Looking for a great ukulele? Check out our guide to the best ukulele brands!
When shopping for a new ukulele, it can be hard to tell great brands from the ukulele brands to avoid. Big-name ukulele brands like Kala, Lanikai, Cordoba, and Luna all have plenty of reviews and press, but a quick search on Amazon brings up dozens of brands. Many of these sell ukuleles that look remarkably similar. They’re often packaged together with a case, strings, and other accessories for a lower price than better-known brands.
Examples of these brands include
- Hola! Music
While many of these ukuleles are not bad (and some can be quite good), there’s a reason that they’re often mentioned as ukulele brands to avoid. In order to understand why, it’s important to understand why they exist in the first place.
Looking for an acoustic-electric ukulele that won’t break the bank? Check out the best acoustic-electric ukuleles on a budget…
Most inexpensive ukuleles are made in China
Even brands like Kala that make higher-end ukuleles in the US make most of their inexpensive (sub $500 or so) ukuleles in China. This means that there are many factories and workshops that have both the equipment and expertise to make ukuleles. Oftentimes, they end up deciding to cut out the middleman, making and marketing their own brand of ukes, or making generic instruments that anyone can put their own brand name on.
Some of these are carbon copies of the big name-brand ukes they’re also making. Others are similar, but with a few changes in the parts or materials used, and others are original designs. The issue is, it can be very hard to tell what is what.
Quality is very inconsistent
As I said before, some of these ukuleles can be quite good. Kmise and Donner in particular have models that are both popular and well-made. But along with the good, there’s plenty of bad, and it can be very difficult to tell what you’re getting. To make matters worse, the pictures in the listings look extremely similar from uke to uke, even though one might be great and the other might be terrible!
This is a particular problem for the beginners who get lured in by the low prices. Someone with experience can often fix minor issues with their ukulele and make them sound and play much better than they do out of the box. But beginners lack that expertise, and often get stuck with a bad ukulele that is hard to play.
Another issue is the mislabeling of the various materials used. The wood that a ukulele is made of has a huge effect on tone, and solid woods are usually preferred compared to cheaper laminate wood. Unfortunately, there have been many reports of ukuleles being advertised as “solid koa” or “solid mahogany” that are very clearly laminate. Even if they sound decent, people pay a premium for solid wood, and it’s disappointing to pay for something you’re not getting! Which gets me to my final point…
Don’t be taken in by much lower prices!
Most instruments sold by these ukulele brands to avoid are sold with various accessories, usually at least a case, some strings, a tuner, and a strap. Many also have built-in pickups to make them acoustic-electric ukuleles, picks, capos… the list goes on! Many times, these packages are priced even lower than a comparable Kala or Cordoba uke, which doesn’t come with any accessories at all. Now, what’s that old saying, you get what you pay for?
There’s a manufacturing cost for each item in that package, and if they’re spending money to make it, they’re not putting that money into the most important thing–the ukulele! Straps, tuners, and cases can be very convenient, but they won’t matter if the ukulele isn’t very good. It pays to get a good ukulele to start out, and add on the accessories later.
Ukulele brands you can trust
There are many great brands out there, but some trusted, well-known brands that make great beginner instruments include
Getting a ukulele from one of these brands is a better bet than buying from the above list of ukulele brands to avoid. Just be careful, you might develop the debilitating disease known as UAS (ukulele acquisition syndrome). As Lay’s used to say, betcha can’t have just one!
Also published on Medium.