The Ukulele is a very popular stringed instrument capable of playing all kinds of music. It has a shorter scale than a guitar resulting in a higher pitch. A standard Ukulele has four strings. Its simplicity and compact size make it a popular choice by hobbyists and professionals alike. This page contains useful information to be aware of while buying a ukulele.
ADUS membership will get you a discount on any ukulele at Steve’s Music Store in Montreal.
What should you look for as a beginner?
There are several things you need to pay attention to when choosing your first ukulele. Before we get to any of that, let’s discuss budgets. As a beginner, you probably don’t want to spend too much money on your first instrument. That is perfectly fine, however you shouldn’t buy a cheap ukulele either. You will see a lot of super cheap ukuleles out there, some even going for under $30. I strongly suggest you avoid buying those. Super cheap ukes usually aren’t built well. They do not hold their tuning and are difficult to play. Also, they are not made of decent materials. As a beginner, you need a solid instrument. Figure out your budget and try to keep it within reasonable limits. Now let’s check out some of the different tone wood ukuleles are made of. Later on we will talk about ukulele sizes and the ones that are currently the most popular.
The Impact of Wood
If you are familiar with acoustic stringed instruments, you’ll know that the choice of wood has a huge impact on the sound of an instrument. Ukuleles are no exception. Traditionally, ukuleles were made using one type of tone wood for every element of the sound box. That means top, back and sides. The modern approach however, is to use a type of softwood at the top and a hardwood for the sides and back. There is a good reason for this. Softer woods at the top resonate much better, while the hardwood all around it acts as a reflector of sorts. The difference in sound between the traditional and modern ukes are not major, but some players prefer one over the other.
Types of Wood
The most traditional tone wood for ukuleles is Koa. This is a wood that was abundant in Hawaii when the ukulele was first invented. Because of this, initial builders used it the most. Ever since then, it has become the most popular wood. Mahogany has proven to be the next most popular choice, due to its similar density and tonal properties. In terms of softer tone wood, cedar and spruce are now among the most prolific choices. Listing all the types of tone wood used for building ukuleles is for our purposes, impractical.There is a large variety of woods in use today. You will see rosewood, walnut or even ebony out there. When it comes to which tone wood is best, there is no precise answer. If the ukulele you are considering features solid wood construction, you should be fine for the most part. A good beginner ukulele might come with some tradeoffs in terms of materials.
Types of Ukuleles
As the ukulele popularity grows, so does the variety of model options and accessories. The four most common types of ukuleles are the Soprano, Tenor, Concert and Baritone.
Soprano Ukulele: The most common and standard type of ukulele is the soprano. It’s the smallest ukulele, 21 inches and is known for the thin, jangly sound so commonly associated with the instrument. Because of it’s size, it’s perfect for traveling. Sometimes people with larger fingers or hands have trouble playing the soprano ukulele because the frets are so close together. Because the strings have less tension on a soprano uke, you might find it easy to accidentally bend a string out of tune.Despite these relatively minor downsides, the soprano ukulele is probably the best bang for the buck. In comparison to other types of ukuleles, it can usually be had for the least expensive price.
Concert Ukulele: The concert ukulele is just a little bit bigger than the soprano. Many people would consider it to have a fuller, richer and warmer sound. It is commonly tuned like the soprano uke although I prefer a low G tuning. Because a concert uke is longer than a soprano, there will be more tension on the strings. This can be beneficial if you find yourself bending strings out of tune as you press your fingers down on the strings against the frets.The frets are a bit more spaced on a concert ukulele than the soprano, so people with larger fingers might find the concert uke easier to play. There can be up to 20 frets on a concert ukulele which allows players to navigate to higher notes on the fretboard.
Tenor Ukulele: Tenor ukuleles produce a much fuller and richer sound than their smaller brothers. They have an increased sound projection and a warm tone that make them perfect for solo acoustic performances. The tenor Ukulele is usually 26 inches long and has between 15-25 frets. Since you have more frets, you are able to reach higher notes on the fretboard.
Baritone Ukulele: The baritone ukulele is the largest of the ukuleles and is tuned down lower to DGBE, which is equivalent to the tuning of the bottom four strings on a guitar. This produces a deeper sound. While you can still strum it like any other ukulele, you’re going to really lose the bright crisp sound that you get with soprano. Baritone ukes are great for blues players and fingerpickers, or those who prefer that deeper and fuller sound. I consider it to be more of a guitar than a Ukulele.
Ubass: What is a bass? In a nutshell, a uBass is a hybrid acoustic-electric instrument. It is a combination of a Baritone Ukulele and a Bass Guitar. The uBass produces the same pitches as a standard bass guitar and is tuned in traditional bass tuning (EADG). They are tremendously fun to play. Click here to see one in action.
While Soprano ukuleles are very common and popular, don’t assume that it would necessarily be the best beginner choice. Its advantages are its compact size and that you will most likely be able to find a decent instrument for a relatively low price. At the same time it might require greater expertise to master than the Concert and Tenor sizes due to its smaller frets.
If possible, visit a ukulele club to get first-hand experience with the models that you are considering. Your personal sound preferences as well as physical characteristics (for example size of hands and fingers) are critical in identifying the right choice for you.
Don’t automatically opt for solid wood ukuleles and disqualify laminated ones. In many cases they differ in sound but not necessarily in quality. They are often less expensive.
Size of hands and fingers is critical in selecting an instrument. In many cases, size mismatches may result in physical discomfort.
Experienced guitar players find the Baritone to be the easiest transition into ukuleles because of their similar tuning technique.
Most ukulele players wind up owning more than one instrument. There are many reasons for this. See Ukulele Acquisition Syndrome.
There are numerous companies that manufacture high-quality instruments. Some of the ukulele brand names I really like are: Kala, Pono, Kanile’a, Ko’aloha and Kamaka. Speak to Eliezer for advice before making a purchase.