This is Guitar World, so why a guide to the best ukuleles, you might ask? The older readers among us may hark back to school music lessons and shudder at the thought of learning the recorder or keyboard. Nowadays things are far more enjoyable, with many schools now turning to ukulele lessons instead. These inexpensive, charming, fun little stringed instruments are easy for young hands to tame, relatively simple to learn and can give beginners’ quick and satisfying results.
Of course, not everybody outgrows the uke. Far from it. There are ukuleles on the market now which can cost in the same region as some full-size 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, plus we've included some useful buying advice too.
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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 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. 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: Buying advice
Typically, ukuleles are classed in terms of their voicing. This affects their size, the tones 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. Above that, in size order, you have concert, tenor and baritone sizing, before we get to the less common bass and contrabass ukulele.
Baritone ukuleles are around the same sort of dimensions as a half-size guitar and, when fitted with steel strings, can make one heck of a noise in the right hands.
While most ukuleles come with four strings as standard, what can differ is the make-up of those strings. Commonly, a soprano ukulele will come equipped with a ‘high’ G string at the bottom, whereas ukuleles with re-entrant tuning are strung with a ‘low’ G string. This affects the voicing of chords, offering a deeper and darker sound which makes this method of tuning better suited to the larger bodied models.
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While ukuleles are relatively straightforward to learn on, there are still certain practical points to consider. For younger learners, a simple soprano uke will be perfect, however older players – or those with larger hands – may find the fretboard cramped. As such, it may be wiser to explore larger sized ukuleles if this is the case.
If you’re playing in a band, this may also have an impact on your decision. A soprano may sound too thin, whereas a baritone may sit more naturally with your chosen style or genre. Here we’ve rounded up a selection of the best ukuleles available today, with everything from starter sopranos to brilliant baritones.
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Best ukuleles: Full round-up & 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.
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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.
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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.