This is one of the scariest steps in starting ukulele. There is the fear of getting something too expensive and not being worth the money, or getting something too cheap and it being nothing more than what you payed for. To help you with this process, here are the basics you need to know when looking for a ukulele. For those of you who trust me and want to get a good, inexpensive ukulele now, scroll to the bottom and pick one of the two ukuleles I have found to be the best to start with personally and with students.
1) Buy Geared Tuning Pegs.
The first image shows what the geared tuning pegs look like. In the second image, you can see how the tuning pegs are not geared. If tuning pegs are not geared, they are impossible to keep in tune, and will make playing the ukulele extremely frustrating. No matter how fancy the ukulele looks, if there are no geared tuning pegs, it is not worth the time and money.
2) Pick the size that fits you best.
Soprano: This is the smallest of all the ukuleles. The tuning is G4, C4, E4, and A4. This ukulele is most often used in the school system because of the small size. This is also usually the most inexpensive of all the ukuleles.
Concert: This is the next size up from the soprano. The tuning is also G4, C4, E4, and A4. If you have larger hands, this ukulele might fit your comfort best. Personally, this is my favorite size. What is also nice about this size is that you have the option of putting a low G string (G3) on the ukulele to add 5 more pitches to the ukulele’s range. If you are a music educator, it might be nice to get a few concert ukuleles for your program for those students who are having more difficulty holding the soprano.
Tenor: This is the second-to-largest ukulele. The tuning is still G4, C4, E4, and A4. Since I started with the soprano and concert sized ukuleles, the tenor is harder to play because the frets are larger. Since the body is bigger, the sound is fuller and projects better. If I am playing my ukulele in a performance setting, this is the ideal ukulele. When also instructing students, the tenor projects sound over the production of 25 Soprano ukuleles playing at once.
Baritone: This is the largest of all 4 ukuleles. Note that the tuning is different from the soprano, concert, and tenor. The tuning is D3, G3, B3, and E4. It is about the size of a junior guitar. For those who are used to playing guitar, this might be the ukulele for you.
3) Check for Aquila Strings.
This is not something absolutely essential for a ukulele, but I have found that ukuleles that don't use Aquila strings sound like little toys and are not as durable. If your ukulele does not have Aquila strings, they are very easy to put on and are only $6-10. I usually buy 5 packs that I keep in my classroom ukulele drawer in case a student's string breaks. Click on the image to buy a basic set of Aquila strings for a soprano ukulele.
Mahalo Soprano (click image)
- Geared Tuning & Aquila Strings
- Fun Colors (not prefered for classroom because it encourages the idea of it being a "toy")
- Medium Sound
- Comes With Thin Case
Kala Soprano (click image)
- Geared Tuning & Aquila Strings
- Sleek and Mature-Looking (perfect for classroom setting because students see it as a real instrument)
- Full Sound
- Does Not Come With Case