What's the difference between a $20 ukulele and a $1000 ukulele

[Read the post]

1 Like

About $980?


$20 ukes are pretty terrible, but you don’t have to pay $1000 for a good one.


There are ukuleles in the $100-200 range that sound a lot better than a $20 one and not that much worse than the $1,000 option.

Source: my daughter’s ukulele, with which she plays both classical and ragtime pieces as well as the usual mix.


I think him showing the $1000 uke was just to give the most amount of contrast possible as far as what the price range changes the way the music is heard and played.

I’d seen the video a couple of days before and it’s neat. Of course the $20 uke won’t be the best, but it’s definitely good enough for anyone that just wants to play or learn. I’m actually in the process of learning how to play myself, it’s a bit daunting but i’m glad that the barrier of entry for ukeleles is fairly low.


The “holding a tune” thing? It’s pretty important. We have a toy uke like that one and while sure you can play a tune on it, I have to re-tune it literally every few minutes. So it’s kind useless.

You can get a uke which will hold a tune and sound decent for a very reasonable amount. Buying the $20 uke might be more of a pain than it’s worth. IMHO.

“You can still play a tune” isn’t quite the ringing endorsement. :wink:

1 Like

Pretty much. I have literally played every single instrument in the world without exception, and similar to wine (which ihave had every bottle of in the world) there is a rapid diminished return based on price.

With ukes, since their tone board is so small good strings are the critical path for tone. Oh, and upgrade your tuners. And koa wood, while doesn’t sound better, is gooooorgeous.

Source: I have sold more ukes than most people have ever seen.



Seriously, please don’t think you can spend $20 and get a decent uke that will sound nearly as good as an expensive one. I have three ukes, ranging in cost from about $100 upwards to $1,000. If you put decent strings on a lower end uke, it will sound better. But you really need to spend $100 or more to get an entry level uke that will be suitable for a beginner. If you enjoy the instrument, you can always buy a higher end model later on. But a $20 laminated uke with fishing line string is not the instrument to buy.

1 Like

That’s fantastic. Don’t be daunted, and don’t be intimidated. I could give you a million anecdotes, but most importantly just rock your axe.


Violins especially. It’s interesting listening to violin owners trying to justify violins over the price of a good Yamaha without admitting it is all about showing how much money they have.
Modern violins are better than old ones but cheaper because we have so much better technology. Stradivarius would have killed for modern tools (including the ability to inspect wood with ultrasonics and x-rays) But the asset value must not be challenged.


Unfortunately, the base ukes don’t seem to come in any flavour of cheap. Wonder if it’s possible to replace the normal strings on a cheap one with silicone ones…


Yep!! I am a huge fan of old and ethnic instruments. Because they often do sound different. But better? A modern violin is leaps ahead in terms of tone, structure, tuning, volume, expression, and so on.

But I still love chamber music played on historically contemporary instruments for example.


It might depend on how it’s built? I’m not super familiar with restringing instruments, but i think a determined person could modify a cheap uke to take any kind of string they wanted.

I’d argue, at least in terms of classical guitars, that moving up in price most certainly does result in better sound and build quality of the instrument, but I’d say it conforms to the law of diminishing returns. My super-duper El Cheapo classical that was given to my Dad because he purchased some other instrument sounds alright but the build quality is…terrible. My sub $2k, hand-built classical from a luthier in NC has excellent sound and build quality that may not reach the pinnacles of perfection of a $5k or $10k instrument, but at that point, the differences in sound are so slight as to not matter. So from $0 to $500, the changes in quality and sound will be abundantly clear, whereas from $2k and up those differences are too slight to notice.

FWIW, Willie Nelson paid $750 for his guitar, “Trigger”, many years ago:

'I had a Guild guitar that I was playing. I had it laying on the stage there. I had the case open and some drunk stepped on it and busted it all to pieces. I called Shot Jackson in Nashville and said, 'You got any good guitars for sale up there, I just busted mine?' He said, 'I have this Martin N-20 that's a good guitar." I said, 'Do you think I'd like it?' He said, 'Well, it's a Martin, they don't make bad guitars.' I said, 'How much is it?' He said, '$750.' I had just bought a roping horse for $750. I said, 'Well, I guess that's the price of the day.' So I bought the guitar. I've had it ever since. It has the tone that I like. It has a Django-like tone. Django Reinhardt's my favorite guitar player. Any time I can hit a note that sounds anywhere near what he did, and I like it, so that's why I got so hooked on Trigger.'

This is a variation on an argument I have with friends all the time.

My position is: the musician and the music matters more than the instrument. There were times when Charlie Parker would hock his nice brass sax so he could score some heroin, then when he had a gig he could only afford a cheaper reso-plastic sax (like Ornette has on the cover of “Shape of Jazz to Come”)-- would you rather hear Bird playing on a plastic sax, or some hack playing on a nice Selmer? A plastic sax sounds different than brass, but does it really sound worse?

I have an Amigo “tenor uke”, which is really not standard tenor scale, and is kind of weirdly build for a uke (thick soundboard, huge bridge, shallow body), and yet it stays in tune, has proper intonation up the neck, and a unique sound, particularly when I use low-G strings and non-standard tunings. It was only $50 and I play it more than my other more expensive uke (though I guess with my modifications it’s not really a uke anymore.)


I would posit that some $20 ukes can be improved several-fold by new strings and new tuners, as long as the intonation and action are OK. So for an additional $20 you can have an instrument on par with a $100 uke. Admittedly this isn’t something a beginner would know how to undertake, but it can be done, and definitely depends on finding the right $20 uke.


I wonder how much difference in durability exists across the $20-$200-$1000 spectrum.

Not gonna fundamentally disagree. I could quibble with the price ranges but in the end it is pointless :smile:

CSB: I had a Spanish friend many years ago who was a classical guitar luthier in ~250 sq foot apartment in Paris. And he was insanely handsome, humble, and made exceptional guitars. I wanted to steal his life.


I can drive a nail with a $0 rock. It’s not much fun.

1 Like