Ready to Play Ukulele but Confused with All the Choices?
In this article, I will guide you through the different ukuleles sizes, how and why they sound different, and how to choose and ukulele that will work for you.
Size & Sound
First and foremost, there are many ukulele sizes and each produces a different sound. Here is a simple rule not only for ukuleles but for all musical instruments, the smaller the size of the body the higher sounding the timbre.
When I say higher timbre, I’m not referring to volume, although many of our ears perceive a higher timbre as sounding louder, but simply that a sound has more treble (higher timbre) or more bass (lower timbre).
For example, a soprano ukulele size, one of the smallest ukuleles, produces a high timbre because the body is so small.
On the other hand, a baritone ukulele size, one of the larger ukuleles, produces a much deeper and low sound.
Different Ukulele Sizes
You may be asking, “How many different sizes of ukuleles are there?” Great question. Ukuleles come in many different sizes, colors, and shapes including:
For today let’s keep it simple and concentrate on the 4 most popular ukuleles (from smallest to biggest): soprano, concert, tenor, baritone.
History of the Different Ukulele Sizes
The soprano ukulele, which is referred to as the “standard” was the original ukulele size and ordinated in the late 1800’s. The concert ukulele which is slightly bigger and deeper in sound developed in the 1920’s. Next came the tenor which produces even more volume and deeper tones and followed by the baritone in the 1940’s which is the loudest and deepest of them all.
How To Measure Ukulele Sizes
Today, there are many ukulele companies making many different sizes, shapes, and colors of ukuleles that it can be hard to know what size a ukulele is. The easiest way to determine the size of an ukulele is to measure it. How do you measure ukulele sizes? It’s simple, just measure the ukulele is from the bridge to the nut.
Here are the different ukuleles sizes in inches (in) and centimeters (cm):
- Soprano ukulele size is 13 in (33cm)
- Concert ukulele size is 15 in (38 cm)
- Tenor ukulele size is 17 in (43 cm)
- Baritone ukulele size is 19 in (48 cm)
Over time and with experience you’ll be able to tell the size of an ukulele just by seeing or holding it.
How To Choose A Ukulele Size
There are a few things you need to know when choosing an ukulele.
- First, the soprano, concert, and tenor ukuleles all use the same tuning: G – C – E – A. The baritone ukulele uses a different tuning: D – G – B – E.
Unless you specifically know that you want or need a baritone ukulele, I would stick with the soprano, concert or tenor. Most of the ukulele lessons you find online or in books are written for the soprano, concert and tenor.
- Second, choose your ukulele that feels right for you. If your 6 foot 5 inches and have huge hands a soprano instrument will probably be a bit small for you. When you go to a ukulele store, simply pick up each ukulele and hold it, even if you don’t know what to do, and determine how it feels with your body and hand type.
- Third, determine what you want to do with the ukulele. If you just want to strum the chords to your favorite songs, then a soprano or concert ukulele will work great for you. If you goal is to play scales and move up and down the ukulele neck like Jake Shimabukuro, then a concert or tenor ukulele will work best for you. Remember that the smaller the ukulele size the smaller the neck which can limit what you can do with it.
- Fourth, the type of wood used to make your ukulele will determine its price. Traditionally ukuleles from Hawaii are made from Koa wood, which only grows on the Hawaiian Island. Although, Koa wood produces an amazing, warm, and rounded tone, it is expensive. Since the demand and price of Koa wood has sky rocketed you are seeing more ukuleles made from spruce, cedar, rosewood, acacia, and laminate. Many ukuleles that are under $200 will be made from a laminate wood. Even though an ukulele made from Koa and one made from laminate may look the same, they are not. You get what you pay for. Yes, to get started a $150 ukulele may look and sound great to you, but you will hear and feel the difference when you move up to a quality hand-made ukulele made by companies such as KoAloha, Kamaka, and Kanile’a. My suggestion is to buy the most expensive instrument that fits your budget.
This is a great time to be an ukulele player. The ukulele is extremely popular and lots of companies are making ukuleles, so they are easy to find and afford. Now that you are done with this article go get your ukulele and play.
About the author:
Terry Carter, founder of Uke Like The Pros is a talented ukuleleist, guitarist, and songwriter with a Master of Music from University of Southern California and a Bachelor of Music from San Diego State University. His online ukulele lessons are featured here. You can follow him on his social media accounts: youtube.com/ukelikethepros | instagram.com/ukelikethepros | facebook.com/ukelikethepros