Text by Greg Olwell | Edited by Ukulele Staff
You don’t have to look at too many ukulele players to see that we like to accessorize. Go to a gathering of uke players young or old and you’ll see cases covered in stickers on the outside, and inside filled with photos, and all manner of gee-gaws, widgets, and gizmos. Some are essential, some not so much, but all are fun and add color to the already colorful life of a ukulele player.
Keep it Safe
Even though Tiny Tim was known to carry his Martin soprano around in a shopping bag, that’s really not a good idea. No, wait, it’s worse than that; it’s an awful idea. Most important, your case is going to protect your ukulele from the dings and bangs it’s bound to receive when you leave the house. Of course, ukuleles comes in many, many shapes and sizes, so finding a case or bag that fits is essential. Your uke should fit snugly so that it’s not wiggling around. Even if you have an odd-shaped uke, like a pineapple, you should be able to find a case that suits your instrument and holds it securely—you don’t want it banging around inside the case.
Thankfully, with this third wave of ukulele mania, players are blessed with more options for bags and cases than ever before, with something for every budget and need—in many patterns and colors, from retro to modern and mild to maniacal.
Gig bags are small, lightly padded pouches with zipper closures and usually a pocket or two to stash necessities like a tuner, extra strings, or a cellphone. They often come with back or shoulder straps and are a great solution for many players staying somewhat close to home—like, say, going to a group class or a gig. However, since they’re soft bags that don’t offer much support, a gig bag might not offer enough protection for people who need to put them in an airplane’s overhead or have an expensive instrument that deserves primo protection.
Hard-shell cases offer the most protection of all and can be made with traditional materials such as plywood, which offers excellent protection and climate stability, or more modern materials like carbon fiber, thermoplastic, or fiberglass. A good case should have an interior that’s soft and plush, and there should be support for the neck where it needs it most, at the heel. You’ll also want heavy-duty latches that fit together well and secure easily. Hard-shell cases also usually have a small accessory compartment.
Soft-shell cases cradle your uke in a foam core, with a nylon exterior that zips closed. This helps keep the case’s weight down, while still giving you abundant protection and storage space in the case’s exterior pockets.
It’s Not the Heat…
Along with a case or bag, a humidifier can also help keep your uke safe from humidity changes when you’re at home. (Dry conditions can wreak havoc on solid wood instruments, especially during wintertime, when home heaters drastically reduce humidity.)
If you live in an area that has you cranking the heat in winter, a humidifier is going to be essential to your uke’s health. Most ukuleles are made of wood, a biological material, and solid-wood ukes are especially vulnerable to damage from lack of moisture. A dried-out uke might suffer a loss in tone, or it could get worse with a collapsing top or even a crack—like you might see in a lot of old ukes that were stored in grandma’s attic.
Humidifiers can come in several varieties, from ones that fit inside your uke’s soundhole to others that are made to keep your uke case an ideal microclimate for your little strummer. The idea is simple—a moist material inside a shell that helps keeps your uke near an ideal humidity—and all are simple to use and maintain. Look for uke-friendly humidifiers from D’Addario, Herco, Kyser, and Oasis.
How do you know if the relative humidity where you uke is stored is safe? Whether you want to keep track of conditions inside your case or around your home, a hygrometer can help you keep an eye on the prime numbers for relative humidity, which range from 40 percent to 60 percent humidity. Go for a digital hygrometer, which is fast and accurate—and often offers additional features like temperature. You can find them at most hardware stores and music stores, with some familiar brand names Oasis and D’Addario offering choices for players. Hygrometers can be especially helpful if you like to keep your uke out of its case, where you can more easily reach it.
Appearances can matter, and a cleaning cloth is a great way to keep your ukulele looking its best. An old, lint-free t-shirt (the kind that’s gotten too small and tattered to be seen wearing in public) works in a jiffy, but it’s hard to top a fresh microfiber cloth. Most music stores carry them and it’s a great thing to keep in your case for giving your ukulele a quick wipe-down after a strum session. Usually, moisture from a warm breath and a light polish with your cloth will be enough to clean up smudges.
What’s the Deal With Capos?
If you’re into singing along, a capo can be a helpful way to change keys quickly without needing to know a pile of new chords. Ukulele capos tend to be a lot smaller and lighter than guitar capos, so it’s best not to rely on an old guitar capo. Some of the most popular ukulele capos are the D’Addario Ukulele Capo Pro, G7 UltraLight, Kyser Quick-Change, and Shubb Ukulele Capo. (For extra fun, try a partial capo sometime—only using the capo on a two strings, for example.)
Standing Up & Hanging Out
A ukulele stand or hanger can be a great addition to your home. Not only are you keeping your ukulele out where you can easily get to it for playing at any time, you’re also showing off some lovely playable art. On the floor or on your desktop, a ukulele stand is a fantastic way to keep your uke ready to play and nearby. You’ll have options in different materials and different budgets that all look great, too. Favorites include the wooden Cooperstand Pro-Mini and Kala Standout stands, metal stands from Stagg and Meisel, or the folding plastic Aroma stand. Or, if you’re up for hanging it from a wall, the String Swing Ukulele Hanger is a safe and handsome way to have your uke at the ready. They have many options, from basic metal to handsome wooden versions that will fit your display needs.
Changing strings is something every ukulele player will need to do at some point. Download our FREE guide on how to change your strings the right way.