Wanting to learn how to play the ukulele is not surprising given the distinct and unique sound it is capable of producing. This four-string instrument comes in various sizes, and the tone and volume would vary depending on the size of the uke you are playing. It would be a bit unfortunate if what you hear when you play your instrument does not sound the way you expect it to. There are many things that you should factor in when you make your uke purchase. Here is a guide to help you with it.
Things to Consider When Buying the Ukulele
The purpose of Playing the Ukulele
Since not all ukuleles are the same, it stands to reason that the prices vary as well. There are cheap, moderately priced, and expensive ones available in the market, so it would not be too hard to get something that is within your budget. However, it is important that you first determine the purpose of buying one. If it is just a hobby, then you can get one with a decent sound that is low-priced. An expensive one does not always mean the best, although it would certainly have excellent features and specs; it also does not mean that it would help you learn fast because that would depend on your level of commitment and diligence in practice.
Suppose you are buying one to become a professional uke player and perform live or record it. In that case, you should pay attention to the quality of materials used and how well it is made because you want one that is durable and has superior tonal qualities. You should also consider getting an acoustic-electric uke as it comes with a built-in pickup and pre-amp system that when plugged in, would give you that amplified tone without having to go through the hassle of miking the ukulele sound yourself.
Sound & Tone Quality
Aside from the size of the ukulele that affects the sound that it produces, another significant factor to consider is the material used or the quality of construction because it also has a big influence on the resonance or quality of sound.
Different materials are used to make a ukulele, although wood is generally the material of choice because of its responsiveness and resonant tone. As there are several types of wood, such as spruce, mahogany, koa, rosewood, cedar, and ovangkol, the sound generated would also differ. Mahogany and koa are said to produce a warmer and mellow tone while cedar and spruce would be lively and bright; each one would be less or more than the other even if they have a similar impact. The parts that are usually made of wood are the back, sides, neck, and top. Some ukes are made of just one type, and there are those that use different types for the different parts. Particular attention is paid to what is used as the top or soundboard as it acts as an amplifier to the vibrating strings while the back and sides contribute to the resonance.
Ease of Playing
One of the things that you should look for in a ukulele is the playability, which involves the distance of the string to the top of the fret wire that affects the action of the strings. When strumming the strings, it is vital that the strings be just low enough to enable ease of playing but not too low because it would result in buzzing with the strings hitting the frets as you play. It should not be too high as well as this would make it harder to play. All this would depend on setting up the height of the saddle.
Your playing style should also factor in because a vigorous strumming of strings would require high action, while gentle or soft strumming would require low action. Another thing to take into account is the scale length, which is the distance between the saddle and the nut, and it affects playability because of the string tension required to get the right pitch. The scale length also affects the distance between the frets on the fingerboard.
Sizes of the Four Major Types of Ukulele
The size of the ukulele affects the sound it produces as well as playability. Generally, the bigger one has a warmer, fuller tone that is louder than the smaller ones. As for playability, it differs from person to person as it can depend on the size of the hand. It is best that you check what each type sounds like and how it affects your playing, so you can decide which one you prefer, whether you are performing solo or as part of an ensemble. Here are the four main types from smallest to biggest.
1) Soprano Ukulele
The soprano type is what one would normally have in mind when talking about the ukulele. It gives that classic or traditional vibe as it is what you would imagine the uke would sound like, which is a “plinky” sound or a bright and soft tone because of its relatively small resonating surface. It has a standard tuning of GCEA. The average size of a soprano is 21 inches (53cm), with a scale length of only 13 inches (33cm). Having a short scale means it only has 12 to 15 frets and narrow fret spacing. It can be played by players of any skill level. Young players or those with small hands and fingers would find this easier to hold and play. Having a small body and neck makes it a lightweight, thus more portable and very easy to hold when playing.
2) Concert Ukulele
The concert type, also known as the alto, has a standard tuning of GCEA. Its size and projection are between a soprano and a tenor. It is said to have the sweet tone of a soprano but a bit fuller with some depth of the tenor. It measures 23 inches (58cm) long with a scale length of 15 inches (38cm) and has 15 to 18 frets, which means it has tight fret spacing.
3) Tenor Ukulele
The tenor type has a standard tuning of GCEA, and it can be tuned to high‑G or low‑G. It is slightly bigger and longer than the concert ukulele as it measures 26 inches (66cm) long with a scale length of 17 inches (43cm). Having a longer scale length allows more frets. The tenor ukulele has 17 to 19 frets. Thus, it’s more suitable to be used on playing more complex melodies. The sound of the tenor ukulele is also louder and has more resonance than the concert and soprano. The tenor uke usually has four strings, but it can have as many as five, six, or eight strings.
4) Baritone Ukulele
The baritone is the biggest in size as it measures 29 inches (74cm) long with a scale length of 19 inches (48cm); it has 18 to 21 frets with wider fret spacing. The sound is fuller and deeper because it has a larger resonating surface. Unlike the other three, it has a standard tuning of DGBE, which makes the sound similar to that of a classical acoustic guitar but still has that ukulele vibe.
Getting the right ukulele for you might not be as simple as you think because it comes in various sizes, shapes, and designs. There is a lot to consider whether you are a beginner or have more experience playing the uke. This guide should be able to help you in your quest for the right one. For a beginner, you should consider buying one that is easier to handle or play as you will be practicing a lot to improve your skills. For the experienced players, you would already have an idea of what you want in a ukulele, so it would not be hard to choose what to buy.