Do you absolutely need a strap to play? No. In fact, the lack of stuff required to get up and running with a uke is a big reason why it has caught on so quickly with so many people. The ukulele has been played for over 100 years without the aid of a strap.
So why use a strap?
The instrument’s size has also grown tremendously during that time from the original, tiny sopranos made in 19th-century Hawaii. And while most ukuleles are small and relatively easy to hold and play at the same time, a strap can free up your arms and offer you a secure playing position. This is especially handy if your uke is something larger than a soprano, or if you want to attempt fancy fretwork moves.
Some players swear that a strap also helps the instrument sound better, too. Since playing a uke without a strap means hugging it to keep the instrument in place, the pro-strap gang might be on to something. Pressing the instrument against your body can inhibit vibrations on the instrument’s top and back, which, in turn, can make your uke sound like it’s under a blanket.
Straps that clip on are the easiest to use and require no changes to your beloved uke. The most common modification-free straps are the so-called “classical” straps, which are like an adjustable-length necklace that goes under the instrument and hooks into the soundhole (the same way Willie Nelson supports his well-worn nylon-string guitar, Trigger). You can find this kind of strap in all sorts of materials, from nylon, to patterned polyester, leather, and even padded neoprene.
You can really open the door of strap options by adding a strap button, like those found on most guitars. If you go this route, you’ll likely want to ask a luthier to add one button to the bottom end of the instrument and use a strap that ties around the headstock. Some players, however, add a second button on the neck heel. Installing the strap buttons by yourself isn’t hard, but it’s advisable to take your instrument to a professional to have this done. After all, the process requires that you have a hole drilled in your ukulele and you want to make sure it is put in right place, right? A professional installation could also help stop you from voiding your instrument’s warranty, so check your warranty before selecting a drill bit.
What a Strap Can Do For You
- Help keep your instrument in an optimum position
- Allow your right and left hands to play more freely
- Give you confidence and independence of movement
- Present opportunities for fun accessorizing and gifting
What Pro Ukers Say About Straps
“For years, I didn’t use a strap on my ukulele. Why on earth would I need one on such a tiny thing? The uke wants to be clutched close to the heart, not strung on a noose. I sang and strummed without a care.
“Everything changed the day I went to take Daniel Ward’s first flamenco ukulele workshop at McCabe’s, the legendary guitar store in Santa Monica, California. Apparently, the world was not ready; nobody else came—which made me the luckiest girl on earth: I got a private lesson in sevillanas, fingerstyle melodies, and sharp rhythmic patterns from the traditional Spanish guitar repertoire. Within the hour, I realized, ‘Oh my GCEA, I need a strap!’”
—HEIDI SWEDBERG, Los Angeles, CA
“Never have and I hope I never will. I play nothing but a standard size, which makes them manageable to hold. (I do play tenor sax, and I use a strap then!) I like my hands to be dancing across the top of the uke. Holding down a chord with my left hand, palm against the neck, keeps it place, and the gravity of up and down strums keeps it floating in mid-air in front of me.
“Like a violin, a lot of sound comes off the back of the instrument, and if you are using a strap, the instrument nestles down into your gut, and you lose it all. And, if you’re wearing a strap, you can’t spin it around like Roy Smeck.”
—ANDY ANDREWS, Puna, HI
“Using a strap means that neither of your hands are responsible for holding your uke in the perfect position. Many players, especially beginners, use the left hand to hold up the neck and the right hand to squeeze the uke in place. The strap takes care of that so both hands can be focused on playing.”
—CATHY FINK, Silver Spring, MD
“A strap allows both hands to move freely with no forced support of the instrument. Try and play a single-note melody on the open strings without a strap while standing, and feel where you end up compromising to hold up the instrument. For concert and tenor sizes, it really helps.
“Liz Olney designed and made all my straps. They’re pretty swanky, but the core design is what makes it for me. The 3/4-inch width seems perfect for ukulele—balance is uniform, and the soft backing means no slipping at the shoulder.”
—DANIEL WARD, Los Angeles, CA
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If you’re looking for a new strap, these are made in California by Sherrin’s Threads and available to order through the Ukulele store!
The Ukulele Owner’s Manual is the book that belongs in every ukulele player’s instrument case. Each chapter was written by the experts and performers at Ukulele Magazine, with topics ranging from commonsense instrument care to fixing rattles and buzzes to a pictorial history of the instrument. Book owners can also download how-to videos with step-by-step guidance on common set-up and maintenance topics.
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