The ukulele has grown enormously popular over the last couple of years. This little string instrument is easy to play, doesn’t cost as much as a guitar and is a lot easier to carry. All of that doesn’t mean the ukulele isn’t a fully-fledged instrument, though. Say you’re looking to buy your first ukulele or want to upgrade to a more professional model – what size ukulele best suits your needs: the sopranino, soprano, concert, tenor, baritone, bass or the guitalele? In this blog, we’ll go over all the different options so you can more easily see the forest for the trees.
Types of Ukuleles
There’s a vast amount of different ukuleles out there and the most important distinction to make has to do with size. Today, we’ll look at the sopranino, soprano, concert, tenor, baritone and bass ukuleles. In addition, we dedicate parts to the well-known guitalele and the very special banjolele. For even more information, you can check out our Ukulele Buyer’s Guide.
The Sopranino Ukulele
The sopranino ukulele, also known as the piccolo, is the smallest of the uke family. This instrument has a total length of roughly 41 centimeters and is generally tuned in D-G-B-E. Sounds familiar? That’s because it matches the top four strings on a guitar. This means that you can play the same chords on a sopranino uke as you would on a regular guitar but without the bottom two strings. Since this type of ukulele has a relatively narrow fretboard, it’s suitable for children and adults with smaller hands. Keep in mind that the tuning differs from other widely used ukes so, if you’re trying to learn new songs using the internet, remember that the chords laid out adhere to a G-C-E-A tuning. While it’s perfectly possible to tune your sopranino in G-C-E-A, you will need to replace the strings with soprano/concert ones first.
The Soprano Ukulele
Together with the concert, the soprano ukulele is the most popularly used version of this plucky little instrument. It’s about 53 cm long and while it offers a bit more fretboard space than the sopranino, that doesn’t mean it’s suitable for everyone. Just like its smaller sibling, it’s mainly used by children and grown-ups with smaller hands. The tuning is G-C-E-A and this matches 99 out of a 100 songs that you’ll find online. Some people, however, prefer to tune it a little higher (A-D-F#-B).
The Concert Ukulele
The concert, or alto ukulele, is the most popular size. With its 58-cm length, it remains more than portable and since it has more frets and increased range, there’s enough space on the fretboard for most grown-up hands. Just like the soprano, it’s tuned in G-C-E-A, with the difference being that the concert produces a fuller sound due to its larger resonance chamber. To get a different sound, you can also tune it like a tenor; but this comes down to G-C-E-A but with a low G instead of a high G. You will, however, need a special pack of tenor strings including a low G. It’s worth knowing that most songs and tabs that you can find online use G-C-E-A tuning, which explains why the soprano, concert and tenor ukes are the easiest to get to grips with.
The Tenor Ukulele
If your hands are too big for a concert model or if you simply want more fretboard space to do your thing, there’s always the tenor ukulele. This one is usually 66 cm long and takes up a bit more space when you’re on the road. Again, it does have a bigger body so the sound is richer while the strings are tuned to the (by now) familiar G-C-E-A. The difference is that the G is usually tuned down an octave to give your chords a different tonal colour. Chords are played the same way compared to the previously discussed models but you will again be required to slap on special tenor strings with a low G. If you prefer the sound of a soprano/concert uke, you’ll want to look for matching strings or get tenor strings with a high G. You’ve no doubt heard of one of the most famous tenor ukulele players, Israel Kaʻanoʻi Kamakawiwoʻole – known for his brilliant cover of Somewhere Over The Rainbow.
The Baritone Ukulele
The baritone ukulele is the largest of the bunch and sits somewhere between a tenor and a compact travel guitar, measuring approximately 74 cm in length. It’s got enough space on the fretboard for the largest of hands and the longest of fingers and shapes the biggest sound of all ukes. Just like the sopranino, it’s tuned in D-G-B-E; something that guitarists looking to learn the uke might appreciate!
But it can get even easier! The guitalele is basically a guitar that’s been washed at too low a temperature and has shrunk to the most compact travel guitar size you can get. Since it’s tuned exactly like a guitar (E-A-D-G-B-E), it makes for the easiest transition from a guitar to a uke of all and has an almost full-size, 47mm string nut (comparable to a ⅞-size Spanish guitar).
The Bass Ukulele
Alternatively, you can take an entirely different route and pick up a bass uke. Its name probably doesn’t require any further explanation and its tuning is the same as that of a bass guitar (or the lowest four strings on a normal guitar): E-A-D-G. These models are usually electro-acoustic but you can find fully acoustic versions too. They’re a tad bigger than baritones but have shorter necks, making them the ideal travel instrument for bassists.
We’ve saved the most peculiar one for last: the banjolele. This rare but amazing instrument is the perfect travel instrument for banjo players and is tuned in G-C-E-A. It’s perfect for veteran uke players looking for a similar feel but an entirely different sound!
To sum it up, there’s a lot of variety when it comes to ukuleles. Hopefully, we’ve been able to clear a few things up and help you decide which ukulele to get. Still not sure? Drop your question in a comment below!
» 4 Differences Between Ukulele & Guitar
» Buyer’s Guide – Ukuleles
» How to Tune Your Ukulele
» How to Hold Each Size of Ukulele
» Learn to Play Ukulele in 3 Easy Steps!
» The 4 Most Important Ukulele Chords
» Ukulele Strings that Are Right for You