Know thy instrument.
If you’re trying to learn how to play ukulele, you should have a better understanding of the instrument first. Knowing what the parts are called and their function will help with tuning and restringing your ukulele. You’ll be able to take better care of your instrument.
There are many parts of a ukulele such as a headstock, tuner, nut, neck, frets, fretboard, bridge, body, soundhole, saddle, strings, and more. All these parts together make up the whole structure of a ukulele.
Here is the complete guide for the anatomy of a ukulele. Let’s go in!
Main Parts of the Ukulele
There are mainly three parts of a ukulele:
- Head: The part where the instrument is tuned
- Neck: The part to hold with fretted hand
- Body: The part where the strings are strummed with picking hand
Now that you know the basic parts of the anatomy, let’s look at the smaller parts which make up the whole body.
The headstock or the head is the wider piece that is located at the top of the neck. Made from solid wood or plastic, its main function is to support the tension from the tuners and the strings.
Manufacturers often put their logo on the headstock. Sometimes, brands use a distinctly shaped headstock for all their ukuleles to make them easily recognizable by sight.
Headstocks come in two main styles, known as solid and slotted.
- Solid headstocks: have the strings and tuning pegs outside or on the back.
- Slotted headstocks: have slots where the strings rest and tuning pegs facing a sideways angle.
Different styles change the positioning of the tuners. However, these are more of an aesthetic preference and have less effect on the ukulele’s tone.
The tuners are made up of a bunch of smaller individual parts such as tuning pegs and tuning posts. Tuners are often referred to as tuning pegs, tuning keys, tuning heads, or machine heads as well.
Located at the headstock, the Tuners hold the strings and allow the ukulele to be tuned. As most ukuleles have four strings, the majority of ukes have four tuning pegs as well. They are usually made from either tough plastic or metal, to be strong enough to withstand pressure from the strings.
There are two common types of tuners:
- Friction tuners: situated behind the headstock and rely on the friction of the wound string to keep tuning.
- Geared tuners: on the sides of the headstock and have gears to keep the strings in tune.
A pro tip while tuning your ukulele, you should slightly unwind the string first. Then tune back up to find the right note. That way, there would be less chance of string breakage and overstretching.
The nut is a small ridged piece on the ukulele, that sits between the headstock and the fretboard. It’s usually made from materials such as bone, plastic, brass or graphite, and others.
The nut has notches to help keep the strings evenly spaced and incorrect position over the top of the ukulele. Not only that, but the nut also lifts the strings off the fretboard to allow players to change notes by pressing down on different frets.
It may be a small, unnoticeable piece but without the nut, a ukulele would be unplayable as in not being able to make a sound.
The neck is a long thin piece of wood that supports the fretboard and connects the headstock to the body of the ukulele. The underside of the neck is curved so the players can hold it comfortably.
Usually, the neck and headstock are made of one solid piece of wood to make it sturdy. The most common woods used in ukulele necks are mahogany, koa, maple, and rosewood. Some cheaper models have plastic necks and it’s better to avoid those.
Necks also come in different shapes such as C shaped, D or U shaped, etc. regarding their curvature. The playability can be slightly different according to the shape.
The fretboard, also known as the fingerboard, is a flat, single piece of wood glued to the front of the ukulele’s neck that contains the frets.
A good fretboard should be perfectly smooth and even to ensure the notes are in tune. The ukulele produces a different note depending on the string pressed down on the fretboard. The closer the note to the body, the higher the pitch, and the further away from the body, the lower the pitch of the note.
Different types of woods used in the fretboard have different effects on the tone and feel of the ukulele. Most models use rosewood to make fretboard but some high-end ukes use ebony wood for it.
Frets are short pieces of metal bars hammered onto the wood at specific intervals. They are closest together near the soundhole and the furthest apart near the headstock and nut.
Pushing down on the strings with fingers will contact the frets and shorten the length of the string, which results in a specific note being played.
A ukulele usually has 12-19 frets depending on the size. There are also fretless ukulele models, however, those are better for professionals as they’re already familiar with the pitch or sound.
Most ukuleles have frets made of a mix of different metals such as copper, nickel, and zinc. Whereas higher-end models use frets made of an expensive and durable material like stainless steel.
Fret Space and Markers
A fret space is simply the space on the fretboard between frets. To form notes or chords, you have to press down the strings against the fretboard. The closer the soundhole, the smaller the free space is.
The small inlaid dots on the fretboard and on the side of the neck are called fret markers.
Fret markers are usually found on the third, fifth, seventh, tenth, and twelfth fret. These help ukulele players find their way from one note to another. Their placement is particularly useful while sliding larger distances up and down on the fretboard.
These usually look like white little dots but can also vary in shapes and colors. The most common materials used for fretboard inlays are white plastic, wood, abalone, even pearl for some higher-end exclusive models.
The heel is the part that connects the neck with the body of the ukulele. It’s glued in place to provide strength and support.
Moreover, often there’s a strap button attached to the heel. It’s for players who use a strap. Just remember to secure the other end of the strap over the tail block button as well.
The body is the largest and the most vital part of a ukulele. It consists of a top, back, and sides which are all glued together to create a solid shape.
The top is also called the soundboard and is responsible for amplifying the sound of the ukulele strings. The sound and tone of the instrument are hugely affected by the shape and materials of the body.
The ukuleles made from solid wood have a rich and warmer sound than laminate wood clearly doesn’t have. There are many tonewoods such as mahogany, koa, maple, rosewood, spruce used to make ukulele bodies. Different models have different-sized bodies or different shapes like cutaways or scallops thus giving them a distinct look.
Most ukuleles have four strings and the pitch is determined by the thickness of the string. The thicker the string the lower the pitch of the note and the thinner the string, the higher the pitch of the sound note.
Ukulele strings are made from a variety of materials. The most common is nylon but there can be a nylon and metal combination as well.
Small size ukuleles use nylon strings but large size models use a combination of nylon and metal wound strings. Metal wound strings tend to have a fuller sound than of nylon ones.
The sound hole is the large hole located under the strings in the center of the body of a ukulele. It’s the place where the sound is projected from.
Strumming or plucking the strings creates vibration inside the body which moves around and comes out of the soundhole as music. If you pluck right over the soundhole, the sound will be louder. But the further you pluck away from it, the more mellow and quiet the sound will be.
Many ukuleles are designed with an inlaid pattern around the soundhole called the rosette. Also, some ukuleles have an additional small soundhole on the side of the body called a sound port.
The bridge is a strip of wood, plastic, or bone that is mounted on top of the body below the soundhole. The bridge is there to hold the strings in place.
The type of bridge doesn’t necessarily affect the sound quality of the string, it’s more of a matter of personal preference and aesthetic. Here are some popular types of bridges:
- Tie-bar bridge: the most common type, strings are fed through a hole and tied into a knot to the bridge
- Pin bridge: the type found on acoustic guitars, the strings are held in the bridge by bridge pins
- Slotted bridge: the strings are passed through a small slot and tied into stop knots
- String through bridge: the strings are pushed through the bridge and pulled out of the soundhole, then tied into a knot
The saddle is a small strip of hard material that sits on the bridge, closest to the soundhole. It’s usually made from materials like plastic or bone
Similar to nut, the purpose of the saddle is to keep the strings in the correct position. That is raising the strings to the right height from the fretboard. Also, like nuts, there are small notches in the saddle to secure the strings in place. So, the strings are leveled at the same height across the whole instrument.
For an electric ukulele or an acoustic-electric ukulele, the instrument comes equipped with electronics so it can be connected to an amp or recording device.
Pickup is placed inside the body of the uke and used to pick up the sound and amplify it. There’s also an EQ (equalizer) section that helps to shape the amplified tone of the ukulele. Plus, if there’s a built-in tuner already in the instrument, no need to buy another tuner.
So, there you have it! Hopefully, now you have a better understanding of all the different parts of a ukulele. All these ukulele parts serve their purpose by coming together and creating beautiful sounds from them.