Beginner’s Guide to Buying a Ukulele
Looking to buy a ukulele? Whether you choose acoustic or electric, find the perfect ukulele & explore ukulele strings, sizes and more to get started.
By Ben Nemeroff
One of the greatest gifts you can give to yourself or a loved one is an instrument. The ukulele is a particularly excellent choice, but you may be wondering how to buy a ukulele if you’ve never done it before. You’ve come to the right place.
If you’ve made it this far, you’re probably well aware of all the reasons to play the ukulele. Just one strum of a ukulele is bound to put a smile on your face. At the same time, buying a new instrument can be overwhelming if you’re new to the process. This guide will give you the tools you need to make it much easier.
To narrow down your options, you can also try out our new interactive gear guide FindYour.Fender.com, which matches you with the perfect model by learning about your sound & style. After viewing your results, you can reference your findings with the pointers in this article. You’ll be well on your way to finding the right ukulele for you.
Considerations for Buying Your First Ukulele
In this guide, we’ll walk you through:
• Famous Ukulele Artists & Genres: Let’s start off with some inspiration. Which artists and genres can inspire you and help you develop your own personal style? What kinds of ukuleles do they play?
• Key Ukulele Terms: What are the parts of a ukulele? What the heck is a bridge and why is it important to understand that when you’re shopping?
• Budget: How much does a ukulele cost and what impacts the price?
• Recommended Fender Ukuleles: What are the best ukuleles for beginners?
• Ukulele Accessories: Which ukulele accessories do I need?
• Finding the Right Ukulele for You: Solid wood or laminate? Acoustic or electric? Soprano, tenor, or concert size? We’ll explain the differences and help you determine what works best for you.
Let’s get started.
Famous Ukulele Artists & Genres
“I think the ukulele brings a different feeling to every single song, and it inspires a different kind of writing.”
While the ukulele is often associated with Hawaiian music, it’s an incredibly versatile instrument that shines in any genre—folk, blues, country, pop—even metal. As you’re searching for the right ukulele for you, consider what inspires you to play in the first place. Reflecting upon which artists and genres speak to you may help you determine which aspects of a ukulele’s tone and features you want to prioritize.
If you need a dose of inspiration, here are some of our favorites:
• Grace VanderWaal stole hearts in 2016 when she auditioned for America’s Got Talent with an original titled “I Don’t Know My Name.” Since winning the 11th season, she’s released two albums which showcase her soaring vocals over pop songs that rest upon the sweet tones of the ukulele. Grace VanderWaal typically plays a soprano ukulele, similar to the Grace VanderWaal Moonlight Ukulele, however her collection of unique and quirky ukes also include slightly larger instruments, along the lines of her concert-ready Grace VanderWaal Signature Ukulele, outfitted with a Fishman® Kula preamp system.
• Continuing in the pop genre, put on “8” by Billie Eilish. The lilting ukulele provides a striking contrast to the rest of her chart-topping 2019 album, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? In 2020, Billie Eilish teamed up with Fender to release her own signature model ukulele. The Billie Eilish Signature Ukulele shares her bold sense of style with a matte black finish adorned with her lopsided “blohsh™” symbol crisscrossing this concert sized ukulele. As versatile as she is, Billie Eilish’s signature ukulele can be electrified or played as an acoustic.
• Jake Shimabukuro showed the world that the ukulele is a powerful vehicle to reimagine classic rock songs. His rendition of George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” went viral on YouTube in 2006. Since then, he’s continued to push the boundaries of the ukulele. Although he typically likes to let the natural, acoustic tone of his tenor ukulele ring out, Jake has also been known to use effects pedals to switch up his sound. The Rincon Tenor Ukulele offers the look of an acoustic uke, but features a Fishman® Kula preamp for a powerful, electrified sound.
• Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s single "Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World" is one of the most popular ukulele songs of all time. This is a great track that provides a contemporary take on Hawaiian ukulele music. Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s joyful, upbeat style has cemented his legacy as an ukulele icon. He favored playing a tenor ukulele, known for its deep, resonant tone that still carries the timeless buoyancy of the instrument. To get a sound similar to Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s, look to an instrument like the Montecito Tenor Ukulele, with its warm, acoustic tones.
• Disney fans may think immediately of “Lava”, the theme song for the short film of the same name. It’s a beautiful and melodic love song featuring just voice and ukulele. Furthering “Lava”’s connection to the ukulele’s history in Hawaii, the short’s characters are loosely based on the real-life love story of Israel Kamakawiwo’ole and his wife, Marlene.
As you listen, consider what you’d want to incorporate into your own ukulele playing and personal style. Are you looking for that classic Hawaiian ukulele sound? Do you gravitate towards experimental music? Do you like to combine traditional elements with new sounds? Finding your own personal style is a lifelong journey. As you set out on your journey, bring along some of your friends to keep you inspired.
Understand Key Ukulele Terms
Before you start comparing ukuleles, it’s helpful to understand some basic terms.
Parts of a Ukulele
There are three main parts of the ukulele and several features that impact sound and playability.
Body: This is the central, wooden section of the ukulele.
• Sound hole: In the middle of the body, you’ll find the sound hole.
• Bridge: Toward the bottom of the body, you’ll find the bridge. The bridge holds the strings in place at the bottom of the ukulele. While traditional ukulele bridges which require special knotting, Fender offers a no-tie bridge (also known as a pull-through bridge). That just means it’s a lot easier to change a string.
• Pickguard: A pickguard is an extra layer of material that protects the body from the wear and tear your pick you could inflict while strumming. While most ukuleles don’t have a pickguard, Fender’s Fullerton Series challenges tradition a bit and includes pickguards modeled after what you’d see on classic electric guitars in our catalog (Stratocaster, Telecaster, Jazzmaster).
Neck: The neck is the long strip of wood that extends from the body.
• Fretboard and frets: The neck contains the fretboard and frets. Frets are ridges along the fretboard that indicate where you should place your fingers along the strings in order to play specific notes.
• Nut: At the top of the fretboard, you’ll find the nut. The nut holds the strings in place.
Headstock: The headstock is the block of wood that sits at the top of the neck.
• Tuning pegs: The headstock contains tuning pegs. Tuning pegs hold the strings in place at the top of the ukulele and they control the tension and pitch of the strings. The tighter the string, the higher the pitch. A ukulele has four tuning pegs.
Some ukuleles have electronics which allow you to plug your ukulele into an amplifier or sound system (more details later on acoustic vs. electric ukuleles). Let’s go over some common terms associated with electronics.
A brief caveat: The world of electronics and the science of sound is vast. Our goal here is to provide you with a basic understanding of these components. Keep in mind that there's much more nuance to learn about as you progress on your musical journey.
• Pickups: A pickup is a feature on electric and acoustic-electric instruments that captures the vibration of the instrument and converts it into an electrical signal. Simply put, pickups allow you to plug into an amp.
• Amp: An amplifier (or amp) is a piece of musical equipment that allows you to increase the volume and modify the tone of your instrument. It strengthens the signal from your pickups and then plays the sound through attached speakers. Ukuleles sound great through acoustic amps.
• Preamp: A preamp is a device that boosts your signal before the signal travels through the amp (literally pre-amp). This gives you a better signal and more range.
• Built-in tuner: Some acoustic-electric ukuleles (and guitars) have a built-in tuner on the side of the body. This allows you to tune without the need for an external clip-on tuner, pedal tuner, or tuning app.
• Equalizer (EQ): An EQ allows you to adjust the balance of certain frequencies within your signal. For instance, you can turn up the treble if you want to boost higher frequencies. If you want a deeper, darker sound, you can boost the bass on your EQ.
Pro tip: As you’re shopping for ukuleles, consider if the convenience and control of electronics are important to you. Fender acoustic-electric ukuleles have Fishman Kula electronics—a system which includes a pickup, preamp, built-in tuner, and EQ.
Key Music Terms
Lastly, here are a few additional musical terms that may be useful as you shop:
• Tuning: We mentioned tuning above. Tuning your ukulele is important. It ensures that when you play strings, they ring out with the correct pitch or note. If you don’t opt for a ukulele with a built-in tuner, make sure you have a clip-on tuner or a tuning app handy.
• Tone: Tone refers to the quality or character of a sound. Musicians typically describe tone with words such as warm, bright, dark, or bold. The more you play and tinker with your sound, the more you’ll get a feel for the specific tone or tones you like best.
How Much is a Ukulele?
Ukuleles range in cost depending on a number of factors. There are lots of cheap options online, but some are toys that are constructed with low-quality materials. If you’re on a budget but are looking for a dependable and beautiful instrument, our Venice Soprano is $69.99. At the next tier up, you’re looking at between $150-$300 depending on a variety of factors. Pros may venture into higher price ranges, but it’s not necessary for a beginner to do so (more beginner recommendations later in this article!).
Recommended Fender Ukuleles for Beginners
To give you a sense for what’s out there, we’ve compiled three of the best ukuleles for beginners. In our (biased) opinion, these are all great options for beginners, so we’ve broken down the key ways in which they differ. Following this section, we’ll also provide some key things to look for as you determine the best starter ukulele for you.
• Model Name: Venice Soprano Ukulele
• Size: Soprano
• Type: Acoustic
• Good for: Beginners who want to learn simple ukulele songs, kids or those with small hands, those on a budget.
• Benefits: Small and easy to travel with. Classic, light ukulele sound. Dependable instrument at a low price point. No-tie bridge, making changing strings a breeze.
• Related Products: Check out the Seaside Soprano Ukulele Pack and the Opening Act Bundle, which contain everything you need to start playing right away.
• Model Name: Zuma Concert Ukulele
• Size: Concert
• Type: Acoustic
• Good for: Players who want the ability to play leads or compositions on higher frets. Beginners who want a slightly bigger sound without the added cost of electronics.
• Benefits: Larger than a soprano, giving it an extended range and richer sound. Blends well with other instruments. No-tie bridge, making changing strings a breeze.
• Related Product: Check out the Headliner Bundle which contains everything you need to start playing.
• Model Name: Fullerton Strat® Uke
• Size: Concert
• Type: Acoustic-electric
• Good for: Beginners who are looking for the ability to control tone, amplify the ukulele, and perform live or with others. Those looking for a classic ukulele sound but love the look of a classic Fender Stratocaster.
• Benefits: Unique Fender design. Built-in pickups. Comfortable to play high up on the fretboard. No-tie bridge, making changing strings a breeze.
• Related Products: The Tele and Jazzmaster models in the Fullerton Series.
What Ukulele Accessories Do I Need?
Once you pick out a ukulele, here are some additional gear recommendations and accessories you may need to get started.
Ukulele Strings & Picks
Ukuleles use nylon strings. They are softer to the touch than the typical steel strings you would see on an acoustic guitar. They have a warm sound and are delightful to play. Make sure you purchase strings that specifically match the size of your ukulele (soprano, concert, or tenor).
It’s common to use your thumb, finger, or combination of the two to strum the strings of your ukulele. If you decide you’d like to play with a pick instead of using your fingers, look for felt picks that won't damage your ukulele or the nylon strings.
Ukuleles sound beautiful through an acoustic amp. Purchasing an amp will allow you to control the volume of your ukulele, but it also plays a huge role in tone. You’ll be able to make a myriad of adjustments: added bass for a deeper, darker sound; more treble if you want those high notes to sparkle; reverb for a dreamy sonic experience.
Remember: If you opt for an acoustic ukulele, you’ll need to put a mic in front of it in order to amplify the sound.
Some ukuleles come with cases or gig bags while others don’t. Make sure you take note of this when you’re buying, especially if you’re shopping online. You’ll also want to ensure that the bag or case you purchase matches the size of your ukulele (soprano, concert, tenor).
If you’re new to the world of cases, here’s a quick breakdown of a case vs. a gig bag.
• Hard case: Typically a wood construction with a vinyl covering and plush material lining. A hard case (also called a hard-shell case) is an important purchase if you plan to transport your ukulele around quite a bit with other things. (Think: moving, transporting multiple pieces of equipment for gigs, etc).
• Gig bag: A padded bag that is lightweight and easy to carry. Gig bags keep your ukulele secure and are less expensive than hard cases. Although they provide protection, you wouldn’t want to use a gig bag if you’re worried about big bumps and items being stacked on top of your precious ukulele.
Finding the Right Ukulele for You
“My signature ukulele also has a pickup because that was always a really big issue for me. At the open mic we had to set up the two microphones and it accidentally hit it and stuff.”
Which features impact the cost of a ukulele and what does that mean for you as a player? Here are some factors to consider when you’re finding the right ukulele for you.
Solid Wood vs. Laminate Top
• Solid wood is exactly what it sounds like: one solid piece of wood vs. multiple layers. An acoustic instrument with a solid top resonates more because it's uninterrupted by lamination or adhesives—it vibrates with organic consistency. This is typically a higher-end feature. Solid top ukuleles will cost more than ukuleles constructed with a laminate top.
• Laminate refers to thin layers of wood that are pressed together to form a section of the ukulele. While laminate doesn’t have the same quality as solid wood, it can still produce an excellent sound. Laminate construction is used widely in the ukulele and guitar industry to produce great-sounding instruments at a lower price point.
• Ask Yourself: Do you have a specific tone in mind? Do you plan to have this instrument for a long time and potentially hand it down? For optimal tone and a higher durability, splurge for solid wood. If you’re just starting out and need to keep costs down, go for a highly-reviewed laminate option.
Acoustic vs. Electric Ukulele
• Acoustic ukuleles: Acoustic ukuleles do not have electronics. When you pluck or strum a string, its vibration resonates through the ukulele and produces sound through the sound hole. If you need to amplify an acoustic ukulele, you’ll need to put a mic in front of it.
• Electric ukuleles: There are some solid-body electric ukuleles out there. Just like an electric guitar, you’ll need to plug in an electric ukulele to get a good sound.
• Acoustic-electric: The best of both worlds is an acoustic-electric ukulele. Its hollow body will allow you to play your ukulele anywhere, any place with a great natural sound. If you want it to be a bit louder, you can plug it in. Typically an acoustic-electric ukulele will also have a built-in tuner and equalizer, like the Fullerton Jazzmaster® Uke, with its built-in Fender-designed preamp system. This is not only wildly convenient but also gives you ultimate control over your sound.
• Ask Yourself: Do you plan to play with other people or in a live setting? Do you want to have the option to experiment with your tone by adjusting the EQ, using pedals, or adding amp effects? If so, we’d recommend an acoustic-electric. It offers the best of both worlds (amplified and non-amplified). You can see an example of a more experimental sound with an acoustic-electric ukulele in the demo video below. If you are planning to only play by yourself for fun in quiet settings (or don’t mind putting a mic in front of your ukulele on a rare occasion), you can stick with a classic acoustic and save some bucks.
Ukulele Models & Sizes
There are several different sizes of ukulele. The primary three sizes are:
• Soprano: the smallest of the most common sizes. They sound great and the smaller size makes it easier to learn, especially for kids.
• Concert: This is the next size up, in between a soprano and a tenor. The concert size will have more frets, and therefore more available notes for you to play.
• Tenor: This is the largest of the three most common sizes.
• Ask Yourself: Is tone your #1 priority? Simply put, a larger size will have a bolder sound and more resonance. If you’re primarily interested in tone and can afford a larger size, you might want to consider a tenor size. A larger size may also be helpful if you’d like the ability to play more notes high on the neck. If you’re aiming for a lower price point, have smaller hands, or are purchasing a ukulele for a child, you may want to consider a soprano. While the sound isn’t quite as big, you’ll still get the classic ukulele experience.
“When you’re a little kid, this actually fits really well with you, because it’s a lot easier to learn on a soprano ukulele than it is on a bigger ukulele. This is the first size I learned on.”
Bottom line: As ukulele cost increases, you’ll see higher quality materials, more features like electronics, and design improvements that make it easier to play. Some of these factors may be of the utmost importance to you, while others may not. Use your judgment and find the right ukulele for you.
Check out Fender Play Ukulele Lessons
We’re so excited that you’re embarking on your journey with the ukulele. If you are looking for step-by-step guidance as you learn, check out a free trial of Fender Play.