Ukuleles Buying Guide

A Guide to Choosing the Ukulele That’s Right for You

In recent years, a string of artists have incorporated the ukulele into their professional recordings, transforming its traditional reputation from more of a whimsical supportive instrument to a serious musical tool in its own right. For beginners, the ukulele makes a great starter instrument because it’s fairly easy to learn. And to professionals, it offers an interesting extension to their tonal palette.

The ukulele’s surge in popularity has brought with it a more complex choice of offerings, with lots of brands developing new lines of ukuleles with different body sizes, wood, and features at a variety of price points. With such a wealth of choice, it can be difficult to figure out which one is right for you. In an effort to make that process easier, we've broken the choices out into a few categories below, which should help give you a head start in narrowing down the type of ukulele that'll fit you best.

This guide is mainly focused on acoustic ukuleles, which are the most common choice among first-time and casual ukulele players. Near the end, however, we briefly discuss acoustic-electric ukuleles and the scenarios that they best serve.

Quick Picks for Beginners

Brand-New to Ukulele? Start Here

If you're just starting out with ukulele, here are some beginner picks to consider as you build up your chops. While there are a lot of great options for first-time players, many will gravitate toward a soprano style ukulele due to their generally lower cost and small body size.

What to Consider When Buying a Ukulele

Price Range

  • With an ample selection of ukuleles falling in the **$50 to $150 price range**, there are many good options for beginners, with room to grow as you progress. If you already play guitar or plan to use a ukulele for more professional pursuits, it may be worth investing a little more in the beginning to prevent the need to upgrade later on.

  • Models constructed of high-end tonewoods from popular brands deliver a step up in quality and lifespan for more seasoned players, and/or those with deeper pockets, and can reach into the $300 to $500 price range (higher for certain vintage models).

Wood vs. Plastic

  • Ukulele bodies are typically crafted from solid wood, laminate, or a plastic or composite material. Solid wood ukuleles tend to be the most expensive, and plastic the least expensive. Aside from price, other distinguishing features are tone, appearance, maintenance, and versatility.

  • Wood ukuleles can be crafted from a variety of wood types, from the bright and crisp-sounding, traditional Hawaiian Koa hardwood, to the more affordable, dark, and warm-sounding mahogany, and many others in between. Personal taste comes into play when considering the characteristics of various woods in terms of grain, brightness and projection.

  • While generally more affordable than solid wood or laminate ukuleles, tone can be sacrificed with certain plastic or composite options. On the upside, these materials are more impervious to changes in temperature and humidity, making them a popular choice for outdoor parties or camping trips.

Acoustic vs. Acoustic-Electric

  • For most folks starting out, or those performing in very small venues, a standard acoustic ukulele will serve their needs, since the hollow body and soundhole allow the sound to project at close range without any amplification. However, if you do a lot of recording in a studio or perform on stage in large venues, you may want to explore an acoustic-electric option, as it relieves the constraints and more involved setups needed when playing with a microphone in front of the soundhole to adequately capture and amplify the instrument’s sound.

Soprano Ukuleles

This is the most common ukulele size, with a standard body length around 20 to 21 inches. Offered in a variety of materials, colors and shapes, soprano ukuleles have that classic, happy, “I’m on vacation in Hawaii” sound.

The small, light body lends itself well to children or adults with smaller hands, anyone looking for an instrument they can travel with easily, beginners who are still learning how to fret an instrument or who don’t yet need an extended range of notes, or folks who aren’t yet ready to invest in a more expensive choice.

Concert Ukuleles

Slightly larger than the soprano ukulele is the concert uke, measuring around 23 inches. It uses GCEA tuning like the soprano, but features a slightly wider neck and slightly longer body, which makes it a good choice for players with larger hands, or as a “step-up” instrument for beginners ready to advance to the next level. While their sound is slightly deeper, concert ukuleles generally retain the classic ukulele sound.

Tenor Ukuleles

The larger body (26 inches, on average) and scale of tenor ukuleles offer a more comfortable transition for those who already play the guitar or another large fretted instrument. They also offer more comfortable fretting for players with larger hands. While most tenors are tuned the same as soprano and concert ukuleles, the larger body produces a fuller and deeper sound.

This sound is not “better” than that of other ukuleles—it’s mainly a matter of personal preference. For every tenor ukulele player out there, you can find a player who gravitates toward the brighter sound of a soprano or concert instead. From strictly a budget standpoint, tenor ukuleles are higher up on the price scale, making them more of a contender for advanced students or pros rather than some beginners.

Baritone Ukuleles

Featuring the largest ukulele body size (30 inches or more), baritone ukuleles—as you’d expect—also feature the deepest sound, which is also darker in nature. They are also typically tuned the same as a guitar’s four lower strings, making them a close “cousin” to the guitar and offering an even smoother transition for guitarists, since the chords are the same.

High-End Ukuleles

If you find yourself playing ukulele for profit, or if you’re an instrument collector and want to invest in a higher-end option, some of the more well-known guitar and ukulele brands offer ukulele models featuring solid wood tops, backs and sides that are exquisite, both in tone and appearance. Many have onboard electronics as well. You can also explore the variety of vintage ukuleles in good condition that are available.