The sun, sand and surf; Hawaii has given a lot to the world regarding culture. The people are warm and welcoming and the food is brilliant. But you can't really define Hawaii without an ukulele. It's sound is what perfectly captures the soul of Hawaii. So if you're living anywhere in the world and just want to carry a piece of Hawaii treasure with you, or you're really interested in building up in stringed instrument music, you can't miss out on the ukulele.
Price Range and Quality
The cheaper ones can be less than $20. As a beginner, you can choose one around this price tag. There's no real need to buy a high-end ukulele straight off the rack and start your lessons. But, you should buy a cheap one only if you have problems with money, and I'd still disagree. The disadvantage of buying a cheap ukulele is you seldom get the right sound and even if you do, is changes too fast. You basically begin to develop the wrong kind of ear and playing style for the sound, so when you switch to a better instrument, it will seem very off.
If you can save a little extra, you can get one for just under $50, which is quite a good upgrade over the cheaper ones. But if you're really interested in playing and want quality, your price bracket jumps to the $50 - $80.
Places to Buy From
Your best bet would be to try to get one through a respected player or teacher. They generally know a good ukulele when they see one and where to get it from. You can join a music group (specifically for ukulele, there are many of them) or forum online to talk to them. If someone who knows about the instrument lives close to you, you can visit them (ask first!) and get help for buying one.
Another option would be the Internet. If you have a local music shop that deals in quality instruments, go ahead and buy it from them. That way, if there is any problem with your ukulele, you can head on over to the shop and get it fixed. But chances are you don't have a selection range of good ukulele. Which means your best option would be to buy it online from a reputed sales site. You can even try eBay where there will be some dedicated seller.
Types of Wood
Your first step to buying an ukulele is to check the type of wood. You can concern yourself over just the three best types of wood -
- Koa: The most beautiful looking ones are generally made from Koa, which is a type of wood that is found in Hawaii. They really make the best kind of ukulele with Koa wood. The downside is, it is very rare and very expensive.
- Mahogany: An ukulele made from Mahogany sounds softer than one made from Koa, but offers almost the same richness in tone.
- Spruce: It is the most common wood used and probably the wood out of which your starter ukulele is going to be made from. An alternate to a full spruce body is one made with a Spruce front and a Rosewood back.
There is one type of a combination of wood used, known as the laminated or plywood wood. It means there is cheaper wood on the inside, with a better wood like mahogany or Koa. It may give the ukulele a much better look, but the sound is not as bright as an ukulele made from a single wood or solid-wood.
As far as shapes are concerned, stick to the original ukulele shape and don't get tempted to buy anything else just because it looks good. For any music instrument, sound is much more important than the way it looks.
Types of Ukulele
It is the smallest of all ukulele. If you don't know all the types and are imagining one right now, then it's the soprano. It is the most common ukulele and the one you, as a beginner, will be buying.
If you are someone with large hands, then a concert might be the one for you. The difference between the soprano and the concert ukulele (aka Alto ukulele) is the size. The concert ukulele is slightly larger, which makes its tone a lot richer than the soprano. However, in terms of sound, richer is not really better.
Meant for professionals, the tenor ukulele comes with a variation is strings - 4,6 or 8-stringed.
It's so big, you just might mistake it to be a guitar. You can, in fact, tune the strings to standard guitar tuning. Yes, size means more wood used, so the baritone ukulele is also the costliest.
Popular Ukulele Brands
If you're a complete novice, Mahalo ukuleles are the best choice for you. They are cheap, durable and come in a variety of colors. One problem is that they are sold mostly in the UK, but you won't have much of a problem shipping them to USA through amazon.com. But what comes cheap in price, will be paid for in quality. It's really hard to find a great sounding ukulele here, but the point is, at least you can afford one and start off.
They sell everything from banjo ukes, Koa wood ukes as well as limited edition models. The Lanikai LU-21 is one of the best beginners ukulele out there. You can buy it off eBay and it comes with a gig-bag, a tuner and Aquila strings.
The more trusted brand of ukulele makers, who ironically concentrate more on making Autoharps than ukulele. They are actually a small branch of Washburn Guitars. Ukulele from Oscar Schmidt are the best in quality, looks, feel and sound, even if they are Koa laminated.
They concentrate more on banjo ukulele than any other ones, which is why they make the best banjo ukes. All parts for their instruments are made specifically for their brand of ukulele, making them very precise and detailed.
Even though Les Reitfors, the guy who this company is named after, died in 2005, they continue making some of the best pieces out there.
From over Austin, Texas, comes this brand of excellent hand-made range of ukulele, good for all kinds of players. They pay special attention to detail.
If you looking for something that looks out of this world, go for Keith Ogata ukulele. They are great quality ukulele, touched with a little Japanese style and sprinkled with a great imagination. And they sound great too!
This should pretty much be enough for your beginner ukulele needs. Even if you can't afford an ukulele that the top brands make, you can still take a cheaper one just to knock it around and learn the chords and styles. Don't get used to it and try to save up for a good one. But in the meantime, do your best to learn how to get the right sound and make your audiences smile.