Ukuleles come in a lot of sizes, use several species of woods, and will be built with a wide range of overall quality. When you’re buying your first or even second ukulele, you probably have more questions than answers. At the end of the day you want the best ukulele for you.
So how do you sort through all of the different options? Let’s start by asking very common questions.
What Is The Best Type Of Ukulele To Buy?
Let’s talk specifically about sizes here. Ukuleles come in 4 main sizes. What size you should get is entirely up to preference. Not necessarily skill level.
That’s right, the sizes aren’t in anyway an indication of skill level (or quality for that matter). There are $2k Soprano ukes readily available, and $100 Tenor ukes. So before we look at the different sizes, try to look at them as equal in price and quality. That will help you pick the best one for you, outside of any preconceived notions.
Here are the 4 sizes/styles of Ukuleles:
This is the smallest ukulele. It’s great for children or people with small hands because of its smaller size. It’s highly portable so traveling with it is very easy. The smaller size naturally gives it a twangy sound. That also means it will have less low end compared to the rest.
It’s worth noting that even if you have larger hands you can still play a Soprano ukulele. It takes a little more dexterity, sure. But so does playing ukulele in general. With a little practice and adjusting, most players can successfully and comfortably play Soprano ukes.
A Concert ukulele is 2" bigger than a soprano ukulele. They’re still on the twangy side, though with more bass response than a Soprano uke. This size is where it transitions to a broader appeal. It’s small enough for people with smaller hands, yet big enough that people with larger hands find it comfortable. If you want a twangier tone but something that’s a little easier to play, this might be perfect for you.
Tenor ukuleles are another 2” bigger than the Concert ukulele. That’s a full 4” bigger than a Soprano uke. The tone is fuller and the bass more pronounced because of this size increase. A quality Tenor ukulele will still have well defined mids and high frequencies. Tenor ukes are also louder because of the size so they’re awesome for live performing.
If you’re at all concerned about ukes being too small for your hands, a Tenor is your best option. It’s also perfect for people who already play fretted instruments like guitar.
Baritone instruments in general tend to carry different tunings. And that’s the same for Baritone ukuleles. The reason has to do with string tension, which will vary based on the length the string has to travel from bridge to tuner.
But suffice it to say that if you’re looking at your first or second uke, you might want to pass on this. BUT, once you have a couple in your collection, run to get one!
Baritone ukes have the most pronounced low end. They’re bigger in sound and are a wonderful addition to bands using Soprano, Concert, and Tenor ukuleles.
- The smaller the uke, the more twang it has
- The bigger the uke, the more low end and volume it has
- Size doesn’t equate to quality or skill level
- Baritones might be better for your third or fourth uke
What Kind Of Ukulele Should I Buy?
I recently watched a video on telescopes (there’s a point to this, I promise). In it, the astronomer hosting the video said recommending a telescope is like recommending a car. It’s an impossible to do based on that single question alone.
And that’s kind of how it is with recommending what kind of ukulele you should buy (see, full circle). Many things about ukuleles are subjective. Some people prefer the tone of a Soprano, while others only play Tenor. Some people swear by ukuleles made of Koa, others stick to mahogany.
If you’re buying your first, second, or even third, we can narrow it down a bit. Here are a few scenarios and recommendations.
If you’re an adult buying your first ukulele, go for a Concert or Tenor. They’ll feel more natural in your hands. Get something in the $150-300 range. Trust me, a quality instrument will make you want to keep playing. A cheap one won’t.
If you’re buying a ukulele for a child, Soprano and Concert ukuleles should be perfect. Something in the $100-150 range will be perfect.
If you already have a ukulele, buy one of another size. In the perfect world you’d have every size in different wood combinations. They all have something different to offer.
If you’re set on getting another ukulele of the same size, get something a little more expensive and/or with a different wood type.
With price comes better build and sound quality. You’ll have better tuning stability (it stays in tune better), better playability (easier to play), and more premium cuts of wood (looks and sounds better, though this is subjective...but most agree).
The different wood types offer different tonal options. Something like mahogany is going to be darker than maple, which will be brighter.
What Is The Best Ukulele For A Beginner
Before you read any more of this, I want to make one thing very clear: Beginner ukuleles shouldn’t mean cheap ukuleles.
What it should mean is a quality instrument at an affordable price. When you’re just starting out and aren’t sure how long you’ll stick with the instrument, it’s hard to justify a $500 ukulele. But what’s not going to help you is a cheap instrument.
Cheap instruments don’t stay in tune, don’t sound particularly good, and won’t last very long. With all of these issues it’s easy to lose motivation. A quality instrument on the other hand is inspiring.
So with that out of the way, let’s find out what the best ukulele for a beginner is.
What To Look For In A Beginner Ukulele
The first thing to look for is a recognizable brand. These brands tend to have higher quality standards, regardless of price point. Brands like Bondi, Luna, Kala, Cordoba, and Ohana all have a long history of making quality instruments.
As tempting as it may be, don’t give into buying that $70 ukulele on Amazon. When buying from a reputable manufacturer, like the ones above, I find the sweet spot is between $150-300. Some of these even have ukes around $99.
Check out this link for a full list of excellent ukuleles for beginners.
I’ve talked a lot about sizes in this article, so here’s the cheat sheet to narrow your search:
- Soprano and Concert ukuleles are perfect for children
- Concert and Tenor ukuleles are best for teens and adults
You’ll find many options for woods. I wouldn’t get too hung up on that part of it. Honestly, when I was starting out, I just picked the one that looked the coolest. Every wood type and combination will sound different. But a beginner’s ear will have a hard time distinguishing those differences.
You can’t go wrong with Koa (the traditional wood) or Mahogany (used in basically every acoustic instrument). If you start to get into the more exotic woods like Spalted Maple or Ebony, you’ll have to pay for that luxury. You will not regret it though.
Do you have any questions about buying ukuleles that we didn’t answer here? Let us know in the comments!