View Full Version : Beginner Uke Recommendations?

06-24-2011, 06:16 PM
Hello everyone.

I'm new to the Uke and looking to get one to start learning. I was wondering if I could get some recommendations of a good company that makes a good uke at around the $100 range, plus or minus $50, to try the instrument out?

Also, I like the sound of the baritone ukes (the deeper sounding the better), are they any harder or easier to play than say a soprano or concert? Or should I start out with something else and move up to one? I have no stringed instrument experience. Any help would be appreciated!



06-24-2011, 07:37 PM
Welcome to UU FlyedPiper

Baritones are tuned differently that the Tenors, Concert and Soprano ukes. They are tuned like the first 4 strings of a guitar. It is a longer instrument, and will have a greater string tension than the other sizes. Because it is longer, it will have richer low notes, and sound more guitar-like. The larger instruments tend to cost more, and baritones can sometimes be hard to find. If you plan to play with other uke players, and use their chord charts, you will be less confused with a tenor or smaller size. If you think you are more likely to be playing with guitar players, then a baritone would be more similar to what they are playing.

A tenor ukulele with low G tuning might be an easy place to start for you. Not sure if you can get one in your price range, but look at Kala, Makala, Lanikai, and Ohana. Maybe you can find a used one. There are a lot of old Harmony Baritones around (from what I hear), so you might try one of those. If you truly want a deep sounding instrument, you might look at a parlor size or half size guitar instead.


06-24-2011, 08:20 PM
A starter on a Baritone is a novel concept (I was certain we all evolved to Baritone if we played them) but they are great instruments. I play mine daily- in fact, it is my go to, but I have a heck of a time not buzzing chords on it sometimes because I have short fingers (which is why I am not a guitar player...but I have one and I will get it!). I am going to assume you are in this boat, because you like the guitar sound, but you are here asking about Ukuleles
In any event- I would recommend new or Luthier conditioned vintage, because if you get a uke off Ebay, chances are it will need work that you do not yet know it needs...frustrating when you know you are doing it right and it is not sounding right.
That said- the old adage around here (which rings true when you are learning) is to buy as much uke as possible. There are several Bari's in your price range that I think are great IF THEY ARE SET UP. Kala makes the Makala Baritone for $70 and while I do not have one of these, I have a Soprano and a Tenor made under this bdget mark in my classroom and they are fantastic (and take a beating). Kala also makes the KA-B ($118), which is nicer in terms of appointments, but having played it next to a Makala...I would go Makala and play it into sawdust. The one I bought is a Kala KA-SB which is just above $150...I did not want to spend it at the time, but it sounded so great I fell in love with it...and it is sexy. Great tone from spruce tops if that is what you are into- they ring forever and have a lot of punch. That extra $30 buys you a solid top, which makes a better sound- it is all in the ears of the beholder though really.
Ohana makes a BK-10 model, which is all laminate (and on par with the less expensive Kala's) for $139. I have not played one, but do have an Ohana Uke, so I imagine it is similar quality. I was disappointed with the finish on my Ohana, but it is my other daily and is on my lap right now...in fact, I have not gone anywhere without it in six months.
I don't own one of these, but there is a fellow on here who swears by them (and is highly credible). Rogue Baritone (http://www.musiciansfriend.com/folk-traditional-instruments/rogue-baritone-ukulele?src=3WFRWXX)...ugly as sin, but if you hate Ukulele, you aren't out much money. You are definitely going to learn set up with it as at that price no one is going to do it for you...PM me, I can help.
Again, set up and strings are the most important part of the equation here. I thought I would never tune my Baritone like a standard Ukulele until I got some strings from Southcoast...and this goes to the sound you are looking for and playability so bare with me. My Baritone is now tuned Low G (GCea) instead of DGBE (like the bottom four of a guitar- standard for Baritone Uke) for many reasons. First, it still booms when it is not tuned re-entrant (Uke's normally have the lowest note as the second string....this may be what your ear does not like about standard ukes...it drives my dad CRAZY), AND because I play with my wife a lot. SHe learns a little slower than I do, and she cheats and looks at my hands. It came to the point of not being able to play my favorite Uke because my hands and her hands were doing two different things.
This may be a problem for you...if you learn by watching. If you have a standard tuned Baritone Ukulele, you are not doing what everyone else is doing (if you have folks to play with). This is the caveat here- Tenor Ukulele, or a Baritone tuned GCEA, will open up your learning opportunities. All the books are written to this tuning, everyone on the YouTube is playing this tuning...other ukers are tuned to this. At the end of the day, it is easier, unless you are an advanced player, to learn on this tuning, and with Low G as an option (only one kind of strings available for Baritone in this tuning, but they are great strings)...it will still boom.
Hope that makes sense,

06-24-2011, 08:41 PM
It has come to my attention that Mike is back...he is the KING of set-up. I have two done by him and have poured over them to make my others play just like them. He sells Kala and Ohana- so if you go that route, and want a perfect player for the money (not just out of the box), call him
musicguymic@aol.com 808-927-7297

06-24-2011, 08:51 PM
I'm kind of following you. I think it might be better to start with a standard tuned tenor Uke and move on to a baritone from there if I decide to, once I master the basics that is. Like you said I will be able to learn easier from the folks here and from youtube with that tuning. I like the videos I've seen of the tenors, I just don't really like the "hawaiian pig roast/luau" sound of the sopranos. It may grow on me though. The "pocket ukes" are cool, and I could see myself getting one of those if the hobby progresses. I'm a sucker for stuff like that...

So I guess the question is: which tenor to choose? The Makala ones seems to be in my price range at just under $100. Any other suggestions anyone? Thanks to all who have taken the time to help out a noobie like myself :).

And finger size isn't really the issue. My uncle is a musical genius and plays guitar, drums and other instruments phenomenally. The issue is I'm just weird :). I like "unusual" instruments, especially ones that can be taken anywhere. Guitar is just too "normal" for me, lol. Part of me wishes I started on that- I would have picked up way more chicks than playing a didgeridoo or other strange woodwind I've tried.

06-24-2011, 09:44 PM
Hahahaha- I also play accordion and the musical bones...I like weird! Go with the Makala tenor, see if you can get it from Mike. If you can, ask him politely to string it Low G and he will certainly do so, and rock on mate. Rock on. You definitely want Low G strings, so Elderly is the next stop on the journey if Mike can't hook you up.
If Mike is a wash, when you get it PM me- I can teach you how to set it up with a $5 set of files from the home depot and off you go...
I will try to post a video tomorrow on my Bari tuned GCEA in the future- I will forward it to you

06-25-2011, 01:25 AM
The Makala Baritone is great! Doesn't really need any setup. Seventy bucks and the GHS strings on it sound fine. I just got another one myself!


The Tenors are real good too. I have a Baritone, Tenor and Concert Makala and they are all great. (I have soprano dolphins too and also had a soprano pineapple which was great). I like Makalas.

If you wanted to go super cheap you could even get a Rogue off musicians friend (thirty bucks delivered)

But I Have had two Makala Baritones and they were fantastic right out of the box, both of them.

06-25-2011, 07:29 AM
How much more will it cost to get one that's "set up" (not exactly sure what that means- stringed and tuned I'm sure, but you said there is filing involved?) from Mike? Does a uke from Makala (or say from amazon) come stringed and tuned? Also, does the wood or body style effect the sound at all?

I've been looking at this starter kit:


Any good?

Thank you all so much for the help!

06-25-2011, 08:06 AM
Amazon has that same kit for $99 with free shipping I'm pretty sure.

06-25-2011, 07:51 PM
Ordered the starter pack with the Makala MK-T. Came to $110 with free shipping. Includes a case, tuner and instructional book (which I wasn't sure if I wanted, but my internet access is limited at the moment so I figured it would give me something to do when I can't surf the forum). I think I made a good purchase. The reviews on the Makala's seemed overwhelmingly positive for what you get for the money.

Thanks for the advice, folks! Look forward to seeing everyone around...

06-25-2011, 08:03 PM
i got a lanikai lu-21c (concert) for 70 bucks about two years ago and it has been my go to uke for quite some time now. sounds good and is easy and comfortable to hold and play. definately recommend it.

06-25-2011, 08:27 PM
You will love it Flyed...
As for set-up, sorry I missed that question. Usually it is free if you buy from a vendor, or $20-$30 later. It is not so much stringing and tuning the Uke, but setting the action properly so that it is easy to play and does not buzz. I have several Kalas and only one I had to really take down in terms of action- you should be all right.
Next up- warning...Your fingers are going to peal. That is all I am saying for now.
Enjoy Ukin and welcome to the fold.

06-25-2011, 08:53 PM
Nice choice! Have a blast, and give us a progress report after you and your uke have gotten to know each other.

06-26-2011, 08:38 AM
Thanks fellers.

Yeah, I called MGM, and he had a tenor that sounded really nice. Just a little more than I was looking to spend for a uke to learn on. It's actually too bad, it would be cool to own get one of his before he sells off the rest of his stock and no more are available.

Maybe someone in my local uke club can help me setup and restring mine with aquila when I can actually belt some songs out :).