Israel Kamakawiwo'ole was a Hawaiian musician who is said to have largely inspired the resurgence of the popularity of the ukulele. His renditions of Over the Rainbow
and What a Wonderful World
currently have a combined YouTube view number of over 312 million.
In the 1920s, American songwriters started writing Hawaiian-themed songs, increasing the popularity of the instrument in the states. This continued until it started declining in the late 1960s. Having made a come-back in the 1990s, courtesy of Israel Kamakawiwo'ole, it appears not to have any plans of declining in popularity again. In fact, that you’re reading this is proof of this.
Having watched the likes of Israel Kamakawiwo'ole and Jake Shimabukuro, many have fallen in love with the instrument and now want to get one for themselves. This guide is here simply to help you choose your ideal ukulele.
Choosing the right ukulele involves a combination of personal preference and proficiency level. Ukuleles are divided into four major types – soprano, concert, tenor, and baritone. The main difference among these is size, with the soprano being the smallest and the baritone being the biggest. This is the first decision you will need to make.
Ukulele’s also come in three basic shapes. The most common is the figure-8 shape, similar to the regular guitar
. There is also the pineapple-shaped ukulele and the paddle-shaped ukulele. These are mostly aesthetic features which you will also need to decide on.
Another thing you will need to decide on is what kind of material you prefer – mahogany, koa, cedar, etc. You’ll also want to ask yourself if you want one that comes alone or bundled with a gig bag and other extras such as instructional videos (you know, so you can learn to play in time for the next family picnic
). Lastly, you will of course need to decide how much you’re willing to spend. Needless to say, the more features you want, the more you should be ready and willing to pay.
Having gotten your ukulele, you may find that you require additional accessories like a tuner, especially if you’re new to ukuleles or string instruments in general. With this guide, you’ll be able to identify what’s important to you and what is not. Choosing your ukulele will then be a lot easier, and you’ll be one step closer to strumming songs at the beach
One of the major factors that you’ll need to really consider is the cost of your ukulele of choice. All ukuleles are not made equal. A combination of quality materials and craftsmanship will determine how much one will cost. Considering all these, we selected products within a price range that offer excellent value for money.
From our research, we found that you can get a good ukulele for between $75 and $200. With this budget, you can own your own ukulele and be proud of it. Each product will surely have differences that explain the disparity in price. However, each of the chosen products will deliver value for that price. To ensure this, we ignored any cheap ukulele we found that offered absolutely no value, for whatever price at which it was offered.
Choosing the right ukulele requires that you consider some important factors. These are common factors that will help you choose the instrument that is most suitable for you:
- Type of ukulele – soprano, concert, tenor, and baritone
- Shape – regular guitar shape (figure 8), pineapple shape, or paddle shape
- Material used
- Kind of top –solid wood or laminate wood
- Acoustic or electric acoustic
- Quality of tuning machine
- Quality of strings
These are the very basic things to consider. More advanced users will also consider things like nut, fretboard, bridge and neck, and more.
Construction and Design
The very first consideration that has to be made when choosing a new ukulele is the type you want. The type here also refers to the size. Below is a bullet list of types and their corresponding sizes. You just need to choose a size that’s most comfortable for you.
- Soprano- 21 inches with a scale length of 13 inches
- Concert Version- 23 inches with a scale length of 15 inches
- Tenor- 26 inches with a scale length of 19 inches
- Baritone- 30 inches with a scale length of 19 inches
The choice of shape is largely an aesthetic one. Just go with your taste. This is, however, not so with the material used, as this affects the sound of the instrument. The common woods used include:
- Koa- gives a balanced tone
- Mahogany- gives a dark, warmer tone
- Spruce- gives a loud, bright tone
- Cedar- gives a more rounded and mellow tone
- Redwood- gives a balance between bright and mellow tones
- Rosewood and Maple- used for fretboards and bridges
So, it’s really all about your personal taste.
You will usually find descriptions such as – mahogany top, body, and side. This is so because some ukulele manufacturers focus on the top wood which is what really influences the sound of the uke. They could use laminate wood for the side and body, but use a good quality tone wood like those listed above for the top. Once again, we can see that this is more an issue of personal preference.
Performance and Ease of Use
One very important thing to check for is playability. This is affected by different factors, starting from the feel of the instrument as you hold it. If you have thick fingers and you choose the soprano uke, you may find it more difficult to play with ease.
If you’re going to be playing before a large audience, you may prefer to get an electric acoustic so you do not have to try to compensate by strumming too hard. You could hurt your fingers or cut the strings. Which brings us to the issue of the strings. The quality of strings you have on the uke will affect the sound and how long it will stay tuned. Good quality strings coupled with good quality tuning machines will make tuning easier and longer lasting.
It’s important, however, to know that most strings need some time to break-in. This usually explains why they seem to go out of tune easily when they’re still very new. After they’ve stretched and contracted for some time, they are broken in and you suddenly discover that they stay in-tune for longer periods.
Finally, if you’re new to ukulele, you may consider investing in a good tuner to help you tune your instrument since you’ll likely be tuning it very often for the first few days.
The uke is a special instrument that requires that you get it and hold it. That is the final check you need to perform after doing all other checks. You will know if it’s right for you when you hold it in your hands. So it’s important that you buy from an online store that has a good return policy.
Choosing the best ukulele is totally based on personal preferences and taste. From the different features you’ve read about, you should begin to pick out the ones that are most important to you. Once you can do this, finding the right ukulele will be an easier task. With your preferences hopefully sorted out, let us now go ahead to review our top five selection.
Thank you for taking the time to read through this guide and review. We sincerely hope that we’ve provided you with enough information to help you choose that perfect ukulele. Having come this far, simply go right ahead and place your order so you can begin to enjoy the tropical sounds of the ukulele.