Updated February 19, 2019 by Sheila O'Neill

The 10 Best Ukuleles

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This wiki has been updated 20 times since it was first published in September of 2015. If you're into tiptoeing through the tulips, you may fancy trying your hand at playing one of these ukuleles that produce the classic sound that reminds us all of Hawaii. Now that this instrument has become almost mainstream, more and more people want to give it a whirl, so we've included models priced ideally for beginners through to instruments good enough for concert performances. When users buy our independently chosen editorial recommendations, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki. Skip to the best ukulele on Amazon.

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6. Luna Great Wave

5. Hola! Music Deluxe

4. Kala Mahogany Soprano

3. Kala Rumbler U-Bass

2. Mahalo Ukuleles Rainbow Series

1. Oscar Schmidt OU5 Bundle

A Break From The Mundane

Each instrument carries with it a cultural imprint that forms its reputation, which makes it an evolving art form.

Every musical instrument has a unique sound that transcends the boundaries of time. Instruments are introduced, they gain popularity, lose popularity, only to experience a revival again through the passage of time and among the nature of human evolution. Musical compositions are also part of this cycle, given that their very nature allows them to be played over and over. For that reason, music evokes the emotions and memories.

Certain instruments also evoke associations with a place or context. What does this mean? Take the saxophone as an example. A saxophone is a symbol of the jazz genre, which makes one think of places like New Orleans, loud clubs, speakeasies, and prohibition. Now, consider another instrument like the ukulele and ask yourself to list some of the images and context that it evokes.

Perhaps the Hawaiian Islands and other Polynesian islands of the Pacific Ocean come to mind along with lazy days on the beach and just an overall difference from normal everyday living. Each instrument carries with it a cultural imprint that forms its reputation, which makes it an evolving art form. The ukulele is no exception.

The ukulele (abbreviated as uke) is identified as a member of the lute family of instruments, made up of four gut strings that run parallel to its main body. Sometimes, these strings are made in courses, which gives the instrument closer to six or eight total strings designed to help improve the strumming volume. The strings are commonly made from nylon polymer. Ukuleles typically have a figure-eight shape resembling a small guitar or cello, but they can also be made in other shapes (i.e. ovals and squares).

The traditional ukulele is made from the wood of an Acacia koa tree. The more pricey ukuleles are made from pure hardwoods like mahogany, while less expensive ones are constructed from a combination of plywood, plastics, or laminate woods. The instrument's tone is reminiscent of a banjo-like, plucky sound that lends itself well to strumming cords with one's thumb.

There are four common sizes of ukulele to choose from: concert, soprano, tenor, and baritone. Less commonly used are the bass and contrabass ukuleles. The soprano is considered the second smallest of all four and is known as the standard version in Hawaii. The concert size is slightly larger than the soprano with a deeper and louder tone. The tenor has an even deeper tone and louder volume than either the concert or soprano ukuleles. The baritone resembles a small tenor guitar, while the bass and contrabass are the most recently developed of the ukulele family.

Hybrid History

While it's not considered a native instrument, that doesn't mean the ukulele's history is any less interesting. It isn't derived from a single parent instrument, rather, it is considered a hybrid (or a cross) between several guitar-like instruments, including the Portuguese machete and five-string rajão dating back to the eighteenth century. These instruments were originally imported into Hawaii by Portuguese immigrants from both Madeira and Cabo Verde (Cape Verde) through the nineteenth century.

Manuel Nunes and family opened a production factory in 1910, which continued assembling ukuleles until the 1930s.

The three immigrants credited as the first ukulele inventors were Madeiran cabinet makers Manuel Nunes, José do Espírito Santo, and Augusto Dias who all arrived on the Hawaiian shores from Portugal on a ship called the Ravenscrag in 1879. Along with four hundred other immigrants aboard the ship, the three cabinet makers came to work the sugar cane fields. However, once the trio's contracts were up for the sugar cane fields, they began building ukuleles for themselves and friends. The instrument was to become very popular among the Hawaiian natives. The ukulele was also displayed at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893.

Espirito Santo was the first to advertise the instrument in 1898, but it wasn't until the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco that the ukulele's popularity exploded in the United States.

Manuel Nunes and family opened a production factory in 1910, which continued assembling ukuleles until the 1930s. By the late 1930s, the ukulele had lost some of its popularity to the electric guitar, partially due to a surge in upcoming jazz musicians.

Ukulele popularity remained low until the 1990s when the internet was able to bring instrument makers and players together to share experiences and music. This spawned a new digital subculture for the instrument, which is still going strong today.

Strumming On The Old Ukulele

Because the ukulele sound is so unique, the deeper and richer it becomes, the easier it is to hear. For that reason, an instrument made from high-quality materials with thick, durable strings can make all the difference. Additionally, the instrument should be relatively easy to tune, regardless of whether you choose to use the standard or electronic tuning method.

Once you've got some experience with the instrument, then consider a more expensive model made from natural woods.

If you consider yourself a beginner with a strong interest in learning how to play the instrument, then sturdy plastic or laminate wood construction is often a great choice to start with, especially if you plan to travel with the instrument, you require something tough and able to withstand some abuse, or are planning to purchase an instrument for your child.

You don't need to break the bank to buy an ukulele. Good ukuleles for beginners can run between fifty and one hundred dollars. Plastic ukuleles also come in many different colors. Once you've got some experience with the instrument, then consider a more expensive model made from natural woods.

One must also determine the size of ukulele they'd like to play. Don't let all the available sizes deter or overwhelm you from making a choice. A local music store can be a big help in this regard. Store employees can introduce you to the different sizes, what they sound like, and how best to tune them.

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Sheila O'Neill
Last updated on February 19, 2019 by Sheila O'Neill

Sheila is a writer and editor living in sunny Southern California. She studied writing and film at State University of New York at Purchase, where she earned her bachelor of arts degree. After graduating, she worked as an assistant video editor at a small film company, then spent a few years doing freelance work, both as a writer and a video editor. During that time, she wrote screenplays and articles, and edited everything from short films to infomercials. An ardent lover of the English language, she can often be found listening to podcasts about etymology and correcting her friends’ grammar.


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