Getting a new instrument is always a big headache. You might be motivated to buy the instrument and start playing right away. However, at some point, you realize that it’s not that simple. There are so many things you need to think about to get a nice ukulele. If your budget is tight, you might even think that normal ukuleles aren’t available for such a low price and eventually give up.
The best cheap ukulele models are by no means substandard. Many budget ukuleles offer the same quality as that if mid-priced ukes. These cheap ukes are quite impressive because they give one plenty of options, no matter how limited your budget is. If you want to learn to play the ukulele, you can certainly take the plunge with these low-cost ukulele models. Choosing from these means you won’t accidentally end up with a ukulele that only sounds good on paper.
- Features to Consider in Cheap Ukuleles
- Best Cheap Ukuleles 2021 (Under $50 / $100)
- 1. Cordoba 15CM Concert Ukulele
- 2. Luna Tattoo Concert Mahogany Ukulele
- 3. Fender Grace VanderWaal “Moonlight” Uke
- 4. Pyle PUKT55 Soprano Ukulele
- 5. Kala Mahogany KAA-15S Soprano Ukulele
- 6. EleUke Peanut Electric Ukulele (22SPEMH)
- 7. Alvarez RU26T Regent Series Ukulele
- 8. Luna Honu Tribal Turtle Soprano Ukulele
- 9. Lanikai Kohala Soprano Ukulele
- 10. Diamond Head DU-150 Soprano Ukulele
Features to Consider in Cheap Ukuleles
Finding the right ukulele for you can be quite a quest. There are all these different sizes, woods, types and brands out there on the market. It can get confusing but it’ll be rewarding when you can find the right one. Looking for the following features will help you narrow down to a ukulele that suits your style.
Ukulele Body Size
Ukuleles typically come in four sizes. These are soprano, concert, tenor, and baritone.
Of the popular sizes, the soprano ukulele is the smallest – and usually the size you’d associate with the ukulele. A soprano has a typical length of around 21-inches with 12 to 15 frets and the standard ukulele tuning of G-C-E-A. It produces the classical ukulele tone – vibrant, bright and happy. It’s great for children due to the smaller size, although adults can find as much enjoyment with a soprano.
Another small ukulele, although slightly bigger than a soprano, is the concert ukulele. You’ll usually find a length of around 23-inches, with 15 to 18 frets, and the familiar G-C-E-A tuning. While a concert uke still offers a bright sound, it’s a little louder and richer than a soprano. It’s also excellent for beginners, as there’s a little more space to maneuver while remaining compact.
A tenor ukulele is bigger again – generally featuring a length of around 26-inches, with between 17 and 19 frets, and that traditional ukulele tuning of G-C-E-A. The larger size means that the sound is slightly deeper and fuller, and projects very well. It’s a great stage performer and another uke that’s excellent for adult beginners due to the bigger fretboard.
A baritone ukulele is the largest of the popular sizes, with a typical length of 29-inches, and around 18 to 21 frets. The tuning is the same as the highest four strings of a guitar: D-G-B-E. While a baritone is less suitable for ukulele beginners, it’s great for guitarists who’ll be familiar with the tuning and setup. Sound-wise, a baritone provides a deeper, louder ukulele experience.
Ukulele Body Shapes
Due to the intense competition on the market, every ukulele brand/producer rolls out a different style and design to beat the nearest rival in the business. Hence, there are different types of a ukulele with varying shapes and forms. Most ukuleles fall into one of three basic shapes.
Guitar/Figure 8 Shaped Ukulele
This is by far the most common shape among ukuleles. Resembling a guitar, the curved portion of the upper body, referred to as the upper bout or shoulder, is usually somewhat smaller than the lower bout. The narrow area between the two bouts is called the waist. Some modern designs have cutaways in the upper bout that permit easier access to the upper frets.
Pineapple Shaped Ukulele
Pineapple shaped ukuleles feature a rounded back profile design, an inspiration from Hawaiian innovation that was first incorporated on instruments by the Kamaka company. These types of ukuleles tend to be a little larger than the standard figure eight and therefore push a little more volume.
Boat Paddle Shaped Ukulele
This is the most unknown shape among the ukuleles. However, once you understand the name, you already know what it looks like.
Like most instruments, ukuleles can have varied tones based on their wood. The types of wood used to make ukuleles are:
- Mahogany – One of the most common tonewoods, mahogany is known for yielding full low end, rich midrange, and a rounded top end.
- Koa – Koa is a fairly dense tropical tonewood that has a balanced tonality with a focused and pleasant midrange.
- Spruce – Typically used for guitar or ukulele tops, spruce has accentuated and articulate highs and a dynamic midrange.
- Cedar – Cedar is less dense than other tonewoods, producing sweet harmonics and making it highly responsive to light plucking and streaming.
- Rosewood – Most commonly used for backs/sides and fingerboards, rosewood imparts a robust low-end and exudes rich, complex overtones.
- Maple – Known for its transparent tonality, maple has a balanced midrange and fast note decay that faithfully translates a player’s dynamics.
- Redwood – This type of tonewood yields crisp tones and resonates with clear, upper harmonic content.
- Exotic – Typically used for their distinct grain patterns, ovangkol and Bubinga share tonal characteristics similar to rosewood, while other exotic woods like cherry behave more like maple.
Acoustic and Acoustic/Electric
Knowing how you’ll use your uke can also help you make a decision. For those looking to play their music on stage, it might be best to look into acoustic/electric ukuleles.
Ukuleles without onboard pickup systems require less maintenance but need a microphone or external soundhole pickup for amplification. If you decide to take your acoustic uke on stage at some point, you can always add a pick up down the line.
Acoustic/electric ukuleles have onboard electronics that offer easy plug-and-play amplification for recording and live performance. This is the ideal choice for those looking to play out.
The strings that come with your choice of ukulele will determine, to a large extent, the sound and resonance that emanates from it. This aspect of the ukulele is more pronounced among cheap models since most of them come with cheap strings and sound very badly. However, if you’re looking for the best-stringed ukulele, it’s best to go for one with Italian Aquila strings. They’re usually of high-quality with good sound and full resonance.
This is also known as the fingerboard, and it has to hold the frets along with its position markers, dot or such other images designed to help the player stay oriented with the ukulele. You should consider a fretboard that’s made of rosewood, as it’s more visible while offering a comfortable feeling.
Tuners display pitch so you can accurately and conveniently tune your ukulele (different body shapes sometimes call for alternate tunings).
Best Cheap Ukuleles 2021 (Under $50 / $100)
Body & Neck
The 15CM is a concert ukulele sitting somewhere between a soprano and large tenor uke in terms of size, offering a great mix of portability, projection, and tone. The instrument is just over 2-feet long (24.21” to be precise) with an 11” body, meaning it’s easy to grab and take on the go.
The top, back, and sides are all constructed of layered mahogany and bound with cream ABS plastic. Fan interior bracing aids projection and tonal range. The slim C-shaped mahogany neck features a 19-fret composite fingerboard with Pearloid dot inlays at the fifth, seventh, tenth and twelfth frets.
Overall, this is an extremely comfortable uke to hold and play, it’s exceptionally lightweight, sits comfortably in the player’s arms, and offers enough size to not feel cramped while remaining portable.
Cordoba has not only made this uke practical, but they’ve also made it stylish. Deluxe touches like the beautiful abalone rosette around the soundhole and silver pearl button tuners make the 15CM appear far more expensive than its sub-$100 price tag suggests.
As the basics go, this uke features a composite bridge, saddle, and nut. Intonation is generally stable across the fretboard, and after initially stretching out the strings, tuning is remarkably stable. Only minor adjustments are needed after days of thorough playing. The action does tend to be fairly high out of the box, especially on the upper frets. It’s playable without adjustments, but if you’d like to maximize the playability, a setup from a professional would be great for this uke.
Concert ukuleles often prioritize chime and top-end pitch over depth and projection. Not the 15CM. This ukulele, while still favoring the treble range, projects a surprisingly loud and well-balanced sound. The Aquila NylGut strings lend a glassy, smooth tone and prevent any bite or shrillness at the extreme top of the range. Articulation on this uke is clear and distinct, though chords blend a fair amount. The strings seem to ‘shimmer’ when strummed, especially higher up on the neck.
One thing to take into consideration is the sustainbility. The smaller body size and nylon strings limit how long each note rings, meaning a quicker decay time and short sustain on individually plucked notes. Overall, the 15CM offers plenty of breezy Hawaiian tones and a sweet, balanced range without any major flaws.
You can’t go wrong with the Cordoba 15CM. Whether you’re a beginner looking for an affordable yet premium-sounding uke, or a more advanced player looking to experiment with a concert size instrument, this model fits the bill perfectly. The 15CM’s all-mahogany construction, flashy appointments, and full, smooth range all belie its budget-friendly price tag.
Body & Neck
Visually, the Luna Tattoo Concert is one striking ukulele, although not over-the-top. As for its build, it’s a full-sized concert body, with a length of 23”. Therefore, it’s perfect for experienced players as much as it’s for adult beginners.
The body is made entirely of satin-finished laminated mahogany, with a solid C-shaped mahogany neck that sports a rosewood fretboard and 18-fret. The body and neck look fantastic together with those matching shark-tooth mother-of-pearl fretboard inlays. It could do with a good setup out of the box to optimize its playability, but otherwise, it’s quite comfortable to play. Even though Luna’s budget line is factory produced, their instruments usually feel well-built and durable, and the tattoo is no different.
There’s an electro-acoustic version of the Tattoo that reaches a slightly higher price, but this standard Tattoo ukulele features no electronics. However, the hardware it comes with is good and complements the fine build. There’s a set of open-gear tuners with charming Pearloid buttons that are decent. They’re responsive to use and hold tuning reasonably well. The bridge matches the fretboard in using rosewood, while the nut is graphite. This is better than plastic as you’d find on some other budget ukes. Finally, it comes with a basic gig bag, which is a nice addition for storing your new instrument, although it’s not particularly protective.
For a budget ukulele, it’s pretty great. It offers the rich warmth you’d expect from the mahogany, along with a crisp twang that keeps things articulate. Projection-wise it’s by no means the loudest ukulele out there, but it’s more than suitable for practice and spontaneous small performances.
When listening to the Luna Tattoo, you briefly forget this is a sub-$100 instrument as it sounds wonderful. It’s not bad in the looks department either. Luna doesn’t always hit the mark with their budget instruments, but in this case, they’ve done an excellent job.
Body & Neck
The soprano body is the smallest available in the ukulele family, so it’s particularly suited to younger players with smaller hands. This stunning model features a mahogany body in a gorgeous navy-blue color with a gold sparkle rosette, cream binding, and a satin finish. It does grab your attention with its unique visuals.
The neck is also painted navy blue with cream binding. Made from nato, it has a walnut fretboard with 16 frets and dot inlays. It has a scale length of around 13-inches, which is typical for a soprano uke. Overall, everything about the construction is standard, but the finish is what makes this one stand from the crowd.
It comes with a walnut pull-through bridge that makes changing strings much easier than traditional ukulele bridges. It offers more than enough stability for even the most enthusiastic playing combined with a bone nut and saddle. It’s these small touches that place this uke ahead of many others in the same price range.
The tuning machines are open-geared and add even more stability to your tuning. The tuners themselves are gold in color to match some of the other accents on the uke. One of the best things about this little uke is that it’s ready to go straight out of the box. That’s not something you often hear with many instruments outside of the higher-end ranges, but in this case, it’s true.
While this is a beginner instrument, it’s still stage ready for players of various skill levels. The Fender California Coast clear nylon strings give a bright overall tone. It can lack harmonic clarity when playing more complex voicings, as the leading note doesn’t always ring out clear as you’d like. It doesn’t always capture the subtlest nuances. The most common things you’d play on this kind of uke are clear and vibrant across the ranges. Overall, it sounds very nice and the occasions where it lacked clarity were rare.
This is a beautiful example of a well-designed soprano ukulele and, at under $100, it just gets more attractive. It looks fantastic and the hardware is better quality than the average uke at this level. It sounds very nice despite a few issues and is ready to go straight out of the box.
Body & Neck
The choice of material used in the body of the Pyle PUKT55 is satin-finished laminated wood that has been artificially flamed for dramatic effect. This striking wood is used on the top, back and sides of the instrument, and is all bound with tortoiseshell celluloid binding. The extroverted design complete with an engraved sun soundhole rosette and headstock decal is impressive. Elsewhere, the neck is made from mahogany, with a black walnut fretboard that features 15 nickel frets. It’s all very playable and great for beginner’s fingers, with good action and solid workmanship, even for a budget model.
This soprano uke doesn’t come with a selection of accessories. However, considering the fact you can pick up most accessories cheaply, it’s no big deal. What it does come with is some solid hardware such as the set of closed die-cast tuners that are very smooth to use and keep your instrument in tune well. Moreover, instead of cheap plastic strings, it’s strung with a good set of Aquila strings that are better for playability and tone out of the box.
The PUKT55 sounds pretty good for its price and provides you with enough of the desired soprano sparkle. It’s not one of the loudest ukes but offers enough volume for practice and lesson, even impromptu performances.
The design of the Pyle PUKT55 won’t appeal to everyone, but this is a pretty little uke that’s matched by a good build and nice tone. For the affordable price, it’s a very good instrument that beginners would love to be seen and heard playing.
Body & Neck
While there’s nothing special about the design of the Kala KAA-15S, it still shows very commendable craftsmanship for an entry-level uke. It has a full-size soprano scale body with a length of around 21”, so it’s particularly good for those with smaller hands. The traditional non-cutaway body is made from mahogany, which is obvious from the lovely deep brown grain, all finished in a natural satin. The neck is also mahogany and features 12 silver nickel frets (all in the clear) on either rosewood or walnut fretboard.
Set on the bridge (which will be either rosewood or walnut) is a GraphTech NuBone saddle, matched with the same material for the nut. For a budget instrument, it’s refreshing not to see the use of plastic and NuBone goes a long way in producing a consistent sound. The open-gear tuners on this guitar do the job but would be the first thing one would like to change, as their ability to hold tuning can be a little temperamental, especially when the strings are new. Moreover, the uke comes strung with a set of Aquila Super Nylgut strings, which is the industry standard, and one of the better string sets around.
Tonally, the KAA-15S is fantastic for the price and, listening to this uke in action, it’s hard to believe it’s so cheap. It offers the clear, bright, happy sound that everyone craves from a ukulele, with good warmth from the mahogany. It’s certainly not the loudest uke one can have, but projection-wise it’s very satisfying.
The Kala KAA-15S is undoubtedly one of the best ukuleles you can find for this kind of price. It looks and feels high-quality, and sounds beautiful. For beginners and experienced players alike, this is a solid choice for an affordable ukulele.
Body & Neck
You don’t have to be an expert to see that the EleUke 22SPEMH is no ordinary soprano ukulele. For one thing, the Peanut (which takes its name from its inherent peanut-in-a-shell shape) is made from a solid block of mahogany, so there’s no soundhole. This makes it a particularly robust instrument, and excellent for travel. This wood is satin-finished and has a minimalist natural look that’s quite appealing, although you can also find a painted black version that’s quite cool too. The neck also uses mahogany and sports a rosewood fretboard with 13 frets.
It’s no heavier than a regular ukulele and is very slim, so it’s easy to transport, hold and play. Overall it looks and feels like a quality product. The only slight letdown is the headstock that bears the EleUke name in a rather cheap-looking font.
The Peanut is an electro-acoustic model, so it comes fitted with a piezo pickup and a preamp, with a headphone jack, as well as a standard ¼” output jack for a guitar amplifier. Most interestingly, the Peanut is also Bluetooth compatible, meaning you’re able to wirelessly connect to a smartphone and play along to MP3 tracks. This is all powered with an included rechargeable battery that comfortably lasts around nine hours or so. It’s controlled by a master volume and master tone rotary control.
There’s a rosewood bridge, a graphite nut, and saddle, and a set sealed die-cast tuning machines. These tuners, as is the case with many budget instruments, are the weakest link as they slip out of tune quite often, but all things considered, this isn’t a major issue. The Peanut also comes with strap pegs, so attaching a strap for stand-up playing is pretty simple. While the branded nylon gig bag is another nice touch for this budget uke.
Acoustically the Peanut is naturally much quieter than your standard ukulele, but still audible enough for quiet practice sessions. However, the amplified sound can enhance the output to whatever volume you want. The preamp is basic but does the job of amplifying the sound clearly, which is all you can ask at this price.
For under $100, you’re getting a lot with EleUke’s Peanut. While beginners may be better off learning with a more conventional ukulele, this electro-acoustic uke is ideal for more experienced players wanting something new in their collection, or something that’s both wallet or travel-friendly.
Body & Neck
The RU26T features a tenor size body, with a length of 26-inches. This makes it perfect for those players with slightly larger hands. This tenor uke is also great for those wanting a little more depth in the registers, as the rosewood fretboard comes fitted with 18-frets (14 in the clear). This sits on a sturdy mahogany deck, with a comfortable satin finish. The playability on offer is great. It’s as fun as it’s good-looking.
There’s something about this ukulele that gives it a pretty high-end look. Perhaps it’s the classic acoustic guitar pairing of satin-finished spruce on the top, with mahogany back and sides. It just looks and feels like a quality instrument, especially with the sparkly Pearloid soundhole rosette and the refined black ABS binding around the top and back of the instrument.
This is solely an acoustic ukulele with no electronics, although for the price and build quality, it’s no surprise. However, the RU26T arrives with some good quality components that make this budget uke feel more than it’s worth. There’s a rosewood bridge that’s equipped with a real bone saddle matched by a bone nut. The RU26T has a set of sealed chrome tuning machines, with black tuning buttons that complement the binding and give the uke a complete look. It’s also strung with Aquila Nylgut strings, which is a very good string set.
For an entry-level ukulele, the RU26T is adept at producing a good tone. There’s a full sound, with a rich tone that’s warm thanks to the mahogany, but well-balanced. The top is fan braced for added strength, so this combined with the slightly bigger body size, makes for better projection than soprano and concert ukes.
Finding a good tenor ukulele in this affordable market isn’t always easy, but you don’t have to search much further than Alvarez Guitar’s RU26T. The design is excellent, and gives you a budget ukulele with a slightly more premium look and feel. The hardware and sound also punch above their weight.
Body & Neck
The Honu features a full-size soprano body, with a total length of 21-inches. The non-cutaway body is made entirely from mahogany and is quite simple in its design, although it still boasts of the classic Luna touch. In Hawaiian, the word ‘Honu’ refers to a species of green sea turtle, so it’s no coincidence that the soundhole rosette features a ‘tattooed’ Hawaiian turtle decoration.
The Honu also features a smooth, satin-finished mahogany neck that offers great comfort for smaller hands, with a C-shape and a nut width of around 1.3”. There’s also a rosewood fretboard and 12 frets, marked with cool mother-of-pearl shark tooth inlays.
With no electronics, the Honu isn’t exactly awash with features, but it does come with a basic nylon gig bag (with convenient back straps, for easy transportation), a pitch pipe to tune the uke, and a helpful chord chart – all great for beginners. Elsewhere, the Luna-branded headstock is fitted with a set of open-geared chrome tuners with Pearloid tuning keys. These do a fine job of holding your tuning after the strings have settled. There’s also a rosewood bridge and a set of Aquila strings, while the nut and saddle are both made from graphite.
While some soprano ukes can be a little lackluster in sound, or a little too trebly, the Honu has a nicely rounded tone with rich warmth, thanks to the all-mahogany construction. It’s certainly not the loudest soprano uke, but for practice and small performances, it does the job.
Despite the striking turtle rosette, it’s not as striking in appearance as other ‘tattooed’ ukes in their range. However, with a good build, a rich tone, some decent features, and a very wallet-friendly price, it’s genuinely hard to criticize this soprano uke.
Body & Neck
The Kohala Soprano ukulele has a figure-eight or what’s known as the acoustic shape. The body of this ukulele is also made with a satin finish which protects the ukulele body and makes it look more attractive. This uke is straight and has been well constructed. The shape, including features like the weight and size of this uke, make it easier to carry. You can travel with it to any destination and even carry it in your suitcase.
This ukulele comes with quality Aquila Nylgut strings. These strings not only make it very comfortable for fingerpicking and strumming but contribute to its clear and penetrating tone. The strings also have smooth surfaces that make it comfortable to play. As with most new strings, these may require regular tuning to become stable. However, the good thing is they can achieve stability in a short time.
The Kohala uke is crafted with durable and quality Eastern mahogany wood, which is lightweight and gives a very full and resonant tone. The quality of this material makes the uke durable, reliable, and strong.
This soprano ukulele produces a soothing and not so loud tone. This uke also comes with geared tuning machines that make it very easy to tune. The tuning machine makes the ukulele to stay in tune for longer than most ukuleles in this price range.
The Kohala Soprano Ukulele is a good quality ukulele, suitable for every player, especially beginners. It looks very attractive and solid even at the price range. It also sounds great with no buzzing. The uke comes with amazing features like a mahogany tonewood, geared tuning machines, and quality Aquila Nylgut strings that all contribute to its great sound and durability.
Body & Neck
Unlike most of its competitors, DU-150 features a standard soprano shape and size. It’s not uncommon that you’ll run into ukes in this price range that looks way too much like a toy. Not this ukulele though. Everything on this ukulele is made of maple. That means the body, the neck, fretboard as well as the bridge. The tonal properties of maples make it a decent choice for guitars, but not necessarily for ukuleles. Nonetheless, the full maple construction does a decent enough of a job to be classified as satisfactory.
The entire body of the guitar is stained with a dark finish that makes it look like a mahogany piece. The fretboard and bridge also feature a much darker stain, mimicking the texture and color of rosewood. The neck features a standard 12-fret, 13.625-inch scale with nickel silver frets. Overall, the neck is comfortable and smooth to play on.
The hardware on this ukulele is best described as minimal. The bridge, as described above, is a hardwood piece painted to resemble rosewood. The saddle and nut follow a similar policy. Both of these parts are made of generic plastic that features enough hardness to sustain the tension of the strings. The DU-150 uke comes with a rather generic set of strings. Their quality is more or less decent. However, your experience may vary depending on the exact DU-150 you get. There’ll be units shipped out with weaker strings and those that arrive with a set that’ll last you for a long time.
This is the most obvious aspect of the DU-150 that’ll undoubtedly reveal some of its shortcomings. The combination of all-maple construction and cheap factory strings makes this ukulele sound a bit dull. However, if you decide to go out and swap the strings for something better, you’ll get a significant improvement in performance across the range. In its original configuration, the DU-150 offers the very core of a classic soprano sound.
The DU-150 is a very good ukulele for beginners. Since most ukes in this price range come in the form of toys or toy-like instruments, the DU-150 is a great, low-risk choice for beginners. It’s a quality bargain and that’s something that’s hardly going to be disputed.