Not all ukuleles are made equal. In fact, there is a huge amount of difference between many models. They come in many shapes, sizes, and types; soprano, concert and tenor to name a few.
But what do these differences mean? This is what we help you learn in this article. By knowing this, you’ll be able to make a much more informed decision on which ukulele is right for you.
When looking into what ukulele is the right one for you, it is crucial to understand what the word “size” actually means concerning this instrument. For these stringed instruments, size refers to the actual length and width and refers to the tone that the ukulele makes.
However, when speaking about a ukulele, don’t confuse “size” and “type.” Type refers to the style of the instrument, so do not mix the two terms to ensure you are making the most informed decision possible.
While the sound your ukulele emits might seem trivial in your end decision, the physical size should not be. Therefore, one of the main things to consider when determining the right ukulele is the size of the user’s hands.
If you have tiny baby hands, a smaller ukulele might be just your size, but if you have big mitts for hands, that option probably won’t be the fit for you. Bigger hands need a bigger ukulele, and adversely, smaller hands will be a better fit for the smaller size of the instrument.
The good news for prospective ukulele players is that if purchased for a child who will undoubtedly grow over the years, a soprano is an instrument that they can grow with them. Furthermore, the notes on soprano, concert, and tenor ukuleles are the same, so the only needed modification is fingering, not learning a new instrument altogether.
The fingering of the notes is the same for all four sizes. If you decide this is an instrument you fancy, you can get more. You’ll stand with the many players who graduate from the beginning-amateur stage then move on to collect ukuleles that range in size.
While there are technically more than four sizes of ukuleles available, four are considered the most common, especially for beginners. Those sizes are:
- Baritone is also popular, but less for beginners.
The smaller the size, the lighter and softer the sound made by the ukulele. The larger the size, the deeper and richer the sound made by the ukulele.
We have already familiarized ourselves with the names of the different ukulele sizes. However, we need to know three more key terms before we venture into researching the right ukulele for you. Those terms are:
- The fretboard or fingerboard is found on the top of the neck of the ukulele. This is the area where your fingers hold the strings to play the desired notes.
- Frets are the tiny, thin metal strips found on the neck of the ukulele.
- Scale Length refers to the distance between frets.
This ukulele is the most common, and it is also the one that we generally think of when we think of this instrument associated with Hawaii. Sopranos have a light, sweet sound, and their tone is soft and almost-airy. While there is no universal size, most sopranos are about 21” in length.
In terms of frets, a soprano typically has around 12-15. There is some variation based on the manufacturer and range of the instrument, but you can expect to play most beginner songs regardless of the lower fret count.
While you might think that this is the option suggested for beginners by most experts, you would be incorrect. In fact, uke players with larger than average hands often find they have difficulty with soprano ukuleles.
You might be wondering why the soprano remains the most popular size of ukulele if it doesn’t offer the most optimal “playing field” for musicians. Amateur players and dabblers probably choose the soprano because they are the most publicized ukulele, as they are most closely associated with luaus.
Additionally, sopranos make the “most popular” list because they are less expensive than the larger options. BeginnerUkuleles.com reports they tend to sell at a price point that is 10-25% less than the larger sizes. Especially if you are just trying a ukulele “on for size,” the soprano would be a more prominent option than a concert or tenor. Their cost can range from $50 to $500.
The next size up from the small soprano is the compact concert. Coming in about 2” longer than its little sister, the concert is approximately 23” long. Being a bit bigger, this ukulele makes a tone that is more full-bodied than the soprano, but it doesn’t sound “bassey.” Also, due to the increase in size, the concert ukulele is expected to be slightly louder than a soprano.
As far as frets, a concert ukulele contains 15 – 20. More frets mean more of an octave range.
Many experts encourage beginners to start out playing this size ukulele. But, again, physical size is the reason. Because the fretboard is more extended, inexperienced fingers have more room to move and learn the mechanics behind hitting the right notes.
The largest uke to land the list is the tenor. Turning up a tremendous 3” taller than the others, tenor ukuleles are preferred by most experts as the one beginners need to get their hands on for learning how to play. The reason behind this expert opinion is that this ukulele gives new users the most fretboard room, allowing beginners to be able to bang away in a bigger space.
At around 25” in length, the tenor has plenty of room to become home to over 20 frets. This extra room also allows for additional octaves. Also, as a direct result of its larger size, tenor ukuleles have the richest, bass-iest and loudest sound of the two sizes discussed above.
This is the size option that most professional ukulele players play. The reason is because of the deep, rich sound that resonates from this instrument.
Because of its size, tenor ukuleles are, as a general rule, more expensive than the other two types mentioned. Even some of the lower-end models are more expensive than the mid-range sopranos.
Baritone Ukuleles are Most Like Guitar
The final popular type is the baritone ukulele. It’s bigger than the other sizes, and often has a much deeper tone.
We won’t cover it as much in this article, but you can see more about baritone ukuleles here.
Now that you understand what ukulele is in your wheelhouse in terms of size, it is time to delve into a factor in your decision-making process that has many more choices: type. The multitudinous options in this area are somewhat staggering, so we will keep it simple and focus on the five most common and accessible of these instruments.
This banjo ukulele, aka the Banjolele, looks just like a banjo to the untrained eye and sounds like a ukulele to the untrained ear. Like a standard ukulele, the banjo ukulele has four strings. However, the sound you can expect from this instrument is very light and soft, and it doesn’t reasonably produce the “twang” you’d expected to get out of a banjo.
The banjolele is not as easy to play if you’re a newbie; however, if you’re a ukulele aficionado, then this banjolele could be an excellent addition to your ukulele collection if you have up to $500 or more to spend.
Geared more towards guitarists is the guitalele. The guitalele, also known as the guitar ukulele, is an instrumental hybrid. Unlike most ukuleles, this guy goes to town with six strings in tow rather than the standard four.
The six strings make this guy play much like a classical guitar. Guitar strings tend to be metal. The guitalele is different from a guitar because even though it has the same number of strings as a standard, the strings are much softer and made out of material like nylon. This makes the strings easier on your fingertips.
Unlike a standard guitar, the guitalele has a sound that makes you do a double-take. While it looks like a guitar, its sound doesn’t match up. Though it’s a bit lower in pitch than a standard ukulele, it is much higher in pitch than a guitar.
If you are in the market to purchase this “Prius” of an instrument, you can find a guitalele for around $120.00. That price, for most models, includes the entire kit to get you on your way to gigging out with your new guitalele, complete with a good gig bag.
This bass ukulele is such a bad boy that it doesn’t even don a nickname. It is a pretty straightforward instrument. It looks and almost sounds like a regular bass guitar. The similarities include a deep rich sound. But it differs because its sound doesn’t carry like that of a bass. To be able to hear a bass ukulele in a crowd, you’d need to hook it up to an amp.
Smaller in stature than a standard bass guitar, the strings are a bit different too. Because the strings don’t need to be tight like bass, the bass ukulele strings are thought of as a bit floppy on occasion. Still, it’s a very unique instrument that could certainly have a place in your music room if it meshes with your playing style.
These loose strings are the main reason why the voice of this instrument is hushed. Because they don’t reverberate like the bass strings, the sound just doesn’t resonate like a bass.
Its high price tag does NOT match the low voice of the bass ukulele. These bad boys will run you several hundred dollars, even on the low end, since they are typically small batch or even handmade to specification.
Say what, now? Yes, you read that right. This tricky little sucker is a triple threat that results in a “thrupple.” An acoustic guitar, an electric guitar, and a ukulele come together and form three, three, yes, three instruments in one!
When plugged into an amplifier, the acoustic-electric ukulele sounds like a ukulele that has been…well, plugged into an amplifier! It has the same sound as a standard; it’s simply so you can hear it when the crowd is rocking out and screaming your name.
Without the amp making this fun little instrument loud and crazy, the acoustic-electric ukulele becomes an acoustic ukulele, aka a ukulele.
The acoustic-electric ukulele is loved by ukulele lovers because of its versatility. The pickup, the additional parts to make the instruments sound out when plugged in, does not affect this little jammer. Players note that this type of ukulele sounds just like a standard when not plugged in, soft sweet, and something like a Hawaiian sunset.
If you are afraid of commitments, then you might want to hold off popping the question to your music store pro about where you can find an acoustic-electric ukulele. Though versatile, they are pricy. Moreover, the low-end models will pack a punch of around $200 – $300—no small price to pay for that little instrument.
Are you ready to rock out? If so, this type may be for you. This mixed-up instrument looks like a mini-electric, and it sounds more like a uke.
There are options as to the strings used on this ukulele. For a sound that rings truer to the uke, nylon strings are the option. On the other hand, if you want to sound more like an electric guitar, go with the metal strings. There are many possibilities when combining amps, strings, pedals, and any other distortion gear you can plug a jack into.
One thing that is not possible with the electric ukulele: hearing it when it’s not plugged into an amp. Like its cousin, the electric guitar, the electric ukulele produces a quieter sound than is ideal when not aided by an amplifier.
If you are thinking about wanting to rock with one of these electric hard hitters, then you’d better start saving up now. They start in the $200 range just for the instrument. When you start adding on the cost of the amplifier, strings, security to hold off your groupies–all of those things can add up quick if you aren’t prepared ahead of time.
We decided to look on the good ole world wide web to see the unreal array of ukulele types out there. Some of the more adventurous uke players out there have taken advantage of the relative simplicity of the instrument to transform various… treasures into working ukuleles.
Some of the trippy types of ukes we ran across included:
- Cigarbox Ukulele – just like it sounds, this one’s body is a cigar box.
- Uke Fish – this is a beautiful, handcrafted uke that is, oddly enough, in the shape of a fish.
- The Big Bang Uke – Penny…Penny…Penny. Yes, this little nerd of a uke is in the logo’s shape to the hit comedy series.
- The Bedpan Uke – saving this best for last, yes, it is LITERALLY made out of a bedpan.
The world of ukuleles is wide and vast. Ukuleles can vary by size and type
The size of this instrument also determines the sound that it produces. Determine the size to go with by the size of your hands and how much room you feel you need to move along the uke’s fretboard comfortably.
When it comes to type, well, let’s just say that the uke has no set type. The possibilities are endless. From something akin to a bass guitar to something akin to a chamber potty, ukulele types can be so unique that they don’t even seem within the realm of possibility.
Ukulele Types and their Uses
If you are seriously contemplating snagging a ukulele off the shelf of your local music store, go ahead and get your groove on. Just make sure you are mindful of the different sounds, ease of use, and other characteristics of these musical instruments.
Consider the ukulele’s size and type before you commit. And once you do, remember that you can’t only own just one! Soon your fingers will be itching to try on something a little different, so start saving now.