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How Much Ukuleles Cost

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Figuring out how much a ukulele can cost is like asking how long a piece of string is. The answer is, it depends! You can spend as little as $40 on a starter uke, or you can spend thousands of dollars on a custom instrument.

If you’re in the market for a ukulele, read this guide to find out how much you should be looking to spend on your next ukulele. And don’t worry; there are plenty of great ukes to suit every budget!

How Much To Spend On A Ukulele

There is a huge range of prices for ukuleles, from $40-50 for an entry-level soprano to $2,000+ for high-end custom instruments. I’ve broken them up into five basic categories. Depending on what you’re looking for, you’ll find a great uke that fits your needs and your budget in one of those categories.

One great thing about ukuleles is that they are generally much less expensive than other similar instruments like guitars and mandolins. You can get a whole lot of bang for your buck even at the lower end of the price range. But you should also keep the old sayings “you get what you pay for” and “buy nice or buy twice” in mind. If you can, stretch your budget and buy the absolute best uke you can afford. Not only will it be more fun to play, you’ll have less of a chance of growing out of it and wanting to spend even more on an upgrade!

If you’re looking for…

  • Your first uke, look at “Entry Level” or “A Step Up”
  • An affordable upgrade to your beginner ukulele, look at “A Step Up” or “Sweet Spot”
  • A ukulele with the best price to sound ratio, look at “Sweet Spot”
  • A ukulele you can gig with, look at “Step Up,” “Sweet Spot,” or “Maker-Made”
  • The absolute best ukulele you can get, look at “High End and Custom”

Under $100: Entry Level

Players who are just starting out can find a great beginner ukulele in this price range. While they don’t have nearly the same features as a more expensive instrument, there are plenty of ukuleles on the market that are cheap in price but not in quality.

Makala dolphin ukulele cost
The Makala Dolphin is one of the most beloved inexpensive “starter ukuleles”

As a general rule, smaller ukuleles are cheaper. This isn’t hard and fast, but it’s very much true in the sub-$100 range. Many of the recommended ukuleles at this price are soprano and concert sized, and their tenor and baritone counterparts often cost more. Still, good tenors like the Makala MK-T are still available this price range.

With exceptions for items that are on sale or otherwise discounted, $40 or so is about the least you should be spending on a ukulele. There are plenty of brands that make instruments that cost less than this. Many of them are on our list of ukulele brands to avoid. Be very careful if a price sounds too good to be true. Often, what you’ll get is not so much a ukulele as a “USO:” Ukulele-Shaped Object. These are hard to tune and play, have terrible sound, and can be very discouraging to someone just starting out.

Luckily, there are more than enough well-made options. Brands like Kala, Ohana, and Lanikai all offer great budget ukes for under $100.

Ukuleles in this range are usually…

  • Made of all-laminate wood or even plastic
  • Soprano and concert sized
  • Made in Asia
  • Manufactured in larger workshops and factories
  • Sold in a variety of stores, both online and brick-and-mortar

$100-400: A Step Up

While I’ve called this category “A Step Up,” this is also a great price range for the beginner. It can be tempting to spend the least amount of money possible on a uke, but there are benefits to spending a little more. You’ll get a much wider variety of options, with many great tenor and acoustic electric ukuleles falling into this price range.

Acoustic electric ukulele cost
You can get a great acoustic-electric ukuleles in this price range

You’ll also have a chance at getting at least a solid-top instrument. Solid wood is preferred by most ukulele players over laminate for its superior tone. Since the top is the most important part of the ukulele for tone production, many ukes are made with a solid top and laminate back and sides. Even if you can’t afford an all-solid wood ukulele, a solid top one will sound great!

Many of the brands that make entry-level instruments make ukes in this range. Kala, Luna, and Cordoba great examples of this, with both inexpensive and more mid-range models. If you love your current uke and just want something a little better, consider looking at what else the company makes.

Ukuleles in this range are usually…

  • Available in any size
  • Made in Asia
  • Made with laminate, solid-top, or all-solid wood
  • Available with additional features like pickups, cutaways, etc.
  • Manufactured in larger workshops and factories
  • Sold in a variety of stores, both online and brick-and-mortar

$400-800: Sweet Spot

This price point is where things really start to get interesting. All-solid wood is now commonplace, and all kinds of designs and options are available.

Most of the ukuleles in this price range are still made in Asia. But, rather than being made in a factory-like setting, they’re often built in smaller workshops with more highly trained employees. The attention to detail you’ll get in this range is much better than in lower ranges. You’re much less likely to get a “lemon,” and things like intonation and action will both be close to perfect.

This is also where lower-end and higher-end brands converge. The factory brands will usually have their higher-end ukuleles in this price range. These often offer solid exotic woods that make for a visually stunning ukulele. Meanwhile, high end brands like Kanile’a and KoAloha have set up workshops in Asia that build ukuleles to their well-designed specs at a much more affordable price.

You’ll also find a lot of unique ukuleles from various brands who target this specific price range. Some of them are smaller, boutique brands, and others are known for making other instruments. There are some very innovative designs out there, including the Godin MultiUke, the Klos carbon fiber ukulele, and the Romero Tiny Tenor.

Ukuleles in this range are usually…

  • Made in Asia
  • Made in smaller workshops
  • Sold online and in smaller specialty shops
  • Made from all-solid tonewoods
  • Available in innovative as well as traditional designs

Here’s a great review of the Klos carbon fiber ukulele, an innovative uke that still doesn’t cost a lot:

$800-1200: Maker-Made

It might seem like a silly title (isn’t anyone who makes something a maker?), but it’s one of the biggest differences between ukuleles below and above $1,000 or so. When you get to this range, it’s much more likely that an expert craftsman builds your ukulele. Rather than churning out hundreds of ukuleles every month in larger factories and workshops, these ukes are usually made in small batches, sometimes even one at a time. This means that there is an even greater attention to detail than before.

Another big difference is that most ukuleles under $800 or so are made in Asia. This certainly doesn’t mean that they’re not any good! As we’ve seen, there are plenty of great imported ukes on the market. But if you want a ukulele that was made by hand in the US or Europe, you should budget at least $800.

All-solid wood is pretty much mandatory at this price range, with a few exceptions for high-performance materials that are used for durability. Solid koa ukuleles start showing up in the over-$1,000 range as well, from makers like Kanile’a and KoAloha. Koa is a native Hawaiian wood that is prized for both its sound and its ties to the traditions of Hawaii.

While you may not be able to get a custom ukulele at this price point, you will certainly have plenty of options. Many makers and shops offer custom modifications to base models in this price range. If you want a pickup fitted, different tuners put on, or other changes, it doesn’t hurt to ask. You may pay a little more, but it’ll feel like a custom instrument!

Ukuleles in this range are usually…

  • Made in small workshops
  • Made from all-solid tonewoods
  • Able to be custom modified by the maker or dealer
  • Sold in smaller specialty shops or direct from the maker
  • Made all over the world, including the US and Hawaii

Here’s a great comparison between three Kala ukuleles in a variety of price points:

$1,200+: High End and Custom

Here’s where you can really have some fun if you’re looking for a very specific thing. At this price point, any kind of ukulele is on the table. Check out this “harp ukulele”– only $7,000!

For the more realistic price of $1,200-1,500, you can get a ukulele made from solid koa or other prized tonewoods from a wide range of makers. This includes the very top of Kala’s lines, the big Hawaii-based makers like Kamaka and Kanile’a, and various smaller, boutique makers. Chances are, there’s a maker fairly close to you that can build you a custom ukulele from woods and a design of your choice.

At this price point, it really pays to be able to play your ukulele before buying it. Many of the larger ukulele brands have lists of dealers that you can contact, but it can be hard finding more than one or two high-end ukuleles in a shop. If you’re ever planning on going to Hawaii, that is the absolute best place to play a bunch of ukuleles all in one place. Otherwise, you may have to drive a while to find exactly what you’re looking for.

If you play with others at all at a ukulele jam or similar gathering, don’t be afraid to ask to try out their ukes! This will give you a feel for what you like and don’t like, and you may find that someone else’s uke is absolutely perfect for you!

Once you know your preferences, contact the maker or an experienced dealer and talk it over. When you give them your specifications, they’ll be able to point you in the right direction. Remember, at this price point, you’ve got tons of options to sort through!

Ukuleles in this range are usually…

  • Made in small workshops by expert craftsmen
  • Made of a variety of solid tonewoods, including koa
  • Custom-designed or finished to the customer’s specifications
  • Sold in smaller specialty shops or direct from the maker
  • Made all over the world, but especially in the US and Hawaii

If you want to see the inner workings of a custom ukulele shop, check out this wonderful short documentary on Kamaka, one of the oldest still-operating ukulele workshops in Hawaii:

Conclusion

You can spend as much or as little as you want and still get a great ukulele. While normally you “get what you pay for,” even at lower price points you can find an ukulele that will suit you well. And if you can spend a little more, once you get above about $400 or so, the possibilities become endless. Whether it’s a custom uke or just something to start on, the most important thing is that you love your ukulele. Remember, the best-sounding uke is the one you practice every day!


Also published on Medium.

Published in Buying Guides How To

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