Climb The Ukulele Price Ladder To Get The Best Ukulele

gray scale photo of a woman about to climb the fire escape ladder


Ukulele Price Ladder
Ukulele Price Ladder

The price of a ukulele can be confusing. You want to buy one, but the information you find may be overwhelming. How much do you have to pay for a good uke? How much do you have to pay for a student model that’s good enough?

The Ukulele Price Ladder puts ukes in ranges and helps you to understand the value you are getting in each range. By taking some of the mystery out, the ladder will make your buying experience better.

 Ukulele Price Ladder 
 Step 4: All Solid Wood   $250 Lowest 
Step 3:  Solid Wood Top & Electric-Acoustic $150 Lowest 
 Step 2: Laminate   Between $50 and $150 
 Step 1: Plastic and Poor Construction Don’t even go there … 
 Guidelines, not rules  

Why Ukuleles are Like Ladders

The ladder turns out to be a good metaphor for two reasons. Sure, we can relate the ukulele price ranges to steps going up a ladder. But as mass-produced products, low price ladders and ukuleles have some things in common. These similarities are key to understanding ukulele prices.

If you go to Home Depot to get a basic ladder, will you find one made entirely of solid wood? Not likely. You’ll find inexpensive ladders made of alternate materials like aluminum and fiberglass. 

So if you want to pick a good one, how do you do it? Maybe the cheapest one is cheap for a reason? Are the more expensive ones better? 

Materials do not explain the difference between, say, two fiberglass ladders. It’s really about how they’re put together and who is putting them together.

It’s the same for beginner ukuleles, which are also constructed from alternate materials.

A Word Before We Climb

When we talk about what a ukulele is made of, we are talking about the body of the ukulele: the top, the back, and the sides.

Manufacturers provide long lists of parts and features, which are endlessly copied by ukulele sites, but are probably meaningless to most first-time buyers. But the fingerboard, tuning gears, bridge and other parts don’t dictate the price as much as the body materials.

Entry-level ukuleles are not made of solid wood. As you move up the price ladder, the more solid wood content increases the price.

The Bottom Rung: Ukuleles Under $50

We’ll keep this short: don’t buy an under $50 ukulele.

This rung does sometimes feature a bad material you won’t find in the higher levels: plastic. Plastic is not great at projecting sound. 

But a lot of ukes here do use similar materials as more expensive ones. But at this low-low price, it is hard to put a good uke together. Sound design, ergonomics, and quality control are all missing here.

Step 2: Ukuleles between $50 and $150

This is the ukulele price range where you’ll find your good enough ukes for kids and adult beginners. Just like the Home Depot ladders, they are all made of the same stuff. But the main ingredient is different here. These ukes are made of what you find on the surface of IKEA furniture, laminate.

Laminate is wood, but a really cheap kind. It’s thin strips of wood pressed together. That may sound bad, and, indeed, laminate does not project sound as well as solid wood. But it is good enough for the entry-level player, just like an IKEA desk is good enough for your eighth-grader. 

Think of a beginning violin student. Do you spend a million dollars to get a Stradavarius from a museum? No. 

Entry-level guitars have been made of laminate for generations now. So it’s no surprise that ukes are made of it too.

Here in the $50-$150 range, the difference between one uke and another is not so much the materials. Just like with the ladder, how it is built, and who is building it makes all the difference. 

This step is where design and quality control make the difference. The better ukes will be designed to project sound well, be easy to play, and will receive a quality inspection before shipping. Another significant value-add here is providing buyers with access to online instruction.

Visual Design

You will pay more for a uke with a fancy design. A flashy uke in this price range will cost more than the plain under $100 model, but there won’t be much difference in sound.

Ukulele Sizes

The three standard uke sizes are, from small to large, soprano, concert, and tenor. The bigger the uke, the higher the price.

Most buyers opt for a soprano or concert ukulele. For kids ages five through eight, get a soprano. Kids age nine and over should get a concert.

So Which Ukulele Brands Are Best?

Check out the Best Beginner Ukuleles for Busy Parents to learn which ones to buy.

Step 3: Solid-Wood-on-Top Ukuleles and Electric-Acoustics, $150 and up

The ukulele body’s top piece is also called the soundboard because it impacts the instrument’s tone and projection. Guitar and ukulele makers have learned that they can create a better yet affordable version by simply replacing a laminated top with a solid wood top.

Some of these are available under $200, but you can expect to pay over $200 for a solid wood top uke in most cases.

These are good ukes for intermediate players, who can justify spending more for a better instrument.

Which One Should I Buy?

Kala, Lanikai, Cordoba, and Luna have solid top ukes beginning as low as $150. 

Need to Plug Into an Amp or PA?

For most beginners, there is no need for amplification. The standard acoustic ukulele is all they need. But for potential performers, a uke with a pickup and preamp is a necessity. These ukes can be plugged into amplifiers or PA systems.

If you’re not familiar with the terms, a pickup is like a tiny microphone built into the uke. A preamp is an onboard mini mixer that lets the performer set the instrument’s volume and tone. 

Avoid acoustic-electric ukes below this price range, because the low-quality preamps used are likely to cause problems onstage, and no one wants that.

As you move up within the range, closer to $200, you will see some ukes with better quality preamps. Look for ukuleles with the gold standard in preamps, Fishman, built-in.

A good get here is the Fender Grace VanderWaal Signature acoustic-electric, at $199. Grace became a famous uke player and singer at age 12.

Step 4: All Solid Wood Ukuleles, $250 and up

At the top of the uke ladder, you’ll find instruments made entirely of solid wood, with no laminate content. Are these worth it?

We already discussed how the top or soundboard is a crucial factor in tone and projection. So maybe you don’t really need solid wood back and sides.

Another consideration in this range is the kind of wood. Moving beyond cheaper laminates, instrument makers love to talk about “tonewoods,” types of wood that give a rich tone, produce louder volume, and are more beautiful.

These instruments do have superior tone, volume and looks. They are for serious players — and serious spenders!

You will often pay $300 or more for an all solid wood ukulele. But there are some available in the $200 to $300 range from Kala, Lanikai, and Cordoba.

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