Beginners and students often ask “How many frets does a ukulele have?” The answer to that would be wonderfully vague “between 12 and 21.”
Clearly, it’s not a one-word answer. That’s because there are four types of ukuleles, each with a differing number of frets.
A soprano ukulele has 12 to 15 frets, a concert ukulele has 15 to 20 frets, a tenor ukulele has 15 to 20 frets, and a baritone ukulele has 19 or more frets (up to 21).
How many frets does a ukulele have?
The exact number for each ukulele size further varies based on the make/model of the instrument.
Soprano ukulele: 12-15 frets
Concert ukulele: 15-20 frets
Tenor ukulele: 15-22 frets
Baritone ukulele: 19-22 frets
Generally speaking, most kids start with a soprano ukulele and young adults use a concert ukulele. Of all types, a concert uke strikes the best balance between body size and the number of frets.
With 15 to 20 frets, the instrument has a large enough range of notes with the larger body size creating a fuller and thicker tone.
In this post, we will get into the nitty-gritty of the four types of ukulele, the number of frets each type has, and why it matters.
The four types of ukulele
Ukuleles are distinguished by size, giving us four main types of ukuleles: soprano, concert, tenor, and baritone.
You can also find bass ukuleles and other non-standard ukulele sizes, but we will stick to the most common sizes for the sake of simplicity.
The soprano is the most common type of uke and is also the smallest in both body size and scale length. These instruments have between 12 to 15 frets depending on the make/model.
The thin sound and lesser number of frets make it a good choice for strumming but not for fingerstyle playing due to the lack of projection making single-note passages a little weak sounding.
The fuller-sounding concert ukulele is a few inches bigger than the soprano. It can have anything between 15 to 20 frets. Concert ukes with 20 frets give you access to higher notes and a wider range of sounds.
They are perfect for fingerstyle playing and strumming.
The tenor ukulele is bigger than the soprano and concert size. It can have between 15 to 21 frets, varying across manufacturers.
You can use re-entrant, linear, or baritone-like tuning on a tenor uke. The tuning options and access to higher notes make it a highly versatile musical instrument.
The baritone size is the largest of the ukulele sizes. It has a 30-inch scale length and features 19 or more frets.
However, the baritone has a deeper sound and is tuned to D, G, B, E. Baritone ukes are ideal for blues or fingerstyle playing. They sound very similar to the nylon string classical guitar.
What are frets on a ukulele and why do they matter?
The neck of a ukulele is often made from koa, although it can be made from other types of wood. While the fretboard/fingerboard is generally made of rosewood.
It’s a solid strip of wood glued on top of the neck which has thin metal strips called frets inlaid into it. Frets are spaces that signify pitches on the neck of a ukulele.
You can press a string against a fret on the ukulele fretboard and pluck it to sound a specific note!
When you press a string onto a fret it is essentially shortening the length of the string that is able to vibrate. And a shorter string = higher pitch. This is how we control pitch on fretted instruments.
They also have little white dots inlaid into the odd-numbered frets like the 3rd, 5th, and so on. Then the 12th fret generally has two dots signifying the octave.
Now, the dot inlays or fret markers may vary slightly based on the uke manufacturer. But their role/function remains the same.
Inlays help you visually identify specific frets while you perform. In other words, they help you with hand positions and navigating the fretboard.
Lastly, you sound an octave when you fret a string on the 12th fret. It’s important to have access to a full octave of notes if you want to play lead, melodies, chords, and inversions.
Luckily, you have easy access to the 12th fret in every ukulele model, even the soprano.