With only four strings, the portable and lightweight ukulele is a charming instrument with a lot of great qualities. Something that often trips up beginners is choosing the right ukulele to start out with.
There are four standard ukulele sizes: soprano, concert, tenor, and baritone. The size differences impact the sound and playability of the instrument.
- Soprano ukuleles are the smallest size, at around 21 inches in length. The soprano ukulele size creates the most traditional ukulele sound.
- Concert ukuleles are the next up, at around 23 inches in length. The extra size adds some depth to the sound, and makes the concert ukulele easier to play for people with larger hands.
- Tenor ukuleles are larger still, at around 26 inches in length. Tenor ukuleles are the most versatile, with a full sound that is great for fingerstyle or strumming.
- Baritone ukuleles are around 30 inches in length, and are tuned differently than most ukuleles.
In addition to the standard sizes, there are less common sizes such as sopranino ukuleles, which are even smaller than a soprano, and bass ukuleles. There are also several different types of ukulele beyond these, including the pineapple ukulele, banjolele, guitalele, electric ukulele, and more.
This in depth ukulele size guide digs into the different ukulele sizes, what distinguishes them, and their pros and cons. Read on and discover the best ukulele size for you!
Ukulele Size Guide: the Standard Sizes
As mentioned above, there are four main sizes of ukuleles: the soprano, concert, tenor, and baritone ukulele. These four models vary slightly in size and build design from one another. Not only does this affect the playability of the instrument, but it also influences its overall tone and timbre.
The Soprano Ukulele
The soprano ukulele is probably most people’s first ukulele. Soprano ukuleles have that classic ukulele sound, and are tuned standard tuning for the ukulele.
- Scale length: 13”
- Overall length: 21″
- Number of frets:
- Common tuning: G-C-E-A (high G)
A Popular Choice for Beginners
Although we generally recommend the concert ukulele for most new uke players, soprano ukuleles are often recommended as the best beginner ukulele for children and younger players. Their short scale length and smaller ukulele body makes them very portable and easy to handle. With less frets than other types of ukulele, soprano models can feel less intimidating when you are trying to get familiar with the fretboard of your instrument.
Another thing to consider is that soprano ukuleles tend to be cheaper on average than other types of ukulele, too. If you’re just getting into playing the uke and don’t want to make a huge investment in a beginner instrument, then getting a good, affordable soprano would probably the wisest choice, as it’s not going to break the bank.
The OG Uke
It’s also worth noting that the soprano ukulele is the most ‘traditional’ type of ukulele that you can find, too. Originally, soprano ukuleles were the standard uke size, and other sizes of ukuleles were more modern inventions. So, if you’re looking for the most typical sounding ukulele, then you should be looking to get a soprano.
Shortest Scale Length of all the Standard Ukuleles
As mentioned above, soprano ukuleles have a shorter scale length and fretboard than other models. This makes them fairly easy to get your head around as a beginner. Soprano size ukes often have around 14 frets, compared to larger models, which might have 18 or more.
However, this can also be a limitation in some ways. If you would like to play complex melodic lines or cover a fairly wide range of notes when playing your uke, then you might find that a soprano ukulele doesn’t give you the freedom you want. Some musicians find that they essentially ‘outgrow’ their soprano ukulele fairly quickly and end up purchasing a bigger model.
So, if you’re thinking about investing in your own ukulele, it’s definitely worth considering how much you’d like to do with the instrument. If you’re only planning on strumming a few chords, then a decent soprano uke is likely to be more than sufficient. However, if you want an instrument that gives you the freedom to express yourself and play different styles, then it might be worth considering a larger model, even if you are a beginner to the ukulele.
The Concert Ukulele
The concert ukulele is a bit bigger than the soprano ukulele. Concert ukes also use standard tuning, but tend to have a deeper, more resonant sound than soprano ukes thanks to having a larger body (find out more about soprano vs concert ukuleles).
In addition, concert ukes have a longer scale length than soprano ukes, so they usually have more frets and wider fret spacing, too. This makes them easier to play for most people, especially those with larger hands.
- Scale length: 15″
- Overall length: 23″
- Number of frets:
- Common tuning: G-C-E-A (high G)
The Best Ukulele Size for Beginners?
The concert ukulele is an excellent choice for most beginners to the instrument. It’s still relatively small, affordable, and features that classic uke sound. But the slightly more spaced out fretboard makes it much easier to play for most people (the exception being children). For this reason, we typically recommend that new players start out with a concert ukulele as the best ukulele size for beginners.
Who is a Concert Ukulele For?
Ukulele players who would like a broader, louder version of a soprano uke should look into investing in a concert size ukulele. Being that they aren’t substantially bigger than soprano ukes, concert ukes do have a fairly similar sound, albeit more dynamic and louder. Their larger fret spacing also makes them a better choice for playing more complex melodic lines, which can often feel somewhat cramped on a soprano uke.
The Tenor Ukulele
The tenor ukulele is the second-largest of the family of standard ukuleles. Despite the fact that the instrument also uses standard tuning, its larger body and scale length gives it a deeper and fuller sound than soprano and concert size ukuleles. Tenor ukes can be strung with both a high g or a low g string, where the g string is an octave lower.
- Scale length: 17″
- Overall length: 26″
- Number of frets:
- Common tuning: G-C-E-A (low g or high g)
Advantages of the Larger Size
If you’re a beginner looking to get your first ukulele, you shouldn’t necessarily count out investing in a tenor. With its larger body and wider fret spacing than the other ukulele types, it will almost certainly be more comfortable to play for many adult musicians than, for example, a soprano uke.
Players with bigger hands will likely find a tenor neck much more comfortable to play. There is greater space between the frets, which gives you far more room to place your fingers. Smaller fret spacing can make it tricky to fret accurately and result in you playing dead notes or the wrong note altogether.
Perhaps the Most Versatile of the Standard Ukuleles?
Thanks to its combination of standard uke tuning and a larger build, the tenor size ukulele has more space on the fretboard, which makes it possible to perform a wider range of techniques than is possible on the other ukulele sizes. Because of the wider neck spacing, it can be much easier to perform techniques such as fingerpicking, or even flamenco strumming like you would do on a classical guitar.
Tenor size ukuleles also have a much deeper, louder, more complex, and resonant sound than the smaller sizes. The tenor still sounds like a uke, but there’s just a lot more to the sound. This depth of tone and comfortable size makes the tenor uke an incredibly versatile instrument, and a perennial favorite of professional musicians (check out Jake Shimabukuro for example).
The Baritone Ukulele
The baritone uke is the largest of the standard ukulele family. With more frets and a considerably deeper tone than the soprano ukulele, the baritone provides a richer, more mature sound. It also features a different tuning that mirrors the top four strings of a guitar, making it a unique instrument for guitar players who want a ukulele sound.
- Scale length: 19″
- Overall length: 30″
- Number of frets:
- Common tuning: D-G-B-E
On Baritone Tuning
A unique feature of the baritone ukulele is its tuning. Unlike other types of ukulele, baritone ukuleles are tuned D-G-B-E, which is the same as the top four strings of a standard guitar. As such, playing chords on the baritone ukulele requires quite a different approach, and you can’t simply apply chords that you have learned on a smaller uke to the baritone.
However, the fact that baritone tuning is essentially the same as regular guitar tuning makes baritones a popular choice for guitar players looking to transition to the ukulele. Most chords that you play on the guitar are based around the top four strings, and you can play these in the exact same way on the baritone uke as you can on your acoustic guitar or electric guitar.
Longest Scale Length of the Standard Ukuleles
Baritone ukuleles have an average scale length of 19 inches. This makes them easily the largest instrument of all the standard ukulele sizes, and it’s the reason they have such a different sound compared to soprano, concert, and tenor ukuleles. Some also prefer the baritone ukulele for its fret spacing and neck profile.
Should You Get a Baritone?
If you already play the guitar, then getting started on the baritone uke will be as simple as picking the instrument up. Still, you won’t be able to transfer these skills to other types of ukulele that use standard ukulele tuning.
If you’re planning on owning several ukes in the future, then keep in mind that you will have to learn chords from scratch once you invest in an instrument that uses standard ukulele tuning.
Other Ukulele Size Types
The Sopranino Ukulele
The sopranino is even smaller than the soprano ukulele, and has a shorter scale length. For a while, the sopranino ukulele has been a fairly niche instrument, but in recent years has seen greater interest. This has led to more and more manufacturers selling their own sopranino model of ukulele.
Smaller than the Soprano Ukulele
Being even smaller than the soprano ukulele, sopranino ukuleles also tend to have even fewer frets. The average sopranino uke will only have 12 frets or so, and a fairly small body. This gives them quite a trebly, bright sound.
The discussion of which tuning is ‘standard’ for the sopranino uke is somewhat controversial. This is due to the fact that a genuine, standard sopranino tuning has never been established in the same way that it has for the other types of ukulele. Having said that, sopranino ukes are generally tuned to the same tuning as soprano, concert, and tenor ukuleles.
The Bass Ukulele
The bass ukulele is essentially a hybrid between a ukulele and bass guitar. Bass ukes are even bigger than baritone ukes, and are generally made to be played with an amplifier.
Bass ukuleles are usually strung with strings unique to the instrument – thick, nylon strings which are hollow on the inside. Being fairly niche, these strings can be somewhat hard to find but are necessary in order to get the proper sound out of the instrument.
Larger than the Baritone Ukulele
As a hybrid between a bass and a ukulele, bass ukes are the largest size out there. This is what gives them their rich, deep sound.
Bass ukuleles use the same tuning as a standard bass or electric bass guitar would. This allows you to use bass ukes to play much of the same repertoire that you could on a bass guitar, though with some limitations. Some techniques, like slapping, for example, are fairly tricky to pull off on a bass uke due to the nylon strings and difference in pickups.
Which Size Ukulele Should I Choose?
The best size of ukulele for you is the one that feels most comfortable for you to play. It’s more important that you have an instrument that you enjoy playing than anything else. If you’re in doubt about which ukulele would be best for you, we recommend that you visit a local music shop and try a few different ukes to see which feels best to you.
Is there a Size that is Better for Beginners?
We typically recommend that most beginners start off with a good concert uke. This size tends to be a bit easier to play than the smaller soprano size, but it’s still small and has that classic ukulele sound. That being said, the best ukulele for you comes down to personal preference and comfort. Children and players with small hands might prefer a soprano, whereas someone who really wants to get into fingerstyle might be happiest with a tenor.
Should Everyone Start with a Soprano Ukulele?
Soprano ukuleles may actually be trickier for a beginner to play than a larger instrument with bigger fret spacing, for example. If you have bigger hands, then you might find a smaller ukulele awkward to play comfortably. In this case, a concert or tenor ukulele might be the better choice for you.
Why are there Different Ukulele Sizes?
Manufacturing instruments at different sizes gives them different qualities with regards to tone and timbre. It also affects how easy the instrument is to play and hold.
Does Size Affect Playability?
Size does have an impact on playability, to some extent. For example, you can often perform a wider range of techniques on a larger instrument than you can on a smaller instrument. On the other hand, smaller instruments may be easier to hold or carry around, and are often much easier to transport (though larger ukuleles are still definitely on the smaller side).
Are there Even More Ukulele Sizes?
In addition to the primary types of ukulele, there is a myriad of less common types which all vary slightly in size and shape. Among others, these include the electric ukulele, pineapple ukulele, banjo ukulele, acoustic-electric ukulele, and guitar ukulele, which has six strings and looks like a mini classical acoustic guitar.