1. I’m a beginner. Should I choose a Mele Ukulele, or one of the other brands you carry, such as Hula Ukes?
Well, if you play a little bit of guitar, piano, violin, or almost any musical instrument, or if you can sing, you’ve already got a head start on the ukulele, which is generally acknowledged to be the easiest of all instruments to start playing. You will need an instrument of your own, or at least a borrowed one, because especially when starting out, it is very important to play for at least a few minutes every day. When acquiring your first ukulele, it is important to get one that is a genuine musical instrument, not just a toy. You can find one that is tuneable and playable for as little as $60, (this would be suitable for a child or an uncommitted beginner), but if you think you’ll be sticking to it, it is advisable to get an instrument that you will enjoy playing: one that sounds good, feels good, and looks good to you. Here at Mele Ukulele, we encourage “trading up”; we can credit you for your ukulele when it’s time to get a nicer one. There is nothing like an instrument that you love to play for helping you to improve your playing. If possible, purchasing a handmade instrument, like a Mele, or at least a solid wood one, (as opposed to an inexpensive laminated model) will pay off big time in terms of ease of playing, quality of sound and the enjoyment you get out of practicing. However, we have seen beginning players go a long way with even our most inexpensive models, if they are motivated and enthusiastic.
2. What size ukulele should I buy?
Sizes range from soprano (the original and smallest size, mostly played by folks with small hands today) to concert (medium) size, great for adults, to tenor, played by most professional ukulele players. The baritone is the largest size, and is tuned like a guitar lacking the E and A bass strings, GBDE It can also be tuned to the regular GCEA tuning using “baritone standard” strings. If you are a child, or an adult with very small hands, a soprano or a concert-sized ukulele will be a good choice. The concert has a somewhat bigger, fuller sound than the soprano, but is not harder to play, so it’s our top recommendation for most beginners. We offer concert-sized ukes starting at $130, and handmade ones starting at $399. Sopranos start as low as $75, handmade ones at $299.
3. I’m a professional musician. Do you have an ukulele for me?
If you are a professional musician, you know that a quality instrument is essential, just as every craftsman relies on the tools of his trade. Here at Mele Ukulele, we have always catered to the professional ukulele player, striving to bring quality tools to those who need them but are not (yet) rich and famous. You know that every instrument has its prestigious name-brand makers who have been so famous for so long that they can charge premium prices for their products. These makers are firmly established and have well-known reputations. Their instruments sell for prices that are difficult for the working musician to afford. What’s needed is a pro-quality, reliable, great-sounding instrument that doesn’t come with the fancy name and the fancy price tag. That’s why so many professional ukulele players, here in Hawaii and worldwide, come to Mele Ukulele for an instrument they can count on, with a limited lifetime warranty and years of road, stage and concert experience. At concerts, shows and luaus worldwide, you’ll most likely see a Mele, Hula Ukes, or one of our other fine ukulele brands, right next to the “Big Name” brands like Kamaka, Koaloha, Kanilea, vintage Martins and Gibsons, etc.
4. I’m a guitar player. What ukulele model would you recommend?
For guitar players and professional ukulele players the tenor and baritone sizes are the most popular. They offer the roomiest fret spacing, the most frets (usually 19) and the widest range of chords. The tenor uke is tuned AECG, (high to low), like the soprano and concert, while the baritone is tuned just like a guitar (EBGD) but can also be tuned AECG with special “baritone standard” strings. (We stock them.) For serious guitar pickers, a 4-string is the way to go. For those who both pick and strum, the 6-string (tuned G cC E AA) tenor would be a good choice as it offers a fuller sound when strummed. And for those that mostly strum, the 8-string tenor offers the fullest sound (much like a 12-string guitar.) As a guitar player, you are going to have a pretty easy time of learning the ukulele, as you’ve already developed some strength and coordination, and many of the basic chord shapes are the same on guitar and ukulele. (An open D chord on guitar is the same fingering as a “G” chord on the ukulele, etc.). The muscular strength needed to play the ukulele is quite a bit less than for guitar, though, so you’ll probably find it easier to make rapid improvement.
5. When should I change my ukulele strings?
Nylon strings usually last a very long time. They wear but rarely break. However, new strings sound better and are easier to tune (after the first week or two of “breaking-in”). (Old classical guitar player’s joke: “How do you know when it’s time to change your strings?” “When they start to stay in tune!”) When strings are visibly worn or sound lifeless and dull,, we recommend replacing them with new ones. For frequent players, this will be every few months. Our website offers for sale all the replacement strings for all the ukulele models we have. Generally, if and when a string breaks, it’s a good time to change the whole set.
6. What brand of strings should I use to re-string?
When we first started building ukes, we tried almost every kind of strings on the market. We found that rectified black nylon strings by Hilo Strings sounded, sustained and intonated better than any others on our instruments and we started carrying them and installing them on our ukuleles. In 2014, Hilo Strings became unavailable due to the company going out of business. We hooked up with D’addario strings, who had supplied the strings that Hilo packaged and sold, and with their help, we introduced our own brand of uke strings, Echoes of Aloha. They are exactly the same gauges, materials and winds as the Hilo strings were, and we have even been able to keep the prices the same. You can order Echoes of Aloha strings from us by email, phone or through our website, or have your local music store get in touch with us here at Mele Ukulele to become an Echoes of Aloha dealer.
7. What’s the better tone wood: koa, mahogany, mango or spruce?
It really depends on your tonal and aesthetic preferences. Koa wood offers a clear and brilliant tone with a “sweetness” unmatched by any other tonewood. Genuine koa wood is only found in Hawaii. It is very beautiful and can be an excellent investment opportunity, as it is becoming rarer and more valuable with each passing year. Mahogany wood offers a warm, mellow, round tone. Most of the great Mainland makers (Martin, Gibson, Harmony, Regal, etc.) built most of their ukes of mahogany. Spruce wood is a very fine tonewood popularly used for guitar tops. It offers a strong, bright, punchy tone. Cedar and redwood tops sound great, too; deep, rich and warm yet still sweet-sounding. . Koa and mahogany are the tonewoods traditionally used for the ukulele. However, spruce, redwood,and western red cedar tops are gaining popularity due to their unique and desirable tonal qualities. These days, other tonewoods are coming into popularity, as well. We have begun building and carrying some mango wood ukuleles. Mango wood has similar properties to koa, but is a bit more difficult to work with. It has a striking appearance, with distinct figuration, and rich tone quality offering warm, rich lows along with sweet, shimmering highs. Other fruitwoods such as apple and cherry, distinctive-appearing woods such as willow, and some more exotic woods from all over the world, and even some modified woods and man-made materials are making their appearance in uke building, too. Just about any look or sound one might desire can be created with the right materials.
8. What’s the difference between Mele Ukuleles and all the other brands you carry?
When we started out, in the early 90’s, we were making a few ukes at a time and selling them to retailers or direct to customers. Then we opened our retail store, selling our own ukes plus a couple of brands of student and beginner models. Now we have two stores, plus our online store, and thousands of customers all over the world. Mele ukuleles are still entirely handmade by us, but we can’t possibly make enough of them to fill the demand, so we have designed the Hula Ukes line to be custom-made for us overseas (we still do the setup work and quality control ourselves). We keep our eye on the ukulele scene, and when new brands come out that we really like, we add them to our lineup. Since the ukulele is getting so amazingly popular all over the world, the demand continues to increase. We also try to carry the most useful accessories, books, and DVDs for the ukulele player, and we now have our own brand of ukulele strings, “Echoes of Aloha”, comprising over 20 different string sets for almost every kind of ukulele and player. We stand behind them as the best ukulele strings on the market. We strive to be a one-stop, full-service ukulele shop.
9. On the Mele Ukuleles, what’s better, 1-hole or 2-hole soundboard design?
While the 1-hole soundboard is traditional, the 2-hole soundboard design is becoming very popular. The theory of the 2-hole design, (first seen by us on Keola Beamer’s guitars), is that by moving the soundholes to the upper bout of the instrument, a bigger, unobstructed soundboard is created. This produces a somewhat brighter and punchier tonal quality. Also, the general observation is that the 2-hole ukuleles project somewhat more loudly compared to the traditional design. The traditional single-hole look is still the most popular, though.
10. How do I care for my ukulele?
Because our Mele Ukuleles are made of solid tonewoods, we recommend that you exercise the same care as you would any quality solid wood instrument, such as a fine handmade guitar, violin or clarinet. When relative humidity falls below 40%, be sure to “humidify” the environment of your ukulele. (Air conditioning or winter heating can cause very dry conditions indoors.) We recommend keeping an Oasis ($20) or a Herco ($6) guitar humidifier in your ukulele case to maintain constant humidity. The Oasis is the latest and greatest in humidifiers, and it’s specifically designed for the ukulele, with a special suspension device that allows it to hang inside the uke without touching wood, whereas the Herco has been our choice for many years and has proven itself under all sorts of climate conditions. Also, avoid exposing your ukulele to extreme temperatures. Extreme heat, cold or dryness can cause your ukulele to warp or crack. We suggest you wipe your ukulele body, neck and strings with a soft cloth after each playing session. Also, if it is going to be put away for more than a week or so, the strings should be loosened. (Just tune ’em down a third or so – not necessary to entirely slacken them.)
11. What’s the deal with this “Jumbo Tenor/Extended Tenor/19″ Baritone” model you just came out with?
The original Mele baritone ukulele is a replica of a Martin baritone uke in its dimensions, with a 20″ scale length. Kamaka baritones were somewhat smaller, with a 19″scale length. After numerous requests that we build a Kamaka-sized baritone, as well as even more requests for an oversized tenor model, we realized we could satisfy both groups by building a high-quality 19″ scale instrument that could be strung as EITHER a tenor or a baritone, with awesome results either way! The jumbo tenor comes with a special set of Hilo strings that are designed for best tone and playability with the regular GCEA tuning on a 19″ scale. It sounds like a regular tenor, but a bit bigger and bolder. You can also use a regular set of baritone strings and tune it to DGBE, which also sounds awesome; slightly brighter and punchier than your typical bari without any loss of volume!
15. What are the dimensions of Mele Ukes?
Ukulele sizes & DIMENSIONS (inches)
|SOPRANO (STANDARD)||21||6 3/8||2 3/8||13 3/4||1 7/16||1 5/8||12|
|“JUMBO” SOPRANO||21||7||2 1/2||13 9/16||1 7/16||1 5/8||12|
|CONCERT||23||7 1/2||2 5/8||14 3/4||1 7/16||1 9/16||15|
|TENOR||26 1/2||8 7/8||2 3/4||17||1 7/16||1 5/8||17 or 19|
|“JUMBO” (extended) TENOR||28 1/2||9 3/8||2 7/8||19||1 7/16||1 11/16||9|
|“SLIMLINE” TENOR||26 1/2||8 7/8||1 5/8||17||1 7/16||1 5/8||19|
|BARITONE||29 5/8||10||3 1/8||20 1/8||1 7/16||1 15/16||19|
|GUITARLELE||29 5/8||10||3 1/8||20 1/8||1 7/8||2||19|
|TRAVEL GUITAR||32 1/2||11/14||3 1/2||21 1/2||1 15/16||2||19|
Note: All measurements can vary slightly, because each Mele instrument is entirely handmade.
Variations rarely exceed a millimeter or two. String spacing is measured from G to A (or E to E) at the bridge saddle. Instruments with custom dimensions can sometimes be ordered, but price will be higher and delivery may take some time.