When most think of the Ukulele they picture the small, jangly sounding instrument that the uke started as. Like many stringed instruments, though, the ukulele has grown and been adjusted to fit different styles and sounds. The different types of ukulele each have features, benefits, and shortcomings. We’ll go through all of them!
While the traditional Ukulele is exactly what you would expect it to be, the baritone uke resembles more of a travel guitar than the Hawaiian instrument. We’ve also seen the emergence of the Banjolele, a hybrid mix of banjo and ukulele.
This article will focus on the four standard types of Ukulele – soprano, concert, tenor, and baritone. We’ve also briefly added the Sopranino to this list due to its emergence and popularity in recent times.
The Different Types of Ukulele
There are four main sizes of ukulele, and a fifth has started to gain popularity more recently. The main four types of ukulele are the Soprano, the Concert, Tenor, and Baritone. The 5th, and almost toy-like Sopranino, is the new kid on the block and much less common than the other ones.
It is a tiny Ukulele with about ten frets and is generally tuned the same way as a soprano. These ukuleles have become popular with some large instrument companies, making it readily available.
This Ukulele is widely viewed as a novelty instrument, but as the video below shows can be used for some pretty great renditions.
The soprano is the traditional size for the ukulele, so it’s often referred to as the ‘standard size’. The instrument is fairly small and can be rather difficult to play because of this.
Also, due to the size, the soprano creates a softer, thinner sound than its bigger counterparts. Many people say the soprano uke ‘sings’.
This is perfect if you’re after the traditional high pitched, relaxing, fun sound associated with Hawaiian music, but if you’re after something louder and more pronounced the larger models may be more your speed.
The concert ukulele is a great starting point for new ukulele players. Its size makes it large enough that many of the issues that arise from the soprano size are minimized without losing that true ukulele sound.
Concert ukuleles are also generally fairly inexpensive due to their size, especially compared to the tenor and baritone sizes.
Very similar to the concert in size and sound, the tenor is usually a good starting point for a guitarist who is looking to make the switch to Ukulele.
The tenor ukulele will have a slightly fuller sound than the concert due to its larger size, but will carry the price tag to go with it.
Below you’ll find two videos that show the differences between the soprano, concert, and tenor. The first show’s each being played so you can get a feel for the difference in sound and the second shows size differences and does a great job talking through the three.
The largest of the major ukuleles, the baritone is similar in size to a small travel guitar. They will produce the richest sound of any of the ukuleles.
One of the big benefits to the baritone is that it can be tuned just like the bottom four (highest) strings on a standard 6-string guitar – DGBE.
You generally will only find a very small selection of baritone ukes at your average music store, if you find them at all, making shopping for them somewhat difficult.
There are a lot of websites out there where you can get information about Ukulele sizes, the effect on sound, and which one may be right for you. The article on LiveUkulele about sizes and sounds is a valuable resource if you want to know more.
The Different Ukulele Shapes
Just like there are different sizes of ukulele, the shape of them varies as well! We only cover the main two, but there are brands that have started to come out with specialty shapes to differentiate themselves from the competition like Magic Fluke.
The Figure 8
This is the traditional shape for the ukulele, and it closely resembles a guitar. the two ‘loops’ of the 8 are called bouts, and they are separated by the waist.
There is a cutaway style figure-8 that is becoming more popular as it allows access to the higher frets.
This ukulele has a rounder shape that resembles the shape of a pineapple, giving the instrument its name. This ukulele is somewhat of a novelty addition though it actually produces a louder sound than the traditionally shaped ukulele.
Pineapple Ukuleles are widely available on soprano and concerts sizes, while not as popular as the larger types of the ukulele.
Types of Ukulele Tonewoods
Ukuleles share many construction materials with standard guitars, generally using solid wood or laminated wood construction. For a short time after World War II they were also made out of cheap plastic, which you can read about HERE.
Solid wood construction ukuleles are generally more expensive and have a better resonance than their laminate counterparts, though the laminate is normally sturdier.
Koa is the traditional wood used by Hawaiian artisans and it is still widely used. The material lends itself to a very mid-range overall. The tropical wood sports a variety of grain patterns and beautiful colors. Many of the best ukuleles in the world by brands like Martin are sporting a Koa top and sides.
This is one of the most used woods when making musical instruments. It is preferred because of its great strength at a lower weight and is commonly found on the neck of both ukuleles and guitars. Many of our picks for the best ukuleles for beginners have a mahogany body as a great combintion of sound and value!
Spruce is a softwood that has become increasingly popular in recent years. It is famous for being bright, loud, full, and warm.
A very popular soundboard wood for tenor and baritone ukuleles. It is softer than spruce, with less pointed mids but often more bass. It also has a sophisticated overtone and is considered alive, sweet, and with the right bite.
Renowned for its clarity, less overtone clutter, and strong and dynamic ability. Maple back and sides produce some of the best sounds in ukulele.
Rosewood is popular for the sides and back of flagship models of acoustic guitars. Less common on the ukulele, it has an impressive mid-range and low overtone. Normally when it’s used it is paired with a softwood top. Both guitars and ukuleles of all types will commonly use this material for the fretboard though.
The Final Notes
When talking about the different types of ukulele not only do we have to account for size, but also for shape. While the Ukulele is very much so the powerhouse Hawaiian instrument we think of, it’s expanded to be much more versatile too!
What is your favorite type of ukulele? We’d love to hear from you!
A ukulele player pretty much from birth, Edward has gone on to play banjo, lead guitar, and bass for a number of bands and solo projects! Edward loves talking, teaching and writing about music!