Types of Ukuleles: An Overview
What are the different types of ukuleles? Most people are familiar with the traditional wooden acoustic ukulele, but there are many other interesting ukulele styles.
This article is designed to give you a basic working knowledge of the various kinds of ukuleles.
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Types of Ukuleles Vs. Ukulele Sizes
Many people searching “types of ukuleles” are actually interested in ukulele sizes. This article is about the different types/styles of ukulele and not the various sizes. We will cover sizes briefly here, but for a more complete guide check out my article on ukulele sizes.
Standard Ukulele Sizes
Ukuleles come in four primary sizes. From smallest to largest, they are soprano, concert, tenor, and baritone.
Soprano, concert, and tenor ukes are all tuned the same way: G-C-E-A. This is known as standard tuning.
The shared tuning of 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.
All other things being equal, a larger size will have more volume and bass than its smaller counterpart. This is why many players gravitate to concert and tenor ukuleles.
The larger ukes also have a longer fretboard, which can make them a bit easier to play for some people.
Baritone ukuleles are the largest size have a different, lower-pitched tuning: D-G-B-E. This is exactly like the four highest-pitched strings of a guitar.
While this tuning has some similarities to the other sizes, the baritone is still in its own category.
Baritone ukuleles have the largest body of the four primary sizes, and their lower tuning gives them a lot of warmth and resonance.
Baritone ukuleles are a lot of fun, but their non-standard tuning means they may not be an ideal choice for first-time uke players.
Banjo Ukulele (Banjolele)
A banjo ukulele has four strings and is tuned exactly like a standard ukulele, but it has the body of a banjo. They’re commonly called banjoleles and are one of the most popular “non-standard” types of ukuleles.
Banjo ukes usually have nylon strings like a standard ukulele and are strummed or fingerpicked just any other uke.
You can play standard ukulele music on a banjolele, but music written for banjo will not work with a banjo ukulele.
The basic design of the banjo ukulele dates back to the 1920s. There are a number of companies building new banjo ukes today, but many people like to buy vintage banjo ukes on eBay.
Banjo ukuleles are much brighter and louder than standard ukes. They also have less sustain, which means that the notes die out quicker and have a more “plunky” quality. Banjoleles also lack the warm, rich, harp-like tone of a standard ukulele.
Some people would describe the tone of a banjo uke as “punchy” or “crisp” while others might say “harsh” or “tinny.” There are lots of great YouTube videos of banjo ukes, so check them out and decide for yourself!
The staccato tone of a banjo ukulele makes it useful for certain rhythm and strumming situations, but may not work as well with more modern styles of music.
Recommended Banjo Ukuleles
The three banjoleles in the photo at the beginning of this section are good starting points, with prices ranging from just over $100 to around $300.
The Kmise is a well-reviewed beginner banjo ukulele with a wide variety of wood options. The next step up includes instruments like the Kala KA-BJN-BKC or Kala KA-BJN-BKC. Both are well-crafted banjo ukuleles that are a few notches above the entry-level models.
The Magic Fluke ukulele company offers several beautiful banjo uke options, all of which are made in the USA.
Guitalele (Guitar Ukulele)
A guitalele is a six-string ukulele. Most guitaleles have a baritone ukulele body size, which is the largest of the four primary ukuleles sizes. Guitaleles are also known as guitar ukuleles and (less commonly) guileles.
A guitalele is tuned just like a guitar but five half steps higher in pitch. It’s the same as playing a guitar with a capo on the fifth fret. If you can play guitar then you’ll be able to play a guitalele; everything will just be pitched up.
Another way to look at the tuning of a guitalele is that it’s just like a standard ukulele with an additional two bass strings. A standard uke tuning is G-C-E-A and a guitalele’s tuning is A-D-G-C-E-A.
The guitar ukulele is strung with nylon strings like you’d find on a ukulele or classical guitar. These strings are much softer and easier to play than the steel strings of a standard acoustic guitar.
The tone of a guitalele falls somewhere between a standard ukulele and a nylon string guitar, making the instrument popular with guitarists and uke players alike. Plus, the compact size is perfect for children or travel.
This guitalele’s versatility makes it one of the more interesting types of ukuleles to come on the scene in recent years!
The Yamaha GL1 shown at the beginning of this article is probably the most popular guitar uke on the market. It’s available in the standard natural finish pictured above, as well as sunburst and “Persimmon Brown.”
For about the same price as the GL1, the Cordoba GP100 (pictured directly above) seems to be a popular choice as well, although I haven’t played one. I like Cordoba’s standard ukes so I imagine their guitalele would be the same good quality.
A bass ukulele is simply a bass guitar with the body of a baritone ukulele.
The tuning of a bass ukulele is identical to a standard bass: E-A-D-G. This is also the same as the bottom four strings of a guitar.
Bass ukuleles have a much shorter scale than a standard bass. This short scale also means they need thick, rubbery strings to hit the low register of a bass.
The short scale and fat strings give bass ukuleles a very low string tension, so the strings tend to feel more “floppy” than those on a regular bass guitar.
Since the low string tension produces very little volume acoustically (not plugged in) most bass ukes are designed to be played through an amp.
Despite their small size, bass ukes have a tone that is surprisingly warm and rich. Many players compare the sound of a bass ukulele to a full size upright bass!
Recommended Bass Ukes
Kala’s U-Bass (Amazon link) is the most popular and well known bass ukulele on the market. It’s available in a number of interesting designs, including solid body models and various tonewood configurations.
A company called Hadean produces a line of well-reviewed bass ukes that are considerably more affordable than the U-Bass.
One of the most popular types of ukuleles, an acoustic-electric uke is simply a traditional ukulele that has been outfitted with electronics which allow the uke to be plugged into an amplifier. These electronics are known as a pickup.
Acoustic-electric ukuleles look just like standard ukes except for the input jack in the bottom of the uke and, in some cases, a panel on the side with volume and tone controls.
My personal opinion is that the presence of a pickup doesn’t affect the acoustic (unplugged) tone of a ukulele. All other things being equal, an acoustic-electric ukulele should sound pretty much the same as the same model without electronics.
For more information, check out our article on acoustic electric ukuleles.
Electric Ukulele (Solid Body)
A solid body electric ukulele has a body made using a solid piece of wood rather than the open “box” found on a traditional acoustic ukulele. It is essentially a uke-sized version of the solid body electric guitars you’ve seen and heard in lots of modern music.
Like an electric guitar, an electric ukulele barely produces any sound unless it’s plugged into an amplifier. A decent starter amp will run $50 to $100, so be sure you’re factoring this into your budget.
Some electric ukes have nylon strings while others have steel strings. The tone of the steel string models will be closer to a full-size electric guitar.
Electric ukes have an undeniable “cool factor” but they are a bit of a novelty and might make a better second (or third) uke than a primary instrument.
Recommended Electric Ukes
Pictured at the beginning of this section, Vorson builds some of the more popular solid body electric ukes. They produce models based on classic electric guitar designs, including the Gibson Les Paul and Fender’s famous Telecaster and Strat body styles.
Pictured below, Stagg and Mahalo each offer a reasonably-priced electric ukulele. The Mahalo version featured a bit less of a conventional design but is still worth a look.
A resonator ukulele is a scaled-down version of the resonator guitar, which is a popular guitar choice for blues and [slide] players.
Other names include resophonic ukuleles or reso ukes.
Resonator ukes are tuned to a standard uke tuning (G-C-E-A) and are played like any other ukulele. The primary difference is in the look and tone.
Resonator ukes have a metal cone built into the body that helps produce a louder, brighter, more “twangy” tone than a standard uke.
Like the banjo ukulele, resonator ukes were developed around the 1920s to offer players a ukulele with more volume and projection.
Resonator ukuleles are available with a wooden body and a metal body. The wood version is a bit warmer and mellower while the metal version is brighter and louder.
Recommended Resonator Ukes
All of the ukes pictured above are respectable entry-level resonator ukes. However, “entry-level” is a subjective term since they start at around $300 and get up around $500 for the metal body versions.
An archtop ukulele is the uke version of an archtop guitar. They’re tuned and played like a standard ukulele (G-C-E-A) with the only difference being the appearance of the instrument.
Archtop guitars are popular among jazz players for their rich, mellow tone, but these qualities don’t really translate over to the small ukulele body. The archtop ukes I’ve played and heard over the years have all sounded more or less like a regular non-archtop uke!
Recommended Archtop Ukuleles
As far as I know, Kala is the only major manufacturer currently offering an archtop uke as part of their regular lineup. Their Kala KA-JTE includes a pickup and is available in three finishes: tobacco, black, and white (see above image).
Cigar Box Ukuleles
As the name implies, a cigar box uke has a wooden cigar box for the body instead of the traditional hourglass-shaped wood body.
These ukes can be purchased from large online retailers, but in my opinion the most interesting cigar box ukes are found on sites like Etsy and eBay. Of course, many folks simply choose to make their own.
Other Types of Ukuleles?
This goal of this article was to take a look at some of the most popular types of ukuleles, but I certainly haven’t covered them all! A quick Google image search for “weird ukuleles” shows that there’s really no limit to the different ukulele varieties being made and sold around the world.
Of course, if there’s one I missed that you think should be on this list, let me know in the comments!