Consordinis articles are written by musicians who independently research, test, and recommend the best instruments and products. We are reader-supported. When you purchase through links in our articles, we may earn an affiliate commission.
Ukulele tends to be a secondary instrument to many famous guitar players when they come to the phase of experimenting with sounds while creating music. Some of the artists on this list are primarily guitarists or famous rockers that just love ukulele sounds and created some of the masterpieces in the latter stages of their career, and the rest of the list consists of masters of the ukulele from the early ages. Take a look at our list and get familiar with the most famous ukulele players of all time!
1. Israel Kamakawiwo’ole
Israel Kamakawiwo’ole was a Hawaiian ukulele player and singer-songwriter. He is most commonly associated with the song “Over the Rainbow”, which he recorded in 1987.
Kamakawiwo’ole was born and raised in Honolulu, Hawaii. His parents were both musicians, and he began playing ukulele at a young age. He became proficient on the instrument and began performing in bands during his teenage years. In the 1980s, he started to gain popularity as a solo artist, releasing his first album in 1986.
Kamakawiwo’ole’s music typically featured Hawaiian elements, such as traditional instruments and rhythms. He often sang in both English and Hawaiian, and his songs often dealt with themes of Hawaiian culture and history.
Kamakawiwo’ole died in 1997 at the age of 38. Since his death, he has been hailed as one of the most influential ukulele players of all time, and his music continues to be popular. “Over the Rainbow” in particular has become an iconic song, appearing in numerous films and TV shows.
2. Jake Shimabukuro
Jake Shimabukuro is a ukulele virtuoso who has taken the instrument to new heights with his innovative and masterful playing. Born and raised in Honolulu, Hawaii, Jake began playing ukulele at the age of four and by eleven, he was performing in concerts and competitions. His unique style – which draws on influences from jazz, blues, rock, classical, and traditional Hawaiian music – has garnered him international acclaim.
Jake has released numerous solo albums and collaborated with some of the world’s top musicians, including Yo-Yo Ma, Bela Fleck, Gordon Lightfoot, Jimmy Buffett, Cyndi Lauper, Bette Midler, and Michael McDonald, David Crosby, and Lyle Love tt. In 2011, he was featured in the award-winning documentary Ukulele Underground, which chronicles his career and rises to fame.
Jake has performed at some of the world’s most prestigious venues, including Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, and the Sydney Opera House. He has appeared on The Tonight Show, Good Morning America, and The Ellen DeGeneres Show, and his playing has been featured in commercials for Coca-Cola and Nissan. In 2017, he was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Ukulele Hall of Fame Museum.
Jake’s playing has revolutionized the ukulele world and inspired a new generation of ukulele players. His passion for music and commitment to sharing his gift with others is evident in everything he does. Jake is truly a ukulele master and one of the most important musicians of our time.
3. George Harrison
George Harrison was born on February 25, 1943, in Liverpool, England. Harrison’s father, Harold, was a bus driver who played ukulele and banjo; his mother, Louise, was a housewife. His parents encouraged their son’s interest in music; at the age of five, he received his first ukulele.
Harrison joined the Beatles in early 1962, after the band’s original guitarist, Stuart Sutcliffe, left the group. He quickly established himself as an important member of the band; his lead guitar work can be heard on such classic Beatles songs as “Taxman,” “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” and “Here Comes the Sun.”
In 1970, Harrison released his first solo album, All Things Must Pass. The triple-LP set was a huge critical and commercial success, spawning the hit singles “My Sweet Lord” and “What Is Life.”
Harrison continued to release successful solo albums throughout the 1970s and 1980s, including 1973’s Living in the Material World, 1975’s Extra Texture (Read All About It), and 1987’s Cloud Nine. He also found time to pursue his love of Indian music and culture, forming the supergroup Shankar-Harrison with Ravi Shankar in 1976.
George Harrison died of cancer on November 29, 2001, at the age of 58. He was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004.
4. Tyler Joseph
Tyler Joseph was born on December 1, 1988, in Columbus, Ohio. His father is from a musical family, and his mother was a music teacher. Tyler grew up playing the piano and singing in church choirs. He began playing the ukulele at the age of 12 after his grandfather gave him one. Tyler’s father encouraged him to play music and taught him how to read sheet music.
In 2006, Tyler enrolled at Ohio State University to study engineering. He dropped out after one year to pursue a career in music. In 2009, he formed the band Twenty-One Pilots with friend Nick Thomas. The band released their self-titled debut album in 2011.
Since achieving success with Twenty-One Pilots, Tyler has become one of the most popular ukulele players in the world. He is known for his unique style of playing, which combines elements of strumming and finger-picking. Tyler’s ukulele playing has been featured on several of the band’s hit songs, including “Stressed Out” and “Ride.”
Outside of his work with Twenty-One Pilots, Tyler has also released a solo ukulele album, Ukulele Lessons (2016). He has collaborated with other ukulele players, including Jake Shimabukuro and Aldrine Guerrero. Tyler is an active member of the ukulele community and is a strong advocate for the instrument.
Tyler Joseph is one of the most popular ukulele players in the world. He is known for his unique style of playing, which combines elements of strumming and finger-picking. Tyler’s ukulele playing has been featured on several of the band’s hit songs, including “Stressed Out” and “Ride.”
5. Roy Smeck
Roy Smeck was one of the most famous ukulele players of all time. He was born in 1900 in Staten Island, New York, and began playing the instrument at a young age. Smeck was a highly-skilled player and quickly gained notoriety for his virtuosic abilities. He went on to tour the world, and even performed for Presidents Hoover and Roosevelt.
Smeck was one of the first ukulele players to be recorded, and his records were extremely popular in the 1920s and 1930s. He wrote a number of instructional books on ukulele playing and helped to spread the popularity of the instrument.
6. Eddie Vedder
Eddie Vedder is one of the most iconic ukulele players of all time. He popularized the instrument in the 1990s with his band Pearl Jam, and has been playing it ever since. Vedder is known for his unique style and sound and has influenced countless other ukulele players over the years.
Vedder was born in 1964 in Evanston, Illinois. He picked up the ukulele at a young age and began playing in bands during high school. In 1990, he joined Pearl Jam, and the rest is history. The band released their debut album, Ten, in 1991, and it quickly became one of the best-selling albums of all time. Vedder’s powerful vocals and catchy ukulele playing were a major contributing factor to the band’s success.
Over the years, Vedder has released several solo albums and has collaborated with a number of other artists. He is widely considered to be one of the greatest ukulele players of all time and has inspired countless others to pick up the instrument. If you’re looking to get into ukulele playing, Eddie Vedder is a great place to start.
Check out some of the brands used in these songs here, and start playing it yourself!