Start With a Tenor – Top 4 under 400!

New players that come into the store or visit us online can feel overwhelmed with options. Where to start?  One way is to first determine the size.

The smallest and original ukulele size is the soprano. Concert is slightly larger and loved by many, but the most popular choice, especially in the last few years has been the tenor. Why?  The dynamics! A full body and range, yet distinctly ukulele.

Some then wonder,”Will a tenor will be too big? Won’t the smaller size be easier or more comfortable?”.  The tenor size does have a 2 inch longer scale than concert and a 4 inch longer scale than soprano, but if you campare it with a guitar you’ll get some proportional perspective . In terms of ideal size for comfort, a tenor ukulele should fit anyone, teenager+.

With concert, and especially soprano, the strings are less taut when compared to a tenor. I’ve heard them described as “easier to press”. With a shorter scale, yet the  same G C E A tuning, soprano and concert scales naturally have less tension, but any ukulele with a proper setup will be easy to press. Also, the tension can help in some ways, like not bending chords out of tune. Beginner on a soprano can get a bit sour.

So say you’ve decided that tenor is the way to go. What to get? Perhaps you’re not even sure what your willing to spend, but do yourself a favor, spend over 100. If you truly can’t then there is a few decent options under $100, but as you go above you get SO much more.

The affordable 1-200 dollar range ukes just keeps getting better. This last batch of Kala KA-TEM’s and ST’s are better than ever! The new Gretsch G9120 is fantastic! The Luna Tattoo tenor sounds huge! And for a few more bucks you can get the Islander MT, still under $200 with  hard case and sweet tone! Great Deals as manufacturers step it up. This along with our quality control and final setup make this affordable range better than ever. BUT, just like the 1-200 dollar models take a significant step up, the next level (2-400) really does also. A more enjoyable and satisfying experience.

Now the quality doesn’t peak out there, but going beyond may not be justifiable, and if so, I understand. Compromise is no stranger to me. I’ll give an example..

I built our website (TheUkuleleSite) with pics and videos using a $600 camera and $500 mic. That is a bit of money, but in the photo/video world it’s extremely minimal, and for most pros it would be torturous. Now, like any dude, I wish I had the killer gear, but I got what was good enough because I wasn’t good enough. I’m just now seeing what I really need and like. Important factors were not even known before.

For those just starting out, a professional Hawaiian ukulele is a lifetime instrument and would give more than it’s moneys worth in joy. But..for less than half that price you can certainly get everything you need to experience this instrument and it’s potential. The internet has a slew of uke teachers, tabs, and inspiration from amazing players. All you need is a good uke. Below is four solid wood tenors that have been our best sellers, online and in-store for this last year. Take a listen and below in the comments box share your preference, experience, or inquiries.

Note: These were sampled with stock strings. Pono uses Koolau Mahana and Kala uses Aquila Nylgut.

The Pono AT is such a great ukulele! A favorite of mine. In fact, I admit to being happy for the customer whenever I see one sell online .  They are truly a wonderful choice.

The ASAC-T has been a huge hit since Kala introduced it a few years back. The slotted headstock,  solid Acacia, and wood bindings are beautiful! After our setup, this tenor is sweet!

Built just like an old Martin but with the Kamaka style tie bridge. Classic look and tone. This one has retro cool style, all solid wood construction, top and back binding, and after our setup plays like buttah! and WHAT it’s only 250!! Easy sell in store, the  Kala SMHT

Out of these four, this one has the greatest range. It was clipping the levels halfway through the strumming on but when you try it you just feel the vibration against your body. More resonant than ever, the Pono MT

If you have tried one or more of these models tell us what you experienced when you played them.

From these videos, what differences did you hear?

These are our best selling 4, but what models are tops for you?

Comments 32

  1. They don’t make them any more but I have a Kala Golden Accacia with a solid cedar top and gloss finish that I love. My son also loves his solid spruce top spalted maple by kala as well.

    1. Thanks Bill, We just bought another run of those cedar top Acacia’s, should get them this week. Love that model and the FMT. They sound great and the spalted maple is so cool.

  2. I have one of each size, like the sound of the saprano, good size for just toting around. Concert size maintains more of the saprano sound and gives more playability, longer neck, Tenor has a little more deepness to the sound but is good to play if u have bigger fingers. Baratones are in a class of there own, nothing bad, just have to learn the notes, strings, and cords of them

  3. I love the warm tone of the Pono mahogany. Played with a Pono MT in a local store recently and I love the tone and the playability a lot. Now considering getting a Pono Pro Classic MT. (When will the slothead models be back in stock btw?).

    Very nice demonstration videos. Do you mind sharing the fingerpicking pattern and the strumming pattern used?

  4. New Pro Classics including slot head models arrive today! Thanks Wai, and I will ask Corey, maybe he can teach that…like a roll in the middle of the pattern, seems hard to me, maybe not?
    And thanks Cliff, a good assessment. aloha-

  5. I bought a Pono ATD a couple months ago..it’s an amazing instrument. It has a terrific sound and the set up is great. It wasn’t under $400, but except for the upgraded features is the same as the Pono AT mentioned here. The acacia has terrific tone, and the kooalu strings are terrific.

  6. I like the pono AT but the Kala Smht really brings out a nice range of notes for a variety of short clips. And it does blend it well with my daughters harp solos. Does it come with a slotted head and acacia combination? One thing I noticed when playing the kala for all of 3 minutes are the nice vibrations. I’ll be back to the store in the spring and I can’t wait to bring on home. Fwiw: Aaron’s videos from years back helped me tremendously.

  7. I have the Kala Spalted Flame Maple Tenor – great appearance and sound. I’ve been playing it for close on 2 years and even though I’ve thought of getting something else I can never quite do it. The others I’ve tried just don’t come close!

  8. i love the pono – you can not do much better for the price – i prefer the tone of it when i compared it with a lanikai – however the spalted mango is beautiful so i went for both after saving up for a few months – the video demos here are great and i watch them time and again just to see what i can pick up to learn strums and chords too

  9. These recordings are great for comparison. You can really hear the brightness and clarity in the acacia and contrast it to the more mellow mahogany. None of my local music shops sell nice ukes so these videos are much appreciated.

  10. I love Kala! That’s a big statement but I have picked up other people’s Kala’s and really enjoyed the sound of them. I love other ukes too but really like the Kala. It’s sound is soooo good. I bought a Marcie Marxer tenor limited edition (which isn’t !) – shame – but I really love it and its built in tuner. Hey but that was a lot more money. I don’t believe you can go wrong with Kala as not only a starting uke but also a lasting one you will play for ever. Enjoy!

  11. I ordered my first uke today. I spent a little more than I wanted because I want to be in love with it and keep it for a long time. The reason I bought it here, was for the setup and customer service. I saw HMS on YouTube, everyone’s so friendly. I purchased the Gretsch solid top tenor with cutaway and Fishman pu

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  12. That Pono MT sounds amazing. I just bought my first Uke. A Gretsch. Couldn’t be more stoked

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  13. I still love my Pono, bought from you guys with that perfect set-up! I do like the slotted headstock on the kala asac but i dont think pono can be beat in this price range. My next one though, will be a K…….

  14. My friend and coworker James Campos turned me on to Hawaii Music Supply after he convinced me I needed to start playing Uke. I kept grabbing his Kala KA-CG and his constant prodding moved me to buy a Kala KA-PWT. For my fat, clumsy fingers the Tenor scale is awesome and the set up and customer service by HMS was outstanding! My fingers are still fat and clumsy and I doubt whether I’ll ever have any real skill but the Walnut Kala is a thing of beauty that I’ll be happily strumming for years to come. Thanks HMS!

  15. Thanks for the great info. I’m looking at tenors right now, but I see online that the Pono MT and AT are both out of stock at HMS. Will you be getting more in soon?

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  16. I’m looking to by a tenor under the $400 and was thinking about the Gretsch solid top tenor w/ cutaway and Fishman pu
    I see it’s out of stock- any idea when it will be back? If not, do you have any recommendations?


  17. I was wondering what your thoughts were on the Kala KA-KTGE-C. I have a (Kohala Kine’O gift) soprano that I started with late April (2016), then I got a Kala KA-CG (really like it, compared to the Kohala..,).., and I am now wanting to buy a Tenor.., but want it to be electric.., in case I ever want to use that option.., but I am also finding myself gravitating to a gloss finish Ukes.

    Is this a good choice in finisg.., Uke, or do you recommend another?

    Thank you for your time,

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  18. Hey!

    I’m buying a new tenor uke. I would like to ask you for opinion about kala jazz archtop. They look soooo good, because i like thing which are looking more special than others. But i don’t really need electric plug-in. Marcie Marxer also looks brilliant. What do you think? Thanks

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      Hi Edi, The archtop are cool for a balanced bright sound. Flat tops like the Marxer model will have much more body to the sound and warmth. Much more low end frequencies from regular models.

      1. Hi!
        Thanks for the answer! I’ve chosen Kala asac-t and i love it! Greetings from Slovenia

        Peace, love & music

  19. I have 2 Pono’s, 1 the pineapple tenor & one an 8 string. The pineapple Pono has the adjustable truss, so all is well with that uke,
    however, my 8 string buzzes horribly.
    I’ve removed the nut and replaced, that changed nothing, tightened all tuning pegs, that changed nothing, taken to local luthier, he says it is a warped neck…and I might try raising the nut to get strings over the warp, or then raising the bridge.

    So today I’m ordering another bridge.

    hate to see this little darling just sitting…

    any ideas?

    Also, please add me to your new “give a way contest” I always can use and love a new ukulele.

    on another note, I’ve just started teaching a Beginner class here in Palm Springs California, at first notice sent, I received 27 interested, at the first lesson 17 showed up, 2nd lesson 17 showed up and I’m sending them all to your site for information…

    Cheers, Lori

  20. I just got the Pono MC, and I absolutely love it. The quality and tone are top notch. I think the mango wood would work exceptionally well on a Tenor.

  21. I love my tenor Pono I picked up at the Haleiwa . I also have a cheap concert that is fun to play and I’ve been thinking of upgrading that one to something better. Throughly enjoy this site for all of the support and information it provides. Keep up the good work.

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