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10 Of The Best Ukuleles for Beginners To Rock In 2018

Music

It’s tricky to pick one ukulele because there are so many kinds. This guide will show you the best ukulele for beginners to make your decision easier.

Last updateAugust 11, 2018
Reading Timeloader Minutes
Jessica Simms
Today’s expert
Jessica Simms
10 Of The Best Ukuleles for Beginners To Rock In 2018

Our leaders

Best of the best
Ukulele Tenor Size Bundle From Lohanu (LU-C)
2 Strap Pins Installed FREE Uke Strap Case Tuner Picks Pick Holder Aquila Strings Installed Free Video Lessons(Concert)
5 / 5

Pros

Smooth and mellow tone across the entire range

Cons

Higher price point than other entry-level ukuleles

Learn more
Cordoba 15CM Concert Ukulele
Bundle with Gig Bag, Tuner, Austin Bazaar Instructional DVD, and Polishing Cloth
4.5 / 5

Pros

Constructed by hand for quality and consistency

Cons

Higher price

Learn more
Best for the money
AKLOT Ukulele Solid Mahogany 23 Inch Concert Ukulele
With Free Online Course 8 Packs Beginner Starter Kit ( Gig Bag Picks Tuner Strap String Cleaning Cloth Instruction Book Gift Box )
4.5 / 5

Pros

Comprehensive starter kit

Cons

Action set higher out of the box, may need adjustment to be comfortable to younger players

Learn more
Pros

Easy to play for musicians of all ages

Cons

Tuning machines can slip during adjustment

Learn more
Runners up

Also good products

Lohanu LU-T Tenor Ukulele Bundle
2 Strap Pins Installed FREE Uke Strap Case Tuner Picks Pick Holder Aquila Strings Installed Free Video Lessons
3.5 / 5

Tenor ukuleles are less common than their smaller cousins, but if you’re in the market for an affordable tenor ukulele this one will give you the best sound dollar for your dollar.

3.5 / 5

The DUC-1 receives high points for craftsmanship, tonal consistency, and would rank a lot higher on this list if the accessories in the bundle were of a higher caliber.

3.5 / 5

This fully-connected smart ukulele is a great tool for learning, but when it comes to the instrument itself, you can get a better sound and build quality for less money elsewhere.

VI Victory Concert Ukulele
23 Inch Mahogany Aquila String, Beginner Kit Tuner Gig Bag Straps and Picks - Black
3.5 / 5

The most affordable of the concert ukuleles on this list, this ukulele is beautiful both to look at and listen to.

3 / 5

The LU-21 scores great on tone and playability, though it isn’t as good a value as some of the options on this list.

Hankey KUT-70 Tenor Ukulele
with Bag and Tuner, Strap, Extra Aquila Strings, Polishing Cloth, 2 Pins Installed, Instructional Book, KUT-70
3 / 5

The koa laminate used in this tenor ukulele’s construction gives it a tone that’s both rich and clear, making this another attractive option if you want a larger instrument.

How we decided

26Products
Tested
37Hours
Spent
03Experts
Interviewed
15Consumers
Consulted
Jessica Simms
Today’s expert
Jessica Simms

Jessica Simms is a saxophonist and life-long student of music. She works as a freelance writer and ghostwriter in Pittsburgh, PA.

Expert tip #1

Tone considerations aside, laminate ukuleles can actually be better for beginners than solid wood. Laminate is more durable, first of all, which is great especially for young players. It also isn’t as sensitive to temperature and humidity changes. Solid wood instruments can crack or split if they’re not properly protected from extreme conditions, which isn’t a common issue for laminate.

Expert tip #2

Ukuleles are for playing music, so you should use your ears when you’re making your decision. Once you’ve narrowed down your list, do a quick internet search to find clips of people playing the instruments to see which one you like the sound of better.

Expert tip #3

If there’s a music store near your house, stop in and see if they sell ukuleles. Most music instrument sellers have no problem with you holding the instrument to test them. Even if you can’t check out the exact models you’re thinking about, this will give you a better idea of what to expect from the uke when you get it. It can also be helpful in figuring out what size is the best fit.

Expert tip #4

Unlike steel strings, new nylon strings take some time to settle in and stretch out completely. Don’t be alarmed if your strings are slipping on the tuning pegs and going out of tune the first few times you play. Keep tightening the strings every time the instrument loses intonation and the problem will likely go away within a couple of days. You’ll have the same adjustment period every time you change your strings, as well.

Expert tip #5

An instrument’s action isn’t set in stone. You can have it adjusted by a repair technician, or change it more drastically by replacing the nut and saddle. If the strings are too high or low for your fingers, a small tweak can make a big difference in the playability.

Expert tip #6

If you can’t get your ukulele to sound right, take it to a music shop and have them look at it before you send it back as defective (or worse, get frustrated and give up on it entirely). They can tell you if the issue is with the instrument or a result of user error in the set-up or tuning. If there is a problem, it might be a cheap and easy fix and less of a hassle than exchanging the product.

General shopping guide

best ukulele for beginners

The ukulele is a four-stringed instrument with a distinctive jangly sound. Invented on the island of Hawaii, it’s typically associated with island music, but is a more versatile instrument than most people realize. If you’re interested in learning to play a stringed instrument, a ukulele can be a fun and unique way to do it. Plus, according to our research, the best ukulele for beginners is very budget friendly.

Ukuleles are the easiest fretted instruments to learn. Within a few hours of getting it home, you can be strumming basic songs thanks to the simplicity of the tuning. They also use nylon strings, which are softer and more pliable than the steel strings on a guitar, meaning the learning process isn’t as hard on your fingertips.

A lot of beginners will simply look for the cheapest instrument they can find when they’re learning, but this can be a recipe for disaster. The ideal ukulele for beginners is one that’s reliable, durable, and consistent so you can focus on improving your technique. This doesn’t mean you have to spend a fortune either, though. We’ve scoured the web to find you an array of options that give you excellent performance and sound at a price anyone can afford.

 

Considerations

The 4 Big Deciding Factors

There isn’t a huge amount of variation in tonewoods in the under $150 price range. Most models will use some kind of mahogany laminate for the body and rosewood for the neck. This is good news for the beginner, since choosing the right tonewood requires some knowledge of your personal playing style and tastes.

The quality of the hardware was one of the first things we looked at when we were comparing beginner ukuleles. If your tuning machines are bad you’ll find yourself facing a constant struggle with your intonation. It’s not fun having to stop your practice every twenty minutes to fiddle with your tuning pegs. With some particularly bad models out there, it’s impossible to get them in tune at all.

We also made a point of mostly selecting instruments that come with all the accessories you need to start fiddling around with your ukulele right away. Bundles save you money in the long run because they include things you’ll need to buy anyway, with a lower total cost than if you bought each item individually.

There were four key factors we considered when ranking the products on the list above:

Best-Ukeleles-By-Category

The list above considered all four of the above factors in equal measure to find the overall ukulele for beginners, but every player is unique and there’s no one right answer. Some factors may have more weight than others for you. Read the full reviews below for more details that can help you pick the one that fits your needs.

Buyer’s Guide: Learn What To Look For Before You Start Shopping

Before you can even start thinking about factors like price and quality you need to figure out what size of instrument you’re shopping for. There are four standard sizes of ukulele: soprano (21”), concert (23”), tenor (26”), and baritone (30”). The shorter the instrument, the higher the pitch. There are fewer frets on shorter ukuleles, giving them a more limited range. The distance between the frets is also shorter. You may also see the soprano ukulele referred to as a standard size ukulele since that was the original size of the design.

The most logical ukulele for beginners is typically a concert size. It gives you the traditional ukulele sound but the longer scale length gives you more room to work with, making it easier to learn. The age of the player should be considered too, however. Young children may find it easier to reach all the frets on a soprano ukulele, making it a better choice. Some adults, on the other hand, can find the fretboard cramped and frustrating and have a much better time playing a concert or tenor.

Note

The term “scale length” refers to the length of the vibrating portion of the string, and is often a better indicator of what kind of reach you’ll need to play it. The scale length of a soprano ukulele is 13”, the concert has a scale length of 15”, and the tenor has a scale length of 17”.

Whatever size you decide to go with, make sure it’s solidly built. The neck should be flush with the body and firmly attached. If it wiggles, the instrument is defective and you should exchange it for another. You should also check that the headstock is aligned properly with the bridge. If they’re connected at the wrong angle, the strings won’t be the right length and the intonation of the instrument will suffer.

Anatomy of a Ukulele

A lot of these reviews will mention specific areas of the ukulele. If you’re a complete beginner, you might find it helpful to have a basic roadmap of how a uke is laid out before you dive in.

Every ukulele has three basic areas: the body, the neck, and the headstock. The body is hollow and constructed of three pieces: the top, the back, and the sides. The top (also called a soundboard) has a round hole in the center, called a soundhole, that should be centered underneath the strings.

best ukeleles for beginners

Most of the sound of a ukulele is produced by the vibrations from the strings resonating through the body. The vibrations move through the top first then into the back and sides. This means the wood on the top has the most impact on the instrument’s sound.

The wood used on the rest of the body is important, too, but it won’t be as audible in the final tone. This is why you’ll sometimes see instruments using solid wood for the soundboard and laminate for the back and sides, letting you take advantage of the solid wood’s resonance while saving some money over fully solid wood instruments.

The bridge is mounted below the soundhole on the top and anchors one end of the strings, which are kept in the right position by the saddle. Traditionally the bridge is made of wood and the saddle is made of bone. Saddles on beginner instruments are more often made of plastic or some other synthetic material since it’s cheaper to produce. Because the vibrations from the strings move through the saddle and bridge on their way to the body, the material used here can also affect the sound, though their smaller relative size means they have less impact than the body’s tonewoods.

The headstock is attached to the body by the neck and is where the other end of the strings are anchored. Each string is wound around a tuning peg (or tuning machines) that can be turned to make the string tighter or looser, controlling its pitch. You may also see this referred to as the ukulele’s hardware.

Running down the top of the neck is the fretboard. Pressing a string against one of the raised frets shortens its vibrating length, which in turn raises the pitch. Where the headstock and neck connect is a piece of wood called the nut that holds the strings up off the fretboard.

The saddle and nut together determine the instrument’s action. This term basically tells you how much distance there is between the strings and fretboard, and how hard you’ll have to press them to make them reach the frets. If the action is too high, you’ll have to apply more pressure to play, putting more strain on both your hands and the strings. If the action is too low, the strings can touch the fretboard in places you don’t mean them to, making your sound muffled or buzzy.

Every piece of the ukulele plays a role in generating the sound, but when you’re shopping for an instrument the main areas you want to pay attention to are the body and the neck. If there’s a flaw in the bridge, nut, or saddle you can get them replaced easily. Even upgrading your tuning pegs isn’t much of a hassle, even if it’s often more trouble than it’s worth on a beginner instrument. Structural problems, though, are often either impossible to repair or so expensive to fix that you might as well just buy a new instrument.

Tonewoods 

best ukulele for beginners

Each kind of wood has its own unique character when it’s used in the construction of wooden instruments. Understanding what each tonewood brings to the table can help you choose the one to match your ideal tone.

The tonewoods you’ll see used for ukuleles are a little different than what you’d expect to find used on stringed instruments like guitars and mandolins. This is largely because of the instrument’s Hawaiian origins. Tonewoods are chosen for how well they replicate the sound of those original instruments, which were made entirely with native wood.

There are four different tonewoods involved in the construction of ukuleles on this list:

Koa: This is a kind of flowering Acacia tree native to Hawaii. It’s the traditional tonewood for ukuleles and is prized for its resonance and balance. Because it’s grown in such a limited area, koa is rarer and more expensive than other tonewoods. This makes it a less common choice for beginner and intermediate instruments.

Mahogany: A lot of ukuleles use mahogany for the body because it brings a natural warmth to the tone. This mellows the uke’s brightness, especially important for soprano models. It’s also known for its resonance and lingering sustain. Since it grows in a lot of different places in the world, you’ll find a lot of variation, some of which will have a darker tone than others. The fact that it can grow in a lot of places also makes it relatively inexpensive, another reason for its popularity in entry-level instruments.

Rosewood: Rosewood is a popular choice for fretboards, for guitars and mandolins as well as ukuleles. You’ll often also see it used for necks, headstocks, and pieces like the bridge, nut, and saddle. All-rosewood construction is rare, though, and even more rare for ukuleles than for other instruments. This is because rosewood is harder than koa or mahogany and it can make the tone too bright to the point of being abrasive when it’s used too much. As an accent wood, though, it adds clarity to your tone.

Spruce: This is a popular choice for guitar soundboards that has recently started popping up on ukuleles, as well. It’s a dense, hardwood known for its bright tone and quick sustain. Fingerpickers are likely to find it more appealing than strummers since it’s great for note definition and sharp attacks.

What is laminate?

Laminate is made by gluing multiple thin layers of wood together. It’s cheaper to produce and shape than solid wood and because of that is often found on beginner instruments. Solid wood instruments tend to be louder, more resonant, and more musical, which is why they’re preferred by professionals. Laminate instruments can still give you a great sound; however, the unique qualities of the tonewood used will generally be more subtle.

01

Ukulele Tenor Size Bundle From Lohanu (LU-C)

Ukulele Tenor Size Bundle From Lohanu (LU-C)

You might not expect a Canadian company to make some of the best ukuleles on the market, but that’s what you get when you shop Lohanu. Every aspect of the company is focused on a good customer experience, and even their entry-level instruments are crafted with care. The LU-C bundle linked to here is arguably the best single-purchase option for a complete beginner.

717qkFS5WnL. SL1200  e1532458053969 300x255 - Ukulele Tenor Size Bundle From Lohanu (LU-C)The LU-C uses a laminate of Sapele spruce and mahogany in the construction of the body. Sapele spruce is a common variant of the hardwood often used in acoustic guitar soundboards because it gives the front end of attacks a punchy definition that can really cut through an ensemble. It’s a harder wood than mahogany, which gives this ukulele a slightly brighter sound than the other concert models on this list, though it’s mostly only noticeable in the upper half of the range.

The brightness of the Sapele is also balanced out by the arched-back construction. This changes the way the soundwaves resonate inside the instrument’s body and tends to darken the tone. The combination of materials and shape give you a sound that’s crisp and articulate but not thin or abrasive. This is especially great if you want to do some fingerpicking as well as strumming.

The details are where you can really see the difference between the LU-C and other beginner models. For example, it comes with buttons pre-installed for either a neck or a shoulder strap, saving you a trip to the repair shop down the line (along with the $40-$50 in labor you’d have to pay to get it installed). Construction details like the angle of the neck and smoothing of the fret edges are also consistently on-point.

While the instrument itself is what’s impressive, the accessory package is worth a mention, too. It comes with a digital tuner with an LCD display, by itself easily a $15 value. It also comes with a comfortable strap, a padded bag for storage and transportation, picks for playing, and an extra set of the Aquila Super Nylgut strings that come installed on the ukulele. You also get access to Lohanu’s online video lessons so you don’t have to figure it all out on your own.

Specs at a glance:

  • Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Body/neck: Sapele/Mahogany
  • Fingerboard: Rosewood
  • Hardware: Chrome die-cast geared tuners
  • Included in the box: Gig bag-style case, strap, clip-on digital tuner (battery included), spare Aquila Nylgut strings, pick holder, two picks

Pros
Smooth and mellow tone across the entire range
Cons
Higher price point than other entry-level ukuleles

2 Strap Pins Installed FREE Uke Strap Case Tuner Picks Pick Holder Aquila Strings Installed Free Video Lessons(Concert)

02

Cordoba 15CM Concert Ukulele

Cordoba 15CM Concert Ukulele

Cordoba’s main claim to fame are classical guitars made in the Spanish tradition, but they also apply their master luthier skills to ukuleles of all sizes. The 15CM is an affordable way to bring one of these well-crafted instruments into your own home.

71BDN3MHGnL. SL1500  143x300 - Cordoba 15CM Concert UkuleleThe Cordoba 15CM uses traditional materials and aesthetic accents. It’s built with mahogany laminate for the body and neck, with rosewood for the fingerboard and bridge. The satin finish accents the natural wood grain. The visual appeal is enhanced by the abalone inlay around the soundhole, white binding, and pearlized tuning pegs. The combination is an instrument that both looks and sounds stage-ready. This makes it appealing as a travel, back-up, or doubling option for professional musicians.

The attention to detail really makes this ukulele perform above its price-point. The mahogany used in the construction is quartersawn, a technique that gives the tonewood more strength and rigidity, improving its tonal balance and dynamic projection. Each instrument is constructed by hand from top to bottom. This means these instruments will be more consistent and durable compared to other entry-level models, which are mass-produced in order to lower costs.

This quality of craftsmanship extends to the hardware. The geared chrome tuners keep the instrument well in tune. The rosewood bridge is well-positioned, resulting in action that’s not so low it buzzes but not so high it strains a beginner’s fingers. Even the Aquila Nylgut 7U strings that come installed are an upgrade over what you’d expect to find on a beginner ukulele. Top to bottom, you’ll be very pleased with the way this particular instrument feels in your hands.

The included starter kit doesn’t contain as many extra accessories as other options on this list but it gives you everything you need to get started playing. This includes a soft-sided gig bag, a polishing cloth, a clip-on digital tuner and an instructional DVD to help you get started. Considering the price, it would be good even if you only got the instrument. You certainly won’t feel jipped by what you get in the package.

Specs at a glance:

  • Weight: 1.9 pounds
  • Body/neck: Mahogany
  • Fingerboard: Rosewood
  • Bridge: Rosewood
  • Nut/saddle: Composite
  • Hardware: Geared chrome with pearl buttons
  • Included in the box: Gig bag, clip-on digital tuner, polishing cloth, instructional DVD

Pros
Constructed by hand for quality and consistency
Cons
Higher price

Bundle with Gig Bag, Tuner, Austin Bazaar Instructional DVD, and Polishing Cloth

03

AKLOT Ukulele Solid Mahogany 23 Inch Concert Ukulele

AKLOT Ukulele Solid Mahogany 23 Inch Concert Ukulele

The beginner’s starter kit that comes with the Aklot concert ukulele is the most comprehensive of any on this list. It includes standard accessories like a gig bag and a neck strap for easy playing. It also includes an assortment of picks, a polishing cloth, spare strings, a digital tuner, and an instruction booklet to help you get started. Your purchase also comes with nine free lessons at the Aklot website that teach you the basics, from tuning to strumming techniques.

51BHTYbcIeL 300x300 - AKLOT Ukulele Solid Mahogany 23 Inch Concert UkuleleAklot’s ukuleles use advanced copper tuners. This translates to more stable intonation than the tuners on most student-model ukes so you won’t waste half your practice time getting your instrument in tune. An instrument that won’t stay in tune can be incredibly frustrating, especially for a beginning player. If you have to keep stopping to adjust the strings, it can make it a lot harder to get into the groove and focus on the music. Not having to worry about that already gives the Aklot a lot of value.

The sound quality of this ukulele is as good as you’ll find on any instrument in the under 100 dollar price range. It has a rich, warm tone with a lot of sustain, without you first needing to adjust the action or change out the strings. The body is made of traditional mahogany, with a solid wood soundboard that can put out more sound than cheaper laminate models. This is also where a lot of the sustain comes from. The top of this model will also age and improve over time, just like other solid wood instruments.

The Aklot AK-23 concert ukulele has the construction and sound quality to serve you well into the intermediate stage of your musical journey. It’s sturdy enough to stand up to travel and daily wear and tear. The attention to detail makes it a very playable instrument that’s easy for a beginner to maintain, letting you focus on your technique without limitations.

Specs at a glance:

  • Weight: 3.2 pounds
  • Top: Solid mahogany
  • Body/neck: Mahogany laminate
  • Fingerboard: Rosewood
  • Bridge: Rosewood
  • Nut/saddle: Bone
  • Hardware: 1:18 pure copper geared tuners
  • Included in the box: soft-sided case, strap, microfiber cleaning cloth, picks, spare strings, QuickStart instruction booklet

Pros
Comprehensive starter kit
Cons
Action set higher out of the box, may need adjustment to be comfortable to younger players

With Free Online Course 8 Packs Beginner Starter Kit ( Gig Bag Picks Tuner Strap String Cleaning Cloth Instruction Book Gift Box )

04

Official Kala Learn to Play Ukulele Starter Kit, Light Mahogany

Official Kala Learn to Play Ukulele Starter Kit, Light Mahogany

81rra 0CguL. SL1500  300x300 - Official Kala Learn to Play Ukulele Starter Kit, Light MahoganyA starter kit can offer a great value to a beginning player. Not only do you get the instrument but all the other things you need to learn how to play it—things you may not have thought about picking up on your own. In the case of the Kala starter kit, you get even more than the carrying tote and Aquila Super Nylgut strings that come in the box. The kit also comes with the Kala Tuner app, downloadable on any phone, laptop, or tablet, and access to their website, where you can take free lessons on everything from how to tune to advanced fingering techniques.

The Kala KA-S soprano ukulele included in this bundle is hands down the best uke you can get for under $50. The construction is durable and consistent, easy to both play and tune. The compact size of soprano ukuleles, in general, makes them great first instruments for kids, and the playability of the KA-S makes it especially stand out in this regard. The action is smooth and doesn’t require a lot of finger strength, which translates to practice sessions that feel like fun instead of work.

In terms of the build, this is a traditional soprano ukulele. The back, sides, and neck are all mahogany, with white binding and a rosewood fingerboard. The hardware is utilitarian. It’s functional but not spectacular and is honestly the only place you can tell this is designed as a beginner rather than a professional instrument. Beginners may find it a bit tricky to tune at first, but once you get the feel of it you’ll find the KA-S gives you a rich, mellow tone that belies its low price tag.

Specs at a glance:

  • Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Body/neck: Mahogany laminate
  • Fingerboard: Rosewood
  • Hardware: Geared tuners
  • Included in the box: Tote bag, quick start guide, tuner

Pros
Easy to play for musicians of all ages
Cons
Tuning machines can slip during adjustment

Includes online lessons, tuner, and app

05

Lohanu LU-T Tenor Ukulele Bundle

Lohanu LU-T Tenor Ukulele Bundle

The LU-T from Lohanu is a very similar product to the LU-C described above since it’s the tenor-sized entry in the same series. The only reason it ranks lower on the list than the LU-C is that the tenor ukulele as an instrument is bigger and, as a result, more difficult for many to learn to play. The exception to this rule is a beginning player with large hands, who may find the more spacious neck more comfortable.

717YUllw50L. SL1200  e1532459333731 300x237 - Lohanu LU-T Tenor Ukulele BundleThe LU-T is identical to the LU-C in most respects. It uses the same Sapele spruce and mahogany laminate for the body and comes with the same array of included accessories. The only difference is the size. A tenor ukulele looks more like a mini guitar than the iconic Tiny Tim soprano uke. This can make it a great “gateway” instrument for a child who’s interested in playing the guitar but not quite big enough to manage one yet.

The larger size of the LU-T really lets you appreciate the aesthetic details. The etching around the sound hole is a nice touch that makes it look more hand-crafted than your typical beginner ukulele. The elegant wood grain finish, pearlized tuning pegs, and traditional white binding are other little touches that really put the LU line in a class of its own, compared to other options at the price.

Ultimately, tenor ukuleles aren’t for everyone, and they are one of the less common sizes in popular use. If you’re shopping for a tenor uke, though, you won’t find a better value than the LU-T.

Specs at a glance:

  • Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Body/neck: Sapele/Mahogany
  • Fingerboard: Rosewood
  • Hardware: Chrome die-cast geared tuners
  • Included in the box: Gig bag-style case, strap, clip-on digital tuner (battery included), spare Aquila Nylgut strings, pickholder, two picks

Pros
Accessories and design make it perfect for beginners
Cons
Action out of the box a bit high for some players

2 Strap Pins Installed FREE Uke Strap Case Tuner Picks Pick Holder Aquila Strings Installed Free Video Lessons

06

Donner DUC-1 Concert Ukulele

Donner DUC-1 Concert Ukulele

Donner is a company better known for their guitar electronics and accessories than they are for instruments. Despite this lack of pedigree, their DUC line of entry-level ukuleles are well-constructed and easy to play, making them an easy option for inclusion on this list. In addition to the concert model linked to here, they also have a soprano and a tenor ukulele that bring the same combination of great sound and impressive value.

81ky0eQCmmL. SL1500  300x300 - Donner DUC-1 Concert UkuleleThe design of the DUC ukulele is simple but effective. The body is made of traditional mahogany, but Donner puts in a bit more effort with the selection and tooling of their tonewoods than many companies do with their entry-level models. The wood is naturally air dried for three years before being worked into the instruments, giving them the consistent, sweet tone a ukulele should have.

The effects of this craftsmanship extend beyond the sound. The individual components of the instrument are carefully fitted to be both durable and playable. The neck width and string action are designed for maximum player comfort. Even the bridge has been subtly re-designed to make it easier for a beginner to re-string.

Considering Donner is better known for their accessories than their instruments, you’d expect the accessory package that comes with their ukuleles to be one of the best, but if anything the opposite is true. You’ll find four things in the box with the instrument: a gig bag, a strap, a spare set of strings, and a digital tuner. The bag and strap are functional, if not exceptional, but the clip-on tuner is a bit cheap.

Still, if we’ve reached the point of criticizing the included tuner, it means the rest of it doesn’t give you much to complain about. It holds its own in terms of sound when played side-by-side against ukuleles in the $100-$200 range, and will serve you well even after you’ve moved past the “beginner” stage.

Specs at a glance:

  • Weight: 3.2 pounds
  • Body/neck: Mahogany laminate
  • Fingerboard: Rosewood
  • Bridge: Rosewood
  • Hardware: Chrome-plated guitar-style tuners
  • Included in the box: Gig bag, clip-on tuner, strap, spare strings

Pros
Impressive sound for the price
Cons
Included accessories aren’t impressive

07

Popuband Populele Smart Ukulele – LED Fretboard, Bluetooth Connection – Free app for iOS and Android, Game Mode for Beginners – Acoustic Concert Size

Popuband Populele Smart Ukulele – LED Fretboard, Bluetooth Connection – Free app for iOS and Android, Game Mode for Beginners – Acoustic Concert Size

It seems like pretty much everything comes in a smart version these days.

So why not musical instruments?

More and more instruments that produce a digital signal (like electric guitars and keyboards) are coming with dedicated companion apps. With the Populele, Popuband takes this a step further, giving you a smart version of a traditionally acoustic instrument.

Let’s start with the smart capabilities, since that’s the aspect of this instrument that’s the most unique.

The Populele is Bluetooth connected and designed to pair with the free Populele app, which you can download on any iOS or Android device. The app has tons of features that will be useful for beginners, including a tool that teaches you to tune, a built-in recorder, and a regularly updated chord and tune library.

But that’s just part of the story…

The fretboard of this smart ukulele has 72 LED bulbs built in, and these are the key to making the most of the Populele app.

How do they work?

When you play a song from the library, these lights will illuminate in rhythm to guide you through and teach you how to play it. You can also control the lights independently in Dazzle Mode.

And, this is really cool…

You can create custom light patterns or even spell out messages to add some visual appeal to your performances.

You may have noticed what we haven’t talked about yet:

The ukulele itself...

It’s a perfectly functional beginner concert ukulele. Tuning it is easy and it stays in tune fairly well. The combination of maple and spruce in the construction gives it a decent sound.

We weren’t a huge fan of the fretboard, however, and the feel of it is more on the toy-like side of the spectrum than some of the other (even more affordable) ukes on this list.

Do you want a smart ukulele?

This is your obvious choice; just keep in mind you’ll need to upgrade to a better instrument once you’ve progressed to the intermediate or pro level. If you don’t plan on using the smart features, you’ll be better off looking elsewhere.

Features:

  • Weight: 3.66 pounds
  • Soundboard: Spruce
  • Body/neck: European maple
  • Fretboard: LED-equipped
  • Hardware: Quasi-closed metal gear tuning pegs
  • Included: Aquila strings, Populele app with song library

Pros

Interactive LED-equipped fretboard helps you play thousands of songs from the song library

Tuning and teaching tools help jumpstart your musical journey

Built-in recording capabilities improve your practice sessions

Game mode makes it fun and easy to learn how to play

Fretboard lights are customizable and programmable

Cons

Will need to pay extra for a full accessory package

Feels a bit more like a toy than other concert ukes on this list


08

VI Victory Concert Ukulele

VI Victory Concert Ukulele

The VI Victory line is the first ukulele collection from Musictopia, who are known for their budget-friendly guitars and accessories. This particular model is a 23” concert-sized uke that’s playable enough for a beginner but attractive enough to take on stage. It might not be the least expensive option on this list, but it’s still an impressive value—especially considering everything that comes included in the box.

51aVyCosmwL. SL1035  e1532460279706 300x236 - VI Victory Concert UkuleleThe VI Victory beginner kit comes with two picks, a comfortable strap, and a clip-on tuner. It also comes pre-strung with Aquila strings, the standard in the industry. The black satin finish of the included ukulele is unique and striking; Musictopia also offers their VI Victory concert uke in a natural finish, for a more traditional look.

Whichever finish you go with, the build is near professional quality, both in terms of the instrument’s body and the included hardware. The body and neck are made of African mahogany, with Indonesian rosewood for the bridge and fingerboard. This classic combination of tonewoods gives the instrument the sweet, warm tone concert ukuleles are known for. This is heightened by the arched back design, which gives it both a richer tone and a sleeker appearance.

The die-cast chrome machine heads are rust-resistant and easy to adjust. Compared to other bargain models, you’ll find the VI Victory is easier to tune and stays in tune longer, which is especially important for a beginner. It also uses real bone for the nut and saddle. This small detail can make a big difference in the sound. Real bone transmits vibrations better than synthetic, translating to a clearer overall tone.

Specs at a glance:

  • Weight: 2.5 pounds
  • Body/neck: Mahogany laminate
  • Fingerboard: Indonesian Rosewood
  • Nut/saddle: Cow bone
  • Hardware: Die-cast chrome
  • Included in the box: Gig bag, clip-on tuner, two picks, shoulder strap

Pros
Rich and smooth sound with a strong mid-range
Cons
Will want to upgrade strings for long playing sessions

23 Inch Mahogany Aquila String, Beginner Kit Tuner Gig Bag Straps and Picks - Black

09

Lanikai LU-21 Soprano Ukulele

Lanikai LU-21 Soprano Ukulele

Lanikai only makes ukuleles, and they do it well. They make all sizes of the instrument, from soprano down to baritone, and their top-tier models are popular with professional players. With a lot of professional instrument manufacturers, it’s wise to be wary of their entry-level line. That’s not the case with Lanikai. Even their most affordable ukes are built with an eye for quality and attention to detail.

81EvqZY3ggL. SL1500  117x300 - Lanikai LU-21 Soprano UkuleleThe LU-21 uses Nato for the back and sides, an Eastern variety of mahogany that brings a warmer, sweeter tone. This is especially noticeable on the soprano model, which has a resonant tone that’s not at all tinny or “toy-like.” The wood is aged and finished to keep it from cracking or warping over time. The 12-fret rosewood fretboard gives you a smooth playing experience and is well-fitted to the body for long-term stability.

The geared tuners are chrome-plated and open-backed. This helps to keep the weight of the headstock lower, making it easier to balance, especially for young players. They’re great at keeping the instrument in tune, too, without any slipping. As a nice visual touch, the pre-installed strap buttons are chrome, as well, giving the instrument a clean overall look.

You don’t get much in the box when you buy the LU-21. It does come with an easy-to-read instruction booklet to walk you through stringing and tuning your new instrument. It also comes with a rather nice case to take it on the go. Any other accessories you want for your uke you’ll have to buy separately.

The LU-21 is a great option if you expect your interest (or your child’s interest) to be more than just a passing fad. It’s high-quality enough that some professional ukulele players use it as their “traveling” instrument. If it’s good enough for the stage, it’ll serve a beginner’s needs. It’s a bit pricier than a lot of the options on this list, especially considering you’ll have to buy things like a tuner and a playing strap if you don’t already have them. That extra investment gets you an instrument with the sound quality and durability for years of playing.

Specs at a glance:

  • Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Body/neck: Nato
  • Fingerboard: Rosewood
  • Bridge: Rosewood
  • Saddle/nut: Nubone XB
  • Hardware: Chrome open-back tuners
  • Included in the box: Padded gig bag, instruction manual

Pros
Exquisite craftsmanship and construction quality
Cons
No included accessories

10

Hankey KUT-70 Tenor Ukulele

Hankey KUT-70 Tenor Ukulele

Another appealing option for a beginning tenor ukulele is this model from Hankey. It costs a bit more than the Lohanu model above and comes with a similar array of accessories. The biggest difference between them, other than the price, is the material used in the body. It ranks lower on the list not because it’s a bad instrument but because the increase in price over the Lohanu LU-T doesn’t give you any extra performance or accessories.

The body of the KUT-70 is made of koa laminate. It’s the only uke on this list to use this traditional Hawaiian wood, which is typically too pricey for instrument makers to want to utilize in beginner models. Koa has a density similar to black walnut, hard enough to give the notes definition but still allow enough resonance for a sweet sustain.

71tA1UZF1rL. SL1500  300x300 - Hankey KUT-70 Tenor UkuleleIf these were solid wood instruments, the use of koa instead of mahogany would have a noticeable impact on the tone. However, since it’s koa laminate,  a lot of the distinctive qualities of the koa are down-played. In fact, the combination of Sapele and mahogany used in the Lohanu is almost indistinguishable from koa, especially to beginner's ears.

This is not to say the KUT-70 is a bad instrument. It offers a comparable sound and build quality to the Lohanu. The tone, one that is clear and articulate but still full and smooth. Tenor ukuleles, in general, are better for fingerpicking, and the particular tonewood used here is perfect for that technique, letting you hear each note you play distinctly.

The KUT-70 also has a unique design, with more decorative features than you might expect to find on a beginner ukulele. The cutaways in the headstock are one such distinctive touch, as is the green shell inlay around the soundhole. Some of these design features affect more than just the look. The smoothed fret edges give it a more polished look but also make it easier to play, and the same is true of the slim profile of the body.

The KUT-70 is a fine choice for both beginners and more advanced players. The accessories that come with it are useful, from the padded gig bag to the handy clip-on tuner. In terms of value, though, you can arguably get the same performance for less money from other brands.

Specs at a glance:

  • Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Body: Koa laminate
  • neck: Mahogany laminate
  • Fingerboard: Rosewood
  • Bridge: Rosewood
  • Nut/saddle: Ox bone
  • Hardware: Die-cast classical tuners
  • Included in the box: Gig bag, clip-on tuner, spare Aquila Nygut strings, shoulder strap, polishing cloth, picks, instruction book

Pros
Unique decorative touches give it a distinctive character
Cons
Priced on the high side for a beginner ukulele

with Bag and Tuner, Strap, Extra Aquila Strings, Polishing Cloth, 2 Pins Installed, Instructional Book, KUT-70

Recommended Accessories

Most of the options above come with quite a few helpful accessories included, but even if you get one of the more comprehensive starter kits you’ll still likely need to pick up a few extra things along the way. Depending on your instrument (and how you plan to use it), you might not need everything listed below, but these can be some helpful tools to improve your sound and technique and keep your instrument in top working order.

Strings

Every ukulele on this list comes with a set of strings already on it, and many of the options above come with an extra set of strings for when they wear out or break. Most of them come with either Aquila Nylgut strings or a version made by the same company that manufactured the ukulele. While these strings are functional, they’re certainly not your only (or best) options.

Even high-end strings cost less than twenty dollars a set, and they can last for months, depending on how often you play. Changing your strings is the least expensive way to improve the tone and playability of your ukulele. Especially if the strings are old or worn out, a new set of strings can make it sound like a new instrument.

Most ukulele strings are made of nylon. Different brands use different varieties of nylon, which accounts for the differences in sound and durability. Professional strings are ground after they’re formed. This gives them more texture and makes them more consistent.

Ground strings cost more than unground strings, but the price difference is usually a matter of five or ten bucks—something even players on a tight budget can afford. It’s well worth the money, especially for a beginner, to upgrade to ground strings as early as you can.

There is more than one way to tune a ukulele. The soprano has two standard tunings, the concert three, and the tenor four. How you tune your instrument (and how often you change the tuning) will change the amount of strain each string takes, and some strings are designed for use with a specific tuning. You won’t necessarily have to think about this when you’re just starting out, but it’s something to keep in mind as you move forward.

Storage and Transportation

Since most beginner ukuleles are laminate instead of solid wood, the soft-sided gig bag most of them come with is perfectly effective at protecting your instrument when you’re not using it. This will prevent your uke from scratches, dings, and dust, though it won’t prevent more catastrophic damage from falls (or things falling on it).

Hard-sided cases cost a bit more but they protect your instrument a lot better. It’s probably not necessary if you’ll be mostly using your uke around the house, but if you plan to travel with it a lot it might be worth looking into.

An instrument stand can also be a helpful thing to get for temporary storage during and between practice sessions. You can get a basic model on Amazon for around ten bucks and it’s a much safer place for your uke than a chair or table.

Practice Aids

For a beginner ukulele player, a tuner is a necessary accessory. The longer you play, the more attuned your ears will be to pitch and the more you’ll be able to tune your instrument by ear. Until you reach that point, you should adjust the intonation of your strings at the start of every playing session.

best ukeleles for beginners

If your uke didn’t come with a tuner (or you want to upgrade) you should buy one. While you can get a decent inexpensive tuner for around ten bucks, you should consider getting one that also has a metronome. Using a metronome while you practice can greatly improve your rhythm and timing, very important qualities for strumming instruments like the ukulele. They don’t cost much more than a stand-alone tuner. The Korg KM50 is a good tuner/metronome for beginners and costs about $20.

Now that you have an instrument, you’ll need something to play. The tutorials included with many of the ukuleles above will walk you through learning your first couple songs. Beyond that, you have a few different ways to move forward. Essential Elements has an excellent beginner’s method book. This is the same series you’ll find in use in a lot of elementary school music programs, meaning you can count on it to be easy to understand and follow.

If you read music or chord tab notation, you can find a lot of ukulele music online for free. If you’re looking for books with easy sheet music to get you started, check out Hal Leonard’s catalogue. They have both ukulele-specific beginner’s books and more general collections of sheet music aimed at beginners you can use to expand your repertoire.

Instrument Maintenance

Even if you don’t have any solid wood on your instrument, giving it an occasional wipe with a cleaning cloth will remove any dust or grime and keep it looking beautiful. This is an especially good idea on the fretboard, where the oils from your fingers can build up over time. A lot of players do this every time they change their strings as part of their instrument’s routine maintenance.

You can clean the body of a laminate ukulele with a slightly damp cloth, but keep the cloth dry when cleaning the headstock and fretboard. Any lint-free cloth will do; you can find one for a couple bucks at any music store. If the wood of the fretboard seems dry or looks like it’s lost its luster, you can buy Lemon Oil or a similar non-chemical wood polish, but this isn’t something you’ll need to worry about right off the bat.?

How To Tell If You Picked The Best Ukulele

Frequent practice is the key to learning any musical instrument.

The more you play, the better you’ll be.

When it comes right down to it, the right ukulele is the one you’re excited to play.

If the instrument makes you want to pick it up and strum it when you see it, then that’s the ukulele you want in your home.

And we happen to think our Best of the Best pick is the one that’ll do that for you…

Leaders comparison
The winners

Best products from range

Best of the best

Ukulele Tenor Size Bundle From Lohanu (LU-C)
2 Strap Pins Installed FREE Uke Strap Case Tuner Picks Pick Holder Aquila Strings Installed Free Video Lessons(Concert)

The Lohanu LU-C is our overall top pick. The Cordoba 15CM has a better tone, but the LU-C still sounds great for a beginner ukulele. It scored the highest overall when considering playability and value along with sound and build quality. It also comes with everything you’ll need to start playing your new instrument the day it arrives.

Best for the money

AKLOT Ukulele Solid Mahogany 23 Inch Concert Ukulele
With Free Online Course 8 Packs Beginner Starter Kit ( Gig Bag Picks Tuner Strap String Cleaning Cloth Instruction Book Gift Box )

This nice looking ukulele is perfect for both beginner and intermediate users, meaning you’ll get a good amount of use out if. The favorable price point and and accessory package makes this ukulele set an exceptional value.

Like we’ve said before, any one of the ukes on the list above will make a great instrument for a beginning player. If you’ve got a different top pick (even if it’s one that didn’t make our list) we’d love to hear about it in the comments.

Runner-up

FAQ
Faq

Frequently asked questions

Q:

What is the standard tuning for a ukulele?

The standard tuning is G-C-E-A. 

Q:

I want to plug my ukulele into an amp. What do I need?

None of the options listed above include a pickup, the piece of hardware necessary to plug your ukulele directly into an amp. These can be added after you purchase the ukulele; however, an easier (and often better sounding) way to do it is by using a microphone to amplify the sound of your ukulele.

Q:

Do I need to use a pick with my new ukulele?

No, most players don’t use a pick with the ukulele; rather using their fingernails to strum the instrument. Because the strings are not metal, they are much easier on the fingers. However, it’s still personal preference. If you want to use a pick, we recommend picks made from felt for the best sound with your ukulele.


The team
The team

We made this review

Jessica Simms
Writer Jessica Simms
Tiffany Mueller
Editorial Director Tiffany Mueller
Valeria Garcia
Graphic Editor Valeria Garcia
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