Adapted from Portugal’s guitar-like machete, cavaquinho, and braguinha in the 1880s, the ukulele is a Hawaiian string instrument in the guitar family. The name ukulele roughly translates to jumping flea. It is thought that the quick work of the fingers flying across the fretboard inspired the name. Popularized by King David Kalakaua, the instrument is tied to traditional Hawaiian culture. Since infiltrating the mainstream decades ago, the ukulele remains part of our culture as modern artists ranging from Eddie Vedder to Amanda Palmer implement it in their work. Musician’s Friend offers a wide variety of ukuleles for sale, from beginner ukes to high-end instruments that will lead to a lifetime of enjoyment. When you begin your search for the perfect uke, whether you’re looking for yourself, or as a gift for someone else, you'll want to keep a few things in mind in order to get the best ukulele for your needs.
Ukulele Sizes and Shapes
There are four standard sizes of ukuleles, each with its own unique sound quality. For classic sounds, look for smaller models, and for deeper, guitar-like sounds, look for larger models. The most popular ukulele size is the soprano ukulele; is the smallest and features a high pitch. Approximately 21” in length, the soprano gives you that classic uke sound. It features the closest frets—ideal for smaller hands—and is the thinnest, lightest choice. The concert ukulele has a more versatile, mid-range tone to its sound quality. The body size is larger than the soprano and features a longer neck. There’s also more space between the frets, so it is often easier to play. The Tenor ukuleles offer deeper tone and are slightly larger than the concert uke, with a deeper, more guitar-like sound. The tenor size adds additional notes to the tenor’s range thanks to its longer fretboard. The baritone ukulele is the largest of the ukuleles and functions similarly to a guitar in tune and in tone. Its spacious fretboard mimics a guitar’s playing style. For those with larger hands or for players already accustomed to the guitar, it is the easiest to play. Each of these ukulele sizes offers a distinct tone, so taking the time to listen to a few examples of each can go a long way in determining which instrument is going to be ideal for you. Musician’s Friend offers ukuleles from the best brands, including ukuleles from Kala, Luna, Lanikai, Mahalo, Cordoba, Martin and more, so there are plenty of high-quality uke options from which to choose.
There are varieties of ukulele that run smaller (like the sopranino size) and larger (like the bass or contrabass sizes), though these are less common. Each of these sizes offers a distinct tone, so taking the time to listen to a few examples of each can go a long way in determining which instrument is ideal for you. The typical ukulele shape is a figure eight design. A traditional, non-cutaway shape gives the instrument its mini acoustic guitar look. The figure eight shape sometimes features a cutaway on the right shoulder, which allows for easier access to higher frets. Another variation is the oval, or pineapple, ukulele shape. This shape gives a stronger, resonant sound—especially to soprano and concert models. These days, there are even varieties that combine the uke with other exciting instruments for a truly unique musical experience. For example, at Musician’s Friend you might stumble across the banjolele—a delightful mix of the best characteristics of the banjo and the ukulele in one instrument.
Unique Ukulele Sizes
Of course, there are also unique variations on ukuleles available here, from pineapple ukuleles to the banjolele, which, as the name suggests, combines the best characteristics of the banjo and the ukulele into one exciting new instrument. Truth be told, whichever style or size ukulele you choose, you're going to be pleased with the results. These instruments are made for performers of all skill levels and walks of life. They are rich with tones that evoke the rolling waves of the ocean hitting the beach on a warm summer day. A great addition to any collection of musical instruments, there's no reason not to own one of these instruments.
Material and String Variations
High-quality ukuleles are made with solid wood, while more affordable models use laminates. Often, uke tops—which directly affect the sound quality—use a solid tonewood, like spruce, for a bright sound. For a traditional Hawaiian look and sound, search for koa wood in the body. Mahogany is often used for the uke’s neck to yield a darker, warmer sound. Rosewood is a popular, durable choice for fretboards, and can even be used in the body. The 4-string ukulele is the standard variation, but 6- and 8-string ukes also exist. Typically found in tenor ukuleles, the 6-string variation is set up with two single and two double courses. This type of tenor can also be referred to as a “Lili’u” ukulele. Rarer 8-string variations can usually be found on taropatch baritone ukuleles. High pitched variants of these instruments (like the soprano and concert) are usually tuned in a classic GCEA reentrant tuning. Lower pitched variants (like the tenor and baritone) often use linear tuning like DGBE. Consider getting a tuner to make it even easier to produce the sound you want. Need to replace your strings? Musician’s Friend has you covered with plenty of high-quality nylon, fluorocarbon, and titanium uke strings to choose from. For more info, check out our guide to finding the right ukulele strings.
Finding the Perfect Ukulele
With many different sizes and materials, it’s easy to find a uke that matches your skill set. Larger sizes are perfect for guitar players looking to add this instrument to their repertoire. A classic, 4-string soprano ukulele is ideal for any newcomer. Among the most popular brands—like Cordoba, Luna Guitars, Lanikai, Islander, Kala, and Mitchell—there are plenty of ukuleles available for all skill levels that never sacrifice quality. Brand new to the ukulele? Musician’s Friend offers guides and songbooks for you to nurture your new skill. These instruments are made for performers from all walks of life and at every stage of their music journey. They are rich with tones that evoke the rolling waves of the ocean hitting the beach on a warm summer day. A great addition to any collection of musical instruments, there's no reason not to find the ukulele for you today. For a guided shopping experience, read our helpful article on choosing the right ukulele.