A lot of choices have to be made when choosing the right ukulele. This guide will explain a few.
Finding the right ukulele for you can be quite difficult quest. There are all these different sizes, woods, types and brands out there on the market but it can and will be very rewarding when you find the right one. It’s not like wands and wizards (Harry Potter reference). In this guide I’ll try to explain the main differences between types of ukuleles. Follows the same main structure as Alistair Wood’s guide on UkuleleHunt.
So there are four main sizes in ukuleles. Soprano, concert, tenor and baritone. More recently the sopranissimo is also gaining popularity, this one is even smaller (16 inches, 40 cm) than the soprano sized ukulele. The soprano however is the most traditional size at 20 inches (51 cm). This is the most common one and also the size that most people associate the ukulele with, it also makes that real typical classic ukulele sound.
One stip bigger is the concert ukulele at 23 inches (58 cm). The body is bigger and the neck is longer with more room between the frets, thus making it a little bit easier to handle. It has — like the soprano — that typical and classic ukulele sound and is a bit louder.
The size which is the most popular lately however is the tenor sized one at 26 inches (66 cm). It strays a little bit from the ukulele sound and sounds a more deeper like a classical guitar (more ukulele than classical sound of course) than the soprano and concert ukuleles. Most professional and well known ukulele players choose for the tenor sized ukuleles (e.g. James Hill).
The largest of the bunch comes it at 30 inches (76 cm) and is called the baritone. This one obviously has the deepest tone and sounds even more like a classical nylon stringed guitar. This is the least popular ukulele, since many players choose the ukulele for its size, portability and ukulele sound (and the baritone has kinda a guitar sound). The tuning also differs from the other sizes, it has a more guitar-like tuning.
If you have done a little bit of research already you’ll notice that there are tons of different woods used for ukuleles: monkeypod, mahogany, mango, koa, rosewood, cedar, acacia… I will discuss the most common ones used.
Koa is thé type of wood from Hawaii and thus most ukuleles that come from Hawaii are made from koa. Koa wood has a beautiful grain, has a very warm sound and is just plain amazing. Koa wood is used on the more expensive ukuleles. The middle end ukuleles are usually made from mahogany (there are of course also more expensive solid mahogany ukuleles). Mahogany sounds a little bit more softer than a koa made ukulele, but it’s nevertheless a good type of wood choice and less expensive. Besides koa and mahogany it can be said that spruce is the most common one. Spruce is used on the lower end ukuleles (e.g. Mahalo’s).
Regarding solid and laminated. The terms speak for there selfs, but simple put, solid means that the wood you see at the outside is also the wood on the inside. Laminated is cheaper than solid and means that cheaper wood is used on the inside and a small layer of better wood is used on the outside. It improves the esthetics, but won’t improve the sound when compared to solid wood ukuleles.
I can’t really help you on this part, there a lot of decent quality brands out there. The most popular ukulele brands are Kala, Mahalo, Lanikai, Pono, Kamaka, Luna and Kanilea. Pono and Kanilea offer the more higher end ukuleles why Kala has a broad range with lower and higher end ukuleles. They also offer very decent starter kits.
It’s important to do good research about the ukulele you are going to buy, because you’ll probably enjoy it for many years after you’ve purchased it. As always with instruments, if possible, go try them out at your local music store. Otherwise check reviews and ask the shops what they recommend for your level. If you are serious about wanting the play the ukulele I would suggest skipping the cheaper starter sets (going for $20-$30), but begin with a decent $50-$100 ukulele. It will make your life a lot easier (regarding tuning, intonation, etc…) and you will enjoy and pick it up a lot more!
What online store do I recommend? The Hawaii Music Supply (found at theukulelesites.com). I’ve bought my limited edition Kala tenor size with a solid cedar top and golden acacia back and sides there and I absolutely love it. The transaction went very smooth and the contact with the owners is very good.
I hope this guide has helped you a little bit to choose a good ukulele that you’ll enjoy playing.Hopefully you've enjoyed reading this guide. Any remarks, questions or suggestion? Use the contact form to let me know what they are!