Tenor Ukulele

Everything you need to know about tenor ukuleles.

Best Tenor Ukulele

Tenor ukuleles have become increasingly popular in the last few years thanks to their use by ukulele superstars like James Hill, Jake Shimabukuro and Israel Kamakawiwo'ole. With this increase in popularity has come an increase in the number being made. A great thing, but it does pose a bit of a problem for people looking to buy one but overwhelmed by the choice. So what is the best tenor ukulele?

Best Cheap Tenor Ukulele

Tenor ukuleles tend to be more expensive than sopranos, so there's not a great deal of choice in this price range. But the Makala tenor does offer a good starter ukulele for under $100 (or a little over if you want a case and a few other trimmings).

On eBay:

Kala Makala Tenor Ukulele
Kala Makala Tenor Ukulele
$74.99
Time Remaining: 19d 11h 55m
Buy It Now for only: $74.99

Kala MK-T Makala Tenor Ukulele
Kala MK-T Makala Tenor Ukulele
$74.99
Time Remaining: 12d 13h 37m
Buy It Now for only: $74.99

Kala MK-T Makala Tenor Ukulele Bundle w/ Gig Bag, Tuner & Polishing Cloth
Kala MK-T Makala Tenor Ukulele Bundle w/ Gig Bag, Tuner & Polishing Cloth
$84.99
Time Remaining: 18d 7h 4m
Buy It Now for only: $84.99

Best Tenor Under $200

Lanikai make a range of tenor ukes, but their most popular - and cheapest - is the Lanikai LU-21T (along with its electric version the LU-21TE). They're not a showy instrument, but they are well made and have a good sound. Good enough, at least, for Beirut's Zach Condon to use live. If you are looking for something a bit higher scale, and you have deeper pockets, Lanikai have a range of solid koa ukuleles the Lanikai LK range.

On eBay:

Kohala AK-T
Kohala AK-T "Akamai" Tenor Size Natural Nato Mahogany Ukulele - Lanikai LU-21T
$94.98
Time Remaining: 15d 8h 32m
Buy It Now for only: $94.98

Lanikai LU-21T Tenor Ukulele
Lanikai LU-21T Tenor Ukulele
$119.99
Time Remaining: 1d 8h 56m
Buy It Now for only: $119.99

Lanikai LUTU-21T
Lanikai LUTU-21T "TunaUke" Tenor Adjustable Saddle Ukulele - Like LU-21T
$138.50
Time Remaining: 15d 11h
Buy It Now for only: $138.50

Best Tenor Under $300

I have a Ohana TK-35G and it's a great sounding ukulele. It's solid mahogany but the cost is kept down as it is made in China. This means that the aesthetics aren't perfect (mine is a bit of a mess inside), but that is more than made up for by its tone. Here's an MP3 of me playing it.

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Best Expensive Tenor

OK, so you take a champagne shower every morning and and eat diamonds for breakfast. What's the best tenor ukulele for you? Well, KoAloha make some amazing tenors including their signature range of highly stylized ukuleles (so far including the Pineapple Sunday and the Scepter). If I had the budget, I'd definitely get a KoAloha Sceptre. Here's a clip of, the instrument's inventor, Alvin Okami taking about it.


The Story of the Sceptre by Alvin Okami from Gary San Angel on Vimeo.

Tenor Ukulele Tuning – Low G or High G?

When it comes to the tenor ukulele there's an important decision to be made: should you use low-G or high-G tuning? (Alternatively low-A or high-A for D tuning). Each has its own advantages and works well in certain situations.

Advantages of High-G Ukulele

The high-G ukulele creates the close harmony chords that give the ukulele its distinctive sound. Making it perfect for chordal accompaniment.

It's also great for single note runs. The close tuning lets you move down a scale across the strings rather than down them. This means you can let the notes ring into each other. A style of playing that John King refers to as 'campanella'. I love this style of playing; it creates a very pleasing, harp-like effect.

Advantages of Low-G Ukulele

Having the low-G string widens the ukulele's range considerably. You have a lot more bass notes to play with. If you are playing solo, instrumental pieces this can be a big advantage. You can accompany your melodies with bass notes. It also gives chords a fuller sound.

Pro's Choice

There's no real consensus on tuning amongst the pros either. Both tunings are used. And not necessarily in the way you'd expect. Israel Kamakawiwo'ole used low-G tuning (you can hear his low bass note followed by strums of the higher strings on his version of Over the Rainbow). On the other hand, Jake Shimabukuro uses high-G tuning for his solo flights. Whereas James Hill most often uses the low-A tuning.

My Choice

If I had to choose one of the tunings, I'd go with the high-G. The low-G tuning feels almost like a completely different instrument to me. You have to change your style of playing quite significantly to take full advantage of the low-G tuning. And I just love the re-entrant sound too much.

Fluke Tenor Ukulele Review

Flea and Fluke ukuleles have a great reputation. Their distinctive look and powerful sound have won converts from Bette Midler to Sweetafton23. So, of course, I was in the market to buy one. Flukes generally come in concert size. However, you can buy models which have tenor necks. Which is exactly what I did.

Fluke Construction

Like the Applause tenor ukulele, the Fluke has a solid wood top (Australian hoop pine) with a rounded plastic back and sides. The standard fretboard is plastic but there's an optional upgrade of a rosewood fretboard (which I'd recommend you get if you can afford it - the mistake I made).

Another optional extra is a pickup (an under-saddle Piezo).

Sound

Boy is it loud! The tenor Fluke is definitely the loudest ukulele I own. The sound is very forceful. If you are looking to make yourself heard above other players in a uke group, it's a good choice.

But I did find that it doesn't have the same warmth of tone as other ukuleles. And it sounds a little plasticy.

Price

The price of the tenor Fluke varies depending on what exactly you buy.

Here are a few currently available on eBay.

THE FLUKE M20 MANGO TENOR UKULELE W/K&K SOUNDBOARD TRANSDUCER PU MADE IN THE USA
THE FLUKE M20 MANGO TENOR UKULELE W/K&K SOUNDBOARD TRANSDUCER PU MADE IN THE USA
$294.00
Time Remaining: 28d 10h 32m
Buy It Now for only: $294.00

Playability

One thing I should point out at this stage, my Fluke has a plastic neck. I find the plastic neck unsatisfying to play. So if you're getting a Fluke, I'd very strongly recommend that you splash out on the rosewood fingerboard.

Tenor Fluke Demonstration

Here's me playing the Tetris theme (and a bit of Gogol Bordello) on my tenor neck Fluke ukulele.

Looks

Although mine is a plain purple, there are many new designs and more coming out all the time. Many of them quite camp. So there'll probably be at least one that will take your fancy.

Overall

The tenor Fluke ukulele does have a lot going for it, but it is a long way from being my favorite ukulele (or even my favorite tenor). I wish I had gone for the rosewood fretboard, as the plastic one is fairly nasty to play. If you are looking for something more traditional than the Fluke tenor ukulele, I'd recommend the Ohana TK-35G.

8 String Ukulele

Tenor ukuleles - with their added fretboard width and sturdier construction - are the perfect size for an 8-string ukulele. Most eight string ukes have their strings arranged in four courses (i.e. four pairs of strings) in standard gcea tuning. The G strings are an octave apart and so are the C strings. The E and A strings are usually in unison.

These extra strings give a very full and open sound to the ukulele (as well as extra volume). You get the ringing, close harmony sound of a traditional ukulele with the extra bass tones of a low-G ukulele. With a low-G ukulele, the G string does have a tendency to overwhelm the higher strings. With the extra high strings, though, the 8 string doesn't have this problem

8 String Tenor Ukuleles for Sale

Here are some eight string ukes currently for sale on eBay:

Video Demonstration

The first half of this video deals with the 6 string ukulele, but the second half has an excellent description and demonstration of the eight string.

Ukuleles to Avoid

On eBay you'll find some very cheap 8 string 'Dolphin ukuleles'. I know two people who have bought these and have had the bridge rip off whilst playing. So if you're looking at one of these, do be aware that the construction might not be as reliable as more highly priced ukulele.

Strings for an 8 String Ukulele

Strings for this ukulele can be tricky to come across. Your best bet is to buy them online. You can buy Aquila strings for 8 string ukuleles.

6 String Ukulele

With the larger neck and more sturdy construction, there is the opportunity for a 6 string tenor ukulele. The six string ukuleles usually have two C strings an octave apart and two A strings an octave apart (with one string usually being wound). This gives the uke a very pleasing, full, open tone. They are particularly suited to chord playing as you get those close harmony chords of the ukulele together with an extra bit of bass.

Six String Ukes for Sale

Here's a selection of six string currently available to buy on eBay.

6 vs 8 String Video

Here's a great video where you get to hear both the six and 8 string ukulele in action.

Ukuleles to Avoid

You will find some very cheap items described as 'six string ukuleles' but are actually just small, usually badly made, guitars. These aren't to be confused with true 6-string ukuleles. They are probably better described as guitarleles (although most of them are really just toys).

Strings for an 6 String Ukulele

Unless you have a very good ukulele shop near you, you'll probably have to buy them online. You can buy Aquila strings for 6 string ukuleles.

Applause Tenor Ukulele

The Applause Tenor Ukulele (made by Ovation) is one of the most popular electric ukuleles around. It is a striking looking ukulele (based on the Applause guitars) with small sound holes towards the top of the instrument and a decorated soundboard.

The Applause is a great choice for gigging musicians (and it's used regularly by acts such as the Re-Entrants and Gio Gaynor). It's a reliable, good sounding ukulele that works well as an acoustic ukulele and even better as an electric ukulele.

You can buy a
Applause UAE148 Tenor Ukulele on Musicians Friend
for $350. Although you can often pick one up cheaper than that if you shop around on eBay. You can see a selection currently available further in the post.

Construction

The tenor Applause is made with a solid sitka spruce or mahogany top with rounded plastic back. When it comes to the sound, the top of the ukulele has a greater impact on the sound than the back.

The fingerboard is rosewood and has 18 frets. The fingerboard joins the body at the 14th fret, but has a cutaway that makes all 18 frets accessible (at least for right handers, I can't find a left handed model for sale online).

Tenor Applause For Sale on eBay

NEW TKL MC403 Applause Mandolin/Tenor Ukulele Case
NEW TKL MC403 Applause Mandolin/Tenor Ukulele Case
$154.10
Time Remaining: 2d 7h 29m
Buy It Now for only: $154.10

TKL MC403 Applause Mandolin/Tenor Ukulele Case - 645813012132
TKL MC403 Applause Mandolin/Tenor Ukulele Case - 645813012132
$149.00
Time Remaining: 6d 10h 27m
Buy It Now for only: $149.00

Applause MBAP10 Pflex Tenor Ukulele/Uke OR Mandolin Gig Bag
Applause MBAP10 Pflex Tenor Ukulele/Uke OR Mandolin Gig Bag
$62.99
Time Remaining: 11d 7h 39m
Buy It Now for only: $62.99

Tenor Applause Demonstration

What is a Tenor Ukulele?

There are four main sizes of ukulele: soprano, concert, tenor and baritone. Of these, three are tuned in the traditional re-entrant tuning i.e. with a high G string (those three are soprano, concert and tenor). Of the three traditional ukuleles, the tenor is the largest with a scale length of seventeen inches or twenty six centimeters.

The tenor ukulele is the most popular with professional musicians. Particularly those such as James Hill and Jake Shimabukuro who use the ukulele as a solo instrument and do a great deal of fingerpicking.

With the extra size, the tenor ukulele tends to have a deeper, richer tone to it than the smaller ukuleles. And it also tends to be louder. This is only a tendency though since these are influenced by other factors such as wood, construction and how the uke is played.

Tenor ukuleles tend to be more expensive than sopranos and concerts. Partly because they are larger and partly because they tend to be aimed at more experienced uke players.