News about the business of the ukulele has gotten a lot of media attention of late. After the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) reported this winter that between 2010 and 2012 ukulele sales nationwide jumped from 581,000 to more than one million, CNN Money ran a lengthy story recently on the continued popularity of the ukulele. Certainly, the action on the exhibit floor at NAMM’s mammoth winter convention in Anaheim, California, supports those numbers—ukulele manufacturer booths were jammed as dealers placed orders and other convention goers gathered in the aisles to listen to the likes of Sarah Maisel and Craig Chee and the Kings of Ukulele (and to watch hula dancers, of course).
Peter Hix, one of the owners of Hix Bros. Music outside of Chicago, told CNN Money that “some days all we do is sell ukuleles,” adding that electric guitar sales are down, but ukuleles, banjos, and mandolins are all up.
“It’s pretty much idiot-proof,” Tracy Leenman, owner of Musical Innovations in Greenville, South Carolina told CNN Money. “Anyone can learn to play it in a short amount of time.”
Leenman added she’s seen the ukulele surpass the recorder as the instrument of choice for some music teachers at local elementary schools.
CNN Money attributed the continued growth to the ukulele’s strong presence in popular culture. “Stars like Eddie Vedder and Jack Johnson play the instrument,” CNN noted, “and it featured prominently on the TV show ‘Glee.’”
Brian Winter of Acoustic Music in Salt Lake City told CNN Money that he noticed that customers seemed more interested in sound and quality, leading some to buy more expensive instruments. Some people were buying their second ukulele or bring an experienced uke player with them for advice.
“My definition of a fad is something that climbs, spikes and dies,” he said after selling three ukuleles to a customer one January afternoon. “This climbed, spiked and now it’s sustaining that same level.”