What do I need to start playing ukulele?

Okay, here’s the short answer — a ukulele.

But what type of ukulele is best? What are some trusted brands? Is it okay to use a ukulele that’s bought from a toy company? What if it’s for my child and they are rough with their belongings? Do I need any products to care for my ukulele? How should I clean my ukulele? Do I need a case for my ukulele? Should I use a pick to strum my ukulele?

If you are asking any of these questions, I have some good news…

I went shopping for you.

I’ve been playing ukulele for about 12 years and also sold ukuleles when I was helping manage a local music store. I’ve considered all your different needs and put together a list that will not only make it easy for you to make decisions about what will work best for you, but will also be a learning experience. By the end of this little blog you’ll fully understand what the benefits are of the different sizes and materials that ukuleles are commonly made of and you’ll know what ukulele accessories are actually worth buying.

First, we will talk about the actual instrument. There are four ukulele sizes; soprano (small), concert (medium), tenor (large), and baritone (extra large). I am not going to present any information on baritone ukuleles here, because they are tuned differently (almost like a different instrument entirely) and in general, less sought after. I also don’t own a baritone ukulele, so I wouldn’t be able to confidently give out information on them. Here are a few ukulele recommendations below, and links to the various sizes that each recommended style comes in!

My favorite ukuleles

Waterman Ukulele: This is the ukulele that I often recommend to parents who are buying ukuleles for their young children, or to people who are looking for a durable “beater” ukulele, to use as a backup to their nicer, wood ukulele. It’s also super inexpensive! The Waterman gets its name because this ukulele is water resistant! It’s hard plastic body allows you to stop worrying about whether the humidity is damaging your instrument. Check out the Waterman Ukulele in these sizes and colors — Soprano (smallest), Glow in the Dark Aqua Soprano, Glow in the Dark Concert (medium size), Black Concert. This ukulele is not available in the tenor size and is not available with EQ.

Kala Ebony Ukulele: If you take my free lessons on Twitch, you’ve definitely seen and heard this ukulele before! I have the Kala Ebony Tenor Ukulele with EQ, and it’s my favorite for live performances! I love the long neck that the tenor size gives me and the low action of the strings (easy to press against the neck). It’s such a comfortable instrument to play, and the sound is fantastic. The striped wood gives each of these a unique look and a gorgeous tone.
With EQ (meaning you can plug it in with an instrument cable): Soprano, Concert, Tenor,
Without EQ (you have to use a microphone to amplify this): Soprano, Concert, Tenor, Concert Pack (with case, learning DVD, and polishing cloth), Soprano Pack (with case, learning DVD, and polishing cloth).

Kala Satin Mahogany Ukulele (is a bit less flashy than the ebony. One of Kala’s best sellers, it has a smoother, more classic look that seems right for just about anyone. It’s also a bit less pricy. Here is the Mahogany Concert Ukulele with electronics, and the Mahogany Concert Ukulele without electronics, Soprano with electronics, Soprano without electronics, Tenor (with glossy finish), Tenor (with glossy finish and electronics).

So, those would be my top recommendations, but that doesn’t come close to how many ukuleles there are out there! I like Kala because of their friendly customer service, how long they’ve been in the business, and what a wide variety of price points and styles they make their ukuleles in, but I also have a Lanikai Concert UkeSB and a GoldTone Banjolele that I adore! There are also many companies selling packaged deals that come with tuners, cleaning cloths, gig bags and more. It’s okay to buy a cheaper, smaller brand of ukulele. Is it more risky? Yes. But most of the time, you won’t be spending much on these, so the risk will be relatively small. So here is a link to more ukuleles and package deals on amazon! My advice – read the reviews and go for it!

Ukuleles on Amazon

Storage Options

You are going to need to put your ukulele somewhere. People have wildly different preferences here, but common sense tells us that you’ll want it safe from babies, toddlers, pets, and extreme changes in temperature and humidity. If you buy a ukulele that comes with a gig bag or soft case, that will offer a bit of protection, but usually, not much.

My favorite method is hanging my instruments on the wall with a simple String Swing. What an easy way to keep it off the ground, away from danger, and also within reach. Seeing your ukulele on the wall will encourage you to reach out and play it more often, and can even be part of your d├ęcor! It’s almost like a new piece of art that you’re adding to the room.

If you’re like me and want to go out and play your instrument live, maybe take it on road trips and flights with you, then you’ll need something more heavy duty than the gig bag. I have this hard case for my tenor ukulele and it looks so cute while doing it’s job (here it is in the Concert size)! It’s also a been great place for me to put out a tip jar and CDs while performing in the past, making my merch table a bit more attractive. There are plenty of brands that have hard cases available (look here), but be careful purchasing a case! Even though your ukulele is labeled “concert” doesn’t mean that it will fit in every case labeled concert sized. Ukuleles vary a bit, just like other instruments, in length, depth, and shape. You can order a case that doesn’t match the brand, but measure the depth and length of your ukulele so that you’re SURE it will be a good match (or at least know the return policy).

The third way to store a ukulele is in a freestanding ukulele stand, like this one. These are great to keep near your desk or acoustic amp at home, or wherever you regularly practice. Of course, these won’t keep your instrument quite as safe if you have pets or babies on the floor, so be careful where you choose to keep it. This isn’t my favorite method, but it’s portable, inexpensive, and doesn’t ruin your walls, so many choose a simple ukulele stand.

Humidity

Humidity ruins ukuleles! Your wood instruments are in danger when humidity changes drastically, even if it seems like a gradual rise and fall throughout the months. If you read the manual of your ukulele it will tell you the best humidity for your instrument. Usually this is about 40%. If you have many wood instruments, it is probably worth it to invest in a humidifier for the entire room where your instruments are stored and a humidity gauge.

These are Ukulele Case Humidifiers. If you don’t want to humidify your house or a room of your house, you can humidify JUST the instrument itself with one of these small humidifiers. If you travel with your ukulele, especially in dry seasons, you should get a case humidifier even if you have a whole-room humidifier. You would hate to be traveling with your ukulele and have it crack or warp so much that it’s bridge pops off.

Picks

I don’t typically use a pick when I play ukulele, but kids LOVE picks (or “chips” as many young students tend to accidentally call them). Picks also help kids learn how to properly strum their instrument. For some reason, this skill is just easier when your fingers are holding something instead of flailing about. When it comes to strumming ukulele, a common plastic guitar pick is not going to sound nearly as good as these leather picks or these felt picks. My personal favorite is the leather, because they sound the least “flappy” against the strings.

Capo

Not gonna lie, I will never buy a ukulele capo. Ukuleles have 4 strings and you have 4 fingers, so you can ALWAYS find a way to play the chords you need to play without using a capo. However, many people disagree with me on this, and if you want to strum along to your favorite song, but you NEED to play C chords, then who am I to tell you not to! Here are some inexpensive ukulele capos and here is a Kala ukulele capo. Why should I even show you the Kala capo when the other is $10 less? Well, if you’re going to use a capo you should not use a capo meant for a guitar, mandolin, or other instrument because those instruments need a higher tension (more pressure) in order for the capo to work against the strings or those instruments. Yes, a mandolin is a similar size, but it has twice the number of strings, the strings are tighter, and the strings are doubled/close together, so a mandolin capo needs MUCH more tension, even if it looks the same size. Some capos say they can be used on guitar, ukulele, banjo, mandolin, bass guitar, etc. etc. and those are the ones I would avoid. So, long story short, if I ever lose a finger or two and decide to get a ukulele capo, it will be made by a reputable ukulele brand.

Care

Caring for your ukulele is easy. You need to make sure it’s clean and stored in a decent humidity, and someday you’ll need to change the strings. Most people need their strings changed because they didn’t understand how to tune a ukulele and tightened the string until it snapped. Nylon strings last much longer than metal guitar strings, so you won’t need to do this very often. I don’t want to link any specific set of strings because there are different sizes/thicknesses to the strings of instruments. Your best bet is to take it to a local music store and have them change the strings, but if that’s not an option, finding strings online is easy and there are plenty of youtube tutorials to help you through the string changing process. String Winders also make this process pretty quick! To clean a ukulele, I personally don’t use a special polishing cloth (but they do make them). Any soft cloth will do, and you can use this ukulele cleaner to make sure you don’t corrode or damage the surface of your instrument (never use all purpose cleaners).

Hope you all got some great ideas from this, and as always,

Happy Strumming!