In the initial heyday of the ukulele there was only one size to choose from, and that was the original soprano. As the popularity of the soprano peaked in the Jazz Age, musicians realized they needed a uke that could produce a little more sound. Keep in mind this was before we had fully figured out amplification with electronics, so the best method was to simply make the ukulele bigger! They added a couple inches and increased the body to make a concert size ukulele. This still wasn’t enough and so they added a couple more inches and made the tenor size. A couple decades later they mixed a tenor guitar and a ukulele to get the baritone, which is tuned differently than the soprano, concert, and tenor.
For many first time players it is a choice between playing the soprano vs tenor ukulele or soprano vs concert. To be clear there is no specific right answer, it will depend on your personal needs for a ukulele. As mentioned, the main difference between the soprano and tenor ukulele is the size, the soprano 21 inches and the tenor 26 inches. Besides the obvious size distinction there are a few more pointers that may help you decide between the tenor or soprano ukulele.
Going for That Authentic Vibe
If you are going for an authentic vibe and what the real deal, no doubt the soprano is what you want. The original ukulele is the soprano tuned in GCEA or even sometimes a step up at ADF#B. The tiny body and small scale length will give you that perfect uke sound. If you are worried about the soprano and sound projection than you will also want to buy a pickup or use a microphone. Either way your listeners will enjoy the bright and uplifting sound of a tiny soprano ukulele.
Worried About Your Finger Size?
This factor is more in your head, but for some players it makes a difference. In the soprano vs tenor ukulele not only is the tenor larger but it has a bigger fretboard. Which means more room for your beginning fingers to play on. However in reality because you place such a small part of your fingers on the fretboard it doesn’t make that big of difference. Basically if you are concerned you can’t buy a soprano because you have large fingers, well you shouldn’t be. Either a tenor or soprano ukulele is going to take time and practice to fret all the notes right, so clearly don’t let this factor in to your decision too much.
Will You Be Performing?
If you have hopes of playing for an audience than the tenor ukulele is going to be your best choice, for a few reasons. First it has a larger size and more sound projection. Especially if you buy a very nice solid wood tenor it can have a phenomenal sound! Second this larger fretboard means you have more notes to play with the higher scale. This will allow you to showcase your playing a little more. And in some cases in front of a crowd a tenor looks more professional. Let’s face it the tiny soprano has a bit of a joke reputation, the larger size uke however gives the musician just a little more serious vibe.
Are You a Songwriter?
This is an important factor in the soprano vs tenor ukulele decision. If you are a songwriter your best choice is going to be a tenor. Of course you can write wonderful songs on a soprano, but the tenor will be the easier instrument to use. First as mentioned above it has a larger scale and can be more forgiving on size with a beginner. Second because it has a richer sound the chords will sound that much better in your music. That slightly deeper sound can also have a tendency to fit a singing voice a lot better. If there is a chance you will be writing original music as much as you play covers, then definitely get a tenor ukulele!
Are You Concerned with Colors and Design?
It isn’t a bad thing if you would like to have a ukulele that is flashy, colorful, or has fancy artwork. If that’s as much a concern as sound, then of course fit it in your budget. While you find design and artwork on both sizes in tenor vs soprano ukulele, the soprano is more likely to fit your needs. Yes there are tenors out there that have fancy Hawaiian tattoo like ornamentation, but in general it is sopranos that have the most fun looks.
Sopranos are more likely to come in a variety of colors, wood grains, and designs. They are also more likely to have sharks, dolphins, or other animal themes. And soprano ukuleles are often sold in pineapple models. You are more likely to find a colorful design on a ukulele soprano vs tenor as it is cheaper to decorate a smaller body.
And the final and most important aspect of soprano vs tenor ukuleles, is the price! In general sopranos will always cost less than tenors. This might change depending upon the kind of wood you get and if it is solid or laminated. Usually though the soprano will always be the more affordable ukulele. If budget is one of your constraints than a soprano ukulele will be a wise first choice.
There you have it, if you are in the market for a fun instrument, hopefully we have helped your decision between a tenor or soprano ukulele. If you still can’t decide, don’t worry, as you will likely end up getting both anyway! 🪕🪕 It’s true, ukuleles are addictive and once you buy one, you’ll want more! You will see… it is only a matter of time before the uke has captured another human weak to its charms!