How much is a ukulele that is playable and sounds good? The simple, quick answer is anywhere from $50 to $300 and up.
There are a lot of variables and factors to consider when asking, “how much is a ukulele?” Consider points like brand, design, materials, build quality, and many others. You can find a range of good to great quality instruments at a number of price ranges. Because the ukulele is such a great beginner instrument, many people just want to try it out and not invest too much into the instrument. This is understandable but not recommended.
A good quality instrument can still be affordable and it helps a beginner sound better and play easier. Conversely, a bad quality instrument will make it harder to play and frustrate the player. While price and quality do often go hand-in-hand, there are good instruments in a variety of price ranges. And the amount you invest into an instrument depends on your musical goals.
Important Points to Consider
The most important points to assess when buying a ukulele are the playability, sound, and intonation.
My first recommendation is to visit your local music shop and utilize their expertise. Most music shops stock a range of ukuleles from the $50 range to the $300 or more. More importantly, most music shops will provide trusted brands that are real, playable instruments, even in the lower price range.
There is no substitute for picking up and physically playing an instrument. This allows you to listen to the sound and feel the quality of an instrument. Here are some points to consider when playing a ukulele to determine the right fit.
Does it fit your budget? No matter how much you love that $300 dollar Lanikai, there is no point in pining after it if your budget does not allow for that cost. Take a real, hard look at what you can actually afford without going into debt and stick to that price range. Only you know what you can afford, and don’t be afraid to discuss this with the sales person at the shop, so they only show you instruments that fit your budget.
As stated before, you can get a decent, playable, instrument for around $50- $60 in most stores. Pick your price range and then find the instruments that fit. There are a wide variety of brands and styles in all price ranges.
If you have a budget to play around with, then your options open up a bit and other considerations can take precedent. The most important point is to check the intonation.
Intonation is how well the instrument stays in tune, and is an indicator of how well it is built. Tune the instrument with a tuner, and compare the open string notes to the notes at the 12th fret for each string. These notes should be the same but an octave higher. Then, check the notes at the 9th and 7th fret for each string. Play those in sequence with the 12th fret and open string – they should all sound in tune on each string. Past the 12th fret is tough, because even the best ukuleles have a little intonation issue up in those frets until you get to the pro-level price ranges – it’s just a feature of the ukulele itself. However, still check those higher frets to make sure they’re not too far off.
Once you check intonation, pay attention to how the instrument feels when playing. Does your fretting hand press the strings effortlessly? Can you move your fretting hand around the fretboard easily? Does it feel natural and easy to hold the ukulele? Does the size feel too small, too big, or just right?
Of course, these aspects will change depending on the type of ukulele you are buying, but a good instrument should feel like it’s easy to play. A hard-to-play instrument is a recipe for frustration and can lead new players to quit.
After intonation and physical considerations, listen to the sound or tone of the ukulele. How would you describe it? Does it sound warm and big? Does it sound tinny or plastic? Is it a rich tone or a little flat?
Tone is a hard thing to describe in words, so we often use adjectives for color, texture, or even taste. Important tip: have someone else play the instrument for you so you can listen to the sound and how it projects. It is hard to really get a full sense of an instrument’s sound from the player’s perspective.
Don’t be afraid to ask the sales person to play a little for you. If you can’t make it into a shop or don’t have a local shop to visit, then going online is your next best option. There are a few online retailers that will send you instruments to try for a limited time, but most will not do so. Be sure to check the return policy before making your purchase, and try to find a seller that allows a trial period.
Buying local is a great way to support your local economy and the best way to test an instrument. You can also test drive an instrument in-store and price one out online later. However, be aware that instruments, even mass produced ones, all have little differences and quirks. You may have loved the one in the store but the one online might feel or sound just a tad different.
The ukulele’s sound is mostly determined by the materials from which it is built. A wooden ukulele will sound more natural and warmer when compared to a plastic instrument. Also, the type of wood will determine and influence the sound and tone quality of the ukulele. Cheaper, porous woods will not resonate as well as some more expensive woods. Again, see what is in your price range and opt for the higher limit of your budget. This will give you access to better materials and construction.
After considering the price range, material, sound and feel of the ukulele, the last consideration is the design. You can find a range of colors, imprints, etchings, laser cuts, body shapes, and sizes for ukuleles. Most of these will not affect the sound, except the body shape and size. Most producers have a selection of features to choose from, so find a design that speaks to you and that you enjoy looking at. An instrument is not just a tool, but can be a work of art, and having a ukulele that looks good to you will help inspire you to pick it up and play.
A New Instrument is the Beginning of a Musical Journey
There are still a number of other considerations when buying a ukulele (like electric or acoustic, soprano, concert, tenor or baritone, etc.), but we have explored aspects after you determine the style of ukulele you want.
Again, I stress the importance of playing any instrument first before purchasing and visiting your local music shop. Buying an instrument is fun and exciting, and a great way to learn more about your musical genres, connect to your local music scene, and expand your abilities.
Beginners should expect to pay around $50 – $60 at least for a playable instrument that makes learning easier, and more seasoned players will know more specifically what to look for in an instrument. Though, if your budget allows for it, ask to test out those ukuleles in the $100 – $200 range, and compare those to other price ranges in the aspects mentioned in this article. Good hunting for your ideal instrument!