You may have heard of them
But in normal day to day life you may not have given that musical instrument much thought. In fact, all you may remember about the instrument is that the famous Don Ho played on all the time in his act.
Or you may have heard Tiny Tim play his on the Johnny Carson show. If you say ‘who’ to all three names then you may not be old enough to know what a ukulele is and that there are different types of ukuleles you can play.
To about those different types of ukuleles just continue to read our article. It provides you with the information you need to know so you can decide if you want want to learn to play one yourself.
Different types of ukuleles
The origin of the ukulele began in Hawaii many years ago. The instrument comes with 4 strings and many people never took it seriously. But that attitude is changing. There are 4 types of ukuleles you can learn to play- the soprano, the tenor, the baritone and the concert models.
What follows is a brief description of all four kinds of ukuleles and some pros and cons that go with them:
#1. The Soprano
This version of the ukulele measures 21 inches long, has 12 to 15 frets and can be tuned to the GCEA or the ADF#B scales. It is a smaller ukulele and you will need small hands to play it effectively and without making mistakes.
When strumming you will hear the thin sound most people think a ukulele sounds like. It is a good model to learn on especially for children. Plus, it is small enough to travel without hassles.
One difference between this and the concert version is that the tension on the strings are not as tight as the latter instrument. Different manufacturers all make their own soprano ukulele. So you may need to shop around to get the best price, quality and tone.
- Easy to take on the road with you.
- Can be tuned to two scales.
- Comes in different colors.
- Easy to learn to play.
- Tension is a little loose.
- Only small hands can play it effectively.
- Small size.
#2. The Concert
This is the next size up from the soprano and it measures roughly 23 inches long. It is tuned to the GCEA scale, both the linear and the re-entrant. There are 15 to 20 frets and the professional player usually selects this model because of its rich sound.
If you have bigger hands than other players, this option is easier to play as the frets are further apart than on the soprano. You may think that with the label concert it would be an expensive ukulele to play but the price is usually quite reasonable and affordable.
Another name for the concert is the alto and it should have a deeper sound than the soprano model. You also get a wider range of notes to play.
- A little larger and easier to play.
- You can play more notes.
- Comes with a great sound.
- May produce too loud of volume.
- Quality of construction may be suspect.
#3. The Tenor
Its tuning is a bit more versatile as this ukulele can be tuned exactly like the concert version or it can be tuned to produce lower notes to compete with the baritone ukulele. Once you have it tuned to the scale you want, playing is as easy as the previous two models.
While this version is a little bit longer, about 26 inches, its frets can number as few as 15 and have as many or more than the concert ukulele. The size is not set in stone either as different brands may produce different lengths for this model and the others.
The sound that comes out of this little instrument is fuller than the other two and it is easier to play lower notes on its strings.
- Longer, easier for some people to hold.
- A nice full timbre to its sound.
- Flexible tuning capability.
- High string tension that may present some complications.
- May come without a case.
- May not be durable.
#4. The Baritone
This is the biggest of all the four types of ukuleles and it comes in at 30 inches long. Normally it is tuned to the DGBE scale and it has 19+ frets that allow you some versatility in note playing.
If you like playing and listening to the lower notes, this is the model you want to play. Plus, if you like to pick the strings with your fingers, the Baritone will accommodate you. The sound you get either from finger picking or strumming is a nice warm sound that is easy to listen to.
Like the other ukulele models this one is easy to learn how to play. It shouldn’t take you long to master.
- Provides a nice, deep, low and rich sound.
- Easier to play with bigger hands.
- Easier to play low notes.
- May be harder to travel with due to its size.
- Can’t play the high notes.
Specialty of Ukuleles
While almost all ukuleles fit into the 4 categories just mentioned, there are exceptions to the rules. These are called speciality ukes and they either are combined with different stringed instruments or are technologically altered to make unique sounds.
What follows is a list of these speciality instruments to show you the different kinds of ukuleles you can play as well as a brief description. Who knows, the regular ukulele may not be for you but one of these speciality models may:
- Banjolele- shaped like a banjo and has a similar sound but tuned like a small ukulele.
- Guitarlele- this is the 6 string model of ukeleles which work with regular guitarists to get a ukulele sound without changing the instrument or learning to play a new one.
- Bass ukulele- has a shorter scale to work with but it is tuned to the EADG scale and is the same as the four bottom guitar strings
- acoustic-electric uke- it is one of the technologically altered ukes. It comes with an input jack and a volume control panel
- electric ukulele- is made with a solid body and it needs an amp for you to be able to hear its tone and sound range
- resonator ukulele- this is the mini resonator guitar,just like the electric uke is a mini version of the electric guitar. The only difference between this model and regular ukuleles is the tone and look
- archtop ukulele- continuing in the mini guitar tradition wile the instrument is supposed to play mellow tones it rarely is the reality
- homemade ukes- the cigar box is both homemade as well as commercially produced and they produce a nice sound as well as being able to be custom decorated
Which one is best for me?
There are a lot of different factors that come into play before you can determine which one is best for you. Since all 4 categories of ukes do not come in a very large size, length is not a big determining factor.
If you are a beginner, you should stick to the soprano or the concert ukulele and the reason for that is that their small size helps your hands learn how to form the chords easier.
Then your hand size will influence your decision and smaller hands should stick to the smaller models while larger hands should move up to the larger sizes. On top of that, the personal preferences you have come into play.
The ukulele that is best for you is the one that produces the sound you want to play and the style of music you want to play. Your level of proficiency also determines which category you want should select your ukulele.
If you want to be unique, the different kinds of ukuleles in the specialty category may be more to your liking and a better fit for you. The best thing to do is try each one out and see which one fits your body and hand size and produce the sound you like.
The construction materials of a ukulele
There are different construction materials used in making a ukulele. For the neck and the body of the instrument, wood is usually used. Maple, mahogany, spruce are just some of the wood types that are used to create the nice ukulele sound.
Some companies decide to go cheap and use plywood and laminate board. A traditional wood used in this instrument is found in Hawaii and it is called Acacia wood or Koa.
Then for strings, the traditional construction material was cat gut but today many ukuleles use strings made from nylon polymers or other material options. The first ukulele made was called the standard in Hawaii and it was the soprano model.
The concert did not come along till the 1920s with the tenor right on its heels. The baritone model was not invented until the 1940s. When the first soprano or standard ukulele was made is not known as the instrument started about 3,000 years ago.
The instrument was made by hand until 1910 which saw upgrades to the manufacturing process upgraded. The biggest impact on the sound, tone & quality is the type of wood that is used to make the instrument.
Because the uke is made allover the world a longer list of wood includes koa, maple, walnut, rosewood, myrtle, brazilian canary, cocobolo, madrone, elm, lacewood, and black limba.
Other materials used in constructing one of these instruments are nylon, steel, plastic, coatings and glues. These all vary and are too numerous to mention here.
Types of Ukuleles: FAQs
#1. Which type of ukulele is best?
The answer to this question is up to you. The best one suits your personality, is made from top quality products and plays the sound you want to hear. Any of the 4 are all good and some of the specialty ukes are top notch as well. A lot will depend on the manufacturer an their construction standards
#2. What is the difference in ukulele types?
The main difference will be in their size. That difference ranges from a small 21 to a larger 30 inch length. All four categories have 4 string ukes,but those strings can be tuned to different scales. The sound each one makes will be another difference with the soprano producing the original Hawaiian sound and the baritone making a bass ike sound.
#3. What are the three types of ukulele?
There are actually 4 different types of ukuleles and people may be confused as they may not hear the baritone as often as the other 3. The soprano was the original with the tenor and the concert first made in the early 20th century. The baritone came into existence closer to the middle of the that century which is why some people may not include it in the types of ukuleles available
#4. Are the specialty ukuleles hard to play?
If you can play the instrument it is combined with or modeled after, you should be able to play one of the specialty ukuleles without having to take more lessons. The bass ukulele should be like playing the other 4 models.
#5. Are plastic ukuleles okay to play and own?
These models do resist the temperature and humidity changes better and it may be a good way to see if you want to master the instrument. But once you find the answer to that question you should move up to a better made ukulele
Some final words
You may not like the sound the original ukulele makes but that is okay. There are 3 other models, along with specialty instruments, that can produce a sound more to your liking.
The best thing to do is try them out and see which one produces a sound that does not offend your ears or the ears of your neighbors.