Ukuleles come in 4 common sizes: soprano, concert, tenor and baritone. Each size has its own unique set of characteristics, as well as a few pros and cons. Choosing your first ukulele won't be difficult if you keep a few considerations in mind when making your selection.
We'll discuss everything you need to know about the different sizes of ukuleles so you can feel confident when making your selection. We'll cover the different costs, versatility, playability and volume of each size. You won't be making any major mistakes if you select one body size over the other (with maybe the exception of the baritone ukulele).
Read on to find out why!
The Four Sizes Of Ukulele
Ukuleles are classified into 4 different sizes: soprano, concert, tenor and baritone. The soprano ukulele is the smallest of the group and is considered the traditional ukulele. This is the size of ukulele that provides the distinct ukulele sound.
The next step up from a soprano is the concert ukulele. While it is only 2 inches larger than the soprano, the extra length allows for a little more room on the neck as well as a little more body for extra sound projection. The concert ukulele is always a good choice for beginners as it provides a little more room for your fingers while still having the classic ukulele sound.
The concert is followed by the slightly less common tenor ukulele. The tenor ukulele is perfect for anyone who is adding another uke to their collection as it will give you a distinct range that will add some flare to your sound.
Finally, we have the baritone ukulele. The largest of the 4, the baritone has the loudest projection, most space, and also usually costs the most. It is also the only ukulele of the four to use different tuning. I typically don't recommend this size to beginners as there are fewer educational resources available due to the different tuning.
Distinct Ukulele Sound?
Check out the video below to get a sense of the sound of the different sizes of ukulele.
Which Size Should I Choose?
Changing the size of a ukulele will change 4 different things: tone, projection (or volume), neck space, and price.
- Larger size = deeper tone.
- Larger size = more projection.
- Larger size = more room on the neck.
- Larger size = larger price tag.
Let's talk through each size individually to make sure we have all our bases covered.
One of the most common sizes of ukuleles. When you think of a ukulele, this is what you are usually picturing. They can be perfect for beginners for a few reasons. Firstly, they are small enough that they can be comfortably handled by almost anyone. This makes them perfect for children or anyone with smaller hands.
I have average sized hands and I am able to hit each chord pattern without any issues. However, if you have large fingers you may find the soprano to be frustrating and should consider bumping up to the concert size.
Soprano ukuleles also have the added benefit of being the least expensive of the four. So if you are looking to try out an instrument but don't want to invest a lot of money, soprano ukuleles are a great option.
Because they are so small, they have a very bright tone that is rich in the upper register. However, they aren't going to be able to project as well as a concert or tenor ukulele. If you are planning on using a ukulele in a jam session you may want to consider tenor. Any guitars present will overpower a soprano ukulele.
Additionally, if you are an experienced musician you may want to consider the tenor or concert (or baritone for that matter). These instruments are more balanced over the frequency spectrum and are generally a bit more versatile.
- Cramped if you have large hands.
- Lower volume projection.
The next size up from soprano. This is the size that is usually recommended for adult beginners. The reason being is you are still getting the distinct ukulele sound, but have just a little more room on the fretboard. There isn't really a downside to making the upgrade to the concert sized ukulele. Unless that is, you are buying for a child - for this, I would recommend going with the soprano.
These ukuleles are still very portable and easy to handle. The tuning is the same as soprano so all of the same, readily-available educational resources will apply. The average price of a concert ukulele is still very reasonable. You will be getting a slightly warmer tone and louder volume. The smaller the instrument, the brighter the tone will be (you can test this for yourself by shortening the string length with a capo).
While they aren't as common as soprano ukuleles, there are plenty of companies that produce high quality concert ukuleles.
- Difficult to manage for children.
- More expensive then sopranos.
Even less common than the concert ukulele, the tenor ukulele is best for those who already own a few types of ukuleles and are looking for a unique sound. The sound will be much warmer and stronger in the mids compared to soprano ukuleles. I wouldn't recommend this size for those looking to get something for their child.
As you increase the size of the ukulele, the string length increases (also known as the scale length). This increase in string length helps to increase the amount of sustain of the instrument and gives it more of a full sound. This helps with the versatility of the instrument, making the tenor ukulele perfect for intermediate to advanced musicians.
The limitations of the soprano ukulele can hold back the creativity of some musicians. A more experienced player will have a bit more room to find the right expression with the larger sized ukuleles.
You are also getting a little more playability with the tenor ukulele. The increase in scale length gives you just that much more room on the fretboard. The extra room on the fretboard also makes the tenor ukulele perfect for adults with larger hands. These ukuleles also tend to do a bit better for acoustic jam sessions as they are able to project enough to be heard over the other instruments.
- The tenor ukuleles can act as perfect travel 'guitars' for someone looking to play on the go.
- Less common
The first thing I should mention here is the different string tuning. The baritone uke is the only ukulele in the family that has different tuning. The other ukuleles are tuned G-C-A-E whereas the baritone ukulele is tuned D-G-B-E. This is a very important consideration for beginner musicians.
Most of the ukulele tabs and chords available online will be written for the regular ukulele tuning. This means you will be shifting the key of each song you play.
If you feel up to the challenge, or will only be playing by yourself (and not trying to follow other ukulele players), then this won't be a big issue. You will be getting a unique sounding instrument that can be incredibly fun and interesting to play.
Baritone ukuleles have a very rich and diverse sound. You are getting the most range with the most versatility of all the ukulele sizes. The large size also means you are getting the most projection and volume. Of course, the large size also comes with the largest price tag.
I wouldn't recommend a baritone ukulele for the beginner musician or someone who isn't sure about picking up the ukulele. They are best for the experienced musician who wants to add some unique diversity to their collection.
- Not recommended for beginners
- Most expensive ukulele size
I hope this overview of the different ukulele sizes gives you all the information you'll need to make an informed choice. If you really can't make up your mind you are probably over thinking it. Any of the above ukuleles will make a great choice! If you have any other tips to add to help out your fellow readers please leave them in the comments below!
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