If you’re looking to buy a jazz ukulele or steel string ukulele the choices available can be quite overwhelming. So here’s a quick guide to picking a jazz ukulele or steel string ukulele in three different price/quality brackets.
Best Beginner Jazz Ukulele or steel string ukulele
A great first jazz ukulele is the Lanikai LU-21 range. Despite them being cheap, they are well put together and are (usually at least) set up well enough for beginners not to have any problems with them. If you go cheaper than this you are very likely to come across problems in the way the steel string ukulele is made such as tuning problems or inaccurate intonation (i.e. the frets are not placed accurately).
Another big advantage is that the jazz ukulele Lanikai LU-21 is one of the few entry level steel string ukulele that is available in all sizes: soprano, concert (LU-21C), tenor (LU-21T) and baritone (LU-21B).
One to avoid: Please don’t get a Mahalo Flying-V as your first ukulele. I’ve got one (it was a gift) and it is the worst ukulele I’ve ever set my hands on. Some Mahalo ukuleles are quite good (I have one of their Les Paul copies and love it); this one isn’t.
Best Intermediate Jazz Ukulele
Further up the quality (and cost) scale both Kala and Ohana make great ukuleles. Make sure you get a solid wood ukulele if you are spending a decent amount of money – they will give you a much better sound. Kala and Ohana both make their ukuleles in the East which keeps down the price of the ukulele but does mean you’ll get nothing like the attention to detail you will with the more expensive Hawaiian made ukuleles. Nevertheless, it’s worth putting up with the odd gremlin for the improved sound.
One to avoid Fender. I’ve heard a lot of people who have bought Fender ukuleles and found them to have problems. I’ve also heard reports from people who have tried them out and found them to be much lower quality.
Best High-End Steel String Ukulele
Many of the high-end Hawaiian makers seem to look down on the UK ukulele market for some reason, so it can be hard to get a top-end ukulele without importing one yourself. One great make that is available in the UK is Pono. Their ukuleles are made to the highest standards. Here’s hoping that more ukulele makers wake up to the opportunity there is over here in the UK.
Where Can I Buy a Ukulele in the UK?
It can be hard to find quality ukuleles in the UK. Unless you live near the Duke of Uke, you’re unlikely to find a good selection in your local music shop (most only have a few low quality models). Which is why ll my ukulele purchases in recent years have been online. I used to shop at theukuleleshop.co.uk until they shut down. But the Southern Ukulele Store (on eBay) have become the number one place in the UK with ukuleles for sale.
They have a great range of ukuleles from beginner ukes (such as Lanikai and Mahalo), to mid-range ukes (like Kala and Ohana) through to top of the range makers (Martin and Pono). And they’re great to deal with. Very friendly, quick to reply to queries and knowledgable about ukuleles.
Lanikai are the perfect brand for first time uke buyers. Their LU-21 range is cheap but they are well made and include everything a first time uker needs (geared tuners, good intonation, reliability). When you get your first ukulele you want to know there are no major issues with it – because you can’t be sure whether the problem is your playing or the uke. There’s nothing worse than getting discourged because your ukulele isn’t up to scratch. So it’s worth spending a little more than the very minimum to make sure the instrument you get doesn’t have serious issues. Lanikai are a reliable brand and a great one to go for.
In recent years, Lanikai have stretched the ukuleles they offer into higher quality areas. They now offer solid and solid top ukuleles in mango, koa, mahogany and spruce. They offer a number of acoustic/ electric ukuleles. They even have six and eight string ukuleles.
The soprano ukulele is the smallest of the main ukulele sizes. It is also the traditional size of ukulele. If you are looking for a traditional ukulele, this is the one to go for. It’s worth noting that when a ukulele isn’t listed as having a size, it will usually be a soprano.
– The sound: soprano ukes have the sound usually associated with the
– Great for strumming.
– Tend to be cheaper: Or, to rephrase it a little, the cheapest ukuleles are usually sopranos.
– Perfect for kids.
– Cute factor.
– Not great for finger-picking. Most of the fancy-dan soloists such as Jake Shimabukuro and James Hill use the larger tenor ukulele.
– Can have a thin sound. Not true of the best ukuleles, but the smaller the ukuleles tend to have a smaller sound.
– Some people find the sopranos too small for their hands so prefer a larger size.
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