Updated: Oct 2, 2020
So your thinking about buying your first ukulele? Where to start? First let me congratulate you on doing your homework. Doing research on this topic will make buying your first ukulele a memorable experience. I have personally sold over a thousand ukulele (in person) to customers from all over the world. Doing this that many times gave me a better understanding of the sort of questions customers were asking. These experiences helped to form four simple steps that will help you buy your first ukulele. The four steps to consider are Price, Sound, Looks, and Fit.
1. The Price
The first piece of the puzzle is figuring out the right budget. If price is of no consequence go BIG. There are many masterclass builders building museum pieces. The price tag of these works of art are in the thousands. If this is not you there is still hope! There are many great affordable options out there.
For your first ukulele you want to steer towards an ukulele that will inspire you to explore the instrument further. To unlock your and it's potential. This ukulele will be your first, and there's a lot of sentiment in that. So my advice is to stay away from ukulele that are in the bargain bin. These are ukulele in the $20-$50 range. These ukulele tend to be poorly made well and will give you a improper impression of the instrument. These types of ukulele are good for decoration and souvenirs.
On the flip side you want to avoid breaking the bank. With practice you will hone your skills and find your musical preferences. With these preferences you can upgrade in the future. Maybe splurge on your dream ukulele (at whatever cost). But for your first ukulele, choose one that is affordable and playable. There are many amazing ukulele that can be found in the $100-$500 range. For your first, this is a great place to start.
2. The Sound
Remember you are buying an instrument so sound is critical. Sound is subjective and ukulele manufacturers showcase their preferences in the sounds their ukulele produce. Differences in wood selection, ukulele size, body design, strings, and build construction can affect the tonal qualities of the instrument. When buying your first ukulele it is important that you find an ukulele that sounds best to your ears. Some people prefer the sound from company X, others from company Y. That is great but that is what they like. You need to find the ukulele that when strummed sends you to your happy place. If you live near a music store head down and strum on several ukulele. Tone, projection, bass response, and sustain are important things to think about when finding your personal sound preference. Take your time. Discovering your sound preferences is important. You may have to ask someone working at the store to play them for you to figure this out. If you aren’t able to visit your local music store, listen online to high quality sound clips. This will at least help you find your sound preferences.
3. The Looks
Who said looks aren't important? We may tell ourselves that to give us a sense of virtue, but seriously looks really do matter. Ukulele come in all shapes and sizes not to mention cosmetic bling. These include body design, wood combinations, bindings, inlays, and finish. The finish can be a smooth satin, or a buffed out mirror gloss. The body may be adorned with shimmering abalone shell purfling (look it up). Or the grain of wood may have stunning patterns that look like ripples on a pond. Since beauty in is in the eye of the beholder look closely for the ukulele that catches your eye. Believe me you will need extra time looking over these beauties!
4. The Fit
Fit is the area of decision least explored when someone chooses their first ukulele though it is a crucial element. Like trying on a pair of shoes, how it fits on your foot is important. You must ask yourself these questions when picking up the ukulele. "Does this ukulele feel comfortable against my body?" "Is it too big to hold?" Too small?" "Does it look right in proportion to my body when I hold it up in a mirror?" Believe it or not most people don't consider these questions when buying their first ukulele. Why is fit important? It's like asking why picking out the right size of shoe is important. It's comfort. If the ukulele isn't comfortable you will not pick it up and play. Concerning fit, follow Goldilocks. Make sure your first ukulele fits just right!
Price, sound, looks, and fit. These four 'pillars' will guide you to the perfect first ukulele. If you are able head down to your local music store. This will give you a better idea trying on the fit of the ukulele as well hearing the actual sound of the ukulele. If you can't purchase your ukulele in person, head to online reviews and shops looking at hi-res photos and sound clips. There you go! May these steps guide you to the start of your ukulele journey, or at least to your first ukulele. Aloha!