Ukuleles have a long and interesting history, dating back to the 1800s. Originally, they were popular in Hawaii, where they were known as the “jumping flea” due to their small size and quick playing style.
Today, ukuleles are enjoyed by musicians all over the world for their sweet sound and portability.
There are three main types of ukuleles: soprano, concert, and tenor:
- Soprano ukuleles are the smallest and most common type, typically measuring about 21 inches in length. They have a bright sound and are great for beginner musicians.
- Concert ukuleles are a bit larger than sopranos, about 23 inches long, and have a richer sound.
- Tenor ukuleles are the largest type, measuring about 26 inches long, and have the deepest sound. They’re perfect for experienced players who want a full, mellow sound.
While each type of ukulele has its own unique sound, size is really the only difference between them.
Although soprano, concert, and tenor ukes all have different names, none of them are actually tuned differently. I would warn you against assuming otherwise as these instruments' names imply they should be in different keys.
The tuning of these ukes is: G-C-E-A
Which type of ukulele is right for you?
Choosing the right type of ukulele for your skill level is important because if you start out with a too-challenging instrument, you might give up on playing altogether. So, take some time to think about what type of ukulele would be best for you, and then go ahead and give it a try!
Soprano ukuleles are the smallest and are typically used for beginners. If you are a beginner, or you are looking for a ukulele to travel with, the soprano is a good option.
Concert ukuleles are a little bigger than sopranos and are a good choice for intermediate players. If you are looking for a ukulele that you can play for extended periods of time, or that will be used in a band setting, the concert is a good option.
Tenor ukuleles are the largest and are best for more advanced players. If you are looking for a louder, fuller sound, or if you are an experienced player, the tenor is a good option.
More types of ukuleles
Besides the 3 main types of ukuleles, there are several other types as well. These put a twist on the "traditional" ukulele in their size, shape, and tuning.
- Baritone ukulele - The baritone ukulele is the largest and lowest-tuned of the ukuleles. It is tuned D-G-B-E, one octave below the standard ukulele tuning of G-C-E-A. It usually has a scale length of 19 to 21 inches (483 to 533 mm), compared to the 13 to 17 inch (330 to 432 mm) scale length of other ukuleles.
- Banjo ukulele - Another option for players is the banjo ukulele, which has a banjo body with a ukulele neck. It combines the best features of both instruments and has a warm, mellow sound.
- Bass ukulele - There is also a bass ukulele in addition to these three main types. Bass ukuleles are larger than other ukuleles and have a lower pitch than other types. They are typically used for playing bass lines in a band setting.
- Pineapple ukulele - Pineapple ukuleles are a type of soprano ukulele. They have a distinctive shape that is rounder and more curvaceous than other sopranos. They are also slightly shorter in length. Pineapple ukuleles are a great choice for beginner ukulele players because they are smaller and easier to hold than other sizes. They also produce a brighter sound that many people find more appealing.
- Cigar box ukulele - Cigar box ukuleles are made from cigar boxes, and they're smaller than soprano ukuleles. They're popular among DIYers because they're easy to make and sound great! If you're looking for a smaller ukulele that sounds great and is easy to make, a cigar box ukulele is a good choice.
How is a ukulele different from an acoustic guitar?
Though they may look similar, there are several key differences between ukuleles and acoustic guitars.
The main difference between acoustic guitars and ukuleles is that ukuleles are typically tuned in fourths, while acoustic guitars are typically tuned in fifths. This means that the ukulele strings are a fourth apart, while the strings of an acoustic guitar are a fifth apart.
This difference in tuning makes playing certain chords on a ukulele easier than on an acoustic guitar.
- Standard guitar tuning is: E-A-G-D-B-E
- Standard ukulele tuning is: G-C-E-A
This means that a guitar chord fingering will not work on a ukulele.
Ukuleles are much smaller than acoustic guitars. They are approximately 30-50% smaller.
The scale length of an acoustic guitar (measured from the nut to the bridge) is around 25 inches. Compare that to the average soprano ukulele, which has a TOTAL length of 21 inches.
Number of strings
A guitar typically has 6 strings, while ukuleles only have 4 strings. The fewer strings make playing ukuleles easier.
Ukulele strings are made of nylon, they are lower in tension and produce a softer tone.
Acoustic guitars have steel strings (or nylon on classical guitars) with higher tension, which results in a louder, brighter tone.
How much do ukuleles cost?
A decent ukelele can range anywhere from $40 to $1,000 depending on quality and product.
Low-quality ukuleles at places like Amazon could go for as low as $10. However, if you want quality and a good ukelele, you should expect to pay $50 - $500.
Anything more than $500 and the ukuleles are the most elite ukuleles in the world.
Soprano ukuleles will cost less than comparable concert and tenor ukes, simply because they are smaller and require less material for production.