Understanding the different sizes and features of ukuleles is essential whether you’re a seasoned player or interested in learning. The ukulele has gained popularity due to its simplicity and enjoyable nature, but with multiple sizes available, selecting the appropriate one can be intimidating. This article delves into the four+one primary sizes of ukuleles, providing guidance to help you make an informed decision about which one suits you best.
The 5+1 Main Sizes of Ukuleles
There are five main sizes to choose from when buying a ukulele, although there can be some variation in size between different brands.
- The smallest size is the soprano ukulele, which is 21 inches long and is the traditional size, giving the classic sound and tone that most people associate with the instrument.
- The next size up is the concert ukulele, which is around 23 inches long and has more space between frets.
- The tenor ukulele is larger still, at around 26 inches long, and has a deeper sound that is a hybrid between a classical guitar and a ukulele.
- The baritone ukulele is the largest size, at around 29 inches long, and has a deep tone that resembles that of a nylon, classical guitar.
- Finally, there is the bass ukulele, which covers a much lower register and deeper tone than even the baritone ukulele, and is around 30-32 inches long.
- The sopranissimo is a less common size, available in the ‘pineapple’ design, which is only around 16 inches long and has a high-pitched but not very rich tone. 1
The Reason for Different Ukulele Sizes
At first, only the soprano ukulele was available as it was the first type of ukulele to be produced. Nevertheless, like other musical instruments, ukuleles have undergone changes over time. The concert and tenor ukuleles were developed to provide larger sounding instruments with distinct tonal characteristics. The baritone ukulele, which is tuned differently from the other sizes, is often regarded as an alternative to the guitar. In addition, electric ukuleles have been introduced, enabling players to produce amplified sound like electric guitars and basses. These diverse ukulele sizes and types provide players with a range of options to select from based on their preferences and desired sound. 1
Ukulele Sizes: How Does Each Affect the Sound?
Regarding the sound of different ukulele sizes, it ultimately comes down to personal preference.
As a general rule, larger ukuleles tend to have a louder volume, more resonance, and better projection of lower frequencies, resulting in a “bassy” tone.
However, tenor and concert ukuleles strike a “middle ground” with a reasonably full tone. Soprano ukuleles, on the other hand, have a smaller body and a brighter sound with high-end response, although they may struggle with projection and some bass frequencies. Ultimately, the sound you want from your ukulele will depend on the tonal qualities you’re after, and you’ll need to match that up with the size and shape of your chosen instrument. 1
Best Ukulele Size for a Beginner: Which One Should You Choose
Picking the best ukulele size for a beginner depends on personal preference, but it’s important to consider your needs before making a purchase. It’s usually not recommended to start with a baritone ukulele due to its different tuning and size. The soprano size is affordable and excellent for beginners, but may be challenging for those with larger hands. Concert and tenor sizes are comfortable and have a balanced and vibrant tone. They are also reasonably priced, making them good long-term options. With these factors in mind, beginners can make an informed decision when choosing their ideal ukulele size. 1
There are no set rules when it comes to choosing a ukulele. The best approach is to experiment with different sizes, if possible, by visiting a local music store and testing them out to find one that suits your needs. Keep in mind that all types of music can be played on any size ukulele, but typically, players who use fingerstyle techniques tend to prefer a tenor ukulele due to its wider fretboard, while those who enjoy swing music may opt for a soprano ukulele for its traditional sound. Ultimately, the size of the ukulele that you choose should feel comfortable and natural in your hands.
There isn’t a definitive answer to this question, as it ultimately depends on personal preference. Although tenor ukuleles are often considered the most comfortable for adults, some people, like Tiny Tim, have had successful careers playing soprano ukuleles. Despite the misconception that smaller instruments are not suitable for those with larger hands, anyone can play any size ukulele they find comfortable. As an example, even though the person writing this answer is 6’1” with large hands, they are happy playing soprano ukuleles.
The soprano ukulele has 12-15 frets, the concert ukulele has an average of 15-20 frets, the tenor ukulele usually has 15 frets or more, and the baritone ukulele has 19 frets or more. 2
How to Compare Ukulele Types
Tenor vs Baritone
While tenors tend to be less expensive than baritones, both sizes offer excellent volume and projection. However, baritone ukuleles tend to be easier to play than any other size and deliver much deeper notes. In contrast, tenors are a solid middle ground in terms of cost and playability and are often considered an improvement over traditional models due to their warmer tone and slightly larger size. When it comes down to it, the choice between a tenor and baritone ukulele will depend on your personal preferences and playing style, as well as your budget and desired sound projection. 3
Concert vs Tenor
Both produce similar sounds in terms of volume and tone, but the tenor has a slightly warmer and fuller sound due to its larger size. The tenor also has more frets, making it easier for performers to reach higher strings and achieve better sound projection. However, the concert is better suited for playing in front of smaller crowds, while the tenor is ideal for larger audiences. Additionally, the tenor can be tuned like a baritone for even deeper notes. The cost of a tenor ukulele is typically higher than a concert, but for performers, it can be considered an investment for the richer overall sound and intricate fingerpicking opportunities.
Soprano vs Concert
Soprano ukuleles are smaller and produce a lighter sound, making them ideal for beginners with small fingers and tight budgets. On the other hand, concert ukuleles are only slightly larger than sopranos but produce a fuller sound, making them suitable for playing in front of small crowds. When it comes to concert vs. tenor ukuleles, both offer similar sounds in terms of volume and tone. However, tenors produce a warmer tone and are a bit louder, making them best for playing in front of larger audiences. Tenors also have a greater number of frets, allowing for more intricate fingerpicking. If you are looking for something easy to play and are willing to invest in a bigger instrument, a baritone ukulele may be a good option for volume and projection.
Read more: Soprano Vs Concert Ukulele. What to Choose?
Tenor vs Soprano
Soprano ukuleles are smaller and produce a lighter, more classic sound, making them ideal for beginners on a budget. On the other hand, the tenor ukulele is slightly larger and produces a warmer tone that is louder, making it easier to play for a wider range of players. While tenors are more expensive than sopranos, they are still less expensive than the larger baritone ukuleles. Performers often prefer the tenor for its rich sound and greater number of frets, allowing for better sound projection. Ultimately, the decision between a tenor or soprano ukulele comes down to personal preference and intended use.
There are four main sizes of ukuleles: Soprano, Concert, Tenor, and Baritone. There are also Bass and Sopranissimo, but they are not considered basic ukulele sizes.
It depends on personal preference. Concert and Tenor sizes are comfortable and have a balanced and vibrant tone.
The size of the ukulele that is best for an adult player will depend on personal preference and playing style. The most popular sizes of ukuleles for adults are the concert and tenor sizes. The concert size is slightly larger than the smallest size, soprano, and has a fuller sound. The tenor size is even larger and produces an even richer and fuller sound, making it a popular choice for more experienced players.