Strumming on the strings of ukulele can bring out harmonious notes and relax you at the same time. But for that, you have to purchase the best ukulele. They are available in different sizes, colors, types, brands and others.
Choosing the right one is not a simple task where are there several options to choose from. If you are a beginner, this process can be even more difficult.
1. Ukulele Types
For beginners, it is easy to get confused or make a wrong purchase. This is why it is important to know different types of ukulele and analyze which one suits your needs best. There are seven different Below table represents basic differences between the ukulele types. After that, we have also provided a detail description along with its characteristics and play style.
|Type||Overall Length||Scale Length||Tuning|
|Soprano||21 inches||13 inches||G4-C4-E4-A4|
|Concert||23 inches||15 inches||G4-C4-E4-A4, A4-D4-F#4-B4, or G3-C4-E4-A4|
|Tenor||26 inches||17 inches||G3-C4-E4-A4, G4-C4-E4-A4, A4-D4-F#4-B4, or D4-G3-B3-E4|
|Baritone||29 inches||19 inches||D3-G3-B3-E4|
|Bass||30 inches||20 inches||E2-A2-D3-G3|
|ContraBass||32 inches||21 inches||E1-A1-D2-G2|
Length – 21 inches
Number of Frets – 12 to 15
These are also known as standard ukuleles. They are the smallest type of ukulele with length of 21 inches in length and 13 inches of scale length. They are perfect for beginners or newbies. They are capable of holding decent range of C4 to A5 and common tuning of G4-C4-E4-A4.
There are 12 to 15 frets in soprano, and it produces the classic twangy sound of the ukulele. Because of a soprano’s compact size, it is by far the most favorite of persons who love to travel, kids who are just starting to play and people with small hands.
Many persons might think that playing a soprano limits your horizon as a ukulele player, but in reality, it is not so. Using its range (C4 to A5), you can create innumerable tunes and play music to your heart’s content.
Length – 23 inches
Number of Frets – 15 to 20
Concert Ukuleles are a bit larger than sopranos but they are still travel friendly. They have 23 inches length and 15 inches scale length which produces louder and deeper sounds compared to sopranos. Concert ukulele has 15 to 20 frets and more space between each other which makes it easy to handle. Also, owing to its larger fretboard, it has more frets that let you produce a higher number of low notes that brings more variations in your music.
Length – 26 inches
Number of Frets – 16
Tenor Ukulele are also known as lili’u or taro patch. They have 26 inches overall length and 17 inches scale length. The tenor ukulele is larger than both the soprano and the concert sizes.
It provides classic sound and has 16 fret and more with G3 to D6 range. It produces deeper and fuller sound owing to its larger shape and more room on the fretboard.
Usually, professionals prefer playing tenor ukulele in concerts or studios. If you are just beginning, we advise you to start with a soprano or concert size. However, if you have a really large frame over 6 feet 2 inches, then maybe you should consider taking a tenor ukulele for yourself.
Length – 29 inches
Number of Frets – 18 to 21
The baritone is a crossover between ukulele and a guitar. It is the largest among the four sizes and has tuning similar to the guitar. It has 29 inches overall length and 19 inches scale length which is why it is capable of providing deep and resonant sounds. 18 to 21 frets are available with D3 to A#5 range.
Its strings are tunes in a similar manner of the guitar, which is —D-G-B-E and not C-C-E-A, which is the case in all other types of ukuleles. It is often used guitarist who wishes to learn the uke or ukelele players who eventually proceeds to play guitars. In either case, the baritone ukulele is certainly not for beginners who want to learn uke.
Length – 30 inches
Bass ukuleles are not popular in the music market. However, they are used by musicians who want to increase the punch of bass. It has 30 inches of overall length and 20 inches of scale length. This ukulele has the capacity to produce some serious warm tones. It holds E4 to B4 range and common tuning of E2-A2-D3-G3.
Contrast bass ukuleles are opposite of bass sounding. They are also referred as U-Bass or Rumbler. They have 32 inches of overall length and 21 inches of scale length. They offer a range of E1 to B3 and a common tuning of E1-A1-D2-G2. Contrabass ukuleles are very rare.
In the above factor, we have mentioned different sizes of ukuleles. But below we will look into different shapes of ukulele. In the Indian market, ukuleles are available in three different shapes.
This is the most common shape available in Ukuleles. As the name implies, its shape is much similar to a guitar where upper bout (curved portion of upper body) is smaller than lower bout (lower portion). The area between these two is narrow which is called as a waist.
This ukulele comes with a profile body and rounded back. It was introduced into the market in the year 1920s and the credit of this design goes to Samuel Kamaka. This model has allowed musicians to consider ukulele more seriously and try new things.
In this ukulele, the right-hand shoulder has been cut for playing the top frets of the instruments more easily. They are mostly found in music stores and often more played in concerts, tenor and baritones compared to soprano. This shape is also often used on acoustic-electric ukuleles.
3. Construction Method
Sound quality of ukulele mainly depends on its construction method. Below, we have provided insights on construction methods used in making ukulele. Basically, these methods are categorized into three sections. We have mentioned them clearly below for your information.
Usually, cheap ukuleles are made up of plastic. When it comes to construction, plastic is a very odd material. These ukes will look super attractive, but when it comes to sound, they fall flat. The tones aren’t rich, and the music is not as melodious.
If you want to purchase an ukulele for your kid, then plastic ones are the better option. They have a smoother finish, and some have pretty prints and doodles too. If you are serious about a career with ukulele, then plastic is not the right choice.
Ukuleles constructed with laminated wood are perfect for dummies and they are affordable as well. A laminated wood is actually multiple layers of very thinly cut wood that has been stuck together by an adhesive. Laminate is lesser prone to damage by moisture and temperature than wood.
Nonetheless, if you expose it to high degrees, it can form dents and cause the head of the instrument to tilt backwards. Compared to plastic, it is a bit stronger and durable. But it is prone to cracks. Though laminated wood is an affordable option, you cannot expect good sound quality from it.
Ukuleles made up of solid wood provide serious resonant, richer tones and deeper sound. Solid wood construction is used in medium to high level range of ukuleles. These ukuleles are top grade and are best for professional use of by music enthusiasts. Also, you need to take more care of these ukes as these are susceptible to high moisture and hot climates.
4. Solid Wood Impact on Ukulele Sound
While choosing an ukulele, it is important to know what kind of Solidwood is appropriate. Main tonewood types include koa, rosewood, mahogany and cedar.
Other types are maple, mango, cherry wood and spruce. Some ukuleles are made up of laminated wood or plywood which come in an affordable range. Ukulele with solid wood construction provides brighter and complex tones compared to plywood.
Now-a-days, ukulele is becoming more popular music instrument which led to an increase in models. Some of them are worthy while others are not a good investment. If you are wondering which to go for, then the below information can be helpful.
- Koa – This wood is from a native Hawaiian wood and is well-known for producing bright and beautiful tones. Hawaii is actually the origin of ukulele which makes it a traditional choice too. It comes in beautiful ingrain patterns, several colors and balanced tone.
- Mahogany – Compared to Koa, this option costs much lesser which is why is the most common option used for making musical instruments. It is used for building necks to produce darker and warmer tones.
- Maple – Maple wood is hard and renders clearer and brighter tone to the sound of a uke. It has good durability that reduces the need to fix or replace your ukulele over the years. Many persons prefer to purchase an instrument that is made of a combination of the hard Maplewood and the soft spruce to balance out the tone.
- Cedar – It is by far the softest wood used in the making of ukuleles, and has the least amount of grains. Many experts prefer a cedarwood soundboard with a combination of another variety of wood for the sides and the back. It gives a joyous sound that is less piercing.
- Rosewood – This wood is well-known for its denseness and hardness. It is mostly used in construction of bodies and fretboards. Its rich color and resistance over rotting makes it the best option for enhancing the visual appearance of the ukuleles. It balances the vibrancy of the spruce with the warmth of the cedar. However, redwood is not commonly available and is expensive.
- Spruce – It is softwood and popular choice used for making guitars. And now-a-days, it has been popularly used for making ukuleles as well. It produces loud and bright tone. This wood is used alongside Maplewood or mahogany. However, owing to its soft and fine texture, spruce is seldom used solely for manufacturing an ukulele.
- Sapele – It is one of the popular solidwood used for making ukuleles that are suitable for beginner level. It produces warm, bright and deep tones that is similar to mahogany. It is an affordable alternative to mahogany ukuleles.
- Mangowood – If you live an eco-friendly lifestyle, then a mango wood uke will be your choice. When a mango tree produces no more fruit, its wood is used up to make this type of uke. Then another mango tree is planted using branches of the parent plant through the process of grafting.
- Redwood – In terms of hardness, the redwood lies in between the spruce and the cedar. It balances the vibrancy of the spruce with the warmth of the cedar. However, redwood is not commonly available and is expensive.
5. String Material
Most of the ukulele strings are built using nylon polymers. Different type of string produces different type of ukulele sound. So, you have to know which type suits your requirements. Below is a detail description for your reference.
- Nylon Strings – It is a very popular material for manufacturing decent quality ukulele strings. This material is not affected by the humidity. However, temperature changes are cause nylon to stretch (less or more) over time and you may have to return it. One of the best brands for ukulele is Aquila nylon string set. Because they provide durability, stability and warm traditional ukulele sound.
- Plastic Strings – Many companies use the name ‘fluorocarbon strings’ for these. It produces brighter sound compared to nylon. These are a good alternative to nylon strings. Plastic made strings are not much affected by temperature changes and are more durable. So, they are used for a lot of outside the house as the string is not affected by the changes.
- Metal Strings – Metal strings are usually made up of copper, steel and aluminum. They are much more durable as compared all the above two categories. This type of strings makes loud music. However, if you play hard on a set of metal string, it can damage the body of ukulele in the long run.
6. Acoustic or Acoustic Electric
Understanding how you are going to use the ukulele also helps to make the right decision. If playing ukulele is your career or if you play ukulele on stage, then you should check out the acoustic or acoustic ukuleles.
- Acoustic – Ukuleles that doesn’t have on-board pickup systems need very less maintenance. However, you may need microphone or external soundhole for amplification. If you are going to use the ukulele on stage, then you should ass pickup down the line.
- Acoustic Electric – Acoustic or electric ukuleles come with onboard electronics which provide easy plug and play amplification (either it may be for live performance or recording). This is the best option for people who are looking to play out.
7. Tuner Types
Tuners are small knobs that adjust the tension of the strings on the fretboard of the ukulele. The quality and the holding ability of tuners matter a lot in bringing about the right sound. Basically, there are two types of tuner that include gear turners and friction turners.
It is a traditional tuner type which is usually present behind the ukulele’s headstock. It basically works with 1:1 ration which means the string post will turn once for every one rotation of tuning peg.
This means even a small movement of your wrist will make a huge impact on the tuning. With this type of tuners, you have to be extra careful. It can be a challenge for you to tune an ukulele with friction tuner if you are a beginner.
If you look at the brighter side, it provides better look at the instrument. It also keeps the balance by putting the weight on knobs present on backside.
|Looks much better||Tough one to tune|
|Saves time||Cannot hold tuning for long time|
|Provides balance to the ukulele|
- Gear Turners
Compared to above one, gear turners are much easier to the ukulele. It uses 14:1 ratio which means it takes 14 knob rotations to rotate the string post once. Though it takes more time, they are much easier to work with.
But when we look at its drawback, they stick out from the sides of headstock similarly like ears. This may look gross and not a desirable appearance for some people. Apart from that, gear turners add more weight on the pegs on the sides of instrument which can interfere with the balance of ukulele.
|Easy to tune efficiently||Takes more time to tune|
|Suitable for beginners||Has a bulky look|
|Less frequent re-tuning|
After checking out the accessories, you have to look at the accessories which help you master the ukulele’s experience. Below, we have provided some accessories that are beneficial to have along with ukuleles.
- Electronic Tuner – Electronic tuner makes it easy to tune the guitar effortlessly. With this, you can just turn on the tuner, play the strings, and adjust the tuners as required to the signal displayed on it.
- Picks – For beginners it is difficult to play strings using fingers. So, purchasing a set of picks can be the best option to start the journey of playing ukulele.
Most of the reasonably well-made ukuleles with good sound come in price range of 1300 to 1600. You can spend more on ukulele with you want top-notch one. But if you are beginner then, the above mentioned range is more than enough. The ukuleles within this range are capable of lasting a long time without the need of upgrading. Once you master the instrument, you can move up to an experience one. And the old uke can be used for travels, camping or for loaning to friends.
It is always better to invest in a product that has a long term warranty. This provides insights on how reliably the product and its manufacturer is. Most of the ukuleles in Indian market come with 1 to 2 years overall manufacturing warranty. However, few brands provide warranty only on heating element. Check the warranty type before making the purchase.
Different Parts of Ukulele
Below, we have mentioned all the parts of ukulele in detail.
- Headstock or Head – They are attached to the neck of ukulele holding tuning pegs or tuning machines.
- Tuning Pegs – They are also known as tuning heads, tuners, tuning keys or tuning machines. They are just geared mechanisms for holding the strings. While or before playing ukulele, they are turned for adjusting the string tension.
- Nut – It is attached to the saddle and helps in keeping the string in proper alignment.
- Neck – The area from headstock to the body is referred as neck. It supports the fretboard.
- Fretboard – They are also known as fingerboard. It contains the frets and position market dots or any other images for orienting the player. The first fret is usually nearest to the headstock.
- Body – It is also known as sound board. It contains top, sides and back of the ukulele. Transmission of string vibrations is the responsibility of the top part. The sound hole is responsible for projecting ukulele’s output. Some of these sound holes also come with decorative rosette.
- Bridge – It is present on ukulele’s top and helps in holding the saddle. The strings of ukulele are secured to the tail end of the bridge by knotting them.
How to Take Care of Ukulele?
Just like any other device or instrument, maintaining ukulele is also important to keep it in proper condition and last for many years. Below, we have mentioned some tips for your reference.
- Avoid Placing Ukulele with High Temperatures – Ukes are made up of wood or laminate which dry out pretty quickly. If you accidently place the ukulele near any fireplace for a long time, then you may experience that the adhesive will come off. While storing the ukulele, please avoid placing them under direct sunlight and near room heaters.
- Moisture is the Enemy – High humidity or moisture levels can swell up the wood. This creates a buzzing noise while strumming the ukulele. We recommend to store the ukulele in a room with proper air conditioner or dehumidifier.
- Maintain the Ukulele Clean – In the aesthetic point of view, maintaining the ukulele clean is very important. Apart from that, layer of dust on soundboard or string can cause different sound to the melody.
- Check the String Tension – If you want the melody to sound best every single time, then you have to check the string tension. Higher the note, more the tension and vice versa.
- Investing in a Good Case – Most of the ukuleles have padded bags. But if it doesn’t, then you have to purchase a good bag or hard case for protecting the ukulele from any external factors.
Frequently Asked Questions:
When it comes to sizes, there are four types – soprano, tenor, concert, and baritone. Every size has a significant impact on playability and sound as well. For example, soprano have a tighter fingerboard as its size is small. This also means they stretches are a bit easier. However, fretting can get cramped for larger hands. Sometimes, the smaller body of soprano can or cannot benefit certain strum and cradle. When playability is considered, you just cannot beat getting the hands on instrument.
Standard ukulele sizes (from small to large) are as follows…
*Soprano – 12 to 15 frets
*Concert – 15 to 20 frets
*Tenor – 15 to 25 frets
*Baritone – 18+ frets (tuned to DGBE instead of GCEA.
Large fretboard means there will be more space between the frets. This makes them easy to play, less cramped to large hands. Bigger body means deep sound, more tone and amazing output.
The appropriate size of a ukulele depends on the physical dimension of a person. It also depends on the capacity to handle the weight of a uke smoothly.
We would suggest a soprano for a small kid or persons with small arms. Grown-ups over 5′ 6” should get a concert size to begin with. However, if you are over 6′, then the tenor suits you the best. However, even for tall persons, a concert size ukulele does an excellent job if he is a beginner.
The best way to determine the size of a ukulele is by checking if the arm of your playing hand can rest comfortably on the side of the uke. Also, check if your fingers are getting stuck in between the strings while playing. If you are comfortable in both the fronts, then the particular size of ukulele is suitable for you.
There is no size restriction as such in the ukulele universe. Any person can play any size he or she likes.
However, if you are particularly tall and want to play a soprano size ukulele, then your arm will not get to rest on the body of the uke. This position might be uncomfortable if you keep playing a soprano for a long duration.
Also, an uncomfortable hand is an unsteady hand. So, it might as well affect the melody while you are playing the instrument.
It is basically the soundboard (front part of the ukulele) that plays a large part in deciding the sound of the instrument. If you have an electric ukulele made of solid wood, changes like stickers, laser carvings, paint, or other factors will make a small difference. But if your uke is an acoustic one, stickers can bring some changes in the way the ukulele sounds. So, it is best to not put any stickers on acoustic ukes.
The basic difference between the soprano and the concert is in size. The soprano ukulele is typically 21” with 12 to 15 frets. The concert, on the other hand, is 23” with 15 to 20 frets.
Whether a ukulele is good for you is decided by how comfortably you can hold it. And this varies from person to person. The frets are more spread out in tenor ukuleles as compared to the concert. The tenor is also bigger in size.
A person of medium height should find the concert better, while a tall person might like the tenor. Try playing both the sizes. The one that you can handle in an efficient manner is the better one for you.
One of the reasons so many persons are attracted to the uke is because it is fairly easy to learn. You can learn a few cords within the very first day with someone to guide you, or by watching videos. With regular practice, you can learn to play a few songs within the first month.