Buying a Ukulele
There may seem a lot to think about when choosing a Ukulele, so we have put a few helpful pointers below to help you out.
Ukulele sizes - Soprano, Concert, Tenor and Baritone
Ukuleles come in 4 sizes, from the smallest, the Soprano (about 21 inches long in total), to the Concert (23 inches), Tenor (26 inches) and then Baritone (30 inches).
The Soprano is considered the standard size for ukuleles. It usually has 12 to 14 frets. There are 2 types of tuning: C tuning, which is gCEA or D tuning, aDF#B. The C tuning is the most popular.
The Concert is a little larger, allowing for a bigger sound, and usually a larger fingerboard, with around 14 to 17 frets (sometimes more). It is usually tuned to gCEA.
The Tenor ukulele is larger again, has 17 to 19 frets, so more scope for playing solos and different chords. Many guitarists prefer the Tenor models. Again, it is usually tuned to gCEA, although out of all the ukulele sizes, perhaps the tenor lends itself best to "Low G" tuning (GCEA - see below).
Baritone ukuleles are closely related to the guitar, and being the largest ukuleles, have a bigger, fuller sound. Baritone ukes have around 19 to 21 frets and are tuned like the top 4 strings of a guitar: DGBE.
Different Ukulele Shapes
Ukuleles come in a range of different shapes, including the standard guitar shape (sometimes called the figure 8); the pineapple (no curves); and the cut away (where the body is “cut-away” near the fingerboard to allow better access to the frets). Risa electric and solid ukuleles, and the Ohana Vita, add a whole new range of shapes and design to the ukulele world.
The standard tuning for the Soprano, Concert and Tenor ukuleles is gCEA. The g string is tuned an octave higher. This is known as "re-entrant" tuning. However, some prefer "Low G" tuning, with the G an octave lower. The Baritone is usually tuned to DGBE, like the top 4 strings of a guitar.
Types of Wood used to make Ukuleles
Ukuleles are made from a range of wood; koa, mahogany, spruce, cedar, maple…
Koa is a native Hawaiian wood and offers a bright, punchy tone, and is very beautiful to look at. Many Hawaiian ukulele makers consider koa to be the best wood for ukuleles. However, good quality koa is hard to find and expensive.
Mahogany wood offers a warm, rich tone. The classic Martin ukuleles of old are probably the most famous of all mahogany ukuleles.
Spruce is popularly used for guitars and is now commonly used for ukuleles too. Ukuleles are often made with a spruce top (front) but with the back and sides made from a different wood, for example rosewood.
You may also find ukuleles in maple, mango, cedar, cherry wood…all sorts of wood. During the 50s and 60s there were many ukuleles made from plastic.
Apart from the looks and tone, a lot will depend on what you want to spend. A koa ukulele will invariably be more expensive than one made from plywood wood.
Solid Wood or Laminated / Ply
You might see a ukulele that is "laminated" or made from "ply" wood. Put simply, this is a uke made from a cheaper wood, covered or laminated in a nicer looking wood such as mahogany.
A ukulele made from solid wood, or at least with a solid wood top, will nearly always give a brighter tone than a uke made from ply.
Ukulele Tuners or Tuning Pegs
Ukuleles come with geared, side-mounted tuners, or with rear-mounted, friction tuners. The friction tuners are considered to be more traditional, although many ukulele players like the control that geared tuners offer, particularly on a larger ukulele, such as the tenor size.
Ukuleles for Kids
If you want to buy a ukulele for a child, then see our Ukuleles for Kids page here...