Are you saving up money for your very first ukulele? You might assume that your local music store is the best bet. But there are some things you should consider before you spend your hard-earned income on a musical instrument.
The Ukulele is a good choice for beginners, but in our experience, most music stores do not have inventory to accommodate every situation. For example, you might have heard somewhere that cheaper instruments are better for beginners, but that isn’t necessarily true. It’s better to have a broader range of options available to you, as the wrong instrument can negatively affect your learning journey.
Some brands like Diamond Head might be more prevalent, but there are plenty of stores that only carry Mahalo Ukuleles. And while Mahalo instruments might be colorful and fun, that doesn’t necessarily make them the best place to start.
There are obviously more options available online. But if you’re going to buy online, you should certainly do your research first.
In this guide, we’ll show you what to avoid and what to look for in your first ukulele. Here are the five criteria you must consider.
#1: The Size of Your Ukulele
First, you need to know which particular ukulele size that is right for you. Although the Soprano is one of the most popular body types, you would do well to get acquainted with the different sizes available.
Even tenor and concert-sized ukuleles are easy to handle for those with small hands. And if you have bigger hands, you should certainly consider a bigger sized ukulele too.
Once you’ve figured out the perfect size, it’s time to consider the price. We believe it’s essential that your budget fits the level of performance you require.
For instance, if you’re a complete beginner or a hobbyist and don’t intend to practice and perform all the time, we don’t suggest buying a high-priced instrument. A suitable entry-level soprano ukulele can easily be found in the $25 to $125 range.
The one thing we suggest avoiding is spending money you don’t have. Don’t go into debt for musical gear!
#3: Acoustic or Acoustic-Electric
There are basically two types of ukuleles. There’s acoustic and acoustic-electric. An acoustic ukulele is just as it sounds. It’s a standard ukulele with nice projection. An electric-acoustic ukulele, on the other hand, has built-in electronics. And that means your uke can be plugged into an amplifier or PA system. That said, acoustic-electric ukes usually have solid projection without being plugged in. And that means they’re more versatile.
Acoustic-electric instruments are often considered “gigging” instruments. So, if you plan to jam with friends, attend open mics, or play gigs, you might prefer an acoustic-electric. That doesn’t mean you can’t put a mic on an acoustic instrument, mind you.
You can save a bit of money by opting for an acoustic instrument. Acoustic instruments are also more than adequate for general practice, at-home, and even campfire use. Some say acoustic ukes also have a nicer sound because no cavity was carved out for the pickups / electronics. Not sure whether that’s true, but purists might prefer the acoustic ukulele as well.
#4: Tuning Pegs & Hardware
Hardware is another important piece of the puzzle. One of the most important pieces of hardware on a ukulele is the tuning pegs or machine heads.
Although there are many factors affecting your ukulele’s tuning stability, it’s fair to say that the tuning pegs are the most significant. Cheap ukuleles are often unstable and may even have bad intonation, so going the cheapest route isn’t always the right move. Constantly having to tune is more annoying than you might think. Thus, it’s best to choose an instrument with quality tuning pegs. It might even be the top consideration affecting your overall satisfaction with the instrument.
Understand that even if you do buy a cheap ukulele, you can still have the tuning pegs swapped out. Unless you’re a luthier or ukulele tech, though, we don’t suggest changing the tuning pegs yourself. Expect to spend somewhere in the range of $75 to $200 to buy new tuning pegs and to have your stock ones replaced by a tech.
There are many beginner oriented ukulele bundles out there, especially on Amazon. So, is it worth springing for the extras? Should you buy a uke that comes with a gig bag, tuner, picks, extra strings, and so forth?
Basically, there are a few essentials. A proper case will protect your instrument from potential damage and wear and tear. A stand is a great thing to have for setting up your instrument in your practice room. An electronic tuner is also a great thing to have, even as a professional.
Not surprisingly, though, if you buy a ukulele bundle, you usually end up with poor quality accessories. They’re just bonuses to help close the deal. So, while it’s always nice to have everything you need at the outset, you should not expect bundled products to be of a high quality.
Picks are optional, as ukuleles are usually played with the fingers, but there’s certainly no rule against practicing both techniques.
#6: New or Used?
Should you buy a new ukulele or a used ukulele?
Well, a nice used instrument is probably going to help you save some money. And you might end up with a better quality instrument for the same amount of money. Of course, you might not be aware of potential issues with the instrument. If buying second-hand, in addition to the above, you should also look for cracks and holes in the body (other than the sound hole, of course), intonation issues, and loose hardware components. Any other issues, like missing strings or tuning pegs should be obvious!
A new instrument probably won’t have any wear and tear. Likely, it will be ready to play out of the box (after a quick tune-up), and while it’s an intangible, you also tend to have a sense of ownership over ukuleles you bought brand new. That said, even new instruments can come damaged in the mail (especially if ordered online), so contact the manufacturer or seller immediately and get these issues resolved fast.
Like most, I own both used and new instruments. There is nothing wrong with either. It just depends on what you need right now, and budget will probably be a factor!
#7: The Brand
People do like to talk about the best brands. And while certain ukulele brands are prestigious, have more history behind them, or have more notoriety overall, the bottom line is that you’ve got to compare apples to apples. For example, it’s an act of futility to compare a premium level ukulele to an entry-level one. From craftsmanship to materials and hardware will all be distinct from one instrument to other!
That said, here are some of the brands we know and trust:
- Hola! Music
- Mahalo Ukuleles
- Diamond Head
That said, ADM, Everyjoys, HUAWIND, honsing, and Ranch are also well-known brands, and if you’re looking for something with a little more “oomph” to it, you might seek out the many custom ukulele makers out there!
Best Overall Choice for a Beginner:
Before we introduce our favorite pick, we want to make sure you’re aware of one thing:
There’s no such thing as a catch-all solution. What works for one doesn’t always work for another.
With that out of the way, our favorite selection for a beginner ukulele player is…
The Kala LTP-MH!
What do We Like About it?
Here’s what we like about the Kala LTP-MH:
- Quality instrument. It’s not a top-of-the-line uke, but it’s much better than many instruments costing in the $25 to $50 range.
- It looks amazing. It instantly catches your eye!
- Its body size. The tenor is still a very manageable size and weight for any player.
- It comes with a gig bag. And it’s not bad!
- Its price point. It’s not the cheapest, but it’s certainly not going to break the bank either.
Have a closer look at the Kala LTP-MH.
Ultimately, picking the perfect ukulele is about getting the one that’s best for you. So, while online demos and reviews are helpful, if you can go to a store in person and try out a uke for yourself, that is still the best thing you can do. There is a wider selection online, though, so it’s always a bit of a balancing act.
Either way, we wish you all the best during your shopping journey.
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