The Best Ukulele: a Guide to Uke Buying Philosophy

In my huge ukulele buying guide, I address the large amount of physical characteristics that make each ukulele unique. If you want to nerd out on specs and much more, go check it out.

In this article, I want to share about the factors that surround actually choosing a uke. How do you decide which instrument is best for you?

Buying a Uke That Makes You Happy

Your ukulele should make you stoked. You have to love it! You should feel drawn to play it often.

While inspiration is a poor excuse on its own to buy a new uke, it should contribute significantly to the experience. When you pick up a uke that is a good match for you, it should be inspiring to play music.

You found probably found this guide by searching on Google while looking for opinions. 3rd party input can be very helpful, but it can also really impose upon your true needs from a uke.

Everybody is different. Everybody’s “best” is different. Take all opinions (including this one) with a huge grain of salt and at the end of the day, honor what makes you happy.

If you’re buying an ukulele to impress your friends or show off your bling, stop. Think. Reassess. That’s a bad reason to spend money on anything.

Buy a uke that makes you happy. Nobody else matters in this consideration.

The Purpose of the Ukulele

If you’re a beginner, you can skip this section because you’re probably buying your first or second main, all-around uke.

More advanced players tend to have a collection of instruments, each with a different personality. You should figure out what gap this new ukulele will fill.

I’m a very firm believer in each instrument serving a purpose for a musician. I think this reduces distractions and will help you be a smarter, more productive player.

It’s one thing to collect ukes, but if you’re serious about playing, buying a bunch of ukulele can be detrimental to your progress – both from a physical (switching instruments all the time) and a dedication standpoint (spending hours online “researching”).

This should make it easy to know when it’s time to buy a new uke. (Like I said, this doesn’t apply to collector types.)

Here are some good reasons to think about getting a new uke:

  • You are ready to start performing and need a uke with a pickup
  • You’ve worn out the frets on your old ukulele
  • You’re going on vacation and want to take a beater-uke with you
  • Your current uke doesn’t capture a specific sound that you need for the style you play
  • You’re serious about improving and are being held back by the quality of your current uke
Just so we’re clear, here are some (in my opinion) bad reasons:

  • You’re bored with music
  • You want something that looks different
  • Your friend got a new uke
  • You saw a review that sounded really great

Shopping for Your Ukulele

Once you’ve decided that you’re going to buy a new uke and its purpose, you have to figure out exactly which make and how to get it.

Whenever possible, I always recommend trying an instrument before buying it. This means going to a music shop and playing all the relevant ukulele options.

Don’t be shy! Try as many instruments as you can. You might find you like one that you didn’t consider before.

When you find a uke you like, ask if there are more of the same model to try. Often the “same” instrument is actually very different when you put several of them back-to-back – especially with handmade ukulele since the margin for error is on a human scale.

Shopping Online and Sight-Unseen

An “ukulele desert” is a location far from any good ukulele-serving music store. If you live in one of these, or you want a specific kind of instrument that isn’t available locally, you might have to resort to buying online.

When you shop for a uke online you must be accommodating. A new uke bought sight unseen can be a surprise. Be prepared to get something a bit different from what you imagined!

If the idea of this is unbearable to you, it’s probably worth reconsidering if you really need a new ukulele. Or perhaps it’s even worth traveling to somewhere for the specific purpose of buying a uke.

If you have to buy sight-unseen, I highly recommend you get an instrument from a boutique seller that does a setup on outgoing instruments.

A “setup” is the process of adjusting the uke to ideal tolerances and making it the best fit for the player. This also culls any sub-par instruments and ensures that you get an ukulele that is as good as possible.

More on setups

Buying from a knowledgeable ukulele retailer also gives you access to the expertise of real people who deal with ukes every day. If you need help choosing they can guide you in the right direction or even pick out an instrument for you.

Here is a handful of highly-regarded boutique shops to look into:

The Ukulele Site

The only online ukulele retailer I’ve bought from. Andrew has been very supportive of my work for years. I’ve been on his podcast and have even done some lessons for his membership site. So I’m a bit biased, but they do wonderful business.

Andrew films world-class sound demos of almost every model so you can really get an idea how they each sound. Their setup is provided free on ukes over $399 and for a fee for cheaper instruments. Tell them I sent you!

Mim’s Ukes

A one-woman shop that sets up every single ukulele she sells. She carries a different selection of brands than The Ukulele Site and gets rave reviews for being very available and helpful for customers.

Southern Ukulele Store

Consistently recommended for folks in UK and EU.

If you’re not looking for anything fancy, Sweetwater carries some decent entry-level models and includes a basic inspection with some instruments. Use my affiliate link here:

If you need to purchase some gear, consider using my Sweetwater affiliate link. They provide amazing customer service and anything you buy will gain me a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Sweetwater sound logo

Shop at Sweetwater and support Live Ukulele!

The Best Brands I Recommend

I get asked this question a lot – “what ukulele do you recommend for xyz price?”. And here’s the thing: most brands make a good uke.

Unless you’re buying a cheap knock-off uke from some unknown foreign maker, competition in the marketplace has improved quality control to the point that almost every ukulele you buy is going to be decent out of the factory.

Here are some production brands that I repeatedly hear good things about:

  • Pono
  • Kala
  • Ohana
  • Rebel
  • Romero Creations
  • aNueNue
  • Islander
  • Leolani
  • Martin
  • Opio
  • Flight

There are many more, but if you buy from one of the above retailers, they’re going to make sure you get a good instrument.

As for higher-end ukulele, it’s hard to go wrong with a Hawaiian made instrument from the likes of Kamaka, KoAloha, Koʻolau, or Kanileʻa.

Each of these brands make great instruments. A lot of the decision has to do with which “family” you want to join. Each places emphasis on different aspects of the build, tradition, and culture.

My friend Dagan wrote about Hawaiian made ukes in detail here


Buying an ukulele is quite a process. But taking steps to set yourself up for success can go a long ways towards avoiding remorse and ensuring you get a great instrument.

If you have access to an ukulele shop in your area:

  1. Decide what you need
  2. Go play every appropriate uke in every music store
  3. Buy your favorite that fits your budget

If you have to buy online:

  1. Decide what you need
  2. Listen to sound demos
  3. (Talk to somebody who can guide you)
  4. Don’t overthink it – you can’t be super picky when buying sight-unseen
  5. Buy your favorite that fits your budget

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