How Much Do Ukuleles Cost?
One of the first questions people ask when preparing to buy a uke is: How much does a good ukulele cost?
As you can probably guess, there's not a simple answer for this question. Ukulele prices can vary wildly depending on factors like brand, materials, build quality, and more.
I think it's most useful to break ukuleles into a handful of different price ranges.
Ukulele Price Ranges
As the manager of an independent music store, I've had the opportunity to play hundreds of ukuleles. Over time I've found that most ukuleles fall into a handful of price ranges.
These ranges will give you a general idea of what you can expect based on your budget. Having said that, they are simply guidelines and won't apply to every uke ever made. Use these ranges as a starting point, but be sure to do your own research before making a purchase.
I've listed the ranges in the table below. Keep reading for a more detailed breakdown of each category.
Ukulele Price Range Overview
$25 and Under
$25 to $75
$75 to $200
$200 to $600
$900 and Up
Cheap Ukes & Toy Ukes: $25 and Under
For under $25 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 function as actual instruments, many are nearly unplayable right out of the box.
I cover the numerous problems with these instruments in my post on cheap ukuleles, but here's a quick recap of what to look out for:
- Shoddy build quality
- Terrible fit and finish
- Low grade tuners
- Cheap strings
- Poor fret work
- Thin, weak, and generally sad tone
In the retail business we call these products "ukulele shaped objects." They look like a uke and make a uke-like sound when you pluck the strings, but they're not real instruments!
People often buy these for children as a way to "test the waters" before investing in a nicer instrument. I understand this logic, but I'd argue that starting your kids out on a terrible ukulele isn't going to do anything to inspire their musical ambitions.
Aside from their low price, I think cheap ukes remain popular because they're often printed with characters from children's movies and cartoons. I'm know it's tough to ignore your little girl's pleas for a Frozen uke, but be strong and hold out for something better!
- Disney characters
- Poor craftsmanship
- Questionable playability
- Wimpy tone
Budget Ukuleles: $25 to $75
I've played a lot of ukes in this price range and most have been mediocre. Not terrible, but not amazing.
The playability and build quality on budget ukes are usually passable, and many of them have a decent tone. While these probably aren't instruments you'll want to play for the rest of your life, they're a reasonable choice for beginners.
That being said, there are some compelling reasons for beginners to skip this level and shell out a few extra bucks for something a bit nicer.
If you're looking for an inexpensive uke, don't buy anything until you've read our article on cheap ukuleles!
Mass-produced ukes in this price range tend to be fairly consistent, but there will be some variation in build quality and playability. This can make it a little tricky to buy with confidence online since you can't be 100% certain of what you're getting.
This lack of consistency can also cause confusion when you're doing research and reading customer reviews. For example, one buyer might complain that her strings are too high to play comfortable, while another customer claims his low action is causing string buzz. Considering how much budget ukes can very, chances are they're both telling the truth!
The Upgrade Dilemma
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, you should ask yourself if you're comfortable buying another uke in the future.
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 you'll will stick with it
- It's a gift
Consider a more expensive uke if...
- You're comfortable spending a little more money
- You're serious and dedicated to learning
- You'd prefer not to buy a second uke as your playing ability progresses
- Overall decent quality
- Respectable playability and tone
- Ideal for gifts or players who just want to experiment
- Playability and tone leave something to be desired
- Manufacturing inconsistencies make buying online a bit of a gamble
- Ambitious players will want to upgrade quickly
Beginner Ukuleles: $75 to $200
This section is just a quick overview of beginner ukuleles. For more information on this topic, see my article on the best beginner ukuleles and brands.
The Ukulele Sweet Spot
For many people, this price range is the sweet spot. Most ukes in the "beginner" category offer an ideal combination of cost and quality.
This makes them a natural choice for new players, but many intermediate and advanced players would be happy with a uke in this category.
The massive selection of ukuleles in the beginner price range mean it's impossible to offer a one-size-fits-all assessment. You'll find products ranging from simple all-laminated ukes to more ornate models with features like a solid top, fancy inlays, and electronics.
That said, the majority of these ukes share a handful of qualities that make them stand out from their cheaper alternatives:
- Reasonably good fit, finish, and crafstmanship
- Decent playability
- Higher quality materials and hardware
- Generally good tone
- Consistent construction (buy online with more confidence)
The abundance of choice means that it can be a little tough figuring out which beginner uke is best for your needs. That's why we've put together an entire article dedicated to beginner ukuleles.
Don't want to spend hours researching which uke to buy? Then check out the KA-C or KA-T from Kala. These no-frills, high quality instruments are an excellent value and natural choice for any beginning or intermediate player.
- Great overall value
- Good playability, tone, and build quality
- Ideal for a wide range of players
- Lots of choices
- Higher cost than budget ukes
- Overwhelming number of options
- Might be insufficient for advanced or discerning players
Mid-Level Ukuleles: $200 to $600
At this price point we enter the world of solid wood ukuleles. What's so great about solid wood? In a word, tone.
Solid wood resonates more freely than the laminated wood found on cheaper ukuleles. This means that ukes made with all solid wood typically have more warmth, bass, and volume than an equivalent laminated wood uke.
The trade off is price. Solid wood is more expensive than laminated wood, and it's also more difficult to work with.
This price range also has a large number of what I call "fancy" beginner ukuleles. These ukes are similar in quality to what you'll find in the beginner price range, but with upgraded cosmetic features.
These features can include include things like a bound fingerboard and headstock, wood binding, abalone rosette, and ornate fingerboard inlays.
These upgrades look good, but it's important to remember that they don't do anything to improve the sound quality or playability of the instrument.
There's certainly nothing wrong with paying a little extra for a uke with some cool visual upgrades. Just be sure to do your research so you know it's also a decent instrument.
What You'll Find in This Price Range
At the more affordable end of the spectrum you'll mostly find ukuleles from companies like Kala, Lanikai, Cordoba, and Oscar Schmidt.
These ukes start at a little over $200 for a basic solid mahogany concert like the Kala KA-SMHC.
As you move up in price, you'll find a variety of exotic tonewoods like koa, zebrawood, ovangkol, acacia, and many more. In addition to being pretty, these woods each offer their own unique tone profile.
At the upper end of this range we find the Martin 1K series (pictured above). These ukes aren't as fancy as some of the similarly priced Asian imports, but the fit, finish, and tone of Martin's C1K and T1K are far superior.
If you've got a budget of around $500, I can't recommend the Martins 1K Series highly enough. For more read my in-depth review of the C1K and T1K.
Solid Wood Doesn't Always Mean Better
It's natural to assume that the higher price of a solid wood uke means it'll be better than something from the beginner range.
This is often the case, but not always. I've played laminate ukuleles that sounded amazing, and I've played solid wood ukuleles that were awful by comparison.
One reason for this is because some of the less expensive solid wood ukes are heavily built and have a thick polyurethane finish. This produces a uke that doesn't resonant freely, and this means that the resulting tone can be weak, thin, or "dead."
Temperature and Humidity Issues
Solid wood ukuleles are more sensitive to changes in temperature and humidity than their laminated counterparts.
While it's no problem to leave a laminated hanging on the wall or stored in a stand, this could cause severe problems for a solid wood instrument.
If purchase a solid wood uke and happen you live in an arid climate, you'll probably need to keep the uke in a good case with a humidifier to prevent it from drying out. Failure to humidify your uke could result in buzzing, warping, cracking, and other nasty problems.
Uke owners in humid regions don't need to worry about humidity as much, but you'll still need to protect your uke from temperature extremes.
- Superior tone (usually)
- Beautiful and exotic tonewoods
- More sensitive to temperature and humidity changes
- Some solid wood ukes still aren't very good
High End Ukuleles: $900 and Up
These 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.
It's hard to buy a bad ukulele at this price point. Most high end ukes will have expert craftsmanship, high grade materials, and top notch hardware.
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, which is my dad's uke brand (shameless plug).
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.
- Beautiful craftsmanship
- Premium materials and hardware
- Superior playability and tone
- Potential for endless customization
- Really, really expensive
My Thoughts on Ukulele Prices
I always advise people to buy the best ukulele they 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. If your uke isn't fun to play, the chances you'll stick with it are very low.
If you're on a tight budget, you have a few options:
- Keep saving
- Roll the dice and buy a cheap uke
- Look for a quality used uke. By buying a pre-owned ukulele, you can often save 30% to 50% off the price of a new instrument (but that's a topic for another article!)
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