Ukulele Buying Guide

Tips and info to help you pick the right ukulele

A few years ago, the ukulele made a gigantic comeback and was brought back into the public eye. Artists like Twenty One Pilots and Jason Mraz have helped bring the ukulele into mainstream music, but itÕs not just the chart-topping hits that have continued to attract more and more people to the instrument. The popularity of the ukulele continues largely due to the fact that it is an extremely accessible instrument. For instruments like guitar or drums, the learning curve can be fairly steep. ItÕs hard to make the sounds you want right away and takes a great deal of practice and patience. But with a ukulele, you can create music in seconds. In addition, the price tag can be much friendlier with a ukulele, which makes it great as a low-risk gift or purchase. Before you jump in, there are a few things you should know. Here are a few tips on what to look for when buying your first ukulele:

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Ukulele Sizing

Soprano - The soprano ukulele is by far the most popular size and probably the one you see the most. These are perfect for beginners, children, and folks with smaller hands. Due to their size, they are extremely easy to transport and store. Sopranos will have a very traditional sound and bright strings, but are also soft and soothing. However, these can be a bit difficult for adults with larger hands due to the small size. Sopranos are traditionally tuned to GCEA. In the sopranos, youÕll also see some other variations. Pineapple ukuleles operate the same as soprano but with a different body shape. Long neck models simply have more frets available as well and are not necessary for most beginners.

Concert - Concert ukuleles are the next size up from the soprano. A concert will be a bit bigger and retain most of the traditional sound of a ukulele. This model will be more comfortable for most adults and is a bit louder than the soprano due to the larger body. It has the same tuning as the soprano as well so if you start on a soprano, all that knowledge will transfer directly to a concert ukulele.

Tenor - The largest size in standard ukulele tuning, the tenor ukulele is the most popular among professional players and adults. Even larger than the concert size, the tenors have wider frets, a larger sound, and a fuller tone. While these are great for adults, they will likely be too large for children.

Baritone - A bit of an outlier in the family, the baritone is the largest ukulele but is more similar to a guitar than the other ukuleles we have covered. The tuning is the same as a traditional guitar, but without the two lowest pitched strings (DGBE). Baritones sound lower and are great for guitar players who want more of a ukulele sound without learning a new instrument or transposing. The chord names and shapes of guitar transfer to the baritone perfectly, but those same chord shapes also work in the traditional tuning. The curveball there is that they will create a different chord, so a G chord shape on a baritone will sound like a C chord if played on a soprano.

Budget and Price Range

As we mentioned, the ukulele is one of the most affordable instruments available. A good starter soprano ukulele will start around $50 and go up from there. For solid starter instruments in the concert of tenor size, those start between $80 and $100. Baritone ukuleles will start at $140. These price variations are largely due to size and materials. Prices will increase with different woods, overall build quality, and intricacy of the design. Another large factor is if the ukulele has electronics or not (i.e. the ability to plug into sound systems or amplifiers.) We have found that most ukuleles under these price ranges have difficulty holding their tuning and/or break easily, making the learning process frustrating and difficult. By spending a few more dollars, you can help set up the player for success and get more bang for your buck.

Colors and Options

Ukuleles are extremely varied and can be very unique. With plenty of color and style options available, much of it depends on your personal style and preference. There are very plain, traditional looking instruments, but also colorful and interesting ones as well. While different woods can have different sound properties, the difference is marginal for most players. Most ukuleles have 4 strings, but you will see 5, 6, and 8 string options as well. When there are more strings, it typically doubles a string, meaning that you can keep the same chord shapes and have a larger sound. Those ukuleles with additional strings are not usually used by beginners, but something to consider for future purchases. In general, we suggest picking a ukulele that looks good to you, making sure itÕs the right size for your needs, and let that be your guide.