Especially for beginners, it’s important to get a well playable instrument. Unfortunately, many ukuleles are sold with poor setup. For the ukulele, a good setup is much more critical than for the guitar! Therefore I advise to buy only from dealers who specialize in ukuleles and therefore know how important a good setup is.
So actually the dealer matters more than the ukulele model. Only for few manufacturers the production spread is so low and standard of quality is so high that you can safely assume to get an instrument with good setup ex factory.
- Some recommendations for (German) dealers are on my links page.
- Some time ago, I made a huge comparison test of 12 ukuleles. There you can find a lot of information on what you should watch out for when buying an ukulele.
- Watch out for ukulele festivals and events. It’s always a good idea to attend such events, especially if you are looking for a new ukulele. You will meet a lot of knowledgeable people and also see a lot of ukuleles. Many events are announced on ukulele boards, so be sure to check them out.
Even before buying an ukulele it is advisable to join an ukulele community (like Ukulele Underground Forums). Especially beginners will get a lot of support there.
The scale — which size fits you best?
The ukulele is available in different sizes. The size of an ukulele is characterized by the scale, which is defined by the distance between nut and saddle. The scale thus also establishes the distances between the frets.
- Sopranino: everything smaller than soprano. This scale is often used for very high tunings.
- Soprano: Scale length ~35cm (~13,5″). The standard ukulele scale. Standard tunings: GCEA, ADF#B
- Concert: Scale length ~38cm (~15″). Standard tuning: GCEA
- Tenor: Scale length ~43cm (~17″). Standard tuning: GCEA
- Baritone: Scale length ~50cm (~19.5″). Standard tuning: DGBE
- Bass: By special design and very thick strings a particularly deep tonal range is developed.
The most common scale is soprano. Personally, I’m a higly specialized soprano player. For players with large fingers, soprano scale fingerboards may be a bit too tight. However, you should bear in mind that an unfavorable posture may to be blamed if you don’t have enough space on the fretboard. Anyway, the larger concert and tenor scales are a good alternative for player who find the soprano scale too small. In contrast, baritone, bass and sopranino are more for players who are looking for the special character of these ukulele types.
The following ukulele models are generally to be recommended for beginners. All models in this list are beginner-friendly, and to my knowledge, coming with good setup ex factory. They are approximately in the price range of $150 to $250.
- Flea Soprano (Caution: There are also cheap clones sold nowadays by some dealers from the far east.)
- Kiwaya KS-0
- Ukumele Mahogany Soprano
- (This list is to be expanded)
This list is definitely not exhaustive, and represents only a small subjective selection. It’s definitely a good idea to inform yourself and to look for other models too.