Bass ukuleles are relatively new, but they’ve become hugely popular thanks to their rumbling low sound in a compact package. Whether you’re a bass player looking for a travel instrument or a ukulele player looking for some low end, a bass ukulele is the perfect fit. Many of them are much more expensive than regular ukuleles. But a bass ukulele doesn’t have to cost a lot to be great; in fact, there are some great cheap options!
Kala Wanderer Bass Ukulele
Summary: A no-frills bass ukulele with sturdy construction and a rumbling tone
Best for: Someone who wants great sound in a bass ukulele that can withstand some knocks and bumps
Kala quite literally invented the bass ukulele with its line of “UBass” instruments. The Wanderer is part of their budget line of ukulele basses that retain the rumbling UBass sound without the high price tag. As always with Kala, simple designs and good materials make for a great ukulele bass at a cheap price.
The Wanderer UBass is made entirely from mahogany from the body to the neck. It’s sturdily built, and feels like it would survive plenty of bumps and bruises. It’s called the “Wanderer” for a reason; this would make a great travel instrument for bass players. The playability is excellent, with low (but not too low!) action and great intonation.
One tricky issue that often comes up with bass ukuleles is changing strings. They’re very thick, and hard to manipulate when you’re trying to thread them through the bridge. The Passenger solves that with a removable access panel in its back. Unscrew the four screws holding it in place, and you can stick your hand into the body. This allows you to thread strings directly from the back without having to work your hand through the soundhole. It doesn’t sound like much, but it sure is useful!
As a rule, bass ukuleles are not very loud when played acoustically. You can certainly hear them, but they’ll get drowned out with more than one or two other instruments around. The Kala Wanderer has enough volume for smaller settings, and sounds great when played acoustically and miked up. Even with the small body of the UBass, the acoustic tone is very round and deep, much like a normal acoustic bass.
The key in any bass ukulele is the pickup and preamp, and the Wanderer has a good one. The UK-500B produces a clean tone with plenty of rumbling low end. When you plug it into a bass amp, it really puts out a lot of power! It features three control knobs for treble, mid, and bass, as well as a volume slider. It’s easy to get exactly the sound you want out with the EQ knobs. Plus, there’s a built-in tuner, which works very well. This is particularly important on bass ukuleles, since standard ukulele tuners often have trouble distinguishing the low notes.
Ukulele Magazine did a great side-by-side comparison of the Wanderer next to one of its more expensive cousins in the Kala UBass lineup, the Striped Ebony UBass:
- Sturdy construction
- Built-in tuner
- Plain looks
Hadean UKB-22 Bass Ukulele
Summary: A nice-looking bass ukulele with a round, thump-y tone
Best for: Someone who wants the sound of an upright bass in a much smaller package
Hadean has come out with a wide range of affordable bass ukuleles. The UKB-22 is one of their most beautiful yet. The zebrawood used for the body certainly lives up to its name, with dark stripes contrasting with the mostly tan grain. It striking, but of course, visuals on an instrument are worth nothing without a good sound. Luckily, the Hadean UKB-22 more than delivers on that front, as well.
Like most other bass ukuleles, the Hadean is not a loud instrument when played acoustically. It’s got enough volume to play along with another ukulele, but even a single strummed acoustic guitar will drown it out. It has a warm, round tone, very much like an upright bass.
In fact, Hadean also offers a fretless version of this bass ukulele. It may feel weird to guitar and ukulele players used to playing with frets, but it’s a wonderful way to get that upright bass-like sound. And at a fraction of the size (and cost) of an upright bass, it’s a no-brainer for anyone who wants that sound while on the go.
Like the Wanderer, the Hadean has a removable plate in the back to allow for easy string changes. The tuners work very well in holding their tuning. Be sure to give this and all other bass ukuleles time to settle in. Bass ukulele strings tend to stretch out when they’re first tuned up, so you may have to spend a little more time tuning at the start than you will later on. See our article on tuning a bass ukulele for some tips to help you out.
The Hadean UKB-22 has a very good active pickup/preamp system. Yet again, there are three EQ control knobs, one each for treble, mid, and bass. There’s also a separate volume knob, and a built-in tuner. When plugged in, it keeps that upright bass-like sound, with plenty of thump. This would be a particularly good bass ukulele for anyone who plays bluegrass, jazz, or other genres that usually use the upright.
Here’s a great review of the fretless version:
- Zebrawood gives it a striking look
- Round, upright bass-like tone
- Option to go fretless
- Quieter than other bass ukuleles when played acoustically
Oscar Schmidt Comfort Series Bass Ukulele
Summary: A bass ukulele designed with comfort and easy playability in mind
Best for: Someone who finds other bass ukuleles a little too hard on the fingers, hands, and arms
The Oscar Schmidt Comfort Series gets its name from two seemingly small but very impactful design changes. The first is a slight beveling on the lower body of the instrument, right where the player’s forearm rests when playing. Normally, the corner where the front meets the sides can form an uncomfortable edge that can dig into your arm. This solves that issue, making for easier playing, especially during longer sessions.
The other feature is a sort of half-cutaway. Unlike the traditional cutaway, the entire body isn’t affected. Instead, there’s a slope to the front of the body on the top right side, making it easy to reach the higher notes. From the back, it looks like a standard figure-eight shape. This saves important resonant space in the body, while still making it easy to reach far up the neck.
Another way this bass ukulele lives up to its “Comfort Series” name is in its short scale length. It is about an inch shorter than most other bass ukuleles, including the others on this list. For those with smaller hands, this makes reaching up the fingerboard much easier. Because of the smaller scale length, the OUB200k also a fairly small bass ukulele overall. It’s even smaller than many baritone ukuleles, and very compact for travel.
That small size does mean it loses a bit of resonance acoustically. It still sounds very good, but it doesn’t quite have the same round low end that other bass ukuleles have when not plugged in.
However, plug it in, and you have a very different story. The active pickup system puts out a wonderfully growling tone that sounds very much like an electric bass guitar. The controls feature two EQ sliders for treble and bass along with a volume knob. Like the other two bass ukuleles on this list, the OUB200K has a built-in tuner. There’s also an easy access panel in the back for changing strings.
Here’s a demonstration of the plugged-in sound of the Oscar Schmidt OUB200K:
- Armrest and cutaway make it very comfortable
- Short scale length easier on smaller hands
- Most compact bass ukulele on this list
- Acoustic sound a little thin