If you have decided to learn ukulele and know what kind of ukulele you are looking for, then your next question is, “Where can I buy a ukulele?” Even if you are still undecided on the type of ukulele or the brand, then where you decided to purchase a ukulele can help.
There are 4 main places to buy a ukulele: online, at a local music store, at a big box music store, and through a reseller like Craigslist or eBay. We will look at each of these options and review the pros and cons. If you are looking for the simple answer, then my top recommendation is to purchase a ukulele from your local music store, if possible.
A closer look at 4 different ukulele purchasing options
Online options are plentiful these days. You can purchase from Amazon, online retailers such as GuitarCenter or Musician’s Friend, music shops across the country, and even the manufacturers themselves. Shopping for a ukulele is similar to shopping for any other item online. You can do your research about the manufacturers, take in the reviews from other buyers, see video demonstrations, and compare pricing for similar items.
You also have a huge variety and selection available from all over the world. If you know exactly what instrument you want, then buying online can be a great option. Most online retailers also have a generous return policy that will allow you to test out the instrument for a number of days and accept returns if you are not happy with it.
Of course, with so many options, buying a ukulele online can be overwhelming – especially if you do not know exactly what instrument and brand you want. There are other factors to consider when purchasing an instrument that are not as readily available if you buy online. For example, ongoing customer support if you want some adjustments or work done on your ukulele down the line.
Many people purchase online because they think prices are less expensive, but that is not often true with ukuleles. Most ukuleles are sold at the same price set by the manufacturer known as the minimum advertised price or MAP. You can walk into a store and find the same ukulele at the same price as online, and a lot of brick and mortar stores will now price-match online prices. Buying online can be a good option if you know exactly what you want and cannot easily access it elsewhere. However, shopping locally can be an even better experience.
At a local music store
Buying a ukulele at your local music store is often the best option for most players. If you are lucky enough to have a local music store (or multiple), then buying local is advantageous for a number of reasons.
The best reason to buy from a local store is you can pick up and play the instrument before purchasing. If you do not already have a definitive instrument in mind, then local music stores are a great place to test out the various brands and styles.
You will have access to very knowledgeable staff (often the owners themselves), and you can get recommendations based on your conversation. They can even special order instruments for you based on what you are looking for.
You will also develop a relationship with the local store and staff and receive ongoing support for any issues, repairs, modifications or even upgrades you might want in the future. Local music store staff are often friendly and not salesey – they are there to encourage their local music scene, and they are often teachers at the store and can give you some pointers or offer lessons.
As mentioned previously, you will not pay more at a local store than elsewhere, and you can often get a good deal when they offer a bundle package with a case or a set of strings, etc. Purchasing locally is a great option and my top recommendation if you can.
Big box music stores
Similar to a local music store, big box stores (like Guitar Center) are a good option to buy a ukulele.
They often have a good variety and selection and can provide accessories easily. However, the selection is usually mid-range and more ubiquitous brands, so you won’t find that special or unique instrument here. Big box stores can be a good option if you do not have a locally owned music store in your area. The downside is you most likely will not have ongoing support and cannot trade in for an upgrade later on. The relationship is often superficial and the staff are more salesy than a local shop. On the plus side, you can play the instrument before purchase, and there is often a good return policy. Again, this is not my top recommendation for buying a ukulele but it might be your only local option.
From a reseller
Be wary when you buy a ukulele used from Craigslist or eBay. While there are some great finds on these sites, there are many things that can go wrong. First, there is no guarantee about the quality or condition of the instrument you receive other than the seller’s word. While you can use ratings and reviews about sellers on eBay, Craigslist has no such system.
On both sites, you must do your research in order to avoid overpaying. The quality and brand of instruments on eBay especially, are usually also found at your local or big box shops. Craigslist can offer some rare finds at reasonable rates, but you have to trust the seller and use good buying tactics to ensure delivery and quality before exchanging money. These purchase methods are a gamble and you should only participate if you have experience with these platforms, have done your research, used proper precautions when exchanging money, and have a good dialogue with the seller.
Which option is right for you?
While each channel has some pros and cons, buying from a local music store is your best option.
Go explore, ask questions, and use the friendly expertise a local shop provides and support your local community. You will walk away with a new friendship and “in” into your local music scene and, most importantly, with an instrument fit for your needs and wants.