The Lanikai LU-21 Soprano Ukulele

The ukulele is a very popular instrument these days, and although associated with the music of Hawaii, it’s also used to play music of many styles. If you’re looking for a great beginner uke, Lanikai is a brand to consider. Lanikai ukuleles are made by Hohner, and Lanikai has a reputation for producing good quality ukuleles at affordable prices, and they’re very popular with beginners. The LU-21 is in turn among the best-selling of Lanikai’s range, and is a great uke to get started with, whether you’re a complete beginner musician, or you already play other instruments and want to try the ukulele.

Soprano Ukuleles

This is a soprano ukulele – sopranos are the smallest most commonly played type of uke, and are usually the type that beginner players start with. Their sound is probably also most characteristic of what most people think of when the ukulele comes to mind. Some lower quality soprano ukeleles have a tinny tone, but the LU-21 is well-made enough to avoid this. As you’d expect from an instrument of this size, it’s very lightweight, which makes it a great instrument for taking out and about with you, and it’s much less cumbersome than a guitar. It’s good for kids too.

Materials & Construction

The top, sides and back of the LU-21 are made from nato wood laminate. This is often used in making ukuleles, and is a cheaper alternative to mahogany (it’s also called Eastern Mahogany). Despite its lower cost however, it still offers great sound quality. And although laminate (which is made from thin pieces of wood stuck together, rather than one solid piece), is normally found on cheaper instruments, it does have the advantage that it tends to maintain a more stable sound over time - and in different environments - than solid wood instruments. This nato wood isn’t particularly distinctive in terms of the grain, but it has a pleasant warm red colour, and a white binding gives the instrument an attractive trim.

The fretboard is made from rosewood, which is a common fretboard material of ukes, guitars and similar instruments, and is hardwearing and stable. This ukulele has 12 frets, and a 14 inch scale length.

The machine heads are made from chrome, with ‘ivoroid’ (white plastic that looks like ivory) pegs. They have a geared mechanism, for maximum accuracy, and they’ll hold their position well. However, as with any new stringed instrument, tuning will be more stable once the strings have stretched and settled in, so you might have to tune it more frequently to start with. You could also stretch the strings a little by hand and restring it.

The LU21 comes with Aquila Nylgut strings – Aquila is one of the most reputable brands of ukulele string manufacturer, and their strings help to give the instrument a full-sounding tone. Nylgut is a high quality synthetic alternative to gut, so is animal-friendly too.

The action (the distance between the strings and fretboard) is quite low, which is a good thing for beginners, since it makes the notes easier to fret without string buzz or using excess pressure.

Price vs Quality In Beginner Ukuleles

If you’re just starting to play the ukulele, chances are you just want to test the waters with a low cost instrument until you’re sure you’ll like it. The LU21 is generally marketed as a beginner’s instrument, and is in a lower price range than many other ukes. However, it’s important to distinguish between a ‘quality beginner’ model like this and the ultra-cheap ‘no-name’ instruments you can get for around $20-$30 or even less in some cases. Very cheap ukuleles are usually a false economy, as they’re poorly made and difficult to play, and the sound quality tends to be unpleasant. As a result they’re not much fun to play on, and you’ll probably feel the need to upgrade to a better uke if you’re not put off playing altogether. So if you were thinking of buying a very low cost instrument, it would be better to shell out the extra few dollars and get a decent starter ukulele like the Lanikai. At around $50 it’s still a great bargain, and is certainly among the best if not the best in this price range.

Negative Points?

The LU-21 doesn’t really have any major downsides. Some people have found that the finish on their instruments is a little rough in places, so don’t expect the level of perfection you’d get in a high end instrument. The volume is not particularly loud, but that’s to be expected from a small acoustic instrument like this (you might be interested in an acoustic-electric ukulele if you want an amplified sound).

As far as ukuleles in the lower price bracket go, this is a very good one, and is recommended by many experienced players as a good starter instrument. You’re obviously not going to get a pro-level instrument in the sub-$100 range, and as a mass-produced uke, the LU-21 may feel like it lacks a bit of personality. But an advantage of standardised production is that you can be fairly confident that the instruments within a particular range should all adhere to similar quality standards (though of course there may  be the occasional ‘bad apple’ in any batch), so you do know what you’re getting – which in this case is a nice-looking, nice-sounding, solidly built ukulele that will be a good choice for most people who are just getting started or want to add the ukulele to their musical arsenal without breaking the bank.

Another downside of cheaper instruments is that they often don’t come with a case as standard. Depending where you buy from, you’ll probably need to get a case separately. A case is definitely recommended for keeping your uke safe and secure, especially if you want to carry it around outside the house. Lanikai do both a hardshell case and a gig bag for their soprano ukuleles – the hard case obviously offers the greatest protection and is advisable if you’re going to be travelling a lot, but the gig bag is cheaper, and is a good way of carrying it around, so long as you’re careful to protect it against hard knocks.

Other Accessories For The Lanikai LU-21 Soprano Ukulele

Your ukulele itself is all you need to get started with. But if you’re like most players, once you get the ukulele bug, you’ll want to buy some ‘extras’ for your instrument. As well as a case, these include:

Tuner

You’ll probably want to get a tuner for your ukulele, although you could tune it to a piano or other reference instrument if you have one handy. A portable tuner is still useful if you’ll be playing it away from home though. The soprano ukulele (like the concert and tenor counterparts) is usually tuned to the notes G, C, E and A (with the G an octave higher – so the C string is the lowest pitched string). Alternate tunings are sometimes used too.

Free ukulele tuners can be found online, but if you want a physical tuner, you can either get one that’s designed especially for the ukulele, or use a general chromatic tuner which can be used for all instruments. An example of the latter is the Snark Chromatic all-instrument tuner – this one clips on to the headstock, so you can see check your tuning as you play. In fact, clip-on tuners are a great idea, since they are more accurate in noisy environments.

Capo

A capo is a simple little device that holds down all the strings at a particular fret (you can attach it wherever you like). This makes it easier to play in different keys. You probably won’t want to use one until you’ve learned the basics, but it’s a useful accessory to have later on.

Felt Picks

The ukulele can be played with the fingers, or with a pick. Many players prefer felt picks to plastic guitar picks, because they give a nicer sound on the ukulele’s nylon strings (plastic picks are designed for use with steel string guitars).

Strap

A strap isn’t an essential for playing the ukulele, but many people find the instrument a bit awkward to hold securely, with it being so small. You can get special uke straps, which are also called ukulele thongs – these attach to the soundhole, since most ukuleles don’t have pegs at the base like guitars.

Hangers & Stands

Ideally, your ukulele should be stored in its case for maximum protection, but if you don’t have a case, or you just want to keep it close by, ukulele stands or hangers are good alternatives. A hanger is especially good, as it’ll keep your instrument on the wall out of harm’s way, and won’t take up floor space either.


Learning To Play The Ukulele

You also get a short ukulele instruction book along with the instrument, so even if you’re a beginner you can get started right away without having to buy anything else. This booklet shows you simple chords and melodies.

The included booklet will get you started, but you’ll probably want more in-depth instruction soon. If so, there are various tutorials available online (try this site, or a search on YouTube), as well as ukulele instruction books, courses etc.

Where To Buy The Lanikai LU-21 Ukulele

Unlike guitars, ukuleles aren’t so widely available in music stores, so unless you have a specialist shop near you, you probably won’t find a wide range to choose from. Having said that, the LU-21 is such a popular model that if your local stores do stock ukes, chances are they’ll have this one.

For the best prices though, you’ll probably want to shop online. Internet retailers usually have lower overheads, so can offer better prices. The disadvantage of this is that you won’t be able to try it before you buy, but reputable sites will offer a money back guarantee, so you’ll be protected in the rare event that you get a bad instrument, or you just don’t like it very much.

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