Here Are The Different Types of Ukuleles Explained In Detail!
Trying to understand what are the different types of ukuleles? And how many different types of ukuleles are there? Turns out, there are quite a few!
Understanding the different types of ukuleles – and the differences between them – can be tricky, especially if you are new to ukuleles. Some guides just cover the common ukuleles – we’ll try to be a bit more detailed!
In this guide, we’ll explain the different types of ukuleles (ukulele sizes, body types, and other ukulele variations). We’ll also then lay out the differences between the different ukulele types.
This way, if you are looking to get into ukuleles – or you’re looking to buy a different ukulele – you can understand the most important information to make the right ukulele choice for you.
Keep in mind, the different types of ukulele sizes and shapes are different from the different ukulele brands. We cover the best ukulele brands in another article (if that interests you). For now, let’s dive onto our ukulele comparison and understand different ukulele types!
Different Types of Ukuleles – By Size
So, how many types of ukuleles are there? Short answer: Lots. Long answer: There are lots of different types of ukuleles – and we can divide them up by different sizes, different body shapes, and different instrument style.
To start off with understanding the different types of ukuleles, let’s first break down ukuleles types by size. There are seven standard sizes of ukulele. From smallest ukulele to largest ukulele (by overall length/size) they are:
- Pocket Ukulele
- Soprano Ukulele
- Concert Ukulele
- Tenor Ukulele
- Baritone Ukulele
- Bass Ukulele
- Contrabass Ukulele
Of these different ukulele sizes, there are four “main” ukulele types that are common on music store shelves and online.
If you are just starting out with ukuleles, you will likely only need to focus on these four “main” sizes of ukulele. Below, we’ll dive into a ukulele size comparison so you can understand the differences between the main uke sizes. We’ll cover the other sizes down below.
The soprano ukulele is also known as the “standard ukulele” due to its size. It’s the second smallest of all seven ukulele sizes and is actually considered the original size of the ukulele.
The soprano ukulele size is about 21 inches in overall length (from tip of body to top of headstock). As for frets, soprano ukuleles feature anywhere from 12 to 15 frets on the neck. There is also a variation of the soprano ukulele called the long neck soprano or the super soprano but we’re not getting into that here.
Because of the compact overall size, bright tones, and higher pitch, soprano ukuleles are a popular size and easier to store/travel with. One downside to the soprano – which we’ll get into below – is that there is much less space between the frets on the neck which can pose a challenge for players with larger hands.
Also known as an alto ukulele, the concert ukulele is another very common ukulele size. If you are comparing a soprano to a concert ukulele, a concert ukulele is slightly larger – in neck length, body size, and scale length – than the soprano ukulele.
The concert ukulele size is about 23 inches in overall length (from tip of body to top of headstock). As for frets, the concert ukulele has, generally, between 15 and 20 frets. A more specific estimate for the number of frets on a concert ukulele is 15 to 18 frets.
Concert ukuleles are also one of the more common ukulele sizes due to their decent note range and compact size. If a concert ukulele is for you, you can check out our detailed guide on the best concert ukuleles.
Increasing in size from the concert ukulele, the tenor ukulele is the next one up. A tenor ukulele compared to a concert ukulele is once again, slightly larger overall. The neck length and body size/length are larger but the number of frets along the neck is roughly the same.
The tenor ukulele size is about 26 inches in overall length (from tip of body to top of headstock). Tenor ukulele variations can have anywhere from 15 to 25 frets. However, a more specific range for a common tenor ukulele size is 17 to 19 frets.
The tenor ukulele can play a slightly larger range of overall notes than the concert ukulele. It does so with a slightly lower pitch due to the increased body size.
Tenor ukuleles are a great choice if you are looking for a slightly larger instrument with a deeper overall tone. You can learn more about tenor ukuleles in our guide on the best tenor ukuleles.
Next up we have the baritone ukulele. While the size difference between a baritone ukulele and a soprano ukulele is significant, a tenor to a baritone ukulele isn’t too much of a difference.
As the largest standard ukulele size, the baritone ukulele produces the deepest overall tones but cannot naturally produce the highest notes that a tenor, concert, or sopranino (see below) can.
You can always get a baritone ukulele and if you wanted to raise the pitch to make it sound more like a soprano ukulele, you can simply add a ukulele capo.
The baritone ukulele size is about 29 inches in overall length (from tip of body to top of headstock). Baritone ukuleles boast 18 frets or more – with 18 to 21 being a more accurate range.
A pro of the baritone ukulele is that there is lots of room between the frets. On the other hand, the larger body size might be too hard for some to handle comfortably as they play.
For completeness, there are a handful of other ukulele sizes besides the four “main” sizes. As mentioned above, you can also find the pocket ukulele (which is smaller than a soprano ukulele), the bass ukulele (one step larger than a baritone ukulele), and the contrabass ukulele (which is one step larger than the bass ukulele).
Also known as the sopranino or sopranissimo ukulele, the pocket ukulele is the smallest ukulele you can find. The pocket ukulele is even smaller than the soprano ukulele.
The overall length is a few inches shorter than a soprano ukulele (16 inches) and there are only around 10–12 frets. It can get really tight to play if you have large fingers. The overall tone is also quite high because the body is small and is not good at creating and/or projecting any deep, bass tones.
Pocket ukuleles – as the name suggests – are small enough to “fit in a pocket”. This isn’t always actually true but the general notion is that pocket ukuleles are small, compact instruments that are good for travelling.
If you’re looking to seriously get into ukulele, a pocket ukulele usually isn’t a great choice since it can be quite limiting as an instrument.
Back up on the larger end of the ukuleles, the Bass ukulele has a slightly larger overall length (30 inches) than the baritone ukulele. However, the bass ukulele has a number of frets (16 to 18) which is more similar to what you’d find on a tenor ukulele (17 to 19).
A big difference between a bass ukulele and a baritone ukulele is the size of strings used. Baritone ukuleles use “normal” nylon strings that you’d find on the other common sizes whereas a bass ukulele uses a much heavier gauge string (sometimes made of rubber).
Also known as a U-Bass, the contrabass has the greatest length of the ukuleles (32 inches) but a fixed number of frets at 16. This means that there is much more space between the frets.
The heavy gauge strings in combination with the larger body produce deep, beautiful tones – as you’d expect from a bass guitar – but with an acoustic, non-amped sound.
Different Types of Ukuleles – By Body Shape
There are different physical sizes of the ukuleles but there are also different types of ukulele with regards to the body shapes.
Of the standard ukulele sizes, you’ll find three main body shapes: figure-8, pineapple, and cutaway. There are also less-common shapes like the bell shape and vita ukulele shape.
The figure-8 is the most common body shape you will find when it comes to ukuleles. Also sometimes called traditional or regular shape, it looks like that classic “round-skinny-round” shape that forms an 8. The shape just works – it resonates well and creates nice tones.
In fact, the figure-8 body shape – or variations of it – has been around in stringed instruments for centuries. It is popular among many stringed instruments – including the acoustic guitar.
Another ukulele body shape that you’ll see is the pineapple. These bodies have the name because they are – unsurprisingly – shaped like a pineapple.
Pineapple ukuleles are really only seen in the smaller sizes (soprano and concert). You don’t see the larger ukuleles (tenor and baritone) in a pineapple body shape.
There is heavy discussion on whether the pineapple shape has a better/different tone than the figure-8 shape. Some say yes and some say no.
Since an instrument’s overall tone/sound is influenced by a bunch of other factors like what strings you have on the ukulele and what material the body is actually made out of, this is tough to determine. If it sounds good to you, that’s all that matters!
A final variation of the ukulele body is the cutaway. This ukulele body style isn’t so much a different type of ukulele body as it is a slight variation of the existing figure-8.
A cutaway ukulele has a section of the body “cut away” from the higher frets of the neck. This allows you to reach the higher frets with your fingers with ease. The cutaway is similar to that of a cutaway on an acoustic guitar or what you’d see on electric guitars.
Different Types of Ukuleles – By Variations
There are a few other ukulele types (call them variations) that we should mention in case you want to learn about them.
Some of these types of ukes are also known as “hybrid ukuleles” since they merge together two instruments into a unique ukulele. With so many different kinds of ukuleles, the chance that you’ll find a cool ukulele that works for you is pretty high.
Also known as a banjolele, the banjo ukulele is exactly what you might imagine it to be: A small ukulele-sized four-stringed instrument that has a body shape like a banjo. With such a circular body shape, the tone can be slightly different from a classic ukulele body shape.
To be fair, it sounds a little bit more like a banjo with those tinny, bluegrass sort of tones the body creates. However, as we have previously mentioned, there are other factors that affect the tone/sound of the ukulele.
Also known as the guitalele, the guitarlele is – again – what you’d expect from the name. It’s a 6-string ukulele that is about the same size (neck length and body size) as a tenor ukulele.
The neck is also a bit wider to accommodate all six strings (compared to four strings). The guitarlele is tuned to G-C-E-A – with the top two strings tuned to D and low A.
It’s also not a “mini guitar”. Although you can use the same chord shapes as on guitar, you’ll create different chord sounds when you do them on a guitarlele.
Last, we have electric-acoustic ukuleles. These ukuleles have electronic components built in to allow for the ukulele to be plugged into an amplifier (amp).
This means you can make the ukulele sound louder (by volume) if you are playing for more people or in a loud or busy setting (like a coffee shop).
You can obviously still play the ukulele unplugged as you would a regular ukulele. However, an electric-acoustic ukulele gives you the option of plugging in.
This might be handy if you already play guitar and have an amp and/or guitar cables and/or effects pedals you can utilize. Otherwise, you don’t really need to search for an electric-acoustic ukulele as your first ukulele.
Other Ukulele Variations
There are other ukulele variants like the harp ukulele (with an extra arm and a few strings to create a harp portion on the ukulele), the resonator ukulele (which creates sound via aluminum cones as opposed to a wood box), the Tahitian ukulele (carved from solid wood), and the 8-string Taropatch ukulele (an early cousin of the modern uke).
Again, these are more unique ukulele types that you’d be unlikely to find at the music shop around the corner. However, we thought they were worth mentioning!
What is the Difference Between the Different Types of Ukuleles?
In order to answer the question “what size of ukulele should I get?”, you need to understand the differences between the different types of ukuleles. We’ve compared ukulele sizes above but this section is all about talking about the differences.
In general, the main differences between ukulele sizes are the overall size of the instruments, the sounds they produce (their tone), and their prices, among other differences. We’ll dive into these differences in detail below:
Neck and Body Length
Of course, the different ukulele sizes have different overall lengths. Obviously, larger ukuleles have longer overall lengths than smaller ukuleles.
The size of the body and the neck also grow larger as the type of ukulele gets larger. Larger ukulele bodies produce deeper tones (covered below) and longer necks also generally have more frets along it (also covered below).
With a larger ukulele body, there’s also just more to hold onto. You might find a soprano ukulele too small to play comfortably. Others might think a baritone ukulele feels massive to hold in their lap when they sit to play.
Related to the ukulele’s neck length is the amount of frets the ukulele has. We outlined the general ranges for how many frets you’ll find on each ukulele size above. However, don’t worry too much about the number of frets between ukulele sizes.
The number of frets is kind of a guideline since there are variations that break the rules. For example, a soprano ukulele usually has 12-15 frets but you can find a long-neck soprano ukulele and it has 18 frets.
One aspect of the frets that is important to consider between uke sizes is the space between the frets. The larger the space between the frets the easier it may be to press the strings, strum chords, and play the ukulele. This is especially true if you have larger fingers.
Shorter necks with fewer frets – like on a soprano ukulele – can feel squished to play for people with larger hands. However, ukulele players with small hands might love this aspect of a smaller uke!
Another aspect of the ukuleles that differs between them is the scale length. Scale length is the maximum amount of length the strings have to vibrate to create their sound.
The actual vibrating string is anchored between the nut (on the neck) and the saddle (on the ukulele body). So Scale length is certainly influenced by the neck and body length.
The vibrating strings – and their relative length – create sounds. Shorter scale lengths create higher-pitched sounds while longer scale lengths generate deeper, lower tones.
Speaking of ukulele scale length, the sound of the ukuleles will certainly differ between types. As we mentioned above, smaller ukes make a lighter overall tone and produced higher-pitched sounds. This is because of the smaller body size and the shorter string length.
Larger ukuleles produce more bass and usually a deeper sound in addition to higher-pitched notes. These lower tones are a combination of larger ukulele bodies and longer string lengths.
In summary, smaller instruments create higher pitched tones with the inability to go lower. Larger instruments produce lower overall tones and you can always play higher notes as you move up the frets (or use a ukulele capo).
To compare sounds between the main sizes of uke, a soprano and a concert sound more similar in tone than if you were to compare a concert to a tenor ukulele.
We could get into overall note ranges that the different ukuleles can produce but generally speaking this is more technical musical theory (which you can learn about if it interests you!)
This doesn’t really impact buying but the tunings of the strings are different between the different types. Standard ukulele tuning for the soprano ukulele, concert ukulele, and tenor ukulele is G-C-E-A. A baritone ukulele, however, is tuned at D-G-B-E.
This makes the transition between a soprano, concert, and tenor fairly simple when it comes to chord fingerings. If you are a beginner at the ukulele, then you’ll just learn the chords for the first time and won’t know the difference.
However, if you want to switch ukuleles from a smaller one to a baritone ukulele (the one with the different string tunings), then you might have to relearn your chord fingerings.
Indirectly related to the question of how the different ukulele sizes are different is the price of the ukuleles. Generally, the smaller ukuleles cost less while larger ukuleles cost more to buy. This is because of less material and/or labor that go into producing the ukulele.
However, this is a very skewed answer because the price of the ukulele is also greatly affected by where the ukulele is manufactured and the quality of the materials in the ukulele (solid wood versus laminate versus plastic).
When buying a ukulele, you’ll likely find higher prices in larger ukuleles but don’t always go off this rules as an indicator of quality. A really good Hawaiian -made soprano ukulele might be far more expensive than a cheap baritone ukulele.
What is the Most Common Ukulele Size?
When it comes to the most common ukulele size, the answer is: It depends on who’s answering! Generally speaking, the smaller ukulele sizes are more affordable, approachable, and easy to store/have around. Soprano and concert ukuleles make a convenient choice for many ukulele players.
To be fair, the difference between a soprano and a concert ukulele isn’t too dramatic (size, sound, frets) so it’s understandable to see why these are common sizes.
Another potential reason smaller sized ukuleles are more common might be because smaller sized ukuleles are also easier to give/receive as a gift. They are also easy to pick up without much thought to start trying to play. And they work just like the other larger ukes.
From a practicality standpoint, there’s no initial reason to grab a baritone ukulele off the shelf over a soprano uke (for most players, at least).
However, if you care at all about your ukulele buying decision, you’d consider the other types/sizes because one might work much better for you. Your musical style, personal preference, and physical body size are things to consider when you buy.
What are the Best Types of Ukuleles for Beginners?
Again, the correct answer is: It really depends. Generally speaking, most beginners at the ukulele reach for a smaller size because they are cheaper, smaller, and more of a “safe” choice. So, a soprano ukulele or even a concert ukulele often gets chosen as a first ukulele.
This is actually not a great way to go about choosing a ukulele type as a beginner since you might have large fingers or longer arms. A simple, small soprano ukulele might not be the best fit for you.
The best type of ukulele for a beginner is also dictated (a bit) by your musical background. If you are new to any stringed instruments, a soprano or concert will likely be a good fit for you.
If you are coming from a guitar background, you might want a larger instrument (a tenor ukulele) or an ukulele with similar string tunings as your acoustic guitar (a baritone ukulele).
And there you have it – a rundown of the different types of ukuleles broken down by ukulele size and style. In the end, there are lots of different ukuleles out there all with their own pros and cons for you, the player.
Just remember to keep in mind your unique needs as a ukulele player and you’ll have an easier time determining which uke type is best for you!
As always, Happy Strumming,