We have all seen or heard this little instrument – and really the ukulele is an instrument that you possibly can't hate. It is an instrument based on another instrument, but one that has its own unique sound and following.
The ukulele's origins come from Hawaii, and the name when translated means 'jumping flea'. The name might be due to the fact the way you play it, with the action of your finger jumping of the strings. Queen Lili'uokalani was the last monarch of Hawaii said that the word actually means 'the gift that came here', derived from the fact in Hawaiian the word 'uku' means 'gift' or 'reward' and 'lele' means 'to come'.
The ukulele was made in the late 19th century, and is an instrument that is derived from two small guitar like instruments of Portuguese origin. They are the cavaquinho and the rajão, and these were introduced to the Hawaiians by Portuguese immigrants from Madeira. This is credited to three immigrants in particular who were Madeiran cabinet makers Manuel Nunes, José do Espírito Santo, and Augusto Dias. It is said they were the first makers of the instrument and that two weeks after they had arrived from the Ravenscrag in August 1879, the local newspaper the Hawaiian Gazette reported of their arrival and talents.
Ukuleles are mainly made from wood, but there are other versions that are made from other materials such as plastic. The cheap variation of Ukuleles are usually made with ply or laminate wood but the most special - and some would say most authentic - ukulele one made from Koa, a Hawaiian wood. The shape is usually the same as a normal small acoustic guitar in the same mould as a figure eight body shape; but there are some that are made into special shapes, such as ones that are made in an oval shaped like a pineapple. The instrument has only four strings, but there are ones where the strings are paired which gives the instrument eight strings. There are four sizes of the ukulele in total - the larger the size the lower the pitch of sound you will get. The normal sized ukulele is the Soprano ukulele.
Japan is considered the second home of the ukulele, not only because of their close ties with Hawaii but due to to Yukihiko Haida, a Hawaiian born ukulele player who returned to Japan for his father's death. He and his brother formed a club which became very popular thanks to Hawaiian music and Jazz. After the world war, and despite bans to western music, he kept on playing and in 1959 he founded the Nihon ukulele Association.
It is often been used in the media due to the popular image it has and its associated with Hawaii, but to truly experience some of the best ukulele music you have to go to the country where it was born or even better you can find them pretty cheap so you could get one and learn to get decent in the sun at one of the relaxing Hawaii rentals there is to offer.