If you can, get hold of someone who plays. It’s very hard to try out an instrument in a music shop if you don’t actually play. Failing a ukulele player, get hold of a guitarist. The sort of things you’re looking for are primarily the same.
Where do you look? The internet is a good place to start. Today there are a whole host of websites dedicated to the mighty ukulele encompassing repair, maintenance, playing, selling, buying and meeting up with like minded individuals. Most good music shops have a selection. Occasionally, you’ll find one in a second hand shop, rag market or in the paper. There are bargains to be had but make sure you try it out before you purchase. Don’t buy one from a catalogue and never buy one in a toy store. It’s not a toy, it’s a real musical instrument.
Guidelines for Buying a Ukulele
So what do you look for when buying a ukulele? They’re the same sort of things you look for in a guitar:
- Play each note on each string, working your way up the fingerboard. If it buzzes, rattles or shakes, don’t buy it. Each note should be clear and in tune.
- Make sure that the individual pieces of wood that make up the ukulele are glued together properly. There should be no gaps. See that the frets do not protrude over the edge of the fingerboard. If they do, you’ll be able to feel them as you rub your finger along the side of the neck.
- Check the tuning keys. Do they turn smoothly? Do they hold when you tighten a string?
- Look down the instrument from the nut end. This is where the tuning pegs are. Look down the finger board and make sure that it isn’t warped.
- Check the tuning. Play a scale and listen closely. Is the octave in tune?
- See how it feels when you finger a chord close to the nut. Try some chords at the first fret. Does the head of the instrument get in the way?
- Listen to the sound. Ukuleles sport a whole variety of tones. Compare a handful. The melody line may sound good but try some chords. Which sound do you prefer? Find a ukulele that you like.
Remember, purchasing an instrument doesn’t mean your relationship with the shopkeeper is over. What sort of guarantee can he offer? Will he honour his obligation to you if the instrument falls apart or starts to develop a rattle? Can he repair your instrument or will he have to send it away? Can he recommend a good ukulele repairer?
Hopefully you’ll be happy with your purchase and following these guidelines when buying a ukulele will help you to find a good one. The main thing is to get a ukulele player to come with you, failing that, someone who plays an instrument from the guitar family. Then all you have to do is enjoy it.
Photo by Gabriel Negreiros