- A comprehensive guide to nine different types of ukuleles
- Read about the differences in size, design, and uses
- Regular, travel, electric, pineapple, or hybrid: What’s right for you?
- Also, check out how many strings a ukulele has!
Sweeter than a banjo and softer than a guitar, the ukulele is a dainty instrument with part chirpy and part-tinny naivety.
The term ‘ukulele’ elicits visions of pineapple-shaped ukes popularized by Hawaii and the television. That’s very precise… if you want a souvenir.
The ukulele is of Portuguese origin and is from the lute family of musical instruments.
It has been around for hundreds of years and is available in many types based on size and design, including hybrid crossovers and travel-specific models with thinner bodies.
Being here, it’s safe to presume you either play or plan to pick up this musical instrument, which is an excellent reason to learn about its origins and varieties. So, here’s the shortest answer:
There are four types of ukuleles based on size – Soprano, Concert, Tenor, and Baritone. But you can also categorize ukes as a standard, electric, solid body, pineapple-shaped, and hybrid version.
Each type varies in construction, size, design, tonal qualities, and price. That’s probably a LOT to take in for beginners and hobbyists.
So, let’s unpack the ukulele’s diversity in bite-sized chunks. Below, we’ll explore nine types of ukulele, their sound, and their uses. It’ll help you determine what to buy if you are in the market for a first (or fifth) instrument.
What Are The Types of Ukuleles?
There are 9 types of ukuleles, including the:
- Soprano Ukulele
- Concert Ukulele
- Tenor Ukulele
- Baritone Ukulele
- Pineapple Ukulele
- Ukulele Bass or U-Bass
- Travel Ukulele
- Hybrid Ukuleles
- Solid-Body and Electric Ukuleles
1. Soprano Ukulele
When I say uke, you think soprano! A soprano ukulele is a standard size that first appeared in the 1800s.
It’s the smallest type in size and scale length, but also a great introduction to the instrument and a go-to size for travelers and students.
Soprano ukuleles are like petite guitars. They sport a 21” scale length and twelve playable frets, though slight variations will be based on the make/model.
Tone-wise, they have the classic thin-and-bright ukulele sound, perfect for jangly strumming or vocal accompaniment.
Most kids and young adults start learning on a soprano ukulele because it’s small and cheaply priced. It also has low string tension, which makes it easy for students to fret chords and bend strings.
The soprano’s compact dimensions are perfect for on-the-go use and if you have small(er) hands, but it’s appropriate for just about any skill level.
Is The Soprano Ukulele Suitable For Adults?
The soprano ukulele’s skinny neck and cramped frets make it challenging to play for adults.
Moreover, it’s difficult to fret chords if you have stubby fingers, and the 12 playable frets can restrict playing advanced pieces as you progress. However, most average-sized adults can adjust to the soprano uke without issues.
Related: Top 7 Easy Ukulele Songs For Kids (With Downloadable Sheets)
2. Concert Ukulele
A concert ukulele, also called an alto ukulele, has a 23” scale length, making it the second smallest size in the instrument family. It’s larger and louder than a soprano and costs more too.
A concert uke can be tuned to the standard or low-G tuning (tuning down the G-string by an octave).
This ukulele type is only a few inches larger than a soprano, but little goes a long way with tone and playability.
The bump in body size adds more resonance and mid-range to its sound, which means strummed chords sound richer and less ‘tinny’ on a concert ukulele.
An average adult can easily play a concert ukulele, and the neck width and fret size make it enjoyable for students and pros.
Secondly, a concert uke can have up to 20 frets, which gives intermediate and advanced players more notes up the fingerboard.
The longer neck creates more space between the frets, so players with larger hands find it easy to play. You can explore larger sizes, but the concert size will suffice in most cases, regardless of age or size.
P.S. – Billie Eilish uses a concert ukulele, a signature model by Fender.
3. Tenor Ukulele
The tenor ukulele is even bigger and broader than a concert uke. It has a 26” scale length and can have 15 to 20 frets.
The tenor size is the most versatile type of ukulele because it can be tuned linear (GCEA), re-entrant (gCEA), or an octave lower (DGBE) like a baritone ukulele.
Tonally speaking, a tenor uke rings out louder and longer than a concert uke, no matter the note or chord.
Some players prefer the tenor over a concert because they like the sound of this type of ukulele, described as fuller, deeper, and more balanced than its smaller siblings.
A tenor ukulele has more frets, wider string spacing, and excellent note definition, which makes it ideal for fingerpicking or playing solos.
Additionally, this type of ukulele has a larger body, so it projects more volume than a concert or soprano uke. Playability benefits from roomier frets and many tenor ukes have a cutaway design, allowing easy access to higher registers.
Most ukulele players prefer the tenor because it has more frets and a richer sound. It’s ideal for adults or players who have progressed to advanced lessons or fingerpicking, but kids with small hands may find it slightly challenging to use.
Pro Tip: Concert ukuleles are more popular because tenors are expensive, and the slightly smaller scale length of a concert won’t necessarily limit what you can play.
Custom-made ukuleles with a concert body and tenor neck are also popular in the community.
4. Baritone Ukulele
The baritone ukulele is the biggest among all types of ukuleles. Call the ‘bari uke,’ it is much larger than a soprano and a little smaller than a 1/8-size guitar.
This instrument has a 30” scale length with 19 or more frets based on the make/model.
A bari uke is tuned to a baritone tuning (D-G-B-E) and has a long, wide neck with lots of space between the frets.
Whether strummed or fingerpicked, a baritone ukulele has a warm tone with full-sounding mids and lows.
It lacks the jangly character of other (smaller) types of ukuleles and sounds somewhat like a classical guitar nylon-string guitar but with more twang to it.
A baritone ukulele is popular for fingerpicking, blues, and folk music. Some players choose to tune it to the standard ukulele tuning (G-C-E-A), which results in better playability and unique tonality.
However, you can do this only with specially designed baritone ukulele strings.
Fretting chords on a bari involves serious finger stretches, so it’s not the go-to choice for kids or people with small hands.
However, it has the same tuning as a guitar’s first four strings, making it popular with guitarists who want to pick up a second instrument.
Is A Baritone Ukulele Easy To Play Or Good For Beginners?
The baritone uke is a transposing instrument, tuned differently and not recommended for absolute beginners.
You don’t have to learn new scale patterns or chord shapes to play it, but you can’t read tabs or follow lessons for “normal” ukuleles.
That’s because the notes you fret on a baritone uke are a perfect 5th lower, so you’ll have to transpose tabs to compensate for the tuning.
5. Pineapple Ukulele
The pineapple ukulele has an oval body, unlike the figure-eight shape of other types of ukuleles. Some players love its looks. Others say the lack of inward curves makes it awkward to play.
Besides that, it doesn’t differ from other body styles regarding neck profile and tuning.
A pineapple uke can be tuned to gCEA or standard baritone ukulele tuning, but it sounds very different. The oval-body shape pushes out more air, so it’s relatively louder.
Secondly, the lack of inward curves results in a mellower sound compared to traditional ukes, but the shape can feel awkward if you are used to playing regular ukuleles.
The first pineapple ukulele was created in the 1920s by Kamaka, a famous manufacturer of Hawaiian ukuleles.
It started as a standard oval-shaped uke, but many observers pointed out how it looked like a pineapple. Kamaka leaned in, added a faux texture, and patented the design.
Pineapple-shaped ukes are the ultimate Hawaiian souvenir. These ukuleles are easy to pack and have a slight advantage if you want a travel ukulele.
They are also popular with students, particularly kids enthused by their quirky colors and designs. Most pineapple ukes come in concert size, but there are a few oval-shaped concerts, tenor, and bari ukes in the current market.
Pro-tip: Some players feel a pineapple uke comes off as a toy, but that’s an insular way to look at it. However, the shape will limit your choice of body-specific accessories like gig bags.
6. Ukulele Bass or U-Bass
The U-bass was launched in 2009 by Kala, one of the oldest and most reputable ukulele brands.
Note that ukulele-bass hybrids (or bass ukuleles) have a distinct tone and application, and they appeal to bass players more than ukulele enthusiasts.
The Uke-bass has a unique tone with massive lows and a short decay. It produces a deep, booming bass tone usable for various musical styles and genres.
With a bit of tweaking, the u-bass can sound incredibly close to an upright bass.
Bass ukuleles are a niche instrument worth exploring for their unique feel and sound.
The small size and lightweight body make them perfect for noodling or travel, but they are not a novelty or practice instrument, and many famous bassists have used them in studios and live performances.
7. Travel Ukulele
Does a tiny instrument like the ukulele warrant a unique design to travel with? It does.
The uke is one of the most popular instruments among travelers, and manufacturers target them with “travel ukuleles” – ultra-thin versions of standard ukes in concert and tenor size.
Travel ukes are slim, lightweight, and built for the rigors of outdoor playing. In fact, some models are even made from water-resistant composite materials.
These types of ukuleles have ultra-thin bodies, which comes with a trade-off – less depth of tone for more portability.
Travel ukuleles are for, well, travelers. No rocket science there. Only a handful of models from brands like Kala, Martin, Blackbird, and others exist.
These instruments range from $50 to $300, and they generally feature a solid top with laminated back and sides. We’d recommend it for backpackers or if you love playing at a campfire or on the beach.
8. Hybrid Ukuleles
There are several types of ukulele hybrids; going into the details would warrant another article. So, we clubbed them all into one category for the sake of simplicity.
A hybrid refers to any instrument that crosses a uke with another instrument, like a banjolele (banjo ukulele). Simply put, a banjo ukulele has the body of a banjo but the size and string tuning of a regular ukulele.
It’s the most popular hybrid, followed by the guitalele, u-bass, and harp ukulele.
Uke hybrids are niche, and their characteristics vary based on the design. Imaginably, this type of ukulele is not for beginners.
A well-made hybrid is expensive, and you won’t find a lot of instructional material to learn it by yourself. But they are fun instruments for pro players who want to explore new sounds or experiment with unusual types of ukuleles.
Famous musicians like George Harrison (The Beatles) and Brian May (Queen) have played the banjo ukulele in several recordings.
Gracie Terzian is known for her work with the harp ukulele, and George Formby is one of the most famous banjo ukulele players.
Related: 7 Best Guitarleles That Money Can Buy (All Budgets)
9. Solid-Body and Electric Ukuleles
An electric ukulele could refer to an acoustic-electric or a solid-body ukulele. The acoustic-electric version is essentially a standard uke with an electronic pickup system.
On the other hand, solid body ukes have an electromagnetic pickup and metal strings. They are closer to an electric guitar than the traditional uke sound but can be a nifty addition to a well-rounded instrument collection.
This video demonstrates what a solid body ukulele sounds like:
Acoustic-electric and solid-body ukuleles can be played through an amplifier or recorded directly. So, they are ideal for studio recordings or live performances.
Additionally, a solid body uke can handle distortion and hi-gain settings without creating feedback, which is impossible with other types of ukuleles.
You can play an acoustic-electric uke without amplification, and it sounds exactly like an acoustic ukulele. However, a solid body uke isn’t meant to be played unplugged.
Its plugged-in sound and sustain are very different from an acoustic ukulele due to the steel strings and solid body slab.
What’s The Best Type of Ukulele For A Beginner?
Most beginners start learning on a soprano ukulele because it’s inexpensive and readily available. Adults can choose a concert uke instead of the soprano if it feels more comfortable.
A tenor can also work as a beginner ukulele; other sizes feel too awkward, but it costs much more than a soprano.
Do You Strum Or Pick A Ukulele?
You can strum or pick a ukulele, and different kinds of players use both techniques. Some ukulele players use thin nylon picks, while others use their fingers’ fleshy pads or nails to strum the instrument.
You can use either technique to strum or pick a ukulele, but they produce notably different sounds that vary with the ukulele type.
What Type Of Ukulele Is Most Common?
A Soprano ukulele is the most common type of ukulele. It’s inexpensive, kid-friendly, and has the traditional ukulele sound/tone.
This quintessential beginner ukulele is ideal for beginners, hobbyists, and dabblers. Moreover, it’s the smallest (and most portable) size in the ukulele family.
Before you go, check out our guide to the 5 Best Ukulele Wall Mounts (That Money Can Buy)!