An Old Friend for Making Music – Four Types of Ukuleles

A ukulele is a small, four-stringed musical instrument that originated in Hawaii. It is similar in appearance to a small guitar, but it has a distinct, plucked sound that is often described as bright and cheerful. The ukulele is typically played with the fingers or a pick, and it is often used in a variety of musical styles, including folk, pop, and jazz.

The four strings of a ukulele are traditionally tuned to the pitches G, C, E, and A, although alternative tunings are also used. Ukuleles are often made of wood, although other materials such as plastic and metal are also used. The ukulele is a popular instrument for beginners due to its small size and relative ease of play.

Common Types of Ukuleles

There are four main types of ukuleles:

  1. Soprano: This is the smallest and most traditional type of ukulele. It has a scale length of around 13-14 inches and is known for its bright, punchy sound.

  2. Concert: This type of ukulele is slightly larger than the soprano and has a scale length of around 15-16 inches. It has a warmer, fuller sound than the soprano.

  3. Tenor: The tenor ukulele is even larger than the concert, with a scale length of around 17-18 inches. It has a deeper, more resonant sound than the other types of ukuleles.

  4. Baritone: The baritone ukulele is the largest of the four types, with a scale length of around 19-20 inches. It has a deeper, more mellow sound than the other types and is often used for playing lower-pitched melodies.

You may have also heard of something called a banjo ukulele.  A banjo ukulele, also known as a "banjolele," is a hybrid instrument that combines the body of a ukulele with the neck and head of a banjo. It has a smaller body and shorter scale length than a traditional banjo, and it is typically played with a plectrum or fingerpicking techniques.

Banjo ukuleles are known for their bright, percussive sound and are often used in folk and bluegrass music. They are similar in size and shape to a soprano or concert ukulele, but they have a drum-like resonator in the back and a removable tension hoop and skin head on the front, similar to a banjo.

Here is a handy list to help you identify the common types of ukuleles.

The Baritone Ukulele

Baritone Ukulele

This is the biggest common ukulele; it is usually around 30 inches (76.2 centimeters) in length. A Baritone ukulele is easy to recognize and play because of its larger size and 19 or more frets.

The Baritone is popular because it produces the same sound as the four strings of an acoustic guitar. It is a little different because of lower-pitched tuning. That produces notes of D-G-B-E which is the same as the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th strings on the guitar.
Generally, Baritones are best for experienced players because of their unusual tuning. They can be fun to play, especially for those who have had some experience with guitars.

Baritone ukuleles are often used in the blues and country ukulele songs. They are often the favored instruments of the pros.

The Soprano Ukulele

Soprano Ukulele

The smallest common ukulele is the Soprano which is usually around 21-inches (53.54-centimeters) in length. The Soprano can be readily identified because of its 12 to 15 frets and thin, jangly sound.

The small size makes the Soprano easy to carry around and ideal for women and children to play. Sometimes people with larger fingers will have trouble fretting chords on the Soprano ukulele, as the frets are so close together.
Soprano ukuleles are popular because of the low cost. And if you like to travel, the small size makes it convenient to carry a soprano ukulele with you.

Due to the scale and small size care must be taken when playing a Soprano ukulele as it is easy to bend strings out of tune. For this reason, guitar players often have a hard time adjusting to a Soprano ukulele.

The Concert Ukulele

Concert Ukulele

The Concert or Alto ukulele is popular because it has slightly fuller sound than the soprano. You can recognize the Concert ukulele because of its 23-inch (58.42-centimeter) length and 15 to 20 frets.

The Concert ukulele produces a bigger sound because there is more tension on the strings. The slightly larger size makes the Concert ukulele easier to play than the soprano.

A lot of players like the Concert ukulele because it is easier to keep the strings in tune. Most people will tune the Concert ukulele like the Soprano but some tune it down to G.

There are two popular ways of tuning the Concert and Soprano ukuleles; linear and re-entrant. Both are tuned in a GCEA pattern. Linear produces a lower sound, and re-entrant a deeper sound.

The Tenor Ukulele

Tenor Ukulele

The Tenor ukulele’s size is halfway between the Baritone and the Concert ukulele. A Tenor is usually around 26-inches (66.04-centimeters) in length and has 15 or more frets.

Like the Baritone, the Tenor ukulele produces a richer and fuller sound. A lot of performers like it for this reason, and the ease of reaching higher notes on the fretboard.

A big advantage to the Tenor is that can be tuned like a Soprano, or Concert, ukulele in linear or re-entrant fashion (GCEA). Or it can be tuned lower like the Baritone ukulele in DGBE.

Conclusion on types of Ukuleles

The four varieties described here are the tip of the iceberg when it comes to ukuleles. There are many other kinds of ukuleles on the market and many different ukulele brands.

More exotic ukuleles include Guitaleles (they look more like a guitar), electric ukuleles (often built to look like electric guitars with a solid body) and acoustic-electric ukuleles. An acoustic-electric ukulele usually has a hollow body so it can be played unplugged.

Also popular are Resonator ukuleles which are often used by blues players. A Resonator usually features a metal cone to produce a louder and a more twangy sound. Most ukuleles are made from wood, but some resonators have a metal body to produce a different sound.

For the truly adventurous there are Cigar Box and other homemade ukuleles which are often sold online. Cigar Box ukuleles are usually made from an old-fashioned cigar box.

To learn about ukuleles interactively, give YouTube a try. You can find lots of great ukulele songs there and demonstrations of different styles of playing.