Questions for buying a uke for my daughter

tluxtele

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I'll try to be brief. I laid out some of the story in my intro post if you're interested in reading.

I'm starting my research to get my daughter her own uke. She's currently playing mine (a Kala KA-15S).

I'll start with the questions first for the TLDR crowd.
  • All things being equal, is it fair to say a tenor uke would be louder and be heard better in an outdoor campfire setting?
  • Is there a wood combination that is known to project more than others?
  • How do I help my daughter find the right sized uke for her? I don't want to get a tenor when maybe a concert would be better for her.
  • Is it possible to find a uke in the $200 (+/-) range that would be something she could progress with over the next 4-6 years? And if it had a pickup already installed that might be a bonus.

I've been playing electric guitar/bass for 30+ years and I know how to help someone pick out those instruments. First thing I tell people is it needs to feel "right" in your hands, even if you don't know how to play it. If it doesn't feel good, it feels awkward, then you're less likely to play it. This is a new world to me. I have tried to search for answers to these questions but that's not one of my strong suits.

My daughter has only been "playing" the uke for about 1.5-2 months but she is taking this more seriously than any other instrument she's shown interest in. She practices/noodles an average of 1-2 hours a day. I know my kids. They've said they're interested in various instruments in the past and I've always thought, "Ok, you won't stick with it." I've obviously not said that out loud. I think she will actually stick with this.

At some point I'm sure she would appreciate a better uke... or even just her own for that matter. My experience has been that a nicer instrument is easier/funner to play and usually inspires me to play even more.

So, can y'all guide me in getting a 2nd (really her first) uke for my kid? Thanks
 

rainbow21

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Two things I missed in reading your posts are: your location (and, thus, access to other players to try their ukes or a retail store) and the age of your daughter. The sizing of ukuleles is completely personal and the best is to have her be able to sample the different sizes. They will differ on feel due to the different scale lengths (and string tension) and in the sound. Asking others is somewhat fruitless since they might name their preference and why, but that may or may not be shared by your daughter. Same with projection: sampling in a store may be completely different than in a group setting. Are the campfire accompaniments usually played with a pickup? Or is the acoustic usually the case? If a pickup, then projection of the uke acoustically may not be as important.

Good luck exploring this and to your daughter in her journey.
 

Dohle

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rainbow21 above has some good points. It would be nice to know your location because access to a reputable dealer where you and your daughter can actually test some ukes is the best and easiest way to determine the type of uke she'd like. In general, I don't think tenors are too big for children unless we're talking really young but, as mentioned, the size of uke you like best is completely personal. Even if you only have access to a generic music shop with a not-so-great selection of ukes, it would be beneficial to try out the different sizes if you or your daughter aren't sure which size she's most comfortable.

Once you know the size, you can look for some nicer models online. And if online retailers are your only choice for those nicer models you should stick with a) well-known brands within your budget (for example Kala, Ohana, Flight, Mainland, Islander, and the likes) and b) those reputable dealers I mentioned earlier (like the Ukulele Site, Uke Republic, Mim's Ukes, just to name a few). That way you know the uke will come setup at least decently and it'll be easier to play. Nothing worse than to get a shiny new uke that has an action so high it's uncomfortable and doesn't play in tune.

Your comment about nicer instruments being more fun to play is very true which is why the looks of the uke - while not the most important factor - are still very important, especially to a child who sometimes need that little bit of extra reinforcement for their hobbies. Check out those well-known brands I mentioned and have a look with your daughter whether she'd fancy some of their models. Regarding the size of the uke, a tenor is generally louder than the smaller sizes, particularly in that $200 price category but it's not universal. I've heard and owned several soprano ukes that would blow your socks off, although those have usually been in more expensive price categories. If you're looking for more projection in the sound you should look for solid top ukes with soft wood tops, such as spruce or cedar. Regarding the pick up, I wouldn't worry about it at that price point unless it's absolutely necessary. Otherwise, you're going to limit your choices quite a bit.
 

tluxtele

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Two things I missed in reading your posts are: your location (and, thus, access to other players to try their ukes or a retail store) and the age of your daughter.
I'm fairly close to Raleigh, NC. I know it's probably not the best place to go, but there are a few Guitar Centers (and other large shops) where I had planned to take her so she could play a few to get an idea of size. I know it has to be personal. I just don't know what things to tell her to look out for since I'm unfamiliar with this instrument. That's also why I asked the "All things being equal..." because if she was torn between, let's say, a concert and a tenor... but the tenor would project more then personally I would suggest the tenor. But I don't know if that's a good suggestion or not. For instance, I saw a video that was talking about how to choose the size you want and it said to put the uke at the bend of your arm and your hand should be close to the sound hole. Is that right? I don't know. It's one video I saw on YouTube. That's why I was looking for how to guide her. She's early to mid teens so she's old enough to have opinions and speak for herself, but not extremely confident/knowledgable when it comes to music and instruments to know when something "feels" right.

The sizing of ukuleles is completely personal and the best is to have her be able to sample the different sizes. They will differ on feel due to the different scale lengths (and string tension) and in the sound. Asking others is somewhat fruitless since they might name their preference and why, but that may or may not be shared by your daughter.
I get that. That's why I tried to ask more general questions rather than what's the best to buy. Maybe I didn't word the questions very well. I know with an electric guitar I wouldn't suggest a hollow body for someone interested in metal. It could be done, but there are better tools for the job. I'm trying to learn some general concepts to help me help her.

Same with projection: sampling in a store may be completely different than in a group setting. Are the campfire accompaniments usually played with a pickup? Or is the acoustic usually the case? If a pickup, then projection of the uke acoustically may not be as important.
Her goal is to be able to play at campfire for a camp next year. She would probably want to do it alone, but I think she will need accompaniment regardless of progress. There's usually about 100 people and there is no amplification. This is why I've asked about projection because I don't think of a uke being able to "carry" that sort of a load. The pickup is because she'd like to eventually play at church on Sunday mornings and that would need to be amplified.

Good luck exploring this and to your daughter in her journey.
Thanks so much. I really appreciate it.
 

clear

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If she's happily playing your Kala KA-15S, then I'd suggest to just give that to her. You can always buy another Kala KA-15S.
After another few months, pick an interesting date (i.e. her birthday, some holiday, etc.) and take her into a music store (or show her online) and let her pick out a uke of her own.
 

merlin666

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Many good comments here already so I will just give my two cents about volume. A bigger instrument does not automatically mean that it will be louder than a small one. It also depends on the overall design, strings, bracing, top thickness, and more than anything the player. It is very notable that small instruments like violin or mandolin can often be heard much better than their larger cousins, and that's why they are used as solo instruments whereas the others provide background support. In a group of ukes one can often identify individual smaller ones as standing out from the tenor crowd.
 

tluxtele

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Once you know the size, you can look for some nicer models online. And if online retailers are your only choice for those nicer models you should stick with a) well-known brands within your budget (for example Kala, Ohana, Flight, Mainland, Islander, and the likes) and b) those reputable dealers I mentioned earlier (like the Ukulele Site, Uke Republic, Mim's Ukes, just to name a few). That way you know the uke will come setup at least decently and it'll be easier to play. Nothing worse than to get a shiny new uke that has an action so high it's uncomfortable and doesn't play in tune.

Your comment about nicer instruments being more fun to play is very true which is why the looks of the uke - while not the most important factor - are still very important, especially to a child who sometimes need that little bit of extra reinforcement for their hobbies. Check out those well-known brands I mentioned and have a look with your daughter whether she'd fancy some of their models. Regarding the size of the uke, a tenor is generally louder than the smaller sizes, particularly in that $200 price category but it's not universal. I've heard and owned several soprano ukes that would blow your socks off, although those have usually been in more expensive price categories. If you're looking for more projection in the sound you should look for solid top ukes with soft wood tops, such as spruce or cedar. Regarding the pick up, I wouldn't worry about it at that price point unless it's absolutely necessary. Otherwise, you're going to limit your choices quite a bit.
Thank you. This is some of the type info I'm looking for... especially some of the brands... wood types... etc... because they're not the makers I'm used to dealing with in the guitar and bass world.

If she's happily playing your Kala KA-15S, then I'd suggest to just give that to her. You can always buy another Kala KA-15S.
After another few months, pick an interesting date (i.e. her birthday, some holiday, etc.) and take her into a music store (or show her online) and let her pick out a uke of her own.
Trust me, I'm not looking to go out tomorrow and buy her a new ukulele. I can just tell she's serious... and she would like her own. She's already mentioned saving up some money to buy her own. I'm just someone who likes to research and wants to learn some things to help her spend her (or our) money wisely. A new ukulele would be around Christmas or a birthday... unless she buys it herself.

Many good comments here already so I will just give my two cents about volume. A bigger instrument does not automatically mean that it will be louder than a small one. It also depends on the overall design, strings, bracing, top thickness, and more than anything the player. It is very notable that small instruments like violin or mandolin can often be heard much better than their larger cousins, and that's why they are used as solo instruments whereas the others provide background support. In a group of ukes one can often identify individual smaller ones as standing out from the tenor crowd.
Again, great information. How do I say this. I know I can pick up two Fender Teles that are the same make and model and one will have "it" while the other won't. I know things can be more so that way with an acoustic guitar. So I know it's also that way with ukuleles. But, based on all those things you mentioned (bracing, top thickness, etc.) are there some basic "agreed" upon rules to help point me in a general direction?

Again, thank you all. You're helping me quite a bit.
 

wqking

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I would suggest you buy your daughter a new Ukulele instead of passing your used one to her. A new Ukulele is more exciting for your daughter and may give her more interesting. And if she doesn't like the new one, at least you can play the new one and let her continue on your used Kala.

>> All things being equal, is it fair to say a tenor uke would be louder and be heard better in an outdoor campfire setting?

Larger body, better resonance, louder sound. So yes (assume all things being equal).

>> How do I help my daughter find the right sized uke for her? I don't want to get a tenor when maybe a concert would be better for her.

Show her different videos on different size and wood, and ask her which one she like best. I guess you are thinking about which size is good for her hand size, that's really not a matter. What matters is the tone color.
If possible, bring her to a Uke store and do some test.
 

Cadia

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I would give her the Kala for now. If her interest continues, here's what I would do - when a special occasion comes up, like a birthday or holiday (whichever comes first), you can take her uke shopping for that special gift. She's certainly old enough for a decent uke, and a tenor could be perfect, but she won't know without trying. There are two really good uke specialty retailers down south, which might be drivable for a day or weekend trip to find "her" uke - Uke Rebublic and Mims. They both have a great selection to choose from, and I'm sure she'd be thrilled to find that special uke she bonds with.
 

Dohle

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I'm fairly close to Raleigh, NC. I know it's probably not the best place to go, but there are a few Guitar Centers (and other large shops) where I had planned to take her so she could play a few to get an idea of size. I know it has to be personal. I just don't know what things to tell her to look out for since I'm unfamiliar with this instrument. That's also why I asked the "All things being equal..." because if she was torn between, let's say, a concert and a tenor... but the tenor would project more then personally I would suggest the tenor. But I don't know if that's a good suggestion or not. For instance, I saw a video that was talking about how to choose the size you want and it said to put the uke at the bend of your arm and your hand should be close to the sound hole. Is that right? I don't know. It's one video I saw on YouTube. That's why I was looking for how to guide her. She's early to mid teens so she's old enough to have opinions and speak for herself, but not extremely confident/knowledgable when it comes to music and instruments to know when something "feels" right.

My previous message was more general and somewhat objective advice but, regarding what you wrote above, I'm now going to give a more personal opinion. Some people do indeed suggest trying to place the uke in the crook of your arm and checking where your hand lands on the uke. Incidentally, if you follow that advice your hand should land on where the neck meets the body (or alternatively the 12th fret) because that's where you strum the uke, not over the soundhole. In any case, I think that advice is not very good and only applicable if you play the uke while standing without a strap, so quite niche I'd say. I'm a 6 foot tall guy with fairly long hands and my preferred uke size is the soprano, the smallest of the standard sizes. If I place the uke like I described above my hand quite comfortably lands on the 5th fret almost. Doesn't really impede me playing my sopranos at all. I mostly play sitting down so that advice I described above makes no sense to me. And even if I do play while standing I can still easily hold the uke between my arm and my body even if it's not in the crook of my arm. In my opinion, it's much more important to consider how the scale length and - even more importantly - the width of the nut/fretboard affects comfort of playing. Those factors affect the space between the frets and the space between each string, respectively. Even if you (or your daughter in this case) can't play the uke that well yet you should try to finger some strings and have a little strum and test out which kind of uke feels the most comfortable. Again, this is not universal advice and just my opinion, but I've seen that advice about positioning the uke in the crook of your arm so many times that I was compelled to respond.
 

Futurethink

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I have read that a travel 'ukulele (an 'ukulele with a thinner body) is louder than a "normal" ukulele. I know this seems counterintuitive. A Romero Tiny Tenor is also supposed to be surprisingly loud, but I will assume that's outside of your planned budget.
 

tm3

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Show her the Enya Nova online and gauge her reaction. I would think that a child might be really enthused over being able to pick a bright color. A really good player/singer in my uke group recently got one and hasn't shown up with her Kala since. User reviews indicate that the setup is good out of the box, they come in 3 sizes, they are available with built in electronics, they have a strong money back return policy, and they are very durable.
 

UkeStuff

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I can make a ton of suggestions here; there is something to be said for one of the Eyna Novas for a durable ukulele that can be taken anywhere and used however, iong after additional ukuleles are added to the equation (I feel the same for the Flight Travel Ukuleles, though they are not as worry free with a laminate top).

Aside from that, I would encourage you to make a day trip up to Mim's Ukes, and see what she has in stock and what she would suggest...even with blemished models in the mix. Then you can play things in person (or your daughter can) and you can make some memories doing so at the same time.

I know you'll get Ohanas recommended in this price range, also keep Mainland Ukuleles in mind.

There are a ton of great ukuleles under $200 but I do think the travel to Mim's (as you are "relatively" close) is the way to go, plus the memories of picking out a ukulele with your daughter (and Mim will make sure that it is set up and plays extremely well, too).
 

hendulele

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I’ll second taking her on a day trip to Mim’s. (Contact her first to be sure she’ll be there and not traveling!) it’s about 3-4 hours from the Triangle. When we visited, she spent more than an hour letting me demo ukes. I came home with one I never would have considered without playing first, and it was less than I had budgeted.

Plus, she loves working with kids. She’s a great Uke ambassador!