How to choose your first ukulele?
If you have decided to sign up your kid for music lessons (or if you want to take them yourself, why not?), the ukulele is a great instrument to choose from! It is among the easiest musical instruments for beginners, and it is also a great transitional instrument if you want to play the guitar because the ukulele has fewer cords, it’s lighter, more portable, and really simple to tune.
It has been a widely popular string instrument for many years, and many musicians, from Israel Kamakawiwo'ole to Jason Mraz, from George Harrison to Amanda Palmer, a lot of popular music bands include a ukulele in one or more of their songs. Its sweet sounds remind us of the origins of the instrument, the sunny beaches of Hawaii. There are many reasons why this instrument is so popular! Here, we’ll tell you a little bit about its origins, and give you some tips if you are looking forward to buying your first ukulele.
A brief history of the ukulele
The ukulele was created in Hawaii in the late 19th century, a derivation of the Portuguese machete (cavaquinho), another small string instrument similar to the guitar. This instrument was brought to the islands by immigrants from Portugal. From Hawaii, the ukulele reached the USA in 1915, when it was first played in front of a live audience in San Francisco during the Panama-Pacific International Exposition. Later, it became associated with jazz music and many instrument manufacturers across the country begun producing ukuleles.
The post-World War II era (from the mid-1940s to the 1960s) brought an increment in the instrument’s popularity, but then it declined. It wasn’t after the 1990s when the ukulele regained interest. The Hawaiian artist Israel Kamakawiwo'ole, and his versions of “Somewhere over the rainbow” and “What a wonderful world” had a lot to do with it! From that hit song, the ukulele had a huge revival, and ever since it became popular all around the world once again.
How to find the perfect ukulele
When you have to buy a ukulele for the first time, you have an advantage respecting other musical instruments: its price range! Indeed, the ukulele comes at different prices, but it is a great instrument for people on a budget because it is never too expensive. If you have to buy a keyboard, a violin, or a guitar, you have a wider price range to choose from.
This is one of the advantages of the ukulele: you don’t need a big investment to have your own instrument and begin taking lessons. You want to play the ukulele; you go and buy yourself one! You wouldn’t consider renting one, as some highly-priced orchestra instruments.
Of course, if you want the best ukulele from original Hawaiian manufacturers, you may end up paying thousands, but in general, you can find a great instrument for about $150 and acceptable ukuleles for beginners for less than $100. Like in any instrument, if you buy the cheapest models (you can find ukuleles for as little as $20), the sound quality and the tuning won’t be great, and they may become a source of frustration when you can’t get it to sound right. However, if you already have a cheap ukulele at home, it may help you or your child during the first couple of lessons.
Take into account that, although all ukuleles are small and portable, they come in four different sizes: soprano, concert, tenor, or baritone. The bigger the body, the bigger the tone, and the deeper the sound! The soprano is the smallest and the most popular, some people consider it the “authentic” ukulele, but if your hands are too big it may be a little uncomfortable. If you are choosing an instrument for your child, remember that when in doubt between two sizes, it’s better to opt for the smallest: you shouldn’t wait for a child to “grow into” an instrument that is too big for them, as it creates bad posture habits and can even lead to chronic injuries.
Some great ukuleles for beginners
There are hundreds of models and different ukulele brands, and if you follow the rule of thumb that you shouldn’t spend less than $50 for your instrument, you’ll probably get it right. In any case, here we recommend a few brands and models that have great reviews and that you can buy online:
- Kala KA-15S Satin Mahogany Soprano Ukulele: An all-mahogany body that provides smooth sounds, deeper than the smallest size of ukuleles. One advantage of this model is that it’s particularly easy to tune. You can purchase it online at Musician’s Friend for $57 (the case is sold separately).
- Ukulele Soprano Size Bundle From Lohanu: It is one of the most well-known brands when it comes to ukuleles, and it offers models in all sizes. You can purchase the classical soprano ukulele for $70 on Amazon. It comes with plenty of accessories and includes a Bonus Free step-by-step video tutorial for beginners.
- Luna Tattoo Concert Ukelele: Ok, so it’s a bit more expensive, but check out this beauty! Its mahogany body comes with traditional Hawaiian ornamentations. You can purchase it on Amazon for $99 and it includes the travel bag to carry your music around you wherever you go!
- Lanikai Ukulele (MAC): A solid, durable concert-size ukulele that is not only beautiful but also its light headstock offers maximum comfort to play. You can buy it on Amazon for $120.
- Cordoba 15CM-E Edge Burst Acoustic-Electric Concert Ukulele: With discreet sound-hole controls, this model is perfect for performing on stage. For a bit more money than the average, you get a high-quality instrument that beginners can play, but that with proper care will last for many, many years. Purchase it on Amazon for $139.
There you go! Now you have all the necessary information you need for purchasing your first ukulele and start taking some lessons. Remember you can sign up today and you get your trial lesson for free! Enjoy your new ukulele!