The ukulele’s newfound popularity has resulted in an explosion of new brands and ukulele manufacturers. There are a range of questionably cheap ukuleles out there on Amazon, and it can be tough to sort out the good ukulele brands from the garbage.
The ukulele market being so oversaturated can make it challenging to find a quality instrument that feels good to play and will last a long time. Choosing a quality musical instrument will always give you a better experience than buying a cheap, low-grade model.
To help sort through all the options, we’ve compiled our list of what we think are some of the best ukulele brands on the market today.
- The Four Ks of Hawaii (Kamaka, Ko’olau,m Kanile’a, KoAloha)
From entry level ukes to custom handmade instruments, these brands have it covered. You really can’t go wrong with an instrument from any of these brands, whether you’re a beginner or a pro.
But each ukulele brand has its strengths and weaknesses. Read on as we dive into each of the best ukulele brands.
Looking for a new ukulele? Check out our guide to the best ukuleles (of all kinds)!
The Top Brands Making High Quality Ukuleles Today
Kala is one of, if not the most popular ukulele brands in the world today. You might be surprised to learn that the company isn’t the product of some long dynasty of luthiers, but was actually founded in 2005! In fact, this ukulele brand isn’t based in Hawaii, either. Kala has its headquarters in Petaluma, California, right in the heart of the West Coast’s wine country.
Despite this, the Kala brand has seriously taken off since its inception. It’s well on its way to becoming the most ubiquitous ukulele manufacturer out there, with a huge range of products to suit ukulele players at all skill levels and with every kind of budget.
Kala’s KA-15S soprano ukulele is one of the most popular beginner ukuleles in the world. It’s a fairly traditional ukulele and bridges the gap between affordable models and great build quality nicely. In fact, the KA-15S is so popular as a first ukulele that it’s often the instrument you will receive when purchasing a ukulele starter pack.
While Kala has several different lines of ukulele models, many of their instruments come under either the KA or MK series. These ukes are anything from beginner models to professional-grade instruments. Many Kala ukes are made with koa wood, which gives them a deeply resonant, fairly traditional sound.
In addition to Kala’s best selling ukuleles, the brand is continuing to evolve by constantly developing new models of ukulele. One of example of this would be the U-Bass, Kala’s take on the bass ukulele, which is essentially a hybrid between a bass guitar and uke.
Martin is one of the oldest and best-known names in the world of stringed instruments. The company has been operating for over 200 years and started producing ukuleles shortly after the first-ever ukulele was built. Martin has made its name making the highest-quality instruments out of the best materials. So, if you’re looking for entry level ukuleles, Martin is probably not the answer.
However, if you’re a professional musician or just looking for the best ukuleles that money can buy, Martin should definitely be on your list. It’s worth keeping in mind that few ukulele manufacturers have been operating as long as Martin has. So, while this is part of the hefty price tag that Martin instruments often carry, it’s also a guarantee of quality and expertise that few music brands can offer at the same level as Martin.
Martin is known for using only the finest tone wood and hardware available to craft its instruments. The brand has especially carved out a name for itself by producing guitars and ukes made with mahogany, which have a bright, rich tone.
If you love the idea of owning a Martin uke but are in the market for a more affordable instrument, then you may want to consider trying to buy a Martin ukulele secondhand. Used instruments, when well preserved, can still offer an amazing sound and great longevity while coming at a fraction of the price of new ones.
Fender is certainly best-known as a guitar brand, but the company is also a ukulele brand that produces some genuinely great ukuleles. While Fender might not have the same type of experience in manufacturing ukuleles as a brand like Martin, it makes up for this with its consistent, reliable build quality and instrument longevity.
Many of us associate Fender with an absurdly wide range of instruments, and this is true of the Fender ukulele line, too. New models are often being designed and put out onto the market, meaning that Fender generally has something to offer everyone in its range of ukuleles.
However, like Martin, Fender instruments are on the somewhat pricier side of things. Generally speaking, we would say that the more affordable Fender ukes are priced the same as mid-range ukuleles from other brands. So, the Fender range is perhaps not best suited to beginners to the ukulele (unless you can find something secondhand).
An Innovator in the Ukulele World
Something that really sets Fender apart from other music brands is how experimental and unconventional some of the ukulele designs are. This is likely due in some part to Fender being such a huge manufacturer of electric guitars; many of the ukulele designs mirror the body shapes or cutouts of popular Fender models like the Telecaster or Stratocaster.
For some, Fender being a guitar manufacturer first and foremost is something of a downside; many find that the brand’s ukuleles have a sound that is slightly too reminiscent of that of a classical guitar, which Fender also makes. This is worth keeping in mind if you are looking for quality ukes with a very traditional ukulele sound.
Perhaps one of the lesser-known but still very dependable among the best ukulele brands is Lanikai. This ukulele brand is distributed by Hohner, one of the most important producers of folk music instruments in the world. This is a testament to the quality and authenticity of Lanikai ukuleles.
Lanikai has a very diverse and quite unorthodox range of ukuleles, which run the gamut from entry-level beginner models to professional ukes. In addition to soprano, tenor, and concert ukuleles, Lanikai even sells 6-string and 8-string models. Lanikai is also one of the few ukulele makers to include electronics and pickups in the majority of its higher-end models. So, keep Lanikai in mind if you’re looking for a reliable uke that you can play through an amp.
One thing to keep in mind with Lanikai is that its ukuleles don’t always offer the most traditional sound. This is generally an outcome of the brand’s more unusual or untraditional designs; in order to build such instruments, less conventional materials and woods are used. As such, if you want to get a really classic sound out of your uke, you might to look into other manufacturers, or, at the least, give any Lanikai ukes a test run before buying.
Luna is another guitar manufacturer that has become one of the best ukulele brands in recent years. One of the co-founders of the Luna brand, Yvonne de Villiers, was a stained glass artist who wanted to incorporate elements of the stained glass art style into guitar designs. You can really see this in the instruments, and this concept has also carried over into the ukuleles that Luna produces.
Another priority for Luna has been designing instruments based on great tone woods and that project well. This is also true of Luna ukes; they are definitely louder than offerings from other brands. Having a louder instrument can be a big help if you don’t want to invest in an amplifier, or you’re using a uke without any pickups or electronics.
Industry-leading Customer Service and Education Opportunities
One of the most impressive aspects of the Luna brand is its dedication to providing exceptional customer service and opportunities for customers to receive musical education. Luna runs the ‘Luna University,’ an online set of free guitar lessons delivered by professional guitarists.
Lohanu is probably one of the best ukulele brands for beginners out there. The company is actually Canadian, and it has made its name producing affordable but reliable ukuleles. Lohanu offers lifetime warranties on its instruments, which are constructed out of a fairly wide variety of tone woods. This means that, sonically, they have quite a lot to offer customers.
One potential downside of Lohanu is that the brand does focus quite heavy on manufacturing beginner or intermediate instruments. Professional ukulele players or veterans to the instrument are unlikely to be satisfied with the overall sound and build quality of Lohanu ukes. Being that they are built to be affordable, Lohanu ukuleles are sometimes constructed out of woods that are chosen more for their practicality than tonal qualities. As such, they might not produce the most traditional ukulele sound.
Still, if you’re on the hunt for cheap ukulele brands for beginners, you should definitely keep Lohanu in mind. For less than $100 you can snag the LU-C, a great beginner instrument with plenty of versatility and functionality. Lohanu instruments might not be the best sounding ukuleles in the world, but they offer great build quality and longevity and should be very dependable for beginner and intermediate players.
Alvarez is yet another guitar manufacturer that has ventured into the ukulele world. Producing quality, mid-range instruments, the Alvarez ukulele line is impressively diverse. Bass ukuleles, 6-string baritone ukes, and a range of amplified models are just a few of the offerings that Alvarez produces.
Produced from a myriad of tone woods, Alvarez should have a model to suit most ukulele players. While not exactly entry level, Alvarez ukuleles don’t break the bank, and would be a great choice for anyone looking for a quality musical instrument without spending thousands of dollars. Whether you’re looking for a tenor, concert, soprano, or baritone uke, Alvarez has something to offer you.
Advanced Tonal Response
Alvarez also claims to have implemented a special type of wood treatment as part of its manufacturing process. The company calls this extra step ‘Advanced Tonal Response’ and claims that it affords the wood better resonance and clarity. Whether this process works exactly as intended is hard to say, but Alvarez’ finished products do tend to have fantastic responsivity, as well as producing clear, clean tones.
Founded in 1997, Cordoba is a newer company, but it has become one of the best-selling ukulele brands out there. Cordoba was founded by the luthier Pepe Romero, whose vision was to create a brand that specialized in building nylon-stringed instruments. As such, in addition to its ukulele models, Cordoba also produces classical guitars.
The Cordoba 15CM concert ukulele is an exceptionally popular model from the Cordoba ukulele range. It comes in a range of colors and is made from fantastic raw materials, but is still relatively affordable. This makes it a great choice for a higher-end beginner ukulele. Cordoba ukuleles are often made from mahogany wood, but spruce models aren’t uncommon, either.
In addition to standard soprano ukuleles, Cordoba also produces cutaway, concert, and tenor models. The Cordoba product line features a number of different woods, solid top and layered models, and starter packs. Some models are available with special wood tops, like flamed mahogany for extra visual flair. What’s more, Cordoba manufactures its own nylon strings, too. So, if you need a new set of strings for your Cordoba ukulele, then you know where to turn to.
Quality, playability, and value. These words are the ethos behind the Ohana brand of ukuleles, and the company definitely delivers. Based in Long Beach, CA, Ohana produces a very impressive range of ukuleles and ukulele hybrids and aims to have something on offer at every price point. While the Ohana name might not be the biggest in the ukulele world, the company has a clear commitment to producing many different types of ukulele and selling them at a reasonable price.
Something that really sets Ohana apart from other brands is that the company dedicates entire lines to less-common types of ukulele, like banjoleles and ukuleles with more than four strings. Ohana also manufactures pineapple ukes, a DIY ukulele kit, long scale ukes, short scale ukes, and a line of ‘vintage’ models, with designs going back to the 1800s.
Ohana ukes also sound great. Many of the models are made from mahogany, giving the instruments a warm, bright sound. The company doesn’t necessarily make extremely high-end, professional models, but if you’re looking for virtually anything else in a ukulele, then Ohana would be a great place to start.
The Four Ks of Hawaii (Kamaka, Ko’olau, Kanile’a, KoAloha)
For some ukulele players, whether or not a given instrument was made in Hawaii or not is a deciding factor in whether or not to invest in that instrument. Many of the uke brands on this list are not Hawaiian and have their headquarters somewhere else in the US or Canada. Still, some of the best ukulele brands are, naturally, Hawaiian, and the so-called ‘Four Ks of Hawaii’ (Kamaka, Ko’olau, Kanile’a, and KoAloha) are arguably the best known of them all.
Kamaka is one of the oldest ukulele brands in the world. Named after its founder, Samuel Kaialiilii Kamaka who started building ukes in his Honolulu basement in 1916, Kamaka has gained considerable renown as one of the absolute top ukulele brands, especially for professional-grade instruments.
In accordance with tradition, Kamaka ukes are made from top-quality Hawaiian koa wood. This gives these musical instruments a beautifully rich and very authentic tone that is difficult to replicate with other types of wood. Kamaka ukuleles are basically like the Rolls Royce of the ukulele world, and the ukulele brand has a legion of devoted professional musicians who exclusively play its instruments.
George Harrison of the Beatles was known to be a big fan of Kamaka ukes, and would often visit the shop on his trips to Hawaii. Kamaka’s soprano ukulele is arguably its most popular model, but the brand also produces concert, tenor, baritone, and pineapple ukes as part of its standard line.
Ko’olau is perhaps the most daring and groundbreaking brand of the Four Ks of Hawaii. In addition to producing more traditional models and designs, Ko’olau has some fairly out-there offerings and also works with a wider and less conventional range of tone woods than the other family-owned Hawaiian brands.
Like Kanile’a, Ko’olau offers a custom building and design service for customers looking for something that’s unique not normally available. This can cost up to $13,000, depending on the materials used, but you will come away with a custom instrument that should last you a lifetime.
Kanile’a is another family-owned and fairly traditional Hawaiian ukulele brand. While the company is just 23 years old, it has adopted a business model that many would deem old school, choosing to construct smaller quantities of the best-quality instruments, rather than churning out as many ukes as possible.
Essentially, Kanile’a operates like a custom luthier, and each instrument the company builds is more or less unique (though the brand has several different lines which most of its new instruments fall into). This is, of course, reflected in the prices that Kanile’a ukes are sold for. Kanile’a also builds ukes made to order, so if you’re looking for a really unique instrument then it might be the brand for you.
Something else that sets Kanile’a apart from other uke brands is that the company has a range of fairly ingenious approaches to building instruments. From harvesting koa wood to finishing the ukuleles without the use of VOCs, Kanile’a has adapted its entire manufacturing process to be as gentle on the environment as possible.
Like the other brands that make up the Four Ks of Hawaii, KoAloha produces top-quality ukuleles that are largely made from Koa wood. KoAloha sells concert, soprano, tenor, and baritone ukes and occasionally produces less conventional models on a more limited basis.
Something that the KoAloha brand is known for is the crystal clear, rich sound that its ukes produce. And, while not exactly beginner instruments, KoAloha ukes are priced slightly lower than the other brands in the Four Ks, so the brand could be seen as something of a starting point to the upper echelons of ukulele makers.
Is it OK to Choose a Ukulele Brand that Makes Other Musical Instruments?
You might notice that some of the best ukulele brands on this list, like Fender, Luna and Martin, are also manufacturers of other types of string instruments, especially guitars. While some purists would argue that it’s important to choose an instrument made by a brand specializing in ukuleles, these companies have been producing ukuleles for years.
We don’t feel it’s necessary to limit yourself to a ukulele-specific brand, because companies like Fender and Martin are highly dependable and make fantastic instruments, especially at the higher end of their product range.