Everything you need to know before buying a ukulele

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Are you thinking about buying a ukulele but not sure where to start? This blog will cover everything you need to know about types, shapes, the different materials and the sounds they produce and suggest a few makes to check out.

Ukulele Types

There are four main sizes of ukulele, in order of size these are the soprano, concert, tenor and baritone. The size is determined by the length of the vibrating part of the string (so between the bridge and the net) this is known as the scale length.

ukulele-sizes

Soprano

This is the most traditional size with the most typical ukulele sound, the soprano is the best one to start with if you are buying your first ukulele, it also tends to be the cheapest too.

Concert

The concert ukulele, sometimes called the alto, is slightly larger than the soprano thus it has more room to manoeuvre on the fretboard and produces a more fuller sound.

Tenor

This is the most common ukulele for professional players as it gives more room to play and more volume, perfect for solos. The tenor is also a good choice for musicians with large hands (even if you are a beginner I would choose a tenor over a soprano if you have big hands).

Baritone

This is not suitable for beginners as the baritone ukulele has a different tuning to the others and so it is generally harder to find tabs and tutorials.

 

Ukulele Shapes

pineapple-ukulele

Guitar/figure-8: This is by far the most common shape (see image above).

Pineapple: As you might guess from the name it is shaped like a pineapple (see image to right)! Instead of the traditional curves like the guitar this ukulele has a rounded back. It was first designed by the Kamaka Ukulele Company.

The pineapple uke produces a distinctive sound thanks to the shape helping to create a fuller and richer sound.

Some players prefer this shape not for the sound but the fact that it is seen less as a small guitar and more as an instrument in its own right.

 

Ukulele Materials

The cheaper ukuleles are made with either laminate wood or plastic, these can sound good, like the Makala Dolphin Soprano Ukulele (see below), and they are perfect for just throwing in your rucksack for a trip! However… they don’t resonate as much as solid-wood and keep the same tone throughout their life but they tend to be stronger and less prone to splitting and cracking.

As you go up in price range you’ll find them built with different types of woods, each of these have different tonal characteristics. Solid-wood, like other stringed instruments, tend to mellow with age, producing richer tones.

The price is also dependent on whether the ukulele is hand made or has any finer detailing.

The most commonly used wood:

Mahogany
One of the most popular woods for the ukulele due to its strong volume, warm tone and relatively cheap price.

Koa
The original ukulele wood as the Koa is native to Hawaii. It is still a very popular wood thanks to its beautiful grain patterns, a wide range of colors, and a balanced tone.

It is considered an ideal wood for ukuleles and is accordingly priced making it one of the most expensive types to buy.

Spruce
A strong softwood with a bright and vibrant tone, spruce ukuleles excel across the range of frequencies and its dynamics are arguably the best. It is also one of the most affordable woods used in ukuleles.

Cedar
Being softer than spruce with less pointed mids and more bass it offers tones that are much more mellow and round thus making it a good choice for the tenor and baritone ukuleles as it brings out the lower notes.

Redwood
Tonally, redwood resides between spruce and cedar, being both clear and mellow at the same time. Due to the over-harvesting of redwoods the wood is both rare and expensive.

Some find the sound to be very full whilst others find it unfocused and not as clear in the high notes.

Rosewood
Not a very common wood in the ukulele world although it is sometimes used on the fretboard. This dense wood has exceptional mid range and low overtones and thickens up the higher range.

A lot of uke players consider rosewood sides and back paired with a Cedar or Spruce top the ultimate ukulele tone.

Maple
A brighter, more rounded sound than the spruce the Maple ukulele is known for its clear tone. A very attractive wood that also holds up well over time.

 

Prices

Prices start from about $20 but I would recommend spending at least $60 if you want to a relatively decent sound and longer lasting instrument.

The Lanikai LU-21 Soprano Ukuele is a good option for beginners it is made of laminate wood so has the look of a real ukulele and is about $80

If you’re after a pretty and colorful uke for under $50 then I would recommend the Makala Dolphin Soprano Ukulele, although it is made out of plastic it is well thought of by many ukulele players thanks for their great tone and playability. If you are willing to spend a bit more you can get this made of wood too.

Kala is a world renowned ukulele maker and the Kala KA-T Mahogany Ukulele is a great tenor that is perfect for those with big hands. It will set you back about $120.

 

In summary

When purchasing your ukulele you should consider your level, what you wish to use it for, what kind of sound you’re after and how much you are willing to spend. Hopefully you should have a better idea of what will work best for you after reading this blog. I would recommend trying out some different ukulele’s in a shop to see what works best for you before buying.

If you are a beginner then make sure you check out our intro to the ukulele tutorial plus our beginner ukulele tutorial playlist for more easy lessons!

You should check out the Top 8 Easy Ukulele Chords for Beginners to get you started.

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