After extensive research of scores of the most popular ukuleles on the market, we purchased 9 of the best ukuleles to test side-by-side. Our team of musical experts has a combined 30 years of experience playing stringed instruments, and our head tester has been playing the ukulele exclusively for years. We spent countless hours strumming, plucking, and tuning to give you an in-depth look at what we think makes a great ukulele for a variety of user needs. Whether you are an absolute novice, looking to delve deeper into the musical realm, or have just been looking to expand on your arsenal of instruments, we'll steer you straight to the right uke for you.
Build: Sapele/mahogany combo on the top, back, and sides | Size: Concert
REASONS TO BUY
Excellent build quality and craftsmanship
Sweet and balanced tone
REASONS TO AVOID
Gig bag is poorly padded
We were impressed the minute we got our hands on the Lohanu LU-C Concert Bundle. It is not surprising that this model was our favorite overall kit — the price is affordable, it includes tons of accessories, and the build and sound are of great quality. The ukulele is concert size (24 inches) and features a combination of mahogany and Sapele wood for the top, sides, and back. The neck feels good in your hand and is comprised of a Rosewood fingerboard with dot inlays that are easy to see. The arched back on this model sets it apart from the rest, giving it structural support and putting off a marvelously sweet and robust tone. Included with this model are pre-installed strap buttons, Aquila strings, and fully enclosed tuners that feel precise and smooth, making the Lohanu LU-C ready to go right out of the box.
We found it difficult to come up with anything negative to say about this model. This kit's weak spot is probably the included gig bag — despite being well constructed, it doesn't have as much padding as some others we tested and feels quite flimsy. Overall, we highly recommend this ukulele if you're on the hunt for a respectable, affordable, and all-around wonderful kit.
Build: Mahogany top, back, and sides | Size: Soprano
REASONS TO BUY
Lively tone with clear mids and a crisp high end
Original cutaway C shaped neck
REASONS TO AVOID
Advanced ukulele players are likely to be impressed with the Ibanez UEW5S. All-mahogany top, sides, and back make up its body construction, and it comes with sleek Aquila NYLBLACK strings. Ibanez's soprano ukulele mimics the original Ibanez EW Series acoustic guitar's distinctive single cutaway shape. It's simple to access the higher frets on the neck with the cutaway C shape, allowing you to shake things up with a funky solo when you're feeling the groove. The ukulele puts out a bright and even tone with a soothing sound at the top end, and we were impressed with the way this uke stands out when playing in a group, emitting a lively sound. The design includes a rosewood fretboard and bridge, open chrome tuners, and a gorgeous abalone rosette. Even the average guitar player will greatly appreciate the playability and the low action.
This kit isn't the most suited to beginners or those looking to buy their first instrument. Many other kits we tested came with a lot of great accessories that this solo instrument doesn't. The Ibanez UEW5S is geared toward intermediate players looking to expand their collection with a higher-quality instrument. It is a favorite among the solo performance models in our line-up for its exceptional build, tone, and playability.
Build: Mahogany body and rosewood bridge/fingerboard | Size: Concert
REASONS TO BUY
Warm, rich sound
Very affordable complete beginner kit
Easy to see guides for chords and finger placement
REASONS TO AVOID
Took a long time for the strings to settle
Not the best tone, but still pleasant
The Donner DUC-1 Concert is a quality, well-rounded instrument, especially at its price point. It is a winning combination of price, quality build, splendid sound, and excellent included accessories that ranked it our favorite price-to-performance model. It's constructed of a combination of mahogany and rosewood, which harmonize to provide a rich and resonating sound. Of the kits we tested, some of the "bundles" are a combination of a few cheap items along with the main extra to catch the buyer's attention. Not the case here; the tuner worked almost as well as the industry standard that we tested against for quality control. The strap offers a bohemian-inspired pattern and works really well; it can even be adjusted to fit a smaller child, making a great first kit for beginners. The carrying case is also well-constructed and has a large front pocket for all the included extras.
Our main gripe is that it took longer than most for the strings to settle and hold a tune. This is super common for new strings of any kind, but we felt that higher quality strings (like the Aquila nylon of some of the other high-scorers in our test fleet) might not have taken as long to settle, so we recommend replacing the strings on this instrument with better ones. And though the sound this uke produces is pretty great, it's not the best in class. It's more than satisfactory for more beginners, though. If you're seeking a starting instrument at an affordable price with both a quality build and sound, look no further.
Build: Polycarbonate with carbon fiber throughout | Size: Concert
REASONS TO BUY
Great build quality
Bright and chime-y tone
REASONS TO AVOID
No side markers
Black frets make it hard to see finger placement
The Enya Nova U Concert Kit scored top marks for build quality and playability. Composed of polycarbonate with an entanglement of carbon fiber mixed throughout, the simple yet highly effective design of this model impresses with an attractive, vibrant sound and a durable body and neck able to withstand the elements. This durability also makes it great for travel. The Enya's unique soundhole design made for a chime-y tone with a pleasant and vibrant sound when strummed. Its sound clarity and resonance are awesome; even while playing high up the neck, it maintains its crisp high notes without losing volume. Its soft satin finish was comfortable on skin and easy to clean. Although not completely waterproof (due to the metal tuners), the polycarbonate construction provides extra durability. It was able to withstand temperature fluctuations while holding its tune far better than any other model we tested, and its non-wood construction makes it much more likely to handle getting banged around a bit during travel.
This wouldn't be as highly recommended as a beginner kit, mainly because the frets and neck are all black, and there are no dot markers on the side. This makes it hard to see your finger placement while changing chords, and instruments without fret markers are typically better suited for more experienced musicians. Furthermore, if you are seeking top-notch tonality, there are better options. However, for a tough, durable uke that includes some great accessories at an affordable price, this is our recommendation.
Why You Should Trust Us
Our testing process involves callused fingers for weeks of picking and strumming. As we test each model extensively, our focus is on the quality of construction and playability, all while assessing tone and included extras. We looked for discrepancies with each build, such as cracks, dents, or scratches that would hinder play. We also assessed the quality of the craft when it comes to the bridge, tuning pegs, and fret inlays. We then tested each uke's tuning and intonation against an industry-standard electronic tuner, assessing how long each model can hold its tune before adjustments are necessary. We spent hours with each model separately and used each of the included accessories. We compared similar sizes and kits to decipher any differences they might have. Lastly, we had several beginner players (adults and kids) try out each instrument to get their fresh perspective on what it's like to play each model with no previous experience.
Our ukulele testing is divided across four rating metrics:
Build Quality (35% of overall score weighting)
Playability (30% weighting)
Tone (25% weighting)
Accessories/Extra (10% weighting)
Our lead reviewer, Kat Elliott, has always harbored great admiration for music. She has been playing music for over a decade, spending the last three and a half years with a focus on the ukulele. She makes frequent on-stage appearances in her city's open mic nights, where she plays a variety of instruments and also loves to sing. She also gigs at local bars and breweries. She flat-out loves to play music. Her profound love of the small four-string instrument was discovered when she was undergoing extensive recovery from a knee injury. The portability and ease of use that the uke has to offer were what drew her in, but it didn't take long to realize the blissful sounds that emanated from the happy little instrument would make it a lifelong companion. Kat owns multiple soprano and concert-size ukuleles, an acoustic-electric model for amplified, on-stage performances, and a banjo uke.
Analysis and Test Results
Throughout our journey to find the best ukulele, we focused on four fundamental metrics: Build quality, playability, tone, and accessories and extras. After our initial visual inspection of each individual make and model, we tuned and spent countless hours playing and using their included accessories (if they came as a kit). We compared them side by side and ran them all through a gauntlet of testing to determine which one was the very best.
It's true that sometimes you get what you pay for, but other times you can be pleasantly surprised by a great value. Our favorite budget ukulele from our test fleet was hands down the Donner DUC-1 Concert, which is a complete kit with everything you need to get started and a warm sound. Many of the other ukes we tested fell within a very similar price range. We'd say if you're willing to shell out a little more, the best value to be had is the Lohanu LU-C Concert Bundle. It has a higher list price than the Donner but can often be found on sale at a similar price. The Lohanu has great craftsmanship and a wonderful tone, and it was our favorite overall from the bunch.
Straight out of the box, we thoroughly inspect all models for construction and build quality. We look for dents, dings, or scratches that might have happened during shipping or construction. Before we put finger to fret, we made sure there were no defects or cracks in each instrument's neck or body that might hinder its sound. If the neck of the instrument is made from solid wood, it can easily dry out from exposure to the elements and can cause the frets to protrude from the neck and become sharp. An easy way to check for this defect was to run our fingers along the neck next to the fretboard and see if we could feel any sharp edges coming from the frets. We made sure to look for this before and during use.
The Lohanu LU-C is thoughtfully constructed and earns top marks in build quality for its arched back. This is something you typically see on higher-priced instruments. The arch gives it a resonating and pleasant tone when strummed. We also loved the easy-to-see dot inlays on the Rosewood fingerboard, a great addition for those just learning to play.
One major variable in quality is construction materials, which can range from solid wood, laminate, plastic, or a mixture of all three. For the Enya model, this meant a carbon fiber composite polycarbonate build. More often than not, the type of wood determines the instrument's look and sound (and can largely influence the price tag, too). There are many pros and cons to each, but most manufacturers producing beginner ukuleles look to combine the more expensive solid woods with a laminate for a marriage of price point and reasonable quality.
For playability, we chose to focus on how fun and easy the instruments are to play. Comfort and how well it holds its tune over time are also a focal point in this metric. Ukuleles come in four general sizes: soprano, concert, tenor, and baritone. Most of our testers find the concert size easier to play than the smaller soprano ukuleles. If you have large hands, we recommend avoiding the smaller soprano ukuleles because the frets are closer together, making for a tighter squeeze when playing chords. Concert and larger sizes have more space between frets on the fretboard, making them easier to play for larger hands. The body shape can also affect how the uke feels in hand. All the models we tested are a classic figure 8 shape, some with a few variations on this design.
If you are on the more intermediate level of play, the Ibanez UEW5S has a c-shaped cutaway on the neck, which makes it easier to access and play the frets higher on the neck when you are in the mood for some funky solos. If you're just beginning your musical uke endeavor, the Donner DUC-1 offers a wide fretboard and highly visible guides for chords and finger placement that make this an excellent choice for a beginner kit — especially for those with larger fingers.
When the body of a stringed acoustic instrument resonates, the wood it is made of will emphasize different tones, such as highs or lows. With this in mind, know that the wood used in the construction of your ukulele will affect its tone. One thing we chose to focus on for tone was whether the instrument was constructed of a solid wood or laminate (plywood) top and body. Typically, those with a solid-wood top tend to have a richer, deeper sound. In the price range we tested, the decision to use more costly solid wood typically requires sacrifices in other aspects of construction. Instruments with laminated tops often sound fine for beginner players and tend to hold up to wear, tear, and the elements better than solid wood construction.
We were impressed with the resonating and vibrant tone of the Enya Nova U Concert. Instead of the usual laminate or solid wood that the other models tested were made with, the Enya utilizes a polycarbonate/carbon fiber blend. It also features a unique soundhole design that added to its upbeat and chime-y sound. We expected this plastic model to be an abomination, sound-wise, but we were pleasantly surprised by it. The tone is not the best in its class — a spot held by solid wood models — but it's very acceptable.
Another focus for testing tone is intonation. This refers to the ability of a stringed instrument to play in tune, not just when the strings are plucked "open," but also when fretted anywhere along the neck. Bad intonation will basically mean that your uke won't play in tune even if your strings are tuned perfectly. A low-quality instrument will often play in tune on the lower frets but will lose intonation as you move up the fretboard in the higher frets, inhibiting advancement into more complex chord fingerings and solos. We tested each side by side for tone comparison while playing a multitude of songs that incorporated fingerpicking and a variety of different strumming patterns. Through this process, we were able to determine different tones with each model. Among the models we tested, price and quality tone are directly correlated. The best models in terms of tone are the Ibanez UEW5S, Oscar Schmidt OU5, Kala Satin Mahogany Concert, and Cordoba 15SM, which also pull some of the highest price tags among ukes reviewed here.
Accessories & Extras
Taking on a new musical endeavor can seem overwhelming, but a few things can make it a much easier process — for instance, accessories & extras. All of the starter kits we tested include a plethora of useful accessories. This makes it very easy to start playing right when you receive your instrument. We made sure to spend time with each beginner kit using and adjusting the straps, gig bags, tuners, cleaning cloths, and various other tidbits they included. To keep everything equal across the board, we used an industry-standard tuner to compare the ones included with the kits to see if there were any discrepancies. Since it takes a while for your strings to adjust and hold their tune, having a good tuner is crucial. It is something you will most likely be using every time you play your ukulele. Although many of our testers didn't find the straps to be very useful since most are rather small and very light, having the option to use one is always a nice added benefit.
Our favorite kit for beginners is the Lohanu LU-C Concert Bundle because it contains all the accessories and extras you need to get going on your new instrument, such as the extremely useful clip-on tuner (it assesses pitch by sensing vibrations traveling through the instrument), the extra set of strings, two plastic and one leather pick, a strap, and even video lessons. If you opt for a different beginner kit without video lessons, it's helpful to know that you can find free video lessons readily online, too, so we wouldn't get too hung up there. The only bummer with the Lohanu is that the case isn't well padded to handle frequent travel. If you are looking for a decent all-around beginner kit that also includes a highly padded gig bag, the Ranch Guitar Concert Kit is a great choice. The Oscar Schmidt OU5 is a higher-end uke kit that also includes a decent carrying case and some highly useful instructional resources.
If you have been contemplating learning to play a musical instrument, a ukulele is an excellent place to start. Being highly portable and one of the easiest stringed instruments to play, you will be making a solid investment in your musical future. Whether you are looking to buy your first one or simply looking to upgrade, with so many options on the market, we understand that the decision can be difficult. We hope that our review gives you a better understanding of what different brands and kits have to offer to steer you in the right direction.