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There's a lot to think about when choosing a Ukulele, here's a few helpful pointers to help you out.
Ukuleles come in 4 typical sizes, from the smallest, the Soprano, to the Concert, Tenor and then Baritone. 'Ukulele sizes are not limited to those listed here, keep in mind that there are many different sizes as there are luthiers.
Types of Wood
Ukuleles are made from a range of wood; koa, mahogany, spruce, cedar, maple… Koa is a native Hawaiian wood and offers a bright, punchy tone, and is very beautiful to look at. Many Hawaiian ukulele makers consider koa to be the best wood for ukuleles. However, good quality koa is hard to find and expensive.
Koa is a particularly beautiful wood and one of my favorites and very popular. It comes in a variety of rich golden colors, from light to dark, and often with very strong grain markings, which are beautiful. It very often comes with a very high degree of flame or curl which, in extreme cases, are so intense as to defy description. Our Koa typically comes from the Big Island or the island of Kauai and is not always readily available so our stock is limited. Koa makes a very balanced sounding 'ukulele -- much of the warmth of rosewood and much of the brightness of mahogany. Some builders feel that Koa is variable in its tone. This high quality wood is can be expensive, at Nakulu 'Ukulele we carry varying grades.
As part of the build process I will prep a few boards for your approval, whether koa, spruce, mahogany, etc., and send you images so you can see the wood before the instrument is built.
Mahogany wood offers a warm, rich tone. Spruce tops (sound boards) is popularly used for guitars and is now commonly used for ukuleles too. Ukuleles are often made with a spruce top but with the back and sides made from a different wood, for example rosewood. You may also find ukuleles in maple, mango, cedar, cherry wood…all sorts of wood. Apart from the looks and tone, a lot will depend on what you want to spend. A koa ukulele will invariably be more expensive than one made from plywood wood, you'll never find plywood or laminated materials in any Nakulu Ukulele!
Ukuleles come with geared, side-mounted tuners, or with rear-mounted, friction tuners. The friction tuners are considered to be more traditional, although many ukulele players like the control that geared tuners offer, particularly on a larger ukulele, such as the tenor size. Most Nakulu Ukulele will come with Gotoh geared (16:1) professional tuners unless otherwise specified.
Shop with Confidence
As you might guess, we are confident in our products. Prior to building your instrument we will prep a few boards for your approval, whether koa, spruce, maple, mahogany, etc., and send you images of the wood so you can get an idea of what your instrument will look like. Unless otherwise stated I use only Gotoh Professional geared (16:1) tuners on all instruments. For details and ordering information please Click Here
Available Models (base price)
- Concert $600
- Super Concert $700
- Tenor $800
Standard Options (included with the base price)
- Select Acacia Koa, top, back, and sides
- Mahogany neck (other woods are optional)
- Bone nut and saddle
- Gotoh professional geared (16:1) tuners
- Rope rosette and purfling
- Ebony or rosewood fretboard
- Ebony or rosewood bridge
- Paua abalone front fret markers
- Side fret markers
- Nitrocellulose lacquer gloss finish
- Optional all wood bindings, your choice, based on availability $125
- Optional slotted head stock/Gilbert tuners $250
- Optional matching bound head stock $40
- Optional matching bound fret board $40
- Optional photo record of the build $100
Lets take a closer look at the main ‘ukulele sizes from smallest to biggest.
The scale length is the distance from the nut to the saddle and referred to as the instruments scale. Many luthiers use different dimensions and varying scales. Today's players have been graduating to the larger "tenor" ukulele for it's larger scale and greater playability for larger adult sized hands.
Scale length: 13-14 in.
Usually tuned: GCEA
About 21 in. long from head to toe
The smallest size in the ‘ukulele family, the soprano has the recognizable plinky sound that everyone associates with the instrument. If you tell someone that you play the ‘ukulele, odds are that they think of you holding this size. Many sopranos have friction tuning pegs. These types of tuners point straight back from the headstock and with no gears, the strings come up to tune very quickly. Sometimes, especially on cheaper ukes, the “friction” aspect goes away and the string will not stay in tune. This can be fixed by tightening the screw found on the back of the peg with a screwdriver. People with larger fingers or hands have trouble playing the soprano ukulele because the frets are closer together.
Scale length: 15-16 in.
Usually tuned: GCEA
About 23 in. long from head to toe
Sound-wise the concert sized ‘ukulele spans the gap between the “plinky” soprano sound and the fuller tenor sound. The concert ukulele, sometimes referred to as the alto, is just a little bit bigger than the soprano and some would consider it to have a fuller sound. It’s commonly tuned in standard like the soprano uke although some people will opt to tune their G down one octave. The frets are a bit more spaced on a concert ukulele than the soprano, so folks with larger fingers might find it easier to play.
Scale length: 17-18 in.
Usually tuned: GCEA
About 26 in. long from head to toe
The tenor ‘ukulele is becoming more popular as people get used to it’s less-traditional sound. The longer scale gives fingers more room to hold challenging chords. The strings on a tenor pull tighter because there is more space to stretch them across. Personally, I prefer a tenor over the other sizes because it is bigger – there is more ’ukulele to hang onto – and it has a fuller sound. The longer scale keeps the strings tighter. The tenor ukulele is just a little bit bigger than the concert uke. The overall sound and tone is even fuller than it’s smaller brothers. For performers, the tenor ukulele is great because you get a rich full sound, and since you have more frets, you’re able to reach higher notes on the fretboard.
Scale length: 19-20 in.
Usually tuned: DGBE (sometimes GCEA)
About 30 in. from head to toe
The baritone ‘ukulele is the biggest of the lot and the different tuning requires some knowledge or quick transposing to figure out the chords. A baritone is like a small guitar missing the two top strings. Unlike the other ‘ukulele sizes, the baritone is almost exclusively strung with a low top string. Some of the great jazz players favor the baritone size because or the big frets – they can squeeze chords way up the neck (Byron Yasui, Benny Chong). A baritone might be a good option for a converting guitarist.