Best Tenor Ukuleles 2020 – Buyer’s Guide

If you’re in the music industry or about to enter, you’ve probably witnessed the buzz that ukuleles have been making among musicians. Today, their prominence has developed tremendously, and ukes have shifted from being seen as ‘toys’ into actual professional instruments.

Since it appears as ukuleles are here to stay for quite some time, we’ve reviewed the leading tenor ukuleles. We know how challenging it could get to settle your mind on a good tenor ukulele that can serve your exact needs, especially with the broad wide range of options available on the market.

Without further ado, whether you’re a beginner or a professional looking to purchase a new ukulele, take a look at our review on the best tenor ukuleles currently on the market.

We’ve reviewed the 7 best tenor ukuleles that stood out in that crowded market of options. Different brands, prices, and features; let’s find the one for you!

Our Top Picks

UkuleleBodyTunerStrings
Kala KA-SMHTMahoganyChrome Die-CastPremium Aquila Nylgut
Donner TenorMahogany back and sides, Spruce topChrome-plated guitar styleCarbon nylon
Kala KA-T MahoganyMahogany with satin finish and traditional white bindingChrome Die-CastAquila Super Nylgut
Luna TattooMahogany with a satin finishPearloid Open GearAquila Super Nylgut
Cordoba 20TMMahoganyCordoba Nickel with Pearl ButtonsAquila New Nylgut Tenor 10U
Martin T1K KoaNickel OpengearUkulele Tenor M620
Fender Montecito KoaSealed nickel- vintage-style tunersStandard tenor uke

The 7 Best Tenor Ukuleles

1. Kala KA-SMHT Tenor Ukulele

Kala KA-SMHT

The Kala KA-SMHT Tenor ukulele has a sound that is generally near that of a classical guitar. If you’ve always longed to practice the guitar but want to begin with an instrument that’s easier to play, this is for you!

Being a mahogany ukulele (top, back, sides, and neck) enables it to deliver rich, full-range sound, and its walnut fingerboard makes it comfortable to play, although its size is somewhat smaller than that of other tenor ukuleles.

In case you’re looking to keep your tenor ukulele for quite a while, this would be a perfect choice, mainly since the wood finish guarantees that the sound will improve the more you play. It’s made to last!

The Aquila Nylgut strings are Grover geared tuners, one of the exceptional tuners for any ukulele, guaranteeing that the ukulele is constantly in tune and is further easy to tune.

As far as cost, the Kala KA-SMHT is a mid-range ukulele, being of the best tenor ukuleles under $300.

Pros:

  • Suitable for playing solo and not necessarily in a crowd
  • Lightweight and smaller than other uke tenors
  • Rich sound
  • Grover geared tuners
  • Solid Mahogany wood construction and walnut fingerboard

Cons:

  • Not accompanied by a case
  • Strings occasionally have sharp tones upon soloing

Bottom Line

The Kala KA-SMHT is ideal for guitar players making progress into the ukulele world, or those who wished to practice the guitar but found it too advanced. Designed to last for a lifetime, its solid construction not only makes it durable but also empowers it to deliver rich, full-range sound, whether in a crowd or solo.

2. Donner Tenor Ukulele DUT-3

Donner Tenor Ukulele DUT-3

The Donner Tenor Ukulele DUT-3 is very convenient for beginners on a budget who are attempting to find harmony between price and quality. It’s one of the best tenor ukuleles under $100.

Also made of mahogany, the Donner Tenor Ukulele DUT-3 delivers an excellent resonant sound of high volume despite its small size. The body is well-constructed relative to its price, and the satin finish gives it an increasingly premium look.

The strings work just fine, but given the price, the tone is average but not exceptional as would be for the more expensive alternatives. As for the tuners, this uke has chrome-plated guitar style tuners, which are anything but difficult to use; they tune relatively quickly and maintain their tune. 

The fingerboard is made of rosewood, providing a very comfortable playing feel.

If you seek extras, this uke is accompanied by a few, namely: a padded gig bag, an adjustable strap, a digital tuner, and a spare set of strings.

Last but not least, the Donner Tenor Ukulele has a remarkable design on its fingerboard with auspicious clouds and sun patterns, perfect for voyaging. Overall, it’s a decent deal relative to the cost!

Pros:

  • Unique design
  • Mahogany composition
  • Price is relatively cheap
  • Chrome-plated tuners
  • The comfortable playing feel due to the rosewood board
  • Many extras

Cons:

  • The tone is not exceptional
  • Not durable

Bottom Line

If you’re looking for a good yet cheap tenor ukulele, or you’re a beginner, the Donner Tenor Ukulele DUT-3 is your most logical option. There is unquestionably a variation in sound when compared with the more expensive options, it’s a decent value for money option, regardless, with extras to compensate for the less than exceptional features!

3. Kala KA-T Mahogany Tenor

Kala KA-T Mahogany

If you’ve ever found the soprano and concert ukes excessively small and unfit for your hands, the Kala KA-T Mahogany Tenor is your best bet. With a scale length of 17 inches and an overall length of 26 inches, this tenor can be your most comfortable alternative. 

Sharing the mahogany composition with the Kala KA-SMHT Tenor Ukulele and the Donner Tenor Ukulele DUT-3, the mahogany design gives off a striking look and provides the full warm sound.

What’s further, the look is accentuated through a white cream binding that gives a classic intrigue. Together, these variables equip the Kala KA-T to deal with sudden changes in temperature and build resistance to humidity.

 Like the Kala KA-SMHT, the Kala KA-T Mahogany Tenor’s fingerboard is made of walnut, providing the same playing comfort. Featuring a GraphTech, NuBone nut and saddle along with Aquila Super Nylgut strings, the ukulele is unlikely to ever go out of tone. It also comes with a digital tuner to support learners. It’s undoubtedly one of the best tenor ukuleles under $200.

Pros:

  • Classic look and feel
  • Resistant to changes in temperature and humidity
  • Walnut fingerboard providing playing comfort
  • GraphTech and NuBone nut and saddle along with Aquila Super Nylgut strings to ensure tuning
  • Mahogany construction
  • Digital tuner

Cons:

  • Laminate construction, not solid-wood

Bottom Line

If you’re looking for comfort and are purchasing the tenor ukulele exclusively for that reason, then the Kala KA-T is for you. Adding to that, its appealing appearance and solid build make it the real deal. Perfect for beginners but also suitable for professionals.

4. Luna Tattoo Tenor Ukulele

Luna Tattoo

Whether you’re a beginner or a professional, the Luna Tattoo Tenor Ukulele should be on your list. It works both as a beginner and a professional tenor ukulele. Further, if you love Hawaii, then the deal is sealed!

The laser-etched designs of the Luna Tattoo Tenor ukulele are its main distinguishing features, with markings inspired by Hawaii all over it, in addition to its sleek satin finish and all-mahogany body. Like the Kala KA-SMHT and the Kala KA-T Mahogany Tenor, this ukulele’s fingerboard is also made of walnut.

It goes without saying that with this ukulele, you can get Hawaiin tones in a blink of an eye, in a substantially more convenient size than the soprano or concert. Smooth, rich sounds with relatively loud volumes, are the continuous nature of this ukulele. Into the bargain, this tenor uke is equipped with Aquila Super Nylgut strings, maintaining a stable tuning with maximum ease.

Pros:

  • Exceptionally unique design
  • Solid Mahogany construction
  • Rich sound
  • Comfortably played

Cons:

  • The design can be a bit over the top for some people

Bottom Line

The Luna Tattoo Tenor Ukulele is for the lovers of uniquely designed instruments. Its decorative ornamental finish and Hawaiin feel is the essence of what makes it stand out. If you’re not buying it for the design, then many other options on the market can offer you similar sound and playability for basically the same price.

5. Cordoba 20TM Tenor Ukulele

Cordoba 20TM

With the same aim of the Kala KA-T Mahogany Tenor, the Cordoba 20TM Tenor ukulele is aimed at the individuals who favor wide spaces on the fretboard as well as a wider feeling neck. Furthermore, it suits players of all aptitudes alike.

With a solid mahogany top in addition to laminated mahogany back and sides, this electro-acoustic tenor ukulele radiates a very sophisticated look with its extra glossy satin finish.

The fretboard is made of rosewood, making the playing experience smooth and comfortable. Concerning sound, a warm yet solid sound is the feature of this ukulele. The strings are Aquila Nylgut Tenor strings further accompanied by a nickel tuning machine, to make the tuning process something you don’t need to stress over.

Pros:

  • Solid composition
  • Attractive design
  • Excellent, rich sound
  • Comfortably played
  • Easily tuned

Cons:

  • Tuners can sometimes feel loose

Bottom Line

The Cordoba 20TM Tenor Ukulele is yet again a must-consider for those who are seeking wide spaces on the fretboard and wider feeling necks. It’s an electro-acoustic with a classy finish, delivering rich sound. If you’re upgrading from a beginner tenor ukulele, the Cordoba should be on your list.

6. Martin T1K Koa Tenor Ukulele

Martin T1K Koa

If you want the best out there regardless of the price, then the Martin T1K Tenor Ukulele is the way to go at that point. Due to the long history of Martin in the realm of stringed instruments, mainly due to the dedication in quality, this ukulele can be somewhat overwhelming on the pocket.

The Martin T1K Tenor Ukulele body is made of koa, a tonewood native to Hawaii, and is one of the first customary materials used in making ukuleles. As a result, this ukulele has a full-bodied voice with extraordinary volume. The body top allows for a balanced tone, while the back and sides add resonance. 

Also, the fingerboard is made of solid Morado, which helps in providing a smooth playing feel. Its strings are Martin M620 made from clear fluorocarbon, giving them tensile strength, which results in the strings holding their tune and giving a harmonic output in terms of sound.

Last but not least, it’s finished in a high-quality satin lacquer to give the ukulele a longer lifespan and capacity to withstand long years of usage and exposure without looking different.

Pros:

  • Solid build quality with the finest wood, allowing for best sound
  • Top-notch quality
  • Rich tone
  • Comfortably played
  • Long-lasting
  • Comes with a high-quality gig bag

Cons:

  • Price is relatively expensive
  • No strap buttons for attaching straps to play standing up

Bottom Line

If you’re not a specific budget and you’re looking for the absolute best, don’t hesitate to go for the Martin T1K Koa Tenor Ukulele. It’s made from koa, which is the wood used to create the first-ever tenor ukuleles in Hawaii, delivering the best sound there is. 

The T1K Koa Tenor Ukulele, in particular, is considered only moderately expensive for a Martin instrument made from koa! It’s in all likelihood the best sounding tenor ukulele you’ll come across.

7. Fender Montecito Tenor Ukulele

Fender Montecito Tenor

Slightly similar to the Martin T1 Tenor Ukulele, the Fender Montecito Tenor Ukulele’s body is made from koa on top, with laminated koa on the back and sides, yet again delivering the feel of the classic Hawaiian’s along with an eye-catching sight. Unlike the Martin T1 Tenor Ukulele in terms of cost, the Fender Montecito Tenor Ukulele is one of the best koa tenor ukuleles under $500.

Furthermore, this ukulele is inspired by ‘the California home of many celebrities,’ so if you’re looking for a tenor uke with rock and roll vibes, this is the one!

What’s exceptional about this ukulele is that string changes are unexplainably easy. Adding to that, the solid body allows for a great sustain and resonant tone.

Pros:

  • Solid build quality with the finest wood, allowing for best sound
  • A glimpse of Fender’s commonly known rock and roll
  • Rich tone
  • Available in four colors
  • Easy changing strings

Cons:

  • Goes out of tune frequently

Bottom Line

If you’re a rock and roll lover, the Fender Montecito Tenor Ukulele is yours. Delivering a rich and mellow tone that gets louder and stronger with time and a telecaster-style headstock, you’ll get the feels of rock and roll. If you’re likely to change strings, you’ll love this tenor ukulele since its distinguishing feature is its easily changed strings.

How to Pick a Tenor Ukulele

If you’ve settled on going for a tenor among the three types of ukulele, the best approach to help you decide which model suits you is to understand your needs, set a budget, create a shortlist of models that meet that budget, then narrow them down further through reviews, videos, and audio samples.

Once you’ve settled and limited your options to one or two models, you can try them out at the store if possible.

The Three Steps to Choose the Right Ukulele

In general, there are essential factors to consider when considering making a ukulele purchase.

1. Size

Most ukuleles fall into one of three sizes, being the soprano, concert, and tenor. 

The standard and original ukulele was the soprano. It has a scale length of 13” and an overall length of 21” and is the smallest of the ukulele family, making it ideal for children. The soprano is the cheapest of the three alternatives.

The concert ukulele is slightly bigger, with a scale length 15” and overall length of 23”, and is ideal for beginners.

The tenor ukulele, discussed in this article, is the biggest of the three, with a scale length of 17″ and overall length of 26″. As mentioned, it’s ideal for accommodating larger hands and suitable for professionals.

2. Sound

The soprano ukulele delivers the softest of sounds, the one usually associated with ukuleles. Therefore, this is the most traditional ukulele that can give you the essence of what it should sound like.

Concert ukuleles share the traditional sound with the soprano but convey it in a deeper and fuller sound. The concert uke is also louder, due to its larger size.

Tenor ukuleles are the farthest from the class ukulele sound, as they tend to deliver the deepest and fullest tones, best fit for professionals who experiment with the different levels of the fretboard

3. Composition

There are various types of wood used to manufacture ukuleles. However, the most common two are Koa, Mahogany, and Spruce.

Koa is a Hawaiin type of wood and was used for the first ukes ever to exist. This type of wood allows for the delivery of generally warm sound. Nowadays, koa is used for the most expensive ukes.

mahogany is used for middle-end ukes, which delivers a softer sound than that of koa. It’s a solid type of wood that is remarkably enduring, yet less expensive than koa.

Lastly, spruce is used for the lower end ukes.

Tip: Solid wood ukuleles are much better than laminated ones. Laminated wood may improve the appearance but will never influence the sound. Solid wood guarantees significantly richer sound.

Pros & Cons of Tenor Ukuleles

The main advantages of tenor ukuleles are its sound and ease of playability. Tenor ukuleles have a more profound, warm, and more full-range sound with higher volumes than smaller sizes ukes.

To add, their longer scales and wider necks make them easily playable with space to reach out to difficult chords, especially for those with bigger hands and those who enjoy finger-picking.

On the other hand, tenors tend to be less alluring in terms of appearance than the smaller-sized ukes, so you risk losing the bright appearance. Furthermore, smaller sized ukes produce tinkly sounds which are unreachable through the tenor uke. 

Last but not least, tenor ukes are more expensive to purchase than soprano or concert ukes and are less portable.

Frequently Asked Questions:

What Makes a Tenor Ukulele?

To spot a tenor ukulele, search for the uke that’s significantly bigger than the soprano ukulele. The accurate measurements will, in general, fluctuate among the different brands and producers. Yet, the standard tenor ukulele length is 26″, the largest of the three most common ukulele sizes (soprano, concert, tenor).

In terms of frets, the metal strips inserted into the fingerboard, the tenor ukuleles have between 17-19 frets. While some tenor ukes may have extra frets, the typical range is the referenced one.

With regards to the tuning, the tenor ukulele is typically tuned G-C-E-A, precisely like the soprano and concert ukes. Concerning the strings, the standard tenor ukuleles have four strings, while others have six-strings, which incorporate two extra octave strings paired with C and A strings, but this is not the norm.

Who Are Tenor Ukuleles For?

Tenor ukuleles generally have extra space on the fingerboard, in contrast with the other types of ukes. This is usually a distinguishing factor for those with big hands or large fingers since the extra space makes the tenor ukes more comfortable.

The wider fretboard also allows for more fingerpicking for those who enjoy doing solo, since it allows for a more natural reach of higher notes up the fretboard.

Furthermore, the tenor ukulele’s sound and tone are higher and fuller than the rest of the types, which makes it ideal for performers, since expanding the body size of an instrument generally brings about more volume, bass, and warmth. 

Lastly, former guitar players who are making a transition to ukes may be keen on buying tenors precisely due to its size, which is not far off from guitars.

How Much to Spend on a Tenor Ukulele?

The prices of tenor ukuleles vary significantly depending on various factors, including the brand, materials, quality, design, and more.

If you’re looking for the perfect sweet spot between affordability and quality, then the minimum budget for a tenor uke would be between $50-$150. This could get you a uke in the beginner category with decent quality and features.

As you move up in price, the features increase as well, including improved tone and volume for more expert and professional levels. However, any ukulele under $50 will be counterproductive as you’ll be required to replace it sooner than later.

Therefore, it all comes down to your needs and budget.

Final Thoughts

While the above-mentioned tenor ukuleles are the ones who have stood out in the world of tenor ukuleles, it’s always worth it to pursue further research since your options are limitless.

In this article, we’ve gathered different brands and different price points to give a comprehensive overview of the best tenor ukuleles, and based on that, below are our recommendations.

Our number one choice would be the Kala KA-SMHT Tenor ukulele since it combines all the essential features one would need: rich sound, simple playability, long-lasting and enduring, always in tune, and not the most expensive, falling under $300.

If you’re on a tighter budget and are just getting acquainted with tenor ukuleles, our suggestion would be the Donner Tenor Ukulele DUT-3, falling under $100, which is probably the best you can get within that price range. However, keep it in your plans that you may need to make a new purchase in the near future since it won’t be durable.

Lastly, if your budget is open, then without a doubt, go for the Martin T1 Tenor Ukulele, made from koa with a top-notch exterior and delivering the best sound there is, not to mention its durability. Having a Martin can never go wrong!

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