Best Tenor Ukulele Models – Bigger Choice of Bigger Instruments
You have confessed to yourself: you like the way a ukulele sounds, and you want to buy yourself the best tenor ukulele you can afford. After the first acquaintance with ukulele types, you decided that the tenor version is the best for you. But then the problem of choice comes again because there are many manufacturers and models, different in terms of quality, usability, design, and – the most important – sound.
So, how do you make a choice among these ukuleles? Start with the most affordable one, or choose the most balanced option? We consider Cordoba 20TM-CE the optimal tenor ukulele for beginners and for experienced players equally, with its solid body and neck, great usability, crisp yet deep sound, and reasonable price.
Yet music is different from sports, and there are no undisputed champions, but the ones you just like, that you find the most comfortable and the best sounding. It depends on the sort of music you play, on the circumstances and the environment, and on the feeling that you may suddenly get – call it love at first sight, or at first sound. Welcome to the reviews!
The 7 Best Tenor Ukuleles Worth a Try
Here are the reviews of the seven tenor ukes I consider the best. But I must warn you that links are nothing but links. If you want to find the best sounding tenor ukulele among these, check videos with them before buying. Hear what a pro can get out of them – and what you can if you give it some time.
1. Cordoba 20TM-CE – The Top Pick
- Solid Mahogany top
- Mahogany back and sides, Rosewood bridge and fingerboard
While the HQ is located in Santa Monica, CA, and some guitars are indeed manufactured in Spain (though not exactly in Cordoba but in Valencia and Barcelona), the ukuleles are made in China. Well, not so far from Hawaii. What we should care about more is that Mr. Miklaucic attempted to apply guitar-making techniques to ukuleles as well. And the result (as for me) is more than satisfying.
As for Cordoba 20TM-CE, it’s a classical type of tenor ukulele with a mahogany body, 26 inches long, weighing just 1.31 lbs., and predictably with nylon strings. A jack socket reveals it’s an electric model as well, though it can be played as an acoustic.
What I like the most about this model (and what others lack) is the cutaway (one of the guitar techniques spoken above, so the frets are easier to reach. Not that it’s crucial, given the ukulele size (even the tenor one), but these minor things create major impressions. The manufacturer confesses it’s inspired by the Portuguese braguinha which was also the ancestor of the ukulele.
As for the sound, its tones are nice, and the sustainability is well high, making the performance dense and saturated. Some may find its sound too sharp, but it’s a matter of taste. It’s more expensive than others, which is reasonable for this instrument.
- A trustworthy brand;
- Quality materials;
- Both electric and acoustic modes;
- Reasonable price;
- The cutaway!
- No strap buttons;
- Made in China (if it matters to you).
2. AKLOT 26 Inch With Uke Beginner Kit: a Runner-Up
- 【Rounded Edge】Solid mahogany soundboard with rounded edge design (only solid wood can be designed roundly). This ukulele has outstanding resonance and sustainability, comfortable to hold.
- 【Advanced Tuner】1:18 pure copper gear (rather than poor quality brass-plated zinc alloy), finer and more stable tuning ensure the ukulele that has the best Intonation, stays in tune for longer time.
And boy, Aklot does have the quality. This company specializes in ukuleles, and it shows. The 26-inch tenor model comes as an entire kit that has everything a player might need – from extra strings to a strap, a tuner, and a manual for beginners. This all-in-one set is a great option if you just plan to master the ukulele. In addition, you can watch curated lessons on YouTube. The official channel, though, is not very popular; independent reviewers of Aklot ukuleles gain much more attention.
The ukulele itself is a traditional, acoustic guitar-shaped, body made of mahogany, which provides a softer and warmer sound. It comes with Aquila strings which are made of a proprietary material named Nylgut, imitating the gut strings that were once upon a time mainstream. It is acoustic-only. And its price is more than moderate for such a bundle. Don’t be surprised, though, if in the beginning it smells a lot or requires too frequent tuning.
- A definitive set of accessories;
- Exclusive Aquila strings;
- Solid mahogany body;
- Online support;
- More than affordable.
- Requires tuning each time you play;
- The smell.
3. Fender Dhani Harrison Ukulele: The Premium Pick
- Tenor size with ¾ body depth
- Custom fretboard inlays and back engravings
The size itself, though, makes it for some the best tenor uke around. The usability strangely does not differ much from other tenor ukuleles. The sound does. It’s much thicker and quite warm, and the resonance is long and solid due to construction. It’s made for concerts, but recording it is also easy. The preamp does its job well, though it also impacts the balance of the instrument, being rather heavy. The set is not as impressive as that by Aklot, but this ukulele comes with a gig bag and good Aquila strings.
As for the sound, it has its character. It’s more restricted and somehow muted, though the tones are thick, and the sustain is long and well expressed. The signature sound is not to anyone’s liking, though, and, given its price that is only a little lower than that of our top pick, I’d recommend it if you are really sold on both its look and sound and prefer it plugged.
- A famous manufacturer;
- Designed by Dhani Harrison;
- Solid build;
- Built-in preamp;
- Comes with Aquila strings.
- Bigger than usual;
- The balance is off because of the preamp.
4. Cordoba 15TM: Great Value
- ROOMY FRETBOARD: This uke's larger tenor-sized body exhibits an impressive level of projection and volume, making it perfect for players who find concert ukuleles a bit too small.
- DYNAMIC RANGE: Featuring all-mahogany construction, the 15TM produces a well-balanced tone, with superb dynamic range and pleasant overtones.
It’s also good for beginners in terms of tuning. The frets are designed with this in mind, with position marks that make tuning easier. The choice of laminate as the primary material makes it more resistant to temperature and humidity (though a solid wood tenor ukulele may sound better).
It’s not the cheapest one around, and the set is minimal, even the bag not being included. Yet the parameters are quite great, and, being indifferent leagues with the one by Fender (an electric instrument is not to be compared to an acoustic one), it is as perfect an embodiment of its class.
- Warm solid sound;
- Sturdy build;
- Easy tuning;
- Stylish looks;
- Great value.
- The sound of the laminate version is less resonated;
- Comes without a bag.
5. Donner DUC-405: Plugged and Equipped
- ♫ Easy to Tune: Professional tenor ukulele with built-in 3 band EQ works easily on tuning. Easily adjust tone you want. 18 Brass Frets with Fret position Marks at 5th, 7th, 9th and 12th frets on neck and top of fingerboard.
- ♫Solid Top Mahogany: Solid top Mahogany body produces more sustainable, stable sound and pure tone and better resonance. Built to last for long and brand new. Highly polished smooth Aquila ukulele strings with elevated resistance to wear under tension.
The ukulele itself is quite a decent piece with a solid mahogany body, Aquila strings (not Nylgut, though, but carbon nylon), and a beveled armrest. The materials themselves are decent, including (along with solid wood) high-density bone for buts and saddles. It results in a warm sound that works great in both acoustic and electric modes.
What’s disappointing about it is the preamp. I didn’t experience this, but other users say that it can make an annoying buzz, so the only way to get rid of it is to replace the preamp (luckily, the manufacturer sells it separately). The EQ is also not necessary: no matter if you plug it into a concert mixer or into a recording module, they have their own settings. Given the price (just about one-third of our top pick), this option can be recommended for beginners and professionals to use for demos and not-so-crucial gigs.
- Great set;
- Good overall build;
- Built-in tuner;
- Decent service;
- Pro 5.
- The EQ is a strange decision;
- The preamp can make buzzing sounds.
6. Caramel CT103: The Most Exotic
The CT103 model also comes with a complete set of accessories, and it tries to outrun all its rivals. The set includes extra strings, a gig bag, a set of picks, a strap, a cable, and even a wall hanger! This is the most packed one among those reviewed. It is an electric/acoustic combo with a built-in tuner and a preamp with a 3-band EQ.
As for the ukulele itself, its body is made of a fantastically beautiful African zebrawood, and the neck of mahogany. The glossy finish provides a warm feel. The preamp does not cause such a disbalance as it does with Fender because of a more balanced overall design.
Can it be perfect for its moderate price? No, and the weakness of it is the electric part. As an acoustic ukulele, it’s near the top, zebrawood providing a thick sound body and proprietary strings with a distinct voice. But when plugged (no matter with the native or a third-party cable), the sound was a bit distorted, which spoiled the pleasure.
- Zebrawood makes the sound deep;
- A good all-included kit;
- Fantastic look and feel;
- Good acoustic sound.
- The finish is easy to damage;
- The preamp distorts the sound.
7. Luna Tattoo: As Hawaiian As Can Be
- A perfect uke for players who are looking for a beautiful sound at a tremendous value
- This Tattoo Tenor takes its design from traditional Hawaiian body ornamentation and inspiration from the Pacific Islands
This tenor ukulele is a masterpiece of design, so you don’t have to play it to enjoy it: even watching and touching it is a sort of fun. Its body is made of solid mahogany and covered with Pacific ornaments – to keep us aware of where the ukuleles come from. The fretboard and the bridge are made of walnut. Even the fret markers are styled to resemble shark teeth.
As for the sound, it’s a purely acoustic model, with the sound deep, sweet, and warm like the mahogany body suggests. It’s also louder than many others due to its heavy body. The strings, though, may initially sit not well, so you may need the replacement almost at once. Alas, it doesn’t come with an extra set of strings; there is just a gig bag included. Some owners also say it takes time, up to weeks, until the strings finally sit in place and start sounding like they should. But overall, it’s a great purchase for its price, if you don’t mind buying most accessories separately. And you may also want to modify it, like many recommend, to make it the top tenor ukulele if you’re good with an acoustic model.
- The most unique style;
- Loud deep sound;
- Solid build;
- Affordable price;
- Easy to modify.
- The set is rather modest;
- May take some time for strings to sit down in place.
What to Look at (and Listen to) When Buying a Tenor Ukulele
These tenor ukulele reviews might help you to make up your mind already, but they will be of more use if we articulate what to look at. These are the highlights of what to look at when choosing your instrument.
Hardwood vs Laminate
One of the most frequent disputes among ukulele players is whether laminate is much worse than solid wood. As for me, the difference is overrated. When it comes to a pro-class ukulele, hardwood makes it more nuanced and accentuated. But entry-level ones show less difference, while laminate ones are more affordable and less sensitive to the environment.
There are differences between various wood sorts, though. Here are those you can most frequently see in affordable ukuleles.
- Mahogany. This wood makes the sound warmer and deeper, accentuating the mids. In addition, it’s quite affordable.
- Koa. This Hawaiian wood is considered the most authentic. It makes the sound brighter, with long sustain and some accents on the treble.
- Nato. It’s usually considered similar to mahogany but even more affordable.
The most affordable tenor ukuleles come under $100, but to get the best professional tenor ukulele, you better prepare for about $300. Of course, there are even more expensive models, but there’s no reason to aim that high unless you’re already a pro or determined to become one.
What’s less obvious is the bundle. You may only think of it when you look at the product card and forget when switching to the next one. But picks, extra strings, bags, tuners, and stuff also cost money. Their combined price may be compared to the price of the instrument itself (if we speak of affordable ukuleles).
If you only start learning to play a tenor ukulele, you better listen to a professional musician playing the models you choose from. They can unfold and show you the full potential of these models. In general, you can judge by the description of the manufacturer.
For almost any model above, you can find videos on YouTube or other video hostings. I did not provide the links because they often update them and better ones appear. In addition, any given model can change with years, and the batches sold now may differ from those reviewed years before, especially in terms of sound. So you better do the search yourself and find the freshest videos that are the most relevant.
There are always many questions around tenor ukuleles, caused by their unusual positioning even for an instrument that’s perceived as exotic despite its global popularity. Here, let’s address some of them directly.
Is a tenor ukulele good?
If it exists, and it is played by many, it is certainly a good instrument. It preserves the traditional ukulele techniques yet makes it easier for larger persons and provides a deeper sound. I think it’s better for playing in a live band and for most recordings, though this can be disputed.
Is a tenor ukulele easier to play?
For many of us, it is. For me, for example, a tenor ukulele is just easier to handle. A soprano uke feels like a toy, and it’s not about the appearance, though size matters here too. It’s just about my fingers that can’t handle it well. At the same time, with a tenor ukulele, I feel more at ease. In addition, it resonates with my entire body better – you know what it means.
How is a tenor uke tuned?
The standard tuning of a tenor ukulele is GCEA, the same as of a soprano one. To tune it finely, you can use a chromatic guitar tuner or even a mobile app. The unique tuning with the third C string being the lowest is preserved.
This feature makes it more comfortable to switch from a soprano one than, say, switching to a guitar. For example, a child can start learning with a soprano ukulele and later switch to the tenor one. The instrument is bigger, as well as the player’s body, including fingers. But the tuning and most of the techniques remain the same.
How many frets are on a tenor ukulele?
At least 15, but there can be up to 20. It’s not the case of the more the better, though. A tenor ukulele is a great option for players with bigger hands, and the more frets it has, the less space is between them, which may make it less comfortable. A professional player, though, may opt for a model with more frets.
Gorgeous. Compact. Exotic. Attractive
That’s what a tenor ukulele is. Not looking toyish as a soprano version might, more suitable for a player with a larger body and bigger hands but retaining its tuning and recognizable sound. Though we consider Cordoba 20TM-CE the win-win option, you can find another one that suits you better, acoustic or electric, or you just prefer the way it sounds.
If you have a question to ask, or something from your own experience to tell, welcome to the comments! I’d like to have a little jam session there.