There’s no better time of the year than the holidays to start learning how to play ukulele.
It can be your year to learn where you start new traditions of making music and playing ukulele with family and friends.
When you’re a brand new beginner ukulele player, don’t get lost in the options and endless searching and scrolling on the internet. It can feel overwhelming to know what ukulele is right for you. Let’s keep it simple with these twelves ukulele to buy for beginners… for any budget!
Recommendations are broken up into four parts based on the four different ukulele sizes soprano, concert, tenor and baritone. For each size, I give you my top three picks based on my experience and students’ experiences. Don’t worry. I’ll include tips on what size is best for you and at the end of the post I’ll include some recommendations on other ukulele accessories like the best tuner, strings, and cases.
- Three Soprano Ukuleles For Beginners
- Three Concert Ukuleles For Beginners
- Three Tenor Ukuleles For Beginners
- Three Baritone Ukuleles For Beginners
- Essential Ukulele Accessories (Tuner, Strings, Strap)
And remember the most important thing is to:
Get a ukulele!
Don’t wait any longer to achieve your goal of learning to play ukulele.
Disclaimer: Each ukulele is a ukulele I have played or that thousands of students have recommended to me based on their own experience. Most of the ukuleles I have played myself. When you click the link and purchase the ukulele on Amazon, I receive a small commission.
A soprano ukulele is the most common ukulele.
It’s the smallest and has that bright classic ukulele sound that sounds best when strummed. Being the smallest it can normally be had for the lowest price. Those with large hands and fingers might not want a soprano ukulele because chord positions can be more difficult to maneuver.
Note: The terms “soprano”, “concert”, “tenor” and “baritone” don’t refer to the range of your singing voice. Any size ukulele can be played in any key or range by any person regardless of their singing voice.
1. Makala Dolphin Soprano Ukulele (< $50)
If you’re on a budget, then, there’s no better ukulele to buy as your first ukulele than the Makala Dolphin soprano ukulele.
For the price, you can’t beat the playability and tone of this ukulele that you can take anywhere without worrying about dinging it up. Take it to the beach, campfire or to school. Although made out of a composite plastic material, the Makala Dolphin has that classic bright, crisp ukulele sound.
At this price point, most ukuleles require you to retune the strings every 15 minutes. To make it easy on yourself to tune quickly, you’ll definitely want to pick up a Snark SN6 Clip-On Ukulele Tuner.
2. Lanikai LU-21 Soprano Ukulele (< $100)
The Lanikai LU-21 soprano ukulele might be for you if you prefer the idea of wood over plastic for your ukulele.
In my experience playing this ukulele, it has a nice warm even sound with good playability. Although it’s advertised as having a nato wood body and rosewood fretboard, most likely the wood is not solid but instead a laminate or ply. At the same time, the ukulele feels durable and strong in your hands.
If you plan to do solo ukulele playing, you might notice some intonation issues where notes sound out of tune past the fifth fret. Still though, the Lanikai LU-21 soprano ukulele sounds great and is a tremendous value for the price, especially if you’re first getting started with strumming.
3. Kala KA-SMHS Solid Mahogany Soprano Ukulele (< $250)
As a solid wood ukulele, the Kala KA-SMHS Solid Mahogany Soprano ukulele sounds better with age.
Solid mahogany is known for its balanced, even sound with clear articulation. Some describe mahogany as having a woody and warm sound.
Solid wood ukuleles command a higher price but have a more complex, fuller and louder sound than a plastic or laminate wood ukulele. It’s been my experience that a solid wood ukulele will “open up” with age which makes playing these instruments a joy for years to come.
In addition, at this price point, you’ll notice improved intonation, tuning and overall playability. You can also get this solid mahogany ukulele in a concert size too.
A concert ukulele is the next size up from a soprano.
As the size gets bigger, the sound of the ukulele becomes warmer and fuller, while still maintaining that bright, crisp ukulele sound. Those with larger hands and fingers might find the concert to have more room, although they might appreciate the room of a tenor or baritone more.
4. Donner Concert Ukulele w/ Case, Strap and Tuner (< $75)
When I played this Donner Concert Ukulele recently, I surprised myself by how much I enjoyed it and how long I played it.
Keep in mind I’m used to playing a high-end custom-made concert ukulele but the Donner surprised me with great playability, loud and clear tone, and above-average tuning and intonation for a ukulele at this price point.
Plus, you get a case, extra strings, strap and tuner. You’re completely set up to start playing ukulele.
5. Cordoba 15CM Concert Ukulele (< $100)
Here’s a ukulele that consistently gets rave reviews from my students–the Cordoba 15CM Concert Ukulele.
The Cordoba 15CM is Cordoba’s number one selling ukulele. People have remarked that this ukulele holds tuning well and has a warm, even sound. Some solo players have found their are intonation issues and fret buzz the higher up the neck but for strumming you can’t go wrong with this ukulele at the price point.
6. Kala KA-CEM Exotic Mahogany Concert Ukulele with EQ (< $200)
If you ever think you might want to amplify your ukulele or plug it into a sound system, then, you can’t go wrong with the Kala KA-CEM concert with an included pickup.
I used this ukulele to play a live show for an alternative pop band once and it sounded great plugged in. The built EQ allows you to adjust the high and low frequencies and you can even tune the ukulele by looking down at the EQ system. The ukulele had a very pleasant tone even when it wasn’t plugged in.
If you ever think you’d want to do an open mic with your ukulele, then, this is the ukulele for you.
A tenor ukulele increases in size from a concert.
Many of those with larger fingers and handes prefer the tenor size because of the added room between frets. For solo ukulele playing, a tenor is often the preferable choice because the resulting sound from the increased size is warmer and fuller. Some also prefer the tenor size because it tunes nicely to low G tuning (versus standard tuning).
7. Cordoba 15TM Tenor Ukulele(< $100)
Just at the $100 price point, it’s hard to find a better or more reliable tenor ukulele than the Cordoba 15TM tenor ukulele. This is a popular pick for many of my students.
This tenor ukulele features mahogany top, back, and sides. Although not solid wood, you’re still going to get a warm, even and clear sound. You might find that if you’re a solo ukulele player the intonation and playability starts to decline the higher you go up the fretboard, however, for strumming, this ukulele is a great choice.
8. Kala KA-TEME Exotic Mahogany Tenor Ukulele with EQ (< $200)
If you’re looking for a tenor ukulele with a pickup, you can’t go wrong with the Kala KA-TEME.
With a figured mahogany body and neck and rosewood fretboard, you get a unique-looking ukulele and a nice sound. The built-in pickup allows you to adjust the EQ in the highs and lows as well as features a built-in tuner. If you plan on plugging into an amplifier, then, this ukulele is a great choice without breaking the bank.
9. Kala KA-ATP-CTG Tenor Acacia Cedar Top Ukulele Gloss Finish (< $300)
I’ve been playing this ukulele a lot lately because of the loud, clear sound and sustain. I’ve used it to record lessons and performances lately like Arpeggio Study in A Minor.
This is a ukulele I’ve found that sounds great strummed or fingerpicked with excellent tuning and intonation across the fretboard. Listen to me play My Hawaiian Sunshine on the Kala KA-ATP-CTG tenor.
Sunshine and summer calls for good vibes and feels 🏝☀️😎 Working on the song "My Hawaiian Sunshine" in this video. Because I'm playing the song in Bb, the barre chords with simple down strums give it a nice muted feel that opens with fuller strumming in the chorus. One of the benefits of working on your barre chords! What are your favorite songs to play on ukulele in the summer?
In addition, the ukulele features a solid cedar top and beautiful acacia back and sides.
The largest ukulele size with the most room between frets is the baritone.
All of the previous ukulele sizes are tuned the same to standard tuning, however, a baritone ukulele is tuned like the bottom four strings of a guitar, resulting in a lower-pitched sound that is much deeper, darker and warmer.
Some will tune their baritone ukulele to standard tuning (using a tenor set of ukulele strings) anyways to make it easier to follow along with other ukulele players as well as the online ukulele lessons here on Ukulele Tricks. If a baritone ukulele is your first instrument, I recommend tuning to standard tuning with your baritone to easily learn and follow along with the lessons here on Ukulele Tricks.
10. Makala MK-B Baritone Ukulele (< $100)
If you’re looking for your first baritone ukulele, then, for the price, it’s hard to beat the Makala MK-B.
This ukulele is made from agathis a wood that is similar in appearance and tonal properties to mahogany as well a rosewood fretboard. This no frills baritone ukulele will get the job done on a budget.
11. Cordoba 20BM Baritone Ukulele (< $200)
The Cordoba 20BM baritone ukulele features a solid mahogany top and mahogany back and sides with a rosewood fretboard.
If you’re the kind of person who values the solid top and extra detail in craftsmanship, then, you might consider the Cordoba 20BM.
12. Kala KA-SMHB Solid Mahogany Baritone Ukulele (< $300)
Where the last ukulele just had the solid top, the Kala KA-SMHB has solid mahogany top, back and sides.
This is my go-to baritone ukulele. Hear me play a cover of You Are My Sunshine tuned to baritone tuning.
A little bit of fun with the baritone ukulele today picking "You Are My Sunshine" a beautiful although sad song. I like the dark tone of the baritone ukulele (tuned like the bottom four strings of the guitar D-G-B-E) for picking the chords of a song you'd normally strum. In this song, I pick a rhythm that has roots in country and bluegrass. For the chords, I use a couple moveable shapes to perform the song in the key of A which I found suited my voice in the lower register.
The solid mahogany gives it a clear, even sound and because it’s a baritone size, the tone is rich, warm and deep. For the price, the intonation across the fretboard is acceptable. It gets the job done!
It’s easy to forget about the essential ukulele accessories. Here’s a quick rundown on my favorite tuner, strings, gig bags/cases, and strap.
Best Ukulele Tuner
A lot of new ukulele players don’t realize that a ukulele needs to be tuned every time you pick it up and play. In fact, I recommend checking the tuning every 15 minutes. Strings stretch and change pitch ever so slightly as you play. This is normal.
Remember an in-tune ukulele will always be more inspiring to listen to for you and your audience!
If there’s one ukulele tuner you should get, it’s the Snark SN6 Clip-On Ukulele Tuner.
This small ukulele tuner conveniently clips on to the headstock of your ukulele where when you pluck a string the tuner will show you the exact pitch of the string and whether or not you need to tune up or down. It takes the guess work out of knowing if you’re “in tune” or not.
I always have my Snark ready to go to make those small tuning adjustments on the fly to produce the best sound.
Best Ukulele Strings
I’ve tried a lot of different strings over the years but I always keep coming back to the Italian-made Aquila ukulele strings for their balanced, even sound.
Strings wear out over time and lose their punchiness, brightness and tone, so you should change your strings every couple months of regular playing.
Be sure to get the right set of strings for your size of ukulele:
- Aquila Soprano Ukulele Strings
- Aquila Concert Ukulele Strings
- Aquila Tenor Ukulele Strings
- Aquila Baritone Ukulele Strings
Please note that baritone ukulele strings are in a different tuning, so if you wish to tune your baritone ukulele to standard ukulele tuning then I recommend getting a standard set of tenor ukulele strings.
Best Ukulele Strap
If I could recommend one ukulele strap, it would be the Uke Leash.
The Uke Leash straps come in a variety of sizes and fit different ukuleles depending if you have strap buttons or not. For the price, you can’t beat the Uke Leash straps.