Best Acoustic-Electric Ukuleles
This article reviews ukes with pre-installed factory electronics. If you would like to amplify a ukulele you already own, you will need to research having a pickup installed (see my pickup notes at the end of this article).
What is an acoustic-electric ukulele?
An acoustic-electric ukulele looks like a traditional ukulele, but it has electronics that allow the uke to be plugged into an amp. These electronics are known as a pickup.
Acoustic-electric ukuleles look just like standard ukuleles except for the input jack in the bottom of the uke and, in some cases, a panel on the side with volume and EQ controls.
The sound of an acoustic-electric uke can be boosted and modified using an amplifier. The type of amp and the settings used can greatly alter the tone of your uke, especially with effects like reverb and echo.
An acoustic-electric uke sounds the same whether you’re playing acoustically or “unplugged.” Some people argue that a pickup changes the tone of a ukulele, but I’ve personally never noticed a difference.
Some people use the term electric ukulele when talking about acoustic ukes with a pickup, but I prefer the phrase acoustic-electric ukulele. It might seem like a minor difference, but it helps people know you’re not talking about the less common solid body electric ukuleles.
Acoustic-Electric Uke Reviews
These reviews will cover a selection of acoustic-electric ukes that I think offer a great value for the money. These are solid instruments and will serve beginner and intermediate players well.
Those looking for a higher end option should consider buying a uke they love acoustically and having an aftermarket pickup installed in it.
The music store where I work is an authorized Kala dealer, so I’ve played hundreds of their ukes and feel like I’m in a position to review their ukuleles honestly and knowledgeably.
In my opinion, Kala makes some of the best acoustic-electric ukes for under $200. As I mentioned in my article on the top beginner ukuleles, Kala is an excellent brand and they deliver a lot bang for the buck.
Ranging from around $150 to $175, these ukes cost about $50 more than their non-electric counterparts. This is a great deal considering that a quality aftermarket pickup typically costs $150+ after installation.
The under-the-saddle pickups on Kala’sacoustic-electric ukes are basic but good. They have controls for volume, bass, and treble, as well as a built-in tuner. For the most part these pickups produce a decent reproduction of the instrument and are great for casual situations like jamming with friends or playing the coffee shop scene.
At around $200, the Cordoba 20TM-CE is a little more money than the above-mentioned Kalas, but it has a few notable upgrades that might make it worth the extra dough.
A solid mahogany top gives the 20TM-CE more resonance and richness than its all-laminate counterparts. While the cutaway (scooped out part on the top) is technically there to allow easier access to the higher frets, I’ve always felt this feature is little unnecessary on ukuleles–even if it does look cool!
The 20TM-CE also has a herringbone rosette and bridge inlay, adding a touch of class without going overboard.
Like the KA-CE and KA-CEME, the pickup in the 20TM-CE is perfect for casual scenarios, but if you’re planning on doing any serious performances or recording you may want to look at some higher end options.
Despite Kala’s dominance in the entry level ukulele market, I’ve been extremely impressed with the build quality, tone, and playability of Cordoba’s ukuleles. They make a killer product for the money and should be on the short list for any player seeking a good beginner ukulele with a pickup.
I had mostly good things to say about the non-electric OU2 in my review of the best entry level ukuleles, so the OU2E is a natural choice when it comes to amplified ukes.
While Oscar Schmidt ukes aren’t quite at the level of Kala or Cordoba when it comes to overall build quality, they’re far better than the really cheap stuff and are an ideal choice for the budget-conscious shopper. The OU2E can be found online for under $150 with a gig bag and a tuner, which is a pretty killer deal in my book.
As you can probably imagine, the OU2E’s electronics are good but not mind-blowing. As long as you keep your expectations grounded in reality, you’ll be satisfied with this ukulele for the price.
To be frank, Epiphone’s Les Paul acoustic-electric uke isn’t at the top of my list when it comes to craftsmanship, tone, or playability.
That being said, this is a seriously cool little uke that I can’t help but like–especially for the $99 price tag. The flame maple top, sunburst finish, and classic Les Paul styling help this concert-sized uke stand out from the crowd.
It’s probably not the kind of uke that you’ll want as your main instrument. The fit and finish leaves something to be desired, and the thin body, all laminate design doesn’t lend itself to a stellar acoustic sound. If you buy one of these, be sure to ditch the crappy factory strings and throw on a set of Aquila Nylguts. I guarantee it will sound much better.
The Les Paul uke has an under-the-saddle pickup similar to the models discussed above. The LP’s system is passive, which means it doesn’t have a preamp, tone or volume controls. This means the signal probably won’t be as hot (less output) and you can’t adjust the loudness or EQ. But it also means there’s no battery to worry about.
I’ve played a couple of Les Paul ukes over the years and they’re not exactly my cup of tea, but for $100 I can definitely see how an LP fan or a collector of unusual ukuleles might want one.
A Note About Pickups
I should point out that the electronics found in these models aren’t professional grade. While they certainly don’t sound bad, they can sound a little processed or “quacky” to some people. This is a common characteristic of nearly all inexpensive under-the-saddle pickup systems.
Aftermarket systems such as the L.R. Baggs Five-O or the K&K Aloha Twin will do a much better job of accurately reproducing the true acoustic tone of your ukulele. Of course, these systems will cost $100 to $200 after installation, which is more than many of the ukuleles reviewed in this article.
The ukes I highlighted above will be just fine for most casual situations, but players who need studio-quality sound should consider investing in a higher quality pickup option.
An acoustic-electric ukulele isn’t much good without an amp, so check out our review of the best ukulele amps to find out which model best fits your needs and budget.