As the manager of a independent music store, I’ve had the unique opportunity to play dozens of ukes over the years. Some of these instruments have been for sale in our shop, while others have come in for repair, restringing, or trade. The following reviews are the result of real, hands-on experience with ukes I’ve actually played.
When it comes to ukes that cost $100 or less, there are a handful of brands and models that I personally feel stand out from the crowd. Let’s jump right in!
Founded in 2005 by a former employee of Lanikai (a division of Hohner) Kala is the top selling uke brand in the world. I chalk this up to the fact that the only thing they build is ukuleles, which gives them a level of focus you don’t see in companies that started building ukes simply to cash in on their recent popularity.
I recommend checking out the concert-sized KA-C, which is one of the most affordable ukuleles in Kala’s main product lineup. Even though it’s fairly plain-looking, the build quality, playability, and consistency of these models is very good.
When I started this site in 2011 I didn’t know enough about the Cordoba brand to provide an honest review, but after having the chance to see and play quite a few of their ukes and guitars over the last several years I have to admit I’m impressed.
For the same money as many other entry level ukes, Cordoba’s 15CM includes a bound fingerboard and faux abalone rosette. This gives it the appearance of an instrument that would normally cost a lot more than the 15CM’s sticker price.
The construction of Cordoba’s ukuleles is tight and clean, they are easy to play, and they sound great. They’re currently available online for around $100.
Oscar Schmidt OU2
The OU2 can be found foras little as $69 online, which means that it’s a bit more budget-friendly than the models I’ve reviewed so far.
Oscar Schmidt ukes are relatively clean and well built, although I’d have to say Kala and Cordoba are a couple notches up the ladder when it comes to fit and finish. The black nylon strings that are included with the OU2 don’t sound as good as the Aquila Nylguts found on other models, and I’m not crazy about the less traditional bridge and headstock.
Even though the OU2 wouldn’t be my number one choice, I do feel it’s a decent instrument for folks looking to save a few bucks on a good beginner ukulele.
At $55, theKala KA-15S is a great option for players on a tight budget who still want a good quality instrument.
The KA-15S is very similar to Kala’s popular KA-S model, but cost saving measures like the brass frets and an unbound body help to keep the price down. Unless you’re really into the more traditional look of the KA-S’s silver nickel frets or white plastic body binding, there’s no reason not to save a few bucks and go for the cheaper 15S.
The KA-15S’s soprano body size is going to be a little quieter and more “tinkly” than the larger concert models listed above, but for the price it’s tough to beat.
Luna Honu Soprano
The Luna brand name has gained a reputation for building good quality ukuleles and guitars featuring non-conventional designs, and their Honu Soprano ukulele is no exception.
The Honu’s distinguishing feature is a a Hawaiian-style sea turtle laser-etched onto the front. The addition of triangle fretboard markers and a crescent-shaped bridge make this ukulele unique among its peers.
I’ve only played a handful of Luna ukuleles over the years, but their overall quality and playability has been on par with the instruments I’ve reviewed so far. If you’re looking for a solid beginner uke but want to stand out from the crowd, the Honu is definitely worth a look.
Cheaper Ukulele Brands and Models
While I always try to steer people towards buying a nicer ukulele if they can afford it, I realize many folks are on a budget. If you’re looking for a less expensive ukulele than the models I reviewed above, check out my cheap ukulele guide.
Higher End Ukes
If you’re in a position to spend a little more money on a beginner uke, do yourself a favor and check out the Martin C1K or T1K. While these ukes are quite a bit more expensive ($469 and $499) they are hands down the best all solid wood ukuleles available for under $500.
For more, read my Martin C1K and T1K review.
While you don’t need much in the way of accessories when you’re just getting started, I highly recommend picking up a good tuner and some a hard case or gig bag. Read more on my ukulele accessories page.