By Greg Olwell

Like many instruments, the ukulele comes in a few different sizes. The four main sizes of ukuleles are, in ascending order, soprano, concert, tenor, and baritone. But size isn’t the only difference between the instruments, and choosing one isn’t always an easy task. For anyone looking to get their first ukulele, or choose a new one, here’s some information to help decide which size ukulele is right for you.

Here’s a look at the four different sizes of ukulele:

Soprano ukulele

The soprano is what might be considered the “original” size ukulele. Greats like George Formby, Cliff “Ukulele Ike” Edwards, and even Tiny Tim played soprano ukuleles their entire career. Its small body, coupled with its G-C-E-A reentrant tuning (which features a higher-tuned string in place of what would normally be the lowest pitched string), gives the soprano a peppy, lively sound that can be immediately identified. It has the shortest scale (distance from the top of the neck at the nut to the bridge), standardized at 13 9/16 inches. Some players suggest that the soprano is only suitable for children or beginners, but it has found favor with some of today’s finest players, who consider it to be the ukulele in its purest form. Nearly every maker offers a soprano, and the quality can range from custom-made professional instruments to entry-level plastic ukes. Not to be outdone by the small soprano, sopranino or pocket sopranos are even smaller playable versions of the soprano.

Concert ukulele

The concert ukulele is the next step up in size from the soprano. It’s also called a concert soprano, and it first appeared when players began asking for a louder, more comfortable instrument for bigger venues and more advanced music. It uses the same G C E A tuning as the soprano, with a longer, 15-inch scale. With that longer scale, paired with its larger body, the concert ukulele produces more volume and a slightly deeper, rounder tone than the soprano. Nearly every maker offers concert ukes, and the size remains a favorite for people who want a ukulele sound on a slightly roomier instrument.

Tenor ukulele

The third-largest size of the ukulele family is the tenor ukulele. In the ongoing quest for more tone and volume, the tenor ukulele employs the same G-C-E-A tuning but adds a larger and deeper body than a concert, with a neck that stretches the scale length to 17 inches. This result is an instrument with even more room for fretting and picking hands and a deeper tone. The extra room is one reason why the tenor is the second most popular size today and the one favored by many professionals and enthusiasts. Nearly every maker offers a tenor, and since they’re so common, there are a few makers who only offer tenors. Some tenor players replace the high-G string with a low-G string in search of more harmonic and melodic range from the instrument, and while the change adds a few notes on the low end, some players feel that these low-G tenors have less of the ukulele’s characteristic brightness. Many tenor players choose to use a strap because the tenor’s larger size makes holding it a little more work and a strap helps to free up their arms up to make playing easier.


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Baritone ukulele

The largest of the main four ukulele sizes is the baritone ukulele. The baritone first appeared in the late 1940s and was a favorite of Arthur Godfrey, the popular 1950s TV personality who championed the ukulele during the instrument’s second wave of popularity. The baritone has a deep, throaty tone thanks to its large size and scale. Baritone ukuleles usually have a scale between 19 and 21 inches, with a linear tuning (D-G-B-E) that breaks from the ukulele’s standard reentrant tuning with a high string on the low end of the fretboard, making baritones the most guitar-like ukulele. Because of this, and the fact that it shares a tuning with the top four strings of a guitar, guitar players who want to explore the ukulele may choose to begin their odyssey with a baritone ukulele.

Ukulele sizes

Soprano

  • Traditionally tuned G-C-E-A in re-entrant tuning
  • Standard body size of 21 inches
  • Standard scale of 13 9/16 inches
  • Overall size of 62 inches
  • 12–15 frets
  • Peppy, lively sound

Concert

  • Traditionally tuned G-C-E-A in re-entrant tuning
  • Standard body size of 23 inches
  • Standard scale of 15 inches
  • Overall size of 65 inches
  • 15–20 frets
  • Bright sound with more volume and a slightly deeper, rounder tone

Tenor

  • Traditionally tuned G-C-E-A in re-entrant tuning
  • Standard body size of 26 inches
  • Standard scale of 17 inches
  • Overall size of 67.5 inches
  • 15–20 frets
  • Deeper tone, more volume

Baritone

  • Traditionally tuned D-G-B-E in linear tuning
  • Standard body size of 29 inches
  • Standard scale of 19–21 inches
  • Overall size of 74 inches
  • 19 frets
  • Deep, throaty tone

The Ukulele Owner’s Manual is the book that belongs in every ukulele player’s instrument case. Each chapter was written by the experts and performers at Ukulele Magazine, with topics ranging from commonsense instrument care to fixing rattles and buzzes to a pictorial history of the instrument. Book owners can also download how-to videos with step-by-step guidance on common set-up and maintenance topics.


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