Last updated: August 18, 2021

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The sound of the ukulele immediately reminds most of us of the soft and dreamlike tones of "Somewhere over the Rainbow". The instrument may be small, but it can give you goosebumps and transport you to shady palm trees on white sandy beaches. The different shapes, woods and strings of ukuleles can be quite confusing. To help you find your way between the many instruments on the market, we have a ukulele test 2022 for you. In it, we answer frequently asked questions about the use of a ukulele and show you which factors you should look out for when buying. We also explain what accessories you need for a ukulele and whether you can also use your guitar's plectrum for the ukulele, for example.




Summary

  • Ukuleles come in different shapes and sizes. These differ in their tonal range and sound characteristics. Men with larger hands should best give a tenor ukulele a chance.
  • Those who want to acquire the classical sound of a ukulele should buy a soprano ukulele. There are various accessories for ukuleles: a bag is recommended, as well as a tuner and a strap if this is not included with the ukulele.
  • Ukuleles made of solid wood sound best, but are also more demanding and expensive to maintain. For beginners, a ukulele made of a laminate and real wood combination is recommended.

The Best Ukulele: Our Picks

Guide: Questions you should ask yourself before buying a ukulele

Are you thinking about buying a ukulele, but are a bit overwhelmed by the choice and the different offers? Then you've come to the right place, because we explain what you should look out for when buying a ukulele.

What is a ukulele?

A ukulele is a guitar-like plucked string instrument that is usually strung and played with four, but also with six or eight strings. A ukulele is usually around 60 cm long and 20 cm wide. In contrast to the guitar, the fourth string of the ukulele is usually tuned in octaves and thus higher than the middle strings. This gives it its unmistakably exotic sound.

How many strings does a ukulele have?

By default, a ukulele has 4 strings. However, some ukuleles can also be purchased with six or eight strings. With these, sides are typically combined to form choirs. Ukuleles are called choirs when one string is octavated, but you still play two strings with only one finger. A similar principle can be found in 12-string guitars. The fundamental note of a string is then heard in both the lower and higher registers. Typically, the G side is octavated.

What are the different forms?

Ukuleles can be divided into 4 basic shapes. These are, listed in ascending order of size:

  • Soprano ukulele (classical ukulele)
  • Concert ukulele
  • Tenor ukulele
  • Baritone ukulele

The smaller the ukulele, the brighter and clearer the sound. Larger ukuleles have a darker, warmer sound, closer to that of the guitar. Nevertheless, even a bass ukulele still sounds clearly different from a guitar. In addition to these models, there is also the sopranino version, which is even smaller than a soprano ukulele, and the bass ukulele. The latter does not really have much to do with the classic uke sound, but is still a great instrument.

There are four types of classical ukulele, which are subdivided according to pitch. There are also different shapes of the body. (Image source: pixabay.com / StockSnap)

Apart from the size of the ukulele, there are also different shapes of the body. Here, one can distinguish between two essential shapes. The most common is the figure-eight shape, which is reminiscent of the shape of a classical concert guitar. The pineapple shape is probably the second most popular shape. It has a larger body and thus a fuller (and louder) sound.

What manufacturers are there for ukuleles?

There are many manufacturers of ukuleles who also offer their products on the German market. Among them are:

  • Mahalo
  • Kala
  • Lanikai
  • Baton Rouge

Classical guitar manufacturers such as Fender or Ibanes also produce the mini guitars. However, the manufacturer alone says nothing about the quality of the instrument. Pay attention to the quality of the individual instrument and do not let yourself be convinced by "traditional" companies if they do not offer a good instrument.

What strings are available for ukuleles?

Originally, ukulele strings were made from animal gut. Nowadays, strings made of nylgut are widely used. They have the same density as gut strings and generally sound very good. Besides nylon strings (nylon strings are practically non-existent), there are also strings made of fluorocarbon and titanium. The advantage of these sides is that they keep the intonation better than strings made of nylgut; however, they are also much harder and sound less soft than the classic sides. If you buy an electric ukulele that has a magnetic pickup, you can only use strings made of steel!

What accessories are available for ukuleles?

If you want to buy a ukulele, there are a number of accessories that can prove to be a useful additional investment. Among other things, these include:

  • Ukulele cases/gigbags
  • Ukulele stands
  • Ukulele straps
  • Special picks for ukuleles
  • Pickups for use with amplifiers
  • Tuners for ukuleles
  • Sheet music and practice books

You can find out more about the accessories mentioned in the following paragraphs.

Ukulele case

A ukulele case or gig bag is a sensible investment, especially if you want to take your ukulele with you. In contrast to a bag or a gig bag, a case is a bit more bulky, but offers more protection. When buying your ukulele case, make sure that it is suitable for your model.

Stands for ukuleles

A ukulele case is never the best way to store your instrument in the long term. The best conditions for instruments are usually the same as for people. They feel most comfortable at about 22 degrees and 50% humidity. A ukulele stand can therefore make sense, because it allows you to store your instrument in the best possible way. In addition, the ukulele can be an eye-catcher.

Ukulele straps

It is important to note that the classic ukulele does not have a suspension for a strap. Beginners in particular may find this difficult when playing standing up. Fortunately, manufacturers have recognised the demand for ukulele straps and many ukuleles also have a suspension. So if you purchase a suitable ukulele, a ukulele strap may be worthwhile if, for example, you have become accustomed to playing a guitar standing up.

Did you know that you can also use a guitar strap for your ukulele? In fact, there is no difference between straps. A guitar strap that can be adjusted can be used just as well for a ukulele. In a larger instrument shop, you can usually choose from a wide range of straps and have them properly fitted to your ukulele, including buttons. The same applies to a guitar capo. You can also use this for your ukulele.

You can use your own ukulele straps or typical adjustable guitar straps.

Picks

First of all, you can use the picks from your guitar for the ukulele. If you decide to play your ukulele with a pick, there are some suppliers who offer special picks for ukuleles. Some of these are made of felt and give a warmer sound, which is often desired when playing the ukulele.

Pickups

Especially if you buy a smaller ukulele, you will soon notice that the ukulele is relatively quiet. If you want to counteract this, you have two options:

  • When you buy your ukulele, you make sure that it already has a pickup.
  • You buy a pickup later.

With the help of a pickup, you can increase the volume of the ukulele via an amplifier. However, the basic sound of the ukulele is much more important than the presence of a pickup, because the pickup can only amplify what is actually happening in the sound. More important than a built-in pickup is the sound of the ukulele. Pickups can still be purchased later.

Tuners

If you don't have perfect pitch, you should definitely buy a tuner in addition to the ukulele. There are various types, including tuners specifically for ukuleles. A tuner that is suitable for guitar, bass and ukulele makes sense; these can be purchased for a few euros. Alternatively, tuning via a smartphone app, such as "gStrings", works very well - and is also completely free.

Sheet music and practice books

Practice books can be useful, as they are often systematic and you learn the instrument step by step.

The accessories for ukuleles are not much different from those for guitars. (Picture source: pixabay.com / catandway)

However, whether one prefers a practice book or teaches oneself to play using (free) internet resources, such as Youtube videos, is a matter of taste and depends on the individual person and their learning habits.

How many strings should my ukulele have?

This is basically a matter of taste. However, it can be said that models with 6 or 8 strings develop their strengths when used as accompaniment to singing and strumming chords. Eight strings simply sound fuller than just four. If you are looking for a classic ukulele sound, you should rather look at models with four strings.

Decision: What types of ukuleles are there and which is the right one for you?

Basically, you can distinguish between four different types of ukuleles:

  • Classical Ukulele (Soprano)
  • Concert Ukulele
  • Tenor ukulele
  • Baritone Ukulele

The basic rule here is: Choose the model whose sound you prefer! On certain websites you can find some ukulele models in direct sound comparison. Even better: Go to a music store and try out the ukuleles. Or research what kind of ukulele was used in your favourite recordings. For example, Vance Joy plays a tenor ukulele in his summer hit "Riptide".

What are the advantages and disadvantages of a classical ukulele (soprano)?

A classical ukulele has the advantage that most songs were composed for it. Here you have a correspondingly large selection; but of course you can play any song on any instrument - especially since concert and tenor versions use the same tuning.

Advantages
  • Classic ukulele sound
  • Large selection
  • Small and handy
Disadvantages
  • Comparatively small range
  • Difficult to play with large hands
  • Quite quiet

Because the soprano ukulele is so widespread, it also has the largest selection. A soprano ukulele is also very small and therefore very handy. But this also has its disadvantages: if you have very large hands, for example, playing a soprano ukulele can prove to be correspondingly awkward. The range of the soprano ukulele is also quite limited compared to the other models: just one and a half octaves are playable here. The range is from C4 to A5.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of a concert ukulele?

A concert ukulele is a little bigger than a classical soprano ukulele. The typical length here is 58cm compared to 53cm. This means it has more frets and thus a higher range than a soprano ukulele. The range is typically from C4-C6 and is thus a full 2 octaves. Especially the high C is useful to achieve other chord voicings.

Advantages
  • Larger range than soprano ukulele
  • small and handy
  • standard tuning
Disadvantages
  • Still difficult to play for large hands
  • range could be higher

The fact that this type of ukulele is larger also increases playability. Another advantage is that a concert ukulele is tuned in the same way as a soprano ukulele.

All songs composed for the classical soprano ukulele can therefore also be played on a concert ukulele without any problems.

Nevertheless, the same applies here: Especially compared to tenor or baritone models, the range is quite limited. For people with larger hands, a tenor ukulele is recommended (although basically any ukulele can be played by anyone!)

What are the advantages and disadvantages of a tenor ukulele?

The tenor ukulele is a good deal larger than the concert ukulele. The typical length here is about 66cm. Compared to the concert ukulele, the range is increased by a good deal and is about 2.5 octaves (G3-D6) for the tenor version.

Advantages
  • Larger range than the concert ukulele
  • standard tuning
  • can also be played well with large hands
Disadvantages
  • Deviates somewhat from the classic ukulele sound
  • on average considerably more expensive than smaller ukuleles

A tenor ukulele can produce both lower and higher notes than a soprano ukulele. Its sound is somewhat darker for this. The advantage of a tenor ukulele is again the standard tuning and the way most people find it easier to play. If you have big man hands and like the sound of the tenor ukulele, you should buy a tenor ukulele.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of a baritone ukulele?

The sound of a baritone ukulele is very different from the familiar ukulele sound. It is sometimes reminiscent of the sound of smaller guitars. You should be aware of this, but if you like the sound, you can take advantage of some benefits.

Advantages
  • Wide range
  • Great playing
Disadvantages
  • Significantly different sound than classical ukuleles
  • Comparatively expensive

A baritone ukulele is great to play, regardless of hand size, and has a wide range (D3-A#5). Unfortunately, there is a linear relationship between the size and price of a ukulele: baritone ukuleles are comparatively expensive. They are also tuned like a guitar, which makes playing ukulele songs more difficult.

Buying criteria: Use these factors to compare and evaluate ukuleles

In the following, we would like to show you which factors you can use to compare and evaluate ukuleles. This will make it easier for you to decide whether a certain product is suitable for you or not. In summary, these are:

  • Material
  • Workmanship
  • Series dispersion
  • Intonation and sound
  • Strap attachment

In the following paragraphs you can read about the individual purchase criteria and how you can classify them.

Material

When buying your ukulele, pay attention to the material used. Ukuleles are made of the following materials:

  • Wood
  • Laminate-wood combination
  • Laminate
  • Plastic

The following applies: Ukuleles made of plastic are only recommended if you are looking for a particularly robust instrument that is well suited for travelling. If you are looking for a really good sound, you will not find it in plastic ukuleles.

Ukuleles made of real wood

The best ukuleles are made entirely of wood. The best ukuleles are made from the Hawaiian wood of the Koa tree. But there are also many models made of mahogany or spruce. This produces a great, warm sound. Another advantage is that the value of the ukulele can increase over time (similar to violins, for example).

A ukulele made of real wood is more expensive than other models.

However, the disadvantage of such ukuleles is that they are significantly more expensive than other models. In addition, a ukulele made of real wood requires more care: real wood is porous and absorbs moisture, but it can also dry out. This can cause the bridge to bend and the intonation of the instrument to deteriorate. When storing the instrument, it is therefore important to ensure that it is kept in the right climate. If you are not put off by the high price of ukuleles made of real wood and are prepared to look after your new instrument, you will be rewarded with an incomparable sound.

Laminate-wood combination / laminate

Laminate requires less maintenance than wood, and is also considerably cheaper. On the other hand, it does not have the same great sound characteristics. Therefore, a compromise is usually implemented: the sides and the back of the ukulele are made of laminate, the upper part is made of real wood. This way, you get a moderately priced version that still has great sound characteristics.

For beginners and intermediates, a ukulele made of a real wood-laminate combination is recommended, as these are comparatively inexpensive and still sound great.

But also pure laminate constructions can sound great. Trial and error is still the best way to find out what suits your taste.

Finishing the frets, neck and fret markers

When you have a ukulele in your hand, look for imperfections and unevenness, especially on the frets. Especially if it is a cheap ukulele, the frets can come loose and expose sharp edges. The type of stringing can be distinguished between direct tuners and angled tuners. Direct tuners are hidden behind the bridge of the ukulele and therefore have a visual advantage. However, if you value the cleanest intonation of your instrument, you should look for angled tuners (these stand off to the side of the head and hold the intonation better).

Series scattering

Especially with cheap models, you often have to deal with series scattering. It can happen that you buy a cheap ukulele that is highly praised by customers, but are disappointed by the quality of the instrument. The reason for this is the so-called series dispersion: this term is used when the versions of the same product vary greatly in quality. If you want to avoid series dispersion, you should consider more expensive models.

Intonation and sound

The most important purchase criterion. When it comes to instruments, your main concern should be that you like the sound of the instrument. Many sound examples of instruments can be found on the internet. Or you can try out the instruments on site or order them on a trial basis. Make sure that you like the sound of the instrument, because only then will you be able to enjoy it in the long term.

Fastening for straps

Also not to be neglected: does the ukulele have attachments for straps? Originally this was not the case. But nowadays most ukuleles have such attachments. Nevertheless, you should pay attention to them in order to avoid unpleasant surprises.

Interesting facts about the ukulele

Finally, we would like to answer a few important questions about the ukulele and its use. You will find out what the word ukulele means, whether a ukulele or guitar suits you better, how to play a ukulele and much more.

What does ukulele mean?

Literally translated, ukulele probably means "jumping flea", probably after a nickname of the British officer Edward Purvis, who popularised the instrument in Hawaii in the 19th century.

What suits you better - ukulele or guitar?

Many people are faced with the question of whether the ukulele is the right instrument for them, or whether you should rather get a guitar. The ukulele has some basic advantages over the guitar; it is much smaller and easier to handle and is great for travelling. So if you want to backpack, for example, a ukulele is ideal. It is not only smaller, but also much quieter than a guitar. This is an advantage when travelling through hostels or hotel rooms.

Did you know that the Beatles play the ukulele in the song "Free as a Bird"? George Harrison of the Beatles was a huge ukulele fan. He always said that everyone should play the ukulele because it's easy to learn to play and it always puts you in a good mood. At the end of the song "Free as a Bird" George Harrison plays the ukulele in the style of Formby.

However, the basic rule is: choose the instrument whose sound you prefer. The sound of a ukulele has something dreamy, tropical and is not very flexible in this respect. With a guitar you have more possibilities to express yourself artistically. However, it is louder and much more cumbersome - and sounds very different from a ukulele.

How do you play a ukulele?

Just like a guitar, you can play a ukulele with a pick or with your fingers. Playing with a plectrum results in a slightly harder, more percussive sound, while plucking with fingers has a softer, more mellow sound. Playing with your fingers also gives you more control over the dynamics of the instrument. Which way you prefer to play, however, is a matter of taste and musical context. In most cases, however, you pluck a ukulele.

How do you tune a ukulele?

Depending on the size of the ukulele, it is tuned differently. The classical ukulele is tuned G4-C4-E4-A4 as standard. So, in contrast, the string that is close to the player is not the lowest, but even the second highest. Some players, however, prefer to tune the string an octave lower, so that the strings sound in the tones G3-C4-E4-A4. If you want to play a song on the ukulele, be sure to tune your ukulele the way the song is played. However, if you want to give free rein to your creativity, you can also try to tune your ukulele differently yourself! Especially the tenor ukulele has many different tuning possibilities. Besides this standard tuning, there is also the Hawaiian tuning. Here, the soprano ukulele is tuned to the notes A4-D4-F♯4-B4 - one whole tone higher than the standard tuning. The following table gives information about the common tunings of ukuleles.

Type of ukulele Standard tuning Alternative tunings
Sopranino D5 G4 B4 E5 C5 F4 A4 D5
Soprano G4 C4 E4 A4 A4 D4 F♯4 B4 or G3 C4 E4 A4
Concert G4 C4 E4 A4 G3 C4 E4 A4
Tenor G4 C4 E4 A4 or G3 C4 E4 A4 D4 G3 B3 E4 or A3 D4 F♯4 B4 or D3 G3 B3 E4
Baritones D3 G3 B3 E4 C3 G3 B3 E4
Bass E2 A2 D3 G3 -

If you have a small ukulele, such as a sporan or sopranino ukulele, you tune in descending order of pitch - on larger ukuleles, such as a baritone or even bass ukulele, the foremost string is usually the lowest.

Can you play a ukulele with guitar chords?

The answer is yes and no. By default, the ukulele is tuned differently than a guitar (see above). Also, by default, a ukulele has only 4 strings instead of the usual six, unlike a guitar.

If you love the "classic ukulele sound", you should go for a soprano ukulele. (Image source: 123rf.com / epicstockmedia)

With a soprano ukulele, especially if you tune the G-string an octave lower than usual, you can still do well. Because then the four strings of the ukuleles correspond to the empty strings of a guitar with a capo in the fifth fret. A D major chord on the guitar would then be a G major chord on the ukulele, an A major chord would then be a D major chord and so on.

A classical ukulele cannot be played 1 to 1 like a guitar. But if you get along well with a guitar, you should be able to get along with the ukulele after a short period of getting used to it.

The situation is different with baritone ukuleles. This is tuned exactly like a guitar, but does not have the two lowest strings. Here, guitar chords can be transferred 1 to 1. If you are looking for a ukulele that you can play with guitar chords, a baritone ukulele might be right for you. A guitalele is a hybrid of guitar and ukulele and is also recommended.

How long have ukuleles been around?

The small guitar was developed in the 1880s and originally came from Hawaii. In the course of the twentieth century, the ukulele conquered more and more of the world. Its popularity is still growing today.

What are famous ukulele songs?

Some famous historical songs are for example:

  • Happy Birthday
  • Somewhere over the Rainbow
  • La Vie en Rose

More current uses of the ukulele in popular pop music include Jason Mraz's song "I'm yours" or "Riptide" by Vance Joy.

Image source: pixabay.com / stgilesmusic

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