10 Best Beginner Ukuleles – How to Choose the Ideal Instrument for You!
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Last Updated: May-02-2019
In our latest refresh of this beginner-friendly uke article we removed one older model, the Mitchell MU40, and replaced it with the attractive Mitchell MU70. We also added the convenient Kala LTP-S Starter Kit to bring this chart into double figures.
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
- Top 10 Best Beginner Ukuleles:
- The Basics – Things You Need to Know
- What to Look for in Your First Instrument
- Do I Need Lessons?
- Getting Set Up
- What is The Easiest Type of Ukulele to Play?
- How Much Should I Pay for a Ukulele?
- What Do You Need to Play Ukulele?
- The Final Word
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:
Top 10 Best Beginner Ukuleles:
|Image||Ukuleles / Rating||Summary||Check Price|
|+ -|| Luna Guitars Tattoo Concert |
Total of 4.70/5
A Hawaiian tattoo-inspired budget beauty from Luna Guitars.
|+ -|| Lohanu Bundle Kit |
Total of 4.78/5
This impressive ukulele bundle includes everything you can think of.
|+ -|| FLEA Concert Ukulele |
Total of 4.75/5
A durable American-made concert uke with a unique style.
|+ -|| Bondi Ukulele Starter Kit |
Total of 4.85/5
A quality bundle offering everything you need to master the ukulele.
|+ -|| Mitchell MU70 Concert Ukulele |
Total of 4.70/5
A beautifully crafted uke with premium features for under $200.
|+ -|| Kala LTP-S Starter Kit |
Total of 4.38/5
A starter kit that will have you strumming away in no time.
|+ -|| Cordoba Protégé U100CM |
Total of 4.67/5
A beautiful beginner’s model with great quality in build and sound.
|+ -|| Cordoba 15TM Tenor Ukulele |
Total of 4.75/5
A beautiful sound from this excellent tenor uke.
|+ -|| Kala KA-15S Soprano |
Total of 4.80/5
A wallet-friendly Kala uke with an impressive sound!
|+ -|| Pyle PUKT55 Soprano |
Total of 4.67/5
An extroverted soprano ukulele from the budget brand Pyle.
|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:|
‘Beginner’s kits’ can rule supreme when you first begin to play an instrument. If we were spending good money on a bundle, the Lohanu Bundle Kit would be one of our first picks! It’s a great choice for anyone looking to get their island vibe on.
First and foremost, the quality of the instrument itself (available in either soprano, concert or tenor sizes) has features not typically found at this price level, and you’ll be impressed with how nicel it sounds – check out our full review here for more details.
The icing on the cake is a wide array of extra accessories that take care of just about any need that you may have, from a handy tuner to extra strings. Surf’s up, dude!
|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:|
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:|
This is a beautiful uke that doesn’t hide the fact that it has been crafted with great care and attention to detail. We take a look at everything it has to offer in our complete Mitchell MU70 Concert ukulele review.
The build quality of the MU70 surpasses expectation for a uke under $200. The finishing touches, such as the abalone rosette and mother of pearl dot inlays, give an instant feeling of high quality.
As for tone, it's incredibly articulate and precise right across the fretboard, but most prominent in the high-range. The MU70 is very playable straight out of the box and should appeal to musicians of all levels. For this price, it’s well worth checking out.
|Body And Neck:|
This starter kit is exactly what you'd expect for under one hundred bucks – it's cheap and it has some nice extras to get you started. In our full Kala Learn to Play Ukulele Starter Kit review, we take a look at exactly what you get for your money.
A soprano ukulele is the perfect instrument for a beginner – besides the low price, they are also easy to get around because they are so small and light. This mahogany offering from Kala is quite well made and, even though it’s relatively cheap, it’s certainly no toy.
It plays well and sounds decent, while the inclusion of a basic gig bag along with some online lessons really adds to the overall value of this kit.
|Body And Neck:|
One of the more expensive ukuleles on our chart, the Protégé U100CM from Cordoba still comes in at under $100, and shows very good value for money.
It’s a great-looking little uke, with a concert body made entirely from laminated mahogany. The neck is also made of mahogany, with rosewood on the fretboard and a total of 18 frets.
The whole instrument is satin-finished and therefore very sleek to play, while the craftsmanship is commendable, especially at this price point. As for sound, it’s also worthy of praise, as we mention in the full review of the Protégé U100CM – warm and sweet, with plenty of the desired ukulele jangle that beginners and experienced players crave.
|Body And Neck:|
A chart to highlight some of the best ukuleles for beginners wouldn’t be very good without a tenor uke, which is possibly the best size for bigger players, especially adults. Enter, the Cordoba 15TM. This well-made uke is 26” in length, with a sturdy body made from mahogany.
It’s simple and sleek in design, with some fine elegant detailing like the abalone rosette and cream binding. Playability is great thanks to the mahogany neck, which sports a rosewood fretboard and a full 19 frets.
As we highlight in the Cordoba 15TM’s full review, this uke comes with no accessories, but the hardware and sound on offer more than makes up for it. Great for beginners and experienced players alike.
|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:|
Time for something a little different – in looks anyway, as this PUKT55 from budget brand Pyle really impresses us. It’s an extroverted soprano-sized ukulele, with a lightweight body made entirely of artificially-flamed laminated wood, which is incredibly eye-catching and unique.
It’s built solidly, and sports some equally striking decoration, including tortoiseshell body binding and engraved soundhole rosette. The neck is a more traditional mahogany, and features a 15-fret black walnut fretboard.
The hardware is overall reliable and the playability is smooth, while – as we mention in the complete Pyle PUKT55 review – the sound on offer is more than satisfactory for beginners, with plenty of the sparkly soprano chime we all love.
Even though there are many other ukuleles that will deliver the playability, sound and value a beginner needs, the models we have featured above will give you a good cross-section of the most popular ukes on offer.
A $300 model will always show a better build quality and sound than something priced at fifty bucks – but they may both rate highly in their individual price categories.
With this in mind, it’s time to take a look at some of the basics when it comes to buying a ukulele for beginners!
The Basics – Things You Need to Know
The Differences Between Ukuleles and Guitars
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:
What to Look for in Your First Instrument
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.
Do I Need Lessons?
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.
Getting Set Up
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.
What is The Easiest Type of Ukulele to Play?
With four main styles/sizes of ukulele – soprano, concert, tenor and baritone – it may be a little confusing to beginners which size is the easiest to play.
We have highlighted the sizes and their tonal profiles in more detail elsewhere in this article, but we generally suggest learning on a concert or tenor ukulele.
These two sizes provide adult beginners with a little more fretboard room to work with and an easier instrument to hold when compared to the very small soprano.
However, note that a soprano ukulele may be better for a child, as smaller hands can deal with the smaller fretboard much easier.
Whatever your size, it is worth avoiding a baritone ukulele as a beginner. While this lovely style of uke can be great to move onto, the initial change of tuning to D-G-B-E can be confusing for those learning for the first time.
How Much Should I Pay for a Ukulele?
The joy of a ukulele is that it is a relatively cheap instrument to get into – even a premium high-end uke won’t set you back much more than a thousand bucks.
However, as a beginner, there is no need to spend anywhere near that amount, especially if you haven’t tried playing one yet (you may realize it isn’t the instrument for you).
Because these days so many brands offer ukuleles, the standard is all round much better. However, there are still some awfully cheap models on the market, and anything under $40 starts to fall into the ‘toy’ category.
Of course, there are exceptions, but to be on the safe side – and to end up with something that is playable and sounds good – we suggest spending over $50.
If your budget allows and you feel that the ukulele is an instrument you will stick with, spending anything between $75 and $200 will land you with something worth practicing and performing on.
This amount will also allow you a big range of choice when it comes to brands, models and sizes, as well as designs and tonewood choices.
What Do You Need to Play Ukulele?
The joy of a ukulele is the fact that you can take it anywhere and make sweet music without the need for extra accessories. Taking a ukulele to the beach is a lot easier than taking an electric guitar, cables, amp and power generator!
However, beginners will still want to invest in a case for the uke, as this will make transporting and storing the instrument easier and safer. Some ukuleles will come with their own case, so make sure you check first before buying twice.
You may want to buy a strap to help support the ukulele when playing standing or seated, although these aren’t a necessity as the ukulele is a light and easy-to-hold instrument.
A digital tuner is another accessory worth considering. These relatively inexpensive devices will help you tune your uke correctly.
The Final Word
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!