The baritone ukulele has a beautiful, rich, deep sound. As the pitch is deeper, it starts to introduce some classical guitar overtones which the traditional ukulele sound doesn’t have. There are two vital elements to creating its unique sound. Firstly, baritone ukulele tuning is a 4th lower than standard soprano tuning. Secondly, standard baritone tuning uses linear rather than reentrant tuning. Both of these make the baritone ukulele unique in the world of ukuleles.
While there are many different sizes of ukulele, the soprano, concert or tenor ukuleles can not offer the depth of a baritone ukulele. It is not the traditional ukulele sound or the traditional classical guitar sound, therefore as an instrument, the baritone really is in a range all of its own.
Most courses, sheet music and online content use the standard G, C, E, A ukulele tuning. But this will not work for the baritone ukulele, as it has tuning notes of D, G, B, E. For any guitarists reading this, D, G, B, E should be familiar, as they are the top four strings of the guitar. This makes the baritone ukulele a great transition instrument to or from the guitar.
Due to the limited resources, the baritone can be tuned to the standard G, C, E, A tuning (assuming you are using the correct strings), which is found on the soprano, concert and tenor ukuleles. Alternatively, baritone tuning could be used with a capo at the 5th fret to achieve the same notes.
Standard tuning for the soprano, concert and tenor uses reentrant tuning. This is where the four strings are not tuned high to low in order. Instead, the open G note of the 4th string is higher in pitch than both the 3rd and 2nd string, but one tone lower than the 1st string, providing part of the unique ukulele sound.
The baritone ukulele tuning is different; it is linear, with the four strings tuned from high to low in order. The 4th string is the lowest pitched, followed by the 3rd, then 2nd, with the 1st string being the highest pitch.
The image above shows the linear tuning notes in comparison to a piano keyboard.
Alternative Baritone Tunings
Alternative tunings on the baritone are used to re-instate reentrant tuning, and create more ukulele-esque tones. To achieve this, the 4th string is tuned an octave higher. Therefore the tuning notes become D4, G3, B3, E4. While not the same pitch as the other common ukulele types, it is the same musical intervals.
The image above shows the reentrant tuning notes in comparison to a piano keyboard. The notes D, G, B, E are the same as linear tuning, but the 4th string is pitched one octave higher.
Ultimately, these two options create High-D and Low-D variations similar to the High-G and Low-G found on the tenor ukulele.
Whether you go for the High-D or Low-D variation, you will need specific strings. With linear tuning, the 4th string must be thicker to create the Low-D sound, while the 3rd, 2nd and 1st strings are identical.
These are the strings I recommend for the Low-D and High-D.
Aquila Baritone (Low D) Strings
Aquila Baritone (High D) Strings
How to tune a baritone ukulele
If you are playing with others, then your baritone ukulele must be in tune with them, each string needs be tuned precisely. However, if you’re playing on your own, it’s OK for the instrument to be in tune with itself, even though it might not be at concert pitch.
Using an electric tuner
The easiest method to tune a ukulele is to use an electric tuner. As baritone ukulele tuning uses the same notes as a guitar, it is possible to use a guitar tuner, which are easier to find within music shops than ukulele tuners.
If you are buying a specific ukulele tuner, make sure it can be used with a baritone ukulele.
An electronic tuner is a good option for beginners; it will show the pitch and whether it is too flat or too sharp.
I recommend the following tuner.
For Bariton ukulele tuning, relative tuning is the process of tuning a ukulele to itself.
The following tuning method uses the 4th string as the starting pitch. Even if the 4th string is not the right pitch, the ukulele will still sound in tune with itself.
Tune the open 3rd string to the 5th fret of the 4th string
Tune the open 2nd string to the 4th fret of the 3rd string
Tune the open 1st string to the 5th fret of the 2nd string
If using the alternative High-D tuning, the following method should be followed. This also uses the 4th string as the starting pitch.
Tune the open 1st string to the 2nd fret of the 4th string
Tune the 5th fret of the 2nd string to the open 1st string
Tune the 4th fret of the 3rd string to the open 2nd string
Celebrate the uniqueness of the baritone ukulele.
The feel and tone of the baritone cannot be replicated by other ukuleles, or any other instruments for that matter. The baritone ukulele tuning variations give more options to the player. So make the most of it, and have fun.