Best Ukuleles for Beginners

What is the best ukulele for a beginner?

The answer depends on the person who plans to play the uke, as well as on the instrument itself. As it turns out, there are several brands offering good beginner ukulele models at affordable prices. Besides price, there are other factors to consider. First and foremost is quality. The most important factor when choosing a ukulele for beginners is that the person will actually want to play it, meaning that they will not be discouraged by an instrument that causes discomfort by scratching their hands, or by a poor-quality instrument that refuses to stay in tune. Ukuleles with high action typically discourage beginners too.

In general, many cheap ukes are poorly made and difficult to play, resulting in frustration and a loss of interest. We’ve searched high and low to avoid these, we’ve read through hundreds of reviews, and we’ve even asked some top ukulele players and instructors which ukuleles they recommend for beginners in terms of price, quality, playability, and style.

Our choices for the best ukulele for beginners are presented below, in alphabetical order for your convenience. In terms of price, most options range from well below $100 to just a little more than $200.

Amahi Ukuleles

Amahi is among the best ukulele brands for beginners, with a variety of options available in terms of size, finish, and quality.

Recommended Amahi Models:

Besides offering availability in sizes to suit every student and finishes to please a variety of tastes, most Amahi ukuleles come with padded gig bags, adding value and eliminating the need to purchase a protective case separately. Many models come pre-strung with Aquila nylgut strings, which are among the most popular brands.

Top Amahi Features:
  • Quality construction, with sealed guitar-style tuners and dressed frets and fretboards
  • Amahi ukuleles feel nice in the player’s hands; they are highly playable
  • The price is great considering the quality; models vary depending on finish and size, averaging $80-170

Why is Amahi a good ukulele for beginners? What the experts said:

Amahi ukuleles are popular for their affordability, but that’s just the beginning.  The company makes several different laminate models that are basically identical in terms of musicality, use, and price range, but with a variety of different looks. These ukuleles are very popular with teens, particularly in concert size. The sopranos are good for beginners, too – particularly if you’re looking for that classic, cheerful ukulele sound that reminds you of a sunny day spent lounging on a tropical beach. The instruments are very attractive, and the feel is great. The fretwork and setup are of good quality, ensuring that your playing experience will be a positive one.

If you’re interested in a beautiful instrument that will stand the test of time while ensuring that you enjoy the process of learning, consider looking into a better-quality Amahi ukulele like the UK880 classic Quilted Ash Concert Ukulele. This is a great step up from the bare-bones basic model, and it comes with the option of electronics, so you can play with an amplifier or enjoy the simple, acoustic sound the ukulele is so famous for. At just over $150, it represents a bit more in terms of investment while assuring many years of satisfaction. The sound is full and rich, and like other Amahi ukuleles, it is very well made.

Cordoba 15SM

Recommended Cordoba Model:

The Cordoba 15SM is widely recommended as one of the best ukuleles for beginners, as it meets a variety of needs in terms of size, price, and quality. As it is a soprano ukulele it offers go-anywhere appeal – an important factor since portability is among the top reasons people choose to learn ukulele.

Top Cordoba Features:
  • The price is normally under $100
  • Cordoba ukuleles are made with high-quality components and arrive pre-strung with Aquila strings
  • The soprano size is easier to play for those who are building finger strength; if you’ve tried a larger tenor or baritone ukulele in the past, you’ll find this one has lower, lighter action for far easier playing
  • The Cordoba 15SM will accommodate many players as they acquire new skills: It’s well built for lasting quality, and it has 17 frets (a few more than you’ll find on many other soprano ukes)
  • The sound is better than many players expected for a beginner ukulele in this price range, offering plenty of sweetness and lots of resonance
  • Consistently earns high marks from reviewers, particularly those who are judging based on value and overall quality; frequently described as a good beginner ukulele

What makes the Cordoba 15SM a good ukulele for beginners? Our experts said:

The Cordoba 15SM is just one of the company’s most popular models – like the 15CM and 20BM models, it offers classic styling, with a beautiful rosette and contrasting body binding for outstanding visual appeal. Made with care in the same tradition as the company’s classical guitars, it is also excellent in terms of affordability. Be sure to take a look at this model if you’re looking for a soprano uke; it’s often described as the best ukulele size for beginners with smaller hands, and it offers a bright, classic sound. When compared with Amahi, Cordoba ukuleles are typically similar in terms of price and quality.

If you’re looking for something larger, consider the Cordoba 15CM – when purchased in a bundle, this concert uke includes an instructional DVD and a gig bag, along with a tuner. It offers a richer sound, yet there’s plenty of classic ukulele resonance to satisfy your craving for happy, beach-inspired music! At a touch over $100, this one costs just a little more than its soprano-sized cousin.

Kahua Ukuleles

Recommended Kahua Models:

An outstanding choice in terms of playability and price, Kahua ukuleles also offer quality craftsmanship and classic good looks. Coming in at prices that begin well under $100 and end below the $200 mark, these lovely ukes come in soprano, concert, tenor, and baritone sizes, and are available in a number of popular finishes.

Top Kahua Features:
  • Most sizes come in a variety of finishes, making it easy to choose an instrument that suits the individual player’s needs and tastes
  • Classic touches like a rosette pattern surround the sound hole, a rosewood finger board and bridge add to the overall aesthetic
  • Low price appeals to budget-minded buyers
  • Geared tuning machines help ensure that the ukulele stays in tune longer, particularly once the strings have had a chance to stretch and “break in”
  • The manufacturer focuses on quality for price, carefully testing each instrument for sound quality before it leaves the factory

Why is Kahua a good ukulele for beginners? What the experts said:

Kahua ukuleles don’t represent much of an investment, but they deliver in terms of overall quality. If you are looking for a concert uke, then consider the Kahua concert size in Zebra wood. It offers great tone, excellent construction, good volume, and plenty of sustain. The action is wonderful, plus there are dots on the fingerboard and on the side of the neck to help you feel your way around while playing. The only downside is that there’s no strap button on the bottom of this instrument – that’s not a deal breaker though, since you can have one installed if you like.

If you’re in the market for a tenor ukulele, then consider taking a look at Kahua’s tenor ukuleles, which come in your choice of different finishes including Zebrawood or Asian Koa wood. Its tone is deep and rich, plus it has contrasting black body binding for a cool look. The action, volume, and sustain are spot on, and like other ukuleles from Kahua, it has features that enhance playability. The price is far lower than what you’d pay for a good tenor ukulele from a different brand. This doesn’t guarantee perfection, but it does mean that if you’re a larger person and you’d like to learn to play on an appropriately sized instrument, you can do so without spending much more than you would if you were of a smaller stature.

Kala KA-SEM

Recommended Kala Model:

A gorgeous instrument with an exotic mahogany body and a lovely satin finish, the Kala KA-SEM features black body binding for just a touch of contrast. Geared tuners and premium Aquila nylgut strings contribute to its sweet sound.

Top Kala Features:
  • The Kala KA-SEM is a soprano ukulele, ideal in terms of portability and classic tone
  • Flamed mahogany body offers a unique appearance
  • Consistently receives good ratings from beginning ukulele players and those with more experience
  • Price is usually just over $100 with shipping factored in

What makes the Kala KA-SEM a good ukulele for beginners? Our experts said:

The Kala Ka-SEM offers good quality for the price. It is easy to play, and the sound is exquisite. If appearance is a top factor, then you’ll probably appreciate this ukulele’s looks. It is made with exotic mahogany, which often takes on a unique “textured” look with the wood’s grain appearing as natural whorls or curls, streaks, or spots. The light finish really allows each instrument’s unique graining to shine through. While this isn’t the best instrument for an expert to take on stage, it’s a very good beginner ukulele that easily takes the player into intermediate territory. Where some similarly priced ukes are disappointing in terms of sound and quality, this one shines as one of a handful of exceptions. You’ll need to purchase a bag or case if you plan to take this uke camping or traveling, since none is included.

If you’re searching for a colorful ukulele and you’re tempted to try a lower-quality instrument just because you love the way it looks, hold on! Kala also makes the KA-SEM in a gorgeous blue color. You really can have the best of both worlds!

Makala – Dolphin and Shark models

If you’re looking for a kids’ ukulele and you want one that delivers a pleasant sound and good playability without a high price tag, then consider taking a look at Makala’s Dolphin and Shark models. These ukes are clearly designed for fun and are a pleasure to learn on. They come in a variety of colors and finishes, and if you purchase via Amazon, you’ve got some great options when it comes to bundles that include bags and other extras.

Recommended Makala Models:
  • The Kala MK-SS-GRN Makala Shark Soprano Ukulele Bundle comes with a gig bag, an instructional DVD, and a polishing cloth, plus it includes a clip-on tuner. It’s a great choice for someone who’s just starting out. While it appeals to teens and younger kids alike, it also makes a fun choice for the budget-minded adult beginner.
  • The Kala MK-SD-PL Makala Dolphin Soprano Ukulele Bundle includes a gig bag, tuner, polishing cloth, and instructional DVD, and it comes in a huge array of colors for widespread appeal. Like the shark bundle, this one offers attractive pricing and plenty of extras to add value.

Why is Makala a good ukulele for beginners? What the experts said:

Makala offers a variety of fun options – in fact, any Makala shark or dolphin model would work. These are cheap and appeal to beginners who don’t want to spend much, particularly if buying for a child. They are pretty durable compared to some others, plus it’s a colorful choice that’s a lot of fun to play. There’s just one caveat: This is a good ukulele for beginners in that it’s decent to start on, but players are likely to outgrow it quickly. While the Makala represents a cheap initial “investment” it might be better to buy something a bit nicer right off the bat. If price is the determining factor and you’re not terribly concerned about workmanship, then you’ll appreciate these beginner ukuleles – the bundles come in at less than $60, which is a complete steal – particularly if you’re purchasing a beginner ukulele for a child.

Ohana Ukuleles: Sk-10S and Other Models

Recommended Ohana Model:

Priced well under $100 for basic soprano models, Ohana is among the best ukulele brands for beginners. While the company’s entry-level instruments don’t get great ratings, they’re not terrible either; and if you opt to spend just a little more for an upgrade, you’re likely to find that your ukulele provides many years of playing pleasure. The Ohana SK-10S Soprano Mahogany Ukulele is well-made, with a mahogany laminate top, back, and sides, plus a contrasting rosewood bridge and fingerboard.

Top Ohana Features:
  • Geared tuners add to the instrument’s quality look and feel, and they ensure that it stays in tune after the strings have broken in.
  • At just 1.2 pounds, this little uke is perfect for backpacking or the beach – and it’s not so expensive that you’ll worry about scratching the finish. If you’re looking for a combination of portability and affordability, then this ukulele may be just right.
  • Most users are happy with the look, feel, and sound of the instrument.

What makes Ohana a good ukulele for beginners? Our experts said:

Ohana has a good reputation for its ukuleles. While the company’s pricier, higher-end instruments earn better marks overall, The SK-10S definitely has a reputation as a good ukulele for beginners. As Ohana’s base model, it is affordable while offering good quality. This ukulele is available in a plain mahogany finish as well as in a wide range of colors.  Manufacturing is consistent, with inspections and basic setup taking place before each uke ships out.  These are details that are very important for the beginner’s hands and fingers.

If you’re interested in a better-quality instrument and you don’t mind paying more, be sure to take a look at some of the other Ohana models. There are quite a few available for around $200. While they are also excellent for beginners, the quality is good enough to enjoy years of regular use as the player’s skills improve. Check out the Ohana Solid Cedar Top Concert Ukulele – it’s a great step up with plenty of beautiful details and an outstanding sound.

The Flea by Magic Fluke

Recommended Magic Fluke Model:

Incredibly, The Flea Ukulele by Magic Fluke comes in at prices near the $200 mark, even though it is manufactured by a small company, and made with high-quality components – factors that usually mean you’d pay a lot more. While it’s true that these prices are a little bit higher than those offered by some of the other brands that offer good beginner ukulele models, these instruments are built to last, meaning you won’t feel pressured to buy a new ukulele once you’ve gained some experience.

We love the many unique color and finish options available from this company, and the handcrafted quality makes it a clear winner. If you have a little bit of room in your budget or don’t mind saving up, you are certain to appreciate everything it has to offer.

Top Magic Fluke Features:
  • Choose from a variety of sizes to suit your preference and body size
  • Enjoy the unique look of this instrument: It’s shaped a bit like a pineapple ukulele, but with a flat bottom that doubles as a built-in stand
  • Many models come with free gig bags, adding even more value
  • There are many unique colors and finishes to choose from

Why is The Flea a good ukulele for beginners? What the experts said:

This is a great instrument, and it’s nice because it’s a mom and pop success story, which sets it apart from some of the others. It’s around $200, so it is a bit more than many of the other choices offered here – at the same time, instrument parts and accessories are sourced within the country from suppliers the manufacturer knows on a face to face basis. The Flea ukulele offers excellent playability with great consistent intonation, plus the neck is good for beginners to grip. This uke is durable, plus it’s unique in that it stands up by itself to stay in view and encourage you to pick it up and play!

The Takeaway: Pointers for Choosing a Good Beginner Ukulele

What to look for in the best ukulele for beginners?

Much depends on the individual player! Be sure to take the size of his or her hands into account; for example, a large-statured adult is likely to enjoy learning on a concert or tenor size ukulele that offers more room for fingers than a soprano uke, which is ideal for kids and small-statured adults.

Sound

Sound matters, too. You want to like the way your instrument sounds when you play it, and if you’ve got a good ear for music, then you’ll notice that there are definite differences between the notes produced by a soprano ukulele and a concert ukulele. Tenor and baritone ukes offer their own unique sounds too, so consider looking for video clips of the ukuleles being played and listen to discover which sound pleases your ear most.

Price

As for price, ukuleles in general tend to offer excellent affordability when compared with other instruments. While professionals often spring for custom ukuleles made with exotic woods and premium components, it is possible to get a good ukulele for beginners while sticking to a budget – even if that budget is well under $100. Shop around for deals, particularly if you’re ordering online. Amazon is often the best source in terms of price, variety, and finish options, plus many sellers go the extra mile, incentivizing by providing free or low-cost shipping.

Looks

In terms of looks, there’s lots of variety. While you might love some of the cheap, candy-colored ukuleles on the market, be sure to read reviews and look into the seller’s return policy if you are considering one. All too often, these ukes amount to nothing more than toys – their frets tend to have sharp edges that make for very uncomfortable playing, and the sound tends to be tinny and unpleasant.

Colorful options like the Makala dolphin and shark models mentioned earlier are clear exceptions, and if you’re not prioritizing an ultra-cheap price tag, then you’re going to love some of the colorful Flea ukuleles by Magic Fluke. The Designer Surf Concert ukulele and the Designer Concert Aloha Ukulele are two of our favorite options in terms of amazing appearance, offering a fun yet polished vibe while providing excellence in terms of tone, sound, durability, and workmanship. You’ll pay a bit more for the Magic Fluke Pineapple Flea, which is just amazing to look at and even more incredible to play. Still, there’s no need to drop a bundle on a nice-looking ukulele if money is a deciding factor: Interesting wood finishes, contrasting body binding, and even a touch of color around the sound hole can make a uke stand out without increasing the price too much.

New vs. Used

What about new vs. used? You might think that the cheapest option is what makes for the best ukulele for beginners, but keep in mind that the playing experience absolutely must be pleasant. There’s just no getting around it. You might be lucky enough to find a decent pre-owned ukulele that meets your requirements, but buyer beware! Ask a lot of questions and be sure that the seller will provide a refund if you’re not satisfied with your purchase.

Materials

As for materials, you might be a bit confused by all the chatter concerning laminate vs. wood. When looking into a ukulele for beginners, laminates are fine unless you’re certain that you want to invest in a solid wood instrument. The main concern here is price; fine koa wood ukuleles and other top options tend to cost hundreds of dollars. These are of course excellent instruments, and you could certainly learn on one and enjoy the process – however, you might not be certain that you want to make a large investment. This decision is a very personal one!

Strings and Gear Tuners

Strings and gear tuners matter. You’ll notice that most of the ukuleles reviewed here feature geared tuners, which do a great job of holding the strings in place and preventing you from re-tuning your instrument after every song. As for strings, soft nylon ones are preferable; they’re easy on your fingers and they provide a pleasant, classic uke sound. Don’t worry if the ukulele you’re considering comes with stock strings, or if reviewers complain about the strings that come on the uke! Strings are very inexpensive, and you can take your ukulele to a local music shop for re-stringing with the strings of your choice. Consider purchasing an extra set, as strings can break over time.

While the ukulele is a very simple instrument that’s sure to bring joy to your life, it pays to be careful when deciding which manufacturer and model to choose. Experts advise that beyond looking for reviews that explicitly name the best ukulele for beginners, new players will generally do well by beginning with a ukulele in a size that fits their frame, and that doesn’t strain their budget – and then go on to invest in a high-quality instrument or even treat themselves to a custom ukulele as their skills progress. Whatever you do, we hope that you enjoy the process. Be sure to read our article about the top 10 websites for online ukulele lessons for beginners. Happy playing!

A special thanks!

The information in this article is based on reviews by top ukulele industry influencers, including:
Rachel Manke | Web | YouTube | Facebook | Twitter
Katie DeNure | Web | YouTubeTwitter
Sherrie Hoyer | Web | Facebook