The Best Ukulele for Beginners

September 11, 2020

The Best Ukulele for Beginners

Ukulele is a tiny acoustic instrument, but despite being small, it produces huge sounds. This creates a lot of curiosity among many people who tend to develop instant interest. The interest raises many questions which we are going to cover in this article.

To begin with, it is essential to know its origin before it spread around the world, gaining a lot of popularity across the globe. This acoustic instrument originated from Hawaii and played a significant role in the culture of the people of Hawaii Island. We shall look at the history in depth later in the article.

In addition to the history of the Ukulele, we shall look at the types of Ukulele, the difference between a ukulele and a guitar, its parts, the methods used to construct ukes, the type of woods, and the best ukuleles for beginners. First, let’s look at the basics that are important for beginners who wish to learn and play this magical instrument.

All You Need to Know about Ukulele as a Beginner

As a beginner, you will need to know a few basics about ukuleles. It is not a complicated instrument, but again it is not similar to the classical guitar. This is because it has different principles of operation; the standard tuning is different from that of the guitars; turning chords are different, and hence the difference in playing techniques.

The standard tuning of Ukulele is (G – C – E – A), and if you are well versed with playing the guitar, the technical music theory can be applied, but you will have to learn the scales and chords from scratch. It will, however, be easier for you to learn the uke, unlike a beginner who doesn’t have any know-how about the conventional guitar.

There are four main types of ukuleles; baritone, concert, soprano and tenor ukuleles. The baritone ukulele has a different tuning, but the three others have one that is similar. The tuning of the baritone uke is (D – G – B – E), while the standard tuning of the three others is (G – C – E – A).

In some cases, there is a lower G, but this depends on the resonance and body size of the Ukulele.

1. Ukulele tuning

As a beginner, this is the first and most important part of learning the Ukulele. It may be a little bit complicated, but you need to get it right. It, however, comes naturally with time. Before you begin learning how to tune a ukulele, ensure the string tightness or looseness is correct and in line with the pitch; otherwise, it will be more difficult, and it won’t sound well even if you get it right.

Use the tuning pegs cautiously to avoid snapping them, at the same time, ensure they are not too loose. There are different ways of tuning the Ukulele, they including tuning by the ear, which is the most difficult, relative tuning, using a tuner, and tuning from a piano.

Using a tuner is the simplest way to go for beginners. The simple steps to follow are,

  • Clip or leave the tuner close to the soundhole
  • If you are using a tuner with multiple modes ensure it’s on the ukulele mode
  • Turn the tune pegs to ensure they are in line with the pitch and pluck the string.
  • Ensure the tuner indicates that the pitch is correct for the string.
  • Repeat the third and fourth step to ensure the perfect tuning of your Ukulele

2. What is the best Ukulele for beginners?

The soprano ukulele is recommended for beginners. This is because it’s the simplest to start with. It is also affordable. We shall look at an in-depth discussion about the same on the types of Ukulele

3. Origin and history of Ukulele

The origin of the Ukulele dates back to 1878, and its origin is Hawaii. By then, it was a unique instrument, but with time it spread to every corner of the world. It makes a valuable part of the culture of the island presently and back then.

4. History of the Ukulele

The history of the Ukulele revolves around immigrants who loved their music and the large scale sugarcane production practiced by the people of this island. Wondering how? Below is how the immigrants impacted on the culture of the people of Hawaii.

To begin with the island was among the few places which had the capabilities of producing large quantities of sugarcane. Due to the levels of production, the California market opened, and large numbers of Portuguese workers began arriving on the island.

5. Instruction of the Machete de Braga in Hawaii

The Portuguese population in Hawaii increased tremendously, and here is how they brought their culture (love of music) to this island. Among the innovations they came with was a small, simple acoustic stringed was well known as Machete De Braga. As mentioned earlier, it was a very simple instrument with four metallic strings.

The people of Hawaii fell in love with the instrument and developed a great interest in the same. The already settled immigrants, most of them being from Madeira, started modifying the machete with the help of the people of Hawaii.

They began by introducing features of other stringed instruments that were popular from their homeland. The outcome of this was the predecessor of the modern Ukulele.

6. The first official Ukulele

Three of the cabinet makers officially constructed the first Ukulele from their passion for constructing something new as well as an exciting one. The innovation of ‘the Ukulele’ became a hit instantly. The exact reasons for this, however, it is not very clear and how the instrument became a significant part of the Hawaii culture. The explanation, though, is simple, as elaborated below.

King Kalakaua, the “savior” of the Hawaii national culture and a great specialist in arts, became aware of the Ukulele, and he insisted that it is played in most royal events. As natural as it was, whatever was cool in the king’s court became cool on the outside as well.

The Ukulele from that point onwards naturally developed and became a national instrument in Hawaii. After that, it only took a short while to become a hit in the United States. It was later embraced by the whole world as well.

The first soprano ukulele was developed in the 19th century, while the Baritone ukuleles were first developed in the 1940s.

7. Ukulele defined

At this point, we shall look at the Ukulele in-depth to remove the misconception of people viewing it as a small guitar. The Ukulele may be smaller from the physical point of view, but looking beyond the size, it has different types of chords and playing techniques hence different tuning.

The fact that you can play the guitar well does not necessarily mean you can play the Ukulele the right way. You may have the technical knowledge, but you will have to learn from scratch how to play this particular instrument.

The Ukulele has 4 strings, while the guitar has 6. The strings have different keys. Its conventional tuning G – C – E - A is also unique, and for this reason, you cannot use the scales and chord of a guitar on the Ukulele.

The Types of Ukulele

The 4 main types of Uke include Soprano, Baritone, Concert and Tenor.

1. Tenor ukulele

The tenor ukulele is the second largest Ukulele and has the biggest standard tuning. It is suitable for all sizes of players, making it popular among players and gives plenty of projections. That said, they are available in different options, designs and prices.

The best tenor ukulele brands include Kala, Cordoba, Martin and Lanikai. They are relatively affordable, but high-end professional tenor ukuleles are a bit costly. The common features across these brands of ukulele include

  • Brilliant projection
  • They are built from high-quality materials
  • Wide necks
  • High-quality tonewoods and binding

2. Soprano ukulele

This is the most common type of Ukulele, the easiest to play and smallest in size. They can be defined as four-string instruments that bear composite chordophone label. They are also known as the standard Ukulele and were developed back in the 19th century.

They are referred to as standard because they formed the basis of creating other types of Ukulele. From this emanated, both larger and smaller types. For instance, smaller or pocket ukuleles (Sopranino or Piccolo) are the smaller versions of soprano ukuleles. The larger versions include the tenor, bass, baritone and others.

The soprano ukulele is best for beginners because of the following reasons

  • To begin with, it is the most affordable considering the fact it is the cheapest.
  • It is the smallest in size, easiest in terms of handling, and the lightest.
  • Its playability is outstanding due to the few frets and weightless quality.
  • It is easy to carry around so you can travel with it and practice at any time anywhere.
  • There is only a minor difference, whether you play it strapped or unstrapped.

How to play a soprano ukulele:

Traditionally ukes were played with bare hands, but presently you can use thumb or guitar picks. Most players prefer playing it without straps; this, however, is not the case with guitars because you will have to use straps.

For complete beginners, a chord book will guide you in finger positioning and strumming. The Fretboard on ukuleles resembles the fingerboard of an Acoustic guitar but has four rows and notes for fretting. There are a few obstacles you will encounter if you intend to be a self-taught soprano ukulele player.

Popular soprano ukulele brands:

The Kala brand of ukuleles, Rogue Soprano, Mitchell, ADM and Omalha brands are the best among the soprano ukuleles. All of them are affordable, and they cost between $20 and $50. The following features characterize most of them.

  • Great playability
  • Premium quality
  • Exquisite finish
  • They hold the tone quite well
  • Finally, they are all suitable for beginners.

3. Concert ukulele

They are also referred to as super soprano ukuleles. This typically means that they are similar to soprano ukuleles, and the only difference is that they are somewhat larger. Their standard length is at 23 inches, and they have 15 to 18 frets.

Most people tend to think they are suitable for concerts only, but that is not the case because they come with similar features, just like the other types of ukuleles. They also come with the standard tuning (G – C – E - A).

The top brands of concert Ukulele:

The Kala brand still appears among the top brands of concert ukuleles. Other leading brands that feature in this list include Martin, Cordoba and Washburn Schmidt. Most of them cost below $200, and the common features of these top brands include,

  • They are built superbly with outstanding performance.
  • They are characterized with broad necks
  • High-quality tonewoods with an exquisite finish
  • Moderate playability with outstanding sounds
  • Most of them are moderately durable

4. Baritone ukulele

This type of Ukulele is the latest creation, the largest in terms of size and with the deepest tone compared to the three others. The history of the Baritone ukulele dates back to 1940 when they became well known.

Their popularity is due to the full and thick sound, which is more pronounced to the lower end. This makes them have a greater bass than the other types. They are similar to a classical guitar in terms of tone, but their bass is not as low as that of a bass guitar.

This type of Ukulele is best suited for someone who’s already a specialist. Their standard size is 29 inches, but there are variations with some being a little larger or a bit smaller.

For beginners who intend to start learning from this type of Ukulele, it can be tricky because you will need to be keen with the tuning. Besides the keenness required during learning, you will have to revert and learn from scratch when you move to soprano or tenor ukuleles.

The thicker sound makes them good for solo performance. Despite being good for solo performance, they can be incorporated into bands because they fit perfectly in the rhythm section of songs by driving along the tracks and playing chords. Jazz players also love the thick, rich tone of Baritone Ukuleles.

Popular Baritone ukulele brands:

The Kala brand is a famous brand across all types. Other brands include the Oscar Schmidt, Lanikai, Cordoba and Luna, which are manufactured by American and Hawaii companies, respectively. Due to their specialist nature, they are lesser in the market compared to tenor and soprano ukuleles

This type of Ukulele costs roughly between $100 and $200. But for the professional options, they cost up to $500. Most, if not all, the above popular brands are characterized by the following features.

  • High-quality strings
  • Very responsive fingerboards
  • Brilliant tune holding capability
  • Beautiful but various finish types (mahogany and maple binding)

The difference between Ukulele and Guitar

  • The Ukulele has four strings while the guitar has six
  • In terms of size, the Ukulele is slightly smaller compared to the guitar.
  • The tuning and chord of the two instruments differ significantly.

Parts of the Ukulele

There are three main parts, just like in the case of guitar variants. The parts include the hardware body and neck. We shall look at an overview of each part below.

1. Body

The body shape of a Ukulele is similar to that of a conventional guitar. Typically it is a standard hourglass contour with a bass and treble bout. Ukulele being acoustic instruments, their body will determine the sound a specific Ukulele will produce.

They come in different types of tone-wood and size. Their shape does not differ that much from one to another. In many cases, it is similar to that of a classical guitar.

2. Neck

The length of a Ukulele neck is at least 21 inches on average. In most cases, it is that short, but there are Ukulele types with longer neck variants. The size of the neck has a direct effect on the strings. Ukulele strings are specific and not similar to those of conventional electric guitars you can easily find in stores.

While shopping for Ukulele strings, you will have to narrow down to two significant factors. One is the specific length, and the other is the tuning you intend to use the strings for. This may sound a little bit complicated, but with time it becomes natural to choose strings.

3. Hardware

The hardware of the Ukulele generally includes saddles, the bridge, tuning machines and nuts. The bridge and tuning machines form the essential parts of the hardware.

Compromising on the quality of the two is like playing an acoustic guitar with a low-quality bridge, and the results are just as bad. Good quality tuners also go in handy in ensuring your instrument is kept on tune. This is possible, despite the fact that the Ukulele string tension is lower than that of a guitar.

Ukulele Construction Methods and Woods

The woods used to construct Ukulele come in two different variations, Including laminated and solid. The laminated type is a composition of pieces of wood that are glued together, while the solid ones are made from single pieces.

Laminated types offer high resistance at low prices, but the tone and resonant are poor. Ukuleles constructed from solid wood are better in terms of quality compared to those made from limited pieces.

When choosing the type of wood to construct a ukulele, you have to consider the following elements.

  1. Tone and resonance whereby solid wood offers both, in superior quality
  2. The budget at hand because solid wood is expensive in this case
  3. The application of the instrument to be constructed, for a ukulele that is used outdoor and frequently travels; laminated wood is best for the sides

Below are the different types of wood used in constructing ukuleles and their features:

1. Spruce

The sound produced by ukuleles made from spruce changes with time and the good thing is that it gets better. It is characterized by the following.

  • High resonance
  • A bright and well-balanced tone
  • Usually light in color.

2. Ebony

Ukuleles made from ebony offer strong emphasis in terms of sound. In addition to that, they have a high-frequency spectrum, which is very hard. Its features include,

  • They are extremely dark in color with no grain
  • The wood is compact and dense making it heavy
  • They are used in finishing and fretboards due to their expensive nature.

3. Mahogany

The sound from ukuleles made from mahogany is from mid frequencies, and it is very sweet. It is characterized by,

  • Red color
  • They are relatively light
  • Finally a very resistant type of wood

4. Rosewood

It produces warm, rounded sound which has a long sustain. Brazilian wood is more valuable than Indian wood. Below are some of its unique features.

  • The wood is expensive but very valuable
  • Brazilian wood is brown and has a beautiful grain.
  • Indian wood is darker has more porosity, and the grain is less pronounced.
  • It is heavy but yet strong.

5. Cedar

Ukuleles made from spruce sound softer, warmer, and more rounded than those made from spruce. This makes it more appreciated by the players than the listeners. Its tone does not change with time. It is characterized by the following features.

  • Its reddish color is but a little bit darker.
  • It produces constant tonal qualities of sound
  • The sound produced from cedar ukuleles is soft and rounded.

6. Maple

This type of wood offers additional aesthetic to ukuleles because it comes in different figures, including the bird’s eye, flamed, and quilted. The sound from this type is characterized with;

  • High spectrum frequencies
  • It is useful in balancing rich sound in the lower end.

The Best Ukulele for Beginner Players

In as much as soprano ukuleles are recommended for beginners, the Ukutune Uke 1 is the perfect Ukulele for beginners. It is slightly larger than the soprano one, hence offering ample space for easy handling. It is comfortable for all player level musicians, and below are some of the key features that make it perfect for beginners.

  • It is 23 inches in length.
  • It has 18 frets, which are well spaced, making the plucking of notes and chords easy.
  • It has Aquila Nlygut strings
  • Its tuning pegs are sealed in chrome
  • The Fretboard and long neck are made from walnut.
  • It produces bright and crisp sounds
  • Its headboard is made from ebony and the soundboard from solid spruce
  • It comes with a carrier bag and an additional set of strings

The Ukulele is an acoustic music instrument small in size but produces well rounded, crisp clear, smooth but huge sounds. It originated in Hawaii back in the 19th century, but due to its popularity, it has spread across the world to become the most sought after musical instrument.

There are four major types of Ukulele, and they are made from different types of tonewoods. They also differ in size, tuning and the type of sound they produce. The soprano ukulele is recommended for beginners, but the ukutune Uke1 has proved to be the best choice for them. This is because it is slightly larger than its counterpart and some other unique features we already highlighted above.

Recommended Products

Beginner's Best Choice
UKM2 Mahogany Wood Concert Ukulele
Ukulele size: Concert (23")
Headstock: Mahogany
Body (soundboard, back, and sides): Mahogany
Fretboard: Engineered wood
Bridge: Engineered wood
Tuning pegs: Sealed chromed
Strings: Aquila Nylgut
Color: Matte Burnished brown
Saddles: Ox bone
Accessories: A carrying bag and an additional set of four strings.

Best Value
UKE1 Solid Spruce Wood Concert Ukulele
Ukulele size: Concert (23")
Top: Solid spruce
Back and sides: Striped ebony
Headstock: Striped ebony
Fretboard: Walnut
Bridge: Walnut
Tuning pegs: Sealed chrome
Strings: Aquila Nylgut
Color: Natural
Saddle: Ox bone
Accessories: A carrying bag and an additional set of four strings

Top League
UKD90 Solid Flamed Koa Wood Tenor Ukulele
Ukulele size: Tenor (26”)
Headstock: Solid striped flamed koa wood
Body (soundboard, back, and sides): Solid striped flamed koa wood
Fretboard: Black Walnut
Bridge: Black Walnut
Neck: Okoume
Tuning pegs: Open gold with agate buttons
Strings: Aquila Nylgut
Color: Natural
Finish: Glossy
Saddle: Ox bone
Accessories: A carrying bag and an additional set of four strings