Learning music is a bottomless pit that introduces us to something new each day. More so, when you’re starting out and experimenting with new styles and new instruments. When it comes to a ukulele, things are no different. So if you’re looking to buy one, but the mega range has got you dazed, then this Melodyful article is the perfect guide through the best ukulele brands for beginners like you!
Affordable and Fun!
The Makala range of ukuleles is an offshoot of the Kala company, and is popular among beginners (especially kids) for its budget-friendly prices and color varieties.
The Ukulele first came into being in the 19th century Hawaii as a cousin to the Portuguese ‘machete’, and no! We are not talking about the weapon or the movie, but the stringed instrument! Interestingly, the name’s meaning has two contrasting explanations: (i) it is called the “Jumping Flea“, the nickname given to one of King Kalākaua’s officers named Edward W. Purvis, owing to his playing skills and jittery nature; (ii) The other translation given by Queen Liliʻuokalani means “The gift that came here“, and is derived from uku meaning “gift or reward” and lele meaning “to come”.
So if you’re out buying a ukulele, here are the top 5 ukulele brands to look out for!
NOTE: The prices given below may change and vary with the place, mode of purchase, and time. So, use them as approximate values.
New on the block, but big with the customers, the Kala company has a range of guitars well-suited for beginners as they have the same model in all three sizes to suit the preference of the users, and are well-crafted while being budget-friendly. It is sleek, lightweight, and perfect for traveling musicians.
Soprano: Kala KA-S
At a reasonable $72, the Kala KA-S works well for beginners, with a good sound quality and make. It might require some minor adjustments and a change of strings, preferably the Aquilla strings.
Concert: Kala KA-C Mahogany
This solid body concert uke (as it is commonly known) comes in at $92 dollars, and gives you pretty good sound and tone at a reasonable price.
Tenor: Kala KA-T Mahogany
It gives you value for money with its solid body, warmer, more rounded tone, and great playability, at a decent price of $108.
It is an offspring of the Kala company, and is aimed at making ukuleles more accessible to everyone with its low-range models. It comes in plastic and might look like a toy, but it has decent sound and playability, which makes it a great choice for beginners, especially kids, for whom the Dolphin range of brightly colored guitars and dolphin-shaped bridges are highly appealing. It can handle weather changes, and maintains its tone over time.
Soprano: Makala Dolphin
Highly popular with kids, its bright colors, decent sound, and price of just $39 is a bargain for beginners.
Concert: Makala MK-C
It is suggested to those who want a more classic look, better playability, and richer sound at a reasonable price. It is listed at $95.
Tenor: Makala MK-T
Deeper sound and better acoustics that only require string-change, this tenor comes in at $108.
A branch of the Hohner company, it is one of the most sought-after models for beginners, with a great build and appearance, high playability, reasonable prices, and overall satisfaction. Made of laminate wood that has a close resemblance to solid wood, it gives a superior sound at high volumes.
Soprano: Lanikai LU-21
It is one of the most sought-after models by beginners and pros alike, bringing the classic sound of the uke to life at just $70. Again, consider replacing strings with an Aquilla set.
Concert: Lanikai LU-21C
If the LU-21 is too small to meet your needs, this $90 model is the one to opt for.
Tenor:Lanikai Tenor S-T Solid Spruce
If you have a more flexible budget, opt for this model at $170, boasting of a great body, high resonance, mellow tones, and high playability.
When it comes to top quality, this is one to look out for. Although slightly higher on the price spectrum, it has low action and great intonation. Oscar Schmidt is an offshoot of the Washburn company, and the models fall in the mid-high price range. Great looks, geared tuners, and clear sounds are the mark of an O. S. product.
Soprano: Oscar Schmidt OU12 Mahogany
It comes at $124 and has a satin finish, mahogany body with a sharp, deep sound. It is great for those who have a more flexible budget and are looking for good quality.
Concert: Oscar Schmidt OU5
At $150, it has solid Koa top, a classic feel, and high-quality resonance with great playability.
Tenor: Oscar Schmidt OU2T
Again with a satin finish and solid mahogany body, it gives you value for a price at $155 with a rich feel, great sound, and sleek look.
It is a range from the Ko’olau brand, which is known to make top-quality expensive ukuleles with top-quality Koa wood. The Pono is their more affordable range of ukes, though it’s not the cheapest of the lot. They are still made with good-quality solid wood, but their setup and location reduces the overall cost. It does require extra attention and care as solid wood ukes are susceptible to wear with weather changes.
Soprano: Pono AS- Acacia Soprano
It’s a little heavy on the pockets at $349, but in return, it gives you a solid acacia body, with a satin finish and a rosewood neck. It looks classic and sounds classic too, and if you’re ready to invest in a good-quality guitar, this is the one to pick.
Concert: Pono AC- Acacia Concert
With a similar sound and look to the AS Soprano model, it comes at a price of $369. This is for beginners who want a more comfortable and larger uke to meet their needs.
Tenor: Pono MT- Mahogany Tenor
At $439, it gives you a solid mahogany body with a satin finish and a rosewood neck. With crisp, rich tones and a regal look, this is a great tenor choice.
Ukuleles are becoming increasingly popular due to their unique sound and easy playability. As with every instrument, there are variations in the sound, look, materials used, and thus, the relative pricing. This variety makes it hard for beginners to gage what is best suited for their needs and leads to the purchase of the wrong brand or type compared to what they were looking for. So, before buying a uke, we need to know certain things about this unique instrument.
WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR!
Ukes come in four different sizes:
Soprano: This is the smallest size at 20 inches, and the one that we most commonly associate with a uke. It has a high pitch, a travel-friendly size, and is a classic. It is a recommended type for beginners and comes cheap.
Concert: It’s 23 inches and slightly bigger than its sibling. It has better acoustics as well as a lower range. Because of its bigger frame and well-spaced frets, it is easy to handle and play, and works well for beginners.
Tenor: At 26 inches, it is becoming increasingly popular and is preferred by a lot of professionals lately. It is also highly recommended for beginners, especially adults who have slightly bigger hands because the larger fretboard is easy to maneuver. Its sounds are closer to that of a classical guitar with rich, deep sounds and low tones.
Baritone: The largest of them all at 30 inches, it has the loudest, richest sound synonymous with the classic guitar. It has the lowest tone and has a different tuning setup. Thus, it is recommended only to professionals who know how to work with them. More expensive than the rest, and harder to master and carry around, beginners are suggested to avoid this one at the start.
Ukulele bodies are made with different materials, which affects their weight, sound, playability, and appearance. They come in 3 main types of materials-
Plastic: The lowest-end models come in this material, and quality-wise it ranks the least, although there are a few exceptions like the Makala Dolphin series, which produces a pretty decent sound.
Laminate: It is a compromise between superior sound that comes from solid wood and a cheap price that is a showing factor for plastic bodies. It is made with sections of wood pieced together, sometimes with only the soundboard using solid wood to preserve the quality of sound. The sound quality is quite good, holding its tone over time, and it is durable, which makes it the preferred choice for beginners.
Solid Wood: The best of the lot but the most expensive, these ukes are made from a range of woods like mahogany, spruce, maple, or rosewood, which are less expensive, or the Hawaiian Koa wood or the Mango, which are pretty expensive. These produce the most original sounds and richest tones, but are susceptible to weather changes affecting the tonal quality over time.
This is the most important factor for beginners. As you’ll have seen above, plastic bodies come cheap, generally within the $10 to $50 range. The Laminates can range anywhere between $50-$200 (and more) and the solid woods start from $100 and can go as high as four figures for the vintage. These ranges are approximate and may vary with the brand, the place you’re from, or on whether it is store-bought or online (the latter may provide better deals).
Now it is ideal to start with a decent lower-end brand because ukes take some to get adapted to, and handling an expensive piece takes time and comes with practice. Keep in mind, though, that the maintenance and tuning of the lower-end models must be done constantly (Then again, every instrument must be tended to, from time to time).
Now that you have a better idea about ukuleles, the best brands, and what to look for while buying one, go out there and get your own! But make sure you always try ’em before you buy ’em, because preferences change with personal taste, and trial runs are a good way to gage the sound, quality, and feel of any instrument. Happy Shopping!