If you have ever searched for a new ukulele you will probably have noticed the huge number of brands that offer this particular instrument. The ukulele is a relatively affordable instrument, and many instrument makers have a go at making their own version of the best.
There are brands which are relatively new, brands that should be avoided, and even brands with hundreds of years of history for you to check out. We explore the very best ukulele brands in this guide and even mention some of their flagship models.
Here are the best ukulele brands 2020:
Some really popular ukuleles belong to the Cordoba brand including the 15CM-E. The brand has actually only been around since 1997. Luthier and musician Pepe Romero helped to create the brand and their focus on nylon-stringed instruments shines through (they also make classical guitars).
The ukuleles within their range tend to be very good quality. They have a large range and cater to people wanting all different sizes. Their range even has a lot of products with pickups included, so that amplification is a breeze. They’re great for live and studio use.
Cordoba instruments tend to be made out of exceptional materials, and mahogany is commonly used in their ukes, though they also have a number of spruce options.
- Good build quality with all of their models.
- Mahogany material is generally used.
- Some of their products come with electronics for amplification.
- Not as many models as some of the other brands.
- Not many budget offerings in their range.
Ambassadors of the Cordoba brand include Jose Gonzalez. It’s little surprise, these instruments have a professional feel and a very authentic tone in spite of not being manufactured in Hawaii. In terms of price, they’re at the mid to upper range, especially when compared to some budget ukulele makers.
Kala is an incredibly prolific ukulele manufacturer. They celebrated their 15th anniversary in 2020, but you could easily think they had been around much longer if you look at the range. The company isn’t Hawaiian, but not many of the modern ukulele makers are. In fact they are based on the west coast, ‘nestled in the Sonoma wine country’.
The KA-15S soprano ukulele is one of the most popular ukuleles in the world. It’s reliable but also relatively budget-friendly, with a bright, classic tone. You often find this bundled as a ‘beginner’s set’ with other ukulele accessories.
The brand splits a lot of it’s instruments into both the KA and MK series. Though they have budget ukuleles under $50, the Kala KOA-CT-T Port Orford Cedar Top tenor uke stands out as one of the very best. It’s a professional ukulele, perfect for touring musicians, and the Hawaiian koa wood it is made out of gives an incredibly authentic tone.
Kala continues to push the envelope. As well as making new models all the time, they’re branching into other instruments including percussion. They’ve also become known for the ‘U-bass’ which is a ukulele and bass guitar hybrid.
- Lots of affordable ukuleles with a bright tone.
- Great for beginners and sold bundled with accessories.
- Huge range.
- Not many of their range uses elite tonewoods such as koa.
The Kala range is exceptionally popular for beginner and intermediate players. If you search for any design and shape of ukulele then you are bound to find something by Kala offered.
Looking for professional, high-end acoustic instruments? You really can’t escape this brand, with incredible craftsmanship going into all of their instruments. When we mentioned the Kala brand we discussed some of their models that cost around $1,000 – well, that’s nothing.
Some Martin models are around $5,000, but the hand-made quality and history of this brand is impressive. Martin, as a brand, goes back 200 years. Ukuleles were first made in the late 1800s and Martin started making them not long after.
If you want a historic ukulele brand then this is the one for you. Very few music brands have the history that Martin can offer. This comes with extra expense, but you can’t argue with the design and quality of their instruments.
One of the things that sets the Martin range apart is their choice of materials as they use only the very best tonewoods and hardware. If you are looking for a model that isn’t on the top end of their pricing structure but does a professional job and gives the Martin quality, consider the Martin 1T IZ tenor ukulele. This is made from beautiful mahogany woods and the tone is beautifully bright. You are paying extra, but for real quality.
- Incredible craftsmanship.
- One of the most respected brands on the market.
- Elite instruments, and make excellent recordings.
- Very expensive compared to a lot of the other options on the market.
You know what you are getting with Martin instruments; quality. But that quality comes at a price. If you want the very best and don’t mind paying for it then this could be the brand for you.
Lanikai is another brand that operates at both the beginner end of the market and provides products for the real pros and audiophiles. Not a great deal is published about the history of the brand, but they are distributed by Hohner. This association can only be a good thing and Lanikai can rely on their rich history of folk instrumentation.
Lanikai models are made out of a variety of different materials and they have some very interesting designs, too, coming in a variety of colors and even with unorthodox uke sizings. There are six string and eight string models within their range.
A lot of the models at the upper end of the Lanikai range also include pickups and electronics, so they can easily be played through an amp or PA system.
- Many models come with electronics included.
- Lots of quirky and interesting designs.
- Some materials are less conventional and don’t provide the standard ukulele tone.
Those looking for a quirky and cool design and a beautiful maple tonewood should consider the Lanikai brand, and specifically the QMBL-CET Quilted Maple tenor ukulele, which looks absolutely stunning. This is a brand that isn’t afraid to play with the traditional design of a ukulele and come up with something for the 21st century.
It is a brand that almost every musician knows, but they might not associate Fender with ukes. Actually, they create some very high-quality smaller instruments and their ukuleles definitely appeal to the guitar fans out there. They even have mini versions of the Telecaster and other iconic Fender designs in ukulele form.
You can feel that you are playing Fender quality. While some of the ukulele manufacturers are relatively small and unheard of, Fender is a musical juggernaut with a lot of fans all over the world. The Fender range is more expensive than some of the budget manufacturers. We’d put them in the ‘mid-range’ when it comes to pricing.
Though the way these ukuleles look is a little different, they do use some traditional tonewoods including koa and maple to give a strong signature uke sound.
If you are looking to buy a Fender uke then the Signature series made in conjunction with Grace VanderWaal is definitely worth a look.
- Lots of quirky designs.
- Reliable Fender instrument build-quality.
- Some of the ukuleles have a bit more of a classical-guitar tone.
A lot of people see Fender as a guitar brand and when they see that a lot of the uke designs replicate their guitars they think they are novelty products. The Grace VanderWaal series proves they are serious instruments with beautiful tonality.
The Mahalo brand is definitely one with a more traditional Hawaiian feel. If you believe their website they are actually the most popular uke brand in the world. In spite of the Hawaiian name and feel (Mahalo is a Hawaiian word for ‘thank you’) the brand is made in Japan.
The brand is probably one of the most popular because of the fact that they make a lot of different ukes that are really affordable, especially when compared to some other brands such as Martin. They offer budget models, but that doesn’t mean they’re pumped out of factories with errors. Actually, Mahalo has a promise on their website to send out only ‘craftsman built’ instruments.
The brand also promises to only use sustainable wood from renewable sources, which is always a bonus. The range is big, and it is growing, but they don’t really cater to the professional market. Hobbyists, kids and beginners are more the name of the game for Mahalo.
- Excellent value-for-money.
- Lots of beginner models.
- Sustainable woods are used.
- Not many options in this brand for elite, professional musicians.
If you want to find a good ukulele under $100 and you want to know that it is probably going to last, and provide you with plenty of years of practice then Mahalo could be a good option, they also provide some great beginner bundles for those looking to start playing.
7. Oscar Schmidt
Oscar Schmidt is another very historic brand which can be traced back to the 1800s. They have a really interesting past, as traveling salesmen used to sell the instruments in locations where music stores didn’t tend to exist. The company worked out of factories in Europe and in Jersey.
They made (and still make) mainly stringed instruments such as ukuleles, banjos and classical guitars. The brand is also known for some of their more unusual instruments as they manufacture zithers and autoharps.
These days the brand is owned and distributed by Washburn, a big brand in the world of guitars and acoustic instruments.
Many of the products in the range use some fantastic koa and mahogany woods. The price is relatively mid-range and this means that they’re an affordable instrument for intermediate players.
- Lots of koa and mahogany options.
- The brand has a long, illustrious history.
- No affordable, beginner models in the range.
Some of the Oscar Schmidt models hold up as professional, concert and recording instruments and can generate really traditional folky tones, as you would expect from a folk instrument brand.
A fun fact about the brand is that Warren Buffett plays an Oscar Schmidt ukulele! He may not be known for his musical ability but it is definitely a conversation-starter.
Lohanu comes from a place you might not expect to make this tropical instrument – the brand is Canadian. The name comes from a hybrid of the words ‘love’ and ‘ohana’ which means family in the traditional Hawaiian language.
It isn’t the oldest and most prestigious brand on the market but they have some really good options, especially for beginners. They use a wide variety of different tonewoods in their range, too.
Something a lot of people like about the brand is the fact that they offer lifetime warranties. You can rest assured that the product isn’t going to break easily and if it does you might be able to claim on your warranty. Their customer support is excellent.
- Brilliant customer support.
- Affordable models with reliable build-quality.
- Not many elite models for pro musicians.
- Some of the models aren’t very traditional in their tonality.
Lohanu makes some very good beginner bundles. They describe the LU-C uke as their flagship model and this is available under $100 and comes with a lot of different accessories. You can see why they are growing their reputation as a budget brand.
The brand also shows its commitment to beginners by offering free access to some ukulele lessons. While you might not see a Lohanu played by the very elite ukulele players, for beginners and intermediates they are reliable instruments.
Luna started out manufacturing guitars but their range of ukuleles have definitely overtaken the guitars in terms of popularity. The brand has a cool and interesting story behind it.
Luna’s co-founder was Yvonne de Villiers who is actually an artist who specialized in stained-glass. She wanted to create a close-knit brand but also one that had some loud and interesting designs.
Check out the Uke Owl concert ukulele in their brand for a really fascinating design. This is an example of the sort of instruments they make, which are not just things of beauty but they are made of great tonewoods and they sound fantastic as well as looking good in your home studio or rehearsal space.
- Access to the Luna tribe and Luna university learning platforms.
- Great customer service.
- Loads of interesting and loud designs.
- Sometimes you are paying for design rather than build-quality.
The ‘Luna Tribe’ is one of the brilliant aspects of the brand, and they also offer a learning platform called the ‘Luna University’. The brand has a really close fanbase and their customer service is exceptional, to go with their very impressive brand of fascinating designs.
The Donner brand is sort of an ‘honorable mention’ on our list. They are a pretty good ukulele brand, but definitely on the budget end of the market.
In fact, they don’t necessarily specialize in ukuleles. Instead, they make a lot of budget musical equipment and this includes ukuleles, some of which are pretty good. The brand uses decent tonewoods and craftsmanship and though it is not the best brand in the world for build-quality, their beginner offerings are certainly respectable.
- Very affordable.
- Quite a big range including electric models.
- Build and tonewoods aren’t as good as some other brands on the list.
- Customer service may be lacking.
We’ve included Donner on the list due to the fact many of their budget models sell very well. They aren’t the best ukulele brand for those recording a full uke album, but for a beginner or aspiring player on a budget, they’re a great choice.
As you can see from our list, ukulele brands vary from those which have models under $100, to those which cost many thousands of dollars for a simple and small acoustic instrument. It really comes down to what you want as a musician.
If you are looking for the best ukulele brands for beginners then something like the Luna or Lohanu range could be ideal. For more advanced players wanting exceptional craftsmanship and an instrument built to last the ages, Martin manufacture some of the very best models on the market.
Ben is a writer, musician and former studio engineer from the UK with qualifications including music technology. A self-confessed audiophile, Ben can also play multiple instruments.
Ben has worked in recording studios in the East of England, and written about all aspects of music equipment and the music business, as well as production and engineering.