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Top 5 Acoustic-Electric Ukuleles On A Budget

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Even though adding a pickup to a ukulele can add some money to the price tag, it doesn’t have to break the bank. There are plenty of great quality acoustic-electric ukuleles available for those on a budget, and a variety of options from well-trusted brands like Kala, Luna, Cordoba, and Epiphone.

These are the best acoustic-electric ukuleles that won’t leave your wallet empty.

Unsure about a ukulele brand you’ve seen online? Check out our guide to ukulele brands to avoid…

Kala KA-TE Acoustic-Electric Tenor Ukulele

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Summary:  An all-around good acoustic-electric tenor ukulele with excellent plugged-in sound
Best for: Someone who wants great sound on a ukulele sturdy enough to take a beating

Kala is one of the most popular ukulele makers out there, and for good reason. Their ukuleles are known for combining good quality with an eye on keeping the price tag down, which is where this ukulele delivers.

Made of laminate mahogany, this is a pretty durable and well-built ukulele. Laminate wood does lose a bit of volume and tone compared to solid wood ukuleles, but it does stand up better to both extreme climate and the dings and dents that come with bringing your ukulele out and about. It’s a very plain ukulele in the looks department, but some might prefer that to a flashier uke.

What’s the difference between laminate and solid wood?

Acoustically, the KA-TE ukulele has a strong tone, and the larger tenor body offers plenty of volume. This one is particularly nice when finger-picked, since it projects better than a lot of similar ukuleles. Even with that volume, it’s not brash or tinny, and both low and high notes sound evenly balanced. It won’t offer the same acoustic tone or volume as a solid wood ukulele, but the tenor size and well-built construction give you about as much as a laminate uke can.

Where this really shines is in the electronics. The pickup is paired with a Lightweight Active Shadow Nano-Flex EQ preamp for a crystal-clear and very natural sound. Along with a knob for volume control, the preamp includes two tone knobs to control treble and bass, so it’s easy to get just the right tone for what you want to do, and the control panel also includes a built-in tuner. The tuner is quite accurate, even in noisy situations, because it works directly off the installed pickup.

  • Great all-around sound
  • Built-in tuner
  • Plain looks
Look up the price and more reviews for the Kala KA-TE acoustic-electric tenor ukulele on Amazon

Luna High Tide Series Koa Acoustic-Electric Concert Ukulele

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Summary: A beautiful ukulele visually and sonically
Best for: Someone who wants a bit of visual flash and sound to match

This is a truly beautiful ukulele, thanks to the koa wood, cutaway body shape, and abalone rosette/purfling. This one certainly stands out from the crowd, and looks like ukuleles costing much more.

One thing to keep in mind, which seems to be not explicitly mentioned in most product listings, is that while the Luna High Tide is made entirely out of koa, it is laminate, not solid, koa. The construction is a little heavier than most other comparable ukuleles, which means less volume and a less sustain overall. Still, the ukulele performs well both fingerpicking and strumming, albeit a little on the quieter side.

The active pickup system includes an active pickup/preamp system, which gives a clean, natural tone with a strong signal. It performs well, although the signal is a bit weaker and less clean than the Kala ukulele. Rather than knobs, the preamp features three sliders to control volume, bass, and treble. No built-in tuner, which is disappointing, although as a trade-off this preamp has a sleeker profile without the need for an LCD display.

  • Beautiful look
  • Strong, clean signal
  • No built-in tuner
  • Weaker signal than other active pickups, although still better than passive
Look up the price and more reviews for the Luna High Tide Series Koa Acoustic-Electric Concert Ukulele on Amazon

Cordoba 15CM-E

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Summary: A more mellow acoustic-electric ukulele with a few finish problems
Best for: Someone who wants a quieter ukulele

Cordoba is a well-known and trusted brand in guitars, and their budget ukulele line is also well-regarded. The Cordoba 15CM-E acoustic-electric ukulele is no exception, although there do seem to be some problems with the finish. Out of the box, frets were sharp and the nut was a little high, causing some intonation issues. An easy fix for a knowledgeable person, although it does leave the beginner a bit high and dry. Others have not reported the same issue, so the one tested may have been a slight dud.

The 15CM-E is also one of the least expensive acoustic-electric ukuleles on this list, giving great value at a lower price point. Cordoba also has higher-end ukes, so this could be a stepping stone for someone looking to try out the acoustic-electric experience before committing to something more expensive.

Trying to decide between a solid body or acoustic-electric ukulele? Read our guide to choosing the right fit for you…

Once given a quick setup, the 15CM-E has a lovely warm acoustic tone. It certainly projects better than the Luna, but it’s not necessarily a loud uke. Plenty of volume for solo playing, but it’ll get drowned out in a jam with more than a few other instruments. The sustain is a little less than ideal for fingerpicking, although it still sounds quite nice, and strumming gives a punchy but still round tone.

Unlike many ukuleles in this article, the Cordoba 15CM-E acoustic-electric doesn’t have any tone or volume controls on the ukulele. This is because it uses a passive pickup system, without any kind of on-board preamp. Passive pickups usually have a lower output than active pickup systems, meaning that you’ll have to crank the gain on your PA system or amplifier. In tests, this meant that the pickup was a bit less clean-sounding than other comparable ukuleles, although not enough to be a big problem.

  • Mellow sound
  • Inexpensive
  • Passive pickup has weak signal
  • Sharp frets and intonation problems out of the box
Look up the price and more reviews for the Cordoba 15CM-E acoustic-electric ukulele on Amazon

Epiphone Les Paul Acoustic-Electric Ukulele

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Summary: A uke with a classic design but a weak pickup
Best for: Someone who wants to channel their inner rock star

This is styled after the famous Les Paul electric guitar, one used by countless rockers over the years including Jimmy Page, Slash, and Eric Clapton. If you want to look like the quintessential classic rock guitar (or uke) god, this might be the uke for you.

Despite the unconventional look, the Les Paul plays just like any other concert-sized ukulele. Like many of the other ukuleles in its price range, the Les Paul is made out of laminate wood, in this case maple on top and mahogany back and sides. Acoustically it performs well, with a clear tone and plenty of volume. Its concert size makes it a good choice for those who can’t quite fit their fingers onto a soprano ukulele.

Want to go all-out electric? Check out our guide to the best solid body electric ukuleles…

Like the Cordoba CM-E, the Les Paul ukulele has a passive pickup system, which means a lower, less clean signal. If you’re looking for a good natural acoustic tone when plugged in, this may not be the one for you. However, given the way this uke is designed, I suspect many people will want to be running it through an amp with a bit of distortion, like the many rockers who play Les Paul guitars. For that application, this ukulele is definitely up to the task, and it sounds great with a bit of crunch.

  • Les Paul design makes it stand out
  • Acoustic volume better than average
  • Weak pickup signal
  • No built-in tuner or tone controls
Look up the price and more reviews of the Les Paul acoustic-electric ukulele on Amazon

Luna Tattoo Acoustic-Electric Concert Ukulele

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Summary: A ukulele with a unique look and a mellow tone
Best for: Someone who wants a unique look paired with a classic sound

Like Luna’s High Tide Series, this is another ukulele with a signature look. The Luna “Tattoo” series of ukuleles feature geometric patterns laser-etched into the wood, meant to be a tribute to the tattoos found in Hawaii and throughout Polynesia. This is definitely a matter of personal preference and taste; while some will find the designs beautiful, others may think they’re a bit gaudy.

Much like the other Luna, this ukulele seems a bit too heavily built, and the thick laminate wood makes for a quieter ukulele with less sustain. Still, the acoustic tone has a mellow quality that will appeal to many, and in acoustic-electrics the volume issue is somewhat less of a concern. As distinctive as this ukulele looks, it has a somewhat generic tone, which isn’t bad, but doesn’t distinguish itself from other ukuleles.

The Luna Tattoo acoustic-electric ukulele features an active pickup system, much like its cousin, the High Tide series concert uke. The only difference is that this uke features a “presence” rather than a “treble” slider. “Presence” essentially boosts mid and treble frequencies to give a brighter sound, and turned up all the way it gives a nice jangly tone. I’m not sure if this is an older or newer version of the preamp on the High Tide Series, and suspect that at some point, one or the other will become the standard.

  • Unique eye-catching designs
  • Sleeker preamp profile
  • No built-in tuner
  • Weaker signal than other active pickups, although still better than passive
Look up the price and more reviews of the Luna Tattoo Acoustic-Electric Concert Ukulele on Amazon

Published in Acoustic Electric Ukulele Buying Guides Electric Ukulele


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