Ukulele Types Explained

Ukulele's come in all shapes and sizes to suit different styles, tones, and the player's preference. Listed below are the 4 different standard ukulele types as well as some oddballs you may not have known existed.

Ukulele Types Explained
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Ukulele's come in all shapes and sizes to suit different styles, tones, and the player's preference.

Listed below are the 4 different standard ukulele types as well as some oddballs you may not have known existed.

Soprano

This is the standard ukulele type that you are probably used to. It's generally the most popular ukulele and it's what people usually buy as their first ukulele. The Soprano's popularity is due to its small size, low cost and availability. It's well known for its sharp, twangy sound that is commonly associated with the ukulele. There is also a variant of the Soprano called the Pineapple ukulele which has a round body shape instead of a contoured body like a guitar.

Length: 21 inches/53cm
Scale Length: 13 inches/33cm
Tunings: gCEA (standard), aDF#B
Number of frets: 12 - 15


Concert

The Soprano's bigger brother, the Concert ukulele has a much more mellow tone in comparison. This is due to the deeper body and longer scale length. The longer scale gives the strings a higher tension than the Soprano, therefore reducing the twangy sound. Concert ukuleles are often more expensive than the Sopranos but the build quality is generally better. The larger fret spacing also makes this uke popular among those with larger fingers/hands. The concert ukulele can be tuned linearly (G is lower octave).

Length: 23 inches/58cm
Scale Length: 15 inches/38cm
Tunings: gCEA, GCEA
Number of frets: 15 - 18

Tenor

Take all the advantages that the Concert has over the Soprano, then multiply them by 2. This is the Tenor ukulele and my personal favourite. The Tenors much longer scale length also allows the player to experiment with lower tunings without worrying about string tension issues. The only major downside to this ukulele is that it is a lot less portable and probably won't fit in a suitcase for taking on holiday.

Length: 26 inches/66cm
Scale Length: 17 inches/43cm
Tunings: gCEA, GCEA
Number of frets: 15 - 21

Baritone

The Baritone ukulele is tuned 5 semitones lower than the standard linear ukulele tuning, giving us DGBE. Recognise that? That's the same tuning as the last four strings on a guitar. It's basically a nylon strung guitar with two missing strings. It is very large but has a well-rounded, soft tone compared to the smaller sized ukes (and it's obviously much deeper). Despite its size, it is still much smaller than a full-size guitar. The Baritone is mostly unheard of outside ukulele clubs/groups and its use is reduced by the fact that a guitar does the same job and potentially costs less.

Length: 30 inches/76cm
Scale Length: 19 inches/48cm
Tunings: DGBE
Number of frets: 18+

Now this is where things get unusual, some of the "ukulele's" below probably don't fit into the ukulele category of stringed instrument but are still regarded as ukulele like or derived from the ukulele.

Pocket Sized Ukulele's

Even smaller and more portable than the Soprano, it is a true travel instrument. Also called the Piccolo, Sopranino or Sopranissimo; the Pocket ukulele is a relatively new addition to the world of stringed instruments and is growing in popularity among seasoned ukuleleists. Because of its unusual size, manufacturing this instrument can be costly and this is reflected in the high market prices. But it is getting cheaper and can be a true performance instrument rather than just a novelty. I can see this ukulele joining the standard 4 sizes within my lifetime.

Length: 16 inches/40cm
Scale Length: 11 inches/28cm
Tunings: gCEA, aDF#B, cFAD
Number of frets: 12

Guitalele

If you put a capo on the 5th fret of a classical guitar, then you have pretty much the same thing as a Guitalele. All guitar chord shapes work on this instrument. It is essentially a quarter size guitar with a high tuning to deal with string tension issues. A regular set of Nylon guitar strings will work on this instrument but to get the best out of it you should get much lighter gauge strings designed specifically for the instrument.

Tunings: ADGCEA
Number of frets: 16+


8 String Ukulele

If you've played a 12 string guitar before, then this should be no problem. The 8 string does not have 8 separately tuned strings, but 4 pairs of strings. The first two are paired in octaves (one high, one low, but the same note) and the last two are pairs of the same tuning. This gives this ukulele the benefits of both high 're-entrant' tuning and linear tuning. It's a great strumming instrument with lots of volume.

Length: 22-27 inches/56-68cm
Scale Length: 13-17 inches/33-43cm
Tunings: gGcCEEAA, gGCCEEAA
Number of frets: 15 - 21

Bass Ukulele

This is not really a ukulele at all, it's a nylon strung bass guitar. This is often marketed as a travel acoustic bass, but has a similar shape to a large ukulele (hence "bass ukulele"). It is often used to replace a full-size bass in ukulele groups so that the bass doesn't look out of place against a bunch of tiny stringed instruments. Due to the small body of the instrument and the floppy nylon strings, it is not very loud and is usually the only instrument in a ukulele group that requires amplification.

Length: 30 inches/76cm
Scale Length: 21 inches/53cm
Tunings: EADG
Number of frets: 16+


Banjolele

Popularised by George Formby (a famous ukuleleist, you should probably look him up), this looks exactly like a tiny banjo but it's tuned the same way as a standard ukulele (gCEA). The difference is the tone; it's less drawn out than a wooden body but is more resonant.

Length: 21 inches/53cm
Scale Length: 13 inches/33cm
Tunings: gCEA, aDF#B
Number of frets: 12 - 15


It is important to choose the ukulele that is right for you by trying out as many different ukes as you can. This will help you find a preference for fret size, string tension, tuning and tone. If you need a uke to learn on, a Soprano or a Concert will do just fine.

5 comments sorted by best / new / date

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    beatboy65
    Nice article- and really nice pictures. George Formby in his stage show used a number of banjoleles and ukes - different sizes and tuned differently- changing from one to another as he worked his through his set.
    HugoPan
    I have a Guitalele, absolutely love it. don't understand how it is not popular since many people play guitar and the shapes and chords are the same, so it would be natural to go to a familiar instrument.
    triface
    I bought one to use for travel. It now sits on my guitar stand, NOT being used for travel. For anyone who is curious, 1/4 scale guitar strings (for smaller-sized guitars) will work great and allow you to tune to E standard, instead of A standard.
    Unossofrus
    I want to get a Guitalele at some point. I play both ukulele and guitar so, naturally, I want to combine the two. I wonder if a 7 string guitalele exists...
    HugoPan
    that's a good question. I think that only if you order one from a luthier. the one i have is a Yamaha 001 model, so I think it's too soon for 7-strings being made at large scale. but who knows. the music market in my country is rather 'delayed'.