Most people find it harder to play ʻukulele standing up than sitting down. With practice it gets easier, but some things are still close to impossible to play well without an ʻukulele strap.
By removing the need to support your ʻukulele with your hands it is much easier to focus on playing with proper technique and efficiency.
Here are your main options when it comes to ʻukulele straps:
Normal ʻUkulele Strap:
A standard guitar strap is one of the most common options for ʻukulele. When mounted in the proper places, the strap buttons will hold the strap and the uke in a balanced, comfortable way.A standard ʻukulele strap can be very comfortable and spread the weight of the instrument across your whole back and shoulder. The only downside is that many ʻukuleles don’t balance well this way. If this is the case, you’ve got to be careful when you take your hands away from your instrument or it might fall forward.
Any adjustable guitar strap should work fine for ʻukulele. Pick one that looks cool and give it a spin. Just by chance I ended up with a couple of the basic Ernie Ball ones. They are plain, but come in cool colors and adjust well to ʻukulele lengths.
For a normal guitar-style ʻukulele strap to work, you need two attachment points. These are known as strap buttons; little metal or wood circles held onto the ʻukulele with a screw.
You need a strap button on the base of the neck and one on the “butt” end of the ʻukulele. Holes in the strap then slip over each button to create a fabric loop that you put your body through.
The location of the strap button at the end of the ʻukulele is pretty straightforward. But the one on the heel of the ʻukulele can be installed in several places.
I’m familiar with three placement options:
Straight back on the end of the heel. This option pokes towards you and sticks out from the ʻukulele. It’s not as stable as other attachment points since the balance of the instrument tends to fall forwards. It’s also in the way if you ever try to set your uke down on a flat surface.
Underneath the heel pointing towards the floor. I like this option best for most applications. It brings the center of gravity closer to you so the ʻukulele doesn’t tend to fall forward as much. It’s also mostly out of the way. Depending on the instrument, strap button style, and precise placement it’s possible that chords high up the neck will create clearance issues, but it shouldn’t be too bad.
Above the neck, mounted directly into the side pointing left. This is the most stable of all. When slung like this the center of gravity is well below the attachment points so there’s no chance of the uke falling forward. The only drawbacks here are: appearance (it’s not as hidden) and strength. The sides of an ʻukulele are only like an eighth of an inch thick so you need some sort of extra reenforcement inside the uke to make this a stable option. Otherwise you might rip the strap button right out of its hole. This added material might not be wanted due to weight and sound. This placement style is only something I’ve seen on Blackbird ukes and electric guitar copies – both designs strong enough to accommodate this placement without any alterations.
Strap buttons are one of the easiest modifications you can make yourself to your ʻukulele. All it takes is a drill to make a small pilot hole to prevent cracking and a screwdriver to install the strap button.
If you’ve never done any DIY projects before and don’t have the skills to operate these tools, it’s probably best to have a music store add buttons for you. But it you have even meager handyman chops, it’s probably something you can do yourself. Just be patient and be sure to drill pilot holes! Here’ a little how-to:
Semi-Guitar Style ʻUkulele Strap:
This type of strap only uses one button on the end of the ʻukulele. The other has two strings that tie around the headstock/neck right behind the nut under and in between the strings and tuning pegs.
This is a good option for folks who already have a pickup installed and don’t want to mess around with putting another screw hole in their ʻukulele. Some people, depending on body type, find this strap style more comfortable than the traditional two-button guitar strap.
The only problem I foresee with this style strap is that it puts strain on the ʻukulele’s neck. This could be a problem in the long run, though if you have a modern workhorse uke, it’s probably not something you need to worry about. I have seen thrifty artists (Byron Yasui) make straps like these out of twine.
You can also tie a shoelace to one end of a normal guitar strap to adapt it for ʻukulele.
The two above styles need strap buttons of some sort to hold the strap onto the ʻukulele. If you have some basic handy skills and are willing to take a drill to your ʻukulele, you should be able to install them yourself. A quick Google search will pull up plenty of instructions. Just be sure to drill a pilot hole so you don’t crack the wood when you put the screw in.
Folk-Guitar-Style ʻUkulele Strap:
This type of strap goes around your neck in a loop and wraps under the ʻukulele to hook into the sound hole. It doesn’t require a strap button or cause stress on the neck and is completely removable when you don’t want to use it.
Concerns have been voiced about the pressure the hook puts on the soundboard, but Jake Shimabukuro has been using one of these recently on his very valuable Kamaka so it can’t be that big of a deal. Just be sure to find a strap with a well made hook that is wide enough to stably support the top of your ʻukulele.
This is an ʻukulele-specific creation and is described as a “half strap”. One end of the strap fastens to the ʻukulele’s headstock, the other, to various “anchor points” (your arm, waist, leg). The headstock gets supported by the strap, but the body is held up like normal with your strumming arm.
Like the classical strap, it doesn’t require the installation of any buttons.
This is a brilliant and simple strap concept that doesn’t require adding buttons or altering your ʻukulele in any way. The Mobius Strap loops around the whole body of the ʻukulele and then goes over your shoulder like a normal strap. The clever twist in the loop holds the ʻukulele up and snug against your body.
The hardest part is figuring out how to put it on!
I reviewed this little piece of nylon magic here: Mobius Strap Review.