We can find 4 types of common ukuleles, of varying sizes and scales (string length). From smaller to bigger, we have : The Soprano, Concert, Tenor, Baritone. Less common are the sopranino and bass ukulele.
|Type||Scale length||Total length||Tuning|
(piccolo or pocket)
|11″ (28 cm)||~16″ (40 cm)||D5-G4-B4-E5 or C5-F4-A4-D5|
|13″ (33 cm)||21″ (53 cm)||A4-D4-F#4-B4 or G4-C4-E4-A4 (most common)|
|15″ (38 cm)||23″ (58 cm)||A4-D4-F#4-B4 or G4-C4-E4-A4 (most common)|
|tenor||17″ (43 cm)||26″ (66 cm)||A4-D4-F#4-B4, G4-C4-E4-A4 (most common),
G3-C4-E4-A4, or D4-G3-B3-E4
|baritone||19″ (48 cm)||29″ (74 cm)||D3-G3-B3-E4|
|bass||21″ (53 cm)||30″ (76 cm)||E1-A1-D2-G2|
Range of notes of standard ukulele types
The soprano ukulele is considered to be standard. The concert format is a little bigger than the standard one, it’s a little more convenient to play (especially if you have big hands), it has more frets available (normally 14, in some cases 12). On top of that, the bigger size of the soundboard gives more volume. The next size, the tenor, is used a lot for fingerpicking. The bigger scale allows the frets to be further separated, making it easier for fingering and playing chords, and the wider gap between the strings makes it easier for the strumming hand (the hand you use for strumming is usually the right one for the right-handed, and the left one for the left-handed). Its bigger soundboard also gives more volume, with many lower pitches. Finally, the baritone, with the biggest scale length. Its linear tuning and its low sound makes it a bit different from the ukulele sound.
Apart from the standard sizes, we have special and hybrid formats. The sopranino size is even smaller than the soprano, with a scale length under 33 cm. Its reduced size and the small space between frets, together with the light tension of the strings, don’t make it a good option for beginners.
As for hybrids, we can find combinations of a specific body size, with a bigger size for the length of the neck and scale. For example, a soprano body and a concert neck and scale make a super soprano, or a long-neck soprano. If we combine a concert body with a tenor neck and scale, we have a super concert or a long-neck concert.
Regardless of the size, we have six-string and eight-string ukes. The six-string models have two third and first strings in octaves, and on the eight-string models all strings are doubled (the fourth and third in octaves, the second and first in unison).
Normally the body of a uke is made of wood, but what happens if we use the body of a banjo? Well, we get a banjolele. We can also have ukuleles that have a resonator as in a Dobro, or even a whole metallic body, increasing the volume and the sound projection.
Finally, we have the guitarleles, which I, personally, would not consider as ukuleles. First, it has six simple strings like a guitar. Actually, it is tuned like a guitar, with a capo on the 5th fret (i.e, by fourths, except between the third and second string which is a third major). Its sound is far, too far in my opinion, from the sound of a uke.
Which ukulele is good for me? Each size has a different sound quality and tone, so it’s about personal taste.
Here are some basic guidelines:
- The soprano size is very small. For most adults, it’s hard for them to play some chords, especially if you have big hands, and fingerpicking is quite inconvenient too. Its low-tension strings can cause micro tune-outs if one is not cautious and accurate. It doesn’t have much sustain. Personally, I don’t recommend it for beginners. Though it does have the most distinctive sound
- The concert size is ideal for beginners. It still has a compact size, but its bigger scale makes fingering easier. The sound remains distinctive, though it has a little more lower pitches and volume. You have more available frets than on a soprano.
- The tenor size has been very popular these last years. It has a much lower and complex tone than the smaller sizes. The scale length is longer, so if you have been playing guitar, it will be easier for you to adapt, though you will suffer the day you want to play on a soprano… It’s very common to tune it in Low G.
- The baritone is tuned in G6, and corresponds to the first four strings of a guitar. If you are a guitar player, you will adapt very easily to it. It has a deep and powerful sound, and it’s quite far from the distinctive sound of the ukulele.