Best Ukuleles For Beginners (Under $100)
When you want to learn how to play an instrument that’s fun and not too complicated, the ukulele is right at the top of the list.
This small four-stringed, guitar-like instrument is compact enough for both kids and adults to play, isn’t hard to get started playing, and is actually very enjoyable to learn to play.
The ukulele is often associated with Hawaii, but it actually has origins in Portugal where its relatives today are called the braguinha or cavaquinho.
Though many people think of the ukulele as a “toy instrument” that’s not for serious musicians, that’s far from the truth.
In fact, in recent years there’s been a resurgence in interest in ukuleles; Israel “IZ” Kamakawiwoʻole’s beautiful rendition of “Over The Rainbow” went platinum and made the ukulele hip!
Artists such as Taylor Swift and Ingrid Michaelson have used ukuleles in their songs.
You can find ukulele clubs and groups all over the country, and there are many ukulele virtuosos – just check out Taimane Gardner on YouTube.
With all this interest, there are dozens of ukuleles available today for both pros and amateurs alike.
Top-quality ukuleles can be a bit on the expensive side, so we created this guide so that you can find the best ukuleles for beginners that cost under $100.
We’re going to focus on two different sizes of ukulele – soprano and concert ukuleles – that are perfect to start with.
Each of the ukuleles that we’ll review is ideal for anyone that wants to learn the instrument, and they won’t make a huge dent in your wallet.
Here are the ukuleles that we’ll be covering:
All ukuleles included in my reviews were selected based on their widespread use and reputation in the professional music community and from personal use and knowledge.
I’ve also added my insights gained from my 25+ years of experience running a very successful music production company, plus working with dozens of composers and thousands of tracks for my Audio Addiction Music Library, a production music library with global distribution.
What to Look for in a Ukulele
Before we get started on our reviews, let’s take a look at some features that you should think about before purchasing a ukulele.
Price vs. Quality
As ukuleles are small instruments, you can get quality instruments for not a lot of money. In fact, some of the best tonewoods – woods used in the construction of the ukulele – can actually be some of the least expensive options.
However, you should stay clear of toy ukuleles that are in the $15 to $20 price range. These are inferior instruments constructed with poor quality materials and are not actually designed to be played with any seriousness.
But once you move up to around the $50 to $100 range, you’ll have no problem finding some very good quality ukuleles.
The Best Tonewoods
Tonewoods are one of the most important considerations when you’re looking into purchasing a new ukulele.
The woods used in the construction of a ukulele are a major factor in how the instrument sounds and what kind of tone it will have.
Many ukulele builders will use a softwood like spruce or cedar for the top, and hardwood for the sides. This produces a good balance of volume and tone.
With this in mind, let’s take a look at some of the commonly used tonewood types:
- Mahogany – If you’re looking for an instrument that projects well, mahogany is an excellent Ukuleles made from mahogany tend to be loud and produces a warm tone that’s perfect for both playing at home and on stage without amplification.
- Koa – Koa is a very traditional tonewood for ukuleles, especially for those made in Hawaii. It produces a unique sound, and it also has a distinctive wood grain.
- Rosewood – As a rule of thumb, you’ll find rosewood in the construction of fretboards on guitars, basses, and ukuleles, but it also makes an excellent wood for ukulele construction as well. The sound it produces is vibrant.
- Spruce – If you prefer a brighter sound, then spruce may just be your choice. It’s a beautiful light-colored wood and sounds great in intimate settings.
- Redwood – Redwood is probably one of the most expensive tonewoods for ukuleles. It’s hard to find a redwood ukulele in the sub-$100 price range, so its warm and resonant sound may be something that you’d opt for later as an upgrade.
- Cedar – Larger ukuleles like the baritone ukulele are frequently made of cedar. Cedar produces a natural tone with lots of bass.
Many entry-level ukuleles will be made of laminated wood –a thin veneer of hardwood over a cheaper wood. Laminated ukuleles can still be excellent-sounding instruments, so at the under $100 price level it’s okay to consider laminated ukuleles as well as solid-wood ones.
Ukulele Sizes & Number of Frets
Ukuleles come in a variety of sizes and number of frets. In general, the larger the ukulele, the more frets it will have. Here are the different sizes of ukuleles:
- Soprano – Soprano ukuleles are the most common ukuleles. These ukes are usually about 21 inches in length and have anywhere between 12 and 15 frets. Soprano ukuleles are ideal for small children because of their small size.
- Concert – Concert ukuleles are a bit larger than the soprano instruments and come with at least 15 frets. They are also usually around 21 inches in length. They are an excellent choice for intermediate players and beginners with larger hands. Concert ukuleles overall have more volume and project better than sopranos.
- Tenor – Tenor ukuleles are a bit larger than concerts and can be around 26 inches or so. They also have a lot more frets; in fact, tenors can range from 15 to 25 frets, which makes tenors a great instrument for those who are also guitar players.
Tenors are recommended for adults who are already proficient in the instrument. Tenor ukes also come in a wider variety of woods than the other types and have more frets for more advanced playing techniques.
- Baritone – Baritone ukuleles are much larger than the other models. A baritone ukulele can be as much as 30 inches in length and usually has around 18 frets. This is a great ukulele for just about anyone except probably small children.
An instrument’s action refers to the height of the strings off of the neck.
Unfortunately, many inexpensive ukuleles come with very high action, which makes playing it difficult for beginners.
Plus, high action can make the notes go out of tune when played, even if the instrument is in tune.
Action can be adjusted at a music store, but this is something would be an additional expense.
Best Ukuleles Under $100 for Beginners Reviews
Kala is a well-known maker of quality affordable ukuleles.
The Kala KA-15S-S is part of Kala’s flagship collection and has become one of the most popular soprano ukuleles with over 1,000 positive reviews.
The neck is mahogany, the fretboard is rosewood, and its top is made of bright and beautiful spruce. These woods combine to provide an excellent sound, and it comes with a satin finish.
Note that in mid-2017 Kala will no longer be making ukuleles with rosewood due to export restrictions.
If you’re looking for one of the best ukuleles for beginners, this is a great option.
It’s an excellent sounding instrument, despite its low price tag.
The action is low right out of the box which makes it very easy to play. And the neck, frets, nut/ saddle, and tuners are all high quality and show no significant defects that you find in many inexpensive ukuleles.
It also comes with top-quality Aquila Super Nylgut strings, a nice bonus.
Overall, the Kala KA-15S-S is a great value for beginning players.
- The ukulele is well made and produces a well-rounded sound
- It comes with Aquila strings and a gig bag
- Over time, the pearloid dots on the fretboard can wear away
Lanikai is a well-respected maker of ukuleles and is now part of the Hohner Music USA (known for their harmonicas).
The Lanikai LU-21 is another user favorite with a price tag well under $100. It is made of nato or Eastern mahogany. This is a rare tonewood that helps this ukulele create a warm, mellow sound that is quite resonant.
Nato wood is also beautiful; it’s a darker wood with grain that forms some very unique patterns.
The fretboard is made of rosewood, and it has 12 frets.
The construction quality is solid, with no readily apparent defects that detract from its sound or playability.
Note that keeping the ukulele in tune seems to be an issue for many users. However, many beginners don’t realize that new nylon strings will go out of tune quickly on all ukuleles, even the highest quality ones, but once the strings get stretched the instrument stays in tune.
Overall, the LU-12 is easy to play, looks and sounds great, and is an excellent instrument for beginners.
- A special package deal includes a clip-on tuner, gig bag, instructional DVD and polishing cloth – a lot of value for the money
- Action may be high on some instruments
Kala’s Makala series of ukuleles is their starter series. Though they are inexpensive instruments, they are well-made and known for their excellent tone and playability.
The Kala MK-S Makala Soprano Ukulele is a well-crafted ukulele designed for beginners. It’s a 12-fret instrument that’s easy to play and has an excellent sound.
It has a body made of an inexpensive tonewood called agathis. This wood produces a beautiful clear sound while still keeping the price of this ukulele well under $100.
In addition to agathis body, the Kala MK-S Makala has a rosewood fingerboard and bridge and a mahogany neck. The ukulele overall has a rich nutty look that’s very attractive and comes with a satin finish.
The construction is solid without any noticeable defects. The action is set up quite low and is very playable right out of the box.
Highly recommended for beginners!
- Excellent clear sound and solid craftsmanship
- Some users complain of a buzzing sound on some frets, but this is not a widespread complaint.
Luna Guitars is a revered maker of all sorts of stringed instruments – acoustic and electric guitars, basses, banjos, bouzoukis, ukuleles, and more.
The Luna Guitars Tattoo Concert Mahogany Ukulele is one of a kind with its striking “tattoo” on the top of the instrument that’s drawn in a Hawaiian /Polynesian tattoo style.
This design is based on a Hawaiian turtle (honu) which is a symbol of longevity and endurance. This tattoo has a swirling pattern which makes it a very eye-catching instrument. The design is laser-etched, so it’ll never wear away.
You can also find some additional design elements around the rosette, which is a nice touch.
Outside of its visual appeal, you might notice that this instrument has more frets than the previous 3 ukuleles. This is because it is a concert ukulele with 18 frets.
The top and neck of this ukulele are made of mahogany, but the fretboard is made of rosewood.
It produces a full-bodied yet warm tone and is easy to play.
- The design is unusual with a Hawaiian /Polynesian
- It comes with Aquila strings and a basic gig bag
- It’s a very durable instrument due to its mahogany construction.
- The gig bag is not substantial enough to prevent damage if it gets hit.
- The wood is thin so care must be taken not to damage it.
Cordoba is a ukulele manufacturer that utilizes traditional guitar construction techniques in crafting ukuleles. The results are excellent sounding and well-made instruments that should last for decades.
Cordoba designed the Protégé U100CM Concert Ukulele to be a beginner-level instrument but with a rich tone and excellent playability.
The Protégé U100CM is made of mahogany with a rosewood bridge and fingerboard, and the rosette in the center features a mother-of-pearl design that’s very attractive.
This is also a ukulele that’s easy to play and comes with a satin finish.
Also included is a standard concert-sized gig bag.
- This instrument has a very high-quality construction.
- The mahogany construction provides a huge sound that is also warm –
- It’s a very lightweight instrument; it only weighs a little more than four pounds.
- It can ship with glue marks, which can take away from the aesthetics of the instrument.
- The action (the distance of the strings to the fretboard) may be high which makes playing it a bit more challenging. This can be adjusted though.
We hope that this guide has helped you in picking a ukulele that fits your needs.
Our reviews of the 5 best ukuleles for beginners priced under $100 should help you narrow down the choices.
Despite a relatively low price tag, these instruments are all good quality entry-level ukuleles that can provide years of enjoyment.