Beware Uke Sizings

Being a self-taught uke player (ukist?), I found there hasn’t been any shortage of help on the web for learning techniques of playing.  Ukists around the world are generous beings, sharing their skills and knowledge to help their fellow humans join the fraternity of world ukists.

There is, however, a shortage of information on one matter: uke sizes.  I’m not talking about the difference in size between soprano, concert and tenor ukes.  That info is widely available.  I’m talking about the variation in size between ukes of different brands and how this can impact on the player.

The first uke I ever bought was a tenor Lanikai.  I bought it online (from a local store) and was very happy with it.  In fact, this is the uke I use mostly today.  After having this instrument sit in a green Woolworths shopping bag for months, I decided to buy it a proper home.  So I ordered a tenor uke gig bag from the same shop.  When it arrived in the post, I was quite cross when I discovered it was the wrong size for my uke – it was way too small.  When I rang the shop, they told me that it was definitely a bag for a tenor uke, however, I was told that it was common knowledge (!) that Lanikai ukes are larger than the standard uke.  Luckily enough, the music store was kind enough to swap it over with a case (a better quality one, at that) which fitted my slightly over-sized uke.  Moral of the story, always take your uke along when buying it a new case.

There is yet another sizing matter people need to know about.  After fitting my Lanikai with a low G string (my preference for playing strummed chords), I bought a different brand uke so that I could keep the high G on it to play tabs that need a high G.  I tested out ukes during a local uke festival.  Price right, tone good, so I bought the uke (it also came with a bag!).  I’ve been taking this uke out from time to time when I have the urge to play something more complex.  Trouble is, I wasn’t really getting much better at the harder tabs.  Then I realised that part of the issue wasn’t me – my newer uke actually has a much wider neck and fingerboard than my Lanikai.  I measured the fingerboard of the new uke at the nut and it was 3.8cm, compare to 3.4cm on my trusted Lanikai.  For someone with short fingers like me, this makes a real difference.

So why, you may ask, does a short-fingered person like me play tenor ukes?  I was totally inspired by the sound made by Jake Shimabukuro on his tenor uke.  Here’s one of my favourite performances of him playing his uke:

It’s not very likely that I’d ever play anything that complex – especially with the minimal amount of practice that I do – but hey, one can dream about it.


Bayside Ukes Member