Ukulele Buying Guide

We are often asked what’s a soprano, concert, tenor, or baritone ukulele? Eagle Music demystify and explain all the different ukulele types.

Whether you are looking to start playing pop, folk, classical music, jazz or other styles of ukulele, or playing melody tunes or chord accompaniment, Eagle Music will help you to make the right choice.

All the different types of ukulele including soprano, concert, tenor, baritone are all explained here by Eagle Music with their relative tunings.

Types of Ukulele (simplified)

The four main popular sizes of ukulele are (from the smallest to the largest) soprano, concert, tenor and baritone. So, when choosing your ukulele consider what size is most suitable for you and also the sound/tone that you will get from the instrument.

Steve Noon of Eagle Music Shop writes... "My guitar teacher father put a ukulele into my hands at a very young age, from that day on I never looked back, I went on to play ukulele, piano, guitar, mandolin and banjo and was a professional musician by the age of twenty!"

The ukulele is the ideal musical stepping stone that will take you on to playing a whole range of stringed instruments. The smallest size soprano uke is ideal for ‘child size fingers’. The chord shapes are the same as the first four strings of the guitar. Britain’s George Formby society has created much interest in the ukulele with local branches now spread all over the country.

Many people link the ‘Banjo’ to George Formby who was in fact a great ukulele player. George played the Ukulele banjo and his syncopated ‘split stroke’ right hand rhythmic playing is the goal of many players! As a leading UK retailer, we supply dozens of highly playable ukes to schools, a highly playable colourful starter kit costs around twenty pounds, thanks to the high tech modern far Eastern factories!

We sponsor schools and events and attend festivals throughout the year in the ukulele and banjo world.

Types of Ukulele (a more detailed explanation by type)

The text below provides simple explanations of all the popular ukulele types. We have many books, cds and dvds to take you from beginner to advanced player.

Soprano 4 String Ukulele

The soprano ukulele is the smallest in the ukulele family and has the traditional bright, sweet sound. It is the best choice for children starting to play and can be played by children as young as four years old.
The soprano ukulele is regarded as the ‘original’ ukulele and its smaller size produces that traditional ukulele sound. However, if you have long, fat or stubby fingers you may find it difficult to play because it has small frets. In this case we recommend that you choose a concert ukulele which has a longer neck and wider frets.

Tuning
The soprano Ukulele is tuned exactly the same as a concert ukulele and the popular tunings are G C E A (Regular ‘C’ tuning) or A D F# B (known as ‘D’ Tuning) ‘C’ tuning which is the recognised standard and most popular tuning for ukulele. The G string is tuned in relation to 1st, 2nd and third strings an octave higher. Another name for this tuning is ‘Re Entrant’. The ‘high’ G fourth string in relation the the lower octave C third string gives the instrument the distinctive ukulele sound when you strum across the strings.

Tuning your ukulele in ‘D’ tuning (A D F# B) was more popular in the early 1900s, you will find some music books and musical scores written in this tuning from that era. This higher tuning can give a lift to some instruments that sound ‘flat in the lower ‘C’ tuning.

If you are going to sing along with your ukulele, you may want to experiment with different tunings to suit your voice, tuning up your ukulele to a different pitch enables you to sing in a different key while still playing the same chord shapes!

Concert 4 String Ukulele

The concert ukulele is an excellent choice because it has a fuller tone than the soprano ukulele but still retains the traditional ukulele sound, it also has the advantage of having wider frets which make it easier grown ups to play.
Tuning. The concert Ukulele is tuned exactly the same as the soprano ukulele and the popular tunings are G C E A (Regular ‘C’ tuning) or A D F# B (known as ‘D’ Tuning) ‘C’ tuning which is the recognised standard and most popular tuning for ukulele. The G string is tuned in relation to 1st, 2nd and third strings an octave higher. Another name for this tuning is ‘Re Entrant’. The ‘high’ G fourth string in relation the the lower octave C third string gives the instrument the distinctive ukulele sound when you strum across the strings.

Tuning your ukulele in ‘D’ tuning (A D F# B) was more popular in the early 1900s, you will find some music books and musical scores written in this tuning from that era. This higher tuning can give a lift to some instruments that sound ‘flat in the lower ‘C’ tuning.

If you are going to sing along with your ukulele, you may want to experiment with different tunings to suit your voice, tuning up your ukulele to a different pitch enables you to sing in a different key while still playing the same chord shapes!

Tenor 4 String Ukulele

As you move up through the range of ukulele sizes to the tenor and baritone ukuleles you get a deeper, fuller tone with increased volume. The tenor ukulele is a popular choice for musicians that want to pick out fingerstyle tunes and play solos. In many cases the professionals choice! You have a wider range of musical notes which lends itself to solo playing.
Tuning
The tenor Ukulele can be strung and tuned in different ways. The popular tuning is G C E A (Regular ‘C’ tuning) which is the recognised standard and most popular tuning for ukulele. The G string is tuned in relation to 1st, 2nd and third strings an octave higher …Another name for this tuning is ‘Re Entrant’. The ‘high’ G fourth string in relation the the lower octave C third string gives the instrument the distinctive ukulele sound when you strum across the strings.

Low G Tuning
Players needing a wider range of bass notes tune their tenor ukulele to Low G tuning. this tuning is an alternative to the ‘re entrant’ tuning that is described above
Low G tenor tuning is as follows: Low G C E A. The Low tuned G string gives you a wider span of octaves.
It is important that your ukulele is fitted with the correct strings for the tuning that you require.

Baritone 4 String Ukulele

The baritone ukulele is the largest ukulele and can be likened to a four string guitar as it is tuned the same as the first four strings on a guitar which are D G B E
NOTE: There are two popular tunings for the baritone ukulele as follows:-

High G Tuning - D ‘High G’ B E
High G baritone ukulele tuning gives you the same pitch relationship as that on a guitar. Guitarists will find the transition to baritone ukulele from guitar easy and the larger sized neck of the baritone ukulele will feel comfortable, on the other hand if you learn to play the ukulele and then move on to playing guitar you will find that many of the chord shapes are the same. (but may have a different name due to the ukulele tuning)

Re Entrant tuning - D ‘Low G’ B E
The G string is tuned (in relation to 1st, 2nd and third strings) an octave higher …The ‘high’ G fourth string in relation the the lower octave C third string gives the instrument the distinctive ukulele sound when you strum across the strings.
It is important that your ukulele is fitted with the correct strings for the tuning that you require.

Bass Ukulele

The bass ukulele is a fairly new concept that has grown in its popularity.Typically the body is no smaller than that of the baritone uke but it can be bigger. The strings can be either standard wound steel strings found on a normal electric bass or more commonly the thicker rubber style strings currently made by Aquila. They are very popular amongst ukulele groups to give the group a much more rounded and rich overall sound or beginners to the bass guitar.

Specialist Ukuleles

If you are looking for something different, there are plenty of ‘hybrid’ ukes available today.Varying in body size from soprano to baritone there are 5,6, 8 and even 10 string ukes available. Different body shapes, specialist tonewoods and sound hole designs as well. Travel Ukes are also very popular if even a soprano ukulele is still ’just too big!!’.
If you’re into the blues then perhaps consider a resonator uke.

An important point to note for beginners is that ukuleles come in four different sizes, The tunings for three of the sizes are the same Soprano, concert and tenor. The baritone is tuned like the first four strings of a guitar, so if you are a guitarist you can play baritone uke! Also the chord shapes in many cases are the same shapes that you use on a guitar, but because the soprano, concert and tenor ukes are tunes different the chord names differ.

Here we’ve provided with you some Q&A’s to further assist your buying decision.

Q. How often should I change the strings?

A. Its fair to say that uke strings last a lot longer than steel strings.It obviously depends on how much you play.They don’t degrade from the acid and oils on your fingers as quick as steel strings. They should be wiped clean after use like any string. It’s always handy though to keep a spare set at all times in case one snaps.

Q. Are there electroacoustic ukes available?

A. Yes.Pickups are available to be professionally fitted to your uke in our workshop or you can buy a factory fitted pickup on a uke from new. Most manufacturers have electro acoustic models available in their range. Fishman and MiSi are amongst the most popular pickups and preamps that are used. Your uke can then be played through your own acoustic amp,at an open mic night or on a professional stage using a PA system.

Q. What is the ‘cutaway’ for on a uke?

A. A cutaway is a section of the body that has been cut away to help you to get to the higher frets at lot easier. Some brands of the instruments offer them with or without a cutaway. Typically a cutaway will be an electro acoustic model.

Q. I want to try before I buy, can I arrange a ukulele demonstration in-store?

A: You can visit our shop at any time during our normal opening hours. You can make yourself at home here, have a cup of Yorkshire tea or coffee and spend as long with us as you may you need to make your choice. You will be able to try various brands and different ukulele models at all price levels to help you make your choice. We have dedicated staff that are ukulele specialists and can play all styles of mandolin. We will help you to make the right choice of mandolin and then continue to help you along your musical path after you have bought from us. We shall always be here for you at the end of the phone to help you with any technical questions.

Q. I’m on a budget, what prices do ukulele start from?

A: Our ukuleles start from as little as £25.00! for a beginners model. Any ukulele that you purchase from us will be set-up in our workshop by the same technicians that set-up our top end models so you will have no worries about its playability. Our ‘Starter Packs’ are exceptional value for beginners and include everything in the pack that you will need to get you started.

Q. I’m an accomplished player and would like to move to a professional ukulele.

A: Build quality and reliability is what defines a professional ukulele. For example: Some excellent hawaiian design Tanglewood ukuleles are priced at less than £250.00 and are used by many professional players and on the other end of the spectrum many professionals play Ukuleles from the Mainland and Ohana range that are priced into the hundreds of pounds....Not only do Eagle Music carry many of the World’s top brands of quality ukuleles, we also have dedicated staff that play ukulele, teach ukulele and ‘gig’ on stage with ukuleles! So, we are in the ideal position to give you professional advice and help you to make the right choice in upgrading your ukulele.

Q. I want to play popular Music, what type of ukulele is right for me?

A: Popular music can be played on all sizes of ukulele. The most popular ukulele type for normal sized persons is the concert uke. The smaller soprano ukulele is excellent for children and the tenor and baritone ukes are easier to play for persons with larger hands.

Q. What about after sales and maintenance if I have any issues with my ukulele?

A: Here at Eagle Music we have an on-site workshop manned by ukulele technicians, we set-up and repair ukuleles on a daily basis. We offer you our best service and a FREE Premier set-up when you purchase a ukulele from us. We will look after you as a valued customer after you have bought your ukulele and give you our technical support. We shall be here whenever you may need us in the future to service your ukulele and will give you our best workshop price quotation for any work that may be needed.

Q. What sort of warranties do ukuleles come with?

A: If you are not completely satisfied with a ukulele that you purchase from us, you can return the ukulele to us for a full refund or a replacement. Every ukulele that we sell has a warranty. Some of the lower priced ukuleles we sell will have a twelve month warranty. Some of the higher end ukuleles that we sell carry a lifetime guarantee against parts and workmanship.

Q. What about accessories, does Eagle Music sell ukulele accessories too?

A: We carry a superb range of the highest quality accessories for all the ukuleles that we sell. Our range of world class accessories includes gig bags and cases, capos, string sets, tuners, flat picks, tuition books , DVD’s etc.

Q. What about ukulele spare parts, does Eagle Music sell ukulele spares too?

A: We offer you a comprehensive range ukulele spares and parts including ukulele strings tuning machines, pick-ups etc. We work closely with all the ukulele makers that supply us, and can also obtain any custom parts and retro-fits that may be available.

Q. I want to play popular music, what type of ukulele is right for me?

A: The choice of ukulele for playing popular music is really your own choice. All the different size models are suitable, but the main point to note is that different sounds are produced by the different sized models.

Q. Does the country of build make much difference to the quality of a ukulele?

A: In short, yes it does. You have to take each instrument on its own values. Just because an instrument is made in the Far East does not mean that it is an inferior instrument. In general quality is relative to price. We choose the brands that we stock and sell very carefully, we would not ‘sell you a ukulele that does not work’. It is true that a high priced hand built ukuleles will be a much higher quality than a low priced, low end Chinese factory made ukulele. Also, we offer some ukulele brands eg. Eastman and Tanglewood that are manufactured in the far east to the highest quality build specification.

Q. I want a hand built ukulele, which brand should I choose?

A: You can choose from Phil Davidson, Eastman and Tanglewood to mention a few of our top class makers. Each one of these World Class brands has its own unique features and characteristics within its range of ukulele models.

Q. Can I trade in my old ukulele?

A: We can consider what you are wanting to trade in with us. we will offer you the best price and give you our best advice at the point of sale. In many cases you will get a better price by selling your ukulele on ebay or by private sale.
 

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