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View Full Version : Cheap ukes that pleasantly surprised you



bellgamin
11-24-2015, 09:12 PM
From amazon I recently bought a Kaka tenor uke with a solid spruce top. Got it for $99, to give to a neighbor's 7-year old kid. I hadn't yet realized the significance of the uke's name, but the kid did -- instantly. Said she didn't want a do-do uke & stalked off. Sheesh, what an ingrate..........

Later, her ~14 year old brother came over & asked me for the uke so I gave it to him. Good riddance. Several days later he brought the uke over to show me. He had sanded off the kaka, done a set-up, & re-strung it. He proudly played it for me. Hey! Pretty good sound for a cheap uke. Loud & sweet. Go figure!

Have any of you ever got an el-cheapo uke that surprised you at how good it played & sounded? Share your lucky tale!

kypfer
11-24-2015, 09:26 PM
If $99 is cheap, so are all my ukuleles ... not a dud amongst them ;)

PhilUSAFRet
11-24-2015, 11:44 PM
Got an Asmus for $60. Turned out to be all solid maple with a solid spruce top. It's a sound cannon. Sounds like it cost many hundreds of dollars more. Just needed a setup and had to smooth the fret ends.

Jim Hanks
11-25-2015, 01:39 AM
Kala SLNG longneck soprano was very pleasant. But it was setup and shipped by Mim so I wasn't really surprised.

RichM
11-25-2015, 02:05 AM
Kala SLNG longneck soprano was very pleasant. But it was setup and shipped by Mim so I wasn't really surprised.

+1 on the Kala SLNG. Bought one for my girlfriend as a cheap starter, and now I find myself stealing it from her.

La Perdrix
11-25-2015, 02:10 AM
the same with the Kala slng...
also love my SpongeBob pineapple...

Doc_J
11-25-2015, 02:39 AM
Got a vintage Silvertone mahogany baritone for $100 that really sings. I understand that this is just a Harmony uke that was made for Sears in the 50s/60s. The internation is perfect, but the action is really high . Still it's very playable.

Takamine made some great sounding mahogany laminates sold for under $99 dollars, A few years ago. They still pop up on the used market occasionally. I keep Takamine laminate tenor in my office.

uketanzon
11-25-2015, 02:43 AM
Pretty much any Ohana sounds good for their price point.

Rllink
11-25-2015, 03:01 AM
For two years now, I've been talking up my $65 Makala concert. I guess that didn't surprise me though.

Croaky Keith
11-25-2015, 03:15 AM
Makala seem to get good revues, that's why I went with them. :)

fitncrafty
11-25-2015, 03:17 AM
My plastic Waterman really surprised me. I had to have it because it is clear. It was $50. It sounds pretty good and made quite an impression at my uke meetup this month.

lakesideglenn
11-25-2015, 03:56 AM
Bought a 29.99 Mahalo smiley face a few yrs ago. Great setup and sound, perfect intonation right off the wall at Sam Ash. Gave it to my nephew about a yr ago and he plays it daily.

jollyboy
11-25-2015, 04:08 AM
+1 for Makala. Also really like the Korala Explore.

actadh
11-25-2015, 04:47 AM
Mine was the Zither Heaven. It has a unique sound.

It is easy on the fingers, so it is a good ukulele to pass around to introduce people to a ukulele.

The zither pin tuners instead of friction or geared tuners means little ones don't get it out of tune by twisting on the tuners - it needs a supplied tool to tune.

It is made in America and I was able to get it in interesting wood options - cherry and black walnut.

It makes a great office ukulele as it is little and stashes out of the way.

It makes a good car ukulele as it has a floating bridge, so no worries about it becoming unglued in a hot car.

stevepetergal
11-25-2015, 04:57 AM
Those old Harmony ukuleles with the plastic fretboard are very surprising. I like them more than any current Chinese sopranos.

Tootler
11-25-2015, 05:04 AM
Alic Soprano. Plastic body with laminate top and wood neck with plastic fingerboard. Influenced by Ovation & Magic Fluke Co. Looks more like a scaled down Ovation but construction more like a Flea. It cost me 45GB approx (I bought it from Germany so it was priced in Euros).

Intonation spot on good tone. Sounds a lot better than you've a right to expect from a ukulele at that price. Certainly puts the Schoenhut Flea copy in the shade. Some have concerns about the plastic fingerboard but I think that's a concern with any plastic ukulele. I think plastics are the way forward for getting low end ukes that are in tune and with decent intonation. I also have a Korala explore, concert scale but I don't think it sounds as good as the Alic. I've also briefly tried a Makala Waterman and was pleasantly surprised.

RichM
11-25-2015, 05:07 AM
I can't believe I forgot to mention my Mastro banjo uke. I play that thing constantly

Xtradust
11-25-2015, 05:11 AM
I've yet to play a Makala Pineapple that didn't sound nice. $49 new. I keep one in my car.

Inksplosive AL
11-25-2015, 07:22 AM
Bruce Wei solid acacia tenor bought for the price of shipping $60? plus the under $20 bid I want to say $17.50. At first I thought it heavy and overbuilt until I pulled everything out to compare to a Koaloha I acquired. Its voice is as sweet as the Koaloha and the small crack was easy to repair, silly me I was new to humidity control.

On the flip side the Walnut soprano I bought for $99 plus $55-$60 shipping Ive never been happy with. It is extremely quiet so quiet I have a pickup and EQ waiting to install if I ever get the itch.

Turns out I'm not very fond of anything bigger than a soprano.

85824 85825

kdmccullum
11-25-2015, 08:06 AM
Kala KA-SLNG......love it. And my daughter loves it so much she stole it from me. HMS setup made it perfect.

bassballz
11-25-2015, 08:19 AM
Picked this cheapie up on a whim a couple years ago. It hangs in the office next to my desk. Neck feels good in my hands, well intonated, great projection and chime, always very close to being in tune whenever I grab it.
Biggest return on low investment...
85831

Pueo
11-25-2015, 11:48 AM
Well I know many people here do not seem to like them but the Epiphone Les Paul I picked up with a coupon for $85.
I bought it just because of the way it looked, and I did not even have the opportunity to play it first because I wanted the vintage, not cherry, finish and Guitar Center did not have those in stock so they drop-shipped one to my house.
I guess I got lucky because mine plays very well, and the quality of the build and fit and finish are superb.
The sound, especially acoustic, is not anything special at all, but it plays well and feels good, and I can plug it in, crank up the gain and have fun shredding on ukulele. That is worth the price of admission alone.
The wood on mine is quite nice, and the finish is better than on a couple of my ukuleles that cost hundreds more.
All in all, very happy with it and I find myself playing it more often than I originally thought I would.

mikelz777
11-25-2015, 11:56 AM
My Lanikai LU-21C. I got the uke, zippered hard case, tuner and cleaning cloth for $100. The action was horrible but a local guitar shop lowered the action and now it plays like a breeze plus I think it sounds pretty good too. It doesn't compete with my Ohana or Pono sound-wise but for whatever reason, I think it might have the best feel of the three.

BigD
11-25-2015, 01:27 PM
Makala pineapple. Threw some martins on there and since has more than likely gotten more play time than everything else. Fun, easy to play with a good "snappy" sound.

Pueo
11-25-2015, 02:02 PM
I just remembered I made a Seasons video with it!
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H0MdptE5vlk

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H0MdptE5vlk

cpmusic
11-25-2015, 05:11 PM
I've got a few, but the one that surprises me most is a Gretsch long-neck soprano on which I made a clunky repair for the dished top. It doesn't look so great, but it's sweet and fairly loud despite my alleged handiwork, and I like its chunky neck. I leave this one out next to my computer and pick it up often.

85837

Andy Chen
11-25-2015, 07:16 PM
The Outdoor tenor, which is made of polycarbonate, has trebles as sweet as anything you hear on far more expensive ukes.

kohanmike
11-25-2015, 07:52 PM
A couple of months after I started playing uke a little over two years ago, I was surfing the AliExpress site and saw a two hole acacia koa tenor uke that just struck me (1st one in my signature). It took me a bit of research to finally find the Chinese distributor, Hanknn, it cost $187 including shipping from China. When it arrived I found that it was a laminate but had really good projection and sustain, even better when I changed the strings to Martin fluorocarbon. Over the following months I went through 16 ukes, and ultimately decided to keep 4, the two hole superseding my Kala as my favorite.

igorthebarbarian
11-25-2015, 08:27 PM
One of these might be in my future soon. Seeing that you have a Blackbird (two!) I am glad to see that you like it.

Ukuleledad
11-25-2015, 11:12 PM
85839

As some have already mentioned the Makala Pineapple often offers up superb value for money.
I switched to back pegs with this one, lowered the action & slapped on some Aquillas. Easy playing and great sounding for very little money

Rodney.
11-26-2015, 12:09 AM
My EU-build Hora solid spruce top baritone.
First I liked the fact that it's not manufactured in Asia but in Europe, using European wood.
Second it was cheap, a little under 70 euro delivered to my house (that used to be about a zillion US dollar a couple of years ago, now it's about 75 USD).
Third it's a great uke, a pleasure to play, great sound and I like the way it looks, clean and simple.

Captain Simian
11-26-2015, 06:20 AM
Mine was the Zither Heaven. It has a unique sound.

It is easy on the fingers, so it is a good ukulele to pass around to introduce people to a ukulele.

The zither pin tuners instead of friction or geared tuners means little ones don't get it out of tune by twisting on the tuners - it needs a supplied tool to tune.

It is made in America and I was able to get it in interesting wood options - cherry and black walnut.

It makes a great office ukulele as it is little and stashes out of the way.

It makes a good car ukulele as it has a floating bridge, so no worries about it becoming unglued in a hot car.

I've been intrigued by these for a long time now. Is there any chance you could do a sound sample? The ones I've found online have way too much talking\singing to really get an idea how it sounds.

Captain Simian
11-26-2015, 06:22 AM
Alic Soprano. Plastic body with laminate top and wood neck with plastic fingerboard. Influenced by Ovation & Magic Fluke Co. Looks more like a scaled down Ovation but construction more like a Flea. It cost me 45GB approx (I bought it from Germany so it was priced in Euros).

Intonation spot on good tone. Sounds a lot better than you've a right to expect from a ukulele at that price. Certainly puts the Schoenhut Flea copy in the shade. Some have concerns about the plastic fingerboard but I think that's a concern with any plastic ukulele. I think plastics are the way forward for getting low end ukes that are in tune and with decent intonation. I also have a Korala explore, concert scale but I don't think it sounds as good as the Alic. I've also briefly tried a Makala Waterman and was pleasantly surprised.

I also picked up an Alic recently after my spawn's boyfriend brought one back from England for her this summer. I really really really like this uke. I want to get a green one eventually since that's my signature color.

Rodney.
11-26-2015, 06:43 AM
I also picked up an Alic recently after my spawn's boyfriend brought one back from England for her this summer. I really really really like this uke. I want to get a green one eventually since that's my signature color.

You should have told me before. I would have spray painted it before shipping it out.

bellgamin
11-26-2015, 03:15 PM
I just bought a Kmise Tenor for $57 via ebay...

Top: Solid Spruce
Back & Side: rosewood
Neck: Okoume (huh???)
Fingerboard & Bridge: rosewood.
Fret: 18
Nut & Saddle: Bone
Strings: Aquila made in Italy
Machine Head: Chrome sealed with black buttons.
Finish: Matte Natural

Maybe the little girl mentioned in my 1st post will like it -- no kaka! :rolleyes:

cpmusic
11-26-2015, 04:31 PM
As some have already mentioned the Makala Pineapple often offers up superb value for money.
I switched to back pegs with this one, lowered the action & slapped on some Aquillas. Easy playing and great sounding for very little money

Agreed. I've painted five Makalas, two standards and two pineapples, and they all sound good even with the paint. I don't think there's a better uke available for $50 or less (new price, of course). The KA-15S is also good for a few bucks more.

cpmusic
11-26-2015, 04:42 PM
I just bought a Kmise Tenor for $57 via ebay...

Intriguing...it reminds me of the Hola concert with rosewood and solid spruce I bought recently for $90, and it's a beautiful and sweet sounding uke.

How is the intonation on the Kmise? The Hola came in sharp, and while I was able to improve it, it surprised me considering the overall fit and finish.

BTW, here's some info on okoume (http://www.wood-database.com/lumber-identification/hardwoods/okoume/).

bellgamin
11-26-2015, 06:39 PM
How is the intonation on the Kmise?Don't know -- it hasn't arrived yet - I ordered it yesterday. (Fingers crossed)

Thanks for the link re okoume.

JackLuis
11-26-2015, 06:43 PM
Cheap Uke's yeah I have some. Rubin/Caramel, Chinese made but 'Hand made' and sound good. The last two I bought were $55 for a concert (with pickup & tuner) and $30 for a sopranio. They come with Aquila's but sound better with fluorocarbons. My neighbor has a couple of Spruce topped Caramel tenors that are really bright sounding. Intonation is good with the right strings.

They may not be as good as a K brand or Pono, or Emerald Bay, and may need a little adjustment but for $50-80 they are pretty good. Shipping was free on Amazon or Ebay and they seem to have good customer service. My neighbor had one come in with a shipping dent so Caramel shipped him another and didn't even ask for the busted one back.

UkieOkie
11-27-2015, 06:56 AM
Cheap Uke's yeah I have some. Rubin/Caramel, Chinese made but 'Hand made' and sound good. The last two I bought were $55 for a concert (with pickup & tuner) and $30 for a sopranio. They come with Aquila's but sound better with fluorocarbons. My neighbor has a couple of Spruce topped Caramel tenors that are really bright sounding. Intonation is good with the right strings.

They may not be as good as a K brand or Pono, or Emerald Bay, and may need a little adjustment but for $50-80 they are pretty good. Shipping was free on Amazon or Ebay and they seem to have good customer service. My neighbor had one come in with a shipping dent so Caramel shipped him another and didn't even ask for the busted one back.

I have a couple of caramels, as do some friends now. They are simply an amazing value. The sound and look of them plus the onboard tuner/eq/preamp pickup is pretty decent. You can get an all solid mahogany for 80-90. I can't remember exactly. I have more expensive ukes but I consider these the best "value" I've ever found in a Uke.

cpmusic
11-27-2015, 08:56 AM
Intonation is good with the right strings.

I don't know why I didn't think of this for the Hola concert I bought. It came with Aquilas (and it may be a soprano set, hard to tell) and I need to try some other strings on it. Thanks for the unintended recommendation!

JackLuis
11-27-2015, 06:03 PM
I thought that the Aquilias were good but they don't 'feel' good to me. I tried D'Adarrios and Phd's but tried Fremont Hard blacks on my Rubin Sopranino. Much better chime to them so I put a set on my Ohana concert. I really like them on the Ohana they don't 'bark' as badly on the spruce top as the Aquiilia.

I'm saving up for a Caramel zebrawood tenor now, but have to pay property taxes, so my UAS is on hold.

greyghost
11-28-2015, 03:40 PM
My most recent uke is the Caramel thin-body zebrawood tenor ($65 including shipping from Shanghai), and it's a great value. It looks great, the intonation is spot-on, and the sound is quite nice! It's also very shiny... I used it in my most recent Seasons endeavors, so here's a sample:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rKfP2-6kVfg

kvehe
11-28-2015, 05:41 PM
Takamine made some great sounding mahogany laminates sold for under $99 dollars, A few years ago. They still pop up on the used market occasionally. I keep Takamine laminate tenor in my office.

I was lucky enough to get one of these from HMS. It's not the best-sounding uke in my collection, but it is terrific for what it is, and I find it very easy to play. I actually tried to buy another one to keep as a spare, but every site that had them was sold out by that point. I'm still keeping my eyes open for a used one.

UkieOkie
11-29-2015, 04:27 PM
My most recent uke is the Caramel thin-body zebrawood tenor ($65 including shipping from Shanghai), and it's a great value. It looks great, the intonation is spot-on, and the sound is quite nice! It's also very shiny... I used it in my most recent Seasons endeavors, so here's a sample:

Hello Mr. Ghost. I wondered how the gloss thin body would sound an it is not bad. I was afraid it would be very twangy. Great video and another +1 for what may be the best bang for the buck out there, Caramel Ukes.

Barbablanca
11-29-2015, 09:32 PM
I'm surprised no-one has mentioned the Octopus, yet.

I have had a few cheap ukes, bought for holiday use, to leave in the office or at the in-laws. Amongst these there was a Dolphin, which I thought was good value for money ands which inspires enough people that it has its own sub-forum here on UU. However, the Octopus drags the Dolphin down to the bottom of the sea and makes mincemeat of it in comparison. Maybe I just got lucky, but the action and intonation out of the box were spot on and the tuners keep their tuning. i.e. all the usual faults of a cheap uke were not present. It has a pleasant tone, not as strident as many cheap Ukes and the finish was more than acceptable.

Another cheap one I rate, which I was given as a thank you present, is the Kala Ukadelic.

johnpe
11-30-2015, 12:48 AM
Didn't and still don't know enough about ukuleles to really know what to expect for the money but would nominate the Kauai KUC-70N concert uke as being worth a look for around 60. I actually bought it by mistake having read a glowing review of the KUC-70B on "got a ukulele" and it didn't occur to me at the time on seeing this one in a local shop that it was a different model.All I can say is that someone who really does know about ukuleles played it and said that it was good value ,well made and set up and had a nice sound. I've now had it for a couple of years and it remains more than adequate for my limited talent and aspirations.

Papa Tom
11-30-2015, 02:34 AM
At $24.99, it wasn't really "cheap" (by uke standards), but I was very surprised at how well the plastic Disney ukes by First Act that I bought for my grandchildren played - and STILL play. I can pick one up any time I am with them, tune it up fairly accurately, and play 3-4 songs before I have to monkey with it again. I am counting the days till they grow out of them so I can have them for myself!

pinkuke
11-30-2015, 03:43 PM
I bought a Luna Ukulele, Aurora series, Dragon model that is sweet! Far exceeded my expectations for a $50 uke. Geared tuners, nylon strings that are easy on the fingers, and sounds real nice! Whimsical design. Kept me sane during a recent bout with the flu. Bouts of misery interspersed with brief periods of uke happiness... :)

mangorockfish
11-30-2015, 04:36 PM
Makala Dolphin!!!! I love mine and it is getting a few scratches and nicks to add to its character. It really sounds good too. I even bought a good case for it as I don't want it to feel "cheap".

buddhuu
12-01-2015, 01:02 AM
Makala Dolphin!!!! I love mine and it is getting a few scratches and nicks to add to its character. It really sounds good too. I even bought a good case for it as I don't want it to feel "cheap".
I always loved Dolphins. I lost count of how many I set up for people or gave away.

Pukulele Pete
12-01-2015, 01:45 AM
I always loved Dolphins. I lost count of how many I set up for people or gave away.

I gave my granddaughter a Dolphin 3 or 4 years ago , and it is an OK uke. I went to a store yesterday and looked at the new dolphins and they were much cheaper looking, nowhere as good as the old Dolphin , suprisingly crappy. IMHO

Rllink
12-01-2015, 02:59 AM
I have been thinking about how the uke world was ten years ago. A lot more talk about having fun in groups with low cost ukes. Buying a low cost uke and spending an hour fixing the set up etc.. So my next new uke, which will arrive next week sometime is a yellow Mahalo U30. Au$30 delivered. It will go with my sky blue U30 from 2006, which has a Handmade hardwood (jarrah) nut, worth browns, and close to almost accurate intonation. The blue 2006 mahalo has developed great sustain and tone (for a $25 uke) over the years. One of the contentious issues with the 2006 Mahalos was a photograph or postcard of Miss Hawaii 2006 in a bikini, playing a Mahalo on a beach. Not very PC Mr Mahalo.I don't know about ten years ago, but that is what I was really looking for when I first started out with the ukulele a year and a half ago. I was bent on escaping pretentiousness. Anyway, what is not PC about an attractive woman in a bikini?