View Full Version : What Makes A Uke Easy To Play For You

02-27-2015, 05:09 PM
Since I saw another post discussion asking about easy to play ukes, it makes me wonder what are people's criteria for what makes a uke "easy to play".

I definitely get different feelings with different ukes, but have not spent much time thinking what specifically made a uke easier to play. I rotate between playing a number ukes and still trying to see which one or two I find as my favorite or easiest to play. In many cases, it is a mixed bag. But, if I spend a minute to think about it, for me, some things come to mind.

1. String action - prefer more on the low side, but too low and picking over the fretboard is a little harder without sometimes touching the fretboard for me.

2. String tension and diameter - have to find a good balance between too high tension making it harder to fret and too loose, and also a balance in too thin diameter versus too thick. Too thin and high tension can also wear on my fretting fingers, if I play a long time in one sitting.

3. Neck thickness and also shape - Neck thickness has already been discussed here, but it is subjective and also dependent on hand size. Shape also plays a role, have the traditional c shape. I also have a uke that has a flatter backside of the neck, so not as much a C shape. It is nice that is is thin, but probably I prefer the C shape more.

4. Also, neck width - I have mixed feelings and pros and cons on different widths. 1.5" width necks are a bit easier for picking or allow more room for those with bigger fingers, but also make me stretch a bit more on some chords, vs 1.375" width.

5. Weight of the uke - Also, mixed feelings, sometimes I like a nice light uke (like LdFM or Da Silva Thin Body), and other times nice to feel the heft and solidness (like Turner Compass Rose)

6. Uke shape - One that fits you best, which is subjective, as ukes have different shapes and people have different shapes and likes/dislikes. I have one that has an arm bevel and I do find that very comfortable, as the ones without it, sometimes notice a little rubbing of the edge when playing in certain positions. It is only sometimes and not that big an issue though and not one that I would only choose an arm beveled uke, but it is a nice to have for me sometimes.

7. I am sure fret spacing plays a factor, which goes along with choosing the size uke we want, soprano, concert, tenor, or baritone.

8. Others?

02-27-2015, 05:22 PM
As someone with little hands and short fingers who plays fingerstyle - I'd say in no particular order: nut width (smaller is better), neck thickness (thin-ness, that is!) and shape (not chunky), low action, high tension strings, concert or soprano scale, and my obsession as of lately, the 14th fret join - making playing higher up the neck *so* much easier for me. And I find them all difficult to hold without a strap, but for some reason have less trouble holding a pineapple shape uke than a figure 8 (although regardless, it's going to get a strap button drilled if I'm going to play it).

02-27-2015, 07:59 PM
For me first is the over-all size, even though I only play tenor. When I pick up my Ibanez exotic series acoustic guitar, it feels like a truck. I also like low action and thin strings.

02-27-2015, 08:59 PM
As someone who plays a number of instruments, when I saw the topic I thought you were going to ask why is the uke easy compared to other instruments. Just a misreading on my part.

Some ukes are more comfortable for me to play than others. I like enough spacing between strings so I can play cleanly so I like the 1.5 inch neck on a Kanilea concert, but I don't like an extra wide neck on a tenor. Ideally a neck is that is not too thick or too thin. Action that is low enough but not so low that strings are likely to hit the frets or develop a buzz and high enough so the volume can be pushed.

Weight doesn't matter too much to me. The heaviest ukes are still light. A little weight can help with sustain. i'm not very consistent in what I like. Generally I like smaller bodied tenors, but I like my Ponos and Koolaus that are larger. I like thinner necks but I like the Ponos that have thicker necks. I like the figure 8 body style, but I love the Vita uke.

I don't know that I find anything harder or easier to play but some ukes are more comfortable for me to hold or play. I like a lot about playing tenor because I like the sound and the extra sustain and also to some extent the room on the fretboard. But in other ways concerts just fit my hands and arms in a way that tenors don't. My hands get more sore and tired playing tenor so I tend to switch back to concert to rest.

02-28-2015, 12:20 AM
The more I thought about this question the more I realized at first blush there is a lot that goes into making a uke easy to play. But thinking it over there are just a few elements that make a big difference to me.

First off the elements that do not matter to me.
*Nut width, I have 1-1/2" & 1-3/8", makes no difference to me.
*Neck thickness, I have a Loprinzi which is very shallow, almost flat and Pono which are very deep.
*Overall weight, heavy or light, I play seated and every uke I own has a strap so not an issue

Elements that matter to ME
*Uke size, Tenor is easiest by far and it all boils down to longer space between frets and total length being longer which allows me to play up the neck without feeling "jammed up", especially barr chords as I roll my index finger which means my upper arm is into my side
*Having a strap with buttons on the heel and tail eliminates the weight issue and neck dimension issues because the strap supports the uke. I don't have to clamp onto it with my right arm and don't have to support the neck with my left hand. The strap has made the biggest difference to me.
*A great set up with a low action. I have a light touch so buzzing is not an issue.
*A radius fretboard. Yea I know this debate gets heated but this is for ME. I have a degenerative condition that will not allow my fingers to straigthen. Making barr chords is so much easier with a radius. I am selling off non-radius and slowly adding radius fretboard tenors.

02-28-2015, 12:50 AM
Excellent post UkeInTW. I agree with all seven of your points, they were well thought out. I think that they are all factors in a ukes playability.

Not a specific feature of the uke itself, but how about playing standing up or sitting?

02-28-2015, 03:51 AM
For me it's low action together with small fret wire size. My fave uke is a Kiwaya KS-5 because it's setup so well and the frets themselves are very narrow. All my other ukes have wider taller frets and I can tell a real difference with the playing comfort of the Kiwaya.

02-28-2015, 04:41 AM
I'm with Julie on Kiwaya. I have many Kiwayas and the neck profiles are great also in my opinion.

02-28-2015, 05:02 AM
Low action and lighter strings.

02-28-2015, 06:28 AM
*Having a strap with buttons on the heel and tail eliminates the weight issue and neck dimension issues because the strap supports the uke. I don't have to clamp onto it with my right arm and don't have to support the neck with my left hand. The strap has made the biggest difference to me.

Yes, I agree 100% and put that at the top of my list.

02-28-2015, 06:28 AM
The specs of a C1K would be perfect if only the neck was joint at 14 fret instead of 12. If only.......

And yes, low action

02-28-2015, 09:50 AM
Low action, tenor/bari size, 1.5" nut, a cutaway, a smooth neck, proper tuning, a beer.

Not sure the beer makes it easier but it does make it even more enjoyable.

Great thread.

1. string tension. Love sopranos and just can't handle the string tension on tenors. I tune them down to Bb.

2. string tension.

3. string tension.

4. nut width. 1.5" is just much more forgiving when you need to jump 5 frets to plant a 4 finger chord.

5. action. but this one cuts both ways. Low action is great for the left hand but bad for the right hand when finger picking over the fretboard which is often unavoidable, especially on fretboards that extend all the way to the sound hole (which brings me to #6).

6. fretboards that end at the body. I use all frets up to 12 but almost never go higher. I prefer to have a little extra room for finger picking instead of more frets I never use.

7. large lower bout (insert butt joke here). I am a tall guy but like sopranos. Larger lower bouts bring the strings a little bit higher when i am playing sitting down compared to a traditional sized soprano.

8. smooth fret ends. Even very nice instruments sometimes have fret ends that get in the way of playing a little bit. I like ukes where the frets dont even extend all the way to the edge of the fretboard.

Things I am not too picky about include neck shape, instrument weight, and radius fretboard.

02-28-2015, 05:23 PM
I have big hands so a wider neck works better for me and I find that playing a soprano helps my tenor playing (accuracy) but not vice versa. I think I get a better sound with a strap too, seems a little less resonant when I have my arm clamping the body.

03-01-2015, 02:12 AM
Great thread. Very interesting. Many different opinions and everyone is right.

03-01-2015, 03:19 AM
For me it's just how the whole package comes together. Some ukes just feel right.

03-01-2015, 03:59 AM
Mostly size. I love the concert size best. I have relatively small hands and fingers for a guy, so the uke is a natural for me. Additionally, I can use a pickup and amp if I choose, which opens up a whole new world of sonic possibilities.

03-01-2015, 12:45 PM
1. Neck shape - thin.
2. How I hold it, correctly is easy.
3. Side fret markers.
4. String tension/action. I put tenor (fatter) strings on one of my concert ukes and they wear me out faster.
5. Strap.
6. Finish - I love glossy but it's harder to hold in place and keep my pinkie planted.
7. And - "Does this uke make me look fat?" (I don't wanna be self-conscious)

03-02-2015, 12:36 PM
I like a good instrument that feels balanced in my hands. I like low and smooth action and feel. I haven't played much with string tension, so I am interested in how that changes the feel of things. Good intonation makes the uke easier on the ears, so in the long run, easier to play. I like playing with a strap.

I like sitting in a chair that provides good support to my back and allows my feet to be comfortably placed on the floor. Not sitting too far forward, which is the opposite of playing wind instruments. I tend to sit forward, like I'm riding a horse, when I have a flute, recorder, or clarinet in hand. With ukulele, I want to be more back into the seat and feel the support to my back.

03-02-2015, 01:58 PM
For me it is a good balance across the strings and up the neck. It easier to sound smooth if the instrument plays in harmony with itself. I hold it the same as a classical guitar. I keep my left foot elevated and the waist sits on my left thigh with the neck at about 45 degrees, (same for my banjo). My right forearm keeps the instrument still. So I do like to have a traditional guitar shape. I always keep my thumb behind the neck, so a nice smooth and consistent neck helps. Sometimes my seat makes a bigger difference that the ukulele. If I am comfortable and the instrument is positioned well and behaving, it is easier to play.

03-02-2015, 02:21 PM

03-03-2015, 04:30 AM
Thanks for all the replies. Interesting and not surprisingly quite varied. So, something to note when people recommend a uke as being easy to play, that need to get their definition of "easy to play", since it could mean many different things.

I see other good remarks that I also forgot to mention. I also prefer a strap, side fret markers also make it easier for me. And possibly radius fretboard, I think it helps me a little bit, but maybe does not make too big a difference for me, but still deciding.

Captain America
03-03-2015, 06:20 AM
I like a thicker neck, since I find it easier to make chords in the first position this way. I think with acoustic guitars, the thrill for thinny necks comes from the teen electric guitar players who make up a large market for first acoustic guitars, and perhaps this thin in good bias creeps into ukes.

03-03-2015, 08:31 AM
Lots and lots of rum!!!

Ukulele Eddie
03-03-2015, 09:59 AM
For me it's just how the whole package comes together. Some ukes just feel right.

^^^ This ^^^

I would only add, "and sounds right". If it doesn't sound right, I won't want to play it. And if it sounds right and is the feel of the whole package works, I want to play and play it.