If you’re thinking about learning to play ukulele, you’re suddenly faced with the choice of which size to get. There are four standard ukulele sizes – soprano, concert, tenor, and baritone – as well as a range of other ukulele types.
But which is the best size ukulele for beginners? What are the pros and cons of different sizes when it comes to new ukulele players?
In general, we recommend that most beginners start off with a concert ukulele as their first. It has the traditional sound that most people associate with the ukulele, and it’s more playable and comfortable than a soprano. However, each size has something to offer different players.
In this article, we discuss the attributes of the different ukulele sizes and how beginner-friendly they are. We also cover things to look for when buying a beginner ukulele, especially when buying secondhand. So read on, and discover the best beginner ukes.
About the Four Standard Types of Ukulele
There are perhaps dozens of different ukulele types and hybrid instruments out there on the market today.
However, when it comes to traditional ukuleles, there are four primary ukulele sizes to choose from: soprano, concert, tenor, and baritone. The main difference between these models is their body size and scale length. The soprano, concert, and tenor ukes are tuned to ukulele standard tuning (G-C-E-A), whereas the baritone is tuned to D-G-B-E.
Each of these ukulele sizes have their own strengths that make them better suited to a particular style of playing and learning.
Many beginners will opt for a soprano ukulele when looking for their first uke. This makes sense, as the soprano ukulele is the smallest and most well known of the four standard models. However, it is not objectively a better beginner instrument for beginners; read on to find out why.
The Soprano Ukulele
The soprano ukulele is the most common kind of ukulele for beginners to invest in. Soprano ukuleles are the smallest of the standard ukulele family and, as such, have the shortest scale length. This means that they generally have fewer frets than baritone, concert, and tenor ukuleles.
The soprano ukulele is also the oldest kind of ukulele, older than concert or tenor ukuleles. As such, if you’re looking to get a truly traditional sound out of your instrument, then soprano ukes are the best way to go. When it comes to ukuleles, the smaller instruments tend to have a brighter or twangier sound, while the larger instruments offer a richer, fuller sound.
The Best Beginner Uke for Children
Since soprano size ukes are so small, they are a great first ukulele choice for children who are learning to play ukulele. They have a shorter scale length, smaller frets, and lower string tension than the other, different models of ukulele. This makes fretting physically easier and navigating the fretboard simpler, which can be a big help when you are just getting started on the instrument.
The Concert Ukulele
Concert ukuleles are the next size up from the soprano ukulele, and are another top choice for beginner ukuleles. The slight bit of extra size gives concert ukuleles the leg up when it comes to playability for most people, since the fretboards are less cramped on concert vs soprano ukes.
For this reason, we recommend the concert size uke as the best first ukulele for most people. It’s both big enough and small enough – big enough for more room on the fretboard, but small enough to maintain that classic ukulele sound. However, the sound does differ in some important ways.
A Beginner uke with Richer Sound and Greater Playability
One of the main strengths of concert ukuleles is that their larger body size gives them a deeper, more complex sound than soprano ukuleles tend to offer.
This sound difference between the soprano and concert ukulele is a big reason you might consider picking a concert size as your first ukulele. They project much better and have overall a more well-rounded sound than you will find in most soprano ukuleles.
The Tenor Ukulele
The tenor ukulele is larger than both the soprano and concert ukulele, and offers tremendous versatility that’s favored by many professional musicians. Tenor ukes have a balanced, more varied sound, and there’s even more space on the fretboard on a tenor uke vs a concert. Tenors are also a great choice for live performance, both due to their balanced sound and larger build, which provides some natural amplification and helps them to project further than a soprano or concert uke.
However, the longer neck of the tenor size might make it more difficult to play for children and people with small hands. The larger body size also creates a deeper tone that, while beautiful, sounds less like a traditional ukulele. For these reasons, we recommend sticking with a concert ukulele vs a tenor, unless you want to learn specific techniques lie fingerstyle.
Tenor Ukuleles Are Extremely Versatile
The tenor ukulele is, generally speaking, the most versatile of the ukulele family. The instrument’s scale length and string spacing make it easier to play a variety of techniques that can feel somewhat impractical on the smaller ukulele types (especially fingerpicking). In addition, the larger frets of the tenor size makes playing melodic lines feel much more natural than they often are on the cramped, tiny frets that most soprano ukuleles have.
The Baritone Ukulele
Baritone ukuleles are the largest and deepest of the standard builds. With more frets than most other standard ukuleles, the baritone uke gives you a tremendous amount of freedom in your playing. It has a rich and bassy sound, which certainly stands out when compared to the tone you will often get from a smaller uke. These ukuleles are also tuned differently, to D-B-G-E (just like the top four strings on a guitar.
While these ukuleles are beautiful and not much bigger than a tenor, we do not recommend them to beginners because of the alternate tuning. However, this makes the baritone a great instrument for guitar players who are transitioning to ukulele.
So, What is the Best Size Ukulele For Beginners?
To determine the best ukulele for beginners, let’s go over a few questions to help, you narrow it down.
Are you an Adult Beginner?
While we think that the concert is among the best ukulele sizes for beginners, adult beginners should essentially choose the ukulele that feels most comfortable, rather than worrying too much about what the best beginner ukuleles are. If you can find a uke that you enjoy playing and that feels good to play, the that’s what you should go with.
Is your Child Learning the Ukulele?
If you’re looking for a uke for your child then a soprano is most likely going to be the best way to go. In addition to their charming, twangy sound and use of standard tuning, soprano ukuleles are often great for children to learn on because they are so small and compact. Sopranos also tend to have less string tension, making fretting easier, which can be a big help for younger students of the instrument.
Transitioning to the Ukulele from Another Acoustic Instrument?
Beginners to the ukulele who have experience playing other instruments may have slightly different priorities than students who are completely starting from scratch. As such, the best beginner ukulele for guitar players might be different to that of your average person who is picking up the instrument for the first time.
If you’re picking up the ukulele and already have experience in playing other stringed instruments, then you should think about what you’d like to get out of your first uke. For example, if you can already play the guitar and are looking for something that you can pick up and play right away, then you might want to think about purchasing a baritone ukulele. The strings use the same tuning as the top four strings of a regular guitar, meaning that you will be able to play many of the chords you already know in the exact same way on a baritone uke as you are used to.
How to Find the Best Ukulele for Beginners
Price isn’t Everything, But…
When you’re looking for a new instrument, price should ideally not be the thing that makes or breaks the ukulele for you. The main issue to keep in mind is that cheaper instruments are often of poorer quality than more expensive ones (though you can definitely get some great, affordable ukes).
Having said that, when looking a ukulele prices, an instrument being sold at a higher price point isn’t always an indicator of better value, either. You may be able to find a used ukulele that is better than a brand new one for a cheaper price.
Do Your Research in Advance
If you’ll be heading to your local music shop to try out some of the ukes that they have, then it would definitely be smart for you to read up on the ukulele brands and models that they sell online in advance. That way, you can get an overview of what the shop has available in your budget and the variety that they can offer.
Try them Out if you Can
A crucial part of buying a new ukulele and being happy with your purchase is trying it out in advance whenever possible. Those of us who have bought instruments in the past have all experienced seeing a beautiful ukulele on the shelf, only to realize that it just doesn’t feel right in our hands.
It’s also wise to be open-minded when trying out different instruments. You might have read that tenor ukuleles are too big for beginners, or that baritone ukuleles should be avoided due to the tuning that they use, but the best uke for you to learn to play on is ultimately going to be the one that feels the best in your hands. There’s not much point in choosing the instrument that is a more practical choice on paper but which you don’t enjoy playing.
Go for a Reputable Brand
This might go without saying, but purchasing a uke from a ukulele brand that is reputable in the ukulele world is always much safer than going for a smaller brand, especially if you don’t have previous experience in purchasing instruments. The top brands make fantastic, affordable instruments, and show that you don’t need to break the bank in order to get a ukulele that plays well and has good longevity.
Consider Purchasing Secondhand
If you’re a beginner but still want to invest in the best possible instrument that you can, then there’s no reason you have to pick up a cheap toy uke. Buying refurbished, secondhand instruments is often a great way to get a fantastic instrument at a much cheaper price than you would pay if you bought the instrument when it was brand new.
Get Advice from your Teacher or Friend
Most beginners might not know what to look for in an instrument or feel uncomfortable assessing a used uke for quality before committing to buying it. If you take lessons with a ukulele teacher, then they can be a great asset here. Try asking your teacher if they would be willing to help you find a good quality used ukulele, either online or in a local shop.
Failing that, a friend or relative you have who is knowledgeable about ukuleles would also be invaluable here. It’s a wise idea to have someone who really knows their stuff have a look at an instrument before you commit to buying it. Used instruments are not always sold in peak condition, and if they haven’t been properly maintained throughout their lives, they can develop issues as time goes on which makes them more difficult to play or affects their longevity.