Ultimate Guide To The Ukulele

Some of us just want to kick our feet up on a sunbed in Hawaii with a ukulele and a pina colada at hand. It’s all chill.


But you might need to know more about ukuleles before you make a purchase. This is our comprehensive guide to the acoustic instrument.


What is a Ukulele?

A ukulele is a small body acoustic instrument similar in style to that of an acoustic guitar. Originally based on 19th century Portuguese miniature guitar-like string instruments, the ukulele has a strong association with Hawaiian folk music and culture.


Most forms of ukuleles utilise four nylon strings stretched from the headstock across a fretboard, over a sound hole and attached at the other end to a bridge. Give them a pluck with your thumb or fingers and you’ll get a relatively high-pitched, soothing tone. Guitarists will be familiar with the layout, but the playing process might take some adjustment.

Why You Should Buy A Ukulele

Ukuleles have become a popular instrument for musicians to pick up and play wherever and whenever. Are you going on holiday and want something small to keep you occupied while travelling? A uke is ideal. Maybe you just want to broaden your musical horizons, or you're after a completely different sound to the norm. It's impossible to ignore the pretty tone a uke produces, which bears some similarities to a parlour or small classical guitar. Whether you like world music and traditional pieces, or just fancy an instrument you can pick up and knock out a tune on at any time, a ukulele will do the trick.


Playing the ukulele is a different experience to that of a full size acoustic guitar. First off, its four strings are tuned to G, C, E, A from lowest to highest. The fretting hand positions are unique to the uke and require practice like any other instrument. You traditionally play the strings either using a brusque brushing motion or by individual fingerpicking.


Secondly, the body size means holding the instrument is a bit tricky without a strap. Balancing it between your picking hand forearm and fretting hand takes some adjustment. You also have to be accurate when holding down the strings across the small fretboard.


The ukulele is great choice if you’re keen on diving into a new hobby. Just don’t take it for granted that if you play the guitar, you’ll become an incredible uke player in an afternoon!

Ukulele Body Sizes

The ukulele market is populated by four common body sizes: the soprano, concert, tenor and baritone. Smaller sopranino ukuleles also exist, as well as hybrid bass ukes of which some can produce notes even lower than that of a classical guitar.


The soprano is the smallest of the four popular sizes. This is your classic uke shape and has access to the highest notes. You would have heard this on everything from modern pop tunes to hula dance accompaniment.


Concert and tenor sizes have bigger bodies, wider sound holes and longer scale length necks. You might want to consider one of these if you have larger than average hands to accommodate finger placement. Concert ukes project more than a soprano, while the tenor almost strays into classical guitar territory.


Baritones are the largest of the ukulele family. These share many traits with a classical guitar. At 30 inches in size, they aren’t as popular as the former three because they're less portable and don’t quite meet those classic uke tones most players want to hear - but nevertheless, an extremely interesting instrument.

Ukulele Woods

Woods and materials heavily influence the sound of an acoustic instrument like a ukulele. Ukes are usually made of woods such as mahogany, koa, rosewood and spruce. Each provide their own unique flavours and suit every player on an individual basis depending on how hard you pick and the style you play. Choosing a uke based on wood and tonality is a fun part of the buying process.


More affordable models are made of laminate woods, while pricier alternatives often incorporate solid wood. The more expensive they get, the better the construction quality and thicker woods.


Refer to our guide on acoustic tonewood for more information. The same tonal characteristics apply to both acoustic guitars and ukuleles.

What Are The Best Ukuleles?

We know you guys want the most for your money. That’s why we stock a number of big brands that make some of coolest ukuleles in the world at persuasive prices. This includes higher-end Alvarez models, iconic manufacturers Gretsch, super affordable Mahalo and a couple of surprise names in Fender and Ibanez.

Alvarez Ukuleles

We can’t get enough of Alvarez acoustics. They’re built with highly detailed attention, quality woods and trusted hardware. Best of all they sound absolutely fantastic. This is a great sign of things to come from their uke range. It may be small, but they definitely abide by quality over quantity.


These ukes are made with utmost care and rightfully so with the standard of woods Alvarez use. They are built using a mix of acacia, walnut and spruce species – all rich sounding tonewoods with a responsive character.

Fender Ukuleles

Legendary guitar brand Fender have an expansive range of ukuleles. These start at the super affordable Venice line-up in their charming pastel colours, move onto signature artist ukes and beyond in natural wood finish high-end models.


Almost all of these ukes are soprano size so you’re guaranteed classic tone. They’ll last too, as Fender are famous for consistent build quality from their Mexican and American factories. There are plenty of options to explore with Fender.

Mahalo Ukuleles

If you’re new to the ukulele and don’t fancy forking out more than you need to, Mahalo are certainly the pick for you. They’re ultra-affordable, come in a variety of colours and still hold their own on the sound side of things.


They’ll see you right through your introductory stage of ukulele progress. Once you’ve committed to the instrument, you’re sure to know your preferences towards style, shape and sound. Overall, a great starting point and best for beginners.

Epiphone Ukuleles

The American offshoot brand from Gibson are known worldwide as rock and roll specialists, so it might take you back they’ve moved onto ukuleles too.


These bad boys aren’t your standard looking ukes, however, as they’re kitted out with striking burst tops and Les Paul type cutaways to allow access to the highest frets. You also have a choice of ukes styled after the famous Hummingbird acoustic guitar with their thick-set dreadnought shape bodies.

Ukulele Strings

Ukuleles share a common trait with classical guitars - they use nylon strings, as opposed to the steel or nickel variants on an acoustic or electric guitar.


There are a couple of reasons for this. Ukuleles were invented at the turn of the 20th century, when nylon strings were the popular appointment on any stringed instrument. They are one of the main ingredients in getting the uke to create a soft textured, springy sound. If you strung a ukulele with standard steel dreadnought acoustic strings, not only would it sound harsh and brittle, but the extra tension of heavier strings could pull at the wood and damage the instrument.


Ernie Ball make strings for pretty much any type of guitar and are widely regarded as one of the best string manufacturers. Fender, D’addario and Picato also cater to the uke market.

What Ukulele Should I Buy?

Hopefully we’ve cleared up as many of your questions as possible about ukuleles. Most players are looking for a simple instrument they can take with them anywhere. This could be for busking, jamming at home or relaxing on a beach away on holiday.


f you’re serious about the instrument, consider different wood combinations or larger ukuleles which create a different sound to the standard soprano. Put your new knowledge to good use and check out our full uke range.

Want to Learn More?

For more in depth information, check out our dedicated guides: