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Ukulele Sizes: The Definitive Guide to Shapes and Sizes Of Ukuleles
Posted on June 1, 2021
As you can see from the image below, there are four main sizes of ukulele. When you search on Amazon, Google Shopping or any other well-equipped online store with the keyword “ukulele,” you are met with a combination of different sizes. The variety of different ukulele (sometimes called a “uke”) sizes can be quite overwhelming and choosing one over the other is going to be a challenge if you aren’t familiar with all the options.
Table of contents
- The Five Main Sizes of Ukuleles
- Why are there multiple ukulele sizes?
- Ukulele tuning and sizes
- What do the different sizes of ukulele sound like?
- Size and playability
- Ukulele prices
- What is the best ukulele size for a beginner?
The Five Main Sizes of Ukuleles
To complicate things even further, the sizes aren’t set in stone when it comes to buying ukuleles. Instrument manufacturers have some leeway when designing their ukulele, so ukuleles by different brands can vary by a couple of inches. However, there are some standard sizes the music industry has come to expect:
- Soprano ukulele is usually 21 inches (53 cm)
- Concert ukulele is around 23 inches (58 cm)
- Tenor ukulele is around 26 inches (66 cm)
- Baritone ukulele is around 29 inches (74 cm)
- Bass ukulele is around 30 inches (76 cm)
Soprano ukulele is the original and traditional ukulele size, and gives the sound and tone you probably associate with the instrument. Soprano ukulele is also one of the smallest instruments in the ukulele family and a great choice for beginners or those looking to test their hand at uke playing.
Concert ukuleles are a little bit larger and have more space between the frets. It’s a suitable option for uke players with larger hands and those who struggle with the size of the smaller soprano. The sound of a concert ukulele is a bit louder due to the higher resonance from the instrument’s body.
Tenor ukuleles are larger than concert ukuleles and have a deeper sound, making the sound kind of a hybrid between classical guitar and ukulele. Some famous ukulele players, such as the pioneer Jesse Kaleihia Andre Kalima, play this style of uke. The larger tenor size means it’s easier to do complex fingerpicking as well as other more intricate techniques and performances. This is why many famous ukulele players opt for a tenor ukulele over some other sizes. Give the tenor ukulele a try if you’re looking to play something a bit more complex and challenging than just regular strumming and chords.
At 30 inches, the baritone ukulele is the largest size. It has a deep tone and its sound resembles that of a nylon, classical guitar. If you have particularly large hands, you might find that the extra space between frets offered by a baritone ukulele could come very handy, making it easier to play.
Like there is a bass guitar, there is also a bass ukulele. In 2007, the ukulele manufacturer Kala created something called the U-bass which is a very popular bass ukulele. However, there are a lot of other options on the market to choose from. Bass ukuleles are tuned the same as standard ukes, but they cover a much lower register and deeper tone than even the baritone ukulele. Bass ukuleles tend to be around 30-32 inches in size, so they’re great even for uke players with larger hands.
Less common ukulele sizes
There is another size to cover here: the sopranissimo. These are often available in the ‘pineapple’ design as their oval shape resembles a pineapple fruit. The so-called pineapple ukulele is only about 16 inches in size, and while wonderful for transporting around, it can sound very high pitched and not very rich in tone.
Why are there multiple ukulele sizes?
Ukuleles started being produced with a more or less standard size—soprano. The soprano ukulele is sometimes called the “standard” size, simply because this was the first, and therefore, the oldest and perhaps most traditional ukulele size.
However, instruments evolve over time, like the acoustic guitar getting electric and classical alternatives. Similarly, the tenor and concert ukuleles grew out of a need for bigger sounding instruments with different tonal qualities. The deeper sound differentiates these ukes and gives players a different option.
More recently in the ukulele timeline, the baritone ukulele has been introduced. Some people claim this is designed as an alternative to the guitar due to its tuning. On top of that, you now also have electric ukuleles that can be plugged into an amp, just like an electric guitar or bass.
Ukulele tuning and sizes
The tunings for different sizes of ukuleles are usually the same, but there are some variations within this.
Soprano, concert, and tenor ukuleles all have the same tuning: G-C-E-A. If you hear the term ‘standard’ tuning in relation to ukuleles, this is what they mean.
The baritone ukulele has a tuning of D-G-B-E. This is five half steps lower than the other ukulele tuning. It sounds more like a guitar as D-G-B-E is the same tuning as the four highest strings of the guitar when tuned to the standard tuning (E-A-D-G-B-E).
What do the different sizes of ukulele sound like?
It stands to reason that as you play a bigger instrument, it’s going to have a louder volume, more resonance as well as better projections of lower frequencies. That’s why larger ukuleles have more of a ‘bassy’ tone.
Tenor ukuleles and concert ukuleles have a reasonably full tone–they are a sort of “middle ground”—but the soprano ukulele has a bit of a brighter sound with high end responds. The body of a soprano ukulele is smaller, so it struggles with projection and some of the bass frequencies. This doesn’t necessarily make it a bad thing.
The sound you’re looking for from your uke will depend on personal preference. It’s a case of matching up the tonal qualities you want with the shape and size of your ukulele.
Size and playability
In the grand scheme of acoustic instruments, all ukuleles are small. Especially when compared to guitars, most ukes are tiny.
Soprano is the smallest mainstream ukulele size. This means that players with larger hands can struggle to play, especially with some of the more intricate playing methods such as fingerpicking. You might be able to strum some chords, but when it comes to complex playing, small ukes may be a struggle. Children or people with smaller hands are better suited for playing soprano ukuleles.
Concert and tenor ukuleles have more room along the fretboard which may be easier for beginners. Also, if you have bigger hands or plan to play complicated lead style melodies, then you might want to look at a larger ukulele.
Baritone ukuleles are easier to play due to the size, but keep in mind the fact that they’re usually tuned differently, so you’ll have to adapt if you ever switch to a soprano, tenor or concert design.
Smaller ukuleles are usually cheaper. It makes sense that as more materials and workmanship are required, the price of the instrument also goes up.
Some soprano ukuleles can be bought for $20 or $30 at many online stores like Guitar Center or Sweetwater. This is incredibly cheap and makes the ukulele a great instrument to pick up and start learning, as it doesn’t require a great financial investment like a more expensive instrument would.
Obviously, it’s hard to find quality at this price range, but it shows how affordable they can be. The cheaper alternatives are also quite sufficient for beginners and are great for testing whether playing the ukulele might be your thing in the first place.
Tenor ukuleles are about 20% more expensive on average, while concert ukuleles cost yet another 20% more. Baritone models are the most expensive due to the materials required.
Keep in mind that these are some general figures. Naturally, the brand of the instrument plays a big part in the price, and there are other variables too, including accessories.
Need recommendations for which ukulele to buy? Check out our top ukulele picks, including the best ukuleles for beginners, here.
What is the best ukulele size for a beginner?
There isn’t one single best-sized ukulele for beginners. After all, like picking any instrument over another, it’s a matter of personal preference. However, you should give it some thought before making a purchase and match up your own needs.
By process of elimination, usually it’s not recommended for people to start with a baritone ukulele. It has a different tuning, so it doesn’t translate to other ukuleles, in case you ever decide to switch between sizes in the future. It’s also expensive and can be quite large and bulky.
The soprano size is excellent, and these are affordable as well. Soprano ukuleles are good for getting started, unless you have larger hands, as the smaller size of the soprano ukulele may cause you to struggle with the frets.
That leaves us with concert and tenor sizes. These are comfortable, somewhere in the middle in terms of price, and have a balanced and vibrant tone which is an improvement on soprano models. If you are buying for the long-term, you should definitely consider these options.
With so many different sizes of ukuleles, it can be difficult to choose the right one for you. However, hopefully now you are better prepared to pick your next favorite instrument.
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