Any ‘ukulele that you buy is an investment. How long your investment lasts depends, of course, on the quality of the instrument. Aside from that, with the proper care and love, there is no reason your ‘ukulele shouldn’t last for your grandkids to play. Here are the basic cares and precautions you can give your ‘ukulele to maximize its lifespan.
The biggest safety courtesy you can give your ‘ukulele is a case. This is a hands-down, no-brainer. Without a case, your ‘ukulele is exposed to the elements 24/7. It’s not a question of if, but when something will happen to it. Even if your ‘ukulele doesn’t leave your house, it can get knocked off a desk or sat on or warped by extreme conditions. For me, my ‘ukuleles always stay in their cases whenever I’m not playing. Bad things happen and being careless with my ukes is not an option.
A hardshell case offers the most protection for an ‘ukulele. Depending on the quality of case, you can stand on it, sit on it, drop it, etc… As long as the latches are shut tight, you can have complete peace of mind that your instrument is safe. That is, unless you fancy yourself as a destruction derby racer who puts his uke in the trunk. When shopping for a case look for a snug fit from the padding and for quality of hinges, latches, handles. This hardware takes the brunt of daily abuse and are usually the first components to go. I’ve had an O’ahu case since I got my Moore Bettah. But it seems like their quality is spotty. The other widely used one is a Uke Crazy case. I’ve had one of these for years and all that’s needed fixing is the handle, which split down the middle.
Next in line for protection is a foam case. These are great cases, usually fastened with a zipper all the way around and made with hard foam covered in nylon fabric. The protection factor is not as high with these cases. While it would protect from everyday dents and dings, crushing blows (such as shutting it in the car door) would almost certainly do your instrument in. Foam cases are pretty generic so your options are limited. I had something like this one for years (in fact, it’s still under the bed with one of my old ‘ukuleles). Buy the one with the biggest gear-pocket!
“Gig bag” covers a wide range of protection, the common point being that the case is soft-sided. Some have generous soft foam sewn into the case, others are simply a piece of vinyl with a handle. They only offer enough protection to handle little bumps and light rain. The best thing about these cases is that they are lighter than other cases. Some have backpack-like straps for walking to the gig while man-handling your amp and cable-bag. My favorite gig bag is a Ritter backpack case I found at the thrift store on my first day of school at the Institute of Hawaiian Music – for $15.
If you live in a dry climate you need to have a humidifier in your case or your ‘ukulele might start to shrink. When there isn’t much water in the air, wood dries out. When wood dries out in an ‘ukulele, frets begin to poke out from the edges of the fretboard, the top develops cracks, and many other problems develop.
An ideal humidity for an ‘ukulele would be in between 45-60%. You can get away with higher or lower, but it’s better to be safe than sorry – especially on the low side. I live in Hawai’i where it’s not uncommon to find the humidity at 90+%. Even with this high number, nobody bothers with humidifiers and problems from water saturation are rare. But if you live in Las Vagas where it’s dry, dry, dry, get a humidifier.
Humidifiers go inside your case and slowly release water into the air, keeping the humidity steady and the wood happy. This is another big reason to store your ‘ukulele in its case when you aren’t playing.
For in-depth technical info about humidifiers, check out ‘Ukulele Tonya’s Humidifier page.
A humidifier doesn’t have to be fancy. In fact, you can make one out of a Pez dispenser.
‘Ukuleles by nature take a lot of abuse and never complain. So make a point to do something nice for your instrument every once in a while.
Use a clean, soft cloth to wipe down the entire instrument. Oil from your skin takes its toll over the course of years and keeping gunk for building up will save your finish. For a deep clean every once in a while, try using Virtuoso Instrument Polish. I kid you not, short of scratches, it’s like getting a brand new instrument.
Another deep clean item is lemon oil for the fretboard or other exposed wood on the instrument. Put a nickel-sized glob on a rag and rub it onto the fretboard. Then use a clean part of the rag to wipe off excess.
Putting new strings on your ‘ukulele can be a great way to pep it up. Old strings tend to loose their brilliance over time and begin to fray and fall out of tune with themselves. Try something different. You might find that a different kind of string brings your ‘ukulele back to life or is a change of pace.
Random ‘Ukulele Care Tips:
- Be very mindful of heavy gauge strings and tunings. Things can go south pretty quick if your ‘ukulele can’t handle the tension.
- Keep your ‘ukulele out of the rain. Really.
- Never, ever assume your ‘ukulele is safe sitting out. People trip, drop things, horse around, etc…
- Sunlight and heat is a game-ender for instruments which are made with glue that can usually be unattached with a blow drier. Don’t leave your ‘ukulele in the car on a hot day, outside in the sun, etc…