Many ukuleles are made by companies that specialize in ukes, although some ukulele manufacturers also produce other string instruments, such as guitars. Some of the most popular makes and manufacturers of ukuleles are
Kamaka: Kamaka is the oldest surviving maker of ukuleles. The founder, Samuel Kamaka, was an apprentice to one of the original ukulele makers, Manuel Nunes. Today, these ukes are highly respected, with their most high-profile supporter being Jake Shimabukuro.
KoAloha: KoAlohas are made in Hawaii with a great deal of care. They sound great and play beautifully. Not only the instruments themselves, but everything around KoAloha is fun, too. The head of the company is the charismatic Alvin ‘Pops KoAloha’ Okami, who’s full of stories and loves to weave yarns. So much so that an entire film, The KoAloha Story, has been built around his anecdotes.
Lanikai LU-21: Lanikai’s LU-21 range comes in all sizes and is massively popular with beginner ukulelists. The instrument is nicely put together, plays well, and is very reasonably priced. And not only beginners love it, pros do too. Zach Condon, member of the group Beirut, and tUnE-YaRdS play tenor LU-21s.
Mahalo: Mahalos are cheap and cheerful ukes, which makes them a very popular choice for people buying in bulk for schools and other groups.
Makala: Makala is a budget ukulele made by the Kala company. You can choose the natural wood look or the dolphin ukuleles that, with bright colors and the dolphin motif, are a big hit with kids. Despite the fact that it’s made of plastic and looks toy-like, the Makala sounds good and has some very enthusiastic fans.
Martin: The Martin guitar company leapt on the ukulele trend in 1916 and made some of the best ukuleles of the era, even winning over Hawaiians such as Israel Kamakawiwo‘ole (who played a Martin koa). Their vintage instruments are collected by many fanatical ukulelists, with their most sought-after ukulele (the Martin 5K) fetching tens of thousands of dollars.
Ohana: Ohana makes solid wood ukuleles that are well designed but manufactured in China, and so won’t break the bank. Ohanas make a great second ukulele.
Pono: Pono ukuleles are the cheaper range of ukuleles from the prestigious Hawaiian brand Ko‘olau. Don’t be fooled by the ‘cheaper’ part: they’re only cheaper in comparison to Ko‘olau’s Hawaiian-made ukuleles and still make a big dent in your wallet. But they’re very nicely made and are a big hit with the current indie ukulele players such as Dent May, Amanda Palmer, and Sophie Madeleine.