So you’re ready to step up from your beginner uke, or maybe just looking for a different sound, or maybe you want to jump into the ukulele world with something more than a “starter” instrument. Using price as a guide, you’re probably looking for something in the $100–$200 range—not a cheapie, but not a Jake Shimabukuro custom instrument, either. No matter the reason, it’s clear that you’ve got “the itch,” and it needs to be scratched.
There are a few things to consider in this quest, including material (mahogany is the most popular but the options have exploded in recent years), size (soprano, concert, tenor, or baritone), tone (wood types, solid vs laminated, etc.), and features (electronics, design, looks, hardware). Here’s a list of the ukuleles under $200 that we have covered in the past couple years to help you narrow down your search.
Features: How about a ukulele made from grass? Kala’s Exotics series includes a model with a solid top, back, sides, neck, fingerboard, open headstock, and bridge made from bamboo, which is technically a grass but acts here like a lightweight, resonant hardwood. It has Kala’s signature tenor shape—immediately identifiable by its plump lower bout—and an “au nautral” look. It gives a bright presence overall, with a snappy, crisp high end, and fat lows. It’s one of the most affordable solid bamboo ukes on the market.
Features: Luna is known for its “tattoo” uke designs, and they’ve sort of applied that here. The transparent head gives us a clear look at the pattern laser-etched into the maple resonator of this lightweight banjolele. The concert-scale mahogany neck has a 20–fret rosewood fingerboard bound with faux-tortoiseshell. It gives that basic meat-and-potatoes banjo-ukulele tone that many may look for as a new flavor for creativity.
Cordoba Spruce Top
Features: Cordoba is a well-known maker of classical guitars, and it shows here. The back, sides, and headstock veneer are laminated spalted maple. The new 2020 iteration of the 24 series swaps cedar tops for spruce, giving it a balanced, ringing sound with clear definition, especially when fingerpicking. There’s also an electric, cutaway version of this model available.
Fender Fullerton Tele
Model: Fullerton Telecaster Ukulele
Features: Electric guitarists rejoice: here’s a Telecaster-shaped ukulele that sounds and feels good. While its laminated mahogany body, laminated spruce top, and walnut fingerboard sound swell acoustically, the onboard Fishman electronics make it shine plugged into an amp. This is an update/upgrade to Fender’s previously Telecaster-shaped effort, the Ukulele ’52.
Features: A few years ago, Lanikai took a hard look at its ukulele designs and made some positive changes. This year saw the release of several high-quality instruments, including an affordable oak series. The wide grain is bookmatched on the top, sides, and back. It is available in sizes from soprano to baritone. It comes with chrome, open-back tuners and pre-installed strap buttons, and has a natural, woody tone and satin finish.
Amahi Tiger Maple
Features: Flamed maple usually leads to visuals of violins or expensive Les Paul guitars, but this all-maple stunner might be a catalyst for change. The yellow wood is attractive on its own, and it contrasts nicely with the abalone rosette and binding, as well as walnut bridge and fingerboard (with cool cats-eye fret inlays). The neck is on the thicker side, as is the body, but it’s still eminently playable. It gives off a warm, sweet tone, not overly woody or punchy.
Enya Carbon Orange
Model: Nova U Carbon Orange
Retail: $89 (acoustic)–$189
Features: This uke is not made of wood, but a mix of carbon fiber and plastic. That means it will withstand weather, temperature, and humidity, as well as human clumsiness. It plays on the quiet side of the spectrum, with a throaty tone that sounds almost compressed. The tone is not woody, but it does deliver a resonant and musical sound, along with a surprising amount of sustain. The optional AcousticPlus pickup system makes this uke really shine. You can add reverb and chorus to the acoustic sound, but it doesn’t amplify the overall volume of the uke; it adds in the effects and stretches out the decay of notes, smoothing out the overall sound into a ukulele wall of sound. Comes with extras like a case, strap, and more.
Ibanez X 2
Model: UEW13MEE (ebony), UEW15E (light mahogany)
Features: Here’s a pair of ukes with identical features, but different tonewoods. Both include Ibanez electronics with an undersaddle pickup and onboard preamp with a control panel that includes a volume knob, and bass and treble tone controls, Grover open-gear tuners, an onboard chromatic tuner, okoume neck topped with a purpleheart fingerboard, and a cutaway body style. The light-colored natural model (UEW15E) has an African mahogany top, back, and sides. The mahogany is bookmatched on top and back. The dark brown model (UEW13MEE) has a body made from laminated Macassar ebony with a white binding and black and white rosette pop. These robust ukuleles perform at their best plugged in, with the preamp giving a balanced woody tone and the silent piezo pickup conveying the right amount of percussion and string noise.
Features: Orangewood is a newer company (2017) that only sells online. This Juno tenor uke is made from laminated acacia on the back, top, and sides, and includes an abalone rosette and white binding, with a satin finish in a cutaway body style. The neck is okoume, an African hardwood substitute for mahogany, and the fretboard and bridge are laurel. It includes an active pickup with bass, treble, and volume controls. Padded gig bag included.
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