Ukulele Beginners - What to spend? How cheap is cheap | GOT A UKULELE - Learn Ukulele, beginners tips and reviews

20 Apr 2010

Ukulele Beginners - What to spend? How cheap is cheap

A common question this one, and I was here 2 years ago myself. Thought i'd share my experiences.

Generally speaking, buying a uke is like buying any musical instrument. Go too cheap and you will end up with something that may hinder your learning and put you off, not a good thing!

I appreciate however that not everyone has lots of cash, and certainly not cash to blow on something they are not sure of. Heck, ukes can cost more than £500 but how low can you go?

A quick search of eBay will show a variety of brightly coloured ukes in the £15 - £20 range. Do beware. I bought one of these and it really is pretty ropey.

Step up a level into the £25 - £50 range, and you are in to the level that I would recommend for beginners. Look for Makala ukes for example ( including the brilliant dolphin series), or lanikai. Bear in mind that these entry ukes won't be solid, and will definitely benefit from changing strings to aquilas ( so budget another £6 ). They may also need a tweak to set up such as slight lowering of action. This will be a breeze if you are a guitar nut, but complete newbies need to take care, take advice or possibly pay a luthier.

Moving up into the £50 - £100 bracket and you start to get more improvements in quality, and some solid woods. This is though the category to take care with. We are getting into more serious money, and sadly there are more bad ukes here that shouldn't in my view command higher prices. In my view look for Kala, lanikai, ohana. If you can reach 100, check out entry level Bruko. Great all solid handmade ukes! All ukes in this range may still need action checking and may benefit from better strings.

Up a step again into the £100 - £200 category and your choice widens considerably. I think this is the range where you really can get ALL the uke you need without going boutique / pro. All of my upper end ukes are in this range. Wooden ukes will tend to be all solid in this range, and whilst still made in Asia probably finished in USA, such as brilliant Mainlands. Very nice Kala and Ohana ukes in this range too as well as the standard model Fleas and Flukes ( everyone should own one! USA made)

Higher still and it's a case if 'where do you stop'. You are looking at upgraded versions of the above in fancy woods, or with pickups fitted, or into beautiful hand made Hawaiian instruments!

So, what did I do? Simple!

Mahalo - horrible horrible, sub 20- junk waste of money
Vintage - £20 - kinda junk, works, 'sort of'...
Lanikai - £50 - nice sound, stayed in tune, well set up.... Sold to fund...
Flea £120 - brilliant and unique, can't really go wrong
Bruko £100 - solid wood
Mainland £160 - concert scale, solid, beautiful, bought to compliment Flea with warmer tone and longer scale neck.

Since sold the bruko and bought an eleuke and banjo uke but they are more oddities. For standard uke-ing, I rely on the flea and the mainland

Hope this helps if you are confused. Email me if you have any questions. Above all, select a couple of models, research them ( ukulele underground site forum is your friend here) and try if you can to play them ( saying that, I never have myself!)

Good luck! Go buy one, you know you wanna!


  1. Hi Barry, I went to my local music store intending to get my first ukulele and saw some "Leho" brand ukuleles. Have you heard anything about this brand? Is it any good? I tried surfing the internet but there doesn't seem to be much information about this brand. I was looking at their entry level uke, which is a mahogany laminate for about Singapore dollars $140. The shop also carries Anuenue and Kala and other ukes and honestly, I was so confused after a while.
    Any input you might have would be great! Thanks v much!

  2. Can honestly say I have not heard of these. They seem to be priced in the upper end of cheap. I personally would be careful, but you are doing the right thing buying from an actual store. How did it sound?

  3. Hi Barry, any thoughts on Fenders in the $200USD range? Also, should a beginner pick up a soprano or tenor ukulele?

  4. I will be honest with you - I have played a couple of fenders and didn't like either. I think they are over built and there are better ukes for that money. Scale is totally about the sound you want - beware anyone telling you noe or the other is easier to play! I like them both.

  5. Hey I'm a beginner uke player and was wondering what you thought of the luna ukuleles.

  6. Hi Barry, having owned a Dolphin for a few weeks I've decided to move on to a more expensive Uke. I like the look of the Barnes and Mullins Bowley, The Southern Ukulele store say they are fun and play well but build finish can be odd, any thoughts ?


  7. Can't speak for the Bowley personally but I've heard that too. My wife owned a Calthorpe - lovely instrument but after one gig had worn the finish through to bare wood...

  8. Hi! I'm looking through the older posts and I saw someone mentioned Leho ukes. Have you tried any of these since? I have mixed feelings about this brand, and not much info is available on the internet.
    The model I tried out had a solid spruce top and very nice projection however, the quality of the finish wasn't as nice as the first glance if you looked at the uke up close. That and the fact that it was more expensive than other well known brand uke with the same specs..


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