When looking into purchasing your first ukulele, you really have 3 options – Soprano, Concert and Tenor. Each of them are played the same, use the same chords and are tuned the same, meaning you could pick up any of the three and have pretty much the same learning/playing experience – so what are the actual differences between the three, and which one is best for me?
Best for children/beginners/easiest to pickup
I’m going to say that the most common ukulele is actually a Soprano – they’re the smallest and generally cheapest option. For kids Soprano ukuleles are perfect, as they aren’t too large to wield (ever seen a small child try and hold a regular guitar?) and are available at very accessible prices (we’re talking as small as £15-20).
So what about you, the person reading this? Let’s assume you’re not a child (can you say titmouse without giggling?) and that you’re a regular non-musical person looking for their first ukulele. A Soprano ukulele would absolutely fit your needs, and are a perfect intro into playing a stringed instrument without feeling completely overwhelmed or frustrated. Soprano ukulele’s are great for everyone except for:
Whilst a Soprano is a perfect choice for beginners/kids/average hand sizes, those who fall out of this category are probably better off with our next size – Concert.
Best for adults/musical people/time to dedicate to learning
The ukulele that I (and Effi) both play is a Concert ukulele, and I’ve found that it’s the most common amongst my adult students. A Concert ukulele is slightly bigger than a Soprano and so can be more comfortable for adults to get to grips with, and can cater for some more serious/advanced playing thanks to the larger neck. Concerts will be more expensive than a Soprano (both Effi and I play Kala ukuleles which were around the £100 mark) but you can get a Concert anywhere from £50/60 plus.
If you think you’re going to be dedicated and stick with learning the ukulele and have the cash then a Concert is my utmost choice – but we still have one more to talk about.
Best for people who already play a stringed instrument/more virtuoso playing/want the biggest ukulele
Here we are – the Tenor ukulele. A Tenor ukulele is the biggest of the three, and a really, really big jump from a Soprano. Due to the much larger neck and fret size, I never advise Tenors to beginners as they aren’t the most welcoming – not quite as bad as guitars are, but still nowhere near as friendly as a little Soprano. I play a Tenor ukulele as do a few of my adult students, and whilst they are certainly much better for more advanced pieces (larger neck/more frets/better clarity of sound) if you don’t already play a stringed instrument (guitar/violin/ukulele) I advise ignoring these guys. If you’re super serious about learning and never want to upgrade your instrument (ie. Never buying a new one, good luck with that) then maybe check out a Tenor, but for most of you who are just starting – don’t.
I’ve decided on what type of Ukulele, where should I buy one from?
Please please please please for both my sake and yours go to your local guitar shop (you definitely have one) and purchase a ukulele from there, instead of online. Why not online Sammy? Do you hate the internet? WHY DO YOU HATE THE INTERNET?!
When a ukulele is sold in a guitar shop, it has arrived at the shop, been taken out of the box, checked over, tuned, played and then put on the wall. This instantly eliminates two of the biggest problems I always come across from your Amazon/Argos ukuleles: tuning and intonation.
TLDR: Guitar shop ukuleles have been checked over and stored correctly and safely so they won’t have unfixable issues related to tuning that ukuleles that have lived their life in a box can have. For the sake of a little bit of money, this is a massive no brainer – it’ll save you from having to pay that same guitar shop to fix your ukulele in the future.
Do I need anything else?
Some ukuleles come with a gig bag, if they don’t it’s advisable to buy one if you’re taking it out and about (ukuleles enjoy a brief walk in the park so it can socialise with other ukulele friends). If you’re not, I advise buying a guitar/ukulele stand instead – putting your instrument somewhere on display not only looks great and shows people how incredibly deep you are, but it encourages you to practice as it’s never out of sight – you cannot escape the sad, puppy dog eyes of an un-played instrument.
You will definitely definitely need a tuner, however if you own a smartphone (iOS or Android) then you can download actual decent ukulele tuners for free – that way you also carry it with you everywhere, like some sort of perfectly tuned ukulele ninja.
Some people play ukuleles with a plectrum/pick, ukulele plectrums are different to guitar as they are gigantic and made of felt – personally I think a ukulele is played best without one, but I’ll leave that up to you.
The actual most important thing I recommend is that you find yourself a good teacher – they will keep you on track and you will find yourself improving without having to do the research and wasting time watching bad tutorials.
I also heard there’s a pretty good teacher who has an excellent knowledge of the ukulele and his hat collection is to die for – maybe check him out?
If you ever have any further questions regarding this topic or more, then please hit me up on firstname.lastname@example.org- or you can find me on Twitter @sammydamacy