I get asked this question on a pretty frequent basis – in terms of ukulele for beginners, which one is the best choice? Well, there’s no easy answer for that. It depends on several different factors, but the best beginner ukulele depends on a few different factors. We can talk about the options and then you will at least have the information to make the best choice.
Your Budget for a best beginners ukulelebest beginners ukulele
Budget is often one of the primary factors in choosing your best starter ukulele. Oftentimes, the experienced players tend to tell you that you should plan on spending $150-200.00 for a decent beginners ukulele. Having said that, not everyone can afford that! Plus there’s the stuff you need with it – if you are not already a musician you will likely need a tuner, probably a case, and some books or some sort of lessons. All of that needs to be considered as well.
When I started doing my research I did see quite a few higher end beginner ukuleles, but truth be told the best ukulele for beginners isn’t necessarily the one that costs the most. On the flipside, the cheapest ones almost always will never give you the quality of sound and easy playability of a uke with good quality. So, we’ve got to balance that. I found myself that you can get pretty decent ukes for about $60-$75 all the way up to the $150-$200 price range. You really do not want to go with an off-brand ukulele in this instance, though, so I would warn you from buying a generic. Most of the major ukulele manufacturers have beginner models that are not quite so high-end, and those are going to be the ones you want to get, as opposed to an inexpensive uke made by a manufacturer that primarily makes inexpensive ukes.
Kala Learn To Play Ukulele Starter Kit
I found myself that you can get pretty decent ukes for about $60-$75 all the way up to the $150-$200 price range.
I say “the recipient” because I’ve received a lot of emails over the last year with questions from people wanting to buy a ukulele as a gift for someone else. So, the next thing we need to think about is who is going to be playing? Is this going to be a kids ukulele for a young child? Or perhaps a teenager that is getting serious about music? It could be for an experienced guitar player, or it could be for the adult dabbler like myself? Will the uke player be playing music for themselves or for an audience?
Generally speaking, the best ukulele for beginners is one that takes them into consideration. The older the recipient, the higher end you usually want to go. On the same token, the more experienced your recipient is as a musician, you also want to go a little higher end. Kids ukuleles are easy – buy a cheap Mahalo ukulele. They will have hours of fun plinking away on those things, and at around $25-50, you won’t break your bank. For a teenager, you probably want to go a little higher end, though, and get one of the budget models from some of the major manufacturers.
I myself am what I consider a “dabbler” and though while I’m no expert musician, I wanted to make sure I invested enough to give myself a true ukulele experience. There’s definitely no sense in getting one that’s made from the best most expensive materials and craftsmanship for someone like me, but at the very least I need to get one that will have enough quality to stand up and give me a true ukulele sound. (just for the record, I ended up with an Oscar Schmidt OU5, Concert size). For an experienced musician who wants to add the ukulele to their repertoire, a little higher end is usually desired (especially for a performance musician).
Kala MK Bundles
Kala MK Bundles
The Kala Makala MK-T is often said to be the premium beginner’s ukulele on the market. It is inexpensively priced, yet the sound quality is still fantastic.
This photo from ukulele manufacturer Kala shows the difference in sizes. Click on the image to view a bigger version.
Best beginners ukulele sizes
There are four ukulele sizes – Soprano, Concert, Tenor and Baritone (in order of smallest to largest).
The soprano uke is the smallest one, and is the “true” ukulele. It generally has a high sweet tone, and is also often the most inexpensive due to being the most common. It’s a popular size, but not one you would want to get for anyone who has bigger hands. I found that the soprano was just a wee bit uncomfortable for me, and I’m an average sized man. I did end up getting a concert sized ukulele, and I think I would be just as comfortable with a tenor. The concert ukuleles I found were a good compromise – still had that characteristic ukulele sound, but were just a tad bigger and easier to play.
There is another soprano (not pictured) that is called a “pineapple” ukulele. Pineapples have a very similar sound to a regular soprano but it has a more rounded shape, hence the name.
Tenor ukes are the next step – once again, just a tad bigger than the concert ukes, and still a little easier to play. Sometimes they can start to lose that sunny ukulele sound, but I noticed that also really varies between manufacturers. Once again, going with a budget model from a manufacturer that mainly makes the high-end ones will help with that. They have especially been popularized by famous musicians such as Israel Kamakawiwo’ole and James Hill.
The tenor is also one of the more common sized ukulele for beginners, I think because of the easy playability and they do still for the most part sound like a uke. Baritone ukes are the biggest size, and while they are fun to play they have often lost that “ukulele” sound and seem like a really small guitar. Baritones are available and can be a good addition to someone’s music room, but I found that they were not very common ukuleles for beginners.
Those three factors – budget, recipient and size are the main factors in making your decision. If you would like to see the reviews on the models I’ve tagged as good for beginners, click here – Beginner Ukulele. Many people will ask me what is my #1 recommendation for the best ukuleles for beginners. I don’t really have one that fits everyone, so when it comes down to it, here’s my best advice:
If you are shopping for a kid and it will just be a toy, cheap is fine. The nice thing about the cheap ukes is they usually come in lots of different colors and fun prints for kids or people who just want to mess around with a prop. Amazon has a zillion of them here. They even have one with Mr. Smiley, flower patterns, and all kinds of cool ukes.
If you are shopping for a teenager who is musically inclined but a ukulele beginner, you may not want to spend a few hundred dollars but you definitely want to go with one that is good enough quality to keep their interest and serve them well until they learn the instrument well. My main recommendation for this is the Kala Makala MK-T Starter pack – it comes with a case, tuner, and free video lessons all for about $100. You can’t beat that! Want to see my detailed review?
If you are a dabbler, all I can tell you is that take into consideration the size of your hands along with your budget. I think we dabblers would be okay with anything from the Kala Makala recommended above, all the way to the higher end ukes, depending on budget. I generally would not recommend spending more than a few hundred dollars, though, just in case you find yourself not playing as much as you thought you would. I myself ended up with an Oscar Schmidt ukulele and I have a lot of fun with mine. Remember, you can always upgrade!
For the experienced musician, or even anyone who has musical experience (especially guitar) I’d definitely go as high end as you can afford. Many uke players who become very passionate about the instrument have several, and so don’t think this will be the only one you will ever have. I know of some who have a $75 instrument, upgrade the strings and love it. I also have talked to others who have gotten a $600 custom series Lanikai. Generally speaking though, your average musician is going to be very happy with something mid-range, like the Oscar Schmidt OU28T or really any Lanikai Ukulele.
Buying a beginner ukulele doesn’t have to be intimidating! Just remember to consider who is going to play it, take into account your budget, and don’t go too cheap! My rule of thumb for pretty much any product, but especially with a ukulele for beginners, is to buy the budget models from the high end manufacturers. The best starter ukuleles will definitely be from these guys, and will have a good balance of maintaining quality while remaining affordable. A couple names here – they have great reputations in the industry – Oscar Schmidt (Washburn), Kala, Lanikai, Cordoba, Luna and also the major guitar manufacturers like Yamaha, Fender, etc. They have great manufacturing processes, tend to use better materials, and just in general take more care when building their ukes. The generic brands just can’t compete the experience and manufacturing quality, especially with a beginner ukulele.
As always, if you need any assistance or have any questions, I will be happy to answer any inquiries. You can reach me at ReviewsByRob AT gmail DOT com. I hope I helped you a little bit in deciding which would be the best beginner ukulele for you.
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