Best Ukulele Reviews in 2020 – Complete Buyer’s Guide
Ukuleles aren’t just petite, lightweight guitars with a couple of strings short – they’re actually top-notch instruments for people who have never played any music in their life due to various reasons.
Uke are quite light, very playable, and they don’t have a long learning curve, so if you’ve decided that you want to give them a go, check out some of the best models you can sport in the 2020 market. This stuff is perfect is you already played acoustic guitars before.
We’ll cover a variety of ukulele sizes, check out what a concert uke is all about, see what makes this instrument sound good, how many frets it has, cover the build quality, and see what makes the best uke for you. We’ll do our best to give you a good image of this field. Dig in!
In this article, we’re going to review the following ukuleles:
- Martin T1K Tenor Ukulele
- Soprano Ukulele Beginner Mahogany 21 Inch Hawaiian Uke
- Ukulele Mahogany Soprano Acoustic
- Fender Zuma Concert Ukulele
- Kala Ukulele Soprano Starter Kit
Our Top Picks for best ukuleles in 2020
The best ukulele rundown starts with the almighty Martin. This is easily one of the larger acoustic guitar and ukulele brands, which is just one of the many reasons why we recommend that you give T1K Tenor Ukulele a shot.
The T1K tenor ukulele features a full Koa build, and that’s what makes it so exquisite. Koa ukuleles are a rare find, and T1K features, top, back, and sides made from it. On top of that, it comes supplied with a very playable Morado fingerboard, a decent 17-inch scale length and 20 moderately-sized frets.
In terms of sonic performance, the Martin T1K sounds full, and very loud. On top of that, it’s incredibly durable and quite light.
We recommend T1K as a pick in the ukulele for beginners category. However, it is also one of the best picks for the ukulele players who have had some experienced with stringed instruments. It’s a great tenor ukulele with solid wood construction and a good sound.
The Kmise Soprano beginners ukulele set is everything you will ever need to rock out to your favourite tunes and spice up your uke game to the best level. Basically, this is a bundle comprised of a quality mahogany-made ukulele and a variety of very useful ukulele accessories. Possibly the best ukulele in this category.
This quality ukulele features an unfinished mahogany body and a Soprano-style size. Even if it didn’t come with complementary features and gadgets we would still recommend it to beginners due to its lightweight build and very playable fingerboard with light frets.
Speaking of soprano ukulele accessories, you will receive a padded gig bag, a ukulele strap, a chromatic tuner, Kmise’s How To play Ukulele online lessons, and a set of extra strings. To top it all, it even comes at a very approachable price and boasts an unparalleled value in comparison to similarly priced (budget) models
If you’re searching for a good, affordable ukulele set to buy for your kid, this is a nice choice in our humble opinion.
Much like our previous pick, the Vangoa’s Mahogany soprano ukulele is a bundle. However, that’s pretty much all these two models have in common. It sounds absolutely amazing, it’s fairly light for a Soprano ukulele, and it excels in fields of playability.
Vangoa’s model is an acoustic Guita-lele, sporting a Soprano size and a full mahogany build. It’s quite durable and very easy to play, although you’ll find most value for it if you have had at least some experience with stringed instruments. The sound is solid and precise, on par with Kala and Cordoba models.
Vangoa’s ukulele bundle features a Soprano padded gig bag, a ukulele strap, a chromatic tuner, a couple of picks, and a set of replacement nylon strings. The build quality is on high level, on par with concert size soprano instruments.
Most people know that Fender is one of the biggest, if not ‘the’ biggest name in the guitar world, having decades of success and hundreds of revolutionary designs under their belt. Also, plenty of ‘best of’ list appearances, including the ukulele domain. What most people never realized is that Fender also makes premium quality ukuleles, including this concert uke.
Now, Zuma is a great example of Fender’s craftsmanship. This ukulele is built like a brick house, yet it still sounds so full and gentle. It boasts plenty of overtones and an awesome sustain atop superb playability and durability. Aesthetics wise, Zuma is available in a variety of finish styles. Available options include for purchase include Koa, Natural, Lake Placid Blue, Shell Pink, Candy Apple Red, and Burgundy Mist.
The fingerboard is comfortable, making this a good choice for the list of best ukuleles for beginners. A great concert ukulele that can beat some of the cool Kala or Cordoba models, a great offer at this price. And speaking of Kala, we’re about to review one of their soprano models.
We’ll round up out best ukulele rundown with this fella. Kala is the go-to brand when you’re looking for a ukulele for beginners, and their Soprano starter kit has everything you need to start rocking out straight out of the box.
This Kala kit features a convenient little chromatic tuner, a polishing cloth, a gig bag, free online lessons, a quick-start guide, good frets, and a gratis tuning application.
Obviously, since this is a starter kit, the ukulele isn’t exactly anything special in terms of sonic performance or durability. It won’t break given proper maintenance and care, but it’s substantially flimsier than most models we’ve covered so far. This might be apparent from just looking at the uke’s image – it is no high-end Cordoba, but it’s great in this value for money department.
Sound wise, the Kala is fairly decent at best. However, it packs a huge value for the cash since it comes at an affordable price and because it’s laden with various convenient ukulele accessories. For this price, the build quality is quite solid and this is a good offer overall.
What to look for when buying a ukulele?
Before you tune the string of your newly-purchased instrument, you should also be aware of what makes a good uke regardless of the brand and the price. So we’ll dedicate a section here to inform you on what to look for in this instrument in general. Let’s see what you should learn here.
The first and last thing most people are concerned with is the price tag of any given item. How much we can spend determines the price point categories we allow ourselves to browse, but that shouldn’t really be the case when you’re looking to buy a ukulele.
Namely, ukuleles are generally not that expensive. This means that you’ll usually find that models are different from one another in increments of $10 to $20. However, these subtle differences mean quite a lot sometimes, especially when searching for the best of the best.
A ‘budget’ ukulele is a uke below $50. Some would argue that the cheapest ukuleles are actually toys, and that wouldn’t be too far away from the truth. There’s just so much that a low-cost uke can provide for you, but they’re still considered as instruments. They’re perfect for beginners or as gifts for the festive season. The build quality is usually not the best either.
Next up is the ‘middle price point category’. It’s the broadest and biggest range of prices, housing the bulk of best ukulele models. Here you will be able to find everything and anything from $50 to $500, which means that you’ll need a bit of luck and skill to determine which model actually has some real value to its name. You can find some solid wood models here as well, and even a decent soprano concert tenor.
The ‘boutique’ price range is practically reserved for professionals and musician veterans seeking not just a quality ukulele, but the best sound out there. Ukuleles can cost way more than $1,000 and are generally manufactured by the biggest ukulele brands, such as Kala, Luna, Lohanu, Donner, and Martin.
Apart from ‘types’ of ukuleles, there are also different ukulele categories, such as Banjo Ukuleles, Guitar Ukuleles, Bass ukuleles, semi-acoustic ukes, electric ukuleles, concert ukuleles, and such. The best ukulele type can be found in each of these categories, so let’s move on.
A ‘standard’ ukulele is the traditional, unmodified uke. This ‘original’ design was borrowed from all other ukulele categories and mixed with other stringed-instrument designs, such as banjo, electric guitar, bass, and such.
The banjo ukulele is a mixture of a banjo guitar and a standard ukulele. It is tuned in the Uke standard tuning (D, G, B, and E).
There are numerous differences between standard and banjo models in virtually every aspect of performance. First, and most notably, a banjo ukulele has a ‘Banjo’ (round) body. They’re also commonly outfitted with nylon strings.
The most notable difference between these two instrument categories is that banjo-leles sound substantially louder. A big drawback of banjo-leles is that they have little to no sustain. Furthermore, this type of design cuts back on the higher end frequencies and compensate for it with more presence in the middle and lower sections of the soundstage.
Oddly enough, Banjo ukuleles were invented way back in the 20’s, and a handful of brands still make them to this day.
It’s difficult to be sure whether a guitar ukulele is more a ‘guitar’ or a ‘ukulele’. We could say it’s a six-stringed uke or a down-scaled guitar, both of which would be perfectly accurate. A guitar ukulele is typically a Baritone in its nature, which also means that they’re huge and quite unwieldy for beginners.
Since guitar ukes have an additional two strings, they can’t be tuned in to the standard ukulele tuning. Rather, the tuning was geared towards the guitar tuning, only a semi-tone up (A, D, G, C, E, and A).
Since guitar ukuleles come supplied with a set of nylon strings – maybe crafted by Aquila – some would argue that they resemble classic guitars more than they do acoustic ones. Good choice for guitarists looking to become ukulele players.
Even standard ukuleles have a lot in common with traditional basses – they have four strings and have a thump-y sound with a vibrant low-end. However, some people didn’t think that ukuleles were ‘deep’ enough hence bass ukuleles were born.
Much like guitar ukuleles, bass ukuleles are basically bass hardware shoved into a Baritone uke. Now, in contrast to guitar ukuleles, bass ukes are actually tuned in the standard bass tuning (E, A, D, and G).
The main difference between bass ukes and actual bass guitars is the shorter scale length. This also means that bass ukes are perfect for beginner bass players who are simply looking to become more familiar with the concept of the instrument rather than the instrument itself.
Acoustic-electric (semi-acoustic) ukulele
Semi acoustic ukuleles are basically ukes outfitted with electronic pickups (one or two). This little accessory allows you to plug in your ukulele into an amplification device in order to modify its tone, sound and volume.
There aren’t many differences between standard and semi-acoustic ukuleles other than the addition of the pickup feature.
Electric ukuleles are much different from semi-acoustic ones in basically every aspect. They feature a completely different body, they’re made of different materials, and they’re often outfitted with unique hardware to complement the exquisite materials used in the manufacturing process.
Electric ukuleles are down-scaled electric guitars and feature all of the electric guitar parts, such as the saddle, the nut, special tuning heads, pickups, and built-in volume controls.
Your skill level will have a lot to do with your ukulele choice. There are models which were specifically built for beginners, which obviously have little or no actual value to professionals, and vice versa.
Beginners should go with ‘beginner bundles’ as you’ll often find plenty of useful accessories in them, such as straps, gig bags, picks, and replacement strings. These come from various brands Kala, Cordoba, and more. Obviously, professionals already have all of these and should opt for more expensive ‘standalone’ ukuleles from popular brands, such as Martin or Kala. Needless to say, every skill level has its own best ukulele.
The material from which a ukulele is built plays a key role in its performance. It also affects the image of the specific model and brand. Namely, each material type provides a different amount of durability, sounds differently, and weighs more or less in comparison to the next type of wood.
Generally speaking, you can make an ukulele model from pretty much anything, but some of the most reliable manufacturing materials are mahogany, redwood, cedar, Koa, maple, rosewood, and spruce.
Given that almost all of these materials can also be used to craft guitars, they’re commonly referred to as ‘tonewoods’. Let’s take a peek and see which tonewood provides which qualities (and drawbacks):
Let’s start off with Mahogany. Basically, this particular tonewood is the go-to for a variety of musical instruments due to various factors, including affordability, reliability, and decent level of durability. It’s ideally used for the neck, but there are numerous examples of ukuleles being made entirely out of mahogany.
For instance, Martin, which is one of the biggest names in the acoustic guitars world, popularized the use of mahogany in ukuleles, making models entirely from this single tone wood. One of the benefits of having an all-mahogany type ukulele is that you’ll get a lightweight body with a very accurate, focused sound.
This particular tone wood element is fairly sturdy while not weighing too much. For example, in comparison to rosewood it is substantially less dense while being way thicker in comparison to spruce or cedar.
Most mahogany based ukuleles have a very natural ‘unfinished’ look. It’s very easy to work with and add as many layers (finishes) as you want on top of it if you want to boost up its aesthetic performance.
The main downside of mahogany is that it’s right in the middle between ‘dark’ and ‘bright’ in terms of sound. This means that it has got the entire sound spectrum covered (meaning it doesn’t lack in lows, mids, or highs), but it often relies on other tonewoods to complement its sonic performance before it can get an identifiable sound signature.
Redwood is an obvious choice if you are looking for a well balanced ukulele. It looks pretty natural with a reddish tint (hence the name), it’s a bit heavier than average, and it sounds big and very recognizable.
Out of all the common tone woods, Redwood resembles cedar the most – it packs a detailed lower end register, has plenty of bass, and generates a plethora of overtones with each strum.
Now, in contrast to cedar, redwood actually does quite a good job in terms of having a well-rounded mid range. Its highs are quite okay, although you shouldn’t expect too much, as redwood has a very warm sound signature.
There are no real drawbacks to redwood aside from the fact that maybe only a handful of brands manufacture all-redwood ukuleles. This particular tone wood isn’t exactly cheap, and it often gets paired up with mahogany, maple, or spruce.
Cedar is almost as popular as mahogany, mainly because it’s almost exactly as affordable and light. This tonewood is very soft, it is remarkably easy to shape, mold, and work with, and one of its strongest points is the incredibly punchy low end.
Any ukulele featuring cedar top or body immediately receives a drastic boost in overtones, which is more than welcome for any studio or live musician.
Now, the thing that most people don’t really like about Cedar is that it looks awkwardly average. There’s nothing special about its outward appearance really, although the silver lining is that its natural state allows you to paint it or layer it several times over.
Cedar is very durable, although ukuleles made from it tend to weigh a bit more than usual. Its complex tone and innate ability to produce an array of overtones demands a delicate touch, so beginners usually shy away from it.
The Koa material is the ‘traditional’ or the ‘original’ ukulele tone wood material. Some of the first ukuleles ever made were built from this specific tone wood, as it was very easy to obtain it from the birthplace of ukulele – Hawaii.
Nowadays, Koa ukuleles are widely available, but since most manufacturers aren’t exactly based in such exotic locations, Koa ukes are quite expensive. The exotic image is still there, and so is the top-level sonic quality this material has to offer. Cordoba is one of the brands sporting this type of wood.
Koa sounds very, very identifiable. It doesn’t have plenty of overtones, but oddly enough, it packs a huge punch in terms of sustain and attack. The Koa material is dominant in the middle frequencies, fares pretty well as far as lows are concerned, but it needs an extra juice from other tone woods to make up for its somewhat weak highs.
Now, in terms of aesthetics and outlook, Koa is unique true to form. This tone wood is very dark and yellowish, although it would be a bit more fair to say that it’s closer to being ‘colourless’. Koa is very easy to work with, it doesn’t weigh as much, and its only drawback is that it’s practically only used for boutique level ukuleles.
Maple is typically used for jazz guitars due to its pristine, exquisite tonal clarity with minimal overtones. This might sound like a bad thing, but it’s absolutely perfect in the hands of a professional. Good stuff as far as the best ukulele subject.
One of the biggest pros about maple in general is that it allows the musician to completely control the tone. There will be nothing that can stop you from getting exactly what you want from a Maple-made ukulele, if you know exactly what you want, that is.
That also leads us to the Maple’s biggest flaw – you simply can’t rely on ‘accidental eureka’ moments. You can’t simply strum away until you’ve found the right pitch. Maple is very static and clean, which are just some of the reasons why mostly professionals opt for using instruments made from it.
On the brighter side, Maple looks very flamboyant and beautiful from an objective standpoint. Though it might not be as easy to work with as mahogany, it’s certainly one of the most rewarding tone woods out there.
Rosewood is one of the tone woods that are typically used to make guitar’s back & sides. It’s quite seldom used in the manufacturing of ukuleles, but those happy few that are made from it have a drastically different sound and outlook.
First and foremost, rosewood is famous for plenty of overtones, superb highs, and decent mids. One of the most typical combinations of tonewoods is Rosewood plus Cedar, you’ve probably seen that on a random ukulele image or video without even being aware of it.
Spruce is possibly one of the softest tone woods the nature has to offer, but that’s precisely the reason why it has the strongest highs and resonance. This tone wood is super loud, very warm, and offers a very full sound. Some call it the best choice for a soprano model.
Resembling the situation with rosewood, you won’t see a lot of ukuleles made from spruce exclusively. It’s primarily a guitar manufacturing component, although there are quite a few out there which feature a spruce top.
Depending on what you want to use ukulele for, there are certain things you should keep in consideration. Some people want to use ukuleles as a form of entertainment or a hobby, polish your beginner skills, others want to perform live, and, of course, ukuleles could also be used to spice up your overall tone in a studio for cleaner parts.
Types of Ukulele
There are numerous types of ukulele which are different from one another in terms of sound pitch, scale length, size, and weight. Some of the most common ukulele types are the baritone ukuleles, plastic ukuleles, travel ukuleles, uke basses, and, of course, electric ukuleles which are sometimes referred to as semi-acoustic ukes. What makes the best ukulele type? Well, that one is entirely up to you and your personal needs.
Ukulele accessories are basically odds and ends that make ukulele playing a lot more fun and substantially easier. We recommend that you check out uke straps, ukulele humidifiers, uke tuners, and ukulele amplifiers for semi-acoustic ukes.
The Final Word
Ukuleles are among the most rewarding instruments you could pick up – they sound great, they’re very light, perfectly suited for beginners, and they usually don’t cost a fortune.
Regardless of whether you want to gift a uke to a friend or if you want to start playing yourself, we encourage you to take a look at our top picks, but not before consulting with the buyer’s guide – you can find all the info you’re going to need to make the right choice there. We wish you good luck in finding the best ukulele for you.
We covered a lot of ground here, including the concert ukulele field, build quality, concert tenor and baritone, sound, Kala, Cordoba, and more. We hope you now have a good image of this field and feel more confident about getting your own uke. Thank you for your time, folks!