Okay from the start I would like to say I may get into trouble with this article as there most likely will be people that disagree with what I have to say. What I will say right now is this is my opinion based on personal experience.
I have owned or at least played about every ukulele brand on the planet - cheap inexpensive ones that are one step up from firewood, all the way up to the most expensive high end hand-built ukes in the world, and everything in between. So I feel I am equipped with the knowledge to make some qualified judgements on ukulele brands and the quality of them from build quality, playability, looks, and all important intonation
So, what uke should you buy? well that has a lot to do with what your skill level is and where you want to go with your playing - do you just want to sit around with a couple of friends and strum away and sing, or are you wanting to play music for a living? The golden rule for me is regardless of your intentions you should buy the best uke you can afford.
Generally speaking more expensive ukes play and sound better and most likely are much better built. This is not always the case, but most of the time it is. I have played some quite expensive ukes that have been real lemons. and I have played some cheap ukes that have sounded great. My advice is play lots of ukes, one will jump out to your ears and that is the one you should buy.
It's your uke and if it sounds good to you then that is all that matters. The most important consideration in purchasing a uke is has it got good intonation. Basically what this means is does it play in tune the further you go up the neck, if not it has bad intonation and should be avoided. I have seen even ukes around the $400 - $500 mark that have bad intonation. If your uke doesn't play in tune it is basically firewood.
So this is the part of the article where I will get disagreement from people. There are so many brands of ukulele out there but below I have given a list broken down into 4 price categories that I feel give you a good choice of instruments to focus your search on. All of these are good ukes. Yes there are most likely other brands that are too, so if I have missed your favourite uke brand let me know.
Cheap end of the scale (entry level ukes) $100 - $300
These brands are the ones that are decently made mass produced ukes. All entry level ukes are mass produced mostly in china or some asian country. Another point here is really any uke under $100 most likely will have bad intonation and not play very well so stay clear of these. The below list is not in order of good to bad.
I consider for their price the best ukuleles in that price range category
$350 - $1,000 range
This level is a good all round uke and a noticeable step up from entry level in sound, playability and often looks. This level uke will be a great uke for the novice player that wants a really good quality uke that will sound and play well, and most importantly last for many years. Many ukes within this range will be solid wood ukes as opposed to the laminates of the cheaper level. The advantage of solid wood ukes is they often have better tone, projection, and are louder.
solid wood model kala's and Ohana's
Solid wood Islanders
Next up $1,000 - $2,000
These are professional quality ukuleles and mostly hand-made customs . Built for their tonal quality, note separation, projection and playability. These ukes are made to last a lifetime and produce high quality sound demanded by the professional musician.
National (for resonator ukes)
$2,000 - $10,000
Next up is the ultimate in uke looks, sound, and generally pimped up Rolls Royce of the uke world type of ukulele. not only do these little beauties sound and play amazingly they are often pieces of art. These are ukes you will pass down through the generations
National (for resonator ukes)
Okay my honest opinion on the best brand in each category
$100 - $300 - Islander
$350 - $1000 - Pono
$1,000 - $2,000 - Barron River
$2,000 - $10,000 - Toss up between Ko'olau/Devine/Barron River
If I had to choose one ukulele for tonal quality, price, playability and overall professional ukulele players best choice I would have to go with Barron River. I have owned most of the above brands and have sold most of them and replaced them with Barron River ukes to me they have the best raw woody sound with exceptional note separation and balance between strings.
Projection plus and perfect intonation and looks to kill for. I also believe compared to many of the other top ukes in the world they are up there with half the price tag
I hope this has helped you
Looking for more uke info or to buy a uke or have lessons? www.trevorgollaghermusic.com