Buying a Good Quality Inexpensive Ukulele
You don’t need an expensive or hand-made ukulele from someone like me, but you do need a good quality instrument--one that is easy to play, stays in tune, and sounds good. Finding a good ukulele for much less than $150 and up can be a challenge. There are a lot of cheap but junky ukes. Most of these are plagued by high string action, string slots that are too high at the nut, cheap tuning machines, etc. But there are a few really good ones available for surprisingly little money. I suggest a few here.
When buying a uke, you need to be aware that some have traditional style tuning pegs; others have guitar-style geared tuning machines. Unless you are a purist or are looking at old collectible ukes, you want the guitar-style tuners with gears. The geared ratio make tuning and staying in tune a whole lot easier than the straight through the neck pegs.
Here are a few that I recommend by make and model because I’ve played them and own several of them (The Classic and a couple of Makalas). And yes, I do mostly play ukes I’ve built myself. But ukes are like potato chips; it’s hard to stop at only one. It’s also handy to have an inexpensive spare or two around the house as a loaner for unwitting visitors or to take on a camping trip without having to worry too much about getting it rained on or eaten by badgers.
I’m sure there are other good ones out there, but I recommend these from personal experience. If I come across others I’ll add them to the list.
“The Classic” Uke
This is my first choice for a low-cost, well-made uke. Empire Music in Canada sells these. Empire ships to the U.S. with no problems. These guys specialize in instruments for schools and teachers and therefore have made it their business to find good, playable ukes at low cost.
I especially recommend “The Classic” uke, which they sell for about $50 in concert size and $60 in Tenor
size. Specify the one with guitar-style tuning machines and tell them you want it set up for C tuning. This is a really nice instrument – much better than many I’ve seen for twice the price.
The Kala “Makala” Uke
These are pretty widely available and are made in soprano, concert, and tenor sizes. Kala also makes more expensive ukes, but they market the Makala series as their low-cost product line. These should cost about $50 - $75, depending on body size. The link below is for Ukes.com. It’s worth a look at this web site just to see the large variety of ukes available from various manufacturers in prices ranging from $50 into the thousands. Although I’ve listed this web site because it has such a big selection, you can find Makala ukes at many local music stores.
Compared to the “Classic” uke (above), the Makala concert model has a longer neck (it joins the body at the 14th fret instead of the 12th). This doesn’t make much practical difference unless you’re planning to shread lead guitar licks. .
These plastic-bodied ukes are really very playable and actually sound pretty good. They are made in two basic models: the soprano size “Flea” and the concert size “Fluke.” For either model these are going to be $200 or more--though I’ve Googled and seen some of the Flea models offered for $170 or so. In that price range there are many other good ukes also. Their plastic bodies make them somewhat more amenable to beach or camping trips than a traditional wooden ukulele. I also mention these Fluke Ukes because they are made in many colors, many with colorful images of Hawaiian-style gods etc.—so they look good—at least if you’re into over-the-top gaudy good. Also they are designed with flat bottoms, giving them a built-in stand. I list the manufacturer’s site below so you can see the range of choices, but I see these in many music stores. I know that in my neck of the woods The Music Emporium in Lexington, Mass. carries them and there may be other local dealers also.