In 2018, over 1.77 million ukuleles were sold in the United States.
Ukuleles are continuing to grow in popularity today. These miniature guitar-like instruments are easy to learn and create a fun happy sound. You can hear them in popular songs such as “Over the Rainbow” and “Hey, Soul Sister.”
As ukuleles grow in popularity, more people than ever are looking to boost the sound of their ukuleles with an amp or speaker. The good news is that anyone can learn how to amplify a ukulele.
The process isn’t difficult but there’s a little bit to learn if you’re new to the world of amplifying instruments. But don’t worry! Once you know what to look and listen for, you’ll be amplifying your ukulele in no time.
How to Amplify a Ukulele
You can find plenty of ukulele-specific amps and cables online and at many music stores. Before you start buying amps, there are few things to consider.
In addition to your amp, you’ll need a quality pickup that can pick up and transform your sound into quality electric signals. Then you need a good instrument cable that transmits the sound from the ukulele to the amp. Finally, you can start searching for PAs, or speakers to turn the signal into music once again.
Once you have the necessary equipment ready to go, then you can start plugging in and experimenting.
Learn how to amplify a ukulele—and create great sound—with these 7 easy steps.
1. Find the Right Pickup
The first item you’ll need to amplify your ukulele is a pickup. A pickup is a microphone that picks up the sound from your ukulele when it’s strummed.
The sound transmits through a cable connected to an amp, or speaker, that produces the sound. But it gets more complicated than that. More types and styles of ukulele pickups are popping up. If you’re new to the world of ukulele amps and pickups, you may feel confused by all the options.
The two main types of pickups are active and passive.
Active pickups consist of powered preamps already built into the pickup. These internally powered preamps balance and increase the quality of sound. This sends a final finished sound to whatever amp or speaker you connect to.
Active pickups use battery power. Common batteries found in active pickups are 9V, AA, and 3V watch batteries.
Passive pickups don’t include a preamp. The raw signal sounds unpleasant, weak, and harsh.
Impedance mismatch causes this rough sound due to the resistance of the cable or circuit has on the electric flow. The passive pickup sends out more power than the amp or speaker can take.
To fix this, you’ll need an acoustic preamp. The preamp transforms the high energy from the pickup to a lower one. Your amp or speaker can take the transformed energy and produce a quality sound.
Which to choose?
Passive pickups offer a natural and more full sound. But they risk higher chances of feedback or hum even with a preamp. While active pickups create less background noise, some musicians describe the finished sound as “cold” or “isolated.”
When learning how to amplify a ukulele, you’ll have to decide the quality of sound you’re hoping to create before selecting a ukulele pickup.
KNA UK-1 Ukulele Pickup
K&K Aloha Twin Double-Sensor Pickup for Ukulele
L.R. Baggs UKE-FIVE-O Ukulele Pickup
2. Instrument Cable
Amplify your ukulele by investing in a quality instrument cable. This cable is what connects your ukulele’s pickup to your amp or speaker.
Look for a 1/4 inch phono jack mono instrument cable. This is the same cable electric guitars use. Just make sure it’s an instrumental cable to ensure quality sound when you’re learning how to amplify a ukulele.
These cables come in a variety of lengths. The most common and recommended lengths are anywhere between 10 feet and 15 feet long.
Any longer than that and your sound quality will start to diminish. Any shorter and you’ll be quite close to your amplifier or speaker. Playing too close to your amp can cause annoying feedback.
Be wary of the cost when shopping for an instrument cable. You can find a decent long-lasting cable with good sound for around $15-$25. Low-end instrument cables will reduce your sound quality and won’t last as long as you would like.
Syncwire Professional Instrument Cable
GLS Audio Instrument Cable
3. A Speaker Box
The speaker box is your speaker, amplifier, or some other device that outputs sound. This is an important piece of equipment that boosts your ukulele’s sound.
There are a few types of speaker boxes to choose from.
An amplifier includes all the circuits and speakers in one box. You can find different amps designed for specific instruments. As a ukulele player, you’ll want to check out the amps best suited for your ukulele.
Since you’re learning how to amplify a ukulele, an amp is your best choice. It still offers plenty of options but at a lower cost.
Another option for more serious players is a Public Address System or PA. It offers far more features and options than an amp, making it a little more complicated. It can amplify several instruments and microphones and features mixing controls.
A PA can:
- Amplify acoustic sounds
- Mix and process sound with mixing boards
- Convert acoustic sounds into electric signals
- Allow you to track the sound with the speakers
- Deliver sound through a speaker
A PA system is a good choice if you’re an intermediate or experienced ukulele player interested in playing in bands or groups. Many PAs can work with passive pickups without preamps. They’re convenient and offer a lot of options.
Luna Portable Suitcase Ukulele Amplifier
Fishman Loudbox Mini
Fender Passport Mini
4. Set The Volume Low
Before you plug-in and try out your new amp or PA system, set all the volume and gain knobs and sliders to the lowest number. If it’s your first time learning how to amplify a ukulele, you might want to prepare yourself for a loud or unpleasant sound. As long as everything is set to the lowest setting, you should be fine.
Once everything on your amp, PA, or speaker is set to zero, you can plug-in.
This is the exciting part where you finally get to test your setup.
Begin by plugging in one end of your instrument cable into the bottom of your ukulele or the pickup (this depends on the type and installation of the pickup). When you hear it “click” into place, it’s good to go.
Take the other end of the cable, and plug it into your amp. There should be an input for a jack. Once it clicks into place, it’s ready.
Increase your ukulele’s pickup volume to 3/4 of the way if it has a volume controller. If it doesn’t have a volume controller, head down to the next step.
6. Try It Out
Now you can start strumming your ukulele strings. As you strum, slowly increase the volume / gain on the amp or PA.
This part will require some trial and error. If you increase volume too fast, you may experience unwanted feedback. It’s okay to take your time and test it out when it’s your first time learning how to amplify a ukulele.
Most amps have two main controls, the master volume, and the gain/channel volume. The two work together to produce quality sound.
As you increase and decrease the volume, you’ll have to adjust the equalization or EQ. Adjusting the EQ will affect the tone of the sound. It can improve the sounds you want to hear and quiet the ones you don’t want.
A rule of thumb when starting is to keep the gain volume lower than master volume. As you become more experienced performing with an amp, you can adjust them however you wish. You’ll find there are many effects to work with as you learn to use your amp.
7. Avoiding Feedback
No one likes the loud buzzing, humming, and screeching sounds caused by feedback. Acoustic and low register instruments are the most susceptible to feedback.
Playing to close your speaker or amp causes the pickup source to vibrate and feed the signal back through the system and speaker. It will continue and get louder until you stop playing.
High-frequency feedback is the loud high-pitch ear-splitting sound. Avoid this sound by keeping some space between you and your ukulele and the amp.
Low-frequency feedback is a low hum caused by the instrument’s soundboard catching the speaker’s vibration. Adding distance between the soundboard and the speaker can fix the problem.
If you continue experiencing problems with feedback, check out the area you’re playing in. Hard surfaces and small rooms reflect sound back to the mic or pickup causing feedback.
Now It’s Your Turn
Now that you have an idea of how to amplify a ukulele, you too can give your music a boost. Whether you’re performing in a band or on your own, amplifying your ukulele’s sound is a great way to share your music with others.