Everyone’s playing style differs. Everyone’s taste in Ukuleles are different. But the one thing everyone has in common is that their Uke needs to be in tune.
And the easiest way to get in tune–and to stay in tune–is to buy a simple electronic digital tuner.
There are a number of different Ukulele tuners available at different prices. Prices range from about $4 all the way up past $60. There also are different methods of tuning that you can use. There’s tuning by ear, tuning to a piano or guitar, using a pitch-pipe, and using a chromatic/ukulele tuner.
Some of these methods are better than the others for tuning a Ukulele. Tuning by ear, for instance, is difficult to do correctly unless you have good ears. If you can easily hear the changes in pitch of the strings and different notes, than it’ll work fine for you. Using a pitch-pipe is similarly difficult, except you have a reference pitch to tune to. The same with tuning to a guitar and/or a piano. You need good ears to do this successfully.
Enter the chromatic tuner. These come in all shapes and sizes–and prices to match. There are about a million different versions of these available, but they all work the same way. You pluck your Ukulele–one string at a time–and the tuner picks up the pitch and tells you the name of the string (G, C, E or A in standard tuning) usually in letters. Or, if your Ukulele has a pickup, you can plug it directly into the tuner and tune it that way.
These tuners are very accurate, providing there is not a lot of ambient noise in the room you’re in. You don’t want to try to use one of these on the subway with all that background noise! For that you may want to buy one that clips onto the headstock and measures the vibration of the Uke as you pluck a string.
The reason this post is entitled “In Praise of Cheap Tuners” is because I recommend you don’t spend a lot of money on one. I use one like the one pictured above (mine is branded Kala, naturally) and cost me like $9. I’ve seen these exact tuners under different brands, with prices ranging from about $10 to $25. I’ve seen them branded Lanikai, Kala and others. They are all made in the same factory in China. They come in different colors, but are exactly the same.
They are useful because of the dedicated Ukulele mode, meaning you can use that mode to tune to Ukulele frequencies (usually standard tuning) exclusively. They also can be used to tune any stringed instrument, because they also are a chromatic tuner. Put it in chromatic mode, pluck a string and the tuner will tell you the name of the string. You can also tune your Uke this way. Particularly if you like to use alternate tunings.
I have similar tuners that offer general chromatic mode and guitar, bass and violin tuning modes (I play electric bass, so they come in handy for me).
They all work exactly the same way. In fact they all are exactly the same, except for an additional mode here and there. The Chromatic/Uke tuner cost me about $9 (I got it on a closeout sale), the Guitar/Bass/Violin tuner cost me about $12.
My point is this: these are great little tuners that you can find very inexpensively if you keep your eyes open. They work. They don’t offer many of the bells and whistles that other tuners do (no metronome built-in, no beeping, just three LED lights), but they are priced low because of it. You don’t need to spend $65 just to keep your Ukulele in tune. Of course you can if you want, there’s nothing wrong with the expensive tuners. They work great too. But they are overkill in my opinion–at least for the Ukulele.
I’ve got a number of tuners for my basses. From the cheap ones I mention here, to $50 “stompbox” tuners, all the way up to a $500 rack-mounted tuner that does everything except take the bass out of its case and tune it for me. They all work fine.
But when I’m jamming with friends, I just throw one of the cheap tuners in my case and don’t have to worry about it. If it breaks or I lose it, I can replace it cheaply enough.
You want a tuner that works, so why not buy one the does the job inexpensively.