The Ultimate Guide to Buying a Ukulele: Types, Sizes, Brands, and How to Find the Perfect Option for You

ukulele buying guide

Buying a ukulele might have seemed like a pretty straightforward purchase, at first.

When I went to buy my first ukulele, I was surprised to find that there are actually different kinds of ukuleles, and that each produces a unique sound.

Your first thought upon this realization was probably very similar to mine:

Which one should I buy?

Don’t get overwhelmed just yet:

There is a relatively simple way to answer this question.

Today, we’re going to discuss the different types of ukuleles that you can buy.

We’ll see how each one is different in both size and material. After that, we’ll take note of some of the best brands, as well as deciphering how you can choose the best ukulele for you!

So, let’s get started!

The Pros and Cons of Each Ukulele Size

ukulele types and sizes

Soprano

Soprano ukuleles are the smallest size, as well as being the most popular among ukulele players.

The thin, high sound of the soprano ukulele is the sound that most people will associate with the ukulele.

Pros:

  • Perfect size for carrying around
  • Common among ukulele players
  • Easy to purchase
  • Usually somewhat cheaper

Cons:

  • Small, close-together frets are harder for players with larger hands
  • Strings hold little tension, making it easier to play notes out of tune

Size: Around 20 in, or 51 cm

Frets: Between 12 and 15

Concert

The next size up in ukuleles is the concert. At just a few inches larger than the soprano, the concert gives you a bit fuller sound.

Also, since there are more frets available, you’ll have a wider range of notes to play on the concert.

Pros:

  • Easy to play
  • Fuller sound
  • Better note range
  • More room between frets
  • Slightly louder sound

Cons:

  • Still relatively small for those with larger hands
  • A bit more expensive than the soprano

Size: 23 in, or 58 cm

Frets: Between 15 and 20

Tenor

Tenors are very similar to concerts, only slightly larger. Former guitar players that are looking for a ukulele might be interested in the tenor.

This is also recommended for intermediate to advanced players who are looking to expand their range and try more difficult chords.

Pros:

  • Perfect for men learning the ukulele
  • Even better range of notes
  • Room to stretch for difficult chords
  • Louder, fuller sound

Cons:

  • Similar price point to the concert
  • Harder for beginners
  • Less portable than the smaller sizes

Size: 26 in, or 66 cm

Frets: 15 and up

Baritone

This is the largest of the ukulele family, and as such it starts to get away from the true feel of the ukulele.

It is ten inches larger than the soprano, and thus is great for someone who feels more comfortable with a larger instrument.

The tuning of the baritone ukulele is also different from the others. While sopranos, concerts, and tenors are all tuned GCEA, the baritone is tuned lower at DGBE, like the last four strings of the guitar.

The baritone is highly recommended for those who are switching from guitar to ukulele, as it has a much deeper sound.

Pros:

  • Perfect for guitar players
  • Easy for men to learn
  • Deeper, warmer tone

Cons:

  • Not easily portable
  • Usually a bit more expensive
  • Not a typical ukulele sound

Size: 30 in, or 76 cm

Frets: 20 or more

Why Wood Type Matters

You’ve probably seen online that it’s possible to buy a ukulele for less than $40.

Let me just say right now: that’s not recommended.

Why? Because the quality of the materials used will greatly affect the sound that comes out of that ukulele.

So it’s good to check what kind of wood your ukulele is using.

Koa wood is what was used to make the original ukuleles, as it is a common wood in Hawaii.

It’s the most common wood used for ukuleles, and produces a beautiful, warm sound. While Koa wood ukuleles are a bit more expensive, they have a wonderful sound.

Mahogany is the next most common wood that is used to make ukuleles. Although the wood has a similar density to koa, it produces a sound that is slightly softer.

Since this is a less expensive wood, ukuleles made from mahogany will be slightly cheaper, but still of good quality.

Softer woods such as spruce are also used to make the lower end ukuleles.

Make sure that your ukulele is made of quality wood, and you’ll be sure that it will last. Tone woods like the ones we listed above are the best choice for ukulele players.

Which Ukulele is For You?

Are you already starting to get an idea of which ukulele is the right one for you?

Let’s dissect the best ukulele types and sizes for some common groups looking to buy a ukulele:

Best Ukulele for Beginners

Beginners normally tend to stay closer to the smaller ukuleles, such as the soprano or the concert. These two sizes are great for beginners who are really looking for that true ukulele sound.

The soprano and concert are also the easiest ukuleles to play, thus making them perfect for beginners. Along with that, the smaller ukes are usually the cheapest, which is usually an important factor for beginners.

Find recommendations here.

Best Ukulele for Women

Since women’s hands are smaller, they can easily fit into the tiny soprano.

With anything above a concert, women with small hands will need to stretch out to reach those difficult chords.

For women, I highly recommend either the soprano or the concert.

Best Ukulele for Men

Men’s larger hands will find it much more difficult to play the small soprano. Even a concert size will prove somewhat difficult.

If you’re a man who has some experience playing the ukulele (or the guitar), then the tenor or baritone are great options for you.

However, for men who are complete beginners, or who are interested in that typical ukulele sound, I still recommend the concert.

Best Ukulele for Guitar Players

For those who have played the guitar and are looking for something a bit smaller with a similar sound, I highly recommend the baritone.

It gives a deep, rich sound that is similar to the guitar, while mixing in some ukulele tones as well. It’s the perfect in-between.

If you’re a guitar player who is looking to change up your sound a bit, or for something more portable, the tenor is also a great option. While still holding on to deeper undertones, it comes closer to the classic ukulele sound we’re all familiar with.

Find recommendations here.

Best Ukulele for Advanced Players

Tenors are also highly recommended for advanced players.

They’re a bit pricier than their smaller cousins, but they are perfect for advanced ukulele players who want to experiment with alternate chords.

Find recommendations here. 

Best Ukulele for Playing Pop Music

For players who are interested in covering popular music on the ukulele, the concert and tenor both fit the bill perfectly.

The deeper tones and wider range give you everything you need to play pop songs on the ukulele.

Reliable Ukulele Brands

While there are many wonderful brands of ukuleles on the market currently for both beginners and advanced players, we’re going to mention the top five.

1. Kala

Probably the most well-known ukulele brand on earth, Kala is known for being the first and the best.

Whether you’re a complete beginner or a master at the ukulele, Kala has ukes to fit your needs.

Quality is key with Kala. These ukuleles are long-lasting and made with quality materials. They’re absolutely worth the price tag.

2. Lanikai

This brand is based out of Hawaii, and their motto is ‘Makes me happy’.

Those two facts alone make me love this company! They have many affordable ukuleles that still boast great quality.

Again, they range from beginner to high-end, giving each individual player exactly what he or she needs.

3. Mahalo

This brand is known for their fantastic beginner ukuleles.

They produce some very popular products that are common among first-time ukulele buyers.

4. Oscar Schmidt

While this company is more well-known for their acoustic guitars, they also produce ukuleles!

They focus on good quality and affordable pricing, and customers are always happy with this brand.

5. Cordoba

Again, this brand is better known for making guitars, in this case classical guitars.

However, their ukuleles boast the same high-end quality as their guitars. They offer plenty of different models for beginners to advanced players.

To Sum it All Up

So, which ukulele is for you?

Hopefully you’ve gained quite a bit of insight through this article.

We’ve seen how the different sizes affect the sound, as well as making them more or less difficult for certain people to play.

We also saw the best wood types and the most popular ukulele brands, as well as how each type of ukulele is great for certain people or goals.

Whatever your goal is in learning the ukulele, and whatever abilities you personally have, there is a ukulele that fits your needs.

Choosing from the options we mentioned above, you’ll find a beautiful ukulele that suits you and your sound perfectly!

About The Author

Amy Copadis

Amy Copadis is a freelance blogger whose love of music started at age 8 when she started taking piano and voice lessons. She has been playing the guitar for over 10 years, and most recently started to learn the ukulele!