Cheap ukuleles can be hit or miss: either it sounds as good as it looks, looks good but sounds bad, or neither sounds nor looks good. However, for people new to playing this quirky instrument, a budget ukulele (like my personal pick, the AKLOT AKS21 soprano ukulele) may be their only option, at least initially. So what’s a green ukulele musician to do?
I’ve put together this list to help beginners choose the best cheap ukulele to start their musical journey. So keep reading if that’s you or you’re gifting the uke to a loved one.
The 7 Best Cheap Ukuleles in 2022
Without further adieu, I present the most affordable ukuleles currently available. Every one of the ukes below strikes a nice balance between budget-friendliness and quality.
1. AKLOT AKS21 Soprano – Best Overall (4.8/5 stars)
The AKLOT AKS21 Soprano Ukulele is the best cheap ukulele available due to its solid craftsmanship and sound quality. It’s built with mahogany and features rounded edges that make it a dream to play.
Few cheap soprano ukuleles give their tuning gears a high-quality treatment. Thankfully, the AKS21 isn’t one of them. Unlike other cheap ukes, which use brass-plated zinc alloy for their gears, the gears on this ukulele are made with pure copper. As such, tuning it feels better, ensures the instrument stays tuned for longer, and completes the high-quality aesthetics.
Additionally, the uke’s action is much lower than standard, so you can play to your heart’s content without experiencing buzzing. Meanwhile, the uke’s special fret wire keeps scratches to a minimum, while the Aquila Nylgut strings make it comfortable to play while producing a sweet sound.
This soprano-size uke is very durable, too. Its mahogany neck contains a strengthened rib, preventing it from twisting due to humidity or stretching of string. In a normal scenario, the above two factors cause ukulele buzzing, but not so on this uke.
Moreover, it comes bundled with an instruction booklet, and you can also watch online ukulele lessons to build proficiency. Also, AKLOT provides extra accessories for beginners like spare strings, a strap, some picks, and a ukulele tuner, so you can get started practicing as soon as possible.
One thing I must mention about this uke is the edge of the frets are a little sharp, so take care while using it.
- High-quality brass-plated tuners
- Scratch-proof fret wires
- Instruction booklet included
- Frets are too sharp
2. Cordoba 15CM Concert – Runner-Up (4.5/5 stars)
Coming in second on my list of the best cheap ukuleles is the Cordoba 15CM concert ukulele. This instrument offers an amazing mix of excellent build quality (featuring a healthy helping of mahogany wood) and incredible sound. Also, players who like the idea of hand-crafted products will be happy to know Cordoba makes this uke by hand.
The top, back, and sides of the 15CM are made of mahogany, while an ivroid binding holds the fingerboard and body, giving the uke a touch of class.
However, gorgeous wood and craftsmanship aren’t the only reasons the 15CM is among the top cheap ukuleles. This concert uke is also the perfect gateway instrument for first-time uke players, thanks to a set of silver tuners with pearl buttons that make setting and maintaining a tune a piece of cake.
In addition, the 15CM comes with Aquila strings, which make playing it enjoyable and pain-free. Its fingerboard features 19 frets and some helpful markers for better adjustment. And this uke produces a rich sound even though it’s a four-string instrument.
If I have any criticism about this uke, it’s the strings. Unfortunately, eventually, you’ll have to replace them with better ones, as some notes fall flat when you pluck them.
- Silver tuners
- Ivroid binding around the fret and body
- Strings will need to be replaced
3. Diamond Head DU-150 Soprano – Best Value (4/5 stars)
The irony of identifying a product that offers the best value in a roundup of cheap products isn’t lost on me. However, the Diamond Head DU-150 soprano ukulele stands out as the most affordable ukulele that offers value for money.
This soprano uke is excellently crafted with high-quality materials. Its design features maple wood prominently, with a mahogany stain semi-gloss finish elevating the design further. While its neck and body are made of maple, its fingerboard and bridge are made with dark-stained hardwood, giving it a vintage yet classy look and feel.
Meanwhile, the DU-150 sports nickel-silver frets, giving it a low playing action. Its nylon strings are comfortable when plucked and easily emulate the pleasant sound of traditional Hawaiian musical instruments. Also, it comes with guitar-style tuners, which experienced guitar and ukulele players and beginners alike will find easy to tune.
Although you’ll commonly hear the word ‘toy’ thrown around during conversations about affordable ukes, the DU-150 sets itself apart with a pure sound enabled by other features like its white ABS nut and saddle and fingerboard position dots.
Unfortunately, expect to tune the DU-150 every time you sit down to play. This ukulele doesn’t stay in tune for long, which can be frustrating if you don’t enjoy tuning instruments.
- Most affordable
- Nickel-silver frets
- High-quality despite budget price range
- Needs frequent tuning
4. Donner Soprano – Most Beginner-Friendly (4/5 stars)
The Donner Soprano Ukulele is the most beginner-friendly ukulele on this list. It features a bridge that makes changing strings easy, with the bridge sporting a unique design (a sun logo).
Outside this uke’s bridge, we have a mahogany body and rosewood fingerboard that help this instrument produce a lovely sound. The strings are gentle to the touch and, when plucked, make this ukulele sing.
Additionally, Donner’s four-string soprano uke is lightweight, weighing 998 g. Its high-density bone nut and saddle work with the strings to give it a warm sound.
Regarding extras, you get a clip-on tuner, a gig bag, and other accessories to help you build proficiency. Meanwhile, beginners can watch online video lessons to learn how to get their uke going.
Two things I feel Donner should adjust to make their ukulele better are the straps and the lack of fret markers. This ukulele could do with buttons for the straps, while the fretboard could use some markers for better fret placement.
- Excellent for beginners
- Extremely lightweight
- Online lessons available
- Doesn’t have fret markers
5. Hola! HM-21 BU – Best for Kids (4/5 stars)
If you want to give a child their first ukulele, consider getting the Hola! HM-21 BU. This ukulele is the best option for kids, thanks to its diminutive size, finger-friendly strings, and assorted colors.
This ukulele stretches exactly 21 inches long, with its compact size ideal for carrying around. As such, the child will be more motivated to pick up and play than if they owned a heavier uke.
As one of the best budget ukuleles, the HM-21 BU incorporates some nice materials in its build, including a walnut fretboard and nato wood neck.
In addition to the ukulele, the child will get accessories like extra ukulele strings, three different-sized picks, a canvas carrying bag, and a strap with a hook. Moreover, if you know the recipient’s favorite color, you might be able to get an HM-21 BU that matches that shade.
This criticism might sound like a gripe, considering this list of the best cheap ukuleles, but I feel the manufacturers could’ve put a bit more into crafting the HM-21 BU. Unfortunately, it looks like a toy instrument compared to the other ukes on my list.
- Excellent choice for kids
- Available in different colors
- Comes with accessories
- Looks like a toy
6. Kala KA-15S Mahogany Soprano – Most Sturdy (4/5 stars)
Kala ukuleles are renowned for containing high-quality materials, and the Kala KA-15S mahogany soprano ukulele is a great example of their superior craftsmanship. This sturdy soprano ukulele features a mahogany body and neck that give it a full, deep sound, and a walnut fingerboard that completes its solid wood construction.
The Kala KA-15S has Aquila strings, which won’t hurt your fingers when plucked. Therefore, if you’re a beginner, you’ll have more incentive to keep practicing on this uke, as playing it will be a painless experience.
In addition to its comfortable strings, the KA-15S has twelve brass frets that are marked to reinforce learning in beginner players. Furthermore, its geared tuners make tuning the instrument easy, encouraging learners to sharpen their skills by tuning to their specifications.
With that said, I wasn’t a huge fan of the tuners on this uke. Not only do they look and feel cheap, but they also don’t tune the instrument well. Difficult tuning can be frustrating for beginners, so steer clear if that’s you or the person you’re buying for.
Like most soprano ukuleles, the KA-15S has a short scale length and a compact size that makes it easy to transport. Its frets are tightly spaced and tuned to the G C E A chords. In other words, guitar players will feel right at home traveling with this ukulele.
- Sturdy construction
- Aquila strings
- Great for guitar players
- Tuners look and feel cheap
7. Luna Tattoo Concert – Best Design (4/5 stars)
The Luno Tattoo Concert uke is a gorgeous instrument that features a massive tattoo in the style of Hawaiian body ornamentation. The pattern draws inspiration from sharks’ teeth and waves, giving it a distinct island vibe and making it the best design on this list.
For example, it’s unusual for inexpensive ukuleles to feature bronze in their design, yet Luna’s tattoo uke’s strings are made of the stuff. Also, this uke has a rosewood fingerboard that enhances its mahogany construction and gives it a nice warm look. Finally, the shark-tooth style markers for the frets add charm to an already beautiful design.
However, the Luna Tattoo is more than just good looks: it sounds amazing, too, and can produce a deep bass tone or a lush, warm tone depending on how it’s used.
When you purchase the deluxe accessory bundle for this ukulele, you get extras like a guitar stand with rubber feet, a guitar care kit, and a fibertique cleaning cloth.
The only thing I don’t like about this ukulele is how brittle it is. The wood is extremely thin, so it’s not the most durable uke you can buy.
- Gorgeous Hawaiian-style design
- Bronze strings
- Rosewood fingerboard
Factors to Consider When Choosing a Cheap Ukulele
Before settling on a cheap ukulele, there are several factors you’ll need to keep in mind. Let’s go over each one briefly.
The ukulele’s tuners determine how well it sounds. If you can adjust them easily, you’re halfway to producing great-sounding music. Moreover, if you’re new to playing ukuleles, good tuners will encourage you to keep growing as a student since you’ll be proud of your sounds.
Additionally, it’ll be great if the ukulele stays tuned to avoid the frustration of having to tune it every time you want to play. Good tuners will also increase the time you can spend practicing.
If you aren’t already aware, there are four sizes of ukuleles. From smallest to largest, they are soprano, concert, tenor, and baritone. Soprano ukes, being the smallest size, are ideal for children, players with small hands, and beginner ukulele players. Concert ukes are slightly larger than soprano ukes and produce a richer sound.
Meanwhile, a tenor ukulele is slightly larger than a concert one, and its sound is richer than both concert and soprano-type ukes. Finally, a baritone ukulele is the largest size uke you can buy. It’s pretty much a mini guitar and sounds like a guitar too.
Your choice of ukulele size will depend on your proficiency with the instrument. So, if you’re a beginner, start with the soprano size and work your way up to baritone as your playing improves.
As some of the ukuleles on my list show, just because a uke can be described as “cheap” doesn’t mean it’s put together with subpar materials. You can get ukuleles built with higher-quality materials like mahogany and copper for a reasonable price.
Additionally, as a beginner player, you should keep durability in mind if you intend to keep playing your instrument once you get more advanced. Even though some manufacturers put their cheap ukuleles together using good materials, it isn’t uncommon for some instruments to be extremely brittle and prone to breaking if handled roughly.
Unfortunately, discomfort is an inevitable part of learning any stringed musical instrument. However, that doesn’t mean you should resign yourself to finger blisters. Some quality ukuleles that fall into the cheap category come with nylon strings or Aquila Super Nylgut strings to promote comfortable playing.
Other than how a uke’s strings feel, you should also consider the sound they produce. If the instrument produces flat sounds when plucked, replacing the strings can help make a cheap ukulele sound better.
The way a manufacturer sets up a ukulele can affect easy playability. For example, if the strings are too low, you might experience buzzing, which will detract from your enjoyment. Conversely, if the strings are set too high, it may prove challenging to play.
Luckily, you can adjust a ukulele’s action (set up) to suit your playing needs. Some ukes even come with the tools needed for the job, meaning you can adjust it yourself if you’re proficient with a wrench.
Extras and Accessories
If you’re a beginner ukulele player, you’d be better off getting a uke that comes with a starter kit. These instruments include bundled extras like a gig bag, extra strings, and the like.
Additionally, some ukes include an instruction manual and helpful online lessons. These video resources may prove integral to your growth as a hobbyist ukulele player, so it’d help if your uke’s manufacturer provides them.
Ukuleles aren’t immune to defects and damage, which goes double for the cheapest ones. Therefore, ensure that your chosen ukulele offers a money-back guarantee or lifetime warranty. That way, if the uke breaks (due to no fault of yours), you can get a replacement or a full refund.
Even though you’re looking for a bargain when shopping for a cheap ukulele, it’s still important to pay attention to price as cheaper doesn’t equal better. Unscrupulous manufacturers may cut corners to offer a product at rock-bottom prices and not offer a warranty or money-back guarantee once you part with your money.
So that’s a wrap, folks! You now know the most wallet-friendly ukuleles currently for sale. My top pick for the best cheap ukulele is the AKLOT AKS21 soprano ukulele. If you recall, some factors to consider before buying a cheap ukulele include the product’s build quality and bundled accessories where appropriate.
The AKS21 knocks it out of the park on both fronts with its sturdy wood body construction and beginner-friendly starter kit. So, if you’re new to the world of ukuleles or buying for someone who is, the AKS21 is the one I recommend you get.