The Ukulele: Small Size, Big Fun
Ukuleles are synonymous with Hawaiian culture and carefree island living, but the uke, as it's commonly called, isn't actually from Hawaii. In the 1870s, Portuguese immigrants arrived in Honolulu, bringing with them small, four-stringed instruments called machetes. Native islanders fell in love with the sound - as did Hawaii's king at the time, David Kalakaua, who even took up playing one himself. The machete was given a new tuning and a new name; thus the modern ukulele (or "jumping flea" in Hawaiian) was born. Since then, the instrument's portability and pleasant tone have gained international renown. Recently, the instrument has seen a huge resurgence in popularity, thanks to such players as Beirut, Train, Jake Shimabukuro, and Israel Kamakawiwo'ole, whose 1993 rendition of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" is still the most popular uke recording of all time.
Ukuleles look like miniature-sized acoustic guitars and were traditionally fashioned out of Hawaii's koa wood. Today, most are still made from wood - mahogany makes a better instrument than plywood or laminate woods - but some are made from plastic. While original ukulele strings were fashioned from catgut (animal intestine), manufacturers these days prefer nylon polymer. Typical ukes have a guitar-shaped body, but others have pineapple, or even bell-shaped bodies.
Most ukuleles have only four strings, but some have up to eight; strings paired together in courses allow players to strum at greater volumes. And while the ukulele is known as an acoustic instrument, some electric ukuleles are built for electric amplification. Certain ukes even come with USB connectivity, allowing players to record right into a computer: the Lanikai LMU-B is a good example. Compared to guitars or banjos, ukuleles are extremely small, lightweight, and portable. The instrument's delightful sound is often used to give compositions a placid, charming air.
Piccolo, Soprano, and Concert Ukuleles
There are a total of seven kinds of ukulele, differing in size, range, and tuning. The smallest type of ukulele is the piccolo - or pocket - ukulele. With only 10-12 frets, pocket ukuleles are no more than 16 inches long. The second-smallest kind of ukulele is the soprano - or standard - uke. Standard ukes are 21 inches long with 12-15 frets; the Kala KA-S is a perfect example. A concert - or super soprano - ukulele is slightly bigger, with 15-18 frets. The Cordoba 15CM is a fine concert model - handmade with quartersawn mahogany wood - that is available at a surprisingly affordable price.
Tenor, Baritone, Bass, and Contrabass Ukuleles
The tenor - or taro patch - uke is the next size up, with 17-19 frets. The Gretsch G9121 ukulele is a notable tenor example; it comes with a Fishman Kula preamp system built in. Electric ukes such as the G9121 plug right into amps or mixing boards and help avoid the trouble of miking ukes for live performance. Baritone ukuleles - like the Kala KA-B - are even bigger, with 18-21 frets and a total length of 29 inches. Historically, a baritone was the largest ukulele you'd see, but in 2009 the contrabass ukulele was created. A few years later, in 2012, a bass ukulele was made for the first time. A bass ukulele measures 30 inches, but a contrabass uke is even longer, at 32 inches. While that may not seem impressive for a stringed instrument, it is twice as long as a piccolo ukulele.
When it comes to ukuleles, Sweetwater specializes in soprano, concert, tenor, and baritone types. We carry dozens of different models: from agathis to walnut, sunbursts, resonators, and even banjo ukuleles - with something for everyone's budget. Whether you're a beginner looking to take on a fun, new instrument, or a longtime collector, call one of Sweetwater's Sales Engineers today.
Sweetwater's Sales Engineers are regarded as the most experienced and knowledgeable professionals in the music industry, with extensive music backgrounds and intense training on the latest products and technologies. They are available to offer you personalized product advice any time you need it.