Jennifer Wilber works as an ESL instructor, substitute teacher, and freelance writer. She holds a B.A. in Creative Writing and English.
Choosing the Best Ukulele for Your Musical Needs
If you are considering purchasing your first ukulele, you may feel overwhelmed by the different options available. The first thing you need to do when deciding on your new instrument is to figure out which size ukulele best meets your musical needs. Ukuleles come in four different sizes, from the standard tiny tinkly-toned soprano up to the larger full-toned baritone.
Soprano ukuleles are the smallest type of ukuleles, as well as the most common. Soprano ukuleles are also known as standard ukuleles. This size is generally what most people think of when they think about ukuleles. Soprano ukuleles measure around 21” long and generally have 12-15 frets. The four strings are generally tuned to the standard GCEA re-entrant tuning.
Because soprano ukuleles are so small and lightweight, they can be carried almost anywhere. Soprano ukuleles, because of their size, have the lightest sound. These ukuleles have the thin, jangly sound that is most commonly associated with ukuleles. Many players prefer the bright, tinkly, traditional sound of soprano ukuleles.
Some people with larger hands may find they have trouble playing soprano ukuleles because the frets are so close together. People with smaller hands, however, may find that soprano ukuleles are the most comfortable to play.
Soprano ukuleles are generally the most inexpensive ukuleles, so you can get a decent quality instrument for less if you decide to go with a soprano ukulele.
The next size up is the concert ukulele, also sometimes called an alto ukulele. These ukuleles measure about 23” and have 15-20 frets. Like the soprano ukulele, concert ukuleles are usually tuned to the standard GCEA re-entrant tuning, though some musicians prefer to use linear tuning.
Because concert ukuleles are slightly larger than their soprano counterparts, they have a warmer, fuller sound. Some players prefer this fuller sound to the brighter sound of standard soprano ukuleles.
Because concert ukuleles are larger and longer than soprano ukuleles, the frets are spaced further apart. This may make concert ukuleles more comfortable for some people to play, especially for those with larger hand who find soprano ukuleles’ frets too “cramped.”
Concert ukuleles are generally slightly more expensive than comparable soprano ukuleles.
Tenor ukuleles are just a little bit larger than concert ukuleles. Most tenor ukuleles measure about 26” long and have 15 or more frets. Just like the soprano and concert ukuleles, tenor ukes are usually tuned to GCEA re-entrant. Some players may also prefer to tune tenor ukuleles to GCEA, just like a baritone ukulele, however.
Because they are larger still than concert ukuleles, tenor ukuleles have an even warmer and fuller sound and tone than concert ukuleles.
Many performers prefer tenor ukuleles for the richer, fuller sound, as well as for the additional frets, which allow a greater range in notes that can be played on the instrument. People who find concert ukes too small may prefer a tenor ukulele as well.
The largest size ukes are called baritone ukuleles. Baritone ukuleles measure around 30” long and generally have 19 or more frets.
Baritone ukuleles are tuned differently from the three smaller sizes. While most ukuleles are tuned to GCEA, baritone ukuleles are generally tuned to DGBE, just like the top four strings of a guitar. Because of this, a baritone ukulele may be a great choice for guitarists looking to try out ukulele for the first time.
Baritone ukuleles have a deeper sound than the smaller sizes. You won’t get that traditional bright, crisp ukulele sound from a baritone uke. Baritone ukuleles are great, however, for getting a deep full sound for strumming blues music.
A Quick Comparison of Common Ukulele Sizes
Deciding Which Size Ukulele is Right for You
There is no definitive “best” size ukulele. Which size you choose will depend on several factors, including the size of your hands and what sound you are going for.
I have a soprano and concert ukulele, and I enjoy playing both. Certain chords are a bit trickier on the soprano, due to its smaller frets, though it is easier to hold than the concert ukulele overall. The smaller sizes may be better for women and younger players who have smaller hands, while men with larger hands may find tenor ukuleles more comfortable.
If you already have experience playing guitar, a baritone ukulele may be the right choice for you if you don’t want to learn a new instrument, since baritone ukuleles are usually tuned just like the top four strings on your guitar. Playing a baritone ukulele would feel more like playing a miniature guitar.
Whichever size ukulele you choose, the most important thing is choosing a good-quality instrument. Be sure to read reviews, compare specs, and try out different ukuleles before making your decision. The right ukulele will bring you many years of musical joy, no matter which size you pick.
© 2018 Jennifer Wilber
Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on November 06, 2018:
Unfortunately I do not sing very well and have no intention on buying a ukulele. However, I found your article very interesting as I had no clue there were 4 types from which to choose. This was really a good article.