For ukulele players, getting your hands on the right ukulele can make all the difference. But, let’s be honest, it’s no walk in the park, especially if you’re new to the scene. That’s where this ukulele-buying guide comes in. We get that diving into the world of ukuleles might leave you scratching your head. Beginners frequently struggle with questions like “How do I choose a ukulele?” “What’s the best ukulele for a beginner?” and “Where do I begin?”
We’re breaking down the essential factors, from sizes to wood types, and highlighting the brands that hit the sweet spot. Whether you’re a beginner looking for an affordable choice or an experienced player looking to level up, we’ve got you covered. No more guesswork – just clear, practical advice on how to buy a ukulele that fits your style so you can start playing music. If you’re in the beginner camp and thinking about choosing the ukulele or guitar, here’s a breakdown of the differences between the two!
Now, here is everything you need to know to choose a great ukulele for your skill level and preferences.
How to choose a ukulele?
The ukulele you choose will impact your playing experience and sound quality. A well-fitting ukulele improves your comfort and makes practice and performance more enjoyable. It also ensures that you are producing the correct tones and resonance.
The right ukulele provides a solid foundation for beginners, accelerating their learning progress. A suitable ukulele accommodates your evolving techniques and styles as you progress. It’s not just about getting a ukulele; it’s about finding one that fits your tastes and skill level.
Let’s go over everything you should think about when buying a ukulele.
Types of ukuleles to choose from
When it comes to picking the right ukulele, size is an important factor in your decision. We’ve broken down the four main types – soprano, concert, tenor, and baritone – to help you find your perfect match.
Why should you choose the soprano ukulele?
- It is the smallest and lightest ukulele.
- It is ideal for younger players with smaller hands and fingers, making this size often the best beginner ukulele for kids.
- It’s compact size, portable, and budget-friendly.
Size of the soprano ukulele
- It is 21 inches long
- It has 12 to 15 frets
- It has a scale length of 13 inches
Sound and playability of the soprano ukulele
The soprano ukulele boasts a bright, jangly, high-pitched sound perfect for traditional Hawaiian music. Its compact size offers easy playability, especially for beginners, with closer fret spacing simplifying chord formations and melodies. While its sound is vibrant, its smaller body limits projection and volume compared to larger sizes. Overall, the soprano’s cheerful tone and approachable playability make it an excellent choice for those seeking a lively and compact musical companion.
Limitations of the soprano ukulele
- The compact size of the soprano ukulele offers limited fret spacing, which can pose challenges, especially for players with larger hands.
- While the soprano’s higher-pitched sound is iconic, it might not suit those seeking deeper, mellower tones or a versatile sound range.
- The soprano ukulele’s compact design might limit its suitability for intricate fingerpicking and complex playing techniques.
Why should you choose the concert ukulele?
- Enjoy a fuller tone with a rich mid-range, suitable for various genres.
- A slightly larger size offers comfortable fret spacing for smoother chord transitions.
- Perfect for beginners and seasoned players seeking an instrument with adaptable playability and a well-rounded sound.
Size of the concert ukulele
- It is 23 inches long
- It has 15 to 20 frets
- It has a scale length of 15 inches
Sound and playability of the concert ukulele
The concert ukulele offers balanced tones with a more versatile sound than smaller ukes. Its larger body enhances projection for a pleasing, louder volume, suitable for various genres and warm harmonies. Slightly larger than soprano ukes, the concert’s extended neck and spaced frets ensure smooth chord changes. Beginners and experienced players enjoy comfortable finger positioning, making it a delightful choice for exploring melodies and chords.
Limitations of the concert ukulele
- While more compact than other instruments, the concert ukulele might be less portable than smaller soprano ukes, affecting travel or on-the-go playing convenience.
- Although its sound is balanced, some players seeking a brighter, crisper tone may find the concert ukulele’s mid-range emphasis less suited to their preferences.
- Due to its size, the concert ukulele might need more deep bass tones than larger ukuleles or other instruments can produce, limiting its range in certain musical styles.
Why should you choose the tenor ukulele?
- With a larger body, it produces a deep, resonant tone ideal for fingerpicking and complex melodies.
- More space between frets suits players with larger hands, ensuring easy chord changes and intricate playing.
- The tenor ukulele is well-suited for beginners and experienced players. It offers a balance of playability and rich sound, making it perfect for various musical genres.
Size of the tenor ukulele
- It is 26 inches long
- It has 15 to 20 frets
- It has a scale length of 17 inches
Sound and playability of the tenor ukulele
The tenor ukulele’s larger body generates a deep and resonant sound with rich overtones, making it a preferred choice for fingerpicking and more intricate playing styles. This tonal depth lends itself to diverse musical genres, while its extended scale allows for more prolonged string vibrations, resulting in a dynamic and expressive sound profile. The tenor ukulele strikes a balance between size and comfort. Its wider fret spacing accommodates larger hands, offering smoother chord transitions and intricate fingerpicking. This makes it suitable for newcomers and experienced players seeking a versatile instrument with enhanced playability.
Limitations of the tenor ukulele
- It is less portable and slightly less comfortable to carry around than smaller sizes like soprano and concert.
- Those with smaller hands might find stretching their fingers across the fretboard challenging to form certain chords.
- Typically pricier than soprano and concert ukes due to larger build and materials.
Why should you choose the baritone ukulele?
- Standard tuning (D-G-B-E) aligns with the top four strings of a guitar, making it a seamless choice for guitarists seeking to explore the ukulele.
- The larger size allows for complex fingerpicking, chord inversions, and intricate playing styles.
- It is well-suited for blues, fingerpicking, and genres requiring a more profound tonal quality.
- You can apply familiar guitar chord shapes by ignoring the bottom two strings, simplifying transposing songs.
Size of the baritone ukulele
- It is 30 inches long
- It has 19 frets
- It has a scale length of 19 inches
Sound and playability of the baritone ukulele
The baritone ukulele produces deep, resonant tones like a half-sized classical guitar. Its unique D-G-B-E tuning creates lower, warmer, and mellow sounds, ideal for blues and soulful melodies. While it sacrifices the bright tones of smaller ukes, it offers a distinctive and richer tonal character. With the same tuning as the top four guitar strings (EADGBE), the baritone ukulele offers familiarity for guitarists. Its larger size provides room for complex fingerpicking and techniques. Despite its size, the simplified chord formations on its four strings cater to beginners, allowing them to explore chords and melodies quickly.
Limitations of the baritone ukulele
- Baritone ukes lack the bright and crisp tones characteristic of smaller ukuleles, impacting their suitability for specific genres.
- The larger size makes baritone ukes less portable than soprano and concert sizes.
- Due to their larger build and unique tonal qualities, baritone ukes often come at a higher price point.
What ukulele material is best?
Here’s the deal: The material used for the ukulele body dramatically impacts how it sounds. You’ve got two significant aspects in the mix: tone and overall sound quality. Don’t let affordability sway you; the material at the core matters.
Sure, when you’re starting out, it’s all about chords and basics. Every pro began here. If you’re a beginner, the materials used to make the ukulele might not be your primary concern, but if you’re eyeing the stage, it’s a game-changer.
Attention matters regarding the soundboard—the face of your uke. This choice could make or break your sound if you aim to perform for an audience. But hey, if you’re still learning the ropes, don’t let this choice discourage you from strumming your heart out for your loved ones. Your passion matters most; the right soundboard helps you enhance the magic.
Solid wood vs. Laminated ukulele
When it comes to selecting the perfect ukulele, the choice between solid wood and laminated options is something you should consider. Each type offers distinct advantages, allowing players to tailor their choice to their preferences and playing styles.
Solid wood ukuleles
Solid wood ukuleles have earned their reputation as superior instruments for a reason. Their hallmark feature is the rich and resonant tone they produce. This depth of sound is particularly appealing to musicians seeking a distinctive tonal character. However, quality comes at a cost, and solid wood ukes have higher price tags. The craftsmanship that goes into solid top ukuleles, with a single piece of wood that results in an instrument, resonates with premium quality.
Furthermore, solid wood instruments offer tonal authenticity that is hard to match. The true essence of the tonewood is fully revealed in every note, making them a favorite among serious players. Yet, handling them with care is essential, as their delicate construction demands finesse and is unfortunately not climate resistant.
On the other hand, laminated ukuleles provide an affordable entry point for those embarking on their musical journey. While solid wood’s tonal richness is often the preferred choice, laminated ukuleles can still hold their ground regarding sound quality. These instruments prove that affordability doesn’t necessarily equate to compromised sound.
Their durability and climate resistance make them versatile companions for various playing environments.
Compared to the resonant qualities of solid wood instruments, laminated ukuleles might reach a different level of resonance. While laminated ukuleles provide an excellent entry point for beginners, they might be less valued by more advanced and dedicated players who seek a nuanced and profound tonal experience.
Ukulele wood types
Here are some of the most commonly used wood types:
Mahogany ukuleles are known for their warm and mellow sound that offers a harmonious blend of midrange frequencies and a pleasing sustain. Mahogany’s reddish-brown hue and attractive grain patterns contribute to its visual allure, enhancing the instrument’s aesthetic.
Cedar ukuleles produce a rich and expressive sound with a strong focus on midrange frequencies, ideal for fingerpicking and solo playing. Cedar’s softwood nature allows for a quick response to light finger movements, making it an excellent choice for dynamic playing styles.
The rich, complex sound of rosewood ukuleles is renowned for having clear lows and highs. This tonewood gives the instrument a rich, resonant sound. Rosewood has a rich, lustrous appearance frequently complemented by intricate grain patterns, creating an aesthetically and sonically appealing instrument.
Spruce ukuleles offer a crisp, articulate tone with pronounced clarity in high frequencies. This tonal characteristic makes it ideal for intricate fingerpicking. Spruce is known for its dynamic range and responds well to different playing techniques, allowing players to explore a broad spectrum of expressive sounds.
Koa ukuleles produce a sweet and vibrant sound with a unique blend of warmth and brightness. Koa’s stunning grain patterns and rich colors create a visually distinct look, showcasing each instrument’s beauty. It is deeply connected to the Hawaiian culture and is often associated with traditional ukulele craftsmanship, making it a symbol of the instrument’s heritage.
Maple ukuleles offer a bright and crisp tone with a strong emphasis on the upper frequencies, making them well-suited for genres requiring clarity and articulation. The dense nature of maple contributes to clear note separation and precise articulation, allowing players to highlight intricate melodies. Maple’s light color can range from creamy white to golden brown, and its unique figuring patterns—such as flame or quilted—create visually captivating ukuleles.
How to choose the best ukulele for you
Beginning any new hobby, including playing the ukulele, can be accompanied by uncertainty. It’s common for beginners to wonder whether they’ll continue their musical journey or whether other obligations will take over. Thus, budget considerations intersect with a broader consideration of dedication and passion for learning.
In the following sections, we’ll delve deeper into the complexities of budgeting for your ukulele purchase. We’ll address the age-old question of affordability versus quality and give practical advice on setting a reasonable budget, especially for beginners.
Affordability vs Quality
Starting with an affordable ukulele is a reasonable choice, especially if you’re new to playing and must decide about your long-term commitment.
Affordable ukuleles are often made with laminated wood, which impacts the sound quality. While they may be great for learning basic chords and strumming, they might provide a different depth of sound and resonance than higher-quality instruments.
While it may be tempting to choose the cheapest option, if you are determined to learn the ukulele, investing a little more in a quality instrument can make a significant difference. A higher-quality ukulele will provide better playability, sound, and durability, significantly improving your practice and progress. Consider it an investment in your future.
A reasonable range to consider falls between $50 and $180 – a bracket that delivers on playability and value.
Instruments priced lower than this range often have trade-offs in sound quality, durability, and overall enjoyment.
It’s not just a matter of finding an appealing instrument; how your ukulele sounds directly impacts your playing experience and the joy you derive from making music. Let’s see how you can evaluate the sound quality of a ukulele.
- Resonance: Strum the strings gently and listen for a balanced, full sound that resonates. A good ukulele should have a clear and pleasing tone.
- Sustain: Pay attention to how long the sound lingers after strumming. Longer sustain often indicates better sound projection and quality.
- Note Clarity: Play individual notes on different frets. Each note should ring distinctly without muddiness or buzzing, indicating good intonation.
- Tonewood Influence: Understand that tonewoods impact sound. For example, mahogany offers warmth, while spruce adds brightness. Experiment with different woods to find your preferred tone.
- Dynamic Range: Vary your strumming intensity. A well-crafted ukulele will respond with varying volume levels, allowing for expressive playing dynamics.
Playability and comfort
Assessing the playability and comfort of a ukulele involves a practical approach:
First, check the string height at the nut and saddle – it shouldn’t be too high, making it hard to press down or too low, causing buzzing.
Next, evaluate the neck. Is the grip comfortable? Check that it is not too chunky or slim for you.
The weight and balance should feel good, allowing you to hold it comfortably. Strumming and fingerpicking will help you gauge the resonance and sound quality.
Lastly, see if the ukulele’s size suits your body and playing style. Overall, a playable and comfortable ukulele should feel easy to handle, produce pleasing tones, and match your physical preferences.
Reputable brands invest in better materials, construction techniques, and quality control, making instruments more likely to sound great, stay in tune, and have lasting durability. They also tend to offer reliable customer support and warranties, which can be valuable if any issues arise.
While lesser-known brands offer lower prices, they lack the same level of consistency and reliability. Opting for a reputable ukulele brand increases your chances of getting a reliable and enjoyable instrument that aligns with your playing goals.
Some reputable brands you can consider are:
Reviews can offer information about the ukulele’s build quality, playability, sound, and durability – all factors that can significantly impact your playing experience. They can also highlight potential issues or shortcomings that might not be evident from a glance at the product description.
Reading various reviews gives you a more balanced and comprehensive understanding of the ukulele’s pros and cons. Checking out ukulele review websites can give you a descriptive pros and cons list of what you are getting yourself into. This helps you make an informed decision, increasing the chances of finding a ukulele that meets your preferences and expectations.
Be sure to check out forums as well. Engaging in discussions with the ukulele community on forums can give you an even broader perspective.
You can ask questions, learn from others’ experiences, and gather insights about ukulele brands and models.
This interactive exchange lets you tap into the collective wisdom of seasoned players and beginners, helping you make an informed decision that resonates with your playing style and preferences.
Where can I buy a ukulele?
You can buy a ukulele from various sources, with local music stores being an excellent option for purchasing one in person. These stores often have a dedicated section for ukuleles, offering a range of brands, sizes, and price points. Knowledgeable staff members can guide you through the selection process and answer any questions you may have about different models and their features.
While looking for a ukulele in a music store near you, remember to ask about the warranties, return policies, and after-sales support in case of any issues. Take your time to explore different sizes and brands.
You can purchase a ukulele from various sources, with online shopping offering convenience and a wealth of information. Shopping online provides several advantages, including accessing a wide range of options and reading reviews from other buyers. Online retailers often provide detailed product descriptions, images, and customer feedback to help you make an informed decision.
When shopping online for a ukulele, consider visiting reputable music websites, dedicated ukulele retailers, and online marketplaces like Amazon and eBay. Many well-known music stores have online platforms to explore and purchase ukuleles.
Some recommendable ukuleles are
What to know about online vs. In-store purchases
Exercise caution and prioritize certain factors to ensure a satisfying experience when purchasing a ukulele online. To begin with, only buy from reputable sellers or established online music stores. This reduces the possibility of receiving an unsatisfactory or misrepresented instrument. To better understand what you’re buying, look for detailed product descriptions, multiple photos, and customer reviews.
While online research is essential, combining it with in-store testing yields the best results. It’s challenging to gauge how a ukulele feels and sounds from online information. When possible, physically play or at least hold the ukulele you’re interested in before finalizing your purchase. Visiting local music stores allows for exploring different options and trying various models and sizes. This hands-on approach lets you assess playability, comfort, and resonance firsthand, enabling you to make a more informed decision.
Remember, finding the right ukulele is not just about specs and prices but also about your connection with the instrument. The blend of online research and in-store testing ensures you get an instrument that resonates with your playing style and preferences. So, while the convenience of online shopping is undeniable, remember to underestimate the value of physically interacting with the ukulele before making your final choice.
Ukulele buying checklist
Here’s a checklist of everything you would want to keep in mind while buying a ukulele perfect for you.
The big picture
Now you are ready to strum! Are you ready? Sure, you can learn the ukulele on your own. But having an experienced mentor can make a big difference. They’ve been through the learning process, are experts, and can help guide you. Lessonpal, with its excellent ukulele teachers, can help you become a better ukulele player by giving you expert advice and insights based on your own experience. Try it out today!
More frequently asked questions about how to choose a ukulele
Does an expensive uke sound better?
Yes, the sound quality of a ukulele can change with its price. Expensive ukuleles often feature higher-quality materials, such as premium wood, which can contribute to a more resonant and nuanced tone. Additionally, the craftsmanship and attention to detail with a higher price tag can lead to better projection and sustainability. Don’t immediately choose an expensive ukulele because you think it’s the best. It may not be the best for you!
Which ukulele is best for beginners?
A good recommendation for beginners is to buy a soprano or concert ukulele. Soprano and concert ukuleles are manageable sizes and have comfortable necks.
Sopranos are the smallest and produce classic ukulele sound, while concerts offer a slightly larger body for enhanced tone.
Consider ukes with good playability, a moderate price range, and positive reviews. Starting with a decent entry-level ukulele allows beginners to learn without overcommitting financially.
Does it matter what ukulele you choose?
Yes, the ukulele you choose matters. Size, wood type, and build quality affect playability and sound. Different ukuleles suit various musical styles. Tailoring your choice to your preferences is essential. Online reviews and trying out different ukes can help you make an informed decision. Match your choice with your skill level and desired tone.
Does the ukulele get better with age?
Yes, ukuleles, like guitars, can improve with age. The instrument’s tone can open up as wood ages and vibrates, enhancing resonance and richer sound. However, this improvement depends on the quality of the instrument and how well it’s cared for. Regular maintenance, proper storage, and frequency of use can contribute to its aging process.
What size ukulele is easiest to learn on?
The usual recommendation is a Soprano ukulele. Their small size makes fretting and strumming easier for smaller hands, and their bright sound is quintessential to the ukulele’s charm.
Concert ukuleles are larger, offering more space on the fretboard. These are suitable for players who want a balance between playability and tone.
Which is better: the Soprano or the Concert ukulele?
The choice between soprano and concert ukuleles depends on your preferences. Sopranos have the traditional ukulele sound, compact size, and higher pitch. Concert ukuleles offer more room on the fretboard, producing a fuller tone. The decision hinges on playability, sound preference, and comfort, so try both to determine which suits you best.
Which ukulele sounds most like a guitar?
The baritone ukulele, with its larger size and lower tuning, comes closest to the sound of a guitar. Its deeper tone resembles a classical guitar, making it an appealing choice for guitar players transitioning to the ukulele. Remember that each ukulele size has its unique sound, and while baritones share similarities with guitars, they still maintain their distinct ukulele character.