Apr 14, 2023

Best Beginner Ukuleles - Good, Better and Best Picks & Why Do I Recommend Tenors

Here are my picks for the best beginner ukes...

Best Beginner Ukuleles - Good, Better and Best Picks & Why Do I Recommend Tenors

This may be a little weird compared to other recommendation articles.

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Here we look at my recommendations for beginner ukuleles - you'll find a few things here that are different than may other recommendation posts. Many recommendation posts will put a Kala ukulele on top and then venture into some off brand stuff that I would consider a little risky.

As usual my recommendations (usually it's playing techniques I tell you not to do that others tell you to do) are the opposite of many others... So you as the reader will have a completely different point of view to look at compared to what you might have seen elsewhere. 

It's important for a beginner to choose a brand with good quality control and something that is highly unlikely to arrive with a serious defect that the beginner may not find or notice.

I keep these recommendations very simple by giving you my good, better and best choices (with additional options for each) - because I know some of you may want to spend a little more and may want something nicer. 

I stick with one brand - the #1 brand that's known for the most consistent quality, sound and playability. This way you are very unlikely to wind up with something that has major issues.

When I talk about quality issues - it's not just that I got a bad uke, because that could be an isolated incident - it's that I ran a music store and have seen entire shipments with issues from certain brands. On one occasion it was because they used a new factory to meet demands and the bad was mixed with the good, we had to look through all the serial numbers to sort out the stuff from the bad factory from the good stuff and we sent the bad stuff back. Some of the instruments I'm talking about here may be good choices if you had an expert pick through them for you but we can't talk about them here.

Some brands I like, but you really need to pick through them - may need to return a few to get a good one - a beginner won't be able to do that.

I own one unplayable uke - can't be played because the fret placement and the bridge is off - but it looks super cool - it's made out of an oil can. It's a expensive decoration. You're not going to want an expensive decoration for your first uke - I'm here to help...

I'm intentionally not mentioning any names here.

I'm also going to recommend a different size than others - but certainly you can get any size you want. Many of these recommendations are available in all sizes.

You Should Get a Tenor Uke!

When I ran a music store I knew someone that did group lessons - he'd have large beginner classes of 20 or so students and he also did private lessons as well.

I'd ship him 20+ MAKALA MK-T's every month or two - he sold them to his students - they all started with an MK-T.

Now - an MK-T is a tenor ukulele! Most folks would recommend sopranos (or a concert) to a beginner - so why would he exclusively use tenors??

Here's why:

They're easier to hold

You can easily rest on your leg while you're sitting down and play it with proper left hand position and proper posture (you don't want to hunch over to play the instrument - it could hurt your back) - soprano's may be difficult to hold for a number of reasons  - concerts may be a little easier than sopranos to hold.

They have a fuller louder sound

The tenor uke will provide a warmer deeper sound, more volume, and more projection than the smaller sizes.

They're easier to play!

Beginners could have trouble with various chords because the frets are closer together on the smaller ukes (especially the soprano) so a beginner may appreciate a little more space to make the chords. 

For some folks squeezing the fingers in between the frets of a soprano is very difficult, some chords may be quite a bit harder to master.

Pro's use them...

Many pros prefer the sound and projection of a tenor and for the complicated chords and lead passages they play, the wider fret spacing is essential...

Playing complicated chords higher up on the neck can be very difficult on the soprano  - I prefer a tenor for jazz and complicated fingerstyle - I may use a soprano for other things.

You can always get more ukes. You may have all the sizes someday!

In conclusion

My recommendations will be for tenor ukes - but if you must try a soprano or a concert for your first uke - it's OK. Many of these are available in all sizes!

It's OK to disagree or try other sizes - perhaps for you a soprano might be best because you personally don't see the advantages in anything I listed above.

Or, perhaps some of this resonates with you and you find it helpful and choose a tenor.

Consider this another point of view to look at.

My 'GOOD' Recommendations

The most consistent entry level uke is the MAKALA MK Series.

My recommendation here will be the MK-T (the tenor) but these are also available in a soprano, concert and baritone.

These are modeled after famous 100 year old ukes - they always look great and sound great.

They are made out of mahogany, they have brass frets and walnut fingerboards and some basic but very effective tuning keys. 

Makala uke's are made by KALA and are well known for being the best choice in the entry level price range.

If you're on a tight budget and don't want to spend over $100 this is the one...

Best Beginner Ukuleles - Good, Better and Best Picks & Why Do I Recommend Tenors
MAKALA MK-T (check pricing and learn more)

My second recommendation here - if you'd like something a little nicer - would be to get into the KALA uke's with a KA-T

This uke typically (not always) will have a nice ribbon grain mahogany (nicer woods used all around) - so it'll look a little nicer - it'll have nickel frets rather than brass (not that big of a deal) and it'll have nicer tuning keys. 

More upgrades: The KA-T will have a NuBone nut and saddle where as the MK-T will have plastic; the KA-T will have cream binding, the MK-T has no binding; the KA-T will have a rosewood fingerboard and the MK-T will have walnut.

These upgrades put it over $100.

Best Beginner Ukuleles - Good, Better and Best Picks & Why Do I Recommend Tenors
KALA KA-T (check pricing and learn more)

Those are my two 'GOOD' recommendations...

My 'BETTER' Recommendations (Exotics)

If you want something a little nicer looking without breaking the bank the KALA exotic series may have something that fits the bill for you.

Similar to the KA-T in sound quality but with a higher "coolness factor" due to the exotic woods used to create these masterpieces...

Option #1 here is the Bamboo - more and more people are playing these, the bamboo gives it a unique appearance, and the black saddle, nut and tuning keys add contrast...

Best Beginner Ukuleles - Good, Better and Best Picks & Why Do I Recommend Tenors
KALA KA-BMB-T (check pricing and learn more)

Option #2 here is the striped ebony uke

I use an electric version of this uke - it's available with electroniocs as well - for live perfomances...

Best Beginner Ukuleles - Good, Better and Best Picks & Why Do I Recommend Tenors
KALA KA-EBY-T (check pricing and learn more)

Final option (#3) for the 'Better' ukes is a beautiful flame maple sunburst  - available in cherry or tobacco.

Flame maple tops are very popular with high end guitars and so is the sunburst... No wonder it looks like a guitar.

Best Beginner Ukuleles - Good, Better and Best Picks & Why Do I Recommend Tenors
KALA KA-FMTB-T (check pricing and learn more)

These all have basic geared tuners but they work great... They also all have strap buttons.

SO, you have three for the 'BETTER' category. There are more expensive (and less expensive) ukes in the KALA exotic series. These being the most popular choices and falling into a certain price point.

My 'BEST' Picks... (All Solid Wood Ukes)

Here we get into all solid wood ukes - with the 'BETTER' picks we have some nice looking ukes but we have similar sound quality to the KA-T.

With ukes made from all solid wood we get much better volume projection and tone. If you don't mind spending a little more they will be well worth the extra cash.

Better sound will mean more enjoyable playing and learning.

With solid wood instruments the sound improves with age.

The previous ukes (with the exception of the bamboo*) were all made from laminates (pieces of wood glued together, one on top of another like plywood - not from a piece of solid wood). 

*The bamboo is made of solid wood strips glued together - the ukes we look at here are different - the top back and sides are made of all solid wood.

The solid mahogany ukes will have a full rich sound.

The first option here is an all solid mahogany uke with a satin finish...

I have some older versions of these - Tenor and Soprano.
Best Beginner Ukuleles - Good, Better and Best Picks & Why Do I Recommend Tenors
KALA KA-SMH-T (check pricing and learn more)

Second one - an all solid mahogany with a gloss finish and a slotted headstock.

Best Beginner Ukuleles - Good, Better and Best Picks & Why Do I Recommend Tenors
KALA KA-SMH-TG (check pricing and learn more)

My next pick is an all solid acacia - acacia wood is a relative of koa. Many high end ukuleles are made out of koa.

Best Beginner Ukuleles - Good, Better and Best Picks & Why Do I Recommend Tenors
KALA KA-SA-T (check pricing and learn more)

Pros love this one - you will notice lot's of top players using these - the solid cedar top provides a warm sweet sound for fingerstyle playing, classical guitarists have always preferred the sound of a cedar top.

The back and sides are Solid Pau Ferro. If you get the version of this with electronics you'll get Fishman electronics - a cut above what you normally get with a Kala.

Best Beginner Ukuleles - Good, Better and Best Picks & Why Do I Recommend Tenors
KALA KA-ASCP-T (check pricing and learn more)

That concludes my recommendations - any of these ukes would be a great pick for a starter...

"Hey - is there more tension on the strings on a tenor?" A Little bit - It'll be good for you...

Share this with your 'ukulele friends'

Best Beginner Ukuleles - Good, Better and Best Picks & Why Do I Recommend Tenors

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