The four classic types of ukulele are the soprano, concert, tenor, and baritone. The soprano uke is usually what comes to mind for most people when imagining the instrument. But there are also a range of other sizes and shapes such as pineapple ukuleles, guitaleles, banjoleles, bass ukuleles, and more.
If you’ve ever asked yourself ‘what are the different types of ukuleles?’ you’ll probably be amazed to see that there is a whole world beyond the standard ukulele sizes.
The ukulele is generally known for its compact size, acoustic design, and bright, cheery sound. However, that description doesn’t apply to all types of ukuleles. In addition to the standard sizes or soprano, concert, tenor, and baritone, there are myriad ukulele subtypes that are lesser-known, but are are super cool and interesting.
In this post, we’ll dig into all the different types of ukuleles, from the standard ukulele sizes to the more obscure body styles. Whatever kind of of music you want to play, you can find a style of ukulele to suit you.
The Four Standard Ukulele Sizes
As mentioned above, there are four variations of the standard ukulele. These small differences in size affect the overall sound and playability of the instrument. Soprano ukuleles are the prototypical traditional ukulele, but concert and tenor ukuleles have become increasingly popular. The baritone ukulele is tuned differently than the other three primary types of ukulele, which are tuned to G-C-E-A.
The soprano uke is the go-to type for most hobbyists and professional musicians alike. Tuned to standard ukulele tuning (G-C-E-A), a soprano ukulele will generally have somewhere between 12-15 frets and be around 21 inches long. Being that they are so popular, it’s generally much easier to find an affordable soprano ukulele than any other type of uke, making them a common choice for beginners looking for their first ukulele.
Concert ukuleles are only marginally bigger than soprano ukes, being around 23 inches long and having 14-17 frets (also in standard tuning). However, their larger frame gives the concert uke a broader, more resonant, and louder sound than most soprano models. Also, concert ukes usually have higher string tension than soprano ukuleles, helping them stay in tune better and for longer. Concert ukuleles are also another common choice for beginners, and their larger size can make them easier to play for people with larger hands.
Tenor ukuleles generally use the same tuning as a soprano ukulele, but occasionally are tuned like a baritone ukulele. They may also be tuned with a low g string rather than the standard high g string. The average length of a tenor ukulele is roughly 26 inches, and they will generally have between 15-19 frets. Thanks to their broader body, tenor ukuleles tend to have a richer, deeper sound than a soprano ukulele, which some prefer. The tenor ukulele id also the most versatile uke size, offering a more complex sound than the smaller sizes that is often favored by professional ukulele musicians.
By far the largest of the standard types of ukulele, baritone ukuleles tend to be 30 inches long and have between 19-21 frets. Baritone ukuleles also utilize baritone tuning (D-G-B-E), giving them a darker, woodier sound than soprano ukes. This is the same tuning as the top four strings of a standard guitar, which means that baritone ukulele chords are essentially four string variations of standard guitar chords. The baritone uke also feels closer to a guitar than the other ukulele sizes, so if you already play guitar it should be an easy transition to a baritone ukulele.
Looking for the best kind of ukulele for beginners?
For most new players, we recommend picking up a good concert ukulele. Concert ukuleles are the easiest to play for most people, and have that classic ukulele sound that we all know and love.
Soprano ukuleles are a great choice for children or people with smaller hands, but most people will be happiest with a concert size ukulele as their first.
Other Types of Ukuleles
The four standard variations of ukulele are really just the tip of the iceberg compared to all the other types of ukuleles out there today. There is an astonishing number of stringed instruments in particular that are also available in a hybrid ukulele form.
While they might just look like miniature or kids’ versions of another instrument, ukulele hybrids often offer a totally unique and strong sound in a much smaller package. In fact, some of them can create sounds that can’t really be replicated by other instruments, like the banjolele producing a soft, muted take on the banjo sound with its nylon strings.
That’s just one example, too. Read on to discover just how deep the ukulele world really is.
Banjo Ukulele or Banjolele
If you’re aiming to get a traditional ukulele sound out of your instrument, then the banjo ukulele, or “banjolele”, is probably not the best choice for you. T0 some, it might seem like a gimmick, but the banjolele has actually been in use since around 1917. The instrument essentially combines a soprano ukulele’s standard tuning and strings with a banjo build and sound (banjoleles are also available in concert size).
Having said that, banjo ukuleles tend to have a mellower, softer tone than the snappy attack you’d expect from a traditional banjo. The use of nylon strings and more or less soprano ukulele scale means that banjo ukes are perhaps not quite as suited to clawhammer picking and other traditional playing styles for the banjo, due to the strings being fairly thick and quite close together. Still, banjo ukuleles sound fantastic when strummed and would be a great choice if you are looking for something similar to a banjo that isn’t so on the nose.
If you’re interested in seeing how the overall sound of a more conventional ukulele stacks up compared to a banjolele, then this performance is worth checking out. In a Dueling Banjos style back-and-forth, the two ukulele players trade off with their concert ukulele and banjo ukulele respectively.
Guitar Ukulele or Guitalele
Now that you know what a banjolele is, you can probably guess what a guitalele is. The hybrid instrument combines the size of a tenor ukulele with the resonance and 6 strings of a classical guitar. This gives you far greater possibilities to play chords and melodic lines in general when compared to a conventional, four-stringed ukulele.
The compact size of guitaleles makes them a popular choice for children starting to learn the acoustic guitar. Guitaleles are sometimes marketed as an alternative to a traditional travel guitar. Still, we feel they have their own fantastic qualities and make a great primary instrument in their own right.
While the standard uke is a fully acoustic instrument, regardless of which variation of ukulele it is, it’s also possible to find completely electric or semi-electric ukuleles on the market. Like an electric guitar, an electric ukulele has a solid wood body and no sound hole. Electric ukuleles tend to have a slightly fuller sound than acoustic models, and this is (of course) especially true when played through an amplifier.
In addition, electric ukuleles are often strung with steel strings, just like an electric guitar. This gives them a dramatically different sound to most other ukulele types. If you’re looking for a higher-ranged stringed instrument which is light and easy to play, then an electric ukulele would probably be an excellent choice. Electric ukes are available in the four standard sizes, including as concert ukuleles.
The pineapple ukulele is actually a type of body shape that is available for all of the four standard ukulele variations. While the pineapple-shaped body looks charming, pineapple ukuleles aren’t just built that way for aesthetic reasons. The body shape actually affects the resonance of the instrument. Pineapple ukuleles generally have a wider, deeper body compared to a traditionally shaped ukulele, and thus produce a much more resonant sound.
Similar in concept to a baritone ukulele, the bass ukulele is basically the hybrid of a bass guitar and ukulele. Perhaps the most impressive thing about the bass ukulele is that, despite being far smaller than a bass guitar, it can actually be tuned to the same octave. This is also what differentiates it from a baritone uke.
Bass ukuleles are generally strung with specialized strings. Strings for bass ukes are much thicker than any other type of ukulele string, making strumming a bass uke nigh on impossible. Still, this is also what makes it possible to play a bass fingerstyle in the same way that you would a bass guitar.
Given that a bass ukulele is arguably best suited to playing in an ensemble context, most of them are either semi acoustic or electric, giving you the option to plug in and play with an amplifier.
Sopranino ukuleles have an even smaller frame than soprano size ukuleles, as well as the tightest fret spacing of any ukulele style on the market today. While this may be a downside to some, sopranino ukuleles are incredibly compact and easy to transport, and their tiny frame gives them a truly unique sound.
Likely due to their relative obscurity, there is no one ‘standard’ tuning for the sopranino ukulele, though you will often find that they use the same tuning as a soprano ukulele. While they might not offer as much melodic or harmonic freedom as a larger instrument, sopranino ukuleles do have their own charm and could work well as a kid’s beginner ukulele or travel uke.
Cutaway ukuleles are aptly-named after the cutaway on one side of the body, which gives ukulele players easier access to the uppermost frets on the neck. This makes playing high melodic lines much more accessible than they would be on a standard ukulele, where reaching the top frets requires reaching over the face of the ukulele.
As such, if your ukulele playing style involves melodic lines at the top of your instrument’s register, then a cutaway ukulele would be an excellent choice. Some may also prefer cutaways for their striking appearance; they often have a similar shape to a Fender telecaster guitar, which is a considerable departure from the traditional ukulele shape.
Cutaway ukes are available in soprano, concert, tenor, and baritone sizes.
Like the other hybrid ukulele styles, a resonator ukulele is essentially a resonator guitar built in ukulele style. Resonator ukuleles are available with both wood and metal bodies, like standard resonator guitars. However, resonator ukuleles only have four strings, and generally utilize standard ukulele tuning.
One major difference between resonator ukes and standard ukuleles is the sound and tone of the instrument. Resonator guitars tend to have a fairly beefy, metallic sound thanks to the resonator built into the body of the instrument, and the same is true for resonator ukes. However, the resonator effect is not quite as dramatic as it is with resonator guitars – likely due to the fact that resonator ukes have a much smaller frame.
Django Reinhardt, eat your heart out! Archtop ukuleles are made to replicate the look and feel of archtop guitars, with violin-style sound holes and a sunburst/dark wood finish. Generally, archtop ukuleles use standard G-C-E-A ukulele tuning and are similar to a tenor or baritone ukulele in size. They generally have wider fret spacing and more frets than, for example, a soprano ukulele.
Having said that, we don’t feel that archtop ukuleles sound hugely different to standard models. Guitarists – jazz players in particular – often prefer archtops for certain styles of music, as they tend to have a darker, mellower sound than standard electric guitars. When it comes to archtop ukes, however, we feel that the biggest difference compared to standard ukulele styles is an aesthetic one.
The harp ukulele is perhaps the most out there of all of the ukulele subtypes. Generally, a harp ukulele features a ukulele build with a separate four-stringed ‘harp neck’ above as a sort of harp/ukulele hybrid. Of course, genuine harps have many more than four strings, but the effect is quite impressive nonetheless.
This performance by guitar virtuoso Sungha Jung showcases a very creative and tasteful arrangement of Dust in the Wind by Kansas on the harp ukulele. Jung’s arrangement uses the harp strings on the harp ukulele to play the droning bass notes that carry the entire piece along. The harp ukulele seems to be becoming more and more popular all the time, so we will hopefully see more talented musicians like Jung trying the instrument out in future.