~Monday 18th of February 2019~
Welcome to UkuGuides!
UkuGuides offers you tons of guides and resources to learn playing the ukulele, how to take care of your beloved instrument and much more. Some guides are directed to newer ukulele players, while others are for advanced players. At the top you can find maintenance guides. After that we go to the moment before your first ukulele (green booklets) until you are an advanced ukulele player (orange booklets). At the end you can find some more theoretical guides. UkuGuides is constantly being updated and new guides are added frequently. Can't find the answer you were looking for? Request a guide by clicking here!
How To Find A Good Budget Ukulele
The ukulele is a wonderful instrument and it is more than normal that you don’t want to spend a lot of money on your first ukulele. In this article I’ll try to help you by telling you what to exactly look out for when buying a budget ukulele and how to set it up properly afterwards.
Almost every budget ukulele will come with geared tuning keys as pictured above. Tuning keys are one of the most important pieces on your ukulele. If one of them is loose are can’t hold a tuning, the whole ukulele becomes unplayable. When looking at ukuleles, check carefully if they are tightly fitted in the ukulele head. Try adjusting the tuners and look carefully if they do not return to their original position. This is one the most frequent issues I have experienced when viewing budget ukuleles. If a geared tuner is loose, you can try fixing it by tightening it with a Philips screw driver. Try looking for tuning keys which are enclosed, although more recently the geared tuning key has seen a lot of improvements and is being used on more high end instruments.
A headstock is preferably not in a straight line with the neck itself. There needs to be some angle to obtain good string pressure at the nut. Once again you will find the ukulele buzzing when the headstock is not angled properly.
Neck and fretboard
Moving down to the body from the headstock we find the neck and fretboard. Make sure that the neck is straight. This can easily be checked by looking along it from the headstock to the body. You can also simply take a ruler with you and put it on the frets. If the neck is perfectly straight it should make contact with each and every fret. Finding a budget ukulele with a straight neck can be tricky, but they are out there! A straight neck is required to avoid buzzing.
The fret ends on the fretboard need to be smooth. Cheap ukuleles tend to have simple metal bars as fret which are sharp at the edges. This will make playing uncomfortable and cause irritation. Also the top of the fret should be smooth as this will lengthen the lifetime of your strings.
When shopping for a budget ukulele it is unlikely you’ll find a ukulele with a solid wooden top, back and/or sides. They are all constructed with ply wood. Try to look at the inside of the ukulele to spot loose pieces or sections of plywood, these are an instant do-not-buy sign. Also check if the internal braces are firmly glued together and are not hanging loose. All of this will cause a very annoying buzz and will muffle the sound of your brand new ukulele. On top of that, it is very hard (if not impossible) to fix yourself and not worth the effort.
What is often forgotten when buying a ukulele is the bridge position. This is very important as it will define the ukulele its intonation. Measure the distance from the nut (on the headstock) to the end of the fret board to fret 12. Also measure the distance from fret 12 to the saddle (in the bridge). This distance should be more or less the same.
We have arrived at the saddle. This is located in the bridge and if possible, buy a ukulele where it is removable. This will allow you to adjust the action of your ukulele by changing the height of it. The saddle should be at least protruding 2 mm (0.08 inch) above the bridge, but this depends highly on the bridge construction and how bulky it is. The saddle should not be sitting loose in the bridge as the saddle is the part that transfers the vibrations from the strings to the ukulele body.
Adjusting the action is not that difficult. A low action is always preferred as this is easier and more pleasant to play on. Measure the height of the strings at the 12th fret. If it is higher than 2 mm, take out the saddle and sand the bottom (!) of it, as even as possible, until the desired height is reached.
And finally, the strings. (Almost) every budget ukulele will come with very cheap plastic (fishing line type) strings. These often have a black(ish) color. If your budget allows it, replace them with Aquila strings and the difference will be immense. You can already by Aquila strings for $5-$10.
If you take all of the above into account, it is definitely possible to find a very good (even great) ukulele under $100 which will give you years of pleasure!