This post was last updated on: Tuesday, February 1, 2020
With a funny name and a fascinating history, the ukulele (pronounced “oo koo lay lay”) is a mysterious instrument. Finding its way to the big island with Portuguese colonists, it made its way into the hearts of the Hawaiian people and is now the most popular instrument in the region.
If Hawaii is on your travel list, you’ll want to get yourself an ukulele. There is no way around it. You are sure to fall under the spell of the sweet sounds of this whimsical instrument.
Today, we’ll be looking at the top instruments on the market to find the best ukulele brands for beginner, intermediate, and professional players.
By the end of this page, you’ll be armed with all you need to know to find the perfect ‘jumping flea’ for you.
What Are the Best Ukulele Brands for Professionals?
1. Kamaka (Best Hawaiian Ukulele Brand Overall)
Kamaka, meaning “the vision” in Hawaiian, lives up to their namesake—this is indeed a brand with vision. Founded in 1916 by Samuel Kamaka, the brand has been in the business of crafting quality ukuleles for over 100 years, and they’ve continued to innovate since then.
In 1928, they patented the world’s first pineapple ukulele, a unique oval instrument that somewhat resembles a pineapple. A break from the more traditional figure-eight design, pineapple ukes have a louder, yet mellow tone thanks to improved resonation.
While they still sell traditional ukuleles as well, they remain one of the top pineapple ukulele producers in the world, going on to win a plethora of awards including the Ukulele Treasure award presented by the Ukulele Guild of Hawaii, Hawaii Magazine Readers’ Choice Award for Best Ukulele Maker (twice), and the Mahalo Award at the 20th Annual Ukulele Festival.
The company is part of the Hawaiian Music Hall of Fame, and Samuel, as well as both of his sons, Samuel Kamaka, Jr. and Frederick Kamaka, are all members of the Ukulele Hall of Fame Museum in Rhode Island. The company’s contributions to ukulele history were even recognized by the State of Hawaii via a legislative resolution in 1999.
There is no doubt how great Kamaka instruments are, and it’s a well-known fact in the industry—that’s why world-renowned players like Jake Shimabukuro and Herb Ohta Jr. use Kamaka ukuleles. It’s one of the best brands for professional uke players, and they stand behind their products, too, with a limited warranty on every instrument they sell.
If you are a professional looking for a top ukulele, check out the Kamaka ukulele line.
While they may be better known for their guitars, Martin has been a major player in the music industry for over 175 years—being founded in 1833 by Christian Frederick Martin Sr. The company has remained family-owned for six generations and counting, with headquarters in Nazareth, Pennsylvania.
Martin broke into the ukulele market in 1916 and quickly became a top producer. Martin ukuleles are available in soprano and concert sizes from a variety of wood types, including back and sides made from koa, mahogany, laminated wood, and more.
The brand is committed to using sustainable wood sources and environmentally friendly alternative materials.
If that level of commitment is not proof of their impeccable and high-quality ukuleles, then we don’t know what is. This obsession with Martin can be seen not only in players but also in collectors. There is something beautiful about Martin ukuleles that leaves a mark on your soul.
Of course, given that Martin is such a famous brand, prices can be steep — up to $6,000. After all, who can expect to pay pennies for a popular, quality ukulele?
As for the warranty, Martin instruments come standard with a limited policy. According to Martin, only “instruments purchased in the United States or Canada from an Authorized Martin Dealer” are covered.
In any case, Martin is one of the best ukulele brands for professional musicians. Take one for a test strum and see what we mean.
What Are the Best Ukulele Brands for Intermediate Players?
So, you are not a professional ukulele player, but maybe you hope to be one day. Intermediate players need to have an instrument that can take them to the next level, and we made sure to add some great ukulele brands for intermediate players to our list just for you.
Located in Petaluma, California, Kala may not be located in Hawaii, but they have the aloha spirit, and the brand has an interesting back story.
The founder, Mike Upton, started off employed for Hohner Company, a well-known German instrument manufacturer. After working as a sales agent in Hawaii, he recognized an untapped market for affordable ukuleles. He pitched his idea to Hohner’s guitar manager, and in 1999, the Lanikai brand was born.
No, that name isn’t a mistake—Mike Upton both founded Kala and was instrumental in the creation of Lanikai. When Hohner had a change-up in management and pulled out of Hawaii, Mike stayed on the Big Island—though later moved to California—and opened his own brand—Kala—in 2005.
At Kala, you can find soprano, concert, and tenor ukuleles for beginners, intermediate, and advanced players—and they a habit of releasing several new models a year.
The Kala line is continually expanding, aiming to get this beautiful instrument to as many people as possible. A wide range of choices is not the only thing Kala has to offer, either. All their products are created with quality materials and craftsmanship.
The passion they put into their instruments can be seen in the build quality and remarkable designs, whether it is a soprano ukulele or a concert, Kala over-delivers.
They, like most top ukulele brands, also offer a warranty: “American-made models are warranted for a period of two (2) years from the date of purchase. Kala Brand Music Co. reserves the right to determine upon inspection if the warranty claim is valid or not.”
If you are looking for the best ukulele for intermediate players, we strongly recommend Kala ukuleles.
Producing the self-proclaimed, “finest handmade ukuleles in the world,” KoAloha is an ukulele brand that made its way to the top fast.
As a relative newcomer to the market, founded by Alvin “Pops” Okami, in 1995, the KoAloha brand distinguished itself through the use of traditional materials. Hawaiian spirit even shows up in the name of this ukulele brand. It means “your love,” and comes from a combination of koa wood, one of the components, and the word Aloha.
Interestingly, the KoAloha brand didn’t start with such quality materials in mind. Okami began the company with the intent to make miniature plastic ukuleles for tourists in Honolulu, where the brand is still headquartered. Today, they make ukes of all sizes at all price points and are well-known for their innovative and unusual designs.
Throughout the various physical appearances of KoAloha ukuleles, however, two things remain constant—top quality sound and a signature five-point crown. These aspects, combined with their adaptability to a vast range of style preferences, has created a flock of well-known ukulele players who are fans of the brand. Among them are find famous names like Victoria Vox and Daniel Ho.
All KoAloha ukuleles come with a “Better than the Weather” warranty—regarded as one of the best in the industry. It’s a lifetime policy that covers all repairs and replacements. They’ve even been known to cover instruments that were bought second-hand.
Just like other top-tier and innovative companies, Kanilea started in a garage. Their instruments target intermediate and professional musicians. If you know your way around ukuleles or musical instruments in general, you will not have a problem getting the sweet sounds you know and love from a Kanilea.
The father of this company is Joe Souza, a master ukulele creator who grew up with an ukulele in his hand before he could even walk. He is a firefighter turned musician, and Kanilea is a family business. Joe founded it in 1998 together with his wife, Kristen.
After a couple of years of doing garage-level business, they transformed Kanilea into a top-tier ukulele brand that manufactures quality instruments. This brand differentiates itself from the competition not only because of the superb ukuleles they produce but also because of the high-level customer service.
In fact, Kanilea is one of the few brands that offer a lifetime warranty for their instruments. That means that every single ukulele that comes out of their shop is 100% covered. All levels of ukulele players should consider this a top choice.
What Are the Best Ukulele Brands for Beginners?
For all those beginners thirsty for some musical experience, a perfectly good option is Leolani—known as the “voice of heaven.” This company manufactures ukuleles for beginners at affordable prices. The build quality is top-notch despite the lower prices—because they are handmade.
Founded in 2002 by Hong Kong native Jenny Liu in Honolulu, Leolani only works with koa farmers that practice sustainability. All Leolani ukes are made from fallen or dead trees, and for every tree used, 50 more are planted.
The folks at Leolani love to get hands-on with their instruments, especially with soprano ukuleles, as that’s the type recommended for beginners.
Of course, affordable ukuleles are not the only option under the Leolani brand. Well-known player Priscilla Ahn uses a Leolani ukulele because they also create high-class instruments for professionals. Check out Pricilla Ahn performing a song on a Leolani ukulele here.
One area the budget point of Leolani ukes shows is in their warranty. They only offer a 30-day policy, mostly for instruments damaged in shipping.
Islander ukuleles are a sister brand of Kanilea, under the same ownership of Joe and Kristen Souza.
The ukuleles under this brand are more affordable, but at similar quality levels as Kanilea ukuleles. This brand came to life because of a special cause—reforestation of the Hawaiian rainforest.
Koa is a native tree to Hawaii, and one of the most valuable for its commercial uses. The company plants a koa tree for each ukulele they build. That is a heartwarming way of giving back to the land, and one of many reasons so many people resonate with the values of this brand.
Just like Kanilea, Islander offers excellent customer service and a lifetime warranty for their ukuleles. If you want to get your hands on a quality uke, are looking for a good ukulele brand for beginners, and want to help the Hawaiian rainforest, choose Islander.
Lanikai, truly considered one of the best ukulele brands, comes right from Oahu, Hawaii. While their vision and values as a company helped them become a popular brand, they also craft affordable ukuleles with quality sound.
As mentioned earlier, Lanikai is part of the Hohner Music Company, a branch started by Mike Upton of Kala ukuleles. Initially, their ukuleles were made in China from laminated wood. They were at the cheaper end of the scale (although they are increasingly moving into higher-end ukes), but that has not stopped them from getting some high-level support.
For those that want to try an ukulele for the first time, Lanikai is an excellent choice. Many top performers, such as Scott Matthew, Jason Mraz, and Zach Condon, are fans of Lanikai.
Choosing Lanikai also means you will get a limited warranty that allows you to repair or replace your ukulele.
Another popular ukulele brand for beginners is Fender. This brand is well known for making all kinds of guitars and, lately, ukuleles, too.
It is no surprise that they are doing so well on the market. Their experience in the music industry is hard to match—from acoustic guitars to drums, top musicians choose Fender.
They offer some of the best ukuleles and ukulele sizes as well. It all started when they entered the ukulele world in 2009 with their first three models, Nohea, Hau’oli, and Pa’ina. Ukulele enthusiasts got excited when that happened, and for a good reason. Just like the Fender guitars, the ukuleles they make are in the top five best ukuleles for beginners—but that didn’t happen right from the start.
Fender had to deal with a lot of problems in the beginning because of multiple manufacturing errors. Many people complained about the build quality of their ukes, and that persisted for quite some time.
Eventually, Fender managed to learn the ins and outs of ukuleles, and they started releasing quality models. Now, you can find Fender ukuleles, not only in the hands of beginners but also in the hands of well-known professionals.
All their instruments come standard with a two-year limited warranty, which is above average for beginner models.
People Also Ask
What is the Best Brand of Ukulele to Buy? (4 Factors to Consider)
While, as outlined above, there are many top ukulele brands, no single brand can be labeled “best” in all cases—the best ukulele for beginners will vary from the best option for a pro. Many brands on the market serve different consumer segments, so choosing the best one out of hundreds is impossible.
The important thing is that you find a brand that’s best for your needs, and nothing else. Here are a few things to help you figure that out:
1. Your current level of expertise
If you are a beginner ukulele player and not sure you’ll continue to play, you don’t need to buy a brand like Kamaka or even Kala. You can look at more affordable brands like Lanikai and Fender. On the other hand, if you have experience, you are better off aiming for higher-end brands as a low-budget uke is likely to fall short of your expectations.
2. How much are you willing to spend?
Another relevant factor is your budget. In every category, there are ukuleles in different price ranges. Try to balance the price with the quality and sound you are looking for to get the best value.
Unfortunately, brand can play a role in pricing—but then when it comes to instruments, brands that come with a higher price tag usually have the quality to back it up.
3. The type of sound you want
As you already know, there are many types of ukuleles, each with a different sound—a soprano ukulele sounds nothing like a tenor. Shopping online is often a more affordable option, but we recommend you try a few ukuleles out in person to get a feel for the various sizes and wood types before shopping.
Alternatively, you can find online videos of the ukuleles on your shortlist being played. That way, you can at least hear the sound and tones they are capable of putting out. Aim for videos from a professional player. So long as you are looking at one of the more popular ukulele brands, that shouldn’t be an issue.
4. How often do you want to play?
If you are ukulele-obsessed, you will likely play daily until your fingers can’t take any more. Buying an ukulele that has the build quality of a plastic spoon will only guarantee disappointment and costly replacements. In that case, you want a brand with a commitment to durability. However, if you only play occasionally, a cheaper model might suit you just fine.
All these factors are important when you are trying to decide which brand is the best for you, not the most highly recommended or renowned instrument, but the best one for you. Of course, more things need to be considered, but for now, concentrate on these, and you should be OK.
Where to Buy an Ukulele?
There’s no shortage of online and brick-and-mortar ukulele shops, but if you want to buy an ukulele from a shop that is all about spreading the love of Hawaii, you need to check out Ukulele PUAPUA.
They offer an impressive range of offers and discounts you can benefit from, and there is a good chance you will find the perfect ukulele for you at an unbeatable price.
The company offers free shipping on orders over $350, and, if you buy from a local store, you can get a free case with any purchase of $100 or more (until July 14, 2020).
Ukulele PUAPUA is also an authorized dealer for all the brands mentioned above. Depending on the brand, not shopping from an authorized retailer might invalidate your warranty.
Furthermore, Ukulele PUAPUA offers complimentary ukulele lessons every day at 4:00 p.m. Stop by their Sheraton Waikiki location to join!
Wrapping It Up
By now, you should have enough information to choose an ukulele brand that you can relate to. Whether you are looking for a high-quality professional model or low-priced ukulele for beginners, the reviews above should help you choose the best ukulele for your needs.
There are plenty of options besides the ones we have listed here, and that might create some problems for you. However, when it comes to ukuleles, there is more to your choice then just simple pros and cons. This instrument is about your soul, so focus on finding one that captures your attention and grabs your heart.
You can’t go wrong with any of these brands, and the possibilities are endless. Make your choice wisely, based not only on the information you learned in this article but also on your own research and test strums.