Choosing a Ukelele




Stringed instruments date back many centuries and have been developed independently by most ancient cultures making them as unique as the culture from which they come. The earliest stringed instruments were simply single strings tied to bows. Ukeleles originated in Hawaii in the early 19th century and are a version of a Portuguese instrument that was a small guitar-like stringed instrument. Since that time, the use of the ukelele has become international in scope.


Choosing a ukelele will have you looking at four main sizes; the soprano, concert, tenor, or baritone ukelele. The soprano ukelele is the standard size and it features 12 -14 frets. While they can be tuned to the C scale or the D scale, the most common tuning is the key of C.

The concert ukelele features a larger sound and a larger finger board. It has 14-17 frets allowing for a broader range of playing.

The next size is the tenor ukelele. This ukelele gives the musician a lot of versatility. It features 17-19 frets and plays chords as well as solos. Guitarists who also play the ukelele usually prefer the tenor ukelele.

Baritone ukeleles are the largest instruments in the ukelele family. They are closely related to the guitar and produce the largest, fullest sound of the four types of ukeleles. For the guitarist who is also choosing a ukelele, this will probably be a good choice because there are 19-21 frets and the four strings of the ukelele are tuned just as the top four strings of the guitar.

The standard figure 8 shape of many ukeleles is the same shape as a regular guitar. Other body styles include the pineapple and the cut away. The pineapple shape has no curves to it and the cut away has the body of the ukelele “cut-away” near the fingerboard of the ukelele allowing better access to the frets. When choosing a ukelele, choose a shape that appeals to you and then find the size you want in that shape.

Ukeleles are made from many different types of wood. Koa is the wood most used in those ukeleles that come from Hawaii. Koa is a native Hawaiian wood and gives the ukelele a bright tone and a great look. When choosing a ukelele made from this wood, remember that good quality koa wood is difficult to find and therefore may be expensive.

Ukeleles are also made from mahogany, spruce, maple, cherry, or cedar as well as from a variety of other types of wood. When choosing a ukelele from among used ones, you might even find ukeleles that were made in the 1950’s and 60’s that were made from plastic. Because the quality of sound produced by an instrument takes much of its tone from the materials used to make it, you will want to become familiar with the tonal qualities of ukeleles made from many different woods before choosing a ukelele to purchase. Remember that the best and brightest tones come from a ukelele made from solid wood or a ukelele that sports a solid wood top. Choosing a ukelele that is laminated usually means that it is made from plywood covered by or laminated with a nice looking wood to make it look good. These ukeleles may not have the tonal quality you are looking for when choosing a ukelele.

Choosing a ukelele for kids is a great choice of instruments because of its size and maneuverability. Kids love them because handling the ukelele makes them feel like a real guitarist. It is best to plan to purchase the best quality ukelele you can for

your budget because with the right teaching and handling, one ukelele can last for a very long time and will go a long way in teaching children the basics of music. When choosing a ukelele for kids, try to find one with good tuners. Good tuners are usually geared tuners; they do not have to be elaborate but simple and good quality geared tuners with help your child’s instrument last a long time.

Another way of upgrading a cheaper ukelele is to upgrade the strings to good quality ukelele strings. Most inexpensive ukeleles come with poor quality strings so this simple step will brighten the sound of the ukelele. When choosing a ukelele and having to watch your pennies at the same time, upgrading the tuners and the strings will give you a better quality of sound even if you have to purchase a lower cost instrument in the beginning.

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