“One thing you might want to learn before
you attend the world’s largest
ukulele lesson is how to say ukulele.”
Today I decided to shop for a ukulele. The class I’ll be starting next month suggest that we use a soprano or tenor concert size ukulele. Of course I’ve already Googled everything about the ukulele, since I signed up for the classes.
I was surprised to learn that the ukulele is a fairly new fretted instrument. It originated in the 19th century as a Hawaiian adaptation of the Portuguese machete, a small guitar-like instrument, which was introduced to Hawaii by Portuguese immigrants, from the Macaronesian Islands. It gained great popularity in the United States during the early 20th century, and from there spread internationally.
Ukuleles are usually made of wood. Cheaper ukuleles are made from plywood or laminate woods, in some cases with a soundboard of a tonewood such as spruce. The more expensive ukuleles are made of solid hardwoods such as mahogany. The traditionally preferred wood for ukuleles is koa.
Typically, ukuleles have a figure-eight body shape similar to that of a small acoustic guitar. They are also seen in non-standard shapes, such as cutaway shape and an oval, usually called a “pineapple” ukulele, invented by the Kamaka Ukulele company, or a boat-paddle shape, and occasionally a square shape, often made out of an old wooden cigar box.
Most ukuleles have four strings; some strings may be paired in courses, giving the instrument a total of six or eight strings. The strings themselves were originally made of catgut, but modern ukuleles use nylon polymer strings, with many variations in the material. Some of the lower strings, particularly on the larger sizes, are wound with aluminum.
Thankfully, the ukulele that my instructor has recommended is the most common and standard type of ukulele. It’s the smallest ukulele and is known for its thin, jangly sound commonly associated with ukuleles. Because it’s so small, its perfect for my small hands and fingers as well as convenient for traveling.
Now that I have a little bit of knowledge about the ukulele, I’m ready to head off to shop for my first ukulele.