The one thing you should know before buying an ukulele…

If you are buying your first ukulele you may not want to spend much because you are not sure how much you are gonna enjoy it and play it. But I’ll cut to this thing you should know…Almost every ukulele, especially less expensive ones, need to be “set up”. Doing this as well as it can be done is an art.

I understand why most companies manufacturing ukes do not do this themselves. In the market, price rules. Everyone has a price point. So these companies, just like most online music stores, end up simply moving boxes in and out the door hoping never to see them again. The bean counters won’t allow a worker to sit there all day making $100 ukuleles play better.

Luckily, here at Hawaii Music Supply, we don’t count beans. Because we know that if your $100 ukulele plays easier and better, you are much more likely to play it longer and get better at it. And eventually you feel worthy of a better ukulele. And we will be happy to help you again 🙂

Now with that said, if you know you want to be inspired by a great uke right off the bat and you are able to spend a bit more, it is definitely worth it! All the setup in the world will not make a $100 ukulele sound like a $500 ukulele.
So get an expensive ukulele if you can. It is worth it. But if you can not, there is no reason to hold off. Everything at The Ukulele Site is set up by experienced pro’s. And that is what you should know. Aloha, contact us with any questions.

Comments 24

  1. Even if you can’t afford and expensive ukulele, spend a little extra money and buy better strings on the less expensive ukulele. If your first ukulele is a saprano and you can play it well but get bored with it, move up to a concert size uk. The sound is different but set up is the same. GCEA. My first uk was a saprano brought in Hawaii and now sits in a stand for decoration. Have fun playing.

  2. After a two years of “plinking” around on a $100 soprano, I finally made it back to Oahu. After several days searching in Uke shops and feeling like my only choices were overpriced nice ukes or overpriced “toy” ukes, I finally stumbled upon Hawaii Music Supply. I sprung for a nice Pono tenor. I can attest to the quality of build, sound, and playability. I think the set up made a huge difference and I have gone from plinking in the summer, to playing every day because the sound, feel, and even the look and smell of my Pono have me hooked and I look forward to growing as a musician. It is almost as if my fingers crave playing time with my uke. Cheers to Hawaii Music Supply for not just being another “Bean Counter” business! It has made all the difference in my developement as a musician.

  3. I really enjoy your site and postings. I think your closing lines might better have been:

    “So get a nicer quality Uke that is set up properly if you can afford it but if a $100 instrument keeps you learning and playing the uke do it, and have someone check the set up when you buy it!”

    I know you are not suggesting that we all need expensive instruments to enjoy the uke!

    1. Thanks Slim, I should have probably ended with something like that. We do set ups on some of the more expensive ukes, but always on less expensive ones. I am all for someone spending a good amount to get something they will want to play, but not if it means your gonna stress out over bills later on. The best choice would be the one that improves your quality of life the most. As in, getting something nice without being negatively impacted with the financials, wife/husband etc..Not knowing if you have your rent covered is not fun, but neither is playing a $20 uke. Most people find the happy medium. Aloha

  4. Thanks to Hawaii Music Supply for all they do! I am becoming a huge fan of your youtube videos. I have learned much.
    As stated in the earlier post, NEVER underestimate the value of quality strings. Even a cheap uke can be greatly improved with a set of aquilas, worths, or some other quality strings. You spend a lousy 7 or 8 bucks and make a cheap uke sound like a million bucks, relative to its original sound!

    1. Yes, I am glad that is getting pointed out Mitch. Hallelujah for Aquila, with the less expensive ukes Aquila’s can bring liveliness where there was not. And over time even good strings get a less than perfect radius and throw off intonation. Changing strings every 3-6 months can make a difference. Thanks for the comment and support!

  5. As a beginner, I have found all of this very helpful, but alas, I found all of this all too late, as I recently purchased a Lauren SU 30 Soprano Uke at the local music store, all at $39.00, it had small specks of white paint, as if someone had painted, and forgot to cover it. I recently went to Hobby Lobby, and bought some Hawaiian themed stickers, in order to hide the paint spots. All in all, the Ukulele plays great, and with proper placement of the stickers, looks great as well. At the moment, I have learned the notes, and a few chords, and I am progressing nicely, for being self- taught. Granted, I’m no Ukulele Ike, but, I’m getting there.

    1. Hey Chuck, Well you got something you like and your havin’ fun with it, so you did fine. Try different strings when it comes time to change them and keep strummin’, Aloha

  6. I know with guitars the tonal qualities of the wood makes a huge difference. I have 15 guitars and I do find that to be true. (shhhh… I know it’s a lot of guitars) I have a souvenir “leolani” with Hawaii painted on the front that I got from a pawnshop for practically nothing so I could keep my guitar calluses when I’m not able to spend the time I need to practice. Now I’m thinking I should have a nicer Uke too. :o)
    Anyway, two questions:
    1. Tonally speaking… what woods are best for a good throaty sound from a uke?
    2. I’m thinking concert sized or tenor… but I gotta know. Does Hawaii Music Supply have layaway via the internet?

    1. Hi, When I think of a throaty sound, I think of the Martin sound more, which Pono does with the MHT really well. A lot depends on the players style. We do a layaway through the store. Call (808)622-8000.

  7. This is the reason I bought my uke from you guys rather than a shop downtown. I also found your advice on my first uke to be more understanding of the beginners dilemma than at other shops.

  8. I started with a Makala Dolphin and added Aquila strings. It was so much fun, but it wasn’t long before I was hooked and looking to upgrade. I got a KoAlana Concert from you guys, and I can’t keep my hands off it. Thanks for a great uke and a great setup. Next, maybe a Pono Tenor, hmmm?

  9. Although It’s been said before I’ll say it again you cannot underestimate the value of a proper setup. I recently had some minor work done on one of my older ukes and it ended up costing as much as what I paid for it. Having an instrument that capable of being played at it’s best is especially important for beginners.

  10. I’m a mom who is learning (self teaching) myself how to play the ukulele. Hopefully one day I can come down to the shop!

  11. This is more of a question than a comment.

    I recently bought a $300+ ukulele [not a Pono]. However, as I progress up the neck I notice that the strings are further and further away from the fretboard, making it very difficult to fret the chords. It seems to me that if the fretboard was more parallel to the strings instead of flat to the top of the ukulele, it would be easier to fret as one progresses up the neck. Do the Pono ukuleles take this into consideration during the building process?

    1. Post

      Hi Al, Contrary to you initial thought, the “action” or string height will increase as you go up the neck on an instrument properly setup. But whether yours is set up to play at it’s optimal I can not say.

  12. I appreciate the comment that HMS sets up ALL the inexpensive instruments before they go to their new owners. The biggest issue for beginners who buy these less expensive instruments is that they are often difficult to play due to unadjusted action and uneven frets. My experience is that simply adjusting the saddle solves 90% of the playability issues with these instruments.
    Bravo to HMS for recognizing the issue and solving it. The beginners who order through you probably don’t realize how lucky they are that you save them these troubles.

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  13. I guess we are all here to say the same thing. If your ukulele is set up well, you will give yourself a better chance to learn how to play it. What I would like to add, is that there are other people out there who do a set up with a sale. I am sure some of them care about what they are doing, but my experience with HMS, shows that they are on another level. I am new to ukulele, but have over 50 years experience with guitars. I agonized over buying off the internet, but it really paid off this time. Not only does this this site have a very large selection to choose from, all the “clunkers” are all ready weeded out. The ukuleles listed here are some of the best in each price range. The recordings and write ups give extremely accurate information on what you are getting. If you can afford solid wood, do it, you won’t regret it. Once you make your selection, the good part gears up. The people doing the set ups not only know what they are doing, it is obvious that they love what they are doing. There were no shortcuts taken in the set up of my instrument. Someone really cared, and did the best they could. Even the packing, is exactly like what is shown in the video. There are no shortcuts taken. The reason I wrote all this, is because I thought what I saw on this site was too good to be true. The opposite is true, these people truly love what they are doing, and I guarantee I got far more than I paid for. Thanks to all those at HMS.

    1. That was a really nice comment. I’m still waiting for my uke to get out of set-up but you can tell HMS cares that is why I chose them.

  14. At age 55, I had never touched a stringed instrument in my life. In fact, no musical experience at all except listening and appreciating musical talent. With 2 young grandsons, under 3, I wanted to show them the fun of making their own music. I thought the ukulele would be a fun start for me and 4 strings must be easier than 6, right? Stumbled onto the HMS website, picked out a Kala concert, and learned about the importance of setup. WOW what an eye opener. The staff was so helpful and never seemed bothered by my questions and interest. I could tell they wanted my experience to be great and it was. I’ve since bought a solid koa tenor and it’s in setup right now. I can’t wait for it to arrive. I plan on passing them down to my grandsons in hopes it will be a fond memory of their “Pops”. I practice everyday and include the boys by playing some of their favorite sing-along songs. Thanks to the HMS staff for helping create a music tradition in a non-musical family. Its a wonderful thing. Aloha.

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