The guitar and the ukulele seem very similar on the surface, especially when considering acoustic guitars. These are both stringed instruments that can be played with similar techniques, but what are the real differences between these instruments?
The guitar is larger and more full-sounding than the ukulele. The ukulele is easier to play and learn than the guitar but far less versatile. The guitar is louder, and the ukulele sounds sweeter. The ukulele is easily accessible, but the guitar brings longevity. Both instruments are worth learning.
The guitar and the ukulele are completely different instruments, despite the fact that they are somewhat similar in appearance.
There are differences in the way the instruments sound, feel, and play, and if you are deciding which instrument is better for you, these are all considerations to keep in mind. Let’s explore the differences between the guitar and the ukulele.
Ukulele Vs. Guitar – Major Differences and Similarities
The ukulele and the guitar are both string instruments, they are both played with similar techniques, and they are both very easily accessible. So, which instrument is best for you?
The truth is that determining whether the guitar or the ukulele is ideal for you means exploring the differences and similarities between these instruments in order to understand them better and find out what they are like to play and use, as well as what they sound like.
The instrument that is right for you will suit your own preferences regarding the sound of the instrument, how difficult it is to play, how the instrument feels in your hands, and which instrument you like the look of best.
There are some important comparisons to make between the ukulele and the guitar that can inform this decision as well.
Let’s explore the significant differences between the guitar and the ukulele regarding:
- The way the instruments feel
- What they are like to play
- What they sound like
- The variations that are available
- The potential learning challenges
- Playing techniques
- And peripheral equipment that can be used with these instruments.
All of this will help you decide which instrument is a better fit for you!
Size And Body Shape
The most obvious difference between the guitar and the ukulele is the difference in size. The standard size of guitars, regardless of the type of guitar, is significantly larger than the standard size of the ukulele.
This size difference comes with pros and cons for both instruments.
The fact the ukulele is smaller in size means that it is easier to hold and easier to play in some ways.
The fact that the guitar is larger in size means that it may be more challenging to play. However, guitar is also louder, there is more space to place your fingers, and it is more versatile.
The body shape of acoustic guitars and ukuleles is similar, and the same can be true for the electric versions of these instruments as well. There are electric ukuleles, as there are electric guitars, but they are far less common.
With that being said, the body shape and design of the ukulele and the guitar are very similar – they are just vastly different in size.
- Read More: Parts of the Acoustic Guitar Explained
Number Of Strings
Standard ukuleles are built with four strings. The way these strings are tuned is unique among string instruments, and this means that the way the ukulele sounds when played and the chords and note variations are unique as well.
The four strings of a ukulele are somewhat limiting when compared to the guitar, but they afford enough versatility to enable the ukulele to perform some incredible pieces of music.
Standard guitars have six strings, each thinner than the next (as explained in types of guitar strings). These six strings provide a shockingly wide range of note variations and chord shapes, as well as pitches, and make the guitar wonderfully versatile. It also means that there is more to learn.
The number of strings on the instrument directly impacts how challenging the instrument is to learn and play but also determines how functional and versatile the instrument is.
There are string number variations in ukuleles and guitars, as there is more than one type of both instruments, but these are the standard string setups on these instruments.
The number of strings that the ukulele and the guitar have, as well as the sizes and body shapes of the instruments, leads us to discuss the variations of each instrument,
In short, there are several significant differences between these instruments when the variations are considered.
Let’s begin with the ukulele. The ukulele comes in multiple types/sizes, and each size has its own characteristics regarding sound, tone, playability, functionality, and overall musical quality.
The Baritone is almost the size of a smaller classical acoustic guitar, and it has a unique sound quality, as do the other ukulele sizes.
There are also ukuleles with varying string numbers, such as the guitar ukulele, also known as the guitarlele, which has six strings. Specialized ukuleles such as the ukulele bass are also common variants of these instruments.
Electric ukuleles are growing in popularity as well as the banjo ukulele, the tiny 12-inch Sopranino, and the pineapple ukulele that has a unique body shape that provides a more well-rounded tone.
The guitar has even more variations than the ukulele does. There are four main guitar types, and then there are multiple subtypes within those main types.
The four main guitar types are classical acoustic, steel-string acoustic, electric guitars, and bass guitars.
Within these four main types, there are very many size variations, string variations, hardware variations, body type, and shape variations, build material variations, tone variations, playability variations, and functionality variations.
There are guitars with twelve strings, seven strings, eight strings, nine strings, and even up to twenty-four strings. Double and triple-neck guitars are growing in popularity, as are combination guitars that utilize elements from other instruments built into them (like the harp guitar).
There are more guitar variations than any other instrument, which means that there is definitely a type of guitar that will perfectly suit your requirements, preferences, and all of your instrument-playing dreams.
Now that we have discussed the physical instruments, it is time to explore the world of what these instruments are like to play and what they sound like.
Let’s begin with the playing techniques used for the guitar and the ukulele.
The ukulele is often seen as an instrument that is directed more toward rhythm than other techniques. Strumming chords and rhythms are where the ukulele shines, but it is also capable of playing complex melodies and harmonies, as well.
The truth is that the easiest techniques to master in the ukulele are strumming and rhythm techniques because the small size of this instrument makes playing chords easy, but playing complicated melodies is very challenging.
The guitar, however, is so versatile that every playing technique is available to guitarists from the beginning. Of course, this means that the techniques take longer to learn, and they require closer attention to execute well.
The versatility of the guitar is an advantage and a hindrance, as there are so many techniques to learn on this instrument that are considered main techniques.
This fact alone makes the instrument widely versatile, but the sheer number of techniques – more than just strumming and picking – that are required to play an instrument well can be overwhelming at first.
However, the playing techniques that are available on the guitar, while they are challenging, make for a far more interesting musical experience, a better challenge, and result in a more well-rounded musician in a shorter period of time.
- Read More: Can You Use a Guitar Pick on a Ukulele?
The important similarities and differences between the guitar and the ukulele so far now lead us to discuss the major differences and similarities between learning to play each of these instruments.
The truth is that both the ukulele and the guitar are very accessible to beginners. The early stages of learning to play these instruments are surprisingly similar, but the difference becomes apparent as soon as the student moves into learning slightly more challenging techniques and pieces.
Learning the ukulele is very focused on strumming chords and rhythms right from the beginning, while the guitar is generally approached from a more melodic method.
- Read More: How Long Does It Take To Learn Guitar?
This means that learning basic songs is very simple at the beginning on both instruments.
However, as the stages of learning progress, the guitar becomes rapidly more difficult, while the more playable ukulele remains largely in the same area of difficulty for a long time.
It is easier to progress further in less time with a ukulele than with a guitar, but the ukulele becomes more repetitive sooner than the guitar does.
If you want to take up an instrument for the sake of a challenge, then the guitar is the better option. If you want to learn an instrument to just strum and sing songs, then the ukulele may be better suited for you.
Now that we know what some of the learning challenges are for these instruments, it is time to consider the playability of each instrument as well.
The ukulele is a very playable instrument. This instrument is small and easily accessible, which means that learning the ins and outs of playing the ukulele is not particularly challenging in the beginning.
The small size of the instrument, coupled with the fact that it only has four strings, means that the ukulele is far easier to play than the guitar.
The guitar is larger, has more strings, is heavier, and playing the strings typically requires more hand strength than playing the ukulele.
- Read More: Can You Play Guitar With Small Hands?
This means that the ukulele is better suited for children than the guitar is, and it is better for those who want to play an easy instrument.
The guitar is more challenging but more rewarding. Every new technique and method on the guitar can feel difficult, and it is not as playable as the ukulele. When the basic techniques are learned, however, the instrument becomes just as playable as the ukulele is.
This means that while the ukulele is easier to learn in the beginning, when the guitar basics are learned, the guitar becomes just as easy to play.
Therefore, one should choose the instrument based on what they want to play, rather than how easy the instrument is to play, as the guitar will become easier with practice.
Volume, Tone, and Overall Sound
A very important difference between the ukulele and the guitar is the way these two instruments sound and how loud these two instruments are.
If we compare the standard ukulele to a standard acoustic guitar, the tone of the ukulele is smaller, thinner, and higher in pitch. The instrument sounds wonderful in the right hands, and it can sound very sweet and delicate, as well.
The guitar sounds far richer, far more full, and has much more bass and lower frequencies than the ukulele does. The guitar sounds deeper and lower in pitch, and it sounds more well-rounded than the ukulele.
The guitar is also significantly louder than the ukulele. The ukulele is small, and it is equipped with nylon strings, which means that the ukulele is significantly quieter than the guitar, especially a guitar that has steel strings.
This is simply because the guitar is larger and has more acoustic range, and requires more energy to produce a sound.
Both instruments can sound beautiful in the right hands, but the guitar produces a generally more pleasing overall tone than the ukulele does, especially for melodic playing. Of course, this last point might come down to personal preference!
Another consideration to make when comparing the ukulele and the guitar is the peripheral equipment that comes with playing these instruments.
Almost all guitar players learn how to play with a plectrum. This means learning another set of skills and techniques aside from learning to play with fingers only.
Ukulele players tend to learn to play with fingers only, which means there is only one set of skills to learn.
Guitars also lead guitarists to invest in peripheral gear such as amplifiers, pedals, and effects units, especially those who play electric guitars, while ukuleles encourage ukulele players to simply enjoy the instrument in their hands.
There is a different dynamic regarding additional equipment when learning these instruments that must be considered.
Learning the guitar usually leads to more guitar gear, while investing in one good ukulele typically means that the player will never use other equipment at all (besides, perhaps, a ukulele capo).
This means that the guitar opens guitarists up to a larger hobby or time investment, while the ukulele remains simple and straightforward, and you should choose your instrument with this in mind.
The ukulele and the guitar both belong to the same family of stringed instruments, but the truth is that these instruments are vastly different from one another. While they are in the same family, they are not close to being the same instrument.
The ukulele and the guitar are both excellent instruments with their own set of drawbacks and advantages.
The ultimate decision regarding which is best for you should be made by which instrument excites you most, as an instrument that excites you will inspire you to practice more.
As always, Happy Playing,