‘Ukulele Sizes – Soprano, Concert, Tenor, Baritone

What size ‘ukulele you play means a lot visually and sonically, but almost nothing when it comes to actually playing music. Different strokes for different folks. It’s a matter of personal preference what sized uke you decide to call your own.

The Effect Of Size On Sound

Besides the obvious physical differences, sound tops off the list of what makes each ‘ukulele size unique. If you have Jake Shimabukuro play the same song on four different tenor ‘ukuleles, I don’t think you would notice that much difference between them. However, play the same song on a soprano, concert, tenor, and then baritone and you’d find a much larger range of sounds.

This is due mainly to the resonating space each ‘ukulele has. The smaller the space or surface, the higher the sound. The bigger the space or surface, the lower the sound. Think of a drum kit. Each individual drum functions in the same way, but, assuming everything else is there same, the size dictates the pitch. The ‘ukulele follows the same principle, but instead of producing one note it produces many and the size affects the general tone of the sound.

What follows is a rundown of the main ‘ukulele sizes from smallest to biggest. Along the way I try to debunk some myths and shed light on some stereotypes.

The legendary Maholo soprano

The scale length is the distance of the ringing string – from the nut to the saddle. The scale, length, and fret specs are just averages. Every luthier uses different dimensions.

Soprano (or Standard) ‘Ukulele

  • Scale length: 13-14 in.
  • Usually tuned: GCEA
  • Frets: 12-14
  • About 21 in. long from head to toe

The smallest size in the ‘ukulele family, the soprano has the recognizable plinky sound that everyone associates with the instrument. If you tell someone that you play the ‘ukulele, odds are that they think of you holding this size (after all, it is what size Tiny Tim used). Many sopranos have friction tuning pegs. These types of tuners point straight back from the headstock and with no gears, the strings come up to tune very quickly. Sometimes (especially on cheaper ukes) the “friction” aspect goes away and the string will not stay in tune. This can be fixed by tightening the screw found on the back of the peg with a screwdriver.

Concert 'ukulele

Concert ‘Ukulele

  • Scale length: 15-16 in.
  • Usually tuned: GCEA
  • Frets: 14-17
  • About 23 in. long from head to toe

The concert sized ‘ukulele spans the gap between the “plinky” soprano sound and the fuller tenor sound. Friction tuning pegs are common on concerts.

Tenor ‘Ukulele

  • Scale length: 17-18 in.
  • Usually tuned: GCEA
  • Frets: 17-19+
  • About 26 in. long from head to toe

Tenor 'Ukulele

The tenor ‘ukulele is becoming more and more popular as people get used to it’s less-traditional sound. Some great tenor players are: Jake Shimabukuro, Herb Ohta Jr., James Hill, David Kamakahi, and Brittni Paiva. The longer scale gives fingers more room to hold challenging chords and the strings on a tenor pull tighter because there is more space to stretch them across. I play a tenor ‘ukulele. I prefer it over the other sizes because it is bigger – there is more ‘ukulele to hang onto – and it has a fuller sound.

Baritone ‘Ukulele

  • Scale length: 19-20 in.
  • Usually tuned: DGBE (sometimes GCEA)
  • Frets: 19-21+
  • About 30 in. from head to toe

The baritone ‘ukulele is the biggest of the lot and the different tuning requires some knowledge or quick transposing to figure out the chords. A baritone is like a small guitar missing the two top strings. Unlike the other ‘ukulele sizes, the baritone is almost exclusively strung with a low top string. Some of the great jazz players favor the baritone size because or the big frets – they can squeeze chords way up the neck (Byron Yasui, Benny Chong). A baritone might be a good option for a converting guitarist.

Baritone ukulele

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