There are a ton of ukulele brands out there, it is a rather large business these days. After all many musicians and want to be musicians prefer something easy to start with, and once you start playing ukulele, you will want to buy more! It’s easy to start with a soprano or concert and decide after a few months of playing to jump to a tenor or baritone size. The brands listed below are some of the more popular ukulele makers out there.
In most cases entry level ukuleles will be made in a factory in Indonesia, China, or South Korea. The higher models will often be hand made by luthiers in the US and UK. The main problem with factory and entry level ukuleles is quality control, every now and then a real lemon or cherry will come off the production line. Of course you are lucky if you happen to get a great sounding beginner ukulele, instead of a real bad one. Every brand below you will find great and horrible reviews, some brands like Mahalo are loved and hated equally. In the end it is all up to you, regardless of brand, to pay attention to buying a quality ukulele.
One of the most popular brands is Kala, they are also the same company that makes the Makala line. The Kala’s are known for being pricier while the Makala’s are cheaper with less bells and whistles. Located in California the Kala Brand Music Co. has quite the variety for new and longtime ukulele players. Besides making soprano, concert, tenor, and baritones, they also build archtops and thinner body ukuleles. Kala was also the originator of the U-bass, for those serious uke collectors who want to play a very unique bass ukulele. The most popular models are the Kala KA-15 series and the Makala Sharks and Dolphins.
It’s hard to mention Kala without also mentioning Lanikai brand ukuleles. I think the most searched ukulele question on Google is “which is better, Kala or Lanikai”. The answer happens to be both are fine, it’s a matter of preference. Lanikai offers entry and advanced instruments for all kinds of players. Lanikai also has a nice variety of darker and beautiful grained wood, these are pricier but perfect for those who want a stunning instrument!
Mahalo was started in japan in the late 90’s and they have some of the cheapest entry level ukuleles out there. And cheapest can have both a good and bad meaning. If you are new and want some low priced colorful uke to try out for a first timer, by all means Mahalo is great. However, if you get one that doesn’t have the best sound, well it may hinder you as a player. Sometimes it is better for beginners to first buy an intermediate and middle cost ukulele (sort of like the Mahalo mahogany or acacia line) and then later if you decide to affordably expand your collection try one of the cheaper models. Now you will have a better idea of what might be worth it.
Oscar Schmidt is owned by the Washburn company, they make great guitars, autoharps, and ukuleles (as a side note if you are a songwriter or folk singer, I highly recommend an autoharp). Oscar Schmidt doesn’t make rainbow or colorful ukuleles; they all have a professional look to them. The OU2 and OU5 are some of the more popular models and sound really great, especially the OU5 with its koa wood and fancy glossy finish. Oscar Schmidt is one of those brands that isn’t immediately thought of for ukuleles, but reviews show people who do buy them often love them.
Luna has a very distinct look to their ukuleles which are all much more moderately priced compared to some of the more popular brands. Their goal is not to create the cheapest entry level ukulele, but rather to produce a little higher quality for serious uke players. The Uke Tattoo concert spruce top is one the cheaper but popular models. If you are a beginner wanting to spend a little more money for quality, and if you like their style Luna is the way to go.
Cordoba is a classical guitar maker who has gained popularity in building entry and intermediate level ukuleles. The Cordoba 15CM concert uke is perhaps their most popular model. The Cordoba’s use much of the same tone woods as other brands, they just happen to make ukuleles with a more classic look. In fact, many players are initially pulled towards Cordoba because of their style.
Martin is not only a guitar company they are world renowned for making great ukuleles in the past 100 years. Some of the most famous ukulele players will often be seen playing Martin ukuleles, which makes sense because they are very expensive. If you are a serious musician and want an instrument that will last a lifetime, look into what Martin as to offer.
Sawtooth ukuleles are starting to get big with the entry level crowd. They don’t really make many high end models and their goal is to try and be the most affordable. And so far it seems to be working, as people keep buying them! They are all made with mahogany and rosewood and have simple satin finish with no rainbow or odd colors. The one thing that bothers some players is their headstock, I musty admit I don’t care for the shape. If you do buy a Sawtooth it is best to put better strings on them, as the ones they come with aren’t great.
This is probably not a brand you will hear often, but if we are mentioning some of the best, well this is a premier building company. To buy a Kanilea ukulele you need to save a lot of money. However, for a serious and professional player, this is no doubt a company to check out. If you are in the market for something very pricey it is much easier to have them customize your ukulele. After all, if you are spending hundreds or thousands what you buy should be unique! Recently Kanilea has introduced the Islander series more geared towards entry level pricing.
Clearly these are not all the ukulele brands to buy from, there is also Hola, ADM, Diamond Head, and I’m sure more companies have popped up since this article was written. The more people that buy ukuleles, the more companies will do their best to make money. If you are ever unsure about which brand to pick, that’s fine, take your time and compare. As you get better with your shopping you will notice which tone woods are the best as well as fretboards, saddles, and tuning machinery. Set your budget, outline your wish list, and you will find exactly what you need among one of these great brands!