Things I Wish I'd Known When I Bought My First Ukulele

I'll start:

A setup will make or break your first experiences trying to play your new instrument. Factor a setup into the cost of purchasing your first ukulele. Don't assume that, just because you've bought an instrument from a ukulele company, they've set it up before shipping it out to you. (I'm looking at you, Honolua!) Maybe ask, or at the very least, take your new instrument to a local shop for a quick look-see.

After struggling with Bb chord and a few beginner barre chords for several days, it occurred to me that my strings might be too high, so I took the uke to a local guitar shop. Guess what? The strings were set too high. I've just gotten the uke back, and I can now magically play a Bb chord.

Next!
I wish I had one 20 years ago. That is how much I love the uke. Now my Gibson CL-35 deluxe is so lonely.
 
A late addition here. Try to start learning how to play whatever your current favorite song/band is at the moment. I’m currently doing this and it has taken my enjoyment to another level. Might even prevent the legendary UAS everyone talks about!
 
My first uke was a Makala Dolphin Soprano which I had for almost a whole year! I had decided I would ignore new instruments until I felt like I was adequate with the instrument, so I wouldn't waste any further investment. I don't really have regrets for the first one since it was so cheap, but for the subsequent ones. I wish I knew...
  • ...how much I would end up spending and how many ukes I would end up with! eep!
  • ...that the price of the instrument or the specs are not related necessarily to how much I will enjoy the instrument. I like all my instruments for different reasons
  • ...what to really look and feel for in new instruments! Mostly, being able to play (or return) the instrument is a must. Other than the way they sound, ukuleles have a way they feel (in your hand, against your body) and a way the sound projects that you also feel. It's the resonance you feel against the back of the uke and the front and how you're able to kind of tell where the sound projects. I don't think I knew to look for these things that I like about the instruments originally.
  • ....it's also just worth getting the ukulele from a place that does set ups. It's annoying fiddling with the saddle and hoping I don't mess it up or getting a professional setup after the fact that costs more and takes a long time.
  • ...how to consider the instruments i was interested in vs. my play style (which has changed with time anyway). Have an idea of how you play, and how that impacts the instrument you are looking for. Some ukes are better for strumming, some for campanella, some for thumb chord melody. They are all just different voices but if you are a strummer and find that you don't like the sound of your spruce top, rosewood back and side instrument it might be because you are a strummer with an instrument not best suited to ya!
  • ...that it is not healthy to scroll ebay and craiglist every day for used instruments :|
  • ...how unintimidating fingerstyle is and how it's fun once you start. I put it off my whole first year because I was kind of nervous to start, but now it's mostly all I do! It's so much fun honestly.
 
Don't be in a hurry; visit a store with decent inventory and spend some time bonding with a couple of instruments. Try to get past first impressions. If the store has practice or lesson rooms, consider asking if you can use one.

Hire a teacher. Even online group lessons can help nurture good habits right out the gate.

Music is generally best learnt in the company of others. Try to find a strum circle or jam group receptive to 'ukulele. Check music store and library bulletin boards, attend open mics and connect with participants, etc.

Learn music you love. Endeavor to practice technique, but PLAY. Every day. Without fail.
 
one paradoxical comment: don't listen to us overmuch. We can bring up tangents like strings and bracings and tone woods and wolf tones and nut widths--and all these things can exert a scintilla of an impact. However, if you get the best uke you can afford and play it...then that will trump any subtle side-issue that you can read about.
 
Music teachers are great and there is no experience level that cannot benefit from lessons, but not all teachers fit all students.

I had a harmonica teacher that asked me on day 1, "what do you want to learn?" I wanted to learn how to play the harmonica... He would also stop me every time I made a mistake and try to analyze why I made the mistake. This meant that I would often spend an hour on the first 4 notes of a piece. Not productive for me at all, but he was highly regarded around town. Next I took group lessons through Zoom. I progressed very quickly and learned a ton in those classes. Go figure.
I wonder what it’s like to live in a town where there is a highly regarded harmonica teacher
 
I wonder what it’s like to live in a town where there is a highly regarded harmonica teacher
I agree. However, if someone put me on the spot like that, I'd probably say I want to learn the mixolydian so I jam with something with a flat 7 without it being the same old pentatonic that every else is playing. I wonder how that would work.
 
Jot down notes about everything (revelations/realizations) you think or do that you have learned.
They may still be true, or not, but reflection will decide that.

Document attempts at doing your own setup/adjustments. This includes experimenting with string changes, filing fret ends, widening and lowering nut slots, lube tuners, etc. You will learn from your mistakes, so it's better to be able to recall what happened.

Ways to finger a chord or make a transition from one chord to the next - especially those "cool voicings" or moveable chords you accidentally discover.

Absorb chord families even though you don't know what they are.

I keep a log file (string changes, etc.) for every instrument I own, and even keep notes for the ones I sold or gave away. Ya never know...
 
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Sadly, this doesn't work out so smoothly for those of us in Canada. Point well taken, though.
I’ve ordered from Mim, and I’m in Toronto. I use crossborder pickups service for my US shopping needs. After converting to CDN, I had around 6% duties a nominal shipping fee, 13% sales tax, and free pickup in Markham or Mississauga or for an additional fee straight to your door.
 
@ploverwing has provided an excellent list for someone who is new to the ukulele, and has no experience with any other stringed instrument.

Since I came from guitar, I was familiar with a number of items on that list. But there are just some things that are a part of the ukulele journey such as trying different scale lengths and woods.

However, the one thing that I was not aware of was the versatility of the instrument. I had always been able to sing along with a guitar and had anticipating doing the same with the ukulele; for some reason that did not mesh well. There was a point where I thought, well getting a ukulele was interesting, but now what.

I can't recall where I stumbled onto playing instrumentals, but if I had not pursued that route, I'm sure that I would have abandon the ukulele long ago. It did not hurt that about the same time Jake's Central Park rendition of Guitar Gently Weeps popped up.

I have found that the ukulele is really an everyone is welcome instrument. If one style doesn't work there are plenty of others.

John
 
I wonder what it’s like to live in a town where there is a highly regarded harmonica teacher
I was wondering that too. Maybe not to live there, but to just see what kind of town has a highly regarded harmonica teacher
 
I’m actually a pretty good harmonica player, and find it hard to teach to someone. I am not a teacher, but over the years I’ve had some friends and family ask me how to play something, and it’s just really hard to explain…
 
This is one of the best set of written recommendations I've ever seen! Every beginner should have access to these.
I love these suggestions and a wealth of information from those 'who do' compared to 'those who know about' and just try to explain it all.
 
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