The ukulele is the guitars younger – and let’s face it – more fun little brother. They are simple to learn, easy on the ear and amazingly portable.
If you’re just starting out, or considering getting on for your child, this article for you. Here we review the best ukuleles for beginners available and guide you through the pros and cons of each.
At a Glance: Our Pick of the Best Ukuleles for Beginners
- Martin Smith UK-222-A (Soprano)
- Pomaikai Rainbow (for Kids)
- Kala Learn to Play Starter Kit (Soprano)
- Kmise Vintage Kit (Concert)
- Oscar Schmidt OU2 (Concert)
- Caramel CB103 (Baritone)
- Enya Pineapple (Soprano)
- Cordoba 15CM-E (Concert)
Here’s what we’ll cover in this article:
- Why Learn the Ukulele?
- Buyer’s Guide – Key Considerations
- Product Round-up & Reviews – Best Ukuleles for Beginners
- Mid Range
- High End
Why Learn the Ukulele?
Firstly, compared to guitar, they are easier to learn thanks to having four strings rather than six. This means that ukulele chord shapes and scales become simplified and easier to pull off, so you’re more likely to master a uke faster.
Secondly, their small size means you can carry them around really easily. Ukuleles are very lightweight too in comparison to a bass or guitar, so it’s much less hassle gigging with one. The smaller neck and body size also means they’re great for kids to learn with as they suit smaller handspans. Ukulele strings are also softer than guitar and bass strings, so children usually find it easier to press them down and to get the notes to ring out without muting them or callusing up their fingertips.
Thirdly, these instruments are cheap to buy. You can pick up high-end models for a lot less than other stringed instruments, like say, a high-end violin or guitar. Finally, and possibly most important of all, ukuleles are extremely fun! After a few tries, you’ll most likely be jamming away to your favorite songs for hours.
Buyer’s Guide – Key Considerations
We wrote an in-depth guide to the different types of ukulele here, but broadly speaking sopranos, thanks to their size, are generally the best type for beginners. There are various other types (concert, baritone, etc) with different scale lengths and sizes which are worth considering, especially if you have large hands. Generally speaking, the higher quality products have a superior choice of wood and binding.
What’s your Budget?
High-end ukuleles usually don’t cost as much as say high-end guitars however, they’ll still be considerably more than a budget option, so it’s probably worth sussing out how much you’re looking to spend before you break your bank balance. If you want something of excellent quality and construction, but not ridiculously expensive, there are plenty of mid-range options that will suffice. On the other hand, if you’re just wanting to get a taste and learn the basics, then go for a more affordable model.
Do you Need a Built-in Pickup?
Some ukuleles come with a pickup built-in, so you’ll have the option of playing the instrument through an amplifier for a louder overall sound. This is great news if you’re going to be playing as part of a band and you need your uke to be heard. Of course, it’s going to struggle to compete with other instruments like a bass guitar if not amped up. If you’re going to be playing solo or busking, then a pickup is less necessary.
Product Round-up & Reviews – Best Ukuleles for Beginners
Martin Smith UK-222-A (Soprano)
So, we’re kicking off our reviews by looking at some of the most affordable ukulele brands out there, starting with the UK-222A by Martin Smith. This is the lowest price of all the instruments we mention, so is it worth buying for the price? Well, actually yes, we were pleasantly surprised by how good some its features are.
The best aspect here has to be how great it is for kids to learn on. The nylon strings are lovely and soft, so that little fingers won’t end up hurting after a few seconds trying to press them down. The UK-222A is also Soprano shaped, so is the perfect size for smaller builds to play comfortably, without having to stretch around the body or neck. Martin Smith also included geared tuning pegs here, so they shouldn’t break as easily as the plastic alternatives you often find on budget ukes.
The instrument itself looks rather professional too considering the price. It has a tasteful high gloss finish so that the body wood shines and stays well protected. It’s worth mentioning that there’s also a convenient carry bag included with the uke too, to you won’t have to spend any extra money purchasing another. Just bear in mind, it’s rather thin, so it won’t offer the most protection from bumps and knocks.
Overall, the UK-222A is perfect if you’re shopping for a child on a budget, it’s small size and soft nylon strings should make it easy for them to play straight away. The tone it kicks out isn’t too bad either however, it’s nowhere near as pleasant as the mid-range or high-end models we mention later.
- Price – Extremely affordable, it’ll hardly put a dent on your bank balance.
- Soft strings – Easy for kids to play notes.
- Tuning – The strings don’t stay in tune too well, and it doesn’t come tuned up either.
- Bridge – The bridge is not properly located on the body, which means the instrument gets out of tune when you play further up the neck.
Pomaikai Rainbow (for Kids)
The Rainbow by Pomaikai is selling for about $10 more than the UK-222A we mentioned above, but for the slight increase in price what difference does it make? Well, we believe the best aspect here has to be the body wood. This is a quality piece of basswood, which has a shiny gloss finish for a touch of style and extra protection. Basswood allows for a crisp, full sound which is actually pretty decent considering the affordable cost. The paint Pomaikai have used to coat their instrument also promotes resonance, to further enhance the sound quality.
Just like the UK-222A, the Rainbow is specially designed for children and has really soft nylon strings, which will feel nice and smooth on kiddie’s fingertips. The whole instrument is only 21” long and features 12 frets across the fingerboard, to increase playability among those with smaller builds. It’s worth adding that the fingerboard itself is made from a durable hardwood, that has been smoothed down and anti-oxidized to make it softer on your fingertips.
Pomaikai have included a 12-month warranty when you purchase the Rainbow, so you can rest assured their product will stand the test of time. There is also a gig bag and some handy learning materials free with this purchase, which might save you a bit of cash spent on lessons. So, as you can see, for your extra 10 bucks you get a children’s uke with a touch more quality and craftmanship in comparison to the UK-222A. With the free learning tools, it may even save you some money in the long run too.
- Tone – Basswood gives a bright, crisp sound.
- Size – Soprano size, with 12 frets, makes it perfect for kids.
- Gig bag – Really thin and offers little protection.
- Tuning – The Rainbow tends to become out of tune very quickly unless you pay for a proper setup.
Kala Learn to Play Starter Kit (Soprano)
Kala’s Soprano Kit is the priciest of our affordable selection ukuleles, so what does it have to offer for the extra dollar? Well, the best thing about the instrument itself is its mahogany construction, which gives the uke a nice, rich warm tone. Then there’s the walnut fingerboard, which adds a little brightness to the overall sound, helping to define notes. Just remember that the scale length here is still fairly small, measuring in at 13.6”, in line with Soprano standards, so is going to work best with smaller builds of player.
Kala have designed their uke to include a high-quality Graphtech NuBone nut and saddle, as well as a set of Aquila Super Nylgut strings, which are nice and soft for an extra comfortable playing experience. Additionally, the instrument itself is coated in satin lacquer finish, to preserve the tonewood quality. Of course, because this instrument is part of a kit, you get a handy carry bag – albeit a thin one, online music lessons, a free smartphone app – which features a tuner, and a learn to play ukulele book. So, yeah Kala have been pretty generous considering how much this pack costs!
Overall, this suits someone looking for a more sturdy, reliable ukulele that’s built to last. The tone you get here is slightly improved in comparison to the other budget models we’ve reviewed above too, but just remember it’s still small, so perhaps is best for kids with some experience or smaller adults shopping on a budget.
- Tonewood – The walnut and mahogany wood used here gives it a warm rich tone, with a touch of clarity that can cut through a mix.
- Great for learning – Comes with a free app and online lessons to help you play.
- Lessons only last for two months – So, you’ll have to purchase more.
- Tuning machines – These slip a bit when tuning the strings initially.
Kmise Vintage Kit (Concert)
So, now we reach the last of our favorite affordable ukuleles by taking a look at Kmise’s vintage concert uke. But what’s the difference between this model and the ones we previously reviewed? Firstly, this instrument is larger than all three (23 inches), so is going to be a little too big for kids, but more comfortable for adults to play. But the thing that sets Kmise’s uke apart from the rest is its advanced tuner system. Every other model we’ve looked so far at had some sort of minor tuning issue, so this is a huge bonus. The closed, pure copper gears work really well, by enabling the instrument to stay in tune for longer and retain the correct intonation.
Thanks to the specially designed bridge, this ukulele’s action is also nice and low, which reduces that annoying string buzz and makes the instrument easier to play. It also means you can replace the strings really easily if you need to, which is a convenient design idea. It’s worth pointing out that the strings are of good quality, made from a carbon nylon material, to ensure the uke has an accurate tone. In fact, Kmise are so sure their strings will last you forever, they’ve included a lifetime string replacement warranty if you experience any issues.
Of course, because this uke is part of a kit, you get a gig bag, tuner, strap and beginner book to help you start learning, which is great news if you’re a novice. So yes, it’s not quite as high-tech as the Kala Soprano kit we mentioned above, but it still includes some quality materials in regards to the instrument itself. For this reason, we think that Kmise’s kit is a great option for beginner adults looking to learn on a well-built uke.
- Copper tuners – These prevent string slipping and help the instrument stay in tune.
- Low Action – Makes it easier to press the strings down and increases playability.
- Design – Great looking instrument, will a cool rosette.
- Too large for kids – Concert size, so is too large for little ones.
- Small case – The carry bag comes with is extremely tight, so you may want to invest in something less annoying to fit your instrument into.
Oscar Schmidt OU2 (Concert)
So, now we move onto our favorite mid-range ukes, starting off with Oscar Schmidt’s OU2 Concert Ukulele. But what exactly do you get for the extra cost? Well, it comes as part of a bundle, which includes a gig bag, instructional DVD, tuner and a handy polishing cloth. So, you’ll be saving a little bit of cash by not buying everything separately
The best aspect of the instrument itself has to be its body and bridge, which are made from high-grade mahogany and rosewood. The mahogany body gives the uke plenty of warmth and resonance, which is favored by the rosewood bridge that works to enhances low-end tones. Additionally, the tonewood is coated in a satin lacquer, for extra protection and a shiny finish that shows off the wood grain nicely.
There’s also a set of sturdy chrome tuners, which should withstand bumps and knocks easily and should keep your strings in tune for longer than some of the cheaper plastic options, you find on budget models. As well as this, the frets ends have been smoothed down, for extra comfort whilst playing, just remember this is a concert uke, so is going to a little too large for kids to play comfortably.
Overall, Oscar Schmidt’s Concert design is going to be great for any adult player, looking for a well-made instrument capable of producing warm rich tones. The bundle is still not that expensive, so you’ll probably save some money not buying everything separately too. Just remember, if you’re ginormous, you may still find it a little small.
- Tonewood – Mahogany and rosewood provide a lovely full, warm tone.
- Chrome tuners – These things will keep your instrument in tune no problem.
- High set bridge – Isn’t really a con if you like high action, but can be annoying if you prefer it low.
- Too large for kids – Concert size so best suited for adults.
Caramel CB103 (Baritone)
Caramel’s CB103 Baritone Uke is currently selling for a similar price to the OU2 Concert model we mentioned above, but what’s the difference here? Well firstly, its a Baritone so is way bigger than a Concert model, meaning it’s going to suit adults with larger builds or those that are used to playing classical guitar. Secondly, the body here is made from zebra wood. Not only does it look really cool with its striped black and grey grain pattern, but, more importantly, the tone this wood creates is great with rich, defined lows and clears mids which cut through a mix well. There’s also a walnut fretboard and bridge, which brings a little extra bite of clarity and sustain… Oh and all this high-grade wood is polished by hand, giving the instrument a very professional apparel.
Caramel’s Uke is the first model we talk about that has an output jack, which means it can be played through an amplifier as well as acoustically. In terms of tone control and playability, it has a three-band EQ, which controls the treble, bass, and volume of the instrument when it’s plugged into an amp and there’s an adjustable truss rod to change your tension to exactly how you like it. So, thanks to its ability to be amplified, we feel like the CB103 is going to suit adult players looking to perform as part of a band. With the EQ settings, you’ll be able to set the tone to exactly how you like it, and even throw some pedals into the mix if you like.
- Output jack – Allows the CB103 to be amped up, which is great if you want to play in a band.
- EQ – Means you can change the tone when your instrument’s amplified.
- Large – The largest ukulele on the list, so may be uncomfortable for smaller builds.
- Needs a battery – Won’t let you tune it or adjust the EQ if you don’t input the correct battery.
Enya Pineapple (Soprano)
Enya’s Pineapple Soprano Uke is the last of the mid-range products we review today and is selling for a similar price to both the CB103 and the OU2 we mentioned above, so what exactly is the difference? Well, you’ve probably guessed already, but this instrument is pineapple shaped which is actually a good thing, as it increases the instrument’s resonance and volume. It also gives the uke a very traditional, authentic look, if that’s what you like.
This is all good, but we believe the best aspect here has to be the quality of material that Enya have used to craft their instrument. They have used Koa wood for the body and mahogany for the neck. Koa is the perfect option for a traditional Hawaiian tone, with plenty of sustain and attack. Whereas mahogany provides a touch of warmth which works nicely with the koa’s attack. The wood is coated in lacquer, so that it won’t damage easily or warp in environments with different temperature and humidity. Enya have also designed the neck to feature a unique BT junction, which allows for extra comfortable holding and playability.
Considering you get free lifetime string replacement and a case, strap, extra string set, a capo, sand shaker, picks, and a handy polish cloth, we think this Uke bundle is probably the best value of the three mid-range options we’ve mentioned. Just remember that this model is a Soprano shape and only 21” long, so maybe a little small for larger adults. We think this is the best option for those of you that want a traditional sounding and looking uke, for this price, you won’t be disappointed.
- Tonewoods – Enya have included traditional Koa wood in the instrument’s body, so it sounds pretty authentic.
- Shape – The pineapple shape means it really booms out sound.
- Changing strings – The bridge makes it quite fiddly and may be difficult if you’re starting out.
- High Bridge – Set very high, which means bar chords are extremely hard to play.
Cordoba 15CM-E (Concert)
Cordoba have a reputation for making quality acoustic instruments, and this one is no exception. This cordoba 15cm concert ukulele has some really great features. First of all, it comes with a superb choice of wood (mahogany top, back and sides) which give you a full, rich sound that budget models can’t compete with. It does a great job aesthetically too, with an abalone-style rosette, fingerboard binding and silver tuners (with pearl buttons) which give it a touch of class beyond its price point.
Its stand-out feature, however, is the built-in passive piezo pickup, which lets you amplify it. It also has a discreetly hidden volume control.
Everything about this is first-rate, from the looks to the materials used. If you’re likely to want to ‘plug in’, this has you covered too. The one downside is potentially size. At 15cm, it’s a lot smaller than many of the others we review here and could prove tricky to use for adults with large hands.
For the price, they also throw in a tuner and decent gig bag.
- Looks – Great aesthetics.
- Versatile – Comes with a built-in piezo tuner.
- Construction – Superb choice of woods.
- Size – On the small side, could be tricky for some adults.
Ibanez Iceman UICT10 (Acoustic-Electric/Tenor)
Now we move on to look at some of our favorite high-end options, starting off with the Ibanez Iceman. This is actually our premium choice, so what’s so special about it? Well, firstly it’s an electro-acoustic Tenor uke, which is the largest of all models we’ve mentioned here, so is going to be more suited to adults rather than kids. The cool thing about the instrument being electro-acoustic is that you can amp it up, for extra volume. This is great news if you’re wanting to play as a band or ensemble, as it means you’ll be able to keep up with the rest of the instruments and vocals in the mix. It’s worth mentioning that it looks pretty stylish, but more like a mini guitar than an authentic model like Enya’s Pineapple Soprano design we discussed previously.
Another great thing about the Iceman is that it features a Spruce top which produces very loud, but well-balanced crisp tones. So, yes this model is going to be very pleasing to listen to! There’s also a high-quality Ibanez Undersaddle pickup and an Ibanez AEQ2UT built-in preamp, which helps to boost the quality of the signal leaving the instrument. Ibanez has even included a built-in tuner, so you can tune your strings without having to carry around extra equipment. With that in mind, it stays in tune really well too, thanks to the Grover chrome geared tuners, so you won’t have to spend hours faffing with your strings after each song you play.
Due to the pickup and preamp technology here, we think that the Iceman is a great choice for more experienced players wanting to start a band with an instrument that projects well, or perhaps those that have learned on a guitar beforehand. Just remember, it’s a lot larger than usual though, so if you’re rather petite, then perhaps it may feel a bit uncomfortable.
- Pickups – The specially crafted Ibanez pickups really improve the overall tone.
- Built-in tuner – Saves you having to remember your tuner every time you’re out of the house.
- Large – Tenor sized uke, so is going to be way too big for kids.
- Not an authentic look – May not be traditional enough for some players.
Donner DUB-1 30 inch (Electric Bass)
Donner’s DUB-1 is slightly more affordable than our other high-end option, so what’s the difference here? Well, firstly its an electric bass uke, which is pretty special, but also very specific, so we don’t recommend it for beginners unless you’re completely dedicated to playing bass that is. The instrument itself is also rather large, measuring in at 30” in length, with 18 frets, so is going to be best for taller builds of player. In terms of tuning this thing works just like a bass guitar; tuned to EADG in ascending order, but an octave up.
The technology included here is pretty cool, there’s a 4-band EQ which allows you to control the level of bass, middle, treble coming through the mix as well as the volume, for ultimate sound sculpting. There’s also a built-in pre-amp, for that extra sonic kick and a built-in tuner, so you don’t need to worry about carrying a separate tuner around with you all the time.
In terms of tonewood, Donner have included a mahogany body and neck, for a lovely warm, full sound. It’s worth mentioning that the fretboard wood has also been smoothed down, for extra comfortable playing experience. Of course, being a bass uke, the strings are extra thick and made from decent quality Aquila Nylgut material, for improved accuracy and intonation. The strings are also pretty decent because they are designed to absorb less water than most standard bass strings, so are less likely to become slack. Just remember, they may take some time getting used to, as they play differently to standard gauge uke strings.
Overall, it suits experienced uke players that are looking to transition onto a bass or perhaps bassists looking to play a uke version for fun. We don’t recommend this instrument for beginners, as the strings can be hard to learn with due to their thickness.
- Unique – Bass ukes are a pretty novel instrument, so you’ll likely turn some heads.
- Tone – The rich sound produced from the mahogany works really well with the bass frequencies.
- String buzz – If you don’t get a proper setup, the thicker strings tend to shake a little whilst you play.
- Tricky to play – Bass uke is an entirely different instrument to pick up compared to standard models.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this read and feel that you’ve learned something new about ukuleles or at least feel inspired to pick one up and start learning. Remember, there’s no absolute right or wrong choice when you buy one of these instruments, rather it depends on your budget and what you’re going to be playing.
That said, if you’re going to be playing in a band or ensemble you probably need a uke with some extra amplification, so we’d recommend the Ibanez Iceman or Caramel’s CB103, both have pickups and an amp output for that additional boost. If you want something authentic sounding, then go for either Enya’s Soprano Pineapple or Oscar Schmidt’s Concert Uke, both are acoustic and produce some lovely tones. If you’re shopping on a budget then Martin Smith’s Soprano Uke or Pomaitai’s Rainbow are extremely affordable are would be a great starting place for kids that are interested in music.
If you’re a beginner adult and need a decent kit and instrument to help you learn, Kmise’s Concert Uke is a great affordable option that includes everything you need to get going. If you’re already experienced and would like to transition onto something unusual and new, why not try out Donner’s electric bass uke? It sounds really nice and will definitely get you noticed.
What did you go for in the end? Let us know in the comments below…
Happy Strumming! 🙂
Ged is Founder and Editor-in-chief at Zing Instruments. He’s a guitarist for London based gypsy jazz band ‘Django Mango’ and a lover of all things music. When he’s not ripping up and down the fretboard, he’s tinkering with his ’79 Campervan.