Ukulele Sizes: A Beginner’s Guide
In this article, I'll compare ukuleles sizes and discuss about which sizes I feel are best for beginners.
The Four Ukulele Sizes
The most common ukulele sizes are SOPRANO, CONCERT, TENOR, and BARITONE.
This table shows two important ukulele dimensions: TOTAL LENGTH and SCALE LENGTH.
As you can see, soprano is the smallest and baritone is the biggest.
Total length is the length of the uke measuring from the headstock to the bottom.
Scale length is the distance from the nut to the saddle. It can be helpful to think of the scale length as the portion of the strings that vibrate when you're playing the uke. I'll talk about why this is important soon.
There isn't a universal standard for ukulele sizes. Most ukes will be close to the figures given above, but the actual measurements may vary slightly depending on the manufacturer.
Soprano, Concert, and Tenor
Soprano, concert, and tenor ukes are all tuned the same way: G-C-E-A. This is known as standard tuning.
The identical tuning between these three sizes means that if you learn to play on a soprano ukulele, you will also be able to play a concert or tenor.
Baritone ukuleles have a different tuning: D-G-B-E. While this tuning has some similarities to the other sizes, it's still in its own category.
Most ukulele music is intended for a soprano, concert, or tenor size uke.
Let's take a closer look at each size.
The soprano is the smallest of the four primary ukulele sizes.
The very first ukuleles were all soprano sized. This is why it's sometimes referred to as a standard size. It's also the size most people think of when they hear the word "ukulele."
Larger sizes have been introduced over the years, but soprano ukes are still very popular. They travel well and have a traditional look and tone that will never go out of style.
A soprano's tiny size means there a few things you should think about before making a purchase.
Soprano ukes have a short 13" scale. This means that the frets (the thin metal bars on the fingerboard) are fairly close to each other.
A short scale isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it does mean there's less room to maneuver on the fretboard. Players with large hands or thick fingers may find soprano ukuleles harder to play than a concert or tenor.
I have pretty big hands, and when I pick up a soprano I feel like my fingers are tripping over each other and competing for space on the fretboard. This awkwardness goes away after playing for a few minutes, but I'm still more comfortable on a concert or tenor.
Due to their small body, sopranos are quieter and generally have a less robust tone than the larger sizes. This doesn't mean soprano ukes sound bad, but they do tend to offer less bass, projection, and warmth.
Having said that, many people love the soprano's compact size and find their tinkly tone endearing. It's really just a matter of personal preference!
Soprano ukuleles are typically the most affordable instruments in the ukulele family, which can make them a good choice for players on a budget.
The price difference will vary depending on the brand and model, but in general a soprano ukulele will be 10% to 25% cheaper than the next size up (a concert).
There are lots of excellent soprano ukuleles on the market, but the majority of poor quality ukuleles also tend to be sopranos. I know it's tempting to buy one of those $20 soprano ukes on Amazon, but it's really hard to find good quality at that price range.
To learn more, check out my article on ukulele prices.
Things to Consider Before Buying a Soprano Ukulele...
- Traditional & cute
- Compact size is great for travel
- Cheaper than a similar concert or tenor
- Harder to play for some folks
- Tone is less robust than larger ukes
Concert and Tenor Size
The concert and tenor ukulele sizes were introduced in the 1920s to meet players' demands for bigger, fuller-sounding ukes.
Concert and tenor ukes are relatively close in size, tone, and playability, so for the sake of this article I'm lumping them together.
Concert & Tenor Vs. Soprano
Concert and tenor ukes are noticeably different than a soprano when it comes to playability and tone.
Concerts and tenor ukuleles both have a longer scale than a soprano: 15" for the concert and 17" for the tenor.
The longer scales creates more room between the frets. As a result, many people find concert and tenor ukes more comfortable to play than sopranos.
Concert and tenor ukuleles also tend to sound bigger and fuller than an equivalent soprano sized uke. In general, concert and tenor size ukes will have more bass, resonance, sustain, and volume.
Most players feel that the robust tone of a concert or tenor makes them a bit more versatile than sopranos.
I don't want to give the impression that soprano ukes can't sound good, because that's certainly not the case. However, sopranos do tend to have a more subdued tone than the larger body sizes.
Differences Between a Concert and Tenor
There are a few notable differences between a concert and tenor size uke:
- The shorter scale of a concert means they can be easier to play for people with smaller hands
- A tenor uke will typically have a fuller, richer tone than an equivalent concert
- Concert ukes are usually 10% to 15% cheaper than an equivalent tenor
Please keep in mind that these are only generalizations. In my experience, the two sizes often sound and feel surprisingly similar to one another, so try not to get hung up on which size is the "best." I promise you'll be OK either way!
The size of your ukulele is important, but so is finding a quality instrument. Learn how to easily find the best ukulele for your budget.
Concerts & Tenors Are Best for Beginners (Usually)
I feel that concert and tenor ukes are the best sizes for beginning players. They're easy to play and have a nice, full tone. It's tough to go wrong with either size.
Starting out on a soprano is perfectly fine, but just make sure you have a good sense of how tiny they are. If you don't mind their shorter scale and more subtle voice then go for it!
The baritone is the largest of the four primary ukulele sizes. Aside from size, the big difference between a baritone and the other three sizes is tuning.
I go into the theory below, but all you need to know is that baritone ukes are tuned to a lower pitch than a standard ukulele.
The baritone's large size and lower tuning give it a deep, rich tone that's unlike any other member of the uke family.
However, their nonstandard tuning means you can't easily use them with traditional ukulele chord sheets and song books.
For this reason I wouldn't recommend a baritone uke for a beginner.
Baritone Tuning Vs. Standard Ukulele Tuning
A baritone ukulele is tuned D-G-B-E and a standard ukulele is tuned G-C-E-A.
The pitch of a baritone uke is five half steps lower than a standard uke. The relationship between the strings stays the same, but the notes are lower.
This means that standard ukulele chord shapes will work on a baritone, but they will be lower in pitch.
For example, if you form a standard D-major chord shape on a baritone's fingerboard and strum, you'll hear a G-major chord, which is five half steps down in pitch.
To look at it another way, if you placed your finger across the fifth fret of a baritone ukulele and strummed, you'd be playing the same notes as a standard ukulele.
You actually can play most standard ukulele music on a baritone uke. However, you'll be playing in a different key than what is written on the page. In general, it's best to avoid these complications and go with a standard size uke.
The Baritone's Similarities to Guitar
A baritone ukulele is tuned just like the top four strings on a guitar. By "top four" I mean the four guitar strings with the highest pitch, D-G-B-E. The B and low E string are excluded.
Most guitar chords can be played on a baritone uke by ignoring the bottom two strings of the original guitar chord. However, if a guitar chord relies heavily on the those two guitar strings then it may not sound quite right on a baritone. In these situations it's best to consult a baritone chord chart.
Ukulele Sizes Recap
I'll wrap things up by comparing the four ukulele sizes side-by-side.
Same tuning as concert or tenor
Short scale harder to play for some people
Tone is softer and more delicate than other sizes
Less expensive than concert or tenor
Concert & Tenor
Good beginner sizes
Same tuning as soprano
Warmer and louder compared to soprano
Many people find them easier to play than a soprano
Both sizes are similar in terms of tone and playability
Tuned differently than other three sizes
Rich, deep tone with lots of bass
Not recommended for beginners due to unique tuning
If you have a question or want to add something to the article, leave a comment!