The ukulele has a rich history that stems back to 19th century Hawaii. The term 'ukulele' translates to 'jumping flea' - and while stories of its name's origin vary the most well-known tale is that a Ravenscrag passenger named Joao Fernandes excitedly hopped off the ship when he spied the coastline and began playing folk songs with his machete (a Portuguese instrument). Inspired by his quick fingering style that resembled jumping fleas delighted Hawaiian natives re-named the instrument "ukulele". Over the next century the ukulele grew considerably in popularity. Numerous notable people have been admired for their ukulele skills including Elvis Presley Paul McCartney Eddie Vedder Zooey Deschanel and even Barack Obama. In fact many songs containing the ukulele are quite famous including "Hotel California" by The Eagles and "Hey Soul Sister" by Train.
There are four different kinds of ukulele: the soprano ukulele is the most popular - it delivers a bright sound and its small size makes it perfect for kids. The concert ukulele is somewhat larger than the soprano and also has a louder output. Third there's the tenor ukulele - it's the second largest and has a deep ringing sound. Lastly the baritone ukulele is the biggest of the four and produces deep bass notes. Due to its size many guitar players prefer the baritone type for transitioning to the ukulele. For performers with aspirations of performing live acoustic-electric ukuleles are also available.
Many different woods are used in the construction of ukuleles depending on the company and luthier. A common wood is koa which is native to Hawaii and is known for producing a very balanced tone. Mahogany is another preferred wood - it's favored for its dark tone and is typically used for ukulele necks. Some luthiers construct their instruments from maple as well; it's hard dense and perfect for ukulele bridges and fretboards. Although wood type has a big influence on how the instrument will sound other factors need to be considered as well including a player's skill level and the quality of the strings. These days there are plenty of terrific solid-top ukulele models to choose from - some of the most popular ukulele brands are Cordoba Laurel Canyon Lanikai Kohala and Mitchell. Newcomers to the instrument should also consider a ukulele starter pack which includes the instrument itself along with extra ukulele strings and instructional material.