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Buying a Ukulele...

I get asked all the time about my pupils buying their own instruments and which ones should they get?

Ukuleles come in 5 main sizes  - Soprano, Concert, Tenor, Baritone and Bass. Electric ukuleles are also available.

Here is a quick, linked, guide to buying a ukulele - the good, the bad and the plastic!

Do remember, whatever your budget, check that a case is supplied and perhaps go for a String Upgrade.

Soprano size ukuleles...

Soprano ukuleles are the size that the beginner player most commonly uses. They are not a 'childs' size instrument. They are simply the smallest ukulele with the shortest neck.

Genral rule of thumb is avoid the friction tuners at this price range. The way to tell is if you can see the tuning peg buttons sticking out at 90 degrees from the side,  then they're the better, geared, tuners!

Below are a current selection that are available in the UK and often turn up in my lessons!

Picture Notes Supplier Cost*
Makala Ukulele... Makala Dolphin Soprano Ukulele
The Makala Dolphin Soprano is the most common instrument used in my classes. It is a great instrument that comes in lots of different colours.
You will need to buy a separate case for this...(Link here...)
LMS Music Supplies £31.14
Makala Waterman Soprano Ukulele
These constructed are constructed completely from plastic, aside from the tuning pegs. They were eagerly awaited and are not bad instruments! The see-through backed ones are quite good looking...but personally I think the completely clear model is the one to go for - if you can get one?!
Omega Music £32.99
Mahalo ukulele...
Mahalo Soprano Ukulele
Next to Makala ukuleles, Mahalo are the biggest brand of soprano ukuleles. They have many shapes, colours and graphics available.
DJM Music from
£18.70
Mahalo Flying V Electric Ukulele
I always wanted to like these. They look so cool! But the sad truth is - they're awful! They're difficult to play sitting down for younger learners and the acoustic sound is terrible owing to their unique shape. The pick up used here is in the Mahalo Les Paul Concert size ukulele and I've never thoght the sound of that to be much good to be fair. So sorry! Very little here to recommend!
   
Martin Smith Ukulele... Martin Smith Soprano Ukulele
This is Argos' current model, 'Martin Smith.' Not a bad instrument and readily available on the High Street.
Argos £14.99
Tanglewood Blue Soprano ukulele... Tanglewood TU6 Soprano Ukulele
Although this has got the famous guitar brand of 'Tanglewood' on it, it does remain a student standard instrument. Plays well, looks fine.
Eagle Music £29.00
Tiger Ukulele... Tiger Music Brand Soprano Ukulele
This is available from Amazon and comes in a variety of colours and graphics. This instrument represents good value for money as the strings fitted are usual good quality. Plain coloured models tend to be cheaper.
Amazon £28.28
Octopus Soprano... Octopus Beginners Soprano
These are well made with Aquila strings and other decent components, ie. a nice neck. A reasonable price, choice of bright colours and a gig bag. Fast becoming my rising favourite!
Southern Ukulele Store £24.00
Diamond Head Soprano uke... Diamond Head Soprano Ukulele
Diamond Head ukuleles are a lot more money than most beginners instruments and appear to be only available through Hobgoblin Music in the UK. Still, a good beginners ukulele and you do get a thin bag thrown in!
Hobgoblin Music £38.99
Ashton Ukulele Union Jack Design
Ashton ukuleles are distinctive by their 'flick' headstock design. Unfortunately they tend to be a little unreliable in their playability and design. Some in my lessons have been great and tuned fairly well and some have been unplayable and needed refunded. There are better options for similar money in my opinion. (Also around £3 extra for the Union Jack design).
Amazon £25.96
Gear4Music Soprano Blue Uke... Gear4Music Brand Soprano Ukulele
Now this IS cheap! It's a branded instrument, made in large quantities with the supplying companies own brand put on it. They are quite the solid little uke! A little 'thuddy' in sound but at this price?
Gear4Music £13.99
Sue Ryder Ukulele... Sue Ryder Brand Soprano Ukulele
This ukulele is branded for different suppliers. The most common ones I'm coming across originate from the 'Sue Ryder' chain of Charity shops.
Sue Ryder Charity Shop £14.99
Smyths Ukulele... I refuse to be a 'snob' about instruments BUT this model is turning up in my lessons and it really is not worth your money! It has a plastic fingerboard, plastic nut, plastic ill fitting bowl back, plastic fragile friction tuning pegs and sub standard strings; which they've not even bothered to photograph properly in their publicity shot! Not a lot going for it! Smyths Toy Store
(Sorry. No link provided on purpose!)
 

Concert size ukuleles...

Concert size ukuleles suit the improving player wanting a louder instrument with better playability. Typically a child of 11+ will be physically suited to this instrument, or perhaps an adult not wanting the larger Tenor size of instrument.

Picture Notes Supplier Cost*
Korala Explore Ukulele... Korala Explore Concert Ukulele
These concert size ukuleles are quite remarkable! They represent good value for money and are entirely plastic! (Apart from the tuning pegs.) They are a fun, budget instrument and I wouldn't necessarily recommend them for younger children ( 11+yrs best). But they come in some knock out designs and I love mine! Especially good for playing in the bath...!
Amazon £34.00
Octopus Concert... Octopus Concert Ukulele
It was while looking up the Soprano model above that I came across these. Amazing value for a Concert size ukulele! Also comes in bright colours unlike most natural wood concert size ukes. Yet to play one (June 2015) but again, reasonable price AND includes gig bag.
Southern Ukulele Store £40.00
Mahalo Les Paul Concert Ukulele
I like my Les Paul! The pick up isn't up to much but mine plays well and is good looking. I like the Les Paul style tuning pegs, fret markers and white edging (to my black model) .Comes with a free, fairly substantial soft case and with a change of strings - recommended!
Normans £49.50
Brunswick ukulele... Brunswick BU4 Concert Ukulele
This Brunswick Concert ukulele is constructed from decent wood - Mahogany. It is loud with a good sustain. Fitted with Aquila strings a good sounding instrument.
Gear 4 Music £65.00
Makala Concert... Makala by Kala MK-CE Electro Concert Ukulele
This is the above Soprano instruments big sister! Comes fitted with a budget pickup and not bad strings it has a big sound.
Omega Music £62.95
Kiwaya Concert ukulele... Kiwaya KTC-2 Concert Ukulele All Solid Mahogany
Lottery win? Well this model is beautiful! Amazingly light and very loud with perfect intonation. Very fond of mine!
Southern Ukulele Store £!!.!!

Tenor size ukuleles...

Tenor size ukuleles are usually favoured by adult learners/ players. They are most commonly available and larger fingers can find them more accommodating than the smaller sizes!

Picture Notes Supplier Cost*
Makala Tenor... Makala by Kala MK-TE Electro Tenor Ukulele
This is the big brother of the Makala Concert ukulele. It is unusually wide in the body and this makes for a large sound. Even larger with the fitted pickup!
 I'm a big fan of this instrument, but it does need the string upgrade though!
Omega Music £77.00
Ashbury Koa...

Ashbury AU-80 Tenor Uke


This Ashbury ukulele is made from a  beautiful exotic wood called Koa. It has a soft sustained sound. A lovely instrument.
Hobgoblin Music £189.00
Zedro ukulele...
Omega Zedro III Solid Cedar Top & Zebrawood Tenor Ukulele

The Omega Zedro III. What to say about this? Currently the favourite instrument in my Harem! A beautifully constructed instrument with interesting woods. Loud and punchy in sound with excellent intonation, numbered and limited. Truly special. But I believe they are now VERY limited in number?!
(Update: Now sold out)
Omega Music £199.00

Baritone Ukuleles...

Baritone ukuleles are tuned differently from Soprano, Tenors and Bass ukuleles. They take their tuning from the top 4 strings of the guitar - D, G, B, E.

Picture Notes Supplier Cost*
Ashbury Baritone...

Ashbury AU-80 Baritone Uke


The Ashbury Baritone Koa ukulele comes with 2 low (D and G) metal wound strings as well as 2 nylon (B and E) strings. This gives for a very sustained 'booming' sound. It is larger than the Tenor ukulele.
Hobgoblin Music £209
 

Bass Ukuleles...

Bass ukuleles are usually fitted with large 'rubbery' strings to get the lower pitch. They do come as acoustic instruments or with fitted pickups.

Picture Notes Supplier Cost*
Countryman Bass Ukulele... Countryman UB Electro Acoustic Bass Ukulele
This instrument represents amazing value for money in my opinion. Good woods, excellent strings and a comprehensive write up, as ever, by Matt at Omega Music. WANT!
Omega Music £148
Korala Bass...
Korala UKBB-310E Bass Ukulele & Built In Tuner / Truss Rod

Pretty looking and a good pickup and tuner system built in.
Omega Music £249
Kala UBass... Kala UBass Rumbler Electro Acoustic Bass Ukulele & Gig Bag
Kala were the first company to largely mass produce Bass ukuleles. They have many models of their popular 'Ubass' series. This is their 'entry' version.
Omega Music £273
       
       
 

Electric Ukuleles...

Electric ukuleles are mostly solid bodied - that is they don't make much sound unless they're plugged in to an amplifier. They are perfect for playing if you want to change the sound produced using effects like guitar pedals. They are also pretty good if you just want to be very LOUD!

Picture Notes Supplier Cost*
Vintage uke... Vintage VUKE1 Electric Soprano Ukulele
Cheap and cheerful the Vintage VUKE1 Sunburst Electric Ukulele is a solid body electric ukulele. In my experience it can have problems with the pickup being reliable.  Shame as its a nice looking instrument with good balance and small enough for younger fingers to play.
Reidys Music Store £29.99
Eleuke... The Eleuke Mp3 Solid Body ukulele (snappy title huh?) is my electric instrument of choice. They are difficult to get hold of brand new in the UK but do turn up on eBay from time to time.    
Risa Stick... Risa Solid Tenor Compact Electric Ukulele
The Risa 'stick' or more correctly known, the 'Risa Solid Tenor Compact Electric Ukulele' is a most unusual looking instrument. It has no headstock, or body to speak of. The tuning pegs are unusually set within the body. However they are well made and do sound great when run through a variety of pedals and loopers.
Omega Music £209
Godin Multiuke... Godin Multiuke UK Tenor Electro Ukulele
The Godin multiuke is a special instrument. A serious investment with a serious sound. It does have a little acoustic sound of its own but the amplified sound can be as pure as you want acoustic style before adding the noise!
Omega Music £699
Risa LP... Risa Tenor Ukulele SC-Style CB
Risa also make a very good looking Les Paul-esque electric ukulele called the Risa Tenor Ukulele SC-Style CB!  But again...watch out for that lottery win!
Thomann Music £422.21

Aquila Nylgut...

String Upgrades...

The best way to instantly improve your instrument is simply by changing the strings.

Most soprano instruments come with factory fitted, no-name strings that don't do the instruments any justice. By simply replacing them with better strings the instrument improves hugely.

Personally, I recommend Aquila strings for Soprano instruments. (Link here...)

(If you are one of my pupils, in one of my schools I would be more than happy to fit them for you free of charge (I do like cake though!) Please be aware that most music shops will charge for fitting them.)

For Tenor sized ukuleles there are many choices.

I still prefer Aquila Nylgut (Link here...) for my acoustic instruments...

However I have also used Aquila SuperNylGut (Link here...) Worth Browns (Link here...) and Savarez ukulele strings (Link here...)

For my electric ukulele I prefer the Aquila Red series (Link here...) as they are slightly more tactile and have a different gauge to them.

Thanks to the generous people at Omega Music I've recently tried the brand new 'Lava' series (Link here...) of strings from Aquila. They are grey, shiny and beautifully mild in tone. Recommended!

 

Choice of Instruments...

*All information correct as of November 2014. Prices quoted may be found cheaper elsewhere on the Internet. I have no profitable interest in any of the mentioned web site companies. The above models are chosen because of my personal involvement and experience with them. There are MANY others available...so do have fun finding them and if you have any recommendations then get in touch!

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