Concert or tenor ukulele for a beginner?
April 3, 2011 10:27 AM   Subscribe

Is a concert or tenor ukulele better for a beginner?

Is a concert or tenor ukulele better for a beginner? Based on cursory research I prefer the music of the tenor (like the fuller, more guitar-like sound). I know a few chords on guitar, but otherwise have no string experience. The local stores here in Boston seem to only carry soprano and concerts, from which I infer that tenors are not as popular with the beginners (?). I'm a petite little lady with small hands to match and portability is one but not the only consideration. If you have a recommendation for an instrument and online vendor, and a good book to start self-teaching with, I'd also appreciate those! Hoping not to spend more than $75. Thanks much.
posted by AlmondEyes to Media & Arts (18 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
I just played my Lanikai uke in church this morning and it went over great, though I'm definitely more of a guitar player. Ukulele is easy to start playing if you know a few chords on the guitar. I say to play what sounds the best to your own ears. The more you enjoy it, the more you'll play it, the better you'll get, and the more you'll learn about what you really like and what you don't. You might have trouble finding a tenor that sounds good for your pricerange, but if you do then it sounds like that's what you'll want.
posted by monkeymadness at 10:52 AM on April 3, 2011

I'm a ukulele beginner myself. I would recommend looking around the forums at Ukulele Underground; people have asked this question many times before, and you'll get lots of good advice there. Their main site is also full of free video tutorials etc.
posted by ambulatorybird at 10:53 AM on April 3, 2011

I'd say that concert ukuleles are more common and therefore so are resources for them; chord charts, music books, etc. Of course they're also smaller and more portable.

And I would definitely spend more than $75 on a ukulele if you want a playable, durable instrument.
posted by Anatoly Pisarenko at 11:13 AM on April 3, 2011

I have a tenor, a concert, and a soprano, and I play guitar. I'm by no means petite.

I prefer the tenor, in part because of my big fingers, in part because of the tone. I got it in Hawaii, but I've seen them at Guitar Center, around $125, I think. The concert one is OK to play, but mainly because it's so very awesome. I have a lot of trouble with some of the chords, but you probably wouldn't.

My daughter, probably closer to your size, loves loves loves her soprano, taking it with her to sleepovers and highschool. She's made noises about wanting a tenor, but I think that's just to distinguish herself from the other uke kids (there's apparently a uke scene at her school. I know, weird, but wonderful!). It's much more portable than the tenor--it's so much smaller that it fits in many more places. I think this is your best bet. We have a Kala, I think around $90; we compared a few really cheap ones (like $25-$35), and the sound from the Kala was much richer.
posted by MrMoonPie at 11:17 AM on April 3, 2011

With light strings, all of them can be tuned to the same pitch, so whatever size you get, you can always switch in the future. It think you'll get a better uke for your money if you go with the smaller size. If you enjoy it, get a tenor later. Once you but one uke, you're likely to get another...and another...
posted by bonobothegreat at 11:24 AM on April 3, 2011

Can you stretch to $120? MusicGuyMic has the Kala tenor at that price, and he sets them up well and ships them promptly. The Makala tenors are about $80, and — while quite playable — are a bit basic.
posted by scruss at 11:37 AM on April 3, 2011 [3 favorites]

Get yours from Music Guy Mike if possible, yeah-- I've never heard anyone say a bad thing about him. The only thing that stopped me from going that route was finding my Eleanor (a soprano Fluke) at McCabe's locally for a ridiculously good used price.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 11:52 AM on April 3, 2011

I play all four sizes of uke, and I vote for whichever one feels most comfortable in your hands. The original reason for developing bigger-than-soprano ukes was to get more tone and volume for live performances. These days, IMHO, there's no real advantage to having a louder instrument - if you want volume for playing gigs you'll just use an amp - so you might as well just pick the one that feels easiest to play.

The exception to the above is if you plan to be playing high frets (most likely if you want to play classical stuff). In these cases, the bigger instrument always has the advantage because you get more tone when playing high up the neck.

Brand-wise, I have a couple of Kala tenor and concerts that sound good, but have required a bit of work to get set up nicely. I strongly second the recommendations to get an instrument that will be set up for you. I'm afraid I have no recommendations for online retailers as all my ukes have been bought in the UK. Feel free to mefi-mail me if you have any other uke questions.

PS - don't feel like you have to commit inexorably to one size of uke - most players play more than one size depending on the mood!
posted by primer_dimer at 12:02 PM on April 3, 2011

The only difference you'll find is how it feels in your hand and the sound you get. Try to get your hands on as many as you can and pick from there. A tenor is still quite small and the frets are not far apart.

I chose the tenor because it is louder, deeper, and what was played everywhere.

I've played a few sub-$100 models and generally the tuners are low quality and the strings aren't any good. No matter which uke you buy, look at buying some high quality strings from D'Adarrio or Aquila. It will make a cheaper instrument feel much less cheap.
posted by just.good.enough at 12:13 PM on April 3, 2011

I noticed in your question you wanted some resources. Both of these have videos as well as lots of free beginner lessons.

Ukulele Underground
Ukulele Hunt
posted by just.good.enough at 12:15 PM on April 3, 2011

Nthing Music Man Mike. I bought a kala kiwi soprano from him for about $70 and have been beyond happy with it.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:19 PM on April 3, 2011

My first tenor uke was a Kala KA-T which I believe is the same model scuss is linking to. The bridge/saddle snapped off after a few months of playing. I'm not sure if I just got a bum copy or if problems with the glue jobs are common but I just wanted to give you a heads-ups.

And another +1 on Aquila strings.
posted by cazoo at 12:26 PM on April 3, 2011

I'm a petite woman with small hands and would consider myself an intermediate uke player. I pretty much play concert ukes exclusively because I find them to be pretty perfect - the right size, the right volume, the right sound (still like a traditional soprano, but fuller). While I would love to have a tenor for playing higher up the neck, the wider spacing lower on the fretboard is just not comfortable for me for first-position chords that span more than a couple of frets. And when you're starting out, you'll likely be learning first-position chords almost exclusively.

So, I'd recommend starting with a concert size. If you prefer a more guitar-like sound, you can always string it low G. And eventually if you stick with playing, you'll find plenty of reasons to buy a tenor as well - over at Ukulele Underground this is called UAS (Ukulele Acquisition Syndrome) and many are afflicted :)
posted by chez shoes at 2:33 PM on April 3, 2011

I'm a smallish chick with smallish hands, and I just went out looking at ukes today! I'm lucky enough to live near a George's Music, where they had probably 40 different ukuleles on their racks. My local Guitar Center, I'm lucky if they have two or three.

I started with a really cheap soprano (Johnson, $25) and liked it fine. But it felt really rinky-dink, so I moved up to a better concert (Makala, $50). At the time, I tried some tenors too, but they felt way too big.

Today when I went looking, I tried the tenors and they felt just fine. It's probably because now I'm used to playing the concert, which is only a little smaller, instead of way smaller like the soprano. I foolishly fell in love with a couple of different tenors, both of which are around $250. Something for the birthday list.

If you know you're going to stick with the uke, don't cheap out. Get the best one you can afford, because the better it sounds and feels, the more you'll want to play it. I like my concert Makala just fine, but one of those tenors today, with the low g-string, sounded just amazing. I'd play that beauty way more, just because of how great it sounds.

Amazon has the Oscar Schmidt OU3 (concert) for $79 right now, and I hear good things about them. They also have a Lanikai LU-21C (concert) for $76. If you want the larger size and can push your budget a little bit, the Lanikai LU-21T (tenor) is in the $90s. But be warned, if you fall in love with playing, you'll be wanting that $250 model before you know it.

I self-taught using the internets. I have printed-out copies of the Uke Lady's chord charts, and for the more complicated chords I go over to Brian's huge chord list. Look up chords for whatever songs float your boat at Ultimate Guitar (I like them because you can transpose the key easily).

I put together a playlist of songs I can play along with, and put printouts of their chords in a binder. Coldplay's "Trouble" and Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb" are both really easy (and share a lot of notes). The Beatles' "Something" is also really uke-friendly.
posted by themissy at 2:55 PM on April 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm a regular-sized woman with regular-sized hands, and I like concert scale the best.
And, yeah, Music Guy Mic for sure.
posted by bink at 2:57 PM on April 3, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks so much, everybody! Off to research these links...
posted by AlmondEyes at 4:21 PM on April 3, 2011

Response by poster: Well, I couldn't get my hands on a tenor at a local store, but really prefer the sound of the tenor to concert from my online research. So I bit the bullet and splurged on the Kala tenor from MusicGuyMic. Mean psyched. Thanks, All.
posted by AlmondEyes at 9:38 PM on April 7, 2011

Consider ordering some Worth strings. They sound "purer" than Aquilas, which I feel make all ukes sound kind of the same.
posted by bonobothegreat at 2:50 PM on April 8, 2011

« Older Thank you for making my MBP faster   |   I just inherited my father's record collection.... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.