Let me guess… You want to buy a ukulele but after a quick internet search, you’ve realized there’s a lot more to it than just choosing a color?
Well, I’m happy to say you’ve stumbled across a little area of the internet that just might solve your problem.
When you’re choosing a ukulele there’s a lot more to consider than you might have thought.
It may be a lot to take in so let’s get started!
Here’s my ultimate guide to choosing the right ukulele for you.
Narrowing down your search is much easier when you take these 5 questions into consideration.
Don’t worry, I’ll help you answer them in just a sec!
- What size of ukulele do you need? Size matters when it comes to ukes – what sound are you after and how big are your hands?
- What shape should you look out for? Whether you fancy yourself some fingerpicking or just want to learn over the rainbow, there’s a shape to suit you!
- What’s your budget? The bigger your pockets the better the quality but, don’t worry, there are also some great affordable ukuleles out there.
- Will you be using your ukulele as an accompaniment to your singing? The last thing you want is to find yourself singing out of key in front of a room full of people all because you accidentally bought a baritone (been there).
- Do you need an electric ukulele? Will you be playing in front of a room full of people? If so, you might want to consider amping up the volume.
What Size of Ukulele Should I get?
This is the most obvious question when it comes to choosing the right ukulele. Although, I had been playing for a good few years before I even realized there were different sizes so I definitely don’t blame you for feeling a bit stuck! The ukulele comes in four different sizes – soprano, concert, tenor, and baritone.
Before I get stuck in, I just want to clear a few things up. When I refer to the “scale length” of a ukulele, I just mean the length between the nut (at the top of the fingerboard) and the saddle (the bit on top of the bridge that holds the strings up). My pet peeve is hearing someone refer to the full length of an instrument because it’s just unnecessary. But anyway, that’s a whole other story so I’ll just stick to giving advice, here we go…
The soprano is the smallest of the ukuleles. It has a scale length of 13 inches and between 12-15 frets. They tend to be very bright in sound, so if you do fancy yourself a soprano, make sure it’s good quality because nobody likes a plinky uke. Soprano ukuleles are great for kids or for adults with small hands. Although, I’ve seen some pretty big guys playing sopranos and they seemed pretty pleased with themselves, so, if you do really want one you will get used to playing it (eventually).
If you’re feeling completely stuck, go for a concert ukulele. They’re slap bang in the middle with a scale length of 15 inches and anywhere between 15-20 frets. Unless you’re quite young or you have tiny hands, concert ukes are probably your best bet. They have a fuller sound, a bigger range, and are great for beginners all the way to pros. Concert ukes still have that classic Hawaiian sound, just without all the pain of cramming your fingers onto tiny frets.
Honestly, trying to play a soprano can be like trying to break in a new pair of ballet shoes (if you know, you know). Stick to the concert, it’s probably your best bet. However, here’s a top tip from me. If you’re still worried about playing such a small instrument, just go for one that has fewer frets. Whether your concert uke has 15 or 20 frets, its scale length will still be the same! So, if you’re a beginner and you’re not too fussed about the extra frets yet, look for something like this Vangoa Concert Uke.
Tenor ukuleles are bigger than concert and soprano ukes, so they’re much louder. Their range is even bigger than that of the concert ukulele. I absolutely love tenors. They strike the perfect balance between bright and mellow, in my opinion. If you’re a performer or a singer looking for a bit of a different accompaniment, you could easily fall in love with a tenor ukulele.
They’re actually not much bigger than concerts, so it’s easy enough to carry them around as well. One thing I will say though is if you’re a beginner and you want to play percussively, stick to the smaller sizes. You’ll get there a lot quicker. Trying to play a tenor percussively takes a bit of practice. Trust me. I’ve been there.
Okay, so this is where it gets a little bit tricky. Sopranos, concerts, and tenors are all tuned to the key of C (G, C, E, A). However, Baritones are tuned to the key of G (D, G, B, E). As a result, baritones will feel very familiar to guitarists. In fact, if you can already play the guitar, you’d pick the baritone up in seconds. Baritone ukuleles also have much wider necks, so if you’ve got small hands you might struggle. Personally, I love singing with a baritone ukulele as an accompaniment, I think it sounds so pretty.
If you like the idea of playing a baritone but you don’t want to lose the Hawaiian twang, you can always just pop a capo on at the 5th fret for standard open G, C, E, A ukulele tuning. Baritones are amazing for bridging the gap between playing the ukulele and playing the guitar. So, if you think you might want to learn to play the guitar in the future, learn the baritone first! It’s easier, but it will help you get the hang of things before you move on to six strings! I think I’m a bit too proud of that rhyme…
Does the Shape of My Ukulele Make a Difference?
Okay, now we’re getting into the nitty-gritty. The truth is – yes, the shape of your ukulele really does make a difference. Make sure the shape of your ukulele will suit your playing style. Do you want to be a soulful finger-picker or a punchy chord strummer?
Cutaway or No Cutaway? That is the Question…
Now, it’s no secret that I absolutely love ukes with cutaways. I think they’re just too cute. However, they’re not just there (or not there) to make your uke look cute, they do have a function. I know. Shock. Essentially, if your uke has a cutaway, you’ll have more room to stretch for those higher frets. So, if you want to learn to fingerpick as well as just strumming chords, you might want to go for a ukulele with a cutaway.
Now, I know it may seem like a small detail but having a cutaway gives your hand so much more room when you’re reaching for those higher frets. It may not seem like something you should think about as a beginner, but it will save you money in the future when there’s no need to upgrade!
A Curved Back
If your budget is on the smaller side you should definitely choose a ukulele with a curved back. It may seem like a bit of a gimmick but it actually makes all the difference. Cheaper ukuleles are made with cheaper materials, so they don’t produce the same volume or tone as more expensive ukes. However, brands like Kala have found a solution to this problem. By curving the back of a ukulele, the sound is forced towards its soundhole, meaning more volume and a much better tone!
Bigger Budget Equals Better Quality
The price of a ukulele ranges from as little as $10 to, $1000. When it comes to any instrument really, the more you spend the better the quality. Unfortunately, that’s just the way it is but that doesn’t mean you can’t buy an amazing ukulele with a conservative budget.
Solid Wood vs Laminate Wood Ukuleles
Solid wood ukuleles have a much richer tone, way more volume, and much more resonance than laminate wood ukuleles. It pains me to admit it but they just do. However, there is a downside. Solid wood ukuleles need a lot more care than more affordable ones.
Temperature and humidity can end up warping your instrument if you’re not careful. So, if you live somewhere really hot (lucky you), or if the weather changes a lot where you’re from, maybe go for a laminate wood ukulele instead. I mean, they’re almost impossible to break. Instead of being made out of one solid piece of wood, they’re made out of lots of thin sheets of wood that have been pressed together. Laminate wood ukuleles are a great option if you want to learn to play percussively.
You won’t run the risk of scratching or even cracking the top of your uke. However, laminate wood ukuleles don’t age the same as solid wood ukes. They more or less sound the same after 5 years as they do when they come out of the box (unless you change the strings). On the other hand, solid wood ukuleles get an even richer tone as time goes on.
Can I Find A great Sounding Ukulele With a Small Budget?
Don’t worry! You can still find an amazing ukulele at an affordable price point. Solid wood ukuleles’ top, back, and sides are all made from solid wood (funnily enough), but you could always choose a happy medium. I’ve found some amazing laminate wood ukuleles that have solid wood tops, or solid wood soundboards.
This gives you that lovely, expensive tone, just without all the love care and attention that a solid wood ukulele needs. Having a small budget doesn’t mean your ukulele will sound cheap, it’s all about looking out for little details like these. They really do make all the difference! Don’t be disheartened if a solid wood ukulele just isn’t in your budget.
What ukulele will suit my voice?
If you’re going to be using your new ukulele to accompany you while you sing, this should also impact which one you choose. There’s a common misconception that if you’re a soprano singer you should play a soprano ukulele but it actually doesn’t matter how high or low your voice is.
What matters is how loud you sing, whether you perform in front of people or just sing to yourself and what overall sound you’re going for. If you have quite a loud singing voice, make sure your ukulele has a good bit of volume and resonance. Whereas, if you have quite a soft voice, a soprano or concert would make a really pretty accompaniment.
I think the most important thing to figure out before you choose a ukulele is what you want to sound like. If you love an upbeat, punchy ukulele accompaniment than a concert or tenor uke would be perfect. On the other hand, if you want a more mellow guitar-like accompaniment, a baritone ukulele would be a better choice.
Should I Get an Electric Ukulele?
If you like busking or singing in front of crowds, you might want to think about using a pickup or getting an electric uke. As a singer myself, I find that my voice can sometimes drown out my ukulele. Oops!
An electric ukulele is definitely a good choice if you’re going to be playing in front of crowds. I don’t know about you, but whenever I’ve played a concert there’s always been a chatty bunch of folk at the back that don’t make it easy for my ukulele to be heard.
If you will mostly be playing in front of crowds or at jam sessions at the local pub, an electric uke is probably your best bet. The great news is, you don’t have to break the bank to get one either. I love this Vorson electric concert uke. You’d definitely turn heads if you walked on stage with that guy!
I think it’s great to have the option of playing with or without a pickup. If you know you’ll be playing on stage sometimes but the rest of the time it will just be you, yourself, and your uke, then an electro-acoustic ukulele is a great option. Especially if you’re going to be fingerpicking. You can get a really soulful sound from an electro-acoustic uke, let me tell ya!
If you’re not too sure what the future holds yet, don’t fret! Pardon the pun. You can always choose your favorite acoustic ukulele and just buy a pickup to go with it. Then, should the occasion ever arise where you need a bit of extra volume, you’ve got a backup! Plus, they’re really affordable and pretty easy to use once you get the hang of it.
Choose a Ukulele to Suit You
It may have come as a surprise how many different shapes and sizes ukuleles can come in but that’s what’s so great about them.
No matter what your style is, you can easily choose a ukulele to suit you. It’s definitely not a “one size fits all” instrument though.
So, hopefully I’ve helped you ask yourself the right question to narrow down your choices!
Whether you go for an acoustic baritone or an electric soprano, I know you’re going to love your new Ukulele.
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Fiona is a musician and writer. When she’s not working, she’s either playing the ukulele or finding another instrument to add to her collection.