This guide was first published on Jun. 15, 2017 written by Mason Hoberg and last updated by Alexander Briones on Nov. 21, 2018.
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The ukulele has experienced somewhat of a resurgence in recent years. It’s trademark bouncy and uplifting tone has proven to be an asset for everyone from young up starts to experienced singer-songwriters, be it at home or on the stage. Judging by the last few years, its prevalence won’t diminish anytime soon.
Good quality acoustic-electric ukuleles are becoming more accessible price wise, and the best of them are featured here, based on the most current reviews and ratings data up to November of 2018.
Before we get started, every ukulele below has an accompanying video. These videos do a good job of showing off the tonal characteristics of an instrument, but every instrument can sound good if it’s played by a professional and recorded with high-quality equipment. This means that the sound you get from these instruments while playing them may not be exactly what you hear in the videos. .
- The Best Acoustic Electric Ukuleles
- Want to Buy the Best Acoustic Electric Ukulele? Here’s What You Need to Know
The Best Acoustic Electric Ukuleles
Kmise Hawaii Concert Acoustic-Electric Ukulele
With its solid top construction and built-in electronics, the Kmise Hawaii Concert ukulele gives you quite a lot of return for the cheap price tag that it carries.
To be more specific, this one sports a solid spruce top, something that you'll be hard pressed to find in the entry level market. And it's not just valuable because it's crafted from solid wood, it is also sought after for the sound quality that it adds to stringed instruments. In addition, it also comes equipped with active electronics that include a pickup and preamp system complete with built-in EQ. It also features bone nut and saddle, while most of the ukes in this price range come with plastic.
It would've been even better if Kmise addresses the tuning issues that some users report, but this is to be expected given the price.
At a Glance:
With its great value for money and continued positive market response, the Kmise Hawaii Concert Acoustic-Electric Ukulele is highly recommended for those with very tight budgets.
Cordoba 15CM-E Concert Acoustic-Electric Ukulele
Cordoba’s main focus is nylon string instruments, so the acoustic tone produced by the 15 CM-E is a step above many instruments in this price tier.
The uke produces a very warm and rich tone, which isn’t surprising due to its mahogany construction and concert-style body.
Note that the it does not have active electronics - this means you'll either need to get an acoustic preamp or an amp that supports passive pickups. Cordoba has a good track record for producing quality electronics. The amount of gear you can use will be limited, but once you find something you can use you’ll get a better tone than you would out of similarly priced ukes.
At a Glance:
The Cordoba 15CM-E is a great sounding instrument for the price, and while it does use a passive pickup the amplified tone is comparable to that of more expensive instruments.
Epiphone Les Paul Acoustic-Electric Ukulele
While the Epiphone Les Paul Acoustic-Electric Ukulele does have a unique body shape, the instrument sounds like any other ukulele in this price tier.
The top of the ukulele is made from a laminated maple and the back and sides are made from mahogany. This instrument has a clear voice, and considering the materials utilized in its construction has a respectable tone.
The only drawback of the Epiphone Les Paul Acoustic-Electric Ukulele is that its electronics are passive, so you’re either going to need an aftermarket acoustic preamp or an amp/P.A. that supports passive pickups. This uke also doesn’t have any controls for volume or tone, which somewhat limits its utility.
At a Glance:
The Epiphone Les Paul Acoustic-Electric Ukulele has a unique appearance, though it’s let down by its limited electronics.
Kala KA-CE Satin Mahogany Concert Acoustic-Electric Ukulele with EQ
Mahogany is widely used in ukuleles because of the warmth that it adds to the sound. Kala puts this wood in good use with the KA-CE, with its all mahogany body.
Its mahogany body gives it a very traditional vibe, while extras like the white binding accentuates its classic appeal even more. For plugging in, Kala equipped the KA-CE with a Omega II piezo pickup, along with an active preamp that has 2-Band EQ and a Chromatic LED tuner. According to specifications, the preamp runs on 2 CR2032 Coin Batteries for a over 100+ hours depending on use.
While many users commend its looks and tone, there are a few complaints about its capacity to keep itself in tune.
Kala KA-CGE Gloss Mahogany Concert Acoustic-Electric Ukulele
The price tier occupied by the Kala KA-CGE ($150+) is where you start to see a significant increase in quality over beginner instruments. But not everyone is deemed as worthy of the price as this mahogany body concert shape uke from Kala.
While this ukulele has a very warm tone as expected from mahogany body ukuleles, this one is more resonant and packs a bit more volume acoustically. In addition, this uke also comes with an active pickup system as well as an onboard tuner.
The preamp unit used is the Shadow Nano-Flex EQ System, which is an active preamp that gets a lot of good reviews overall. The electronics are a definite step ahead of those in this price range, so if you’re looking to gig with the ukulele consistently the KA-CGE is a just as good of an option as the Cordoba or Luna options we have recommended in this guide.
At a Glance:
The Kala KA-CGE is one of the cheapest ukuleles that would be suitable for regular gigging. It sounds much better than a beginner ukulele, though those who will only play the instrument occasionally likely won’t benefit much from it.
Luna Guitars High-Tide Koa Concert Acoustic-Electric Ukulele
This uke has been received very positively, though there is some confusion as to whether or not it has a solid top, or if it is purely laminate. The Amazon storefront says “Solid Koa”, the website doesn’t state one way or another, and this forum features a post by a user who reportedly spoke with a representative of Luna who said that the ukulele was made entirely from laminated wood.
While the ukulele’s construction is unclear, one thing that’s for certain is that this uke is a good value instrument. Regardless of what wood was used, virtually every review states that the uke has a really warm and traditional tone when played acoustically. The uke’s active pickup system offers a 2-band EQ as well as a volume control.
At a Glance:
The Luna Guitars High-Tide Koa Concert ukulele is a great value for the dedicated ukulele player. It has an active pickup system, and it may be made from solid wood (the description is unclear). Though, like other instruments in this price range, if you’re only going to be playing occasionally you should go with a cheaper option.
Kala KA-JTE 2TS Archtop Tobacco Burst Tenor Acoustic-Electric Ukulele
The Kala KA-JTE 2TS applies the tried and tested appeal of classic stringed instruments into a ukulele, to the point that it looks more like a miniature jazz guitar with its archtop design and F holes.
But make no mistake, it remains true to the sound and playability of a tenor ukulele, with a body featuring spruce for the top and mahogany for the back and sides. Other features include a walnut fingerboard and pearloid binding. For its electronics, Kala equipped this nice looking ukulele with the equally impressive Shadow Active Nano-Flex EQ System.
Exquisite and flashy are two descriptions that nicely summarizes market sentiment over the Kala KA-JTE 2TS, both applying to its look and sound.
Want to Buy the Best Acoustic Electric Ukulele? Here’s What You Need to Know
To find the best electric ukulele there is a ton of information you’re going to need to know. Things like tonewood, size, and the type of pickup used all have an impact on your tone. So, don’t make a blind purchase. Take the time to read through this section, because the information it contains will give you the tools you need to find the best acoustic electric ukulele for your situation.
For this article we’ve focused on the two most versatile ukulele body types: tenor and concert. However, we have describe all five of the most commonly found sizes in a separate guide titled: The Different Ukulele Sizes Explained. That way if you choose to purchase a ukulele that’s not on this list you’ll know the pros and cons of each body type.
Scale length is the distance between the nut and the bridge - it basically describes the length of the strings. It impacts both the tone of the strings and the force required to play them. The longer the scale length the more the top resonates (which increases volume), though a longer scale length can somewhat reduce warmth.
The scale lengths for the main body styles are as follows:
- Soprano/Pineapple: 13-14 in.
- Concert: 15-16 in..
- Tenor: 17-18 in..
- Baritone: 19-20.in
One of the most important things to consider when looking at a ukulele is the wood it’s made from, as the acoustic tone of a ukulele is heavily influenced by the woods used in its construction. Most affordable ukuleles are made from mahogany, but should you choose to upgrade at some point in the future you should be aware of the pros and cons of different tonewoods.
The tonewoods below are commonly used in ukuleles, but it should be noted that there’s a variety of woods used by manufacturers and luthiers. So, if a uke is made from a wood you don’t recognize look up the properties of the tonewood in question before you make your purchase.
Before we really get into discussing tonewoods, it should be stated that the characteristics of different tonewoods are up for debate. Just as importantly, they only influence the tone of an instrument; they don’t decide it. Knowing the effect of different tonewoods is good information to have, but don’t assume that just because an instrument is made from one wood or another it’s going to have a certain sound.
Ukuleles have traditionally been made from koa. Because of this, if you’re looking for the quintessential ukulele tone you’ll most likely be pleased with an instrument made from koa.
The sound is considered to be very direct, with less overtones than other woods. It emphasizes mid-range frequencies. Koa is also regarded as one of the most aesthetically pleasing tonewoods, though this is of course a matter of personal preference.
Mahogany has a similar response to koa, though it’s regarded to have more warmth. While mahogany may not be as attractive as koa, some of the best ukuleles in the world are made from mahogany. A notable example of a high-end ukuleles made from mahogany would be those manufactured by Martin.
Cedar and Redwood
Cedar and redwood are both warmer than mahogany, though some consider this tone wood to be less focused. This means that they’re great for strumming, but they may not be the best choice for those of you looking to play more complicated music.
Another thing to be aware of is that ukuleles made from cedar or redwood won’t cut through a mix as well as those made from a tonewood with a more focused tone, so if you plan on playing in an ensemble you may want to look at ukes made from mahogany, koa, or rosewood, unless you are using an amplifier.
Rosewood and ovangkol are closely related woods that offer a rich and clear tone. The woods are considered to produce very glassy (not piercing) highs and full-bodied yet articulate lows.
Rosewood and ovangkol have the potential to sound brittle when used in smaller instruments, depending on the construction. So be sure to play a rosewood/ovangkol ukulele before you buy it (or at least look up sound samples) to decide whether you’re going to like the focused tone of an instrument made from one of these woods.
Laminate vs. Solid Wood
A solid wood instrument is exactly what it sounds like: an instrument made from a solid piece of wood. Laminated wood instruments are made from thin sheets of wood that are glued and then pressed together. Solid wood instruments resonate more than their laminate counterparts, which results in a louder and more harmonically rich instrument. Solid wood instruments also reflect the properties of the wood used to a greater degree than laminated instruments.
While laminate instruments may not sound as rich as those made from solid wood, they are more affordable. Laminate instruments are also more durable, which makes them a good fit for beginning musicians who may not yet know how to properly care for an instrument.
Type of Pickups
The two main types of acoustic pickups you’re going to encounter are: piezos and soundboard transducers. Piezo pickups are cheap to produce, though they do have a tendency to produce a quaky-honking tone unless they’re carefully EQ’d. Soundboard transducers create a more natural sounding tone, but they tend to be more expensive.
Both transducers and piezo pickups have their strengths. Piezo pickups have the capability to sound great while still being affordable, and while transducer pickups may offer a more organic tone the difference between a good transducer and a good piezo (that’s properly EQ’d, of course) is negligible during a live performance.
Active vs. Passive Pickups
Two terms that you’re going to see pop up a lot while looking for an acoustic electric ukulele are: active pickup and passive pickup. Put in layman’s terms, passive pickups produce a weak electric signal while an active pickup produces a stronger one.
A passive pickup needs an external power supply in order to produce a signal that’s strong enough for live applications, while an active pickup already has a power supply (a battery). Passive pickups can be plugged directly in to a P.A. or amplifier, but the results will depend on the features of the amp or P.A. in question. Passive pickups produce an anemic and flat tone when the signal isn’t boosted. Some amps do take passive pickups into account, though because many don’t you’re more limited if you use an instrument with passive pickups - in this case you will need an acoustic preamp.
Best Acoustic Electric Ukulele Selection Methodology
For this update, we examined the most popular options, priced under $300, available at major online music gear retailers and added the 19 of the most promising to our music gear database for further analysis. We collected information from reviews and comments in forums, online stores and videos, including the most recent ones up to November of 2018. We then processed the information via the Gearank Algorithm to produce the scores out of 100 that you see above. For more information about this process see How Gearank Works.