Hi everyone!  Many of you know me as the creator of Rainbow Ukulele for the classroom.  I am so proud of that curriculum, but also know I am like you.  I didn’t grow up playing the ukulele.  I don’t have a degree in string instruments.  I am not a violinist.  I am not Jake Shimabakuro.  I am a music educator who fell in love with the ukulele and wanted to share that passion with students!

I thought the research I did this year might be beneficial to those getting ready to start an ukulele unit!  I previously used Mahalo U-30s but Mahalo discontinued the line and I had to go back to the drawing board to figure out what to order for my kids.  I have a class set of ukuleles and I allow my students to order ukuleles similar to how many allow their students to order a recorder.

Note:  These are all just my own opinions and you are free to disagree!  Instrument selection is a VERY personal process, and we all are drawn to different aspects of the ukulele.  This post is intended for general music teachers looking to purchase instruments for their classroom.  


I played all the following instruments over the course of a month.  They were stored near a window that had some fluctuation in temperature through the day and week.  I simulated my classroom, which is not heated or cooled consistently. I tried to purchase most of the ukuleles in the $30-$40 range that I could easily order off of Amazon.  I order my ukuleles for school through our local music store for a volume discount, but I wanted an even comparison for the purposes of this post.  Much nicer ukuleles can be found in the $50+ range, but realistically, most schools are not able to purchase in this price range.  If you can, awesome!  If not, read on!

For each instrument I have listed the price and as much information as I could find.  In addition, I provided a few personal notes, a quick performance by myself, and a review from someone else found on YouTube, if available.

This post contains affiliate link, though all opinions are my own. Find my full disclosure policy here.

Hola HM-21

This instrument felt sturdy and the sound was just fine.  There are limited colors and after about two weeks of playing intermittently, it was still about a half step out of tune every time I picked it up.  However it stayed in tune during my session playing it. Overall this is a nice instrument in this range.

Hamano U-30

Hamano U-30

  • Tuning Pegs: Geared
  • Fingerboard: Painted
  • Colors: Black, Blue, Brown, Green, Light Blue, Orange, Pink, Purple, Red, White, Yellow
  • Case: Yes – Matching color
  • Strings: Aquila
  • Website: None that I could find.

Hilo 2500

Hilo 2500

  • Price: $40
  • Tuning Pegs: Geared
  • Fingerboard: wood
  • Colors: Black, Red, Blue, Pink
  • Case: Yes – matching color
  • Strings: Unknown
  • Website: unknown (a google search pulls up the Hilo shop in Hawaii, which does not appear to be the same as the brand).

I actually liked the sound from this little ukulele.  Even though the strings are not marked Aquila, they sound very similar.  The instrument feels sturdy in my hands.  It was about a half step out of tune from the day before and stayed in tune during my session.  It is on the upper end of my price range though and I think for a cheaper price, I can do the same or better.

Diamond Head

Diamond Head DU-100 Series


Pyle PGAKT10



Mahalo Kahiko MK1 and MK1P

Mahalo came out with Kahiko line and a Kahiko Plus line.  In addition, they have a Kahiko Plus Wide Neck model: 40mm wide neck at the fingerboard nut that has the features of the Plus line.  They also have a pre-strung left handed version.


Kahiko Plus – Regular and Wide Neck

The plus line definitely has a fuller sound  (most likely due to the strings).  If you replace the strings on the regular line I imagine it would bring it closer to the Plus line (though the cost would be about the same in the end with new strings).  Both were about a half step out of tune and stayed in tune during my playing session.

Mahalo Rainbow

Mahalo MR1 (Rainbow)

This appears to be the update to the Mahalo U-30 line with better strings (Aquila) and fewer, different colors.

The sound is definitely different than the Mahalo U30s I previous owned, and I do love the addition of the Aquilla strings.  Though I am saddened by the elimination of some of the colors from Mahalo, I think it is still a good choice for your program. The sound is bright and projects pretty well so be prepared for having 30 of these playing!  I prefer a darker sound, but that is my personal preference.

Makala Dolphin

Makala Dolphin Ukulele

I broke my $40 rule for this ukulele because it is considered one of the best starter ukuleles available.  In addition, in previous years I was quoted about $35 when buying in bulk to get this ukulele.  It has a superior sound to the other ukuleles tested – I love the mellow tone it has!  It also feels sturdier when holding and turning.  If you can afford this ukulele, go for it!

My Final Reccomendations

Like any instrument purchase, there are so many factors that will go into your final decision.  Make sure you buy a ukulele with geared tuning pegs (all the ones on this page have them).  One of my students brought one from home which does not have gears and I literally could NOT tune it.  At all. The strings would not catch at the right pitch.

I really think you need to narrow down your choice to two or three brands, and order one of each for you to try out and pick your favorite!

This is the order I would put the ukuleles for my classroom right now:

  1. Makala Dolphin – great colors, amazing sound, but pricey!
  2. Diamond Head – great colors, great price, great sound.
  3. Mahalo Rainbow – great colors, great price, great sound.
  4. Humano U-30 – great colors, great price, good sound, harder to find.
  5. Hola HM-21 – great price, good sound, harder to find, no case.
  6. Hilo – great sound, but pricey, limited colors.
  7. Mahalo Kahiko (Plus) – pricey, good sound, limited colors.
  8. Mahalo Kahiko – good price, ok sound, limited colors.
  9. Pyle Ukulele – would not buy for my program.

So what did I buy this year?  We ordered Diamond Heads.  I inquired with my local music store about the Diamond Heads, Rainbow, and Dolphins.  We could not get the Rainbow or Dolphins in time, and I was happy with the $30 price tag for the Diamond Heads.  We have had them about three weeks and they are starting to settle in.  In fact, a parent came by the other day and mentioned that she thought the one her child brought home actually had a nice sound! (I felt validated 🙂 ).  I am happy with the sound of them so far and though they took a bit to tune, they are doing much better.

Why did I talk colors?  Colors motivate my kids.  Maybe the colors aren’t important to you, but I think when the kids feel connected to their instrument, it does help.  I wouldn’t choose a BAD instrument because it comes in multiple colors, but other things being equal, I would choose one brand over another because it has multiple colors.

Extra Video Reviews

I thought these were interesting – a comparison of my top two choices and then a comparison of a super cheap vs super expensive ukulele!
I personally loved the third video! I kept guessing wrong! I thought the Makala had a better sound in several cases!


If you have tons of time on your hands and want to get crazy about it, this guy has some tips to increase the sound quality on your “cheap uke.”


What do you think? What do you use for your program?  Are there any brands or models that I missed?  Do you agree or disagree with me? (which is fine, just be nice!) Comment below!  Also, remember if you are looking for a great program to teach ukulele, check out Rainbow Ukulele!
This is Pitch Publications, the home of Rainbow Ukulele, Pitch Hill, and more amazing elementary music education resources and lesson plans. #pitchpublications #musiceducation #elmused
This is Pitch Publications, the home of Rainbow Ukulele, Pitch Hill, and more amazing elementary music education resources and lesson plans. #pitchpublications #musiceducation #elmused

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