Different Types of Ukulele
In this guide I will talk you through the different types of ukulele including the hybrid models that seem to be getting more and more popular which will open your eyes to the world of ukulele’s and hopefully helps you decide which ukulele to buy. So you have the standard ukulele that comes in 4 different types: Soprano, Tenor, Concert and Baritone. These are the 4 most popular models with the soprano being the one usually associated with the ukulele.
Number of Frets: 12-15
Tuning - GCEA
This is the most common and standard size of uke. It is the smallest in the family and is the one that is commonly associated with ukulele’s as it is small, thin and perfect for travelling. People with larger fingers sometimes get concerned that they will have trouble playing the soprano because the frets are closer together, but I personally think unless your fingers are very large you shouldn’t have too much trouble. The only other slight downside to having a soprano uke is that they have less tension in the strings than the other sizes meaning they may slip out of tune after bending a string. In spite of these slight downsides this ukulele is great fun and is the most affordable out of the 4, so you won’t have to spend a lot to get jamming!
Number of Frets: 14-17
Tuning - GCEA
Only a couple of inches bigger than the soprano, the concert ukulele produces a more round sound due to the slightly bigger frame. It is usually tuned to the same tuning as the soprano (GCEA) and is a popular choice for people with larger fingers because there is more spacing between the frets. Guitarist like the concert size not only because of the sound but because there is more tension in the strings making it beneficial to players who are looking to bend strings as you will not bend them out of tune as often. Having up to 20 frets means that players can steer to higher notes on the fret board.
Number of Frets: 15-19+
Tuning - GCEA
The tenor uke is quite a lot bigger than the soprano uke and because of this you will get a much richer and fuller sound along with a heavier, more weighted instrument. This ukulele is a popular choice for performers because of the tonal qualities and the capabilities to reach higher notes on the fret board. It is usually tuned to standard tuning (GCEA) but is sometimes can be tuned lower like a baritone uke (DGBE).
Number of Frets: 19-21
Tuning - DGBE
This is the daddy of the ukulele family, the baritone. It is tuned to the bottom four strings of a guitar (DGBE) giving a deeper sound. With this added depth you do lose the bright, snappy tonal qualities that you get from the soprano. A lot of guitarists convert to the baritone because of the similarities to the guitar and with big frets it is ideal for anyone who is looking for that bigger uke with bigger frets. Variations on Standard Ukulele’s
Having an understanding of the standard ukuleles we can now look at the variations of these.
This ukulele has a half pineapple shaped body in place of a regular shaped body. Some people see this shape as a bit of novelty but it actually produces a stronger, more resonance sound than a normal, traditionally shaped ukulele. It is quite popular among soprano and concert ukuleles but not so among the tenor and baritone.
The electric ukulele can come in 2 forms; a full electric uke or an electro-acoustic uke. The normal electric is the same as an electric guitar in its non-resonant body (not having a sound hole) and uses a pick up to send the vibration signals to an amplifier. The electro-acoustic (semi acoustic) ukulele incorporates the acoustic body of normal ukulele with a pickup to collect the string vibrations and send them via a jack output to an amp. This gives you flexibility as you can play this acoustically as well as electrically if you are performing outside in a larger venue were the sound can get lost. The fully electric uke is not as popular as the semi-acoustic version which could be due to the cost and lack of flexibility.
A cutaway is where the right hand shoulder of the ukulele has been cut away to allow access to the higher frets. These can be easily found ukuleles and is popular among all of the 4 main ukulele types. Moving away from the standard uke’s you get the hybrids; these are “cross-breeds” of various instruments with the ukulele. These are becoming more popular as they become easier to construct due to advances in technology over recent years and the development of different synthetic materials. Hybrids are created to gain a different sound or style to music that didn’t formerly exist and are increasing in popularity across music.
Guitalele / Guitarlele
This is a cross between a classical guitar and a tenor ukulele. The idea of this instrument is that it combines the portability of a uke combined with 6 single strings like a guitar, giving it chord possibilities. The tuning is different to that of a guitar, ADGCEA, which is the same as having a capo on the 5th fret of guitar (up a 4th). This is usually marketed as a travel guitar or a child’s guitar, however I think they are great fun and look great so could be used in walks of music.
Banjolele / Banjo Ukulele
This is a cross between and Banjo and a ukulele. This instrument has been around since 1917 and was popular in the 1920’s and 1930’s. It combines the tuning, small scale and playing style of a ukulele with the structure and unique sound of a banjo with an underlying ukulele tone. It is becoming more popular again and there is a growing demand for these as they are a quirky looking instrument. It is commonly tuned to GCEA (same as a soprano uke) and is typically strung with nylon strings. You would expect a Banjolele to be the same size as a concert uke (around 16 frets).
The Bass ukulele is basically a small, acoustic bass guitar adapted from a baritone uke. This was made possible by the use of polyurethane strings that can be tuned to same octave (E3, A3, D4, G4) as a bass guitar on something as small as a baritone ukulele. These Polyurethane strings have a very similar sound to that of an upright bass which is making it increasingly more popular among bassists.
The Harp Ukulele combines both elements of the harp and a ukulele having an attached bridge extension with unfretted strings (like a harp). This first appeared around the early 20th century and reached its popularity not long afterwards but has since faded. Some Luthiers have started to experiment with this again and it may become more popular in the future. The ukulele and variants of the ukulele are becoming extremely popular among schools and society itself and I think they are only going to get better and better with the advances in machinery and technology. They are small, look good and sound good. What’s not to like?