Whether you want to buy your first ukulele or upgrade to a new instrument, there are several different types of ukuleles to choose from. Here, ukulele teacher Michael L. introduces you to the different types of ukuleles so you can make the best decision for your goals and your budget…
When you’re shopping for a ukulele (for yourself or your child), it’s important to know the different types of ukuleles so you can find the right fit for you. There are several different types of ukuleles; they come in different sizes, pitch ranges, and distinct styles, which gives them each a different sound.
If you feel overwhelmed by all the different options, don’t worry, this guide will tell you everything you need to know about the different types of ukuleles.
The first question you should ask yourself is: “what size ukulele do I want?” Traditionally, ukuleles comes in four sizes (also known as voices): soprano, concert, tenor, and baritone.
The soprano ukulele is the smallest, and the most common ukulele. The lightweight size makes them ideal for children with smaller hands.
If you have a young student who wants to take ukulele lessons, this may be the ideal ukulele for you. Soprano ukuleles are also generally less expensive than the larger-sized ukuleles.
The concert, or alto ukulele, is the next size up from the soprano. The main difference between the concert size and the soprano size is the length and width of the neck (concert ukuleles have a wider neck). You can tune both ukuleles the same way.
If you or your child need a ukulele that’s a little bit larger than a soprano, but still in the same general price range, you may want to consider a concert ukulele.
The tenor ukulele has a warm tone, in comparison to its two smaller counterparts. Some uke players prefer the tenor size for the rounder, more bass-y tone.
Tenor ukuleles are generally a little more expensive than concert and soprano ukes, but if you have a background with guitar, you may prefer the tenor ukulele due to its larger body.
Moving up in size, the baritone ukulele is larger and has a deeper, darker sound. The baritone ukulele is generally tuned lower than other ukuleles. The four strings are usually tuned the same as the lower four strings of a guitar.
If you’re an adult switching from guitar to ukulele, you may want to try the baritone.
In the last few years, a new size ukulele has been developed: bass ukulele. These are bigger than the baritone, but they can only be heard through a pickup, which adds more power to your sound. Most bass ukuleles are sold with pre-installed pickups.
Bass ukuleles have the same tuning as electric ukes (see below), but they’re much shorter. It’s actually quite astounding how low they can go in pitch (for such a small instrument).
More Ukulele Options
When choosing an instrument, it’s also important to decide if you want an acoustic, electric, or electro-acoustic ukulele.
An acoustic ukulele is a traditional ukulele, which doesn’t have to be plugged in. If you get an electric or electro-acoustic ukulele, it can be pretty fun to experiment with effect pedals as well.
Electric ukuleles are similar to electric guitars; they don’t make much sound unless they’re plugged in, and they’re usually made with steel strings and magnetic pickups, giving you a metallic sound.
An electro-acoustic ukulele is similar to a standard acoustic ukulele, but it has a pre-installed pickup, so you can plug it into an amplifier. It usually has nylon strings, like acoustic ukuleles, so it has a more traditional sound.
Another variety of ukulele is the banjo ukulele, or banjolele. Instead of the traditional body of a ukulele, the banjolele is made with a small drum head on the body. The banjolele has the twang of a banjo with the light-heartedness of the ukulele.
There are several ukulele manufacturers, and when you’re shopping for a ukulele, you should be familiar with some of the most popular brands. Let’s look at some of the most well-known brands.
Kala is only 10 years young, but they make a wide variety of ukuleles. You can find ukuleles priced under $100, and up to several hundred dollars.
The budget ukuleles sound nice for their value and with their higher-end ukuleles, you can definitely hear the difference in the production value. They also make every size and most varieties of ukuleles.
Lanikai is a part of Hohner, a well-known, trustworthy instrument maker from Germany. In the beginning, Lanikai was only known for making cheap, introductory ukuleles. In recent years, however, they have stepped up their production value with some great sounding ukes.
If you’ve ever heard the band Beirut, then you’ve heard a Lanikai tenor ukulele in action. They also make every size and most varieties of ukulele.
Mahalo ukuleles are known for their unique designs. You can get ukuleles with smiley faces, some shaped like surf boards, some shaped like Flying V electric guitars, and other quirky designs. If you prefer something more traditional, you can still find this with Mahalo.
Most of Mahalo’s ukuleles are priced for a budget, with a great sound for the price. If you’re looking for something with higher production value, you can also find a few models with Mahalo.
Makala ukuleles are a subsidiary of Kala. At Makala, they pride themselves on making great sounding, budget-priced ukuleles. While there is a wide variety of designs, there’s a limited amount of sizes; most Makala ukuleles are soprano sized.
Makala ukuleles sound great for their value; they’re my favorite brand of introductory ukulele.
Kamaka ukuleles sound magical, but if you want to buy one, be prepared to spend at least several hundred dollars for a new one. They come in a variety of sizes, but most are made in traditional styles (no banjoleles here).
As you can see, ukuleles come in several different shapes and sizes. With a little knowledge and research, you can find the right ukulele for you. I hope this helps you make sense of all the choices that are out there waiting for you!
Which type of ukulele do you use? What do you like about it? Let us know in the comments below!