The Best Tenors from $500-$700

These ukes are fairly new models and they are my top choices for a tenor in this price range. You can sometimes find local builders in this price range but these are a notch above what I have seen. Heck, next floor up from some I have seen. When you lay down over 500 bucks you want a super musical instrument. These were modeled after $2000-$3000 dollar ukes but made where things can be made more affordably (still on planet earth) with human skill and devotion. Our setup takes them up to potential and you have an instrument not far below the best out there.

So let’s dive right in for a closer look. This is the best sounding Kala model in my opinion. All solid and a lively spruce top but with more warmth and body when compared to their more affordable spruce models. It is the only uke of these four equipped with a pickup though we can install one in any of them. However, we don’t cut into the side of a uke for onboard EQ and digital tuner like this one has. The Kala ASAC-T-C-SP-MM, or Marcy Marxer, is braced lightly with a mini X brace Kala has been working with recently. They never talk about it but it’s a different soundboard support and voicing from any other uke maker I have seen. With a case you’ll be just over $500. So way more expensive than other Kalas but still a great value. Learn more about it here- Kala -Marcy Marxer – Spruce/ Acacia Tenor Electric

New this year from Pono is the ATDC-C in gloss.  I put Aquilas on it to match the other ukes but it is really made for higher tension strings. I don’t think Aquilas really “activate” it or drive the top but it still had a clear voice with singing sustain. Also noteworthy, the other three are spruce topped while this one has cedar. Articulate in the mid range but still sweet and definitely the most meticulous in finish and fretwork. Ponos are more close to setup when we get them than any other factory brand. But the other three here are a lighter build. Especially this next one…


The new Pepe Romero designed 30 series from Cordoba is a flamenco style featherweight 12 fret to body tenor. This uke booms with volume like no other in this price range. It’s now a high gloss finish and cosmetically improved from the first runs. Every 30 series Cordoba has a beautiful character and vibrance. This is to a Pepe Romero what Pono is to Koolau. The affordable version. This is new and just starting to show up on the market but it definitely fills a niche for this style. 12 fret to body with the spanish heel to body design, in this price range, it had the most volume! But is a light build and should not get high tension strings. Aquila or the Nyltech, Labella and a few others. You can inquire on specifics. Limited to store stock presently on this model. And the fourth of the featured is a very new arrival. Some were a bit surprised to see Islander pushing 7 bills. My outlook is different.I don’t know of any jig that makes side bevels assembly line work. This is a lot of hand work and it’s not a useless feature.

Many times after playing I can can see and feel the effects on my forearm. It’s a very practical feature but it’s just not practical in production and that’s why you rarely see it. The slotted headstock, cutaway body, and unique abalone fretboard inlays are nice too but in the end this one makes the cut based on tone. Plenty of bass and a Kanile’a type presence.

Check it out at our site here- Islander FMARM 4-T.

So sound is one aspect and this is one reference in time. 4 mics. Telefunken in the center. Stereo SDC’s are Earthworks/Josephson and a Nuemann gives the room ambiance. I’ve been getting help from the good people at PureSound. They don’t just sell. They educate, specialize and they practice the art. That’s our goal as well at TheUkuleleSite. Thanks for all your support.

Corey Fujimoto gives us an enjoyable listening  experience as usual. Really excited for his album still being shaped up. Cellist coming etc…, Share thoughts and opinions below. I’m curious as to what you guys hear.

Comments 2

  1. I was within a day of calling in a Tenor order when I read this review. Talk about a close call! Now I’m re-evaluating my choices. It’s a close call between the Pono and Kala for me. I like the cutaways on these; both have bright, distinctive tones. The cutaway on the Islander doesn’t appeal to me…too severe. The Cordoba sounds a bit different to me – not better or worse than the others, just a different quality of sound. It’s really tough to beat Pono for me. Their reputation is well established. I’d choose Pono #1, Kala MM a close 2nd.

  2. Boy, they each have a distinctive, great sound, and are nice to look at. My top pick is the Islander FMARM-4T.

    At 1:46, after the final strum, the clear overtones in the sustain just reach out. I’d like to hear a sound-comparison like that, just the sustain of various ukuleles with the the strum edited out. It speaks volumes about an instrument’s build and design, and isn’t dependent on the player. Corey does amazing things with strumming; sometimes, I’m more tuned in to his playing than the actual acoustic event of the uke. I know that sounds contradictory; and, I’m not complaining. In the comparisons, one does hear clear differences in instruments he’s playing so well. Still, to just pick a note, or strum a chord, and then just listen to how, or whether, the various ukuleles run with that.

    To me, visually, the radical Islander cutaway line is elegant, with the arguably merely aesthetic “pickguard” adding a nice touch–a little strange, really, in that it reminds me of Django Reinhardt, but also of Merle Travis. Euro-Country-Deco-Western. With that sharp cutaway, it’s got style built all over it, just like Django and Merle. Same for the rest of the instrument. The headstock is very tastefully executed. The bevel eludes me, though; coming from a cello background, I’ve yet to find a way to comfortably get a hold of an instrument as small as a uke. I shift mine around constantly while I play, to get better left hand reach or easier right hand picking. I don’t imagine the bevel would be any special help to me, there.

    I’d love to own this one. (but, please, don’t tell me that it ended up in your living room, too, Andrew. I’m happy if it did, but just don’t tell me, okay?)

    I don’t have any issues about the price. I can’t afford it, but the Islander FMARM-4T doesn’t sound, or look, like any kind of wannabe “professional” instrument. It doesn’t strike me as reaching after being “above” what it is, just beautiful in sound and looks.

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