You’ve been taking lessons for a while and you know that you plan to stick with the ukulele. To celebrate – and to enjoy your playing even more – you’ve decided that it’s time for an search for the best ukulele under $500 budget.
The good news is that you have plenty of amazing instruments to choose from. And in a way, that’s bad news too: There are so many great ukuleles on the market now that it can be tough to make a decision.
Quick Look at Our Top Picks:
- Best Soprano Ukulele Under $500: Luna High Tide Koa Acoustic/Electric Soprano Ukulele
- Best Concert Ukulele Under $500: Oscar Schmidt OU5 Concert Ukulele
- Best Tenor Ukulele Under $500: Fender Montecito Tenor Ukulele
- Best Baritone Ukulele Under $500: Flight NUB 310 Baritone Ukulele
- Best Ukuleles for Intermediate and Advanced Player: Kala Ziricote Ukulele
Luna High Tide Koa Acoustic/Electric Soprano Ukulele
- Looks incredible
- Has a very bright, sunny sound
- Excellent quality overall
- Might need to change setup; as with many other ukuleles purchased online, string height may need to be adjusted to suit your preference
If you’re thinking about playing for an audience at some point, then you’re probably going to want an acoustic/electric ukulele. This one from Luna is incredible, with a koa wood top and body, rosewood binding for a touch of contrast, beautiful abalone inlays, pearloid open gear tuners, and 12 frets on the walnut fretboard. The bridge is walnut as well, and the neck is made with strong mahogany wood. The satin finish brings out the wood’s natural richness beautifully.
Soundwise, this ukulele is full and rich, with plenty of sweetness to keep you playing. There’s plenty of clarity and lots of sustain whether you’re playing acoustic or plugged in. High-quality electronics including a Luna RD-0904TL preamp make for a pleasant audience experience. An onboard tuner adds convenience. The nut measures 1 5/16th inches, and scale length is 13.5 inches. A gig bag is included, along with Aquila Super Nylgut strings.
Oscar Schmidt OU5 Concert Ukulele
A beautiful instrument from every angle! The Oscar Schmidt OU5 concert ukulele is made with select Hawaiian Koa wood, and offers a glossy finish, which is easily maintained using the accompanying polishing cloth. Grover chrome tuning machines add convenience. The nyatoh neck supports a contrasting rosewood fingerboard, and the mustache style bridge is also made with rosewood. An abalone rosette and abalone binding add to this uke’s visual appeal.
This ukulele offers a 15 inch scale length and 16 frets. The nut and saddle are made with durable ABS. The Oscar Schmidt OU5 nut width is 1 7/16 inches. This ukulele offers a rich, deep tone with plenty of volume and all the sweetness you’ve come to expect from a quality concert uke. Overall, this is one of the best concert ukuleles available in the mid-range department, and it’s one of the prettiest at this level as well.
- Good Value
- Exceptional quality for the price
- True Hawaiian sound
- Not quite as nice as a Kamaka or a KoAloha
Fender Montecito Tenor Ukulele
- Looks great and creates beautiful tone
- Unique sound, ideal for playing different music styles
- Fun to learn, and you can create some very interesting effects
- Best for medium to slow songs; fast ones can sound a bit fuzzy
Fender fans, rejoice! The Fender Montecito tenor ukulele is sure to please, from its shapely telecaster-style headstock complete with vintage-style tuners to its genuine bone nut and saddle. This incredible uke will make you look twice, not just because it’s so pretty, but because of its solid koa top, koa wood back, and koa sides.
Did we say koa? Yes! The no-tie bridge is a nice touch, and the abalone binding and rosette lends an added bit of island distinction.
Aquila strings are included, but you’ll want to upgrade to a better bag if this is your choice.
This ukulele is easy on the eyes, but how does it sound? The genuine bone and saddle make for excellent intonation but that’s just the beginning.
Expect applause, because it offers ample sustain, plenty or richness and warmth, and enough projection to please audiences at your favorite acoustic venue. All things considered, this is probably the best tenor ukulele we’ve seen lately, particularly at this price point.
Kala Ziricote Ukulele
- Beautiful, unique appearance
- Rich sound with good projection
- Best-in-class components
- Glossy finish looks amazing but does pickup fingerprints
Looking for something different? Kala’s Ziricote ukuleles are incredible in terms of appearance, sound, and overall quality particularly considering the prices, which hover around the $200-$300 mark depending on the size you choose. These ukuleles are made with exotic ziricote wood, which offers a dramatic appearance with fine grain lines, occasional swirls, and other visually pleasing patterns. The most interesting thing about this wood is the contrast between the dark, mature wood and the pale sapwood at the center. This gives every ziricote ukulele a gorgeous, distinctive appearance that never fails to fetch compliments.
Kala’s ziricote ukuleles feature glossy finishes that make the most of the wood’s characteristics. All have walnut fingerboards, GraphTech NuBone® nuts and saddles, and attractive black binding. They come with Aquila Super Nylgut strings, which contribute nicely to the full, rich, resonant sound. Soprano, Concert, Tenor, and Baritone.
Flight NUB 310 Baritone Ukulele
- Built to last a lifetime
- Exquisite sound
- Best for medium to slow songs
The Flight NUB 310 Baritone Ukulele is fairly new to the U.S. market, but don’t let that stop you from adding it to your shortlist! This gorgeous uke is made with reddish-brown sapele wood, which is closely related to mahogany. Hand-drawn, laser-engraved rosettes add a touch of artful interest.
This ukulele features a rosewood bridge, an okoume neck, and a walnut fingerboard for stable intonation and a fantastic feel. The nut and saddle are made from real bone instead of plastic. It offers fairly low action right out of the box, and the geared tuners add even more value. A padded gig bag is included.
The Flight NUB 310 has 19 frets, and it measures just a touch over 1.49 inches at the nut. We’re impressed by the number of position markers on this uke: You’ll find them at the 5th, 7th, 10th, 12th, 15th, and 17th frets. An arched back lends even more fullness to this ukulele’s beautiful, rich tone.
What Should You Look For When Buying a Ukulele Under $500
A good ukulele offers easy playability once it has been set up. This means that the frets are level, any sharp edges have been filed off, and the action as been adjusted to the correct level for the player.
Even average ukuleles can be rendered playable with some careful attention; better ones feel amazing in the hands and let you relax into the music. The less work you have to do to make your new ukulele playable, the better!
Type of Materials Used
Materials contribute to a ukulele’s sound, quality, and durability so it’s important to take construction into consideration instead of relying on appearance alone.
The most expensive custom ukes are often made with fine woods such as Hawaiian Koa. This wood rarely makes its way into mid- to lower- priced ukuleles.
These are typically made with mahogany, acacia, cedar, maple, walnut, and other more common woods. Some ukuleles are made with laminate, which improves aesthetics but doesn’t help with sound.
Still, you can get a nice sound from a laminate ukulele – this shouldn’t be a dealbreaker, particularly if the rest of the components are of good quality. If you love a certain ukulele and you think it’s the one for you, go for it!
Laminate does resist cracking, so this might even be a desirable characteristic depending on how you plan to handle and store your ukulele.
Check out the neck, the fretboard, the bridge, the tuners, the frets, and the binding/purfling as well as any inlays, too.
Most ukuleles use a hard, durable wood for the neck, such as mahogany. Many manufacturers opt for traditional rosewood at the bridge and fretboard as it produces a pleasant sound, and chrome tuners are the norm.
You may already know if you prefer geared tuners or friction tuners. Both have positive aspects to offer, but most players have a preference. You may want to do a little bit of research and try both varieties if you’re not sure which type you like best.
Many mass-produced ukuleles are “pretty good” and they can be improved by adding better strings or adjusting the setup.
In case your budget can’t quite support one of the best baritone ukuleles on the market, you can easily weed out the terrible ones by checking for common problems like warping, splitting, incorrect fret positioning, faulty bridge position, and other obvious defects. Music stores must protect their reputations and won’t normally carry low-quality ukuleles.
If you’re buying online, look to see what reviewers have to say about the instruments they’ve tried, and check to see whether the seller or manufacturer offers a warranty or a quality guarantee of some kind. Even if you’re buying a cheap baritone ukulele, you don’t want to waste your money on something you won’t be able to play.
Baritone ukuleles normally have scale lengths between 18 and 23 inches. Vintage models tend to be a bit shorter while newer ones typically land a touch over 20 inches. The scale length matters because it contributes to the ukulele’s sound as well as its overall size.
In general, a longer scale length will ring out quite a bit more than a shorter one.
Scale length is a matter of personal preference rather than a marker of quality. Most players prefer more ring, which is why most baritone ukuleles have a longer scale length.