A ukulele is a small hand-held instrument that is sometimes confused with a small scale guitar.
Interestingly a banjo is actually a type of ukulele even though most people think it is a separate instrument. The confusion is because banjo ukulele is commonly referred to by the term “banjo”.
Generally, a Banjo ukulele is round, while most ukuleles are shaped like a guitar. Despite the popularity of the banjo, most ukuleles are guitar-shaped and fit in the categories described below.
Common Types of Ukulele
The phrase types of ukulele will usually refer to the size of the instrument. Ukuleles are usually categorized by their size, not characteristics.
There are four primary sizes of ukulele, each of which has a different name. The names refer to the common types of ukulele, as well as the sizes.
Luckily, most ukuleles share the same characteristics, which makes it easy for people to play common varieties of the instrument. Therefore, most ukulele songs can be played on most ukuleles.
This means if you learn to play one kind of ukulele you should be able to use them all. Here is a handy list to help you identify the common types of ukulele.
The 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
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
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
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.
The many different 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.
If you really want to learn about ukuleles go to YouTube. You can find lots of great ukulele songs there and demonstrations of a lot of terrific playing.