Long ago, back when Burbania Posts was on blogspot, I wrote a series guiding the reader through the process of finding and purchasing a ukulele for someone they love during the Christmas season. Back then, they were all the rage. Wherever two or more hipsters gathered, you could find three ukes. I had learned how to play right before the “big boom” and had started a ukulele orchestra at the church. The band grew and expanded into other instruments. Today its former members are in other bands but still play in church when they (we) can.
In fact, this is the season of the Carol Sing. This past Sunday our ukes accompanied a hymn in church and no doubt will be pulled out for other events as well.
That said, things have calmed down a bit for the most part. The market has moved on to other things. The people in the ukulele band that weren't in their 40s are mostly in college now. However, ukuleles are still fun and still worth checking out if you have a folk musician--or a budding folk musician-- in the family. Unlike many instruments, they do not feel intimidating. They are also portable in a way that many are not. If you can still find a good one that is relatively inexpensive, you can still feel comfortable bringing it wherever you go, just like a real Folkie.
Therefore, I will link once again to those original columns but there are some updates I would like to add...
Unfortunately, they cost more than they used to. The flip side is that quality has improved substantially. This is true for certain accessories as well. That said, they are still cheaper than a guitar and much less expensive than many other stringed instruments. The brands in the original posts are for the most part still going strong. Kala, in particular, has a solid entry-level collection. However, I still firmly believe that the biggest bang for your buck comes from the Magic Fluke Company. My go-to ukulele has been a concert size Fluke for years. If you are comfortable with non-traditional materials and appearance, I highly recommend them.
Actually, my opinion on strings has not changed. A good set of strings is the most important thing you can do to improve the sound of your ukulele. One thing that has changed, however, is the proliferation of varieties. They fall basically into two separate groups; the mellow ones and the jangly ones. For mellow, almost "classical" sounding strings, it is worth checking out Aquila Nylguts that are sized for your particular ukulele (ukulele sizes are covered in the original posts). These days you can find them frequently already on the model. Still, it may be worth getting new ones. There are other Nylgut makers and those are also fine.
Fluorocarbon strings are the jangly kind. if you are looking for the classic ukulele sound, these are the ones to get. I would recommend Martin strings ( again, sized for your Uke). There is actually a great deal of variation. Right now, for example, I am using fluorocarbons on my smaller wooden ukuleles and Martin Premium "polygut" strings on my Fluke. Martin actually developed these in consultation with Aquila as an attempt to combine the best qualities of the mellow and the jangle. I find the Premiums to be a bit brighter than nylguts, Each note in a chord feels a trifle more distinct and single notes cut through in a group more easily. They also have a different feel They are less slick to the touch.
Of course, my experience may be subjective...like a shamrock shake tasting like mint. If you buy your first set of strings from either Martin or Aquila, you will be more than fine. Then you can try others to get the sound you want.
When I first posted I wasn't that keen on ordering online. I am still not. However, if you're looking for something more than the standard, online it will have to be. Do your research. A simple Google search usually will suffice. Then order from the company if possible or a reputable distributor. Here are links to the company's I have mentioned in this article.
Here is my fave uke company's web page: Magic Fluke USA
Also, Fluke-guy's brother-in-law is a ukulele deity (Jumpin' Jim Beloff). His page is probably the best place for ukulele-themed stocking stuffers, books (he writes them), straps, strings, etc... Flea Market Music.
Both of the above companies are based in Massachusetts so buy local when you can! :-)
If you want a more traditional looking uke that won't crush your wallet, check out these guys: Kala Brand Music
And the Martin Page...because it is pretty
Finally, the two articles that will make this one make more sense:
So You Want to Buy An Ukulele for XMas Part 1
So You Want to Buy an Ukulele for XMas Part 2
Well that is it for me! Happy Advent and happy uking!
FYI, this is a Makala "Dolphin" ukulele ($50 new) with basic Martin flourocarbon strings ($5). It may not be all you want but it is all you need for a good ukulele time. :-)