How much does a good ukulele cost? As you can probably guess, there’s not a simple answer. Ukulele prices can vary wildly depending on factors like brand, materials, build quality, and more. That’s why I think it’s helpful to break ukulele prices into a handful of different price ranges.
Ukulele Price Ranges
As the manager of a small music store, I’ve had the opportunity to play hundreds of ukuleles. I’ve found that most ukes fall into a handful of price ranges:
- Cheap/Toy: $35 and Under
- Budget: Around $50
- Beginner: $50 to $150
- Mid-Level: $150 to $500
- High-End: $500 and Up
These ranges will give you a general idea of what you can expect based on your budget, but they’re just guidelines and won’t apply to every uke on the market.
Cheap Ukes & Toy Ukes: $30 and Under
For under $35 you’ll find a range of toy-grade ukuleles. These instruments are often made out of plastic or extremely cheap laminated wood.
Ukes in this price range are almost always very poorly built. While some can sort of function as actual instruments, many are nearly unplayable right out of the box.
I cover the potential issues with these instruments in my post on cheap ukuleles, but here’s a quick list of what to look out for:
- Shoddy build quality
- Rough fit and finish
- Low-grade tuners
- Cheap strings
- Poor fret work
- Thin, weak, sad tone
People often buy these as a way to “test the waters” before investing in a nicer instrument. I understand this logic, but it’s important to keep in mind that starting out on a low-quality can be frustrating and discouraging. It’s almost always worth spending a little more to get a better first instrument.
Recommended Cheap Ukuleles
While I can’t exactly recommend any uke in the cheap/toy price range, these models are some of the safest choices in this category.
Budget Ukuleles: Around $50
The budget ukulele price range can be a little tricky. There are some truly great ukes in this category, but there’s a lot of junk as well. I make a few suggestions below, but as a general rule I’d recommend sticking to the upper end of this price range.
A couple points to consider:
- Mass-produced ukes in this price range tend to be fairly consistent, but there’s always going to be some variation in build quality and playability.
- Budget ukes are fine to start with, but many players will eventually want to upgrade as they improve their playing. Before purchasing a uke in this price range, ask yourself if you’re OK with buying another uke in the future as you get better.
Here are some points to consider before buying a budget ukes:
A budget uke makes sense if…
- You’re on a tight budget
- You don’t know if you’ll stick with it
- It’s a gift
Consider the next level if…
- You have a slightly higher budget
- You’re serious and dedicated to learning
- You’d prefer not to buy a second uke as your playing ability progresses
Recommended Budget Ukes
Beginner Ukuleles: $50 to $150
For many people, this price range is the sweet spot. Most ukes in the “beginner” category offer an ideal combination of affordability and quality.
This makes them a natural choice for new players, but many intermediate and advanced players are also perfectly happy with ukes in this range.
The massive selection of ukuleles in the beginner price range means it’s impossible to offer a one-size-fits-all assessment. On the more affordable side of the spectrum, you’ll find an assortment of simple, high-quality ukes that make great starter instruments.
As you move up in price, you’ll see ukes with features like exotic tonewoods, fancy inlays, and electronics. These options don’t normally improve the sound or playability of the uke and are often just cosmetic. The exception is a solid top, which can offer improved tone and volume.
Despite the wide range of prices and features, most beginner ukuleles share a handful of qualities that set them apart from their cheaper alternatives:
- Decent fit, finish, and craftsmanship
- Good playability
- Higher quality materials and hardware
- Generally better tone
- Consistent construction (buy online with more confidence)
Recommended Beginner Ukuleles
Mid-Level Ukuleles: $150 to $500
This price range covers a lot of territory, so I’ve broken it down further into a few sub-categories. Note that some ukes will fall into more than one of these sub-categories.
Fancy Beginner Ukuleles
Many mid-level ukes are just fancy beginner ukuleles. These ukes are similar in quality to what you’ll find in the beginner price range except for their upgraded looks.
There’s nothing wrong with paying a little extra for a uke with some unique cosmetic upgrades, but just remember that these nice-looking extras won’t make the uke sound or play any better.
Electronics and Cutaway Body
Acoustic-electric ukuleles are nice to have if you want to perform through an amplifier or record using your computer or other hardware.
A cutaway will allow you to more easily access the higher frets, which is helpful for playing intricate melodies or solos. The cutaway isn’t something most beginner players will need, but it may be useful down the road (and it looks kind of cool).
Solid Wood Ukuleles
The mid-level price range includes a handful of ukes made entirely out of solid wood.
Solid wood resonates more freely than the laminated wood (plywood) found on most cheaper ukuleles. In theory, a solid wood ukulele will typically have more warmth, bass, and volume than a similar laminated wood uke.
In reality, I’ve played solid wood ukuleles in this price range that didn’t sound any better than a good quality laminated ukulele. I’m not saying you shouldn’t buy one, but it’s important to do your homework–and don’t be afraid to return it if it doesn’t sound great!
Examples of Mid-Level Ukuleles
These aren’t so much recommendations as they are examples of the kind of uke you’ll see in this price range.
High-End Ukuleles: $500 and Up
Martin’s line of solid koa ukes range from around $500 for their basic C1K and T1K and go up to nearly $2000. Hawaiian-made Kamaka ukes start at around $900 for the most basic Kamaka soprano (the HF-1) and go up from there.
Factors like wood grade, body size, finish, and ornamentation can dramatically increase the price.
The Kala Elite USA Series is a relative newcomer to the high-end scene, but I’ve played several of these ukes and they’ve been great instruments for the money. Made in the USA, the Elite’s build quality rivals what you’d find with the more expensive brands, and the tone and playability have been very good. The Elite series is definitely worth a look if you want a quality US-made uke at a more reasonable price.
In addition to the larger manufacturers mentioned above, there are also a number of small, independent builders who fall into this category.
Their production is much lower than the large manufacturers but their ukes are frequently one-off custom pieces. These ukes can easily run $2000 and up.
The image below is a Palm Tree Ukulele, made by a one-man operation in Colorado. Chuck Moore of Moore Bettah Ukuleles and Michael DeSilva of DeSilva Ukulele Co. are two other great examples independent builders who make stunning high-end ukes.
Many individual builders will allow you to customize some or all of a ukulele’s design. Going “full custom” isn’t cheap, but if you’ve got money to burn it’s a great way to get the ukulele of your dreams.
Final Thoughts on Ukulele Prices
My advice is to buy the best ukulele you can comfortably afford.
I know it’s tempting to try to save a few bucks on your first ukulele, but this is often counterproductive. Cheap ukuleles are typically so bad that they aren’t fun to play. And if your uke isn’t fun to play, sticking with the instrument is going to be a lot harder.