Best Starter Uke?

I certainly screwed up with my first ukulele purchase. I went in to my local music shop, picked up the only ukulele they sold and bought it without even trying it out. It was a no-name, badly-made hunk of junk. I hated playing it and it spent most of its time under a desk breeding a small but genetically diverse warren of dust bunnies. It wasn’t until years later, after buying a decent ukulele, that I really got into playing. I entirely blame that decision for the fact that I am not Jake Shimabukuro. To help you avoid that fate, here are a few tips.

If you’re just looking for a quick ukulele recommendation these two are good starters: Lanikai LU-21 and the Kala KA-S.

Which Size?

There are four main sizes of ukulele. In order of increasing size they are: soprano, concert, tenor and baritone.

As a beginner, I’d steer you away from the baritone. They’re tuned differently from the others and it’s much harder to find tabs, tutorials etc.

Of the other sizes, soprano is the traditional ukulele size and the one most often used by beginners. With it being the smallest, there’s less stretching for notes. They also tend to be the cheapest. Overall, I’d recommend starting with a soprano.

Concert and tenor sizes will give you more room to maneuver on the fretboard. Tenor is the size used by most professional players these days. Both concert and tenor will work well for new ukers. You play them exactly the same as

How Much to Spend?

You can get some very cheap ukuleles but I’d recommend spending at least $60. If you buy a very cheap ukulele, it’s very likely to have problems which can put you off playing.

Equally, I wouldn’t recommend blowing hundreds and hundreds on your first uke. Save up for when you’ve played a while and have a better idea of what you want.

Which Model?

There’s a really good selection of ukuleles for beginners these days. There are also a few duds. For your first uke, I’d recommend steering away from anything too crazily shaped or highly decorated.

Two good options for beginners are the Lanikai LU-21 and the Kala KA-S.

127 Comments

  1. k2panman April 28th, 2013 11:09 pm

    I just ordered my first ukulele – I have a Lanikai LKP-T package on it’s way. This is a Tenor, comes with a soft case, book and electronic tuner for $160 (Musicians Friend). I bought it because 1 – this website said Lanikai is “probably the best ukulele for beginners”, 2 – it is made of Koa wood (I have some things made from Koa I got in Hawai’i – absolutely beautiful wood) , 3- it has what sound like good tuners – being they went to the trouble to gold plate them 4- it comes with Aquila strings, 5- it has abalone trim – makes it really pretty. I’m a wannabe musician, that is, I am not very good, but I’d like to find the time to play more. I own several electronic keyboards and I build and tune steel drums. As the steel drum or the key boards are not very portable, I thought the ukulele would be easier to find time to play, and it sure looks like a fun instrument.

  2. Marcus June 6th, 2013 8:53 am

    I played guitar quite pathetically years ago. Now as an oldster, and having drooled over Jake, I have fallen in love with the ukulele. I followed advice on this site, and bought a Lanikai LU 21 Soprano for my first uke. It’s a bit small for my hands, so I swapped my guitar for a Lanikai LU 21 Tenor. MUCH more comfortable, abd mellow tone, but ut buzzes. Not just my fat fingers – it buzzes for others.

    I hunted around online and eBay here in Australia, and found a spruce-topped mahogany tenor at a good price. A Chinese uke, I bet. The difference for my big hand and broad fingers between the Sop and the Tenor is marked – MUCH easier for my fat fingers to play the tenors. I have one standard stringing, and the other with low G. LOVE the Low G. My preferred uke to sing to. Even begun composing songs for singing again

    I know I want something better, but I need to play much more, solo and at a local Uke Club – Uke Choir!!!

    I recommend trying both sizes, then save up to buy a really good uke of your fave size after a year or so. That’s my plan, anyway.

  3. Kim Adelaine June 7th, 2013 5:13 pm

    I played guitar for a year already and I kinda feel bored.
    I want something new and easy to play
    so I’m planning to buy a uke soon.

    Should I get a tenor or soprano ukulele?
    And which brand is a good choice?
    Do u guys have any advice or recommendations to give?

    Please help me in choosing my first uke to be
    since I don’t have any idea at all.

  4. Adrian July 30th, 2013 6:55 pm

    I have an aqua ukulele, to me it sounds normal, but is a colored ukulele worse than a regular wood one?

  5. Dave Vasser September 21st, 2013 10:27 am

    I have 4 entry level type ukes. They are in order of my cost high to low:
    1. Lanikai LU-21TE Tenor Electric (Low G setup)
    2. Lanikai LU-21CE Concert Electric (standard tuning)
    3. Kohala KP-T Kanikapila Tenor (standard tuning)
    4. Makala Kala Makala MK-SD Dolphin Soprano (Standard tuning)
    The Makala Dolphin is the one I play every single day. I would never have thought I’d like a little soprano uke so much. Maybe someday I’ll get a high end soprano made of solid koa, but the Dolphin is a blast and I love it to death. I paid $20 for it used at a consignment store. If it gets driven over by a bus, I’m out $20. No biggie. It has me wanting to try a Kala as it is the budget Kala.
    The Kohala is the worst I have. I bought the “Uke from Hades” online as a STUPID DEAL OF THE DAY at Musicians Friend. I tuned it, played a few chords, checked intonation, put it back in the box and it will never be played by me again. Santa will take it some unfortunate needy kid. It really is so bad that I will never so much as TOUCH anything with Kohala on the headstock again. Pity because this is a beautiful looking tenor ukulele that should sound like the Lanikai but sounds terrible and has the worst setup I ever saw.. Honestly I saw Silvertone guitars at Sears in 1965 with better setups. It sounds so pitiful it isn’t worth spending $75 for a setup since no matter how easy it plays it is still going to sound like “the Uke From Hades.”
    The two Lanikai LU models I have are good ukes, but came from a dealer that actually sets up the ukes they sell. They are laminate ukes and even though they come with Aquila strings they just are not as much fun to play as the Dolphin! So they haven’t been played at all since I got the Dolphin a month ago.
    The setup on the second hand Dolphin was nearly perfect and intonation is the best of the 4 ukes I have right now being within 2 cents to about the 10th fret. I can’t tell for sure, but I think it is the factory setup! This uke was not used much if at all. The Dolphin chords easy and there is NOTHING wrong with the black nylon GHS Hawaiian strings on it. I like them on this uke and bought spare sets of the same strings because I think that is part of the reason it intonates so well and sounds so sweet and happy. The Dolphin has polycarbonate back and sides with a laminate agathis wood top, which is very similar to the Fluke uke construction method. No it is NOT a Fluke but it sounds great to me compared to the ukes I have that cost 3 to 5 times as much. If the Dolphin was lost or stolen or broken I’d buy another one immediately. Can’t say the same about the others I have at all. Most uke shops don’t keep Dolphins in stock and now I know why.
    If I had the chance to rewind and begin again, I’d start with the Dolphin first. I probably wouldn’t need any of the other ones. I had the delusion of becoming a uke master at one time. I have since realized that isn’t happening I’ll settle for being a killer electric bassist in public and a uke player for fun with family and friends who tend to be more forgiving than paying customers.
    There is a LOT to be said for learning from my expensive mistakes!
    Mistake 1. Don’t buy more uke than you need. For example, I really didn’t need two electric ukes. The dealer sold me on their versatility. Being an electric bassist it made sense at the time but was the wrong choice.
    Mistake 2. Don’t buy a uke without playing it first. Don’t buy one ONLINE as they are almost never even inspected by the seller, much less setup! Best to buy from a dealer that does a setup on them because 99 out of 100 ukes don’t play to their potential out of the box, especially ones costing under $1000. They all need some work, the trick is finding one that needs the least work.
    Mistake 3. FIND WHAT WORKS FOR YOU, NOT FOR SOMEONE ELSE! I listened to everyone who said, “One must have Aquila strings,” or people who said, “a soprano is too small but makes a great children’s instrument.” I’ve found I am really enjoying the GHS Hawaiian nylons.. I also found the soprano Dolphin is more fun to play than any of the others I’ve had. SO FIND WHAT WORKS FOR YOU! I’ve played over 20 different ukes in the past year. Out of all of them up to $300 I prefer the Dolphin and wish I’d bought it first but no dealer I visited had one, or at least had one on display. Your mileage may vary. So get out there and try some! The Dolphin may not be right for you, but when you find what is right for you, YOU’LL KNOW IT IMMEDIATELY! It could be any size, make or tuning setup. Just TRY AS MANY AS POSSIBLE! If you are not in a situation to try before you buy, contact a reputable store that sets up and sells ukes online or by phone. Someone selling 100 ukes at a time on eBay ain’t where you need to be shopping!

  6. Linda Hunt October 2nd, 2013 1:47 am

    Any information to compare Mitchell to Diamond Head baritone ukuleles?

  7. Sarah October 2nd, 2013 3:11 pm

    Can anyone give me a bit of advice please – My 14year old Daughter used to play Guitar then taught herself the ukelele 2months ago and has played it for hours every day since.Its her birthday next week and we want to get her a ‘proper’ ukelele,as the one she has been playing has worn out – it was only a very cheap generic ebay 19.99 buy and shes unable to bear the sound any longer!. I have three in mind – the Lanikai LU-21, The Kala KA-S or one I have been offered as a solid mahogany- the Kala KA-SMHS. Would appreciate any input 🙂 Thanks

  8. Rosalie October 5th, 2013 8:05 pm

    Hi, I’m a 57 year old and picked up the Ukelele about 18months ago. I love it. My first Uke is a concert Greg Bennett design/ It’s a beautiful Uke and sounds lovely without being too pricey – NZ$75. Then a while back I bought a 2nd one for fun, and yes, I admit, because it was ‘cute’ and pretty – AND I thought my granddaughter could learn on it as well as it is smaller. It is a Makala, teal blue in colour. I find it sounds good anyway – it was only NZ $45 at the music shop and just has the typical uke sound, not as nice as the concert but still a fun little uke to play. I learned to play with a small group of friends and now alternate between finding easy Uke songs on Google and working out the chords myself for all of my old favourite songs. Have to admit I mostly play in C chord or F but I am loving it.

  9. Margaret October 20th, 2013 9:24 am

    I will be 70 end of October and I want a ukulele for my birthday what the best one to go for not expensive but a nice tune out of it Thank you Margaret

  10. Kent November 1st, 2013 8:47 pm

    Wondering – Any difference in sound between the Pineapple style and guitar style?

  11. Steve Gent November 13th, 2013 8:09 pm

    I have two ukes, a Lanikai LU 21T ( tenor) which I love. Bought from e-bay at a reasonable price. It plays pretty well, and stays in tune pretty well. I haven’t changed the strings yet, but have some Aquilas. I have found that he frets are not all level, the nut is a bit high, making fretting at the top of the neck a bit tiresome, and for me the saddle is a bit high. I have ben taking lessons in guitar maintenance and set up, and was told by my teacher that the adjustable bridge and compensated nut set up on the new LUTU models is totally unecessary. Compensation is only needed on steel strings, as they stretch differentially with the wound strings stretching more, hence the compensation. So save your money and get the old model. My other uke is a very cheap Hola soprano, that I bought for my wife. It took 2 days to get used to my house, now it tunes pretty well, but does not stay in tune for long. I guess it needs better strings. For me the Lanikai is a good beginners instrument, and the tenor is more comfortable than the soprano, but that is an individual thing. So if it’s your first best to try before you buy. The Guitar Center have free uke lessons, where you can borrow a uke. So check them out. I am addicted to my uke now. For the first time I was able to quickly learn c=some chords and play some songs.

  12. Brenda December 6th, 2013 2:20 pm

    This info has been very helpful. Not musical,but want to be! My daughter and I both want to learn to play the uke.

    From this info, I’ve gathered the following…is this on base?

    *I think the concert size might sound the best and encourage us as beginners.
    *Ive seen several brands listed: Kala, Makala, Lanikai,
    *Ive seen Aquila strings listed
    *Clip on tuner.

    Am I on the right track before I buy something online?
    I want to buy something decent enough that we are encouraged to keep learning/playing
    Thanks for input everyone.
    Is it best to take lessons or try to learn online with a program?

  13. Rebecca December 29th, 2013 2:40 pm

    Hi guys,

    I’m in Japan and looking to get a Ukelele. The Lanikai and Kala models are pretty pricey over here, and I was just wondering if anyone can recommend an alternative?

  14. kiboy January 10th, 2014 9:56 pm

    I bought two Lanikai a few years ago. The LU21T and the LU21S and both of them sound great. I got started but had no one to play with so didn’t play much and put them away. I’m over 60 by the way. Anyway I met someone last year and gave her one for Xmas and we have both taken off playing together and this time I’m really into it. These starter Uke’s are wonderful little instruments and I highly recommend them.

    However I just ordered a Pono solid wood from a company in Hawaii and the place sets them up for you (it takes an extra few days go get it) to make sure they play perfect. They also have a little clip on their web site so you can hear them played and they do the set up even with $70 ukes. I’m pretty excited but really the fun is in playing any decent instrument with someone else who loves to play. The Lanikai are absolutely good enough so you would never need another. Get at it and good luck.

  15. Digal February 16th, 2014 7:03 am

    I am over 40 now…trying to learn uke as I used to like guitars.. But found that uke is easier to pick up.

    I intend to get a concert size of either leho or hulala. Any idea are these 2 brands good? I really like their design.

  16. Joni June 3rd, 2014 5:52 am

    I am looking to purchase a Ukulele for my 15 yr old son. No one in my immediate family plays an instrument (although I am related to Rusty Young, for you music buffs). I understand purchasing the Soprano for a beginner is best for a beginner. I also see the recommendation for the Lanikai LU-21 & Kala KA~S. I came across a Kala KA 15S, but have NO IDEA of the difference. Is there any further advice anyone can offer in my search.
    Thank you

  17. Greg August 15th, 2014 4:57 pm

    We were in Kauai and bought a Kamoa E3-P (Pineapple) at their store in Kaloa. Good quality for the price and the sound is wonderful.

  18. Lior September 29th, 2014 5:16 am

    I bought my first uke half a year ago. I bought the Gretsch Mahogany Concert G9110 online, after listening to several ukes played on Youtube. I absolutely love this uke. It sounds fantastic, and is really comfortable and fun to play. It also stay in tune very well. I would recommend it to anyone as a great beginners uke.

  19. Bim December 23rd, 2014 1:32 pm

    Wow. I’ve been reading comments for two days! Great info and comments. I’ve been playing guitar all my life (not that good though). Also played uke in grade school but never again after I broke it. I bought a Kala KA-15S a few days ago online, it hasn’t arrive yet. It wasn’t advisable but I had to do it. Can’t find good ukes where I am. I’m only confident in buying it online because I may have acquired some skills to set it up properly. I only wish that it was made “properly” without “additional” defects. If everything is solid when it arrives I couldn’t ask for more than that.

  20. Charlene December 31st, 2014 3:15 am

    I am an elementary music teacher and have just received a grant to purchase ukuleles for my classroom. A local merchant has recommended Eddy Finn. I realize this is a relative newcomer and I haven’t been able to get much information other than his word and their website. I need to get the best “bang for the buck” that will stand up to 9 and 10 year olds. I will be learning along with my students. Recommendations for teaching materials / sites will also be appreciated.

  21. cheke March 14th, 2015 7:48 pm

    First ukulele Lag U700ce, sow when it will arive i have something worth to learn and play and enjoy. Just playing 1.5 year guitar. Time to learn more now!

  22. Kate May 30th, 2015 7:17 pm

    So, I am 14 years old looking to buy a ukulele. My parents are letting me get one for a graduation gift. My problem is I don’t know which one to get. My parents said it should be around or lower than $150. Please help me with some choices of a good concert uke. 🙂
    Thanks,
    Kate

  23. Frances June 12th, 2015 10:49 pm

    A beginner, I am looking at getting either a second-hand Evergreen soprano (for which make I can’t find any specific references online), versus a new cheapie Denver from the local Long & McQuade store. Any recommendations?

  24. Dan June 15th, 2015 10:17 am

    I have 4 ukes and just purchased a 5th. I have a Monterey soprano my first bought to give it a go with no knowledge of different sizes or anything. terrible tone and way to small fret spacing for my fat fingers. great as a child’s first entry. on my first lesson and learning about the different sizes I bought a Makala concert uke. I have since changed to low g wound Aquila strings and it still sounds great and would recommend as a learners affordable. I have since bought an epiphone les paul concert uke. Looks great, action is fantastic. Have tried several strings. Aquila Nygut high g and wound low g and Aquila red strings. The red were the worst. The uke is quiet but shines when plugged in but found it didn’t amplify very well on the E and A strings. Also have a Ka tenor Japanese made Ovation look alike with epoxy back. Sounds fantastic as the small sound holes are closer to the neck where I strum. Epoxy back is slippery on lap or chest when playing but sounds fantastic and cheap. Just bought a Lanikai 8 string LUOK8. cant wait for the new arrival.

  25. John September 21st, 2015 9:59 pm

    picked up a kala soprano and for the money its great and I’m happy with it.had a bad experience with a mainland that i sent back due to questionable construction and got disappointing service so my next uke is going to be from ohana.

  26. *** February 7th, 2016 7:54 am

    I started playing the soprano ukulele and I bought an octopus soprano ukulele (£20.00) it has been great but I wanted an update (as I knew that I wanted to play this instrument seriously )so I went to jg Windows and found a Brunswick bu4s for £54.99 it is great and I can’t fault I don’t even think that I will ever need to upgrade again but I am still deciding what to do with the old octopus soprano. please give me a hand and tell me what you think I should do with the octopus soprano

  27. Linda May 12th, 2016 6:33 pm

    I am looking for my first ukulele…I practiced on a tiny one that was a souvenir type, and I liked it a lot til one of the tuners stripped out. Now I am looking for another, and need one to fit my hands…on the little one I could barely fit two fingers in the same fret area. I have hands that are a woman’s size small. Would a soprano be large enough? or should I go for a concert? I don’t want to have to stretch my fingers like crazy either.

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