How Many Types of Ukulele are There? [Complete List]

types of ukulele

When looking for a ukulele (be it for yourself or your child), the most important thing is to know about different types of ukulele first. That way, you can find the right one for you.

Ukuleles come in different shapes and sizes, with multiple variations of diverse types. Not just in size, ukuleles vary due to the different tonewood and/or strings used in the construction. Because of the difference in pitch range, music style, and sizes, the sound produced is different as well.

So, this guide is here to help you navigate the world of the ukulele and learn all about the different types, sizes, and mechanisms of the ukulele.

Features of the Ukulele

Before getting into different types of ukuleles, let’s look over some basic features of a ukulele first:

Body

The largest part of the ukulele, the body consists of the top, back, and sides. Here the strings are connected and used for strumming. The top transmits the strings’ vibration and the soundhole projects the ukulele’s sound.

Neck

The neck of the ukulele extends from the head to the body and supports the fretboard. It is a long slender piece of wood used for finger shapes and chords.

Head

The head of the ukulele is attached to the neck and on the opposite side of the body. At the top of the head, there are turning pegs for the strings.

Fretboard

It holds the frets and is also called a fingerboard. Frets are raised lines on the neck of the uke and used as markers to make the chords and notes. The first fret is nearest to the head. The number of frets also indicates the range of the ukulele. The more frets on the neck mean the instrument will have a wider range of tones and notes available.

Different Ukulele Shapes

All different types of ukuleles come in a variety of different shapes. Among them, figure-8, pineapple, and cutaway-shaped models are most common.

Figure-8 Ukulele

The figure-8 shape is also called the guitar shape as its shape is really similar to a guitar. The two loops of the 8 are called bouts and separated at the waist.

Ukuleles are more like miniature versions of guitars. This is the standard shape for most ukuleles.

Pineapple Ukulele

Pineapple ukuleles got their name for having a rounder shape resembling a pineapple. Due to its shape, it produces a louder and mellower sound compared to traditionally shaped ukes.

Pineapple ukuleles are a bit of a novelty addition and vintage models are pretty hard to find. Even though they are not popular for the larger types of ukes, pineapple-shaped models are widely available for soprano and concert sizes.

Cutaway Ukulele

Cutaway ukuleles have a similar shape as figure-8 models but with a unique twist. They are designed to allow access to the higher frets by cutting away the right-hand shoulder of the ukulele. Hence the name ‘cutaway’.

Cutaway ukuleles are getting popular nowadays and can be easily found in various sizes and types.

4 Main Types of Ukuleles

Ukulele Type Total Length Scale Length Tuning
Soprano 21” 13”-14” G-C-E-A
Concert 23” 15”-16” G-C-E-A
Tenor 26” 17”-18” G-C-E-A
Baritone 30” 19”-20” D-G-B-E

Soprano Ukulele

Specification

  • Total length: 21″
  • Scale Length: 13-14″
  • Standard Tuning: G-C-E-A

The most common and the most traditional size ukuleles are the sopranos. They are mostly referred to as the standard ukulele.

Soprano ukuleles are the smallest and the lightest models with their shortest scale and the tightest fret spacing. As a result, they are great for children or people with small hands. Plus, they are easier to move around so work well as a travel companion.

Compared to larger-sized models, sopranos produce a crisper and brighter tone with less projection and resonance. However, the relaxing, softer sound is the classic ukulele sound everyone loves. Moreover, the affordable nature of the soprano uke makes it a popular choice for beginner players.

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Concert Ukulele

Specifications

  • Total length: 23″
  • Scale Length: 15-16″
  • Standard Tuning: G-C-E-A

Concert ukuleles are slightly larger than soprano ukuleles with their bigger body, long neck, and more versatility. The wider neck allows for more frets with wider spacing between them.

Concert ukuleles project a fuller sound that is louder in volume and warmer in tone. They intonate and resonate much better than sopranos and have a broader range.

As the concert ukes are easier to hold and play, performing ukulele players prefer concerts over other types. Players who need a larger size uke than a soprano should consider going for the concert ukulele. Moreover, the price range is closer to the sopranos so getting one won’t put much strain on the pocket.

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Tenor Ukulele

Specifications

  • Total length: 26″
  • Scale Length: 17-18″
  • Standard Tuning: G-C-E-A

Larger than sopranos and concert ukuleles, the tenor ukulele has a louder, more resonant sound overall. Due to its bigger size and projection, tenor produces a sound similar to classical acoustic guitar.

Because of its wider fretboard, a tenor is a great option for learning traditional fingerpicking techniques. However, the sound tenor produces is richer and more complex than the traditional tone. The deeper, fuller sound with a resonant has an almost bass-y tone.

Tenor ukuleles are excellent for experimenting with and producing advanced music. Perhaps that’s why it’s growing in popularity with professional musicians.

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Baritone Ukulele

Specifications

  • Total length: 30″
  • Scale Length: 19-20″
  • Standard Tuning: D-G-B-E

The last and largest of all, the baritone ukulele has the richest, deepest, most full sound. The baritone size is responsible for producing the lowest frequency with the most resonant tone.

Apart from size, the baritone is different from other regular ukuleles due to its tuning. Instead of the standard G-C-E-A tuning, baritone ukuleles are tuned D-G-B-E. This is one of the reasons the baritone ukes are the closest to a normal guitar.

Guitar players find it easier to turn to play baritone ukes. On the other hand, traditional ukulele players feel less comfortable while picking up a baritone to play. The heavier weight is another factor they need to get used to.

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Specialty Ukulele

With the ukulele’s rising popularity, manufacturers have started to offer specialty ukulele models. These are different versions of standard ukuleles with many variations and modifications. Some of the most common of them are:

Sopranino Ukulele

Sopranino ukuleles are the smaller version of soprano ukes. Sopranos are already small, to begin with, but sopraninoes are even smaller with a scale length of about 13 inches.

With 10 frets and a tiny 19-inch body, sopraninoes are ideal for children. These are also travel-friendly. The sound is nice and bright, similar to soprano ukuleles. However, the tuning is different from standard ukuleles.

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Electric Ukulele

Electric ukuleles share common features with electric guitars. They have solid bodies, steel strings, and magnetic pickups. As a result, they barely make any sound without being plugged in into an amplifier.

Electric ukes have the same size as standard ukulele models, but the tone is closer to the metallic sound of a guitar.

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Electro-Acoustic Ukulele

Electro-Acoustic ukuleles offer the benefits of both a traditional ukulele and an electric one. An electric-acoustic ukulele has the body of a standard acoustic ukulele but with a pre-installed pickup.

The pickup is there to plug into an amplifier while playing, but it can also be played without using the amp. Then it’ll just sound similar to an acoustic ukulele.

Also called semi-acoustic ukuleles, these are more flexible and cost-effective than electric ukes.

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Hybrid Ukulele

Banjolele

One of the most popular hybrid ukuleles out there, a banjolele is a cross between a banjo and a ukulele. It has the body of a banjo, but has four strings and is tuned exactly like a standard uke.

Banjoleles are fun instruments that can mix different genres of music. They have the unique twang of a banjo with an underlying ukulele tone. The louder and brighter sound leave some listeners wondering what instrument was being played.

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Guitalele

Like banjolele, Guitalele is another example of a hybrid ukulele. Only this time, it’s a blend of two instruments: guitars and ukuleles.

Instead of four, guitaleles have six strings and are tuned similar to a classical guitar. They have a sound between a standard uke and a nylon string guitar with a much wider range. Plus, being a uke size instrument, guitaleles have greater portability.

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Bass Ukulele

Simply put, a bass ukulele is like a bass guitar with the body of a baritone ukulele.

The tuning of a bass ukulele is identical to a standard bass guitar (E-A-D-G) however, they have a much shorter scale. Most bass ukes have built-in pickups and are used with amplifiers. They produce a low, thick tone but with a good amount of resonance and volume.

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Resonator Ukulele

Another hybrid is the resonator ukulele which is a scaled-down version of the resonator guitar.

There is a metal speaker cone resonator built into the body that helps produce a more ‘twangy’ sound compared to the standard ukes. Resonator ukuleles with a wooden body sound a bit warmer and mellower. Whereas a metal body produces a brighter and louder sound.

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Different Types of Ukulele Tonewood

Different types of wood have different properties and thus influence sound in versatile ways. As a result, a lot of different models of ukuleles are built with different types of tonewoods.

Here are some of the most common woods used for making ukuleles:

Koa

Originally traditional wood of choice by Hawaiian artisans, koa is still widely used and a popular tonewood for the ukulele. With their beautiful colors and grain patterns, koa ukuleles are aesthetically pleasing to the eyes. Moreover, they have a more direct sound and balanced tone with a powerful midrange.

Mahogany

One of the most popular tonewood to build musical instruments, mahogany is a trusted choice for ukulele as well. It’s most often used for ukulele necks and has a slightly heavier and denser feel. Usually, mahogany ukes have a well-balanced sound with a darker, warmer tone.

Spruce

Spruce is a softwood famous for producing louder and bigger sounds. Ukuleles made with spruce tend to stand out due to their pale yellow color. Spruce ukuleles have a bright, full, and warm tone plus a dynamic range.

Maple

Often used in guitars, maple is used for crafting ukuleles as well. Maple ukuleles are renowned for their clarity and distinct sound. Due to the hardness of this tonewood, it’s mostly used in bridges and fretboards. Maple doesn’t resonate or sustain like other woods but it’s great for certain styles of playing.

Cedar

Cedar is an excellent wood used for tenor and baritone ukuleles. It’s softer than spruce and has a rounder and mellower tone. The mids are less pointed but the sound often has more bass.

Rosewood

Rosewood is a less common choice for ukulele, it’s mostly used on ukulele fretboards. Even so, rosewood has an impressive balance of midrange and low tones along with accentuated highs. Normally it’s paired with a softwood top.

Redwood

Redwood is a pretty exclusive tonewood due to it being scarce and expensive. Its position is between spruce and cedar, delivering the clarity of spruce with the warmth of cedar. Redwood used in musical instruments is often salvaged from old decks and furniture.

Solid Wood or Laminated

Ukuleles use similar construction materials as guitars. Therefore, both solid wood and laminated wood ukuleles are available on the market. Which ones are best for playing depends on the player’s individual style, preference, and budget.

With the recent surge of affordable models, laminated ukuleles became more popular due to their low price. They are more durable and lightweight, making them easier to travel with.

However, in terms of natural sound and tone, nothing can beat a ukulele made from solid wood. They are definitely expensive than the laminated ones, but they are well worth the investment as well. Besides, with regular care and maintenance, solid wood ukuleles last a lot longer.

Different types of Ukulele Strings

One common feature all ukuleles share is that they have four strings. Even though some specialty ukes have six or eight strings, most standard models follow similar features. Based on the material, different types of strings produce different types of tones and sounds. Some of the most popular choices for strings are:

Nylon

Most of the ukulele strings are made of nylon. Despite that, the sound of nylon strings actually varies from brand to brand. Nylon strings have a habit of stretching over time so the ukulele will need frequent tuning. Extreme temperatures can also cause the strings to stretch but they’ll hardly be affected by humidity.

Fluorocarbon

There has been a recent surge in the usage of fluorocarbon strings. These strings are made of polymer and were originally developed for fishing lines. These tend to be more durable and less affected by temperature changes. Compared to nylon stings, fluorocarbon strings offer a brighter overall sound.

Wound Nylon

These strings are typically used with tenor and baritone ukuleles. Wound nylon strings have a nylon core wrapped around with a polymer winding material. One downside to these strings is that they tend to produce finger squeaks while sliding the fretboard.

Wound Metal

Similar to wound nylon, wound metal strings are used on lower notes and large-sized ukes. These strings are made of winding materials such as copper or aluminum.

Titanium

As titanium is one of the strongest metals, the ukulele strings made from titanium present more strength and durability. The tangy sound they produce is slightly brighter than from nylon strings. Also, they can project more sound at a higher volume level.

Steel Strings

Steel is a less common material used for ukulele strings. As steel strings can burden the top, bridge, and neck of the ukulele with additional tension. However, some specialty and hybrid ukuleles like banjoleles, guitaleles, etc. utilize steel strings. It’s better to consult a professional before replacing the ukulele’s steel strings rather than doing it yourself.

Which Type of Ukulele Is Best for Beginners

The best type of ukulele depends on the music preference and the level of the player.

For beginners, the best choice is the soprano or concert ukulele. These ukes offer the traditional ukulele sound and the smaller scales help to make chords easier. As players keep getting experienced and lean towards advanced steps, upgrading to the tenor ukulele will be a smart idea. Baritone ukuleles are more of a specialty instrument as they have different tuning than standard models.

Size is another matter for consideration. Children are the best fit for sopranos as they have the smallest size. Even adults with small hands will have a better time playing with a soprano ukulele. However, players with big hands may not feel comfortable with the size of a soprano. For them, a concert or a tenor uke will be the better fit. Soprano and concert ukuleles come at excellent affordable prices so it’s another plus for beginners.

If you’re having trouble with which type of ukulele to go for, consider the different types and sizes again. If you want the traditional ukulele sound, then standard size ukes would be perfect for you. If you’re into experimenting with a different sound, why not go for a specialty ukulele like electric or acoustic?

And if you’re a guitar player, you can try baritone ukuleles or guitaleles. You’d have an easier time learning how to play. There are also other hybrid types like banjolele, bass, etc. to choose from.

Either way, you go, you’re gonna have a fun time so enjoy!

Last update on 2024-04-28 at 22:34 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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