Ukulele Buyers Guide

Ukuleles are finally getting the respect they deserve. For some time, the uke was being treated as a toy or a novelty, not as real tool for making music. Today, the sweet mellow sound of the ukulele shows up in all kinds of music from pop hits, to folk, to rock and the instrument is in high demand.

You’ll find that the ukulele is the easiest fretted instrument to learn. You can learn to strum three basic chords in less than an hour’s time and be playing your favorite songs right away. The Uke’s four nylon strings and small neck are easy on the fingers, so you won’t need to develop calluses and worry too much about difficult fingerings to get going. Of course, as with any musical instrument investing more time and effort can have a big musical payoff.

What to look for in a Ukulele 

At Sam Ash Direct, we have a very wide range of ukes, from very inexpensive basic models to high end acoustic electric models that you can plug into an amplifier. We even have a Les Paul Ukulele if you want to be really cool. Here are the basic features to look for:

Hardware — Geared or machined tuners.  Although the traditional ukulele had friction tuning pegs like a violin, these tend to slip (unless very well made and higher priced) and put the instrument out of tune. Machine tuners make the process of tuning much easier and keep your instrument in tune longer.

Woods — Ukuleles are made of many different materials. The best sound usually comes from the same woods used in making guitars, like mahogany, maple and rosewood. Higher end models may feature spruce tops or more exotic woods such as Koa or Mango. All have their own resonance characteristics, but all will sound sweet.

Sizes — One of the biggest questions first time buyers have is which size uke is right for me? Ukuleles come in 4 primary sizes, soprano, concert, tenor, and baritone. In the beginning the choice is a matter of taste and convenience.

Soprano ukuleles are the smallest and highest in pitch (and easiest to carry), and is the size that most people are familiar with. The concert ukulele is a little bigger and typically has more natural acoustic volume, and a lower range than a soprano. Tenor ukuleles have a deeper, richer sound and are sometimes easier for beginners to play because the longer scale of the instrument makes fretting chords for the first time much easier. The baritone ukulele is the largest and produces the lowest tones. It should also be noted that the baritone ukulele is tuned differently than its smaller siblings.

So, which ukulele is right for you?  Most teachers recommend that beginners start with a Concert or Tenor. These sizes tend to be easier to learn the initial chords on because of its longer scale, which makes the spacing between the frets wider. The exception would be younger beginners with smaller hands who might benefit from the ubiquitous soprano ukulele. The tenor ukulele is what you hear on recordings from ukulele greats James Hill and Jake Shimabukuro. Almost inevitably, once you get hooked on this wonderful instrument you are going to end up with more than one!

Top Ukulele Brands

There are several quality brands that focus entirely on ukuleles: Kala, Boulder Creek, Lanikai. You can also be assured of a great quality instrument if you buy a ukulele from one of the major guitar makers like Cordoba, Epiphone, Fender, Ibanez, Luna Guitars, Martin, Oscar Schmidt or Yamaha.

What you need to get started with the Ukulele

We recommend that you get the ukulele, a gig bag to put it in (if it doesn’t already come with one), a tuner, a stand, and a basic method book with some songs you can learn fast. Sam Ash Direct has a huge library of both song and instructional books to get you on your way to having a blast and strumming with your friends.

Ukulele Buyers Guide

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