As you can see from the image below, there are four main sizes of ukulele. When you search on amazon or google shopping for “ukulele,” you are met by a combination of different sizes.
The Five Main Sizes of Ukulele
The sizes are not set in stone when it comes to buying ukuleles. The manufacturers have some leeway when designing their ukulele so they can vary by a couple of inches. However, there are some standard/average sizes the music industry has come to expect:
- Soprano ukuleles are usually 21 inches (53 cm)
- Concert ukuleles are around 23 inches (58 cm)
- Tenor ukes are around 26 inches (66 cm)
- Baritone ukuleles are around 29 inches (74 cm)
- Bass ukuleles are around 30 inches (76 cm)
What are the Different Sizes of Ukulele?
It is the original and traditional ukulele size. It gives the sound and tone you probably associate with ukulele.
A little bit larger, with more space between the frets. It is suitable for those who have larger hands and struggle with the size of the soprano. It has a little bit of a louder sound due to the higher resonance from the body.
It is a bit bigger than a Concert uke and has a deeper sound, which is something of a hybrid sound between classical guitar and ukulele. Some famous ukulele players such as pioneer Jesse Kaleihia Andre Kalima play this style of uke. The larger tenor size means it is easier to do complex fingerpicking and more intricate performances. This is why many famous ukulele players opt for this type of ukulele.
The largest ukulele is 30 inches, the baritone uke. It has a deep tone and resembles a nylon, classical guitar in its tone. If you have particularly large hands, you might find that the extra space between frets offered by a baritone ukulele could be very handy.
There is also a Bass ukulele just like there is a bass guitar. In 2007, Kala created something called the U-bass which is a very popular bass ukulele, but there are a lot of options on the market now. Bass ukuleles are tuned the same as standard ukes, but they cover a much lower register and deeper tone than even the baritone ukulele. They tend to be around 30-32 inches in size.
Less Common Ukulele Sizes
There is another size, “sopranissimo.” These are often available in the ‘pineapple’ design as their oval shape resembles a pineapple. They’re only about 16 inches, and while wonderful for transporting around, they 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 is, therefore, the oldest and perhaps most traditional size.
Instruments evolve over time, like the acoustic guitar having electric and classical alternatives. 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.
Ukulele Tuning and Sizes
The tuning of ukuleles is 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 guitar 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 these are the same tuning as the four highest strings of the guitar.
What Do the Different Sizes of Ukulele Sound Like?
It stands to reason that as you play bigger instruments, they have a louder volume and 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 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 are looking for from your uke will depend on personal preference. It is a case of matching up the tonal qualities you want to the shape and size of ukulele.
Size and Playability
In the grand scheme of acoustic instruments, all ukuleles are small. Compared to guitars, most ukes are tiny.
Soprano is the smallest mainstream 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 women with smaller hands are better suited to 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 are usually tuned differently, so you will have to adapt if you ever switch to a soprano, tenor or concert design.
Smaller ukuleles are usually cheaper. It makes sense that the more materials and workmanship is required, the price goes up.
Some soprano ukuleles can be bought for $20 or $30 on Amazon! This is incredibly cheap. Obviously, it’s hard to find quality at this price range, but it shows how affordable they can be.
Tenor ukuleles are about 20% more expensive on average, and 20% higher still are the concert ukuleles. Baritone models are the most expensive due to the materials required.
These are some general figures. Naturally, brand plays a big part in the price, and there are other variables too, including accessories.
What Is the Best Ukulele Size for a Beginner?
There isn’t one single best-sized ukulele for beginners. It is 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 is not recommended for people to start with a baritone ukulele. It has a different tuning, so it doesn’t translate to other ukuleles if you ever switch in the future. It is also expensive and can be quite large and bulky.
Soprano size is excellent, and these are affordable. They’re good for getting started, but maybe not if you have larger hands as you may 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.