Ukuleles are enjoyable instruments that have been gaining popularity and acknowledgment throughout the years, given that their form evolved to produce better sound over the years.
Also, they are considerably cheap to manufacture, that’s why many companies took the opportunity and developed the ukulele in many different ways, which resulted in endless kinds of ukuleles in the markets.
Here, we’re going to cover the most popular ukes that are purchased and being used at the time.
Ukulele Types Categories:
There’s no specific categorization for ukulele types, but they can be divided into:
- The four main types:
- Soprano ukes
- Concert ukes
- Tenor ukes
- Baritone ukes
- Other variations:
- Pineapple ukes
- Sopranino and sopranissimo ukes
- Electric ukes
- Electro-acoustic ukes
- 8-string ukes
- Cutaway ukes
- Hybrid Ukes:
- Bass ukes
- Resonator ukes
- Archtop ukes
- Harp ukes
- Lap steel ukes
The Four Main Types:
The four main ukulele types share the same shape, besides being made of nylon strings, which gives them the distinctive uke sound. Nevertheless, they differ in sizes, which in turn alters their scale length and string tension.
Total Length: 21 inches
Scale Length: 13-14 inches
The smallest and most popular ukes are the sopranos. Since they are the traditional ones, they are recognized by the soft and plinky sound of the uke.
Because of their small bodies and short necks, they have the advantage of being lightweight, easy to carry around. Moreover, they are cheaper than other ukes considering they consume fewer materials.
On the other hand, soprano ukes’ short scale length doesn’t accommodate more than 12-15 frets. That’s why they can be suitable for strumming some chords but not so comfortable for playing single notes. Besides, the small body of the soprano uke doesn’t allow the sound to resonate well.
Although they don’t mainly work well with projections or bass frequency, they are considered to be the right candidate for beginners owing to their standard tuning and original uke sounds. Also, soprano ukes’ size fits well with children and women with small hands.
Total Length: 23 inches
Scale Length: 15-16 inches
With a slightly taller neck and larger body, a concert ukulele can project better than a soprano one, producing warmer and fuller tones while still keeping the advantage of being easy to handle and carry around.
Moreover, they have around 15-20 frets with more space between them, which provides more room for a broader range of chords and fingerpicking.
Like the soprano ukes, they have the standard “high G” tuning (G4-C4-A4-E4). It’s known as the “re-entrant tuning,” where the strings of the instrument aren’t arranged from low to high in pitch.
Generally, a concert uke is a good fit for beginners and players with larger hands, and it’s the most recommended one when you want a standard ukulele with no particular preferences.
Total Length: 26 inches
Scale Length: 17-18 inches
This type of uke has a larger body, a longer scale length, and is heavier in weight. It can hold around 15-25 frets.
Similar to the two types mentioned before, tenor ukuleles have the same standard ukulele tuning. However, in tenor ukes, you can replace it with a “low G” tuning (G3-C4-A4-E4), which is an octave lower than the standard one. It’s usually done to give the instrument a broader range.
Furthermore, tenor ukuleles are known for their deep, complex sound and wide frets. That’s why they are used for producing more advanced music, in addition to being the one favored by most stage performers.
Usually, this type is preferred by intermediate to advanced players because the long scale length allows them to make progress with more challenging chords and broader range. It’s comfortable for men with bigger hands, as well.
The only downside is that tenor ukes are heavier in weight than the previous types, so they’re less portable and harder to carry around.
Total Length: 30 inches
Scale Length: 19-20 inches
Being the largest uke of the main four types, it’s the hardest to move around, owing to its heaviness. Then again, between the four types, the baritone has the best resonance, deepest tones, and best bass sounds.
What is more, the baritone is the closest one to a guitar due to its different tuning. It has the same tone adjustment of a standard guitar missing the top two strings. This makes it the best choice for someone who wants something between a classical guitar and a simple bright uke.
Read more: Best Baritone Ukuleles
The change of tuning can be a problem for beginners as most of the ukulele sheets are available in the standard GCEA tuning. However, it’s the best choice for someone who is switching from a guitar to a ukulele.
These are different versions of a standard ukulele with the addition of some modifications in the model.
This type of ukulele has the oval shape of a pineapple attached to a soprano uke neck. It was designed by Samuel K. Kamaka in 1928, and it’s still used at the moment.
Although most pineapple ukes have the same size as soprano ones, they strangely have larger resonance and louder volumes. Moreover, they can be found in sizes similar to concert and tenor ukes.
Sopranino and Sopranissimo Ukuleles
Sopranino ukes, also known as piccolo ukes, have a total length of 19 inches with around 10 frets. With this limited size, they can’t produce much sound and aren’t capable of more than some strumming.
However, they are travel-size, and some large companies still produce them, so they are available on the market.
Other than the size, they also differ from a traditional uke in terms of tuning. They have a D5-G5-E5-A6 adjustment, which is an octave higher than a standard baritone.
Sopranissimo ukuleles have the tiniest size with a total length of only 17 inches. Other than that, they’re the same as sopranino ukes.
Similar to electric guitars, electric ukuleles have a solid body that lacks the open box shape that a traditional ukulele holds. They don’t have the hole that allows the sound produced by the vibration of the strings to resonate. Therefore, they barely produce any sound when they’re not plugged into an amplifier.
Structurally, they have the same size as ukes but with steel strings, which gives a tone closer to a guitar. However, like a standard uke, some are manufactured with nylon strings.
In terms of price, they’re one of the most costly types because of the pick-up, plus the need for an amplifier, which is relatively expensive. Along with the fact that they’re not very flexible models, they’re not preferred by ukulele players.
This version of a ukulele still holds the acoustic shape of a ukulele but with the possibility of being plugged into an amplifier through an input jack at the bottom. Another addition to the model is the control panel on the side, which enables you to control the volume and tone.
Electro-acoustic ukes, also called semi-acoustic ukes, carry the advantages of both a traditional uke and an electric uke.
For one, they use nylon strings, so they sound the same as a standard uke when they are unplugged. For another, they offer the opportunity of performing outdoors and being heard well through connecting the uke to an amplifier that magnifies the sound.
Furthermore, semi-acoustic ukuleles are more flexible and cost-effective than electric ukuleles, which makes them more appealing if you want an electronic version of a uke.
The eight-string ukulele resembles a 12-string guitar or a mandoline in having four sets of two pairs of strings. They can be tuned in various ways to create different sounds.
The simplest setting is the one with the GCEA tuning for the four pairs of strings. Though the most popular one is to tune the two G strings to low and high G, the two C strings to low and high C while keeping the E and A pairs to the same note.
In general, eight-string ukuleles are mostly used for strumming, as they’re tuned chiefly to produce rhythm sounds.
Cutaway ukuleles are designed in a unique way to facilitate the access to the higher frets by cutting away the right-hand shoulder of the uke, hence the name cutaway.
This particular type can be found in various sizes.
Throughout the years, many companies developed new types of ukuleles by mixing them with another instrument to gather the benefits of both instruments in one, which resulted in many hybrid uke versions available now on the market.
A Guitalele is a blend of two instruments: guitars and ukuleles. This instrument is about the size of a baritone and six strings instead of four. The strings are made of nylon to give the instrument the sound of a uke despite being tuned like a guitar (ADGCEA).
It has the advantages of being portable compared to a classical guitar, having a sound between a standard uke and a nylon-string guitar, besides providing a broad range for chords.
With the size of a concert uke, four nylon strings, standard tuning, and 16 frets, a banjolele is basically a traditional uke but with a banjo body. In this type, the body of the uke is replaced with a small drum head.
Back in the 1920s, banjoleles were designed to produce a loud and bright sound as opposed to the warmth of the uke to be able to play various genres of music.
Furthermore, they are manufactured in variable sizes and are useful for both chords strumming and fingerpicking.
One of the most common types of ukuleles is a bass ukulele. Like a standard bass, it’s set up with EADG tuning, which is the same as the bottom four strings of a guitar.
Instead of nylon, a bass ukulele’s strings are made of polyurethane. Since they are the size of a baritone with shorter scale length compared to a bass guitar, bass ukuleles need thicker strings to generate a low-range sound.
However, these short and fat strings reduce the tension, which leads to the low volume associated with this instrument. For this reason, most bass ukes are sold with built-in pick-ups and are used with amplifiers.
A resonator uke has a built-in aluminum cone rather than a wooden box, which results in a smaller version of a resonator guitar. This type of ukulele works with standard tuning, even though it gives off more twang tones along with higher and clearer sounds.
This mix of an archtop guitar and a ukulele is the best for jazz music due to its smooth and rich tone. It is the size of a tenor and is tuned in the standard form. Also, some designs are available with a pick-up.
Harp ukes have a bizarre shape since they have an integrated bridge extension with unfretted strings. They were once popular in the late 20th century, but they nearly disappeared thereafter.
Lap steel Ukuleles
Like harp ukes, lap steels are uncommon these days, but they were once manufactured and available in stores.
Primarily, they’re played by holding the uke on your lap or a table in front of you. Then you move the steel along the uke’s strings with one hand and pick the strings with the other.
For this mechanism to work, lap steel ukes require raised strings at the edges of the fingerboard as well as high string tension.
The ukulele is one of the most versatile instruments, that’s why there’s no limit to what form it can be manufactured in. However, we hope that this article helped you distinguish between the types you’ll mostly come across in music instrument stores and online markets.