Wait a minute, this is Guitar World, not Uke World, so why are we featuring a guide to the best ukuleles? Well, these inexpensive, charming and fun little instruments have captured the hearts of many players in recent years, and with how easy they are to pick up, it's no wonder they have become so popular.
Often thought of as a gateway instrument into playing the electric guitar or bass guitar, the humble uke is far more than that. There are ukuleles on the market that can easily cost the same as some high-end guitars. If you're interested in either starting to learn the ukulele or upgrading your existing uke, we can help.
This guide to the best ukuleles features some great options from Martin, Fender and Mahalo, with something to suit every taste and budget. We've included some in-depth buying advice at the end of this guide, so if you'd like to read it, click the link. If you'd rather get to the products, keep scrolling.
Best ukuleles: Our top picks
When it comes to the best ukulele, we have two top recommendations. For advanced players, or anyone looking to really commit to the instrument, the Martin S1 (opens in new tab) is a masterclass in ukulele construction. Its rigid build and wonderfully bright tone fills our little hearts with joy, making it hard to look beyond this as the best soprano ukulele on the market.
Of course, if you're new to the instrument, the Martin’s price tag could be a little prohibitive, so we’d happily suggest checking out the Mahalo MR1 (opens in new tab). There’s a reason why Mahalo make the world’s bestselling uke, and that’s down to the way it finds the perfect balance between accessibility and performance. The MR1 doesn’t cost the earth yet offers the perfect platform on which to begin your ukulele journey.
Best ukuleles: Product guide & reviews
It’s hard to look past the Mahalo MR1 as the best ukulele for beginners. As a complete package, including the ukulele and a handy carry bag, this tiny treat offers superb value. Simple enough to pick up and play, yet with more than a few neat touches of its own, the MR1 is the perfect starter uke for anybody of any age.
Available in a selection of bold colours, the Mahalo MR1 has to be worth your consideration. Bonus points awarded for the Aquila Nylgut strings it comes equipped with, which deliver a superb bright tone.
As a step up from the basic entry-level models, the Cordoba 15CM is a great choice. The 15CM boasts superb build quality, and the killer tonal combination of a mahogany body and neck with a rosewood fingerboard.
The 14.75” scale length of this concert model makes it slightly larger than a standard soprano, so it’s the ideal step-up for adult learners who’ve outgrown their first uke.
Acoustic guitar players will be more than familiar with the Martin brand, so we were understandably excited to see what their flagship soprano ukulele could offer. We were right to be excited, too. While it may cost as much as a mid-range electric, the Martin S1 delivers tones, projection and build quality a million miles away from what people may think a uke is capable of.
Sure, with a price tag like that it’s only likely to appeal to professionals or those with deep pockets, but in the Martin S1 you have a ukulele that will last you a lifetime.
Fender’s iconic Jazzmaster series has long been the choice of alternative acts, and with the Fender Fullerton Jazzmaster Uke you can get a small slice of the action too. This concert voiced uke features a superb choice of tonewoods for the body and neck, while a Fender-designed preamp makes it perfect for live performance through an amp.
Available in classic Jazzmaster colourways, the Fullerton is a great option for guitarists looking to branch out.
Baritone ukuleles provide a much rounder, deeper tone which works well for slower styles of music. With a slightly longer scale length and wider neck, they are great for adults particularly. The Lanikai ACST-B utilises acacia as a tonewood, which really brings out the depth of the sound, making for a more mellow tone than you’d perhaps associate with a ukulele.
We particularly loved the maple binding around the body, which is a nice touch.
The all-mahogany construction of a Gibson Les Paul has gone down in history, so credit to Epiphone for offering ukulele players the chance to get in on the action. The Epiphone Les Paul Ukulele is an electro-acoustic tenor voiced ukulele, where the all mahogany body and neck really bring out the potential warmth that 17” scale length can deliver.
The onboard undersaddle electronics offer great amplified tones, while nice touches like the Les Paul shaped pickguard and headstock signature add up to a sweet little piece of rock history.
Tenor ukuleles offer a bridge between soprano, at the small end, and baritones, which are perhaps deemed more specialist. The Cordoba 25T is a sound example of a well-made, wonderfully voiced tenor uke for the more serious player.
The acacia wood brings out the best of the tone, while the active electronics ensure it sounds as good plugged in as it does acoustically.
Just when you thought there couldn’t be any more sub-variants of such a simple instrument, enter the guitalele. Thankfully, the experience of playing the Yamaha GL1 isn’t as ridiculous as the name suggests; it’s great fun. We loved playing all those tunes we know on the guitar, only at a much higher pitch.
The well-chosen hardwoods mean it sounds bright and punchy, and the included gigbag make it one of the most portable instruments around.
Best ukuleles: Buying advice
How do I know what size ukulele to buy?
The ukulele comes in many different shapes and sizes. This significantly affects the tone they produce and the style of music you’d use them for. A soprano, for example, is the typical ‘small’ ukulele you’ll see in classrooms. These usually have 12-15 frets and run around 21” long, and are perfect for young players or people who want a very compact instrument.
Above that, in size order, you have a concert uke. These are arguably the most popular and are typically what most people think of when they picture a ukulele. So if you are in doubt about which to choose, you’re pretty safe with the concert size. Next up is the Tenor uke, which usually comes in around 26 inches - versus the concert's 23 inches. These tend to be more comfortable for taller players, so if you feel like the concert is too cramped, this is the way to go.
Lastly, we have the baritone. These are usually around 30 inches and produces a low, deep tone, perfect for playing with other, smaller ukuleles. However, it’s also worth noting that the baritone is tuned slightly differently to the other “standard” ukes - D/G/B/E - and therefore can be tricky to play at first if you are used to the regular ukulele chord shapes.
How much do ukuleles usually cost?
Like guitars - or any other musical instrument for that matter - Ukuleles come in a variety of different price points. From basic plastic ukes that don’t cost much more than a take-away coffee, to artisan handcrafted instruments that cost thousands.
In terms of how much you should spend, it really boils down to the intent. For very young kids, it’s best to go for a basic $/£30 plastic uke and see if they take to it. Also, if they decide to throw it across the room or drop it, it won’t splinter.
For the more serious beginner player, then around the $/£100 mark is usually a safe bet. This price point allows you to get a well-crafted instrument and is more than serviceable to learn on. For the professional player, you’re looking at spending at least the $/£300 mark.
Is ukulele easier than guitar?
The Ukulele is relatively straightforward to learn and, in fact, a great gateway instrument to get younger kids into other stringed instruments - such as electric guitar, acoustic guitar, or even bass. This is because they will learn the basics of how to fret a note, how to play chords, and how to strum.
What makes the uke easier to play, than say the guitar, is that the reduced amount of strings - 4 instead of 6 - means chords are less complex, while the open tuning means some of these chords only use one finger!
That’s not to say this is just an instrument for kids - far from it. It’s an excellent instrument for established guitar players to experiment with and discover new sounds and sonic possibilities. Look at Eddie Vedder - he discovered the joys of the humble uke and wrote an entire album with one.
Ukulele wood choices
Just like acoustic guitars, the type of wood used on a ukulele drastically affects the sound it produces. You are likely to find a uke made of almost any wood you can think of, with a vast array of exotic options out there, from mahogany to koa, spalted maple to rosewood.
A lot of uke manufacturers favor the darker sound of mahogany - especially on soprano-sized instruments - as the more mellow sound of this gorgeous rich hardwood helps balance the bright nature of the small ukulele. In contrast, an all maple instrument will result in a strong attack and a very bright tone - perfect if you are playing with other instruments such as an acoustic guitar.
As to which wood type is best for you, it really comes down to personal preference. Just like choosing any instrument, try some out - or watch some YouTube videos - and see which sound appeals to you the most.
How do you tune a ukulele?
There are many different ways to tune your ukulele, but the most widely used tuning is G, C, E, A. If you are used to the guitar - or any other stringed instrument for that matter - you may find the placement of the high G a little odd, but don’t worry you soon get used to it. This practice of having the high notes as the two outside strings of the instrument is known as re-entrant tuning.
For those with a baritone uke, the most common tuning would be D, G, B, E - a familiar sequence of notes for many guitar players, as it’s the first four strings of their six-string.
The simplest way to tune the uke is actually with a clip-on guitar tuner. All you need to do is attach this handy device to the headstock of the uke, pluck the string you want to tune, and the LED display will tell you if you are sharp or flat - it’s that easy and way more accurate than a set of pitch pipes.
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