One question I get asked more than anything else is what is a good ukulele to buy for a complete beginner. There are so many variations in ukulele’s, different sizes, colours, brands, constructions and shapes, it is easy to see why lot of people could be bamboozled the amount of choice out there.
In this blog I will work through my personal recommendations, from my experience of playing and teaching the ukulele. This will help guide you through choosing the right ukulele.
I would always recommend getting a smaller scale ukulele for a child between the ages of 4 years old to 8 years old. Therefore I would recommend a Soprano ukulele.
A Soprano ukulele is a shorter in scale and has a narrower neck. The fretboard is shorter and narrower making them ideal for smaller fingers to reach across and play the right notes. It is also easier for them to strum as they are smaller bodied so not as cumbersome.
My first ukulele was a Makala Soprano ukulele, and was probably about £40. It was a gift from my brother and it ignited my passion for ukulele playing. There are cheaper alternatives out there, but I personally recommend the Makala as I have found it to be well made and reliable. The problem with some of the cheaper ukuleles, around the £20 price range, is that they can be less well put together and often you can have tuning issues. Although if you have 4 year old child who just wants to strum along and experiment with playing a uku then some of the cheaper ones are great little toys for making a sound with, so don’t disregard them completely. The more expensive options (above the £35 price range) will stay in tune better, as the gears on the tuning pegs are of a better construction.
I still a regular use my Makala soprano ukulele when I am performing abroad. I can take it as hand luggage on a flight knowing that it is safe with me. I often take it on a vacation if I am going for a weekend in the sun. No suitcase and heavy flight cases needed. Just me and my ukulele, and the next thing I am sat on a beach miles away from anyone strumming on my ukulele! Try doing that with a grand piano!!!
I have bought a number of the cheaper alternatives plus some more expensive ones, but I find this to be the best one for a child who starting out. For the sake of paying an extra 15 pounds it is a worthwhile investment I have linked to the Makala I have on my website priced at £39.99, reduced from the original price of £49.99.
For children of 8 year old upwards to adults I recommend buying a concert ukulele. They have a bigger body and fretboard. For an adult learning to play a Soprano ukulele, it can sometimes be a bit tricky as your fingers will be jammed up together when playing chords.
With the Consort ukulele being a larger size you will get a fuller, richer sound from it. I have a Makala concert ukulele on my website for £86.56. Again there are cheaper alternatives, but I find this to be a very well constructed ukulele. This should suffice for a professional musician or a beginner just getting started.
One thing I would always recommend is buying a decent tuner for ukulele. There are many mobile phone apps out there which will also work as a tuner. However I still recommend using a clip-on tuner. Where the tuner just clips on the end of your ukulele enabling you to use it anywhere. They are also very accurate as they work off the vibration of the string, as opposed to the mobile phone tuner apps, which work from the sound of the string. This can be problematic in noisier environment, as any background noise can disrupt the signal and give a false reading. I would choose a slightly more expensive one, by expensive I mean £10 upwards, so for the sake of spending £4 or £5 more than a budget one, it is worthwhile.
I always recommend buying a spare set of ukulele strings. The strings on the ukulele should not need replacing often, but if you are a newbie, sometimes you might over-wind a string when tuning it and snap it, or you may be a little heavy handed when strumming and break a string. Brand new strings will sound a lot brighter. However they will go out of tune at first until the have been fully stretched and bedded in. The slackness in the nylon takes a long time to come out. I would suggest tightening them up to the correct tone and then gently pulling the slack out of the string. You will then have to re-tighten until it goes back up to the correct pitch. Aquila strings are the industry standard and I would always recommend these rather than cheaper options.
When first playing any stringed instrument it will always take a toll on your fingers. Eventually you wulill develop harder skin, known as calluses, which form as the bodies natural protection. You may also develop blistering on the strumming fingers as well. This can be overcome by buying a plectrum. Many ukulele purists do not recommend playing with a plectrum, but personally I think there is nothing wrong with using one, however I would advise using a felt or leather plectrum, as these are kinder to the soft nylon strings on the ukulele. I have to admit I have often used a plastic plectrum in the past on the ukulele, and have never experienced any real detriment to the strings, but better to be on the safe side. If you do use a plastic on make sure that it is a narrow gauge like 30mm to 40mm.
I also have on my starter pack on my website, bundles which have a decent ukulele and accessories like strings, plectrums and straps etc. They are worth checking out, as you can save a few pound buying a bundle package.