How to Buy A Ukulele: The 2019 Ukulele Buying Guide

Figuring out how to buy a ukulele can be tough.

A quick search for ukuleles on Amazon returns over 1,000 products of different brands, models, sizes and prices.

My ukulele buying guide will show you how to find a good quality ukulele that meets your needs and fits your budget.

In a Hurry?

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick overview of the ukes I recommend in this article. You can also click here to jump right to the “recommended ukuleles” section.

Lohanu LU-C Concert Lohanu LU-C Concert 2,542 Reviews from $79.99
Kala KA-15S Soprano Kala KA-15S Soprano 2,465 Reviews from $54.98
Hricane UKS-1 Concert Hricane UKS-1 Concert 417 Reviews from $62.99
Aklot AKC23 Concert Aklot AKC23 Concert 665 Reviews from $59.99

Pick a Price Range and Body Size

I recommend narrowing your search by first determining your price range and body size. Once you have these two factors nailed down, the rest of your ukulele search will become much easier.

Choose a Price Range

I think a budget of $50 to $100 is ideal for most beginners.

In my experience, most ukes in the $50 to $100 range are reasonably well-made instruments that sound good and are comfortable to play. You can certainly spend more, but it’s not necessary to get a great beginner ukulele.

These are instruments that you can play for a long time without feeling like you need to upgrade. Plus, if you ever move up to a more expensive ukulele, your old uke will make a great backup for camping, travel, or loaning to friends.

What to Expect as You Spend More

What’s the benefit of spending a little more on your first uke? There’s not a single answer to this question, but as you increase your budget you’ll start to see the following:

  • Better overall craftsmanship and playability
  • Fancy cosmetic features like binding, inlays, and rosettes
  • Exotic woods and materials
  • Solid wood top, back, and sides (for improved tone)
  • Electronics for playing through an amp

At a certain price point, you’ll find yourself in the realm of high-end, US-made ukuleles from companies like Martin or Kamaka. These are some of the best ukes money can buy, but they’re considerably more expensive than mass-produced import products.

Avoid Really Cheap Ukuleles

I know it’s tempting to save a few bucks and buy a ukulele for $25 or $30 online. After all, these cheap ukes often don’t look very different than more expensive ukes, especially in online photos.

Quality Issues With Cheap Ukes

Unfortunately, ukes in this price range are much more likely to have serious issues that can affect tone and make them hard to play.

In my opinion, many very cheap ukes barely qualify as real instruments. And, the cheaper they are, the higher the chance you’ll run into trouble.

Cheap Ukes Aren’t Fun!

Players who purchase ultra-cheap ukuleles often end up frustrated and discouraged. This isn’t how you want to feel when learning a new instrument!

By spending just a little more money, you can get a high-quality beginner uke will be fun to play will motivate you to pick it up and practice more often.

To learn more, check out my articles on cheap ukuleles and ukulele prices.

Select a Body Size

Ukuleles come in a handful of sizes, but the most common are soprano, concert, and tenor. Any of these sizes are fine for a beginner, but I personally prefer concert and tenor ukuleles (more on this below).

Soprano, concert, and tenor comparison diagram - buying a ukulele guide

Some first-time ukulele buyers are intimidated by the array of sizes. Don’t worry, I promise it’s not that complicated!

Soprano, concert, and tenor ukes are all tuned and played the same way. If you learn on a soprano, you’ll be just fine playing a concert or tenor.

So why bother with different ukulele sizes if they’re all tuned and played the same way? The answer mostly comes down to tone and playability.

The baritone uke is sort of in its own category, which I discuss below.

How Ukulele Size Affects Tone

As a general rule, a bigger body means a bigger tone. Concert and tenor size ukuleles tend to be warmer, richer, and more resonant than soprano ukes. The larger body sizes also produce more bass and volume.

Sopranos are typically a little quieter and have more of a “tinkly” that is more treble-heavy. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s worth thinking about before you buy a ukulele.

In addition to the different ukulele sizes, there are many types of ukuleles such as the banjolele, guitalele, cigar box ukulele, and more.

How Ukulele Size Affects Playability

Concert and tenor ukuleles have a longer scale length than a soprano.

The scale length is the distance between the nut and the saddle, which are highlighted on the diagram below.

Ukulele diagram with scale length and frets labels (how to buy a ukulele article)

A longer scale means the frets are further apart, giving your fingers have more room to maneuver. This means that concert and tenor ukes can be easier to play for some people because of their longer scale length.

The frets on a soprano can feel a little cramped for some players, especially those with larger hands or thick fingers (like me).

The very first ukuleles were soprano-sized. Concert and tenor sizes were introduced around the 1920s.

Which Ukulele Size is Best for Beginners?

I think these any of these sizes are fine for a beginner. However, I personally prefer the larger concert and tenor body sizes. I think their richer tone and ease of playability makes them an ideal starting point for most beginners.

However, I don’t want to create the impression that sopranos are “bad.” Many folks love the soprano for its compact size and bright, sparkly tone. Soprano ukes are also less expensive than equivalent concert and tenor ukes.

Don’t Obsess Over Finding the “Best” Size

While it’s good to have a basic understanding of ukulele sizes, it’s important not to obsess over choosing the “right” size. Do a little research, get a uke, and start playing!

It’s also worth mentioning that many players have multiple ukes of different sizes. Once you fall in love with the ukulele, you’ll probably find yourself wanting to expand your collection to include ukes of all sizes.

For a more in-depth comparison of ukulele sizes, check out my guide to different ukulele sizes.

What Are Baritone Ukuleles?

There’s one other common size called a baritone.​ It’s a notch up from a tenor and is the largest of the four most common ukulele sizes.

Soprano, concert, tenor, and baritone ukulele size comparison silhouettes

A baritone ukulele has a tuning that’s a little different from a soprano, concert, or tenor. This unique tuning means that baritone ukes aren’t really practical for most standard ukulele music.

A baritone uke’s tuning is closer is closely related to a guitar, but that’s a topic for another article.

Recommended Ukulele Models

Once you’ve narrowed your search by price and body size, it’s time to pick the model.

Below are some of my favorite ukes that fall into the $50 to $100 beginner price range. These models are all good ukuleles that score well on build quality, playability, tone, and customer service.

I’ve purchased at least one ukulele from most of these manufacturers. I’m in the process of writing individual reviews for each. Check my reviews section for updates.

Amazon Top Sellers: Lohanu LU-C and LU-T

The Lohanu LU-C and LU-T are the highest-rated, best-selling concert and tenor ukuleles on Amazon.

This Canadian-based company sells exclusively on Amazon. By cutting out the middle man they can offer impressive package deals at prices that are tough to beat.

The LU-C concert and LU-T tenor both include a gig bag, tuner, extra strings, strap, and picks. Most uke players won’t use the picks, but it’s still a nice thought!

Lohanu’s ukes get glowing reviews for build quality, tone, and ease of play. However, something that really makes them stand out is their lifetime warranty and amazing customer service.

Best Budget Ukes: Kala KA-15S and Donner DUS-1 Soprano

If you’re hoping to save a little money when you buy a ukulele, these ukes from Kala and Donner are worth a look.

The KA-15S is a clear crowd favorite and one of the best budget ukuleles on the market. In my review of the KA-15S, I conclude that it’s a great beginner uke that looks good, sounds great, and is easy to play.

The KA-15S is a perfect choice for beginners seeking a respectable starter uke. It’s also an excellent option for seasoned players looking for an affordable second instrument.

While Donner isn’t as well known as Kala, I think their DUS-1 Soprano is equal to the KA-15S when it comes to build quality, playability, and tone.

When you consider that the Donner includes a gig bag, tuner, and other accessories, it’s arguably the better value of the two models.

Good Value: The Hricane UKS-1 Series

Hricane ukes are among the best-reviewed ukuleles for sale on Amazon.

Like the other models I’ve covered, the Hricane UKS-1 ukes offer nice craftsmanship and playability at an affordable price.

The UKS-1 is available in a soprano, concert, or tenor size and includes a padded gig bag.

Best Beginner Ukuleles With A Solid Top: Aklot AK Series

Aklot makes the most affordable, highest-quality solid top ukuleles I could find. Their basic mahogany-top uke is available in a soprano, concert, and tenor size. All models include a gig bag, tuner, and other accessories.

Why is a solid top important? In general, solid wood produces a warmer, richer tone than laminated wood. The trade-off is that solid wood is more expensive than laminated wood.

Aklot appears to be another company that sells direct to customers through Amazon. This helps keep the price down by avoiding retailer markup.

Cordoba 15CM and Luna Tattoo

These two ukes don’t fit neatly into any category, but I still think they’re good beginner options.

I’ve always felt that Cordoba’s ukuleles were nicely made for the money. I also like that the 15CM has a cool-looking faux abalone rosette and bound fingerboard. These are features you won’t usually find on a ukulele in this price range.

The Luna Tattoo concert ukulele has a unique Hawaiian design laser-etched onto the top. It may not be everybody’s cup of tea, but if you’re looking for something different this uke is worth a look.

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