The humble ukulele has seen something of a renaissance over the past decade or so, and is now one of the hippest little instruments to play, and be seen playing.
While guitarists love it, it’s also great for children and complete beginners to musical instruments, as the ukulele is easy to play and easy to learn.
Table Of Contents
So, to help, we have compiled a chart of some of the best starter instruments that will suit any budget. We have highlighted a few affordable ukes for those players just wanting to give it a go without spending too much; there are some convenient bundles that offer everything you need to get started; and even a few slightly more expensive models that will offer you advanced playability and sound.
Whatever your motivation, budget and style, check out our chart below to find out which models we rate the highest, then stay tuned for a guide to buying your first uke:
|Image||Ukuleles / Rating||Summary||Check Price|
|+ -|| Ibanez UEW15E Concert Ukulele |
Total of 4.78/5
Ibanez impress on all accounts with this electro-acoustic concert uke.
|+ -|| Bondi Ukulele Starter Kit |
Total of 4.85/5
A quality bundle offering everything you need to master the ukulele.
|+ -|| Lohanu Ukulele Bundle |
Total of 4.78/5
Great quality and huge value from this delightful Lohanu ukulele.
|+ -|| FLEA Concert Ukulele |
Total of 4.75/5
A durable American-made concert uke with a unique style.
|+ -|| Kala KA-15S Soprano Ukulele |
Total of 4.80/5
A wallet-friendly Kala uke with an impressive sound!
|+ -|| Luna Guitars Tattoo Concert Ukulele |
Total of 4.70/5
A Hawaiian tattoo-inspired budget beauty from Luna Guitars.
|+ -|| eMedia Ukulele Beginner Pack |
Total of 4.60/5
A budget pack offering a solid-wood ukulele and great instruction.
|+ -|| Mitchell MU40 Soprano Ukulele |
Total of 4.45/5
No-frills, but a decent uke from Mitchell – perfect for beginner hands.
|+ -|| Play Ukulele Today! Complete Kit |
Total of 4.28/5
An astonishingly good-value beginner’s kit with a book, CD and DVD!
|Body And Neck:|
While it’s one of the higher priced models on this list, the Ibanez UEW15E Concert Ukulele is a really good all-rounder, with great looks, easy playability, a lovely tone, and solid hardware. With electronics, it’s also a model that beginner ukulelists will be able to grow into – as we mention in the Ibanez UEW15E’s full review. With Ibanez’s familiar EW Series shape, the single-cutaway body is crafted entirely of flamed mahogany with an open-pore finish, while the neck is made of mahogany with a rosewood fretboard and 19 accessible frets. It features an undersaddle piezo pickup and Ibanez’s UK300-T preamp, which comes with volume and bass/treble controls, with a handy built-in tuner. A superb higher-end model to consider.
|Body And Neck:|
What do you get when you cross a quality ukulele, a truckload of useful accessories, and good value? The Bondi Ukulele Starter Kit! This convenient bundle promises beginners ‘everything you’ll ever need to master the ukulele’, and we’re inclined to agree. You get a colorful protective case – which is actually one of the best cases we’ve seen in a bundle – as well as a clip-on digital tuner, felt plectrums, spare strings and loads of instructional help, including a free Skype ukulele lesson. The actual uke in this kit is very good too – a full-size concert ukulele body made from laminate sapele, with a rosewood fretboard and 18 frets. A superb consideration for beginners and intermediate players alike.
|Body And Neck:|
The reason this package takes our top spot is because of the awesome value it shows. The ukulele itself (choose between tenor, soprano or concert) is great quality for the price – made with laminated sapele on the body, with a smooth neck, rosewood fretboard and 15 frets. The back of the guitar is arched, which is a great boost to the volume, while the top and back feature protective and visually attractive ABS binding. The hardware is good, and includes strap pegs, while the accessories that come in the box really help cement this as the best-value package. It comes with a case and strap, while we highlight the full list of accessories in the Lohanu Ukulele Bundle’s complete review.
|Body And Neck:|
Beginners will love the playability and quality on offer from this American-made FLEA ukulele. For not much more than $200, you get an interesting almond-shaped uke, with a back and sides made from durable injection-molded thermoplastic and a birch top, finished in a range of colors. While we usually recommend avoiding plastic instruments, the sound on offer from the FLEA is very appealing and the bright, clear tone is more than suitable for beginners. It also comes with a comfortable hard maple neck, which offers good playability, and features a fast polycarbonate fretboard with 15 molded frets. Be sure to check out our full review of the FLEA Concert ukulele for all the details.
|Body And Neck:|
At under $60, this is the cheapest soprano ukulele featured on our list, but it certainly gives the others a run for their money where value is concerned. Kala’s popular KA-15S delivers a classic, no-nonsense style, with a traditional non-cutaway body made from laminated mahogany, with a smooth satin finish. Joined at the 12th fret, with all frets in the clear, there’s also a mahogany neck, along with either a rosewood or walnut (depending on the marketplace) fretboard. It’s actually quite standard in the looks department, but the beautiful sound impresses us the most – it’s bright and clear, with a fair amount of warmth. Be sure to read more about the Kala KA-15S in the full review.
|Body And Neck:|
A budget beauty from Luna Guitars that will appeal to beginners thanks to its unique styling and nice feel. It features a full-size concert body (23” long), with laminated mahogany used on the top, back and sides. The top is decorated with an elaborate Hawaiian body ornamentation-inspired tattoo, while other style points – such as shark tooth inlays – really enhance its appeal. As we mention in the full review of Luna’s Tattoo Concert ukulele, it features a comfortable C-shaped mahogany neck, with a rosewood fretboard and 18 frets, as well as some decent hardware. At under $100, the sound on offer is quite impressive, with reasonable projection and a good balance. For the price, this is an excellent choice for beginners!
|Body And Neck:|
What the Mitchell MU40 Soprano lacks in a complex sound and striking design, it makes up for with great value and a quality that’s surprisingly good for not much cash. As the name reveals, it’s an attractive little soprano ukulele with a 21” length, a smooth-playing neck, and a rosewood fretboard with 14 easily-accessible frets. The body comes in four colors, including a Flamingo Pink (perfect for girls!) as well as a natural satin finish that shows off the grain of the lindenwood, which makes up the top, back and sides of this budget uke. As we highlight in the full review of the MU40, the sound is nothing special, but clear and loud enough for any beginner. Good work Mitchell!
|Body And Neck:|
There’s not much you can get these days for around twenty-five bucks, so to find a full beginner’s ukulele kit, including the instrument itself, is astonishing value! The simple four-string uke included in the kit is nothing special, but it certainly does the job. With a soprano body, it’s made of gloss-finished lindenwood with a birch fretboard and 12 frets. The sound leaves a lot to be desired, but for the price it’s more than adequate for a beginner. To add to the great value, this kit comes with a Hal Leonard tuition book and CD, as well as an instructional DVD. You can read more about this super-budget Play Ukulele Today! kit in the full review.
While there are certainly more options that will offer the playability, sound and value beginners need, the nine models above give you a good cross-section of the most popular ukes on offer.
You may question why a $300 uke can have a similar rating as an $100 uke – this is simply because we rate every in instrument in relation to its price range. A $300 model will always show a better quality and sound than something priced at $50, but they may both rate highly in their individual price categories.
So, without further chat, let’s take a look at some of the basics, what to look out for in a beginner’s uke, and where to go from here.
If you’ve played guitar before, a ukulele won’t be too foreign for you – the two instruments obviously share some qualities.
Similar to a guitar, it will have a body, a neck, a fretboard, a headstock, and a nut, bridge, saddle and strings. These are all obviously smaller than the components you’d find on a guitar (we’ll move onto sizes very soon), but will be familiar to those who have played a guitar before.
However, there are just as many differences between the two instruments:
Less Strings and Frets
One of the major differences is that standard ukuleles only have four strings, compared to a guitar’s six. Of course, some break the mold and add a fifth or sixth string but, in this guide, we’re only covering the popular four-stringed varieties. When it comes to frets, ukuleles typically only tend to have between 12 and 21 frets, while standard guitars will generally have between 19 and 24 frets.
Easier to Play
Less strings and less frets means less notes to get to grips with and easier chords to learn. Another aspect is that the strings have a lower tension, meaning less pressure is required to sound a note. So – compared to a guitar – the ukulele is easier to play.
While similar, there are differences in the tone of a ukulele and a guitar. Ukes tend to be very happy and bright in sound, with instant connotations of Hawaii, although the size you choose (see below) will affect the overall tone. Guitars, with their extra strings and frets, obviously have a much bigger tonal range, and are louder when it comes to projection.
Easier to Transport
This is quite an obvious one – a ukulele is smaller and lighter than a guitar, so it’s easier to travel around with. Compare the length of a 21” soprano uke with the 39” length of a standard guitar and you’ll see what we mean.
This isn’t always true – naturally a high-end Martin model will cost more than an entry-level Rogue guitar, but in general, you get more value for your cash. They are smaller and easier for manufacturers to build. So, whereas the entry-level guitar market is anywhere from $50 to $200, the entry-level market is more like $20 to $100. The same goes for high-end models. In the guitar world, $1,500+ is considered high-end, whereas $500 will get you a pretty premium ukulele.
While ukuleles come in many different sizes – including the tiniest pocket models right up to the biggest contrabass ukes – the most popular sizes can be placed into four categories: soprano, concert, tenor, and baritone. There is no right or wrong size, but here are some general traits that may help you make your decision:
A soprano ukulele is the smallest of the popular sizes, with a typical length of around 21” and standard G-C-E-A tuning. With the smaller scale, it’s ideal for children or players with smaller hands, although that’s not to say adults can’t enjoy playing it. A soprano has a lovely bright, happy sound, although isn’t particularly loud due to the smaller body.
For those players after the rich, classic ukulele tone, with slightly better projection, a concert uke is worth considering and probably the most popular size among beginners. Due to the larger body length of around 23”, the fretboard feels a little less cramped, so it can be easier for adults to play. The G-C-E-A tuning remains the same as a soprano.
With a typical length of around 26”, a tenor uke offers a bigger, deeper sound that still retains the traditional ukulele tone, using the standard G-C-E-A tuning. With the increase in size, it becomes easier to play for adults with slightly larger hands.
A baritone ukulele is the biggest of the popular uke sizes, with a typical length of around 29”. With its larger build, the baritone is particularly good for guitar players making a change, as well as those seeking a deeper tone. The typical baritone tuning is D-G-B-E, which is five half steps lower than standard ukulele tuning (and identical to the highest four strings of a guitar).
Below is a very useful video that demonstrates the differences in scales and sounds of each size:
While everyone wants something that looks and sounds amazing (and you can certainly find it if you are prepared to spend the cash), the main thing to look for in a beginner’s ukulele is comfort and playability – a neck that is smooth with a low action. If you’re buying a cheaper model, you may need to get a good setup to optimize your action (see the section on setting up below).
Another consideration is the size of the instrument. It’s no coincidence that our beginners chart above highlights soprano or concert ukes, because they tend to be easier for beginners to hold and play. If in doubt, go for a concert size if you’re an adult, and a soprano for a child. Of course, if you’re used to playing the guitar or have slightly bigger hands, a tenor or a baritone may be easier for you to move around. There’s no right or wrong, but – in general – you’re relatively safe with a concert uke.
Having a ukulele with a decent sound is also important, so you can clearly hear what notes you are playing as well as feel encouraged when tunes and songs sound good (because it’s certainly discouraging to play a song well and still have it sound like garbage!). Those on our chart all succeed in giving an average to very good sound, depending on the model. While entry-level ukes won’t have the complexities and richness of a higher-end solid wood options, you’ll be fine as long as the sound is clear.
Talking about sounds, if you are a beginner, there’s no real need for electronics. Think about whether you really need to amplify your sound. If the uke you love comes with electronics, consider it a bonus – but it’s not a necessity, and should be the last thing you consider.
Finally, if you’re serious about the ukulele, and your budget allows, it is probably worth buying something a little more expensive. We’re not talking a high-end, American-made masterpiece, but by splashing a little extra cash, you will usually end up with an instrument that looks great, feels smooth, and has better sound than something in the budget category.
In some shape or form, yes – you need some sort of instruction if you are a beginner.
This could be as basic as buying a book on learning to watching some YouTube video lessons – there are literally hundreds of great beginner lessons out there.
If you are more serious about learning, enrolling in an online ukulele course or taking lessons with a local professional teacher (either one-on-one or group sessions) is a good way to go about things, and will give you a great foundation for your future playing.
As we’ve mentioned in some of the individual reviews, while the cheaper models on our chart and beyond are fine instruments, some of them would benefit from a good setup after delivery. It’s not essential, but by lowering the action, filing any sharp frets, and changing the strings, a sub-$100 uke can look and feel like a much more expensive instrument.
There are many guides on setting up and intonating a ukulele online (including the video below), although if you are a complete beginner, spending a few dollars on a professional setup from your local guitar pro may be the best way to go.
While we’ve highlighted some excellent instruments for beginners that span several price ranges, there are hundreds of other ukes that you may prefer. While we can’t chart them all, buying something from the top brands such as Kala, Lohanu, Lanikai, and Luna, or famous guitar brands that make ukes, including Cordoba, Fender, Ibanez, Martin and Epiphone, will usually see you safe.
When you have settled on a shortlist of models that really appeal to you, start narrowing it down by watching videos, listening to audio files, reading reviews, and – if possible – actually trying it out. You’ll eventually settle on one that you love.
Good luck with your hunt for your perfect beginner instrument, and enjoy learning this wonderful instrument!