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You’ve come to the right place, because I have a lot of experience buying ukuleles.
It’s a small four-stringed Hawaiian instrument in the lute family. It often has nylon or gut strings, and is tuned a lot like a guitar.
For more info: Wikipedia.
In the long view, they’re from Hawaii by way of Portuguese immigrants in the 19th century. In the longer(?) view, they tend to come from trees.
In our case, they often come from Guitar Center.
There is the Hawaiian ukulele, which you will likely find in stores. When we say “ukulele” from here on out that is what we’re going to be talking about.
There is also the Tahitian ukulele, which is harder to find, and also harder to play (for its 8 metal strings). Look it up sometime, it’s cool as hell.
Of the common variety, here are four sizes:
tuned GCEA, with high-G
what you picture when someone says “ukulele”
a Soprano with a longer neck & a few more frets
ideal if a soprano uke feels too small
tuned GCEA, sometimes low-G
larger overall, easier for large hands to make chords
tuned DGBE, it’s almost a guitar!
the same chord shapes work but it’s a different key
Here’s the secret: No.
The strings are usually soft nylon, and the neck is small & easy for most hands to get around. Most of the time you don’t even need to strum with a pick, you can just use your fingernails or the pad of your thumb.
And here’s the kicker: If you know how to play guitar, you probably can already play the ukulele!
Think of it this way:
Imagine a normal guitar.
Remove the two lowest strings.
Put a capo 5 steps up.
Ta-da! That’s a ukulele.
The note relationships between the tuned ukulele strings are the same as a guitar’s 4 higher strings, so the chord shapes are the same also.
It’s mad easy, yo!
Rightly so. Ukuleles are venomous when they reach maturity.
(Just kidding, you’ll be fine.)
You should expect to spend between $100–$250 for a starter ukulele. That may feel spendy, but remember that it is an instrument & not a toy.
These are just examples
$50–$75 • The Kala Waterman
I normally advise against plastic ukuleles entirely, but Kala has a lot of experience making dependable instruments at a good price point.
This is a good question, and the answer is, Sort of? While the baritone uke has a lot of commonalities with the guitar, a four-string guitar is its own thing.
A baritone ukulele is tuned DGBE (the same intervals between strings as a ukulele), and a tenor guitar is tuned CGDA (all 5th intervals, similar to a viola).
If you ask me, a baritone ukulele is a great option if you already know how to play guitar but are looking to put on something a little more comfortable.
A tenor guitar is not a ukulele, but it might be a good option if you’d like to take up an instrument but are both overwhelmed by guitar & underwhelmed by ukulele.
I hope you didn’t get to the bottom of my “how to buy a ukulele” page to be convinced that you don’t want to buy a ukulele, but I support you in your musical journey all the same.