How to Buy a Ukulele

Learn the basics of buying a ukulele from music teacher Jarret Delos Santos in this Howcast video.

Aloha, my name is Jarret Delos Santos and I was born and raised in a little town called Hana on the east side of Maui. Playing the ukulele and teaching the ukulele gives me a chance to perpetuate our culture. So today, we’re going to be talking about the ukulele. Okay, we’re going to be talking about what to look for when you go out and purchase an ukulele. One of the things that we like to do here, and I tell my students, is to name your instrument – give it a name. It gives it personality. And saying that, what you’re gonna be doing is looking for an ukulele that fits you as a person. It needs to feel good, so when you first go out and get an ukulele, or are looking for an ukulele, pick it up and see how it feels. See how it looks on you. It needs to be a fit to your personality. That’s one of the things you need to do – play it, make sure that the tone is good, that you like the tone. Kinda want to put your finger and play some of the notes that you know. What you’re listening for is vibrating. Is the tone good? Are there any dead spots? When you try your notes out and you’re playing your notes, it should ring – it should sound really nice. Your notes should sound like full sounds. Every once in a while, you’ll pick up an ukulele, and you’ll hit a note somewhere along the line, and it goes ‘thug’, ‘thug’, ‘thug’. And you position your fingers, and it still has that ‘thug’ sound, that’s a dead spot. And that would be an indication that that instrument is probably not a good instrument for you.
Also to look at the type of wood. There’s a difference between a solid wood and something that’s covered with a veneer finish. Solid wood tends to have a better tone all through. Solid wood also ages well, so the tone gets sweeter as it gets older. Veneer, you don’t know what you’re getting underneath that – under that veneer. Could be very cheap plywood, so you kind of want to see and take a look at what the constructions look like through the hole here. I’m looking at the action – the distance between the string and the fretboard. If it’s too high, it’s difficult – makes it difficult to play. If it’s too low, it’ll vibrate. You’re gonna look for defects, make sure there’s no defects on the body. You’re gonna also look down the instrument to kinda just eyeball it – eyeball it and see that you’re not seeing any warping of the instrument. Then you look at it to see whether the neck is straight on your ukulele, and what you do is you lift it up and you kind of look at it at an angle and see and make sure that the fretboard is not crooked or twisted in any way. The other thing to look at is your – the nuts, up here, and the crown of the head. You’re looking at the type of machinery is on here. You’re making sure that it’s not loose and wiggly, because that will cause vibration in the instrument. Other models have cut away where this part is gone. It allows you to access – better access some of the lower frets, so that’s something if you’re into playing a lot of picking and that sort of action, you might want to have a ukulele where the bottom part here is cut away. And again, you’re going to have to decide what type of instrument you want, whether a soprano, concert, your tenor or your baritone, because that will determine the amount of frets and the quality of the sound that you want.