OK, so you've decided to look into this
ukulele thing a bit further. How do you know where
to start? Well, the good news is that you can't really
go wrong with any ukulele you get at Lamorinda Music
- they are all good instruments that carry a tune
and will give you years of enjoyment. That being said,
we do carry a big selection and it can be a bit overwhelming
for someone just starting out. We are more than happy
to help you sort it all out in the store, but here
is a bit of a primer on what to look for...
first thing you might notice is that all ukes don't
look the same - they come in different sizes. (They
also can have different number of strings, but all
the ukes at Lamorinda Music have 4 strings each, so
we can leave that alone for now). While the soprano
size is the most popular, each size has its pros and
cons. We carry five different sizes of ukuleles:
Soprano – (also known
as "standard" in Hawaii) This is the the
most popular size of ukulele. The soprano is the
ukulele that is most easily recognized because the
size is very compact (20-21" long with a 13"
fretboard) and the tone is bright and sweet. It
is extremely light and portable and is the official
“go anywhere” instrument. And all things
considered it is usually priced the cheapest (so
if you ding it up you can simply get another!)The
soprano ukulele is the one often given to beginners
who are interested in learning the ukulele.
Concert – This one is
also referred to as the alto ukulele. It is slightly
larger than the soprano model (24" long) and
it has 15" fretboard instead of the 13"
on the soprano. It has a fuller, more rounded tone
than a soprano ukulele. The frets (where you put
your fingers to make different chords or notes)
are spaced slightly further apart on a Concert Uke
and can be easier for some people to play, especially
on chords where you need to put a lot of fingers
Tenor – Slightly larger
than the concert size (27" long with a 17"
fretboard), the tenor typically has greater volume
than smaller ukulele sizes, making it a very good
instrument size for most performing soloists. Tenor
ukuleles usually have 15 or more frets and their
larger size allows for instrument makers to incorporate
cutaway designs to make it easer for players to
reach the higher frets. It also has an fuller tone
than the concert ukulele. It comes in 4 or 6-string
types. You can even get an 8-string type of ukulele
as a tenor.
Baritone – This is the
typically the largest of the ukuleles and closely
resembles a mini-guitar (30" long with a 19"
fretboard.) And unlike the other smaller size ukes
which are tuned G-C-E-A ("my dog has fleas"
- with the "C" as the lowest note,) the
Baritone is typically tuned like a guitar with the
four strings matching the bottom four strings on
a guitar (D-G-B-E) It has a very rich tone and is
an excellent choice for guitar players looking to
Bass - We also carry a "bass"
ukulele made by Kala Ukuleles. It is called a "U-Bass".
It is basically the same size as a baritone uke
and it produces the same pitches as a standard bass
instrument and is tuned in traditional bass tuning,
EADG. Available in fretted and fretless models,
the U-BASS is strung with proprietary polyurethane
strings that incorporate a great bass feel, with
balanced tension; they are a true pleasure to play.
This is generally not for new ukulele players, but
it really is great for bass players wanting a true
can come in a variety of shapes (just wait until we
get some Flea and Fluke ukuleles in the store - you
will then see some very innovative shapes) but there
are just a couple of standard shapes you need to care
about. The most common is the traditional standard
guitar shape (sometimes called the figure 8), which
can be found in all ukuele sizes. There is a variation
called a cutaway (on Tenor size and
above, generally) where the body is “cut-away”
near the fingerboard to allow better access to the
frets. Also popular, especially in the soprano size,
is the pineapple shape, which bows out at the middle
instead of curving in on the standard shape. There
is no right or wrong shape - it is strictly up to
the player what is more comfortable.
All our ukueles come with nylon strings
that sound true and are easy to play (you will especially
appreciate it if you have suffered through the callouses
you get when playing a steel string guitar) All our
ukueles, except the least expensive models, come with
white Aquilla-brand strings. These are high quality
well-known strings that will have you playing in comfort
for a long time. Unlike guitar strings, you likely
won't have to change your ukulele strings frequently
at all if you are just a recreational player. The
strings don't rust and after a short break-in period
stay pretty much in tune.
surprisingly, the main material in most ukuleles is
the wood on the body, fretboard, and head. Different
kinds of wood can affect the sound quality of the
ukulele and the appearance and (not surprisingly)
has the most direct effect on the price of the uke.
There is no "right" or "wrong"
wood for a ukulele - they create different sounds
and appeal to different players. Generally speaking,
however, Mohagany and Spruce tend to be less expensive
while Hawaiian Koa, Spalted Maple, and Acacia tend
to be more expensive. Koa is a hardwood native to
Hawaii and is held in high esteem there. It is beautiful
and produces a sweet sound. Mahogany produces a nice
warm sound and is probably the best "value"
for a ukulele, but the appearance and sounds of some
of the more exotic woods are truly amazing.
OK, so you've picked out the Uke of
your dreams (or maybe just a bargain one to learn
on for now.) What else do you need? Not much really.
The Ukulele, besides being a fun and remarkably portable
instrument, is very easy on the wallet. To have a
complete package you generally need just a few things:
A ukulele (well, that is obvious)
A case for your uke. Most of the ukes we sell
come with a gig bag. That may be all you need, but
you want to be sure it has enough padding to handle
normal wear and tear. We carry a full line of ukulele
bags in all sizes - most for less than $25.
tuner - this is pretty critical, actually. The charm
of the ukulele can fade pretty quickly if it is
out of tune. This can be as simple as a pitch pipe
(if you feel comfortable tuning by ear) or a chromatic
tuner you may already have for another instrument.
If you don't already have one, we suggest getting
a dedicated ukulele tuner, like the Kala KC02 Black
clip-on tuner. It is super simple and makes tuning
your uke even a little fun.
A lesson book - pretty important if you are starting
out. We have a couple of learning to play books
(with CD's) that can get you going right away
Ukulele music - this is optional, strictly speaking,
if you have a lesson book since it will have some
beginning songs. But you want to play more than
just a few songs, right? We carry songbooks featuring
ukulele music for the Beatles, Elvis, Beach Boys,
etc. We also have a whole line of "Jumpin'
Jim" ukulele books that are loaded with songs
that fit all experience levels.
That is it - enjoy!
Ukulele Popularity - a brief history
The ukulele has had varying degrees
of popularity over the last 100 years or so and is
currently experiencing an amazing renaissance.
Pre-World War II
The ukulele was popularized for a stateside audience
during the Panama Pacific International Exposition,
held for most of 1915 in San Francisco. The ukulele
soon became an icon of the Jazz Age. Highly portable
and relatively inexpensive, it also proved popular
with amateur players throughout the 1920s.
Post-World War II
From the late 1940s to the late 1960s, plastics manufacturer
Mario Maccaferri turned out about 9 million inexpensive
ukuleles. Much of the instrument's popularity was
cultivated via The Arthur Godfrey Show on television.
Singer-musician Tiny Tim became closely associated
with the instrument after playing it on his 1968 hit
"Tiptoe Through the Tulips". Between Tiny
Tim's antics and the advent of the electic guitar-driven
rock & roll, the ukulele became less relevant
to mainstream music and the public at large.
After the 1960s, the ukulele declined in popularity
until the late 1990s, when interest in the instrument
reappeared. During the 1990s, new manufacturers began
producing ukuleles and a new generation of musicians
took up the instrument. Some more recent ukulele highlights
in popular culture include:
Former Beatle, George Harrison, and former keyboardist
of The Cars, Greg Hawkes, became enthusiastic players.
Israel Kamakawiwo'ole also helped popularise
the instrument, in particular due to his 1993 ukulele
medley of "Over the Rainbow" and "What
a Wonderful World", used in several films,
television programs, and commercials. The song reached
#12 on Billboard's Hot Digital Tracks chart the
week of January 31, 2004.
The ukulele is prominent in Train's "Hey
Soul Sister" and Jason Mraz's "I'm Yours"
Hawai'i-born Jake Shimabukuro ('Hendrix of ukulele')
has also become a very popular ukulele performer
in recent years, having played the instrument since
the age of 4. Check out the following YouTube video
of Jake playing "While My Guitar Gently Weeps."
Over 7 million views and going strong. The Contra
Costa Times did an article about him here.
(If you like this one, you can see him doing Michael
Yet More Info
Interested in taking
lessons? We have a great ukulele teacher, Gary
Peare in residence. Come by and let us
show you how fun the ukulele can be! He will
have you going from novice to playing real songs
in just an hour or two. Can any other musical
instrument make that claim? No! Click here
for more details.
For further fun reading, check out Gary's Ukulele
blog, Ukulelia here.
Gary Peare teaching one of his very popular
For the latest on all things Ukulele in the store,
check out our main Ukulele
For some examples of the ukuele's we carry (though
more are arriving each day), check out our Ukulele