
The T1K is Martin’s most affordable tenor uke, and while it isn’t exactly cheap (the sticker price is over $500), it’s an excellent mid-point between the entry-level Asian imports and the high-end American made models.
Even though it doesn’t have a lot of cosmetic bells and whistles, the T1K’s premium fit, finish, playability, and tone make it one of the best tenor ukulele options on the market and (in my opinion) well worth the investment.
Kala Elite 1KOA-T and 2KOA-TG
Many folks don’t realize that Kala has a high-end line of solid-koa ukuleles that are made right here in the USA: The Kala Elite Series. As far as I know, these are the only US-made tenor ukuleles available for under $1000.
I’ve been lucky enough to play the 1KOA-T and the slightly fancier 2KOA-TG. Both ukes were beautifully crafted and had excellent playability. But more importantly, they sounded amazing, with a warm, harp-like tone that rivaled nearly all the other high-end ukes I’ve ever played.
While the Elite series doesn’t quite have the name brand recognition of Martin or Kamaka, they’re an incredible value and should be on the short list of anybody looking for an upgrade.
Kamaka is the oldest Hawaiian ukulele manufacturer around. In fact, they celebrated their 100th anniversary in 2016.
The company’s rich history, classic designs, and top-notch craftsmanship have made their instruments the “holy grail” for uke players around the world.
The HF-3 is Kamaka’s standard tenor ukulele. It features solid koa body and neck, high-quality tuners, and a beautiful glossy nitrocellulose finish. As you can see from the picture above, the grain of the koa used varies wildly and gives each instrument its own unique look.
Kamaka also offers a couple more ornate tenor ukuleles like the HF-3 D (Deluxe) and HF-3 D2I (Deluxe 2 with slotted headstock).
Unlike other ukulele brands that are available from Amazon and other large online retailers, Kamaka ukes are only sold through a small network of authorized dealers.