When the machete was brought to the shores of Hawaii by Portuguese immigrants, its bright and cheerful sound made an impact that it was adopted into the culture of the locals, and a modified version was made called the ukulele or uke. With its popularity spreading far and wide, various manufacturers of music instruments started making their own to capitalize on it and meet the demand.
Keep in mind that not all ukuleles are created equal even if they all look the same to you. Some of you who are not familiar with uke might also think that they all sound the same, but they do not. It is best that you have an idea of what to look for when purchasing one, especially if what you want are professional-grade ukuleles. Check out the different brands available in the market today so you would know what your options are.
2 Major Factors To Consider When Choosing Professional Ukuleles
The basic or raw materials used in constructing the ukulele play a massive part in the quality of sound and tonality when playing this string instrument. The body is mostly made of wood, such as mahogany, maple, and koa, although plastic ones are used too. Some cheap ones make use of laminated wood or plywood. Various tonewoods are used for the soundboard, with each one having its own impact such as cedar, which produces complex overtones; spruce is vibrant and loud, and redwood is clear and full.
Ukuleles come in different sizes that affect the range of tones produced. Of the seven types, the soprano is the most common, which measures 21 inches in length and has 12 to 15 frets, with the standard tuning of GCEA that can give you that classic ukulele sound. Smaller than this is the pocket type that is also known as the piccolo or sopranino. Bigger and next in size to the soprano is the concert followed by the tenor then by the baritone, bass, and contrabass ukuleles. Naturally, the bigger the size, the fuller the sound with a wider range of notes and tones possible due to longer string length and having more frets.
Top Ukulele Brands for Professionals
The Kanilea Ukulele company was established in 1998 by Joe and Kristen Souza, and they employed a team of exceptional artisans. Joe was an apprentice of master luthier, Peter Bermudez, in the early 1990s, so he was able to incorporate the traditional techniques he learned with modern technology. He created the Total Resonating Ukulele-Redesigned (TRU-R) bracing system that ensures incredible resonance and sustains quality in each handcrafted string instrument. His ukuleles can be quite costly, but you would be getting your money’s worth. However, if you have a smaller budget, you do not have to worry because they also came up with moderately priced ones in the Oha Series with modified TRU-R. Oha is made from authentic mahogany sides and back, walnut fingerboard and bridge, and a koa soundboard with a UV cured natural finish and Aquila super nylgut strings. It is interesting to note that the company planted one tree for every uke created through their Hawaii reforestation program.
2) Kala Ukulele
The Kala Brand Music Co. is home to a wide variety of ukuleles. Company founder and owner, Mike Upton, started the company in Honolulu in July 2005 then moved to Petaluma, California. Kala ukuleles are of great quality at affordable prices, which made them a popular choice for uke players. They have the Waterman line designed as a tribute to the 1956 Maccaferri ukes for beginners. It is durable and easy to clean. It comes in different sizes and attractive colors. These include the soft pink matte soprano, glow-in-the-dark aqua matte soprano, fluorescent blue soprano, black concert, and seafoam green concert. The Makala line, also for beginners, has a great sound with a vintage look that comes in classic, dolphin, and shark models
There are more to choose from for concert ukes in their summer-inspired designs of the Surf Series and the glittery designs of the Sparkle Series. They also have the exotic wood series that showed the grain patterns unique to the kind of wood used, such as the bocote, macawood, burl, and ziricote for concert and tenor. The Elite Series, which are considerably more expensive than the other series, are handmade using premium-grade materials including the all-solid myrtle concert, all maple tenor, salt-and-pepper doghair mahogany tenor, and gloss Honduran mahogany Hawaiian koa tenor. They also launched the rubber-stringed uke called the U-Bass that sounds like the large upright bass.
3) Luna Ukulele
The ukuleles from Luna produce the classic uke sound and come in artistic designs that include the traditional Hawaiian body art with a reasonable price tag. Soprano ukuleles, which are commonly used by those just starting to learn how to play, come in a variety of designs and shapes, including the Vintage Mahogany Soprano in red or black satin, Tribal Pineapple, Starry Night Soprano, and the Tattoo Pineapple Mahogany pack. For those interested in concert ukes for a fuller tone and natural acoustic sound, your options would include the newly released Vista Wolf, Owl, and Vista Deer; all with a preamp. They also have the Vintage Mahogany Concert pack, “Hau” Snow White Concert, and Maluhia Peace Concert with preamp and gigbag.
Hoshino Gakki started making Spanish-style acoustic guitars for the Japanese market in 1935 and used the name Ibanez Salvador to market them. Later on, Ibanez became the name of their brand. The use of the name is not surprising given that Salvador Ibanez was a Spanish luthier, who was renowned for the superior quality and workmanship of his creations.
At first, the company is known for their guitars; however, they also became famous for their soprano and concert ukuleles that come with built-in electronics and offer easy playability at a very affordable price. Most notable among their lineup includes the UEW15E model, which is an acoustic-electric concert EW style made of flamed African mahogany tonewood with purpleheart bridge and fretboard that all come together to deliver a full sound and lively tone, and the UICT10 model, which is an acoustic-electric tenor with a rock ‘n’ roll design made of a spruce top and Okoume back, sides, and neck. It comes in black with a high gloss finish.
C. F. Martin & Co. has a long history of making ukuleles that started in 1907 when the company made its first six ukes upon the request of Bergstrom Music Co. It took several more years before continuing production but of the less pricey kind. By 1917, they offered variety in design and price, which made their ukes a bestseller. It continued to this day when uke players can choose something very expensive that can be passed on to future generations such as the top of the line Martin Soprano 5K uke and the 1T IZ Tenor, which is their way of paying homage to famous Hawaiian singer and uke player Israel “IZ” Kamakawiwo’ole, and something less expensive such as the Martin Soprano S1 uke and Tenor T1K.
Most uke players look not just for quality but also playability, and the Fender ukuleles certainly fit those requirements. They are made in Indonesia so that you can expect good quality craftsmanship. The design ranges from something classic or traditional to the cutaway style, and it is available in various colors. The price is easy on the budget without sacrificing quality. You can choose from the soprano, concert, and tenor lineup of Fender and enjoy the clear and unique sound of the uke. You also have the option of getting the acoustic-electric type such as the Fullerton Strat concert or T‑Bucket tenor that can give a solid amplified uke tone.
7) Magic Fluke
Dale and Phyllis Webb established the Magic Fluke Co. in 1999 to produce affordable quality uke made in the United States. A little over two decades have passed, and the ukuleles they make include the tenor, concert, soprano, baritone uke banjo, and electric uke. They source the materials and parts that they use as close as possible to the community they belong to. Their products have all the components that players of ukulele look for, including durability, warm uke sound, and easy playability.
Magic Fluke concert or tenor uke has a nontraditional shape, and it is made from a combination of wood soundboard and molded thermoplastic body with D’Addario Nyltech strings. It also sounds great but does not expect it to have the same traditional uke sound because the resonance would be different with the body made of plastic. Some of the features and components vary depending on the model. If you want to have it customized, you can choose the Designer Fluke. You should also check the Magic Flea uke that comes in various styles and colors, including the Koa Flea, All Black Lava, Spruce, Solid Color, and Designer Flea.
The ukuleles from Lanikai are handcrafted on the island of O’ahu in Hawaii under Hohner Music Company. It is said that Mike Upton, the founder of Kala ukuleles, used to work for Hohner and helped develop Lanikai before he set off and established his own business.
The company offers not just the usual four-string soprano, concert, tenor, baritone, and bass ukuleles but also the five-string, six-string, and eight-string ukes. Different models are available, including the Figured Bogota Series, Mahogany Series, and the Julia Michaels Signature ukuleles. It is likely that you would find something that would fit your requirements from design to features.