You’re probably familiar with a ukulele. In fact, if you’ve seen almost any commercial break on television in the last 10 years, chances are you’ll have heard the familiar mix of finger clicks, whistles, and the good old ukulele!
The ukulele is a great choice for beginners due to how easy it is to learn and play, particularly for children. Plus the fact they are so cheap makes them accessible even if you’re on a budget.
You may be less familiar with a guitalele, which might appear quite similar at first, but is actually very different from a ukulele.
In this article, we’ll break down the differences between both!
What Is A Ukulele?
Let’s talk about ukuleles first.
A ukulele is actually a member of the lute family. Although it might, at first glance, just seem like a small guitar or children’s guitar.
Typically a ukulele will have nylon strings (much the same as a classical guitar) meaning it has much less tension and a warmer, softer tone than a guitar.
Often strummed lightly with the player’s fingers (rather than a pick), the sound of a ukulele gives off relaxed Caribbean vibes.
In fact, check out Disney’s ‘Lava’ and you’ll hear a great example of the ukulele being used for this exact feel!
So in a sense, a ukulele does operate like a small, travel guitar but there are some key differences.
The main one is the tuning. A ukulele has four strings and is tuned to G-C-E-A as opposed to its six-string counterpart which is tuned as standard to E-A-D-G-B-E.
This might seem confusing at first, but essentially the ukulele plays the same as if you attached a capo to the fifth fret of a guitar but without the two bass strings.
Understanding this means that if you can play guitar, you can translate chord shapes over to ukulele chords fairly easily.
A guitalele can be thought of as a ukulele-classical guitar hybrid, in a sense it’s a six-string ukulele.
It closely mimics the qualities of a classical guitar but with the size of a ukulele.
It’s much more portable than a guitar but still comes with six strings (again, nylon strings rather than steel strings that a typical acoustic guitar would use).
A guitalele is often sold as a children’s guitar due to its size and shorter scale length being much more suitable for a smaller player. Much like a ukulele, the guitalele isn’t tuned to E-A-D-G-B-A but rather A-D-G-C-E-A.
This can be thought of as the same tuning as a ukulele, but with six strings instead of four, in the same voicing as a guitar with a capo on the fifth fret.
Because of this, you have the option of including the two lowest strings in your playing, meaning that the guitalele has a different tonal range than a ukulele and chords can be fretted in the same way they would on a traditional guitar.
A guitalele tends to be slightly more expensive than a ukulele, but doesn’t need to break the bank. Check out the Henna Dragon Guitalele.
For beginner musicians, guitalele chords are likely to be more complicated than ukulele chords
After all, you are playing what is similar to a mini guitar with more strings.
Because there are fewer strings, many people find the ukulele easier to play because it means they need to fret fewer notes than they would on the strings of the guitalele.
You’ll likely find that picking up the ukulele with no prior knowledge of guitar makes for a quicker learning curve, with basic chords being easy to pick up and string a progression together with.
If you are a guitar player, however, you might find switching to a ukulele takes a bit of practice as you’ll naturally be used to playing on six strings and switching between guitar chords.
In which case a guitalele (as it has a similar tuning) might come easier for you.
Should I Learn Guitalele Or Ukulele First?
Unfortunately, there isn’t a straightforward answer to this question as it entirely depends on what you are looking to achieve!
It’s worth thinking about whether you want to progress onto a guitalele (or a guitar) or whether you simply want to learn how to play the ukulele.
Many will learn some basic chord progressions on a ukulele before moving on to another instrument, but the ukulele is very much an instrument in its own right.
Generally, you can pick up a ukulele cheaper than a guitalele, so if you’re looking to dip your toe into learning a new instrument and don’t play the guitar then the ukulele can be a great way of doing this.
Similarly, you may want to try out learning guitar but might not have huge amounts of space in your home. A guitalele is a great way to learn guitar without the need for space for a hard case or wall hanger.
Is A Guitalele Good For Small Hands?
If you’re comparing a guitalele to a regular-sized guitar, then yes it will be good for those with small hands or kids (which is why they are often advertised towards children).
However, if you are wanting to substitute a guitalele for a regular guitar and play along to your favorite songs, you won’t be able to as the guitalele is in a completely different tuning to a guitar. Meaning you’ll be completely out of key if you are using tabs to learn.
Of course, you’ll still be able to learn from tabs and play the song solo, it’s just it will be transposed up a 4th compared to the original recording (assuming it’s in E-A-D-G-B-E tuning).
The ukulele has 6 strings with two of these spaced close together and tuned an octave apart, so even though the string count is the same, the playing style is still very different.
What Are The Four Main Types Of Ukulele?
A Baritone ukulele is tuned differently from a standard ukulele.
The term Baritone can be defined as ‘a member of a family of instruments having a range between tenor and bass especially’. This basically means the tone of the instrument is much lower and boomier.
More importantly, a baritone ukulele (much like a Baritone guitar) has a larger scale than a typical ukulele to accommodate a lower tuning of D-G-B-E, usually 51.5cm.
Depending on the size of your hands you might find the Baritone ukulele easier or harder to play.
Because of its larger size, those with bigger hands (or who are used to playing guitar) may find fretting chords easier however if you have smaller hands it may be more difficult.
The tenor is the second-largest ukulele in terms of scale.
The scale length is about three inches shorter than the Baritone ukulele, but still has fairly big spacing between frets making it a great choice for fingerpicking.
Much like the Baritone, the scale may be too big for some but many professional players prefer the Tenor. This ukulele is tuned to G-C-E-A.
The Concert ukulele is tuned to G-C-E-A and is the next down the scale from the Tenor.
Again, a great choice for anyone with larger hands who would favor a warmer, boomier tone but slightly smaller in size (38.5cm) meaning it can be easier to learn than its larger counterparts.
The Concert has more frets than the smaller ukulele sizes and is also tuned to G-C-E-A.
When you think of a ukulele you’ll probably imagine the Soprano.
Tuned to G-C-E-A, the small scale (35cm) means the Soprano usually has a brighter and snappier tone, without as much projection as the Tenor or Baritone. It is possible to purchase a Soprano with more frets in a larger scale length.
The Soprano tends to be the ‘go-to’ ukulele you’ll find in music stores and is great for those with smaller hands or children who are wanting to learn the ukulele.
Can I Tune A Guitalele To Standard Guitar Tuning?
Yes, you can! You will naturally find that nylon strings will take a little more effort to tune (and stay in tune if they are a new set!) but tuning to E-A-D-G-B-E is possible.
Can I Put Steel Strings On A Ukulele Or Guitalele?
Unfortunately, this is not possible. Any stringed instrument designed with nylon strings in mind has a specific kind of construction that cannot facilitate the extra tension steel strings will demand.
This could result in bowing of the neck, or outright structural damage to the instrument.
Instruments designed to facilitate steel strings will often have additional bracing put inside the body which makes it more resilient to the additional tension steel strings require.