Ukulele is one of the best music learning instruments for beginners. It is so easy to learn that, after your first ukulele learning session, you can play some ukulele songs and have fun. For learning to play the ukulele, first, you have to get one, and choosing your first ukulele is a different story.
Ukuleles come in a lot of different models, sizes, and colors which points to the fact of varying costs of ukuleles. So, let's try to figure out what ukulele should a beginner buy and the best way to pick out the first ukulele among so many.
Sizes of Ukulele
Normally, the most commonly used ukuleles are of four different sizes. So, choosing the right one can give a lot of comfort while playing the chords. Soprano, Concert, Tenor, and Baritone are ukuleles of four different sizes. See the table below to compare the features of different ukuleles in terms of their size.
Footnote of the table:
- Typical length represents the overall length of the ukulele from top to the bottom.
- Scale length is the distance from the bridge to the nut of the ukulele where the strings are free to vibrate.
- Frets are numbered from the headstock toward the body starting with 1.
- The range represents the available music notes which can be played.
- Common tuning represents the open string music notes (playing the string without grabbing any fret) that you have to tune by maintaining the specific tension of the strings.
Soprano (The Standard size)
The Soprano, also known as the Piccolo, is the smallest among the four available sizes. It is also normally regarded as the standard size. It is small and fun to play but poses a bit of a problem to medium to larger hands. Sopranos generally has 12 frets which cover the lowest range of music notes than the other types. Also, the open chords are played in the first position meaning the first 5 chords are mostly used. A Soprano generally measures around 21”. The Soprano ukulele provides a plinky and shallow tone.
The concert ukulele is the medium-sized one. It has a tonal feature that is between the Soprano and the Tenor ukuleles. Concerts usually measure around 23”. Concert ukuleles have more frets compared to the Soprano but add depth and volume to the sound. Players with larger hands find it more comfortable, to begin with, a Concert ukulele.
Tenors possess the largest distance between frets, the highest number of notes, and the fullest dynamic range. Tenors sound really close to the sound of a guitar and the same tuning is also used. Tenors are the largest among these three, measuring up to 26”. These are normally used by professionals and converted guitar players.
Baritone ukuleles are the deepest and the warmest sounding ones. They are much larger than the Tenors and have a slight difference in tuning method from the other ukuleles. They are approximately 29”.
How Ukulele Size Affects Tone?
Generally, ukes of bigger body size produce heavier tones. Concert and tenor ukes normally produce warmer, richer, and more resonant than soprano ukuleles. Additionally, more bass and volume are produced by larger ukuleles. In comparison, sopranos are a little quieter possessing a “plinky” tone which makes it more treble-heavy.
How Ukulele Size Affects Playability?
Tenor and baritone ukuleles have a longer scale length than a soprano. Longer scales point out the fact that the frets are further apart giving the player more space to maneuver the fingers. So, the tenor and concert ukes can be played with ease and comfort because of the longer scale length. On the other hand, the smaller distance between frets in a soprano makes it uncomfortable and at times, a bit difficult to play for people having larger hands or fingers.
Which Is The Best Ukulele Size For Beginners?
For beginners, comfort and preference to tone should be factored in while choosing and buying a ukulele for beginner. People of small stature and kids may find it convenient to go for a Soprano which offers a plinky sound. On the other hand, adults and people of larger build-up can go for anyone between concert and tenor. They are a bit larger but are still small in scale and ukulele tuning can be used in both cases.
Ukulele Tonewood Types
When choosing your first ukulele you must know that sound quality significantly depends on what type of wood is used. Different wood has different tone-producing features.
Mahogany wood creates a darker, warmer sound in ukuleles that emphasizes low frequencies. It is used in the middle to low-end ukuleles and is relatively common. Because of its strength mahogany is normally used for the uke's neck.
High-end ukuleles are made of this dense tropical wood which is also a traditional one in Hawaii. Koa gives the uke an excellent warm sound. It is popular for its beautiful grain patterns, variety of colors, and tone.
Rosewood has a unique brown colour and attractive grain finish that makes it a noticeable one among many others. It is one of the strongest and high-density tonewoods making it an expensive one. But the warm and rounded sound can easily make up for the cost.
Spruce not only produces a louder sound than most other tonewoods but also gives off warm and full sounds having crisp and vibrant tones. Spruce is light in colour making it stand out among other tonewoods. Loud and bright tones are produced with a zing by the dense grain of spruce tonewoods.
Cedar is the middle ground between soft, warm, and darker tones. It has a darker brown colour that is close to being reddish. Cedar is quite common among ukulele soundboards as it offers less pointed mids than the spruce. Cedar is a good choice to bring out the lower notes in tenor and baritone ukuleles.
Redwood is scarce and expensive. But, tonally it resides between spruce and cedar providing the clarity of spruce along with the warmth of cedar.
Solid Wood Vs. Laminated Wood
Solid woods are used to make ukulele bodies of higher qualities which also means that they are quite expensive. On the contrary, ukuleles made out of laminated woods or laminates are quite affordable. Laminated wood means that the ukulele is made of cheaper types of wood or layers of wood, and sometimes is topped with attractive grain patterns.
One useful character of the laminated wood is its temperature resistance feature. Meaning it is less prone to splitting in contrasting climates, unlike the solid wood ukes. Solid wood ukuleles are costly but they make up in terms of their superior sound quality. Also, they tend to get mellow with age producing better sounds. Laminated ukuleles sound the same throughout their duration.
In addition to the aforementioned ukes, another ukulele is also used to make warmer sounds despite having a smaller body similar to that of a bass guitar. Bass ukuleles generally measure up to 30-32” which is likable to the Baritone. So, it is larger than most ukuleles but smaller compared to a bass guitar.
Even though electric ukuleles are hardly ever going to get mainstream popularity, they are quite awesome to jam with. Electric ukuleles can be anything among solid body electric, electro-acoustic, or acoustic w/ pickup.
Six String Ukulele
The six-string ukulele is more commonly known as the ‘guitalele’, which is a hybrid variation between a guitar and ukulele. It is the size of a ukulele making portability quite easier but has six strings like that in a conventional guitar. Some include a built-in microphone making it possible to use it as an acoustic guitar or can be connected to an amplifier.
Well, you have to make a budget plan to purchase your first ukulele. It’s not that you are buying new ukuleles every month. Whatever ukulele you choose, you would prefer to settle for a long time.
At the same time, you should be open-minded to shift to a better-sounding instrument. You might have a personal taste of sound which you might develop after some experimental period. In that case, investing much for your first ukulele will end up as a waste of money.
There are many attractive ukuleles available below the 50$ price range. On a first-hand look, these ukuleles easily engage the beginners, as they don’t know much about the instrument.
Cheap ukuleles are built of inferior woods and strings, making them sound like toy instruments. The instrument's intonation is also severely hampered by frets and a bridge that aren't designed for maximum playability. A high string action might make it difficult to hold a chord for the beginners. If you have a budget shortage, consider buying a second-hand ukulele with better features.
Decent Level Ukes
You can get a decent ukulele within 60$-150$. I will not recommend anything above that price for beginners. By judging your skill level, experience, and knowledge over the instrument, you can raise your budget in the future.
Other Factors To Consider
Additionally, you can check out some other essential components of the ukulele before buying one.
For musical instruments like guitars, ukuleles, etc. strings play a vital role in the resulting sound. Good strings can provide better sound quality with a level of comfort. Aquila, Nylgut, D’Addario are some of the companies that manufacture better quality strings for ukes.
Friction pegs or geared tuners are generally used as tuning machines (tuners) for the ukulele. As the name suggests, friction pegs tune the instrument through the friction of the pegs. Strings are tightened or loosened with a twist of the pegs. It takes a bit of trial and error to get the tuning right but it is not as easy to keep tuning, as a simple movement in the peg will affect the tuning.
Usually, geared tuners are a better alternative. Since they allow for more precise tuning, it becomes easier for beginners to tune their own instruments. Depending on the gear ratio, each turn of the peg moves the gear by just a fraction as compared to friction tuners. Hence, it is easier to tune and sustain tunes in ukuleles compared to friction peg.
Also, keeping some accessories will be helpful in the long run. Some of the useful ukulele accessories for beginners are hard case cover, gig bag, capo, electric tuner, strumming pick, etc.
Ukulele Hard Case
If you are traveling with your ukulele, a hard case cover will give you extra protection. Its exterior design is made up of durable wood, which will protect your instrument from any major collision. But the interior is made of soft plush and foam, which effectively protects fragile components such as strings and knobs. Plus, the hard case cover offers a waterproof and dustproof environment, which is ideal for storing the instrument.
Though hard case cover is the best, it is quite a costly option to consider. In this case, a gig bag with foam interior design can come in handy.
Capo is an effective accessory for a beginner ukulelist. It will help you to simplify the ukulele bar chords which are quite challenging for beginners.
Usually, beginner musicians suffer to maintain the tuning of their instruments. Most of them start without learning the basics of music theory, which is vital for understanding the tuning of any musical instrument. In this case, an electric tuner will do the job for you.
Solfeg.io has a tuning app that you can use to tune your ukulele easily. The app works fine for common tuning of soprano, concert, and tenor ukes which is ideal for beginners.
Felt Pick Or Standard Guitar Pick
Picks are small and flat tools that are used to strum the strings of the string instruments. With a pick, ukulele strumming sounds brighter and sharper. Because of the nylon-string feature, leather and rubber-made picks are recommended for ukulele strumming.
Usually, most of the ukulele comes with a gig bag and the sellers provide a couple of picks as a well-wishing gift to your music learning life. For the rest of the accessories, you have to spend from your pocket.
As you can see now - it is not so easy to tell what ukulele should a beginner buy. From the above discussion, try to find a balance between good features and monetary situations while buying your first ukulele. Also, knowing about them helps but try to get guided by your fingers and ears in order to choose your first ukulele and pick the best one for you. The final words are, give priority to comfortability and tone quality in choosing your first ukulele.
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Solfeg.io is a free online learning platform that teaches people how to break down tunes. Practice tools, high-quality listening files, and learning tutorials for piano, guitar, and ukulele are all included in the program. And Solfeg.io app is ideal to learn basic ukulele playing skills and be guided through to play 100+ popular songs. Give it a try.
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