Why this article when there are so many already?
Ukuleles – Soprano v/s Concert, Concert v/s Tenor, Tenor v/s Baritone, and so on, the internet is filled with such ukulele comparisons- 6 combinations of these comparisons to be precise (for 4 objects taken two at a time) and yes, there is a formula for it (nCr = 4! / 2! * 2! = 6) but unfortunately, no overarching formula for knowing the right Ukulele type for you. Until now.
The problem with such comparisons is that while it is fairly easy for our brains to comprehend the differences between two types of ukuleles at a given time, adding them all up to figure out what’s what and zeroing in on the most suitable type can leave us scratching our heads. This comprehensive guide to understanding the different types of ukuleles hopes to solve just that. So don’t rack your brains, I have done the hard work so you don’t have to.
First things first,
What are the different types of ukuleles?
There are predominantly 4 Types of Ukuleles:
- Concert (a.k.a. Alto)
- Baritone (a.k.a. Bari uke)
What separates these different types of ukuleles?
One word. Size.
And with size, usually, there is a proportionate increase in the number of frets and fret spacing of the ukuleles as well.
The ukuleles placed in increasing order of their sizes are:
Soprano < Concert < Tenor < Baritone.
Worried that you will forget the order minutes after reading this article? Don’t be, like I said, I have got you covered. The way I remember the order of sizes is by using a mnemonic device that goes like this:
So (Soprano) cold (Concert) today (Tenor), boy! (Baritone)
The different types of Ukulele size measurements, and how to determine them
There are essentially two different metrics when it comes to measuring ukulele sizes- Full length and Scale length.
- Full length: As the name suggests, the full-length measure gives the overall length of the Ukulele body. It is measured right from the top of the ukulele’s headstock down to the bottom of its body.
- Scale length: Scale length is measured from the front edge of the nut of the ukulele to its saddle. It is basically the entire length of a freely vibrating open string (a string played without placing hands on any of the frets).
These were the basic distinguishing factors and the dimensions that are commonly used in relation to Ukuleles. Now we shall proceed with understanding how these factors vary and affect things like the feel, playability, sound etc. of the different Ukulele types. Let’s dive in!
Full length- 20”-22”
Scale length- 13”-14”
Number of Frets
G-C-E-A; Natural tuning.
Your first memory of a Ukulele is probably of a Soprano ukulele. The soprano is rumoured to be the oldest Ukulele type and is therefore frequently referred to as the “standard/classic” Uke. It is also the most commonly encountered one. Popular among travellers, the Soprano with its compact body, is a perfect fit for individuals who are always on the move.
The soprano, being the smallest of the lot, has a scaled-down chamber that allows it to produce a thin, bright tone with lesser projection. This is the tone that people usually associate with the Ukulele.
When it comes to ukuleles, not everyone fits the same mould. To ascertain the right Ukulele size, you must first take a good look at your hands. Are your hands too small? Do you find yourself struggling while trying out stretchy chords? If your answer to these questions is yes then Soprano might be the one for you.
The fret spacing on the Soprano is minimal, making it a good choice for kids and individuals with tiny hands since it makes it easier for them to access different frets at the same time. The opposite is also true, people with larger hands usually have trouble playing frets that are so closely packed.
Another factor to consider while determining the playability of the ukulele is its tuning. The first three ukulele types (Soprano, concert and Tenor) are tuned the same way- GCEA tuning, also known as the standard tuning, makes it simpler to shift among these ukulele types.
Furthermore, a downside to the soprano in the context of playability could be you finding yourself frequently bending its strings out of tune due to the low tension applied to its strings.
Portability and Feel
The Soprano is a clear winner in this category. While your partner might not fit in your travel bag, the soprano will. The Soprano’s small size and light weight make it super easy to carry around.
While bigger may not mean better on the subject of Ukuleles, it sure means pricier. There is an upward trend in price that can be seen as we transition into the bigger-sized ukulele types.
This makes sense given that more materials, as well as work, go into the making of a bigger-sized instrument.
Pricing, however, also depends on a myriad of other factors such as the type (plastic, wood) and quality of the materials being used in the manufacturing of the instrument. Therefore, barring other factors, the soprano being the smallest of the lot is usually priced the least.
The expected price range of this type of ukulele is: 2,199/- to 2,888/-
Full length- 22”-24”
Scale length- 15”-16”
Number of frets
G-C-E-A; Natural tuning.
The middle child of the Uke family, the Concert Ukulele has a slightly bigger body and a longer neck than the soprano.
The concert ukulele offers to split the difference between the extremes- the tiny soprano and much larger variants like the Tenor and Baritone, which makes it a very good choice for beginners looking to buy a Ukulele.
The Concert Ukulele produces a slightly louder and fuller sound than the Soprano while also retaining the original ukulele tonal characteristics found in the Soprano type, giving you the best of both worlds.
Another upside to the Concert Ukulele is that it has a longer scale which allows space for accommodating more frets, this gives the user ability to choose from a wider range of notes.
Unlike the Soprano, the long neck of the Concert Ukulele has frets that are more generously distanced from one another, making it easier for individuals with average-sized fingers to play them
Also, as mentioned earlier, the concert ukulele follows the same standard tuning (GCEA) as its brothers, the Soprano and the Tenor; so, if you learn to tune one, you naturally learn to tune the others.
The concert ukulele makes a better choice if the need for recurrent tuning of your instrument annoys you; the concert ukulele possesses strings with higher tension on them that do not easily bend out of tune when you press them down to the fretboard.
Portability and Feel
The average Concert ukulele is about 3 inches taller and a crumb wider than the Soprano which still makes it a very good travel option. The overall size of the concert ukulele is pretty manageable, and most people do not consider it a bulky option.
Second on the list, the Concert Ukulele can cost a tad bit more than the Soprano. The price difference, however, is not significantly higher.
The expected price range of the Concert ukulele is: 1,899/- to 6,899/-
Full length- 26”
Scale length- 17”
Number of Frets
G-C-E-A; Natural tuning.
Tenor is that older twin of the Concert ukulele who was born just minutes earlier. I mean- there isn’t a sea of difference between the looks of the two ukulele types, making it hard to distinguish them from a distance. That said, the slightly altered and unique characteristics of the Tenor can significantly influence the way it feels and sounds.
The Tenor furnishes a much richer and deeper sound with an added bass effect to it, thanks to its large-sized body.
One way to internalize this is by understanding that as we advance away from the Soprano to the Baritone, the sound of the instruments tends to change from the idiosyncratic, bright ukulele sound to that of a regular acoustic guitar.
The Tenor makes a well-sought-after ukulele type for professional players and performers because it lends the player more note options to choose from, which also means more room for creativity with tones- something professionals can make use of.
The fret spacing on the Tenor is more than sufficient, making it super easy for players to navigate the fretboard.
Also, having the same standard tuning as that of the soprano and the concert ukulele, makes it an easier instrument to play- a more convenient switch/upgrade from the above-mentioned ukulele types.
Portability and Feel
A much bigger Uke, the Tenor is heavier than the aforementioned ukulele types. While it might not be a huge step up from the concert ukulele, the increase in the size does affect its ease of being carried around.
When it comes to the feel of the instrument, I consider the Tenor to be the last of the ukuleles that truly feels like one.
True to the price-size correlation, the Tenor ukulele, being the bigger one, usually costs more than the ukulele types mentioned so far.
The expected price range for the tenor is: 3,999/- to 4,338/-
Full length- 30”
Scale length- 19”-20”
Number of Frets
‘Baritone’ signifies a low-pitched sound that is often associated with that of an adult male voice, and that is exactly what the baritone ukulele represents. The Baritone is the largest of all the Ukulele types mentioned so far- this gives the Baritone that guitar-disguised-as-a-Ukulele look.
By now, I think it is quite intuitive to think that with an increase in the size of the ukulele, the sound gets much louder, warmer, and fuller.
This is because a larger Ukulele body has a bigger chamber that allows the sound to resonate more, giving rise to lower frequency sounds with a low pitch.
Therefore, the Baritone, being the largest of all the ukulele types, has the deepest of sounds (almost like that of a traditional acoustic Guitar). Moreover, the increased number of frets in the Baritone equips the user with the ability to reach higher notes on the fretboard.
Guitar players looking to try out the ukulele are more likely to pick the Baritone since the difference is felt the least when shifting from the guitar; part of the reason for this is the Baritone’s bigger size and fret spacing that doesn’t come as a huge shock to the regular guitar player. The bigger size of the baritone also makes it a suitable choice for people with larger hands.
The tuning on the Bari is a little different, it does not follow the conventional Ukulele tuning of G-C-E-A, instead, it is tuned like the thinnest 4 strings on the Guitar – DGBE; this makes the learning curve for the Bari steeper for ukulele players accustomed to the natural tuning (GCEA).
A higher scale length like that of the Baritone demands higher tension in its strings to be able to bring the strings up to pitch- this serves as a benefit since the strings now become immune to constantly bending out of tune.
Portability and feel
The Bari is bigger and bulkier than the other ukuleles; so, does that render it unhandy?
Well, I would say it depends on how you view it.
While it may be the bigger-sized uke, it is still smaller than the smallest of Guitars, so unless the idea of carrying a baby guitar seems daunting to you, you should not be worried about carrying the Baritone around.
Also, as stated earlier, the Baritone plays and feels the closest to a Guitar among the other Ukulele types; but that does not mean it lacks identity, the Baritone has a unique size and a distinctive tone that is second to none.
So, rest assured that when you carry the Baritone ukulele, you are sure to turn heads.
The Baritone is priced the highest in the ukulele fraternity. This is again, due to its size.
The usual price range for the Baritone ukulele is: 3,999/- to 6,899/-
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