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?

View Comments


  1. Woodshed January 31st, 2012 9:12 am

    Krener: Might be a bit of both. Some brands definitely make easier to play ukuleles.

    Emilio: Thanks for the advice!

  2. Jack February 13th, 2012 3:24 pm

    I bought a Ukulele thinking “4 strings, 4 fingers; this is going to be better than the guitar”, which I had tried and hated as a kid. If I had been told it was harder I may have been put off.

    A tuner was a great investment. After weeks of trying to tune by ear, being able to clip on it on and check easily really improved my relationship with the Ukulele.

  3. Woodshed February 13th, 2012 9:59 pm

    Jack: Yeah, definitely worth getting a tuner with your first ukulele.

  4. Brittany February 27th, 2012 6:44 am

    I’m very, very new to the ukulele(I haven’t even gotten one yet), and I wanted to know something.
    I have my eye on a soprano Kala from eBay, and I was wondering if it’s a good start for a beginner, like me.
    It’s $50 some, and the seller has an excellent history with selling ukes.
    Is it a good decision?

  5. Brittany February 27th, 2012 6:55 am

    Another thing, the ukulele I have my eye on is strung with Aquila strings, and, according to this site, they’re pretty good, right?

  6. Woodshed February 27th, 2012 1:47 pm

    Brittany: Yeah, Kala is a great choice for a first uke. I have two Kalas and they’re great.

    And, yes, Aquila are great. The most popular strings around.

  7. Jeff L March 23rd, 2012 5:45 am


    I have a little Sunlite soprano ukulele that I really like! I have big hands, though, and fingers that are so FAT that it is hard not to touch adjoining strings when making chords. I’d like to get a ukulele that gives me enough space for my fat fingers. Suggestions? (If I buy sight-unseen online, I really don’t want to get something that won’t give me a wider finger board than I have now.)


  8. mr regni April 3rd, 2012 9:08 pm

    bought a kala exotic tenor about month ago, im 65 years old wished i had got one years ago! still noodling with the chords g f a am g7 , feel if i can loop about with these without looking down it would be a big step, also im trying to do that in the dark to get a better flow, anybody tried that? Who knows it might help! anyway i find it great fun and dont find it frustrating i go at it little and often.

  9. Niya April 6th, 2012 5:46 pm

    Thank you SOOOOOO MUCH for this page of tips. Currently, I’m saving my money to buy a Lanikai LU-21 Soprano. I’ve heard great things about it from people who own it and from this site. Thanks again! Love you guys!

  10. Woodshed April 7th, 2012 2:49 pm

    mr regni: I do sometimes challenge myself to play with my eyes shut.

    Niya: Thanks very much!

  11. Andrew Robertson May 1st, 2012 4:01 pm

    Great thread run! I have found that there are vast differences in sound between same models of lower value ukes. For example I have a spruce top maple lanikai that I bought several years ago. I played it back to back with three other of the exact same ukes and they all sounded different. Sometimes a cheap one will sound better than an expensive one. Also “better ” is what feels and sounds best to you.
    Having a couple beaters is essential to me as well. My dad gave me an old kamaka that is amazing sounding but it does not ride with me all day in my work truck like my 80$ ohana.
    I always try to go to music stores and find the one that bonds with me. Like picking a puppy.
    I really enjoyed reading all the comments everyone. Cheers and uke on!

  12. jazz May 5th, 2012 2:14 am


    1. Keep your left thumb low in the back of the neck.
    2. Strum over the fingerboard, not over the sound hole.
    3. Keep the fingernails of your left hand short.
    4. Hold the ukulele so that the right end hits your inner biceps muscle and your forearm crosses the uke’s lower right.
    5. Practice your strumming away from the ukulele when you can. For example, in the car, on your seat belt.
    6. Practice chord changes when you can. For example, during a television program, or at least during the commercials.

  13. Woodshed May 16th, 2012 11:16 am

    Andrew: Absolutely! A beater or two is essential.

    jazz: Thanks very much for the list.

  14. Noodles May 23rd, 2012 11:58 pm

    I wish I had have known that it would get crushed if I dropped a window on it o.O

  15. Joannn July 5th, 2012 4:40 am

    I’ve been stalking this website since Monday!!! I finally bought a ukulele on Sunday because I’ve wanted to learn to play one for ages (Yes, ages and I’ve been SLACK).

    My electric guitarist husband was looking at some 8-string electric guitar and I wandered off to the ukulele section. Saw the cutest Stagg Turtle uke for AUD$40 but it is absolute crap that my husband can’t even tune it and keep the tune. Ended up returning it the next day and got a refund. Did some more research, couldn’t decide whether I’d like a Kala KA-C or a Lanikai LU-21C. Somehow I stumbled across a brand called aNueNue on a online guitar shop (because I love the look and quality of it), did more research, called up music shops (tried eBay but they want AUD$299 for it!!) and ended up buying the beautifully made aNueNue PaPa II Concert uke at AUD$219 and it comes with a sturdy bag. I looked through this superbly fun website for tips and tricks last night. Played C, D and G (Happy Birthday chords). Can’t change chords as fast as I like so practice practice practice!!!

    Then today at work, I ended up here again…. And spent my refund $$ on the beginner e-books pack. FUN TIMES AT HOME LATER!!! MUAHAHAHA!!!!

    Love, Jo

    ps: I absolutely love the fun and positive attitude of everyone who commented here, and yes, creator of this fun uke website, you are AWESOME!!!

    pps: aNueNue U900 Rabbit & Bear ukes are so damn cute!!! WHY!!!! My next investments me thinks. :D

  16. Woodshed July 9th, 2012 10:49 pm

    Joannn: Thanks very much for the kind words! I’m glad you’re enjoying your new uke.

  17. Beetroot August 4th, 2012 2:37 pm

    this is so insightful, but hey i bought one long before i stumbled upon this list. The one i got has nylon strings, do all ukes have nylon strings?

    To whoevers behind this site please continue what youre doing, keep up the good work of pulling uke beginners out of oblivion :-)

  18. Woodshed August 4th, 2012 6:27 pm

    Beetroot: Thanks very much.

    Almost all ukuleles have nylon strings (or something like nylon). There are a few electric ukes that are made for steel strings.

  19. Springtime December 11th, 2012 4:19 pm

    About a year ago my husband took up guitar playing. After a visit to the local bookshop he came home with a course in guitar playing written by Mr Ukulele. Or so he thought…
    I asked him if he hadn’t noticed that Mr Ukulele on the front page had huge hands, and that his tiny guitar was missing two strings. (my husband is from Morocco and had never heard of the ukulele).
    Two weeks ago our local supermarket sold ukulele’s (soprano) for 19 Euro’s. I bought one for my husband but now I end up hooked. Just love it, even if it takes tuning about every ten minutes! I ordered aguila strings and hope I will be able to change them the right way. If I’m still playing same time next year, I’ll buy me a quality ukulele.
    Ukulelehuntcom is very, very helpful, thank you!!!

  20. Woodshed December 12th, 2012 11:00 am

    Springtime: Thanks. Glad you found it helpful.

  21. John January 16th, 2013 4:43 pm

    Not even sure this will be answered. However, I mentioned to a friend of mine I want to start learning to play the Ukulele. They suggested I should learn to play the guitar first.

    I imagine being able to play guitar and then learning ukulele would be easier…However my fascination is with the ukulele, not with the guitar.

    Should I just go for it, or would it be much easier learning guitar first?

    Cheers for all the help.

  22. Woodshed January 16th, 2013 10:12 pm

    John: Whichever actually is easier doesn’t really matter. If you’re excited about playing the ukulele it’ll be easier to learn than an instrument you’re not excited about.

  23. Jenny April 11th, 2013 6:48 pm

    Wow. That’s a lot I just read.
    well, I’m 12 and my mom said I could choose any instrument so I could learn how to play it, and I was thinking on choosing a ukulele but I’m not so sure. Any advice?

  24. Woodshed April 11th, 2013 10:43 pm

    Jenny: I think go whichever instrument you’re most excited to play.

  25. Kelly April 29th, 2013 4:39 pm

    I have my grandmother’s old Marathon baritone uke. I was at a concert with David Fertello (awesome violinist) who is Hawaiian. He played my uke after the concert (after tuning it to soprano), and Mark Lynch (father of R5) said it had great sound quality. Is Marathon a good brand? I believe it was in existence in the 1950s & 1960s.

  26. Araxi June 23rd, 2013 6:51 pm

    Mahalo for this resource! I’d appreciate your advice. Researching ukes as a gift for my husband…am ready to invest at least $200-300+ – he’s a strings guy, guitar, stand up bass.. Questions:
    1) for big hands: should I go tenor or baritone?
    2) recommendations on a brand? i know he’ll want something that holds tuning well and is a quality instrument vs. the starter lanikai uke.
    thanks so much! have been researching and reading for a month and need to place my order. too bad no trips to hawaii in the future!

  27. Kyle June 23rd, 2013 7:47 pm

    Hi Araxi,

    I’ve got big hands and have tenor ukes, Baritones are tuned differently (though I suppose you’d use the same chord shapes).

    For that price I’d recommend Kala, I’ve got a few of their ukes and think they’re great value. Of course, there’s also Mainland, Ohana etc.

  28. Ray Miller June 23rd, 2013 8:08 pm

    I’m new at this, but the only advice I can give you after one year of playing around is that holding/playing a uke with a mat or textured/flat finish is easier for me than one with a glossy finish which is more visually attractive. A glossy uke slips out of my grasp easier, much like a beautiful lady, but is more of a pleasure to hold.

  29. Bens July 13th, 2013 5:59 pm

    Can I, as a person who doesn’t know how to play a guitar, really learn how to play ukulele through internet?

  30. Woodshed July 14th, 2013 8:35 am

    Bens: You certainly wouldn’t be the first person to succeed.

  31. Kenneth July 17th, 2013 9:04 pm

    Here’s more than you’ll want to know, and this thread is probably not the best place to post, but anyway… I’m a keyboard player since age 5. In my early teens, I didn’t have success with guitar because my grip wasn’t strong enough, my hands got tired and I got discouraged about it (my bad). Also, I had other musical interests and outlets. In the past couple of years, I saw Jake S perform up close in a small intimate venue and became interested in the uke. I’ll probably buy one soon, even though I consistently start projects but don’t devote the necessary time to them (I’ve become okay with that, though). Yet, entirely as a result of happening upon this website and reading the encouraging words and finding this positive community and knowing that the resources you have created are available for “dummies” like me, I’m intent on adding this to my list of things-I-started-once-upon-a-time. I’m sure it will be fun no matter where it takes me.
    This is a wonderful website. If I could make one suggestion to benefit newbies, I would suggest you run a poll and let your experienced members “vote” or post for their best choice of beginning brand and/or size. I’ve tried to glean something like that from the comments here. Everyone will have different reasons for their choices, but nevertheless I think it would be interesting to see which make the list and which don’t appear at all; both perspectives would be equally helpful. If that’s already posted somewhere, then I’m sorry I overlooked it.
    And I do have a question. Strings. Why does Jake use guitar strings (if it’s true that he does)? What’s the advantage or difference in sound or playing?
    Thanks again.

  32. Keith Mc October 15th, 2013 6:12 pm

    Found this interesting website while looking for some humour to torture some new folk in my musical life.
    Guess the jokes on me, but as a bass guitarist with 53 years on four strings one eventually looks for a bit of a change and I found it by joining a uke band(as their bassman).Dammit, now an interest in uke’s is rearing it’s ugly head. Blame goes to The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain, a great evenings entertainment and, yes,I have jokes but for the dedicated or sensitive players of this chosen instrument I usually convert them to banjo and mandolin stories, like “What do you say to a banjo player in a suit?…Will the defendant please rise” or ” A definition of optimism is a folk singer with a mortgage”.
    Finally,I am about to calculate how many good uke’s I could buy from the sale of any of my collection of Fender basses, they take up too much space and the strings can cost up to $100 a set (of four) here in New Zealand. Happy strumming,, Haggis

  33. Woodshed October 16th, 2013 7:20 am

    Keith Mc: Glad to hear you’re infected!

  34. Kay October 29th, 2013 5:05 pm

    So glad to have found your site. Okay, here goes. My 6 yeah old granddaughter wants a ukelele for Christmas. Granddaddy says “whatever you want, you get”. So we go to Guitar Center in Houston, TX and buy an Ibanez UEW10QM for $100. Not bad. Really pretty ukelele. I show it to a friend who plays many stringed instruments. She says “that is way to much uke for a 6 year old who has shown no interest in actually playing a musical instrument.” I have always wanted to learn the mandolin and tried but didn’t do very good at all. My friend suggests I try the uke instead. So I began piddling around and love it. But I have a hard time holding it because of the glossy finish. So, is the Ibanez a good starter uke? (Also, I went online and bought my granddaughter a bright pink Makala Dolphin. It arrived yesterday and I can actually image my granddaughter wanting to play that. So really she still gets what she wants and at less than half the price.) Thanks in advance for your advice.

  35. Kay October 29th, 2013 5:21 pm

    Hey. Wonderful website. Thank you.
    My story/question: My 6 year old granddaughter asked Granddaddy for a pink ukelele for Christmas. Granddaddy says “whatever you want, you get.” We go to Guitar Center in Houston, TX where we find a beautiful Ibanez UEW10QM for $100. We buy. I get home and show to a friend who plays multiple stringed instruments. She says, “you can’t give an Ibanez uke to a 6 year old who has not shown any actual interest in learning to play; get something less expensive and smaller.” I have always wanted to learn the mandolin but didn’t have much success. My friend says play the uke. I start piddling around with the Ibanez and love it. However, it is difficult to hold because of the super glossy finish. So, question: Is the Ibanez a good beginner uke? (Also, I went online and ordered my granddaughter a bright pink Makala Dolphin bridge uke. It came in yesterday and I can actually see her wanting to learn on that. It is smaller, cute and strings are easier to push down on.) I want to learn and perhaps play with my granddaughter.

  36. Kyle October 29th, 2013 5:31 pm

    Hi Kay, glad you like the site, we do too!

    Makala Dolphin’s are popular ukes, not just for starters but for people travelling too. It’s a great choice!

    If the Ibanez (didn’t know they did ukes, but go for what you like) is hard to hold, try watching a few Youtube videos for tips on holding it better, or start looking at videos with straps. I drill strap buttons into my ukes (like a guitar) but there’s plenty of other options available, it’s all down to personal preference.

  37. Kay October 29th, 2013 5:41 pm

    Thanks so much. I wondered about straps but no holes or connectors on the Ibanez. Nice to know I might find someone to help me with that. I do think that would help. Thanks for getting back to me so quickly.

  38. Kyle October 29th, 2013 5:54 pm

    Yeah you have to screw the strap buttons onto the uke, or do what I did and get a luthier to do it for you. There’s uke leashes etc that can be used to, probably best to search on Google images for a look.

  39. norman November 20th, 2013 4:54 am

    Hi, for all of those people trying to find out which uke too buy….. listen to the sound of as many as you can find , live or on internet…. one day a sound will grab you … the price will not matter… you’ll be hooked and you will not be one of ” those ” who buy a uke and put it in the cupboard. I bought a ” Mele ” over the net from Hawaii and been very happily hooked on uke for nearly three years. I found the only concern is when strings are eventually changed on a quality uke then the sound may change if a different brand is used…. won’t hurt to listen to a ” Mele ” ………

  40. Ken June 1st, 2014 11:29 am

    Ukes are simple instruments but some are certainly much better than others. It takes about three days to build a decent instrument from scratch by hand. Things to look for are solid woods in the build of the body and good quality wood for the neck and fretboard. Cedar, Spruce or Koa are excellent woods for the belly, and Mahogany, Walnut, Rosewood, Maple and Koa are great back and sides material. Maple is by far the best neck wood and good quality Ebony is just perfect for the fretboard. My personal preference is for nickel silver ‘Mandolin’ fretwire and I also like to have a zero fret after the nut, essential for a good action on a short neck. Decoration is unimportant but can affect the tone and playability. If just starting out on uke, do yourself a favour and buy either a Concert size or a Tenor ~ much easier to come to terms with than the Soprano. I bought my first uke when I was 12 years old, I am now 66. If you can get your hands on a genuine Kumalae from the 1915 to 1924 period which is still in good untouched condition, you will have a friend for life, there are few better sounding ukes. Next to this a vintage 1920’s Gibson is fabulous and all Martins are good although somewhat ‘workmanlike’ and variable rather than stunning. Most of the recent Ukes are made in China and the far east, the better solid wood ukes are generally excellent, and often much better made and finished than vintage 1920’s to 50’s ukes from the America and the west. Just my opinion I know, but I do have over 50 years of experience, playing, collecting and making ukeleles.

  41. Woodshed June 1st, 2014 8:41 pm

    Ken: Thanks very much! That was a very interesting read.

  42. Michael June 7th, 2014 8:42 pm

    This is what I would have liked to have known before I started making ukuleles. Buy a bandsaw. They are the best — just keep your fingers away from the fast pointy thing. With this advice, I can make uke necks faster and better, and I still have all my fingers. Tune the blade to play a C note.

  43. Mickelangelo June 8th, 2014 1:42 am

    Great stuff to know. I have recently purchased a Maton.
    Australian made using Australian timbers and I am in love with her, I have called her Minnie. She’s a Concert size. Beautiful sound. Maton are generally known for Guitars.Just adding my two bobs worth.

  44. Linda Swanson June 17th, 2014 11:01 pm

    I’m a 78 year old lady, not too arthritic, and just heard a banjolele for the first time and fell in love.
    I played the uke when I was 19, then put it way when I went on to college.
    I’d like to have the challenge now of a banjolele. Are there any manufacturers whose frets are easier to reach for the ‘older’ less nimble fingers?
    I’d be OK with a used one ‘cause maybe it’s too late to start this challenge after ’60’ OMG years. I saw a Gold Tone Banjolele Dlx
    on a website, & thought “If only”.

  45. Page July 16th, 2014 6:23 am

    Don’t let your husband pick one up for you b/c he’ll miss the flaws – separated binding, cracked fretboard…

    Wish I’d tried different sizes b/c I prefer concerts.

  46. Luke August 19th, 2014 8:59 pm

    Your local music shop sucks mine has great quality strings ukes and every other instrument

  47. Scott August 28th, 2014 12:00 am

    What would I tell the me of four weeks ago?

    Buy a Makala Dolphin FIRST, not second.

  48. Alex October 8th, 2014 8:20 pm

    that last one got me to think that i should ask the girl i like out

  49. Woodshed October 9th, 2014 11:21 am

    Alex: Go for it! Also, harvest your sister’s organs.

  50. norman johnson October 9th, 2014 9:59 pm

    I listened on the net, as well as listening to many ukulele at the local group before settling on a solid koa ” Mele ” from Hawaii . i bought and learnt ,4 years ago, a tenor and a concert, over the phone. I live in australia, and a lot of people comment on the sound. I play it quite a lot as I am 74, retired and enjoy the benefits that come with an instrument that satisfies with sound. just a basic player ( none of these hard to do chords ). ADVICE = find the sound you like, ( regardless of make or maker ) and buy that one . ( but check out MELE from Hawaii.)

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