Updated: Nov 19, 2020
It had to be done, my list of the current top 10 ukulele players! I spent a few days thinking this list through, writing down names, moving them around, and cutting some when I remembered other players. This list has changed through the years and these artists are my current faves. I’m not gonna lie when I say that it was tough putting this list together since there are many amazing ukulele players out there. Now this list doesn’t include social media savvy ”ukers”. So this list doesn’t include YouTubers. That list will be coming soon! And I’m sure will be a little controversial as everyone has their favorites. Let me say that this is my personal top 10 so if your gonna fire up the comment section sling your stones at me! I would love to hear who your favorites are. Also this list is not a list of singers who play the ukulele, there are many amazing singers that use the ukulele. But my current favorite list of ukulele players, emphasis on the ukulele! Some do sing though (haha)!
10. Tobias Elof
Tobias is a musical nomad. He traces his roots to Denmark, with 20+ years of performing and composing on the ukulele, and a bachelor’s degree in traditional folk music from Denmark’s prestigious folk music academy. His style is melodic and relaxing. In fact so relaxing that I can’t write this post or drive while listening or else I’d drool on my keyboard or drive off the road! I love listening to his music when I wake up in the morning and drink my coffee. I’ve personally had the pleasure of hanging out with Tobias when he was helping out at The Ukulele Site. He’s super laid back and friendly. Check out his album Settle Down. Just be sure you are not operating machinery or behind the wheel... haha!
Listen as Tobias walks you through the Nordic forest here!
9. Abe Lagrimas Jr.
I remember hearing Abe play live at the Winter NAMM a few years ago. He was jamming with a guitar player. What struck me was his ability to play jazz on the ukulele. He sounded like Joe Pass. My mind was blown. He was doing things on the ukulele that I’ve never seen before. Abe resides in LA and has studied at the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston. He pretty much is a musical prodigy, even mastering the drums!
Watch him play in this jazz circle here! Can someone bring me a cigar and a Old Fashioned?
8. Kris Fuchigami
Kris is probably the nicest guy you will ever meet! Well, he is from Hilo on the Big Island of Hawaii, where us ”Oahuians” go to slow down and relax. This shows in Kris‘ onstage persona as he’s always in his own little world, just him and his ukulele, smiling. Sometimes his eye’s roll back as he plays and that’s my cue that he’s transported somewhere else.
Kris made the list because he plays the best version ever of my favorite ukulele song, Santana’s Europa. Jake had that spot for decades until Kris came and stole it. Not to mention that he plays with his equally awesome mom behind the keys. A family that jams together, stays together!
Check out Kris playing Europa here! His mom on the keyboard and his eye rolls, love it!
7. Taimane Gardner
Mysterious! That‘s what comes to mind when I think about Taimane! From her double low-G ukuleles, to her wide range in musical influences, you can’t pin her down. She plays traditional Hawaiian, jazz, flamenco, pop, rock, blues.... and the list goes on. I really love her take on bossa nova! She also has an eclectic style of fashion. If anything, to me she is an ukulele goddess.
I first seen her play at the Hyatt hotel back in 2009. She was a teenager and took command of the stage! I remember everyone in the audience being entranced by her playing. I remember thinking “poor ukulele” as she was shredding up and down the fretboard. I think it even started smoking at one point...haha!
Watch this ukulele enchantress put a spell on you here!
6. Sarah Maisel
Not many ukulele players sing. Scratch that! All ukulele players can sing....... but only a few can sing well. Haha! This is the case for the uber talented Sarah Maisel. Her voice stylings and playing ability are superb, sweeping me away to my happy place.
Sarah and her husband Craig Chee have a massive presence in the ukulele community. They even sponsor an annual ukulele boat cruise where they spend a week on the water teaching and entertaining ukulele aficionado’s. She’s high on the list because of how much she gives back to the ukulele community, and her amazing jazz chops, both singing and playing.
Watch Sarah take you to your happy place here!
5. Kalei Gamiao
Where do I start with Kalei? Well, we are distant cousins. His grandma and mine were first cousins. I first saw him play back in 2006 at the Red Elephant in Chinatown Oahu when he was barely a teen. And as you guessed it, could shred like no other all way back then! Saying Kalei is an amazing player is an understatement. His stylings and flourishes are uniquely his. You can hear it in his own composition of “The Unknown”. He’s is a pioneer of the modern wave of the ukulele renaissance started by Jake Shimabukuro in the mid 90’s.
Watch Kalei take you to the unknown here!
4. Karlie G
Not gonna lie, but my first experience of Karlie was comedic! I was delivering ukulele at a local store and I saw the artwork and title of her newest album and starting laughing.
Get it? She didn’t look like she was having fun to me! So I judged the book by the cover and didn’t think twice. Then one day I was perusing around YouTube and got one of her videos in my recommended section. I clicked on it and and watched in amazement as she expressed herself with a cover of Radiohead’s Creep. Her voice... mesmerizing! So deep and rich. I couldn’t believe that voice was coming out of her. Another player that can really sing!
I am a FAN!
Watch the video that instantly changed my mind here!
3. Feng E
Dare I even say it! Can this 13 year old be the best ukulele player in the world? The more I watch, the more I tend to believe so. Feng E is simply a musical genius. He not only plays ukulele, but shreds on the guitar. This Taiwanese virtuoso is burning up the internet! You can see him on Ellen, AGT, and many more places wowing crowds with his prowess. I would have a successful musical career if I had 5% of his ukulele talent.
He’s even visited Hawaii a few times and entered ukulele contests! If you haven’t seen this kid play, you must. I’ve seen him learn a new song, completely by ear, all of the parts, in just half an hour! I quit!
Watch Feng E, be Feng E, here!
2. James Hill
Canadian born James Hill is a legend. And for many years, even his hair was legendary. But if it were even possible, his hair cut made James ascend to Instinct (shout out to all Dragon Ball fans)!
James Hill for me is like a scientist. He’s always experimenting with the ukulele. Adding percussion taps on his ukulele, as well as playing lead.... while thumping the baseline made him a one man band. It was nuts watching him do this. His approach to the ukulele always left me inspired. His ”discoveries” can be seen in other ukulele players repertoire. Even Feng E takes a page out James text book with Billie Jean!
Watch the scientist at work here!
1. Jake Shimabukuro
This guy really needs no introduction! Who else did you think was gonna be number one. I’m pretty sure without this guy there would be no list. I go way back with Jake. I learned of him through his band days with Pure Heart! This band played at my little Hawaiian church‘s benefit luau (the church was little but the luau would host 3,000 locals). We didn’t think much of them when they got on stage, but when they left everyone was quiet. If you know anything about a Hawaiian luau, it is never quiet. I remember people trying to pick their jaws off the ground. The singing, the percussion, and the ukulele playing was off the charts!
Literally no one played the ukulele like Jake. It was crazy. Since then, this man has changed the course of the ukulele forever. But the most amazing part is that he is the most humble person. He’s played on network shows, TED and Google HQ, and for the Queen of England and Dalai Lama. He’s even been in a movie (Just Go With It), and been on countless world tours. What other ukulele player can claim that resume? Simply none. But you wouldn’t know this from him. He’s as down to earth as can be. And if you had the pleasure of meeting Jake you would know this as well.
After being a fan of Jake since I was 10, I now call him friend. And whenever I meet with him, he makes me feel like I’m the special one. Sure his ukulele playing is masterful and all, but to me Jake’s character and heart supersedes it.
It’s funny, he really does have a pure heart.
Watch Jake the way I was introduced to him 15 years ago. Here!
There it is! My current top 10 ukulele players. Whew! If you don’t see yours on the list let me know.
Keep jamming and aloha!