Over the past year I have had the opportunity to research the many different choices for classroom ukuleles available for teachers. I was given the "OK" to buy new ukuleles for the school and replace the older models that have been on the wall for quite some time now.
Check out this article that lists a few commonly used options.
When working with other teachers, I have heard many who are reluctant to add the ukulele to their program. One of the reasons that often came up had to do with the challenges surrounding tuning. Many of the least expensive ukuleles can have tuning problems. I believe the ukulele can make an excellent addition to any music program and so I went out looking for something that would sound better and stay in tune better than the average ukulele.
My idea was to spend a little more money for a better ukulele. For example, with regard to another popular classroom instrument - handbells - I have yet to hear of a teacher saving money by buying aluminum bells instead. They are quite expensive, yet no one balks at the price if they are willing to seriously do handbells in their program. I wanted to apply the same theory to ukuleles.
I had planned to buy a more expensive ukulele for the classroom. I wanted that better sound and better ability to stay in tune. Unfortunately, that presented some challenges. As it turned out, the company I dealt with would not honour warranty issues if they were not humidified. In a flash of horror, I bgan to imagine 30+ grade 5's or 6's all standing in the hall filling little humidifiers in water fountains after a half hour class. I didn't think that work very well. Why do they need to be humidified? I wondered, what is the real risk here?
An article on ukuleleyes.com suggests that changes in humidity are OK as long as they are not too drastic. Are the cold northern winters that drastic? Maybe, although I have personally owned hand-built classical guitars in the 5 to 6K dollar range that I neglected to humidify and they seemed to make it through the winters without a problem at all.
I asked an expert. What I was told made sense: he stated that ukulele companies will make these instruments very quickly, so quickly in fact that it is difficult to maintain the supply of wood necessary to meet demand. Usually, a fine luthier - like the one who built my first fine concert classical guitar - will dry the wood out over a period of several years. Failing that, a larger company that is a little more on top of things will dry the wood in a kiln. That is difficult to do correctly if you are making instruments at such a speedy pace. Therefore, humidity is a bigger issue than it should have to be.
More expensive ukuleles are more likely to have problems with humidity. Those in the 60 dollar range are great but won't stand up to our dry winters. Get them only if you can humidify your storage room!
Still wanting something that sounds decent, and stays in tune, I have therefore decided to explore plastic ukuleles. Less expensive ukuleles are made with a cheaper wood material made of a laminate of woods, which unfortunately are still quite a bit more susceptible to humidity than I would like. After careful consideration, I am not sure the sound quality difference between that cheaper ukulele's laminate and plastic is enough to choose wood over plastic. So to stick with something that will not change, and because upgrading to a more expensive ukulele would take more time and care for maintenance than we can give, the plastic ukulele will be where we go in my classroom. After all, plastic recorders seem to work great, so why not a ukulele?
There are two different plastic ukuleles on the market: The Beaver Creek Ullina and the Makala Waterman. I have gone with the Waterman. I will let you know how they work out.