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Best ukulele 2023: High-quality, easy-to-play ukuleles from just £25

Make beautiful music Hawaiian-style with these fun, affordable ukuleles that suit every budget

The best ukulele can be a fun and easy-to-learn instrument for children and adults alike. With only four strings and a short,narrow neck, you don’t need to stretch your fingers into awkward positions like you would with a guitar. These qualities make it the ideal instrument for kids, or anyone with petite hands – and its small size also means it’s easy to store and transport.

What’s more, if you already know how to strum a few guitar chords, they will work on a ukulele – although everything will be at a higher pitch, since the strings are normally tuned to A-E-C-G rather than E-B-G-D. Perhaps the most attractive thing about ukuleles is how cheap they are: you can pick up a good-quality model for less than the cost of a night out. We know which we’d rather spend our cash on.

However, not all ukuleles are created equal, so it’s important to do your research and choose a decent model. Here’s what you should look for when buying a ukulele, along with our pick of the best models out there right now.

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Best ukulele: At a glance

How to choose the best ukulele for you

What size ukulele should I buy?

The first thing you’ll need to decide upon is the size ukulele you want. The “standard” ukulele is the soprano model, whose short-scale length of around 33cm gives it a light, twangy tone. If you need a reminder of what that sounds like, here’s Israel Kamakawiwo’ole playing “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” on a soprano ukulele. Or, for fans of How I Met Your Mother, there’s the unforgettable scene of Cristin Milioti playing “La Vie en Rose” on her Lanikai LU-21 soprano ukulele.

The soprano isn’t your only choice, however. The concert ukulele has the same tuning as a soprano ukulele, but a slightly longer 38cm scale; this means the strings are under a lower tension. The body is slightly bigger as well, resulting in a warmer, louder sound – although the difference isn’t significant. The slightly larger fretboard also means that a concert ukulele may be easier for bigger hands to get around.

Then there’s the tenor ukulele. With its 43cm scale, this ukulele is still small enough to tuck under your arm, but the tone and volume start to resemble a classical guitar played up the neck. If you’re a pop fan, you might know the sound of this instrument from the song “Hey, Soul Sister” by Train. Optionally, you can tune the bottom string to a low G – rather than a high one, as is usual – for an even more guitar-like sound.

Beyond this, there also exist baritone and bass ukuleles, while at the other end of the scale you’ll also see tiny sopranissimo (or “pocket”) ukuleles. These are a bit more niche, though. If it’s the classic Hawaiian vibe you’re looking for, you’ll probably want to opt for the standard, concert or tenor uke.

Which ukulele did George Formby use?

George Formby actually played a non-traditional variant of the uke known as the banjo ukulele, or “banjolele”. Instead of a guitar-like body and sound hole, the Banjolele has a circular skin beneath the strings, just like a banjo, which reverberates as you play.

If you’re more into music-hall medleys than island rhythms, by all means give the banjolele a go. It’s played in exactly the same way as a regular ukulele and it’s quite a bit louder – ideal for singalongs. The tone is a little different, though: it has something of the character of a banjo, with more of a bright, plucky sound than a conventional ukulele.

How much should I spend on a ukulele?

Sometimes, a cheap ukulele is a good one. However, if you simply opt for the lowest-priced model online, or buy from a toy shop rather than a proper musical instrument dealer, you’re in danger of ending up with a sub-standard uke.

For one, the body might be very stiffly constructed or made from poor quality wood, giving you a hollow, brittle tone rather than a nice, resonant one. The tuning pegs might be of low quality, resulting in strings that go slack while you’re playing – and, if this is the case, you’ll have to keep stopping to tune up after every song. Note that it can take a few days for the tuning of even a high-quality ukulele to fully stabilise after unboxing or replacing the strings.

A cheap instrument may also have problems with intonation, which means your ukulele sounds fine when you tune it, but when you press down on the frets, the notes sound sharp or flat. This can be fixed, but getting a professional to do the job may well cost as much as buying a new uke.

As we’ve mentioned above, though, a ukulele is an affordable instrument. You should rarely (if ever) need to spend a great deal of money on one. If you’re a complete beginner and fancy giving the uke a go, we would recommend spending around the £30 mark on a decent and inexpensive instrument. On the other hand, more serious musicians who are after the best possible build and sound quality, might want to spend more on a ukulele – perhaps even upwards of £100.

With that said, here’s our pick of the best ukuleles on the market, all of which you can buy with confidence.

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The best ukuleles you can buy in 2023

1. Donner DUS-10K: Best beginner ukulele

Price when reviewed: £40 | Check price at AmazonIf you’re just starting out, you might not want to spend much more than £40 or £50 on your very first ukulele. So, at £40, Donner’s DUS-10K is an ideal instrument for children and beginners. The body is constructed from triple A grade maple wood (blue ukes are also available on Amazon for around £40) and, as part of Donner’s ‘Rainbow Series’, it comes in a choice of colours, from a natural wood shade to bright pink.

Plus, the heaps of extras you get with your ukulele are a real bonus. Donner’s beginner kit comes with a bag, strap, a spare set of strings, four picks, a cleaning cloth, a tuner and a free online video lesson to get you started on your ukulele journey.

Key features – Type: Soprano; Materials: Canada maple body, nylon strings

2. Mahalo MR1: Best ukulele for kids

Price when reviewed: £25 | Check price at AmazonThe Mahalo MR1 is a super-cheap ukulele, so it’s a good choice for young players who may not handle it with kid gloves. Nevertheless, it’s still a decent instrument with a pleasant tone, and once the plastic strings get through their initial settling down period it holds its tuning very nicely.

It isn’t just about the sound: the MR1 comes in eight vibrant finishes (plus black and white), so you can pick a model in your child’s favourite colour. A lightweight carry bag is included too – it isn’t padded, so it won’t do much to protect your uke against bashes, but for the price you really can’t complain.

Key features – Type: Soprano; Materials: Basswood body, Aquila Nylgut strings

3. Kala KA-C: Best concert ukulele

Price when reviewed: £115 | Check price at Gear4MusicThis ukulele is a step up in price from low-cost soprano models, but that’s reflected in the build quality. It benefits from hard-wearing silver nickel frets and die-cast sealed tuners of the type you’d find on far more expensive instruments. It looks the part too, with a tasteful white binding around the top edge of the mahogany body.

Meanwhile, a concert scale length of 38.5cm gives this ukulele a slightly fuller tone than a soprano model – so if you fancy something that looks and sounds just a touch more serious than your everyday uke, this is a great choice.

Key features – Type: Concert; Materials: Mahogany body, Aquila Nylgut strings

4. Fender Montecito Tenor: The best tenor ukulele

Price when reviewed: £177 | Check price at Gear4MusicFender is best known for its guitars and the Montecito Tenor ukulele makes no attempt to hide its pedigree, with a distinctive Telecaster-style head and gorgeous abalone figuring around the edge and the sound hole.

Don’t imagine that it sounds like a guitar, though. Despite the 43cm tenor scale, it uses the same tuning as smaller ukes. As such, while the tone is richer, it retains the distinctive high-voicing associated with this family of instruments. If you’re looking for a slightly larger, louder ukulele, it’s an unbeatable choice: it looks and sounds fantastic, and it’s made from genuine Hawaiian koa wood to boot.

Key features – Type: Tenor; Materials: Koa wood body, nickel strings

Check price at Gear4Music

5. Kmise Banjo Ukulele: Best banjolele

Price when reviewed: £110 | Check price at AmazonIf you fancy yourself as the next George Formby, then you’ll be wanting a banjolele. As we explained in our buying guide, above, the tone of a banjolele is different from its traditional Hawaiian counterpart because of the drum head skin which reverberates when you play.

At £110, it’s not the cheapest option in our roundup but, because the skin is made from polyester rather than the more traditional calfskin, it’s still reasonably affordable (and also vegan-friendly). The back is removable, which allows you to adjust the truss rod (this is used to control the slight curve, or ‘bow’, of the neck which counteracts the tension of the strings), as well as play it open-back style for a brighter tone.

Much like the Donner ukuleles in our roundup, the Kmise banjolele also comes with a number of extra goodies including a strap, picks, a tuner, and a piezo pickup that attaches to the drum head skin for use with an amp. Bear in mind that you’ll have to position the bridge underneath the strings (a ruler to help you do this is included) before you can play it for the first time.

Key features – Type: Concert; Materials: Sapele wood back, polyester drumhead, metal frame, Aquila Nylgut strings

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