Choosing a Beginner Ukulele

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Jordan tries out a Kanile`a ukulele at the Polynesian Cultural Center

In my experience, many people are excited about the ukulele. They want to play, but they don’t know where to start. And that’s understandable. There’s a lot of different sized ukuleles. Tunings can overwhelming – do you want to specialize in high G or low G tuning? Often, there isn’t even a place to go where you can look at ukuleles for evaluation. Unless you’re really lucky to live near a store that sells ukuleles, chances are, you’ll have to select one from off the internet.

So let’s discuss some of the options that can go into your decision making process. These aren’t going to be heavily detailed, just some overall guidelines.

1. Know your Body

This may sound a bit too basic, but you have to understand how your body is going to affect your playing. If you have small hands, the tiniest sized ukulele (which is called the soprano) may fit you best. If you’re like me, I have wide fingertips so the soprano fretboard is a little too tight. I prefer the tenor instrument to help accommodate that.

A good happy medium is the concert size. This type falls between the soprano and the tenor. In a lot of ways, it’s a “Goldilocks” instrument — not too large for youngsters, but not too tiny for adults. Several of my students currently have concert ukuleles, and they find them a good fit.

2. Know your Price Range

When I went to Hawaii, I told my wife that I wanted to bring $1,000 for a new ukulele. She took that in stride, but a lot of people are surprised that there are ukuleles that can cost that much.

Don’t worry — you don’t need to take another mortgage for a ukulele. Honestly, a decent beginning concert ukulele will cost you less than $100. As a beginner, you’re not looking for a luxury sedan in the very beginning.  If you do some comparison shopping, you’ll find the best deals. I recommend looking in the $50 to $100 range. My first ukulele retailed for $50, and it still gets use today.

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3. Where to Shop Online

Speaking of comparison shopping, here is a list of places you can purchase ukuleles on the internet. For the beginner, it’s always best to go through a vendor with a solid reputation and good return policy. Just so you know: several of these websites do not have ukuleles as their own instrument category. You’ll probably have to look under the “Guitar” section.

4. Brands to Look for

Here’s a quick list of solid, go-to brands for ukuleles.

  • Kala — I really love Kala, so it’s number one. My wife and I both have Kala instruments, and they make solid instruments that play a lot higher than their price point. Highly recommended.
  • Lanikai — Our library recently started a musical instrument lending section (which is awesome, if I may say so). Lanikai was their ukulele of choice. It’s a solid, dependable workhorse that feels great in your hands.
  • Luna — When Grace Vanderwaal stepped onstage at America’s Got Talent with a Luna Tattoo, she created a tidal wave of interest in this company. They have a wide variety of selection in their design, with a good sound. I’ve played several in shops, and one of my students swears by hers.
  • Oscar Schmidt — Produced by parent company Washburn, this group produces some really nice instruments. If you can afford a bit more, I’d recommend these as a ukulele that can last you a while.
  • Cordoba — Cordoba has a long reputation of producing quality classical guitars at affordable prices. It’s nice to see them jump into the ukulele field, too.

All right! That should be enough for now. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask in the comments field, and I’ll be sure to address that.

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