A 6-string ukulele? A down-sized guitar? Honestly, these names convey a bunch of condescending connotations to the guitalele. Some musicians even argue that this instrument is a classical guitar capo-ed at the 5th fret.
I didn’t delve into my musical forays with a classical guitar nor with a ukulele, but I got started with plucking the strings of a guitalele! Why? Well, since I couldn’t stand the weight of a guitar as a kid, I demanded something easy to deal with like a ukulele, but not with restricted octaves or movement, like a guitar.
I thought that a guitalele is a transitional instrument that you have to practice before holding a guitar. However, the guitalele is an instrument on its own, and the resemblance in techniques doesn’t make it a subset in this regard. Having plucked many 6 strings on my journey, I’ve found that luthiers don’t pay attention to details in manufacturing a guitalele.
Also, you won’t find a bar chit-chat where this fretted instrument is brought up. For that, I’m tremendously thrilled to showcase the 6 guitaleles that I keep in my sacred room of instruments, among which you’ll meet the best guitalele for you!
At a glance:
- Yamaha GL1 – Best Overall
- Flight GUT-350 – Runner-Up
- Gretsch G9126 – Best for Advanced Players
- Caramel CB500G – Best Electric Guitalele
- Kmise Guitalele – Best for Beginners
The 5 Best Guitaleles in 2020
The possibilities that the guitalele offers are INSANE. This guitar-ukulele hybrid instrument has 6 nylon strings of a guitar and a compact soundboard of a ukulele. Imagine having a portable instrument that gives you that bass-oriented sound of a standard classical guitar! Now, let’s strum these strings to spot the best guitalele for you!
1. Yamaha GL1 – Best Overall
The matte finish in this guitalele is the consensus among every guitar that uses nylon strings. What I liked about the soundboard here is the Spruce top. Spruce inclines toward producing a sensitive, mid-range sound. If playing dynamics are your thing, you’ll be able to derive many tonal qualities.
Yamaha says the back and sides of this guitalele are molded out of a “Locally Sourced Tonewood,” which is what boring paperwork would sound like. They’re made out of Meranti, a budget-conscious tonewood that produces a warm sound, similar to mahogany. This hardwood is meant to increase the durability of the GL1, not to enhance its tonal properties.
Their resonant, deep sound is similar to my ear-filling C40 classical guitar from the same brand—no problems so far! Fretting this rosewood fingerboard of the Yamaha GL1 has been a delight, especially when you consider the widely-spaced frets and the extra octaves that grant you freedom like a guitar!
I was enticed to test these chrome-plated tuning machines rigorously—I just opted for aggressive strumming and whole-tone bending to find that this instrument stays in tune like it’s your last day playing! I’d also give the high-quality rosewood bridge some credits for stability. Furthermore, intonation didn’t fade away from the standard, unlike a short-scale ukulele.
One thing that I thought would discredit this guitalele is the saddle since it’s made of plastic. However, the main problem lies in the saddle’s high position, making the strings’ action more demanding. So, you can say that this guitalele is the type of instrument you have to get used to at first. The good news is that Yamaha includes a soft gig bag with its instrument.
- Spruce top
- Overall warm sound
- Louder volume than competitors
- High-quality tuning machines
- Precise intonation
- Comes with a gig bag
- Saddle positioned higher than usual
What makes this 6-string Yamaha GL1 my best guitalele is how its sound merely reverberates from the Spruce top: full, spatial, and warm. Meanwhile, Yamaha doesn’t give up on the robust build quality. You may even condone the high action when you nail your transitions and strumming patterns—it’d just be inappropriate to call this guitalele flawless!
2. Flight Ukulele GUT-350 – Runner-Up
The creamy look of the Flight GUT-350 is what your eyes will detect at first glance, especially these cream binding along the sliced neck contours near the soundhole! However, this guitalele is packing more than just 6 strings and a mesmerizing binding accent. Let’s question what this guitar-ukulele fusion hides.
This guitalele rocks a Spruce top, known for the complex timbres it gives off. Aided by the giant soundboard of this guitalele, Spruce’s tonal characteristics become more prominent than a tenor or a baritone ukulele. On the bright side (literally), we’ve got Sapele back and sides, helping the guitalele retain its baritone ukulele-like sound.
Flight states that the Spruce and Sapele are hardwood. However, the Spruce here isn’t as genuine as that of the GL1—it’s a laminate, and so is the Sapele. So, you’ll find the tone of this guitalele definitely inferior to our top pick. Yet, it still retains the sparkly sound quality at high volume, just like a ukulele.
The fingerboard of this guitalele is crafted from real hardwood: walnut. Although I’m a fan of rosewood, walnut remains my favorite for its buttery-smooth surface—it makes me forget about string tension when I’m half-bending the G string for a tasty blues note!
The Rosewood bridge here is stable, but I’d also appreciate how it contributes to the sound warmth without blatantly leaning toward the treble register. On the flip side, the saddle affixed to the bridge is made of bone instead of plastic, better than our top choice!
The fingerboard’s action remains bearable for beginners. Thanks to the sturdy tuning machines, this instrument will rarely slip out of tune unless you beat it with a Vicente Amigo-style strum, which is very unlikely. Speaking of strumming, the pre-installed strings are of high quality.
No shenanigans have arisen in the GUT-350 except for the laminate wood. It’s still thoughtful of Flight to include a well-padded gig bag with this guitalele.
- Spruce body
- Sapele back and sides for upper-midrange shimmer
- The walnut fingerboard is easy to fret
- Excellent intonation
- Durable bone saddle and nut
- Sturdy rosewood bridge and tuning machines
- Comes with a cushioned gig bag
- The soundboard is made of laminate instead of hardwood
- Dimensions similar to a small-scale guitar
The Flight Ukulele GUT-350 has been my go-to when I want to show off the full potential of my dynamics, and that’s for a reason. The decent sound profile of this guitalele, combined with its seamless fingerboard surface and strings, has always been what I need to carry on rocking a string instrument!
3. Gretsch G9126 – Best for Advanced Players
Gretsch is a high-end guitar brand comparable to both Taylor and Martin, leaving a trace of glorious luthiers that crafted custom-made guitars for some timestamps in music history, like Chet Atkins! Now, Gretsch has ventured into the middle realm between guitar and ukulele with its G9126 guitalele!
This guitalele is constructed from one sizable chunk of authentic mahogany with a honey satin finish on top. Need I stress more on “authentic?” Because the sound warmth here is nearly impeccable, even more profound than a baritone ukulele!
One look at the mahogany neck and your eyes will be filled with this ovangkol fingerboard. That was the first time I got acquainted with ovangkol, a tonewood similar to rosewood in its density. The best thing about this hardwood is that it enhances the mid-range properties of mahogany, showing more bias toward tone warmth rather than brightness.
Apart from the satisfactory sound, I wanted to investigate what makes this guitalele reverberate well: the tuning machines. You’ll find Gretsch’s Sta-Tite machines on this seemingly solid headstock. These machines are installed in a way that keeps a wide spacing between the pegs, tuning the strings more independently than tightly-spaced pegs.
The guitar-ukulele merger we have here never drops in tune—there’s a tug of war that never ends between that ovangkol bridge and the strong tension these machines grant to the strings. Likewise, the intonation is pretty accurate all the way to the 12th fret. Beyond that, it starts deviating, explaining why Gretsch didn’t slice a cutaway through the mahogany body.
Further boosting this instrument’s stability are the saddle and nut, made from genuine bone, exhibiting a higher tension endurance compared to the Flight Ukulele GUT-350. Strumming this guitalele didn’t give rise to the urge to put it down—that’s what a premium instrument is all about: optimized strings’ action for all players.
- Reputable guitar brand
- All-mahogany body
- Ovangkol fingerboard and bridge
- Top-notch tuning machines
- Zero intonation mistakes
- Outstanding warm tone
I consider the Gretsch G9126 the holy grail of guitaleles. While the honey satin finish may hold you spellbound, you’ll be amazed at how balanced this guitalele sounds owing to its fine tonewood blend of mahogany and ovangkol. This instrument really craves who appreciates it: the robust tuning machines won’t let down any serious musician seeking a guitalele!
4. Caramel CB500G – Best Electric Guitalele
I’ve always fallen in love with the quality that Caramel presents—even the packaging of the included accessories are an indicator of how it takes craftsmanship seriously. Having amassed popularity among ukulele players, Caramel decided to shift its attention toward the guitalele scene, and the CG500G is its electric masterpiece!
Well-thought aesthetics are what comes to prominence after one look at that soundhole of this guitalele. Leaf holes ditch the traditional notion with 5 punctures into the hardwood, ensuring a massive mid-range boost. Also, I love how the reddish background of the soundhole contrasts with the matte black finish.
Surprisingly, this guitalele is entirely crafted from rosewood. The use of rosewood to manufacture guitar-ukulele bodies is definitely exotic since it’s a very dense tonewood. However, this guitalele is the closest you can get to a baritone and warm-sounding instrument. Contrary to popular belief, the sound resonates from this rosewood body with full warmth!
Caramel reinforces this instrument with a complete 3-band EQ and a mono cable output to plug your guitar into any amplifier. To control the tone depth, you can spin the knobs of treble, mid-range, and bass to obtain the best timbre. On top of that, this preamp has an onboard guitalele tuner.
I’d deem the hand-crafted contour adornments the best aesthetic touch on this guitalele. Design aside, this instrument’s rosewood fingerboard may not be as seamless as walnut ones, but it takes less time to get used to. I also appreciate the fret inlays on the fingerboard for easy navigation—sometimes, the dots printed on the neck aren’t enough!
The CB500G doesn’t boast a conventional classical guitar bridge. Instead, it has an acoustic guitar-style bridge, on which pins secure the strings’ position. Completing the stable intonation recipe are the bone nut and saddle, enduring string tension in case bending is your technique of choice.
Along with the purchase, you get a padded gig bag, a set of guitar strings, an audio cable, a cleaning cloth, a wall hanger, three guitar picks, and a strap with pegs. Despite all the kicks and giggles, I didn’t like that the strap pegs weren’t pre-installed. Moreover, the pre-strung set is mellow-sounding.
- Full rosewood body
- Genuine bone saddle and nut
- Sure intonation
- Deep tone with a warm strumming sound
- Eye-pleasing soundboard design and binding
- Preamp with a 3-band equalizer
- Accessories and gig bag included
- Eligible tuning guitalele and guitars
- Low-quality pre-installed strings
- High action
- Stand-alone strap pegs
With a full rosewood body, a leaf soundhole, and a 3-way controllable EQ preamp, the Caramel CB500G is the best electric guitalele in case you want to crank up the amp one day! This instrument unveils the boundless possibilities of guitaleles since you’ll be able to kick the strings to the standard E tuning of a guitar!
5. Kmise Guitalele – Best for Beginners
I couldn’t miss mentioning your utmost savior if you’re just getting started. Kmise is so committed to providing string instruments’ market with all-around kits, and this Kmise Guitalele is what I would’ve opted for if it had been there during my newbie days!
Though affordable, we’re looking here at a full mahogany body, guaranteeing a warm tone profile, further enhanced due to the deep soundhole. Actually, the body isn’t the only part shaped out of mahogany—both the headstock and the neck utilize the same tonewood to add to the tone depth.
Kmise thought that incorporating a walnut fingerboard to this guitalele would neutralize the overly warm sound of mahogany, and that’s true since walnut, though a subdued tonewood, adds that upper-midrange crispness to bass-heavy tonewoods. Besides, walnut sports a porous surface that’s easy to deal with for beginners.
Unlike what you’ll find in a cheap guitalele, this fingerboard has the fret wires well-sanded with no pointy edges that affect your learning experience. Moreover, the spacing between frets is the widest on our list, which is extremely helpful if you’ve never laid your hands on a string instrument.
Affixed to this beautiful mahogany headstock is 18:1 tuning machines, where each gear has 18 pins instead of 15 to help the bridge keep the instrument in tune. While there are no tragedies with this guitalele remaining in tune, the intonation is a little bit questionable since the notes tend to sound flat as you move down the fingerboard, but it’s not that noticeable.
On the sides, you’ll see two metallic pins installed, suggesting that Kmise includes a strap, and it does! Additionally, you get 5 guitar picks, a wrench for truss rod adjustment (more on that in the help section,) and a tremendously rigid gig bag to keep the guitalele in a safe haven from accidental bumps.
- Very affordable
- All-mahogany body
- Comfortable Walnut fingerboard for beginners
- Balanced tonal quality
- Tenacious tuning machines
- Comes with accessories
- Durable gig bag
- Slight intonation deviation
- Doesn’t come with a clip-on tuner
This Kmise package comprises the best guitalele you can find on both the spectrums of budget and beginner-friendliness. Why? At this price segment, you get a stable instrument with partially-closed tuners, a deep timber, real mahogany hardwood, and a sturdy gig bag to protect your loyal companion throughout your musical pursuits!
What Makes a Guitalele Stand Out
The number of defective string instruments I’ve come across would sink a canoe. Guitaleles can be prone to compromised craftsmanship, from glue drips around the neck joint to blatant pitch deviation. So, let’s shed light on the factors you should look for to get the best guitalele.
Wood Type: A Sneak Peek at Tonewoods
Let’s acquaint you with some tonewoods best used for guitaleles in the rundown below:
Mahogany vs. Spruce vs. Sapele (Body)
Many of the guitaleles you’ll encounter have tops molded out of the tonewoods mentioned above. Mahogany is the most ubiquitous tonewood in this regard for its warm, depressed, and rich tone profile. Sapele (used for back and sides) is almost indistinguishable from mahogany but has more of a brighter tonal quality.
However, Spruce tops grant a louder volume out of the soundboard, and this variation in volume adds to the sound coloration. So, Spruce produces sophisticated variants of the same tone profile, allowing skilled players to fully exhibit the dynamics of their techniques while retaining a bias toward the upper-midrange frequency compared to mahogany’s adherence to pure mids.
Rosewood vs. Walnut vs. Ovangkol (Fingerboard)
Rosewood is king in the realm of fingerboards for its rigid construction. Sonically, rosewood transfers sound better than walnut. The department where I’d deem walnut the best is playability—these plaques have more open pores than rosewood, guaranteeing optimal seamlessness while jumping between frets.
While walnut leans toward the bright register, rosewood promises a fuller mid-range sound resonance. On the other hand, Ovangkol features similar tonal characteristics to rosewood, yet prioritizes the mid-range more than rosewood.
Pitch Precision: Follow These 3 Rules
Intonation is an intricate problem, even in the best guitaleles. It basically means how far the same note tends to sound out of tune in different positions on the fretboard. Let’s walk through 3 rules for checking your instrument’s accuracy.
Rule A: Use a Tuner
A hard-and-fast solution to determining your intonation’s accuracy is to grab a tuner, kick the guitalele back in tune properly, and then play the open strings individually. Afterward, check how precise the open positions are compared to the 12th fret for each string.
Rule B: Check the Action
Action refers to the string height, according to the fingerboard. If the saddle and nut don’t hold each string at an appropriate height, you’ll run into intonation problems, and the notes will sound flatter or sharper. You can optimize the action via sanding the saddle or bridge.
Rule C: Truss Rod Adjustment
Stretching along the neck’s guts is the truss rod, a component that customizes the neck’s endurance to string tension. You can use a wrench (available at many stores) to adjust the truss rod to remedy a twisted neck, a direct culprit in faulty intonation. This is where guitaleles when in the guitalele vs. ukulele battle—ukes have no truss rods to stabilize intonation.
Is Guitalele Good for Beginners?
There’s a good reason why guitaleles are suitable for beginners. The scale length (distance between the nut and saddle) is around 25.5” on a standard guitar. In contrast, guitaleles have a 17-inch scale length, which is suitable for beginners demanding the same octaves of a guitar and wide frets, but in a more ukulele-like form factor!
What Strings Do You Use for a Guitalele?
You can use the same nylon strings of a classical guitar for your guitalele. I use the standard Aquila strings, but I tune them to the standard A guitalele tuning.
Can You Play a Guitalele Like a Guitar?
Guitar techniques and dynamics apply to guitaleles. Even the chords for guitalele have the same shapes on guitars. However, if you tuned your guitalele to the standard E tuning of a guitar, the tension would be sloppy, and the strings would sound damp since they’d hit the fret wires, giving off a buzzing sound.
It turns out that opting for the best guitalele isn’t a tough chore for musicians at the end of the day! Concluding our guitalele review, I bet you now have a solid understanding of how to choose and maintain this guitar-ukulele merger.
If I were the one to choose, I’d definitely go for the Yamaha GL-1—I like how both Meranti and Spruce collaborate to give us an unrelenting strumming machine, be it the resonant soundboard or the ironclad durability!