Buying a Ukulele - dummies

By Alistair Wood

Buying a ukulele in a shop used to be a very dispiriting experience. You’d see walls packed with guitars and a couple of ukuleles collecting dust in the corner. Fortunately, that situation is slowly changing. But you can still find a much wider and better ukulele selection online.

Buying a ukulele from a shop

A few specialist ukulele shops exist, but you’re most likely to have to go to a general music shop. If you have a shop near you that sells ukuleles, go along and try some instruments out.

The first thing to do in the shop — whatever your budget — is to check out the most expensive instrument, because doing so gives you a good point of comparison. When you’ve got a feel for this expensive uke, see which instrument in your price range shares its characteristics.

A couple of things to pay attention to when trying out ukes:

  • How well made is the ukulele? Even if you’re not familiar with the technical parts of the ukulele, you can get a good idea of the care that’s gone into making it. In particular, check out the inside of the uke. If you can see glue spatters and splinters all over the place, move on to another instrument. Also, hold the headstock of the uke up to your chin and look down the fretboard toward the bridge so it looks like a railway track heading off in front of you. The frets should be perfectly parallel. If they’re even slightly off, the uke isn’t going to play correctly.

  • How high are the strings? The height of the strings above the fretboard is known as the action. The higher the strings, the more you have to press down on them and the harder the uke is to play. The action can also be too low — creating buzzes when you play — but finding ukes with the action set too high is more common.

Purchasing a ukulele online

Despite the massive increase in the number of ukuleles available in shops, the selection is still limited; you may have to buy your uke on the Internet.

You have to be more careful when buying on the Internet than in a shop, and make sure that you read and take notice of the posted reviews. But as long as you carry out some diligent checking, you can buy confidently on the Internet.

The biggest selection of ukuleles is on eBay, where you have to be particularly wary. The best and safest idea, to start with anyway, is to buy a new ukulele from a power seller who specializes in ukuleles (so they can give you expert advice and ensure that the ukulele is set up correctly).