Originally published May 17, 2011
Ukuleles come in four sizes. From smallest to largest, they are: soprano, concert, tenor, and baritone.
I recommend getting a tenor. Sopranos are usually what you’ll see in a store, but for adult-sized hands, especially if you’re a beginner, sopranos are just too tiny!
You’ll have a lot easier time with a tenor. The neck and body are just a little longer, making it easier to hold and fit your fingers between the frets. And it’s still small enough to be portable and encourage you to pick it up whenever you see it.
The soprano, concert, and tenor are all tuned GCEA, which is the standard, traditional uke tuning, while the baritone is tuned lower, to DGBE. The baritone feels and sounds more like a small guitar than a uke, which is a nice touch of variety if you’re already a connoisseur of the instrument, but most uke enthusiasts start off with one of the smaller sizes.
Brand & Cost
As far as brand and cost, I think a beginner can get started just fine for under $200. Aim for a tenor from Kala or even better, a Fluke or Flea, and you’re all set.
If the instrument is for a child under 12, or if you just want to dip your toe, get a $30 soprano from Mahalo. It’s playable, but the tuning’s not reliable, and remember, the soprano size is tiny and may be hard to manage for adult hands.
On the upside, the $30 Mahalo comes in a variety of bright colors, which is kinda fun, and you can take it to the beach without worrying about damaging your investment.
Unfortunately, most local stores don’t carry much more than a couple of sopranos, if that. Try to shop local, but you may well end up online. Craigslist is a good resource for used instruments, and unlike eBay, you can actually see what you’re buying in person before you pay.
Hope that helps!