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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204 Comments

  1. Jim Demello August 13th, 2016 5:51 am

    I am an ESL teacher in China and two years ago was given a cheap but playable uke from my students. Having played guitar since I was 12 (am 62) it was easy to transition to fingerpicking the uke and now that is all I play. I have a Chinese Kala though I thought Kala was an American made product so I suppose it is a knockoff but it is a good little instrument. I feel the uke is fun while the guitar was always laborious. Just bought a ukulele (Rainie – chinese brand) for two of my former students how learned You Are My Sunshine and Twinkle Twinkle Little Star on my ukulele. I have learned Pengyou (still trying to remember the Chinese words though) – absolutely beautiful song. Got the tab from Ukulele Chord Melodies by Mike Lynch and it has an amazing Misty tab. Cost 29.95 for kindle pdf but a great investment – unusual for me as I am such a stingy beast. Rock on.

  2. Patti September 2nd, 2016 12:11 am

    Jim Demello..thanks for the info about Kala ukulele. Hve been looking for a beginner one for my daughter..would though be just as interested about teaching in China. Private message me if you get this. Patti.newell@gmail.com

  3. Brian Policoff September 19th, 2016 5:19 pm

    Hey there, your Kala is probably legit. Although they are designed in Hawaii, and the materials sourced internationally, like most things now they are assembled in China. Its still a great little instrument! Enjoy
    Brian

  4. Jim Demello September 19th, 2016 11:00 pm

    Thanks Brian. Good to know.

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