When you’re trying to figure out which ukulele to buy, brand can be very important. While there are dozens and dozens of ukulele brands and makers out there, they can all be roughly categorized into three types. Depending on how much you want to pay, you’ll generally have ukuleles from each of these three types of makers.
Read on to find out more about the different types of ukulele brands, and which ones are the best in each category!
See also: Ukulele Brands to Avoid
The first kind is the most common to find. These are brands that make hundreds or even thousands of ukuleles a month, usually in factories and workshops based in Asia. Kala, Lanikai, and Ohana are three of the most popular brands in this category. They generally offer very good value, with some very inexpensive ukuleles that still play well. But they don’t usually make higher-end ukuleles, so you are more likely to find their instruments in the hands of beginner and intermediate players.
This feeds into a perception that they’re low-grade instruments or not for serious players. On the contrary, these brand can make some excellent ukuleles! If you’re looking for the best bang for your buck, this is the category to look at. You can find a great laminate uke for less than $100, and a great solid-wood uke for under $300.
Notice, though, how I said “can.” That’s because of the biggest pitfall for these ukuleles: quality assurance. Because they’re made in large numbers, less attention to detail is paid in any given instrument. Look through Amazon reviews, and you’re bound to find one that mentions a ukulele with significant flaws. These just get lost in the shuffle during manufacturing, and unfortunately make it into someone’s hands. Luckily, most stores have good return policies. Usually, all you need to do is send it back and get another one in return; these brands stand behind their products and will make sure you get a good one!
Kala is one of the most popular brands of ukulele out there, and it’s easy to see why. They make a wide range of ukes to fit every budget, and offer some great value. If you’re just starting out, their KA series offers the perfect blend of playability and price. And if you love your Kala ukulele but want something even better, their Elite Series is hand-built in the US but still quite affordable.
- The Kala KA-TE features a high-end Shadow Nanoflex pickup system that delivers a wonderfully natural tone while plugged in. But the KA-TE isn’t just a great electric ukulele, it’s got a strong, even acoustic tone.
- If you’re looking higher-end, the Kala KA-ASAC-S sounds as beautiful as it looks, which is saying something. Made from solid acacia wood with a rosewood fretboard and mother-of-pearl inlays, this is a breathaking soprano uke both sonically and visually.
Makala is actually a sub-brand of Kala, focused on entry-level ukuleles. Its Dolphin and Shark series ukes are some of the most popular beginnner ukuleles out there. But even though none of its instruments are very expensive, they’ve still got the same great quality as their Kala cousins. You can read more about the differences between the two brands in our article on Kala vs Makala.
- The Makala Dolphin is a classic that has become a favorite among beginning ukulele players. It’s also great for kids due to its bright colors and sturdy construction.
- The Makala MK-TE combines a great sound and pickup system with an incredibly affordable price. It’s a great pick for someone who wants to play out at gigs of open mics and wants to plug in.
Lanikai and Kala have some similar roots, sharing a founder, Mike Upton. He developed the Lanikai brand for Hohner, a larger musical instrument manufacturer. While it’s still a subsidiary of Hohner, Lanikai has made a name for itself by offering high-quality ukuleles at great prices. Their ukuleles may not be the flashiest in looks, but they’ve got plenty of tone.
- The Lanikai MA-CEC is a great value pick for a gigging musician. The onboard Fishman Kula preamp system produces a great plugged-in tone, and the cutaway makes rocketing up the fretboard easy.
- Beginners will love the playability of the Lanikai LU-21, which is a step above the usual starter ukulele. Intonation and balance between strings, often an issue on cheaper ukuleles, are excellent on this uke.
Ohana builds some of the least expensive solid-wood ukuleles around, but doesn’t compromise on quality. Their ukuleles are known for being hand-inspected and set-up before being shipped out. This attention to detail has won them the love of many ukulele players worldwide.
- The Ohana SK-15BWE is one of the most beautiful ukuleles around, period. It’s also an extraordinarily good value for a ukulele made from solid black and white ebony.
- The Ohana SK-30L also gets high marks for value just for being an all-solid mahogany soprano ukulele at a great price point. It adds to that value with a longer neck than most sopranos, giving you extra room on the fretboard. It’s particularly nice for anyone switching over from guitar or larger ukuleles.
Enya is a very new brand out of China that has made a big splash in the ukulele world. They manage to make some very high-quality ukuleles at very low prices, and every uke comes with a fun pack of accessories. Their X1 series of high-pressure laminate (HPL) ukuleles has some really neat features, including a detachable neck for easy packing. The HPL material is moisture-resistant and very durable, making it a great travel companion. And before you ask, no, the brand does not have anything to do with the Irish singer of the same name. But I’m sure she’d appreciate their instruments!
- The Enya EUT-X1 is one of the best travel ukuleles you can get, with a detachable neck and rugged HPL body. It also comes with a remarkable variety of accessories to help you get started.
- Enya’s KUC25D is a great value for a solid-top mahogany ukulele, again complete with some great accessories.
Large Multi-Instrument Companies
This second kind of brand is one with a lot of pitfalls. There are many companies who are known for making other instruments who also make ukuleles. Often, they’re entry-level guitar manufacturers, well-known in that field. It’s crucial to understand that the quality of their ukuleles doesn’t necessarily match up to the quality of their guitars. Fender, for instance, is beloved by guitar players, but not particularly popular for their ukuleles.
That doesn’t mean that guitar manufacturers can’t make a good ukulele. One of the most celebrated ukulele makers is Martin & Co., also highly regarded for their guitars. Others, like Cordoba and Oscar Schmidt, have made a name for themselves with affordable but well-made ukuleles aimed at beginner and intermediate players.
Martin was one of the first companies outside of Hawaii to start making ukuleles. During the big ukulele craze in the 20s and 30s, they were actually making more ukes than guitars! Today, vintage Martins sell for crazy prices, but their new ukuleles are as good as ever. Along with the classic styles and models, they’ve developed some neat concepts, like the high-pressure laminate 0XK series.
- Made from solid koa, the Martin T1K hearkens back to those classic ukes from days past. It’s the perfect upgrade from a starter uke, and may be all the ukulele you need. You certainly won’t find a comparable solid koa instrument for the price!
- Martin’s 0XK is made of high-pressure laminate, making it perfect for travel or braving the elements. But it still looks and sounds like a classic wooden soprano, so you’ll never know it’s actually made out of the same material as Formica countertops!
Oscar Schmidt is well-known for their wide variety of quality folk instruments, and their ukuleles are no different. They branch out into some less standard designs like 8-string and banjo ukuleles, while keeping their ukes affordable on any budget.
- The Oscar Schmidt OU2 is a classic concert ukulele that packs plenty of punch volume-wise. It’s comfortable to play and solidly built out of mahogany, with a rosewood fretboard.
- If you want to try out a different sound, the Oscar Schmidt OU28TE is a fun take on the 8-string or “taropatch” ukulele. It’s the best value you’ll get on an 8-string uke, and the built-in pickup produces a great plugged-in sound.
Luna has made their name in both guitars and ukuleles with eye-catching designs. Their instruments have wonderful inlays and patterns that make them stand out from the pack. But it’s not all visual flash! Luna ukuleles make great players, whether for a beginner or someone looking for a step up from their starter uke.
- The Luna Tattoo series features various Polynesian-inspired patterns on an otherwise fairly traditional looking and sounding ukulele. The acoustic-electric concert features a fun cutaway that makes reaching the high notes easy and a top-flight built-in pickup system.
- The Luna High Tide Series is even more visually arresting, with beautiful wave inlays on the fretboard and rich-grain koa wood. It looks like somthing you should hang on a wall, but be sure to take it down to play it every once in a while!
Cordoba is well-known in the classical guitar community for making their instruments to an exacting standard. They apply that same standard to their ukuleles, and make some great entry-level and mid-range ukes.
- The Cordoba 15CM is Cordoba’s best-selling ukulele, and for good reason. A rich tone, solid construction, and beautiful abalone inlay all make this a great ukulele for a beginner. Try the version with a pickup for an affordable entry into the world of acoustic-electric ukuleles.
- For a step up, the Cordoba 20TM-CE has a solid mahogany top, active pickup system, and a cutaway. It’s perfect for intermediate players who want more out of their ukulele.
These two brands are part of one parent company based out of Canada. They don’t make many ukuleles, but they’ve knocked it out of the park with the designs they do have. The key is that they don’t try to compete with other manufacturers by making traditional ukuleles. Instead, they have created a few one-of-a-kind instruments that sound like nothing else. They may not be for everyone, but if you’re looking for something completely different, try them out!
- Godin’s MultiUke has the best and most customizable plugged-in sound of any ukulele on the market, period. Each string has its own separate pickup, and the player has a remarakble amount of control over every aspect of tone. Plus, the chambered body means it stills work surprisingly well as an acoustic uke.
- The Seagull Steel String Ukulele is another non-traditional uke with a one-of-a-kind sound. Traditional ukuleles can’t handle steel strings, so Seagull upped the neck bracing and turned a soprano uke into a mini electric guitar. It’s one of the few steel string ukuleles out there. Sound great acoustic and plugged in!
Boutique Brands and Luthiers
Higher-end ukuleles tend to be made by the third kind of brand. These are the smaller, boutique makes. Often, it’s just one person, or a family-run business. They don’t churn out large numbers of instruments, and may in fact work quite slowly. This drives up the cost, but it also means that much more attention is paid to the ukulele as it’s being produced. Some of these makers have been in the business for decades, and their brands and families may go back to the very origins of the ukulele. These are the ukuleles that you will find in the hands of expert players. They offer unparalleled tone and quality.
Many of these builders take custom orders. If you are looking for a specific design, sound, or feature, this is your best (or maybe only) option. It may cost a lot more, but a custom-made ukulele can make a huge difference for you and your playing. Plus, it’s pretty fun to have a one-of-a-kind instrument.
For those that don’t want to pay upwards of $1,000 for a ukulele from one of these brands, there’s some great news! Many of them have production lines that manufacture less expensive versions of their top-end models. While there are a few efficiencies made to keep costs low, these ukes are still great instruments. And they often cost half or less of what their higher-end cousins cost.
Since many of these ukuleles are made to order, rather than highlighting a few models I’ll include a link to the maker’s website. They’re generally fairly quick to respond to questions and orders. And if you’re looking to save some money, buying used is a great way to get a high-end made ukulele on a midrange budget.
Magic Fluke Company
Most boutique-made ukuleles cost upwards of $1,000. Not those made by the Magic Fluke Co., though! You can get a ukulele hand-made in the US for less than $300, which is incredible value. They also offer some very unique designs, including their signature plastic-backed ukes. These are great ukes to travel with, since the plastic withstands the elements better than their wooden counterparts. But they’re not just for travel, and many expert uke players swear by their tone and intonation.
- The Flea Ukulele is a boat-shaped soprano with a rugged plastic back. Even with its unique design, it still sounds just like a ukulele should, bright and balanced. They’re known for their impeccable intonation and playability, and work great both as a primary uke or a travel companion.
- The Fluke is their signature concert-sized uke with a triangular shape and many fun colors to choose from! Like the Flea, the intonation is always spot-on, and the plastic molded fretboard and body make it a rugged instrument. But close your eyes, and you’d think you’re hearing a more traditional (and more expensive) concert uke!
Kanile’a has been one of Hawaii’s most popular ukulele manufacturers for good reason. They manage every aspect of ukulele production, from their own plantation of koa trees to the finishing touches on their signature lines. But don’t worry if you don’t have the cash to spend on their high-end models. They’ve got a wonderful and much more affordable production line of ukes under the “Islander” brand.
Kamaka goes back over 100 years, to a time when ukuleles were still a fairly new concept. Samuel Kamaka, Sr. was the original maker of the pineapple ukulele, meant as a more mellow alternative to the traditional figure-8. To this day, Kamaka is known for their strong roots in the traditions of Hawaii, and their ukuleles reflect that heritage.
Mya-Moe is based out of Illinois and built by one man, Cary Kelly. He took over from Gordon and Char Mayer, the founders of Mya-Moe who made it into one of the most sought-after ukulele brands in the world. Dave Matthews, Trey Anastasio, and Marcus Mumford all play Mya-Moe ukuleles, which is certainly saying something! Another marker of quality? Their waiting list is usually filled up over a year in advance.
Yep, yet another K. But KoAloha has forged its own path in the world of ukulele-making, starting from its inception 20 years ago. You’ll notice differences in the headstock and soundhole design on the outside. But the inside is just as innovative, with a unique bracing design that makes the uke really sing. KoAloha ukuleles are known for being fairly loud, so if you’re looking for volume, try one out!