10 Things I Wish I’d Known About Ukuleles (Before I Bought One)

Jemsite has been doing a series called 10 Things I Wish I’d Known About Guitars (Before I Bought One) and I know a good idea when I steal one. The concept: if you could hop into your DeLorean, whack it up to 88 mph and visit yourself when you were buying your first instrument, what advice would you give?

In about 50 years’ time I imagine myself sitting in a comfy chair and my grandkids scurrying up to me in their space-pyjamas and asking, “Granddad, what was life like before the internet?” And I’ll say, “Put down your hoverboards, jump up on my knee and I’ll tell you.” Then I’ll twirl my mustachios wistfully and reply, “It was FUCKIN’ AWFUL!”

Back when I got my first ukulele – during my teenage guitar obsession – there were no internets, YouTubes or blogs to teach a boy anything. I didn’t know anyone who played ukulele. I’d heard George Formby and one other song with a ukulele once. I didn’t have a clue. As a result, it took me many years to see the potential of the uke. So here’s what I’d tell the fat, ugly, stupid, teenage me as he wandered into Bakewell Music Shop to buy a ukulele.

1. The strings don’t go fattest to thinnest.

Just to prove how ignorant I was, I actually tried restringing it the ‘right’ way. It didn’t occur to me that the people who made it might have had a better idea of how to string it than I did. I did have a book. But it was a very slim, old one. I either didn’t read it or it failed to mention this fairly important detail.

2. Good ukuleles exist. Your local music shop doesn’t have one.

Bakewell is famous for it’s tarts (and they are exceeding good). It’s not famous as a centre of outstanding luthiery. The uke I bought was complete junk. I didn’t even know there were better ukes. I think this is the main reason I rarely played the uke for many years.

Message to me: buy a Martin ukulele or six. They might seem expensive now but you ain’t seen nothing yet.

3. Good ukulele strings exist. Your local music shop doesn’t have them.

The same goes for the strings. In fact, I don’t remember them selling strings at all. I don’t know where I would have been able buy good strings. God, I love you, internet. I’m going to miss you come the post-apocalyptic Mad-Max world.

4. Tighten the screws. It might stay in tune.

I think I did eventually work this one out myself. But only many months after giving up on ever getting it to stay in tune.

5. Ukuleles are not little guitars.

I started figuring this one out pretty quickly. After trying to strum it with a plectrum for 3 minutes I realised that clearly wasn’t the way to go. It took me much longer to figure out that the high-G string could be a help rather than a hindrance (partly because it took me a while to figure out it was a high-G string).

6. Eventually, you won’t want to play the guitar any more.

Actually, I might gloss over this fact lest it puts me off picking it up in the first place.

7. Fewer strings means harder, not easier.

Not entirely true, I know. But it is more of challenge to play difficult pieces on the uke. And more rewarding.

8. Don’t steal plutonium from the Libyans.

9. In about 15 years time ukuleles are going to be the coolest thing in the world and you’re going to be writing about them every day. You should practice more.

There’s no getting round the fact I’m a mediocre player. It might be the fact that I’m not naturally musically talented. But more practice certainly couldn’t harm.

10. You like her. She likes you. Just ask her out you useless, spotty idiot. And sell your sister to organ harvesters and put the money into Google and Microsoft.

No, it’s nothing to do with ukuleles. But if I’m time traveling here, I’m not going to spend all ten on ukuleles.

What do you wish you’d known about ukuleles before you bought one?

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200 Comments

  1. Brian January 11th, 2015 2:29 am

    If possible, buy in person, at a reliable store, because then you can return it or have it adjusted if there’s a problem.

    I had to return two ukuleles in a week.

    I got a Gretch with an all-wood bridge, and had to return it because the first string buzzed above the 5th fret, because the groove was cut too deep in the bridge. I couldn’t play it when I bought it, so just went by the tone (which was beautiful) and ease of play. They offered to fix it, but I was annoyed that they’d sold it to me like that. so traded for a Kala.

    So, now realizing I had to play every fret to make sure there was no buzz, I checked the Kala. However, because I was in a hurry to get out of the store, I overlooked tuning problems. I thought it was just because the strings took time to settle. Then, after a couple of days playing it, I realized the tuning was uneven.

    A bit of research and I found out it was an intonation problem. The open strings were all in tune, but as I went up the strings, each fret got excessively higher (except the third string, which got lower!). I checked with an electronic tuner. The 12th fret (octave) on the 3rd (E) string was actually an F (a semi-tome higher than it should have been). Back to the store. They offered to adjust it, send it to the shop (another location). Again, I didn’t like the prospect of waiting and then still being unsatisfied, it not being properly fixed, and I was annoyed that they hadn’t fixed i before selling it. It cost about $400 with taxes, so I really felt ripped off.

    Besides that, I welcomed the excuse to trade it in, because of other problems. It was a traveline thin-body uke, which sounded okay in the fancy all wood acoustic testing room at the store, but sounded dull and sort of with no character when I got it home. Some research… I’m not putting it down, but the thing is I think it’s designed to be played outside, maybe good for buskers? or if you’re trying to play with other people and want to be heard? so it doesn’t have a lot of subtlety. (I’m not trashing Kala, because later I got a great Kala soprano, which sounds great and is easy to play, and had no intonation problem.) Also, it was a tenor, and I realized it didn’t suit me. If you want to travel with a uke, a soprano is smaller than a thin tenor. And the frets were too wide. I mean it didn’t really feel or sound like what I expected in a ukulele.

    So I got a Luna tenor, which I love. (I don’t work for Luna!) And it was $100 cheaper than the Kala.

    So, if you do get a uke online: If it doesn’t stay in tune, trying stretching the strings (by hand, just pulling on them a bit, but repeatedly — not by winding them too tight!). If you have good ears or an electronic tuner, and the intonation is bad (again: bad intonation is when the open strings are in tune, but then the frets are too high or too low), the bridge will have to be adjusted. If it’s a cheap uke then it wouldn’t be worth paying to have it adjusted. Another thing to check out is the frets, the metal bars — often they stick out. That was on the Gretsch I got, the frets slightly stuck out, and would have needed fine filing.

    With the Luna I settled on, I checked the intonation, with an electronic tuner (idiots were playing really loud and really bad rawk/metttahl riffs in the store), on every fret; and checked the frets. If the store is a proper musical instrument place (I mean staffed by competent people, and not some place run by a non-musician just as a business, then they shouldn’t rush you, and should be able to ask your questions and “set up” the instrument before you leave the store.

    So, I’m saying, if you have the opportunity to buy in person, in store or via some online ad, etc, then I’d advise it, even if costs a bit more than something you see on Amazon or Ebay.

    If you have no choice, and have to order online, don’t get an expensive uke if you’re a beginner. I spent a few hundred because I’d been living very cheaply for the past year, and wanted something special, that sounds really good. But there are cheaper and reliable ukes. I know because I later bought some as gifts. I can’t even remember the brand. They were $30 each, sounded like ‘plink plink plink’ and were a bit hard to play because of cheap strings and slightly high action. But the most important thing is they had proper intonation in the first 5 frets, and tuning pegs that didn’t slip. I saw other, more expensive ukes, with lousy tuning pegs. (I guess the ones other people here have said they screwed tighter.) They were good enough (and all I could afford) as gifts, and I figured if the kids I gave them to played them then their parents could get a better one next holiday or birthday.

    What else?

    Oh, yes, don’t be a snob.

    Brand names should be a safe bet, since they do have reputations. But you might just be paying more for the name brand. And most are Made in China anyway. My Luna sounds better than that Kala tenor I got. The Gretch sounded great, but shoddy workmanship. They were all made in China. The Luna has a “hand-crafted in China” label… Who knows if that’s true?

    Also, they all have a different character. That Kala tenor sounded a bit harsh and plain, to me. The Kala soprano sounds sweet and fun. The Gretsch sounded melancholy and bittersweet. The Luna has a sort of silky smooth sound. So I’d advise you to take advantage of all the youtube videos people have posted of cheap and expensive ukes, how they sound, problems they’ve had, plastic and wooded ones, etc

    On the other hand, don’t get bogged down and indecisive – that’s not why I wrote this, to discourage — but just to let people know what to look out for.

    I’d advise every beginner to avoid tenors and baritones. Just get a soprano or concert.

    And about the woods – again, don’t be a snob. Sometmes a “good wood” might be a lousy source anyway. I mean, just because it’s koa or spruce or whatever, doesn’t mean that they used good quality lumber.

    The Luna neck I have is nato wood, which is denigrated on sites I went to as a “poor man’s mahogany”, or “furniture wood”. It does look plain, but it’s the neck! so what!? It’s tough, and I’m happy the neck was made cheaply but strongly, since necks are often broken. So they saved money in manufacturing, and were able to make the fingerboard rosewood and the entire body maple.

    Don’t get caught up in people saying it has to be koa, or maple, or spruce, etc. That’s often a matter of taste anyway. Some people just prefer the sounds of certain woods. If you’re a beginner, just get a reliable uke to find out if you can play and like to play.

    I guess that’s all. I hope I haven’t discouraged anyone. :(

    Even though I was annoyed that the store sold me two ukes that needed adjusting, at least they didn’t give me any hassle about exchanges, and in the end I got a really good uke. I would have been really annoyed if I’d gotten something by mail that then had to be fixed.

    So: Make sure to ask them to set the instrument up properly before leaving the store.

    Another thing is the price “deal” stickers. Every uke I saw had a price tag making it look like there was a sale. (e,g, Manufacturer’s price: $500, Our Price: $390!) But I checked online and saw that the standard sale price for each instrument I bought, on various websites, was exactly what I paid. So, do not buy something thinking, “Hmmm, I’d better get this great deal while I have the chance!” Just try and figure out if the price suits you.

    And as for getting a uke from Hawaii: It’s probably made in China anyway…

    Also, the uke is a European instrument, a variation of a little guitar brought to Hawaii from Madeira, and first made in Hawaii by three Madeiran immigrants (who also made furniture). The Madeiran instrument is called a machete (alternate names: machete do braga, machete braguinha, braguinha de madeira, etc).

    I’d really like to know if anyone here has played a machete, or a similar instrument, or a ukulele made in Madeira (or made anywhere in Portugal).

  2. Brian January 12th, 2015 8:37 pm

    Re: “So I got a Luna tenor”

    SORRY. I meant a Luna Concert.

    I know, didn’t make sense, since I’d just finished saying that I returned the Kala tenor partly because I felt like it was a bit more like playing a mini-guitar than my idea of a ukulele.

  3. Woodshed January 13th, 2015 10:48 am

    Brian: Thanks, some excellent points. One thing, there definitely are ukes made in Hawaii. Just expect to pay through the nose for them.

  4. Keith Mc January 14th, 2015 8:08 pm

    Hi Woodshed and all other likeminded uke enthusiasts, just a followup on my comment from October 2013.Bit of a gap since my last(first) comment 15 months ago but Iv’e been reading everyone elses contributions since then.The uke class I still happily play bass with is progressing with a few public appearances and a steady improvement in musical capabilities while my approach has taken a bit of a twist. Didn’t mention this first time but I’d inherited a strange looking uke via a rubbish bin and a ” oh, do you want this thing then”?
    Turns out the uke is a (ssshh) chinese made baritone and after a cleanup and learning what pitch to tune to I bang away on an instrument I’ve not touched since I was a 13yo.Warning!Too many instruments of this origin have stink intonation,not very stable necks and this one sports a “zero fret”, a really good idea on fretted instruments as it means that the nut no longer has to have accurate depth to the string slots.
    Problem here was this zero fret is the same gauge as the rest of the fretboard meaning that the intonation length is still controlled by the nut which is now a full 3mm too far up the fingerboard. All this is really just a ‘heads up’ for uke buyers to watch out for. Last thing I find about the uke culture in general is the really neat folk you will continually find in your travels thru the world of “little instruments strung with fishing line”It’s had enough effect on me to get my hands on a new shiny “Greg Bennett” baritone,love it, especially around 2:00 am. Happy Plunking people…Haggis

  5. Thabanana January 28th, 2015 7:09 pm

    Hi!
    At my school I tried for fun the ukulele, and I really liked it!(I’m not much of a music-player because it’s so hard). I’ve been trying to learn guitar, but it just doesn’t work D:

    But the ukulele really speaks to me, but what size and brand would you recommend? I’ve really tiny hands (but I’m not short myself, which is weird), I just want to learn first but I also want quality. I don’t want to get disappointed after one month or so..
    I will get my ukulele soon!! :D

  6. Woodshed January 29th, 2015 2:44 pm

    Thabanana: Kala and Lanikai both make really good beginner ukes. Size is a bit more of a personal choice. But soprano is a good bet if you’re not sure.

  7. bob March 29th, 2015 12:19 pm

    well this is gonna be fun. i started the ukulele a month ago. never played anything but clarinet, and that 20 years ago. i’m 58.

  8. Woodshed March 29th, 2015 1:54 pm

    bob: Hope you enjoy it!

  9. norman March 29th, 2015 10:37 pm

    I bought a very expensive ($600 ) tenor uke 4 yrs ago because it was the sound that attracted me and I play it all the time and have had many comment on the nice sound… Then I bought a $75 makala tenor for fun. it has a different but just as nice sound. I use it when I record as the other uke records as too loud. so whatever suits your ear could be your answer , not what suits your pocket….Tuners = I bought over ebay 3 for the price of one …. plectrums = I make my own , large enough to fit my fingers , undropable, cheap and increase the volume while playing.( I should patent them )… good luck

  10. Sonja May 6th, 2015 3:09 pm

    I am 18 years old and have a Mahalo 12-fret soprano. I’d been playing since July of 2014. I had to go through two ukes because the first one I got had loose tuning pegs. Then I’d gotten this new Mahalo in November and I still own it. The only problem is the frets stick out. I’m not an expert on this, but my dad said I’d have to have it sent away for any type of repair. Is that true for my frets? I love my uke and I gave her a name. Her name is Maka. She loves being played and I love playing her. Tuning is great so I don’t really need or want a new uke. The message I’m receiving from this though is that Mahalo should not be well trusted. My dad also pointed out that if I keep taking my uke in they’d start believing I’m the one responsible for the problems.

  11. Sonja May 6th, 2015 4:41 pm

    I should also point out I do have a humidifier for it but it’s one where you put it in the case but no inside the instrument. It does not help much.

  12. Woodshed May 6th, 2015 10:58 pm

    Sonja: The frets stick out of the side of the uke? They shouldn’t be like that. You can file them down yourself.

    Mahalo aren’t the most consistent of ukes. Some of them are decent, some of them aren’t.

  13. Sonja May 7th, 2015 1:36 am

    “Mahalo” for telling me.
    How do I file down the frets?
    Other than this problem though, it’s a very decent uke. Until I get a job and get enough money to buy a better one, I wouldn’t give her up for anything else.

  14. Shannon May 7th, 2015 10:31 pm

    The Bb chord is a fucking nightmare for my short fingers…

  15. Sonja May 8th, 2015 6:38 pm

    It sure is, but you do get used to it after playing it often. I found it hard at first. Try barring all of the strings with your first finger, you might be able to do it better. You may need to add more pressure, but you don’t feel the need to reach with your other fingers so far.

  16. SonjaSonja May 8th, 2015 6:42 pm

    Regarding my last comment about my uke, I may even keep my Mahalo after I get a better one. I don’t want to regret selling it later.

  17. norman May 11th, 2015 7:04 am

    about your Bb chord…. I can’t play it either so I cheat and play Bbma7… sounds O K to me…

  18. Roz June 3rd, 2015 10:53 pm

    I love playing my ukes however I think I may be addicted (I’ve got 3 now plus a banjolele and mandolin)! Treated myself last month to a mini uke or sopranino as they’re also known and have had so much fun playing it in the different groups I go to. Every time I take it out people grin and want to have a go! it adds another dimension to the music as its sits an octave higher. Ukes are so versatile and bring so much pleasure :0)

  19. Woodshed June 4th, 2015 10:33 am

    Roz: Glad to hear you’re enjoying it!

  20. Davo August 3rd, 2015 10:04 am

    Only just found this site. Loving it ! Got my first uke as a gift, when I was about 12 or 13. It got played a lot back then, until I discovered guitar. Cut a long story short… I just turned 60, all my family are now playing ukuleles (my sister, brother in law, my son, my ex, my niece), so I dug out old faithful and set about tuning it. The increased string tension was too much for the old girl, and the bridge tore clean off the body ! I bought a new one (a Makala) and I’m loving it ! Oh, and the old one ? Well I’m currently rebuilding it. Who knows, could end up being a good retirement income/hobby :)

  21. Woodshed August 4th, 2015 12:21 pm

    Davo: Thanks very much! Congratulations on converting your family!

  22. tooney October 12th, 2015 12:43 pm

    I wish I’d known that eventually the entire universe would be playing the ukulele by now, but sometimes it feels like I’m the only person I know who plays it.

    Do you still consider yourself a mediocre player? I had the same reaction as Armelle. You can’t still feel that way, all these years after your original post.

  23. Woodshed October 12th, 2015 6:27 pm

    tooney: I think I’m a better player. I still think I’m a mediocre musician though. Being able to pull some fancy tricks doesn’t make you a good musician.

  24. CPG3 November 30th, 2015 2:25 am

    I bought my first uke just after buying my first car. I wanted to play and sing to the girls I dated. That was 1959, the uke was a harmony baritone, and I still have it and play it today. I must admit to playing it infrequently after marrying and raising a family. However, about a year ago I moved to a new house and my neighbor is really into playing and collecting ukes. He invited me to join a ukulele club in my new town. So, I picked up my old baritone, and went with him to try my hand at playing with a group. Not as easy as I thought, but twice as much fun. One of the other things I love doing is traveling, so I bought a Soprano Uke, and a good travel bag, and began taking a uke with me. I worried about offending the people aroundf me, but they seem to enjoy listening. Some comment, others just move closer because I try not to play loudly in public places. My neighbor encouraged me to do this, as he has done it for some time. He also has a large collection of ukuleles, even has had some made from koa wood that he brought home with him when he vacationed in Hawaii. At first I thought he was a bit excentric, but now that I have been playing for a while I realize how adicting it is. Now I can’t wait to buy my next uke. I may never be great, but I love playing the uke. Oh, one more thing, our club plays for retirement homes, hospitals, and nursing homes, and we always, always, see smiles on the faces of the folks we are playing for. I think my next uke project might just be buying some inexpensive ukes and teaching some children how to play at one of the local schools or churches. We old guys have an obligation to pass along the good stuff to the next generation.

  25. Woodshed November 30th, 2015 9:16 am

    CPG3: That’s fantastic! Glad you’re having a blast with it.

  26. Nick MacDonald White December 1st, 2015 10:49 pm

    I love your movie references— you and I could be best friends

  27. Woodshed December 2nd, 2015 11:10 am

    Nick: Thanks!

  28. John Lawton January 7th, 2016 9:14 am

    After trying–on average–one guitar a decade, which I’d work at playing for a year or two, for four decades from 17 to 57, I had an epiphany. I’m right-handed (well, that’s what I was always told, and–in general–my right hand and eyes are more coordinate than my left and my eyes are). But, I was thinking one day: just because I’m right-handed, just because society expects right-handed people to play right-handed instruments, why do I have to try to play right handed? You see, my problem always was that I could not learn more than about 5 chords on guitar, using my left hand and fingers to fret. Almost losing my left index finger has left it a bit stiff, permanently. But, that wasn’t the problem. I could strum with my right hand, with a bit of practice, but, I just couldn’t learn any chords with my left-hand. So, ’cause guitars are more expensive than ukes, I ‘talked’ someone into buying me the cheapest uke I could find on the Internet. After 2 months of conscientiously attempting to play it right-handed, I reversed the middle two strings, the C and E strings, and just retuned the A string down to G and the G string up to A. Within 5 minutes–literally–I was playing songs out of Jim Beloff’s “The Daily Ukulele” with up to 4-5 chords and singing along. To me, after 1-2 years of frustration a decade for 4 decades. That was a miracle. I did so well that I was given a $250 (USD) tenor uke the next year. Now, I can sit and literally play songs from “The Daily Ukulele” for more than 2 hours, non-stop. The moral of the story: don’t ever give up, think outside of the box (which you–like me–probably put yourself in to begin with), and be creative! :D

  29. Keith McIntyre February 19th, 2016 11:28 pm

    Reply to John Lawton; After reading your previous submission, I reckon your next move could be “get hold of a baritone for a fool around with”. You’re more than likely aware that the things have a couple of advantages over tenors etc., the main ones being the neck size lets you handle things a bit easier and the tuning is the same pitch etc. as a guitar. This keeps your way of thinking( musically)in a ‘real world’ level, possibly suits your voice a bit better, helps with being more easily able to use a lot those chords that didn’t quite suit the other uke’s tuning.I also found that bluegrass and finger pickin’ were a bit more practical,due to the wider string spacing.
    Something else I’d like, to hear from anyone who mucks with basses, Ive converted a half size accoustic to a uke bass, most aspects change over quite good except for one thing. Cant get enough tension on the E string at it’s correct tuning to stop it rattling. I want to use flat wound steel strings, dont like the “sausage meat” silicone type and being a shorter scale than most, once you’ve tried a good string the bends in the machine head end almost write it off for refitting to a full scale length guitar.Anyone had any experience with something like this. Cheers..Hag, Albany, NZ.

  30. Angela Tasker February 29th, 2016 3:18 am

    I am a guitar player and unlike most, throughly enjoy playing both my uke and guitar – although I have been playing the guitar for years and although I’ve had an uke for about a year, I just really starting putting in time with it about six months now. i have been coveting a Koa ukulele because the difference in sound is absolutely phenomenal. I finally broke down and bought a Koaloha Super Concert last week. It was on sale. :) All I can say, is that I should have done this sooner. I’m in love. I don’t want to put it down. I did support my local ukulele store because I want it to stay around. It also has some meet up groups during the week, so I attend their Hawaiian one. I would suggest that if you can to connect with others who play. It will push you to learn more and it’s a great social activity.

  31. Woodshed February 29th, 2016 9:27 am

    Angela: Nice! Glad you’re enjoying the new uke.

  32. norman johnson February 29th, 2016 10:16 am

    just had a 12 night cruise on Diamond Princess. Day one was for anyone interested to learn uke. 10 people committed. after short lessons ( 10 minute actual teaching ) over the next few days 40 people learnt and played 5 songs at the final concert night on the ship. only 3 of us had previous playing experience…. That’s how fast the uke thing is spreading.

  33. Woodshed February 29th, 2016 9:35 pm

    norman: That’s great! Fresh blood!

  34. norman johnson February 29th, 2016 9:57 pm

    and that’s only ONE ship. how many actually do this.???????

  35. Tony Knight April 22nd, 2016 10:31 am

    I am having trouble with Tabs!. I probably need a site with well known songs (which I probably know how to play) tabbed so that I can work through them! e.g. Midnight Special, Island in the Sun etc.

  36. John Lawton April 22nd, 2016 4:57 pm

    @ Keith. Hey, bro, a baritone has been in the Sweetwater Sound wishlist (well, in ONE of the Wishlists) for 18 months or more. I have this problem, G.A.S., Gear Acquisition Syndrome. The more gear I get, the more gear I want to get. I have all manners of rationalization and justification (and $10K USD of credit-card debt). So, the baritone may have to wait for a year or three. If I live long enough, you can bet that I will have one. Ukes are funny. I like my tenor for the same reason that you recommend a baritone, more room on the fretboard for my arthritic, prematurely old fingers. But, with the “easy” chords, my cheap, tinny-sounding $30 (now $100 with the addition of a tuner/EQ/pre-amp and Grover Machine Tuners instead of pegs), is still a real kick in the pants, so to speak. But, for good tone, I go to the more expensive tenor. Another cheap uke I will not buy, at least until I’ve gotten a moderately good baritone, a really good tenor (Martin, +$1000 USD), etc. But, the next stringed instrument is going to be a cheapie mandolin. I will eventually get around to finger picking, heck, I’ve had 1-2 finger-picking uke books in the Amazon card, but, darn, MC says I’m over limit, again, and won’t extend me any more credit. Then, I do have to spend some time playing my bass (right-handed, which I am, despite playing uke left-handed). I’m severely neglecting my electric piano. And–AND–I had to put the drum set away the other day to move some big-butt (For me, for using a small house as my PA company warehouse) speakers. And, I do miss my drum kit. I do so enjoy beating on it. Then, there’s my recorder, Tonette, and harmonica. . . But, thanks. :D

  37. John Lawton April 22nd, 2016 5:16 pm

    I meant “cart”, not “card”. I’ve had finger-picking books in my Amazon.com cart off and on, but, darn, I really didn’t want that $5K credit-limit increase Amazon wanted to give me. So, I put stuff in the cart and MC says “no” on occasion. A good means of limiting one’s G.A.S.

  38. JOHN ukeduke April 29th, 2016 10:25 am

    Bought my first Uke on a trip to Hawaii. Love playing it. Beautiful Kamaka. Got so hooked thought i would try and make one. Have now made 10 for my friends. As for playing its all about practice. Im average player cause im too busy building but did my first open mike couple of weeks ago. Played pink floyd Wish You Were Here. Also gutsed out a song at my daughters wedding. It was Go For Broke. If I can do it anyone can. I took Uke up 2 years ago at 58. Best thing I ever did.

  39. Don Crislip May 27th, 2016 8:31 pm

    I am curious if anyone plays solo ukulele? I am learning to play notes (not tabs) since I play piano but don’t want to play accompaniment strumming. I want to play the melody with some strumming and play for friends and family gatherings. And so it is important that each note/string sound out with a ringing sound rather than a “thud” sounding string.

    I live miles and miles away from a store that sells ukuleles so I have purchased two ukes online and they both had to be returned because of “thud” sounding notes. On some, the open string sounded “thud” but playing higher up the fret board, they sound okay. On some, the open string sounded “thud”. In short, every note in the scale in a couple different keys need to sound good, can’t have a “thud” right at the end of a music phrase. :(

    So should I expect to find a ukulele in the $100 range that will sound good?
    I would appreciate any comments.

  40. K. Brouse May 28th, 2016 2:36 am

    Cordoba has a sweet sounding concert ukulele right around $100. I’ve bought 3 Cordobas, each a little pricier than the last, and they all sound mellow and rich, and just feel “right” when I play them. I have a serious case of UAS, with close to 40 of various brands, and the Cordobas are my favorites.
    I’m currently working on chord melody, also. Challenging, but a nice change from strumming. There are some nice collections of songs for chord melody available.

  41. John Lawton May 28th, 2016 10:03 pm

    @Don Crislip:

    Sometimes a “thud”ding note is due to improper fretting. I’ve been finger picking a bit lately, in a banjo-like style (actually, “claw-hammer” style) and it’s really good for showing me where I’m failing to fret each string properly when using chords, especially when using Barre chords. Strumming chords makes it more difficult to catch such fretting errors.

    Also–I think I just saw one in my growing stack of largely unused music books–there are many books out there about playing melodies, i.e. “Fingerstyle Ukulel: A Method & Songbook For Fingerpicking Backups & Solos” and “Easy Classical Ukulele Solos Featuring Music Of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Vivaldi and other composers. In Standard Notation and TAB.”

    And, if you’re industrious enough, just get some sheet music–or do it by ear–and learn the notes to play simple melodies, starting with easy songs like “Row, Row, Row Your Boat”. Then, play them in another key.

    Finally–tho’, like the book above, I have yet to try this–there’s a book called “Ukulele Aerobics” which will someday be in my “for-when-I-go-offline-to-save-money” hard-copy library.

  42. Keith Mc. May 29th, 2016 1:48 am

    Hi to Don C, John L,and K Brouse. Just read your messages re “chord/melody” style of playing. It’s a satisfying way of passing time with your favourite instrument, I think the main difference between us would be I use a baritone. Advantages are size, a bit more space to fit male fingers on the longer and slightly wider fretboard, and the pitch is the same as a guitar along with the D string tuned low rather than an octave higher (like a tenor or concert). This gives a more “credible”? sound to melody lines. The strings are fractionally heavier so tones have more ‘body’. I have used soft wound guitar strings for the D and G, Martin style, after a little while they fit well tonally wlth the Aquila style B and E.
    When it comes to playing ,this combination works well for the larger baritone and if any of you have had any guitar time then there’s a natural jump to the bari’, doesn’t take long to forget the E and A on your guitar.
    When it comes to playing, I dont have too much preference regarding styles or genre. Too start, I just get the chord structure ok then figure out what key (as a tonic) will let you ‘stretch’ up the fretboard to find the higher notes while still staying in the lower regions of the fretboard to play the remaining strings as your accompaniment. Chords and notes played in the lower frets always sound more resonant than higher up fretboard and more accurate. Ive developed a simple two finger picking method style, thumb and first finger do the work and the other three keep “position” for your hand on the scratchplate. What , just two fingers? you say.The sneaky bit is, I find it easy to use my forefinger in both directions,(up and down or back and forth, however you think) it just fell into place and gives me a fuller effect while the thumb bangs away mostly on those D and G strings. This also gives the option of a simple bass line or, until your style improves, a fairley good ‘fill’ for the chord your’e in at that stage of the
    progression. In fact, looking back a year, attempting “Hotel California” turned out to be easier than you may think.And what helps with that piece of music is (I think)it was written in the same key(start in Bm) as you may find it easiest to play.Chord structure first ,then melody line using mostly fourth and fifth fingers to find the melody and use your ‘up’ strokes with your forefinger to play these.
    Happy to explain anything Ive confused you with, have a few sleepless nights on me…Keith Mc..

  43. John Lawton May 29th, 2016 8:24 pm

    @Keith Mc.

    Thanks for sharing, clarify-ing, etc.-ing. That upstroke picking sound interesting. Maybe I’ll give that a try. But, I really need to get my bass and my drums back out . . .

  44. norman June 12th, 2016 11:15 pm

    ukes from hawaii… I bought a solid KOA ” MELE ” tenor and concert, from the uke place over the phone in 1970. I play them every day . I have dropped it ( the tenor ) , scratched it, thrashed it. and taught other users’ to play it ,paid $600 for it ($400 for concert ) and I recommend it to anyone. I changed the strings from maker recommended strings and it changed the sound . so, back to recommended strings. …So, yes you can buy REALLY GOOD ukulele’s from Hawaii. PS. i have not seen another MELE uke in australia or know of anyone who has one… let me know if you have one…… norman

  45. john_lawton June 13th, 2016 3:50 am
  46. Micheal June 25th, 2016 6:10 pm

    what uke shall I buy for under $20 as a beginner

  47. Woodshed June 25th, 2016 8:45 pm

    Michael: There aren’t any $20 ukes I’d recommend. The minimum I’d recommend is a $30 Mahalo.

  48. John Lawton June 26th, 2016 1:10 am

    @ Michael and any other novice uke player contemplating buying a cheap uke.

    I have an acquaintance of mine, who has a vocabulary of about 300 songs (vox, guitar), but, who plays/sings so poorly that some of his then regular audience asked me to pass along this bit of advice: “Learn more songs.” Eventually, I did pass that along. I also told he that he (like me, myself, and I) needed to learn some new strums as he played all of those 300 songs the same way, BORING!

    His advice, which is actually good if taken with a grain of salt: “buy a good guitar, preferably a Martin; then you’ll learn to play.”

    He plays a Martin; I have no idea if it’s a “cheap” Martin (relatively speaking) or an expensive one (the first Martin, used, that I ever saw for sale online was $38,000 USD, about 25 years ago). My guess is most people buy Martin guitars in the $1000-2000 range, not the $40,000 “price-point”.

    Now, buying an expensive guitar–or uke, as we’re talking about here–will NOT make you a better player. But, it may make it easier for you to become a better player if you: (1) have the desire, (2) have the developable-talent, and (3) work at it.

    If you really don’t have the desire, buying an expensive uke might make you more motivated to-see (3) above–practice, practice, practice. If, on the other hand, you’re like me and are buying a “bunch of instruments” to see which “fits the best”, then, more inexpensive is the way to go. However, please note that I did not say “cheap”.

    But, if you really don’t have the desire, or really don’t have the talent, or have both of those but just don’t practice, practice, practice, buying an expensive uke will be a mistake.

    However–if you have (1), (2), and (3) above, then, buying the cheapest uke you can will probably just be frustrating and lead to less progress as you’ll be more inclined to put down a cheap uke than a more expensive one.

    My first soprano uke was the cheapest I could find online (well, several sellers sold various models for that price–I chose one at semi-random as my primary seller had nothing that low). I asked for, and received it for, Xmas in ’13. It had/has problems: (1) it’s a soprano, which is really too small for my clumsy, pre-maturely old hands/fingers. (2) it’s cheaply made, i.e. the sound-board is some cheap, unknown wood covered by wood-grained contact paper that scratches easily, and (3) being cheaply made, it sounds cheap (unless and until I plug it in, then, in ProTools 10/11, it sounds almost as good as my $250 USD Ibanez. But, it’s different! ;), doesn’t stay in tune as well (thus, the upgrade to Grover tuning machines from the original tuning pegs), and isn’t as aesthetically appealing onstage.

    A cheap instrument is more likely to have problems out of the box, or develop them quickly, i.e. badly warping fret-boards/necks that making fretting difficult or impossible, improperly cut or improperly placed nuts, causing strings to buzz, tune improperly or be difficult to tune, etc.

    A better, more expensive instrument will have fewer of these problems (especially if you buy it from a sweet supplier that checks everything that goes out, first, for potential or actual problems). Thus, a better, more expensive instrument will allow you to progress faster as you’ll have fewer mechanical/sound problems with it, it’ll look better and sound better, be more fun to play, etc.

    So, balance out your needs versus your potential expenditures. I was given a $250 dollar well-known-brand-name (Ibanez) tenor uke for a Christmas present after I demonstrated consistent practice and consistent improvement on the $30 (now, $100 as I added Grover tuners and EQ/pre-amp) uke. I’m quickly outgrowing the $250 Ibanez (which isn’t as well-adapted to daily playing, for hours at a time, as I and the purchaser had hoped) and plan to spend $1000 or more (on a $730/mo’ income) on my next tenor uke. But, I play the more expensive tenor 95% of the time and only bring out the $30/$100 soprano uke for special reasons: some chords are easier to learn on a soprano compared to a tenor, when I need a backing track with a different sound, just “’cause it’s ‘cute'”, etc.

    So, please remember the Latin phrase, “caveat emptor”; buyer beware!!

    PS Unlike the acquaintance above, I can sing, well, long, loudly, etc. (even though I’m now on supplemental oxygen), because I make use of as many “old-school” and “new” techniques as I can (i.e. breathing “like the opera singers do”), not putting down people who can read music and don’t have to learn to play by ear, not worrying about being cool, etc.

    Hope that helps.

    John E. Lawton

  49. Keith Mc. July 13th, 2016 9:36 am

    Hi all you happy plunkers out there, just thought I’d throw this into the ring. My last comment here was about bass uke conversions and mainly how to stop the E string from not just buzzing but actually rattling. Not enough tension.Only other thing I tried was using an old A string in the E position, small improvement but still not really happy to use.OK, think outside the playpen. Should have done this almost from the start. Standard bass set, lights if you want, Ive got.040″,.060″,.080″,.100″ on at present, a bit too skinny for any of my Fenders but work better on the uke. Thing is to retune the little mother G,C,F,Bb.
    What can I say, with all those years I,ve spent playing a real one etc., all you have to do is rethink the tonic and the appropriate pattern for the song you’re playing, allow for notes ‘up’ the scale where you no longer have one ‘below’ and maybe most important, don’t look at what your doing. That way, in your wee mind you can be in almost any key you want….Until you sneak a look, then it’s ‘oh shit’ and a quick adjustment back to the wrong’correct’ key. The extra tension also gives on board tuners a better chance on the lower strings as well. I also found the Aria half size acoustic is plenty strong enough to take the total string tension, especially if you fit a tailpiece instead of using the peg holes which aren’t in the right place anyway. Cheers for now, Keith Mc, from the Antipodes…..

  50. Laurie July 22nd, 2016 2:59 pm

    A year ago I decided I was going to challenge myself and finally learn to play an instrument. I selected the uke as many people on line said it was easy to learn. There were no uke clubs where I live and no one that gave uke lessons. I bought some lessons on CD & I learned about 15chords. I continued to search the Internet for free lessons and information. The first uke I purchased was a concert size Luna. I purchased it online from a reputable dealer. After about a month, I had problems with bad buzzing which was not caused by me. I returned it to the dealer and they immediately replaced it. The new one played like a dream & hardly ever goes out of tune. This uke cost me about $250 including the hard case. I can’t believe how far I have come in one year. I practice every day. It’s not hard to find time because I love it! I too have found chord melody playing – it’s a fun change from just strumming. I can not read notes but I can read tabs which for my brain was much easier. If I can learn the uke at age 57,never having played an instrument, you can too! Try it- you’ll love it!

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