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Ukulele sizes – the complete guide

Ukulele sizes - the complete guide

Choosing a ukulele is a difficult task.  There are so many different brands, models and woods to choose from… but that’s not the biggest issue.  More importantly, there are also a variety of ukulele sizes which all sound different and may have different tunings.

Sizes of classically orientated instruments tend to be more standardized, with smaller or larger models called by entirely different names.  For example, a smaller violin is called a viola.  Yet, a smaller ukulele is still called a ukulele.  It’s no wonder so many people are confused.

But it is possible to differentiate between ukuleles as there are general size categories.  So where do you start? Don’t worry; I’ll explain everything you need to know to make the right choice.

How many different Ukulele sizes are there?

Question: So how many different sizes of ukulele are there? That’s a good question

Answer: a lot.

The list below shows the most common ukulele sizes.

  • Sopranissimo
  • Sopranino
  • Soprano
  • Concert
  • Pineapple
  • Tenor
  • Baritone
  • Bass

While that list may seem long, there are only four common types, soprano, concert, tenor and baritone.  The other sizes are more modern variations to meet player demands.  In this post, we will focus on the four most common ukulele sizes.

Ukulele Sizes

Even with these defined models, there are still no standard sizes; it tends to vary by manufacturer.  Therefore, all the measurements in this post are indicative.

How do different ukulele sizes compare?  Generally, the larger the body of the instrument, the louder, deeper and richer the sound.  Also, larger bodied instruments tend to have longer fretboards and therefore longer scale lengths.  The scale length is an important measurement for any stringed instrument. It describes the distance from the bridge (where the string starts) to the nut (at the end of the fretboard). This changes the level of harmonics, overtones and sustain produced by the instrument.

Soprano ukulele

Soprano is the most common ukulele size and is often referred to as the “standard” ukulele.  With a scale length of just 13 inches, its small sound chamber creates the short and bright tone which ukuleles are famed for.

Soprano Ukulele Measures

The most common soprano tunings are:

  • Standard tuning (C tuning): G4, C4, E4 and A4
  • English tuning (D tuning with high-A): A4, D4, F#4 and B4
  • Canadian tuning (D tuning with low-A): A3, D4, F#4 and B4

Until the late 20th century, D tuning was considered by many as the standard tuning.  It is still the preference for some players as it provides a brighter tone.  Today, the G, C, E, A tuning is now more common and is considered “standard” tuning.

As a soprano is a smaller instrument, the budget models can suffer from intonation problems.  If mainly used for strumming chords, this is unlikely to be a significant issue.

Recommended Soprano Ukuleles

If you’re looking for a soprano ukulele, check out our recommended models:

Kala KA-15S Soprano Ukulele

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Mahalo MK1 TRB Soprano Ukulele

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Oscar Schmidt OU12 Soprano Ukulele

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Concert ukulele

Measuring approximately 2 inches longer, the concert ukulele is slightly bigger than the soprano.  This also makes it slightly easier to play, as the fret spacing is wider.  Even with the larger body and longer neck, it maintains the recognizable ukulele sound, but louder and richer.

Concert Ukulele Measures

Concert ukuleles are generally tuned the same as sopranos:

  • Standard tuning (C tuning): G4, C4, E4 and A4
  • English tuning (D tuning with high-A): A4, D4, F#4 and B4
  • Canadian tuning (D tuning with low-A): A3, D4, F#4 and B4

Recommended Concert Ukuleles

ADM Mahogany Concert Ukulele

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Luna UKE MALU Concert Ukulele

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Cordoba 15CM Concert Ukulele

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Tenor ukulele

In recent years, the tenor ukulele has been gaining popularity and is now probably the most common model for performers.  Measuring 26 inches the larger body creates a thicker tone, which starts to add some classical guitar overtones and longer sustain.

The longer and wider fretboard makes a tenor significantly more versatile.  It provides both hands with enough space to move for fingerpicking.

Tenor Ukulele Measures

There are two common tunings known as high G and low G.  High G is the same as the soprano and concert tunings.  Low G tuning has the 4th string G tuned an octave lower (the other strings remain the same).

  • Standard tuning (C tuning with high G): G4, C4, E4 and A4
  • Standard low-G tuning (C tuning with low G): G3, C4, E4 and A4
  • English tuning (D tuning with high-A): A4, D4, F#4 and B4
  • Canadian tuning (D tuning with low-A): A3, D4, F#4 and B4

Low G tuning creates a wider musical range, as the 4th string is now lower pitched than the 3rd string.  However, this does take away some of the natural ukulele sound.

Recommended Tenor Ukuleles

Cordoba 15TM Tenor Ukulele

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Caramel CT102A Tenor Ukulele

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Lohanu LU-T Tenor Ukulele

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Baritone ukulele

The baritone, measuring 26 inches, has a rich, deep tone. The sound introduces more classical guitar tones than just the traditional ukulele sound.

Baritone Ukulele Measures

Standard tuning on the baritone does not use reentrant tuning.  Not only that, but it is tuned a 4th lower than the common G tuning found on other common ukuleles, making it the same as the top 4 strings of a guitar.

Alternative tunings on a baritone are commonly used to re-instate the reentrant tuning and provide a more ukulele-esque sound:

  • Standard baritone tuning (G tuning with low D): D3, G3, B3, E4
  • G-tuning (G tuning with high D): D4, G3, B3, E4

Given the similarities between a baritone and a guitar, this can be a useful transition instrument for any guitarists looking for a more ukulele sound.

Recommended Baritone Ukuleles

Kala KAA-15B Baritone Ukulele

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Oscar Schmidt OU52E Baritone Ukulele

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Caramel CB103 Baritone Ukulele

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Other ukulele sizes

If you’re looking for something a bit different, one of the less common models may be what you’re looking for.

The sopranissimo is the smallest ukulele size at just 16 inches.  It is popular for traveling due to its tiny size.  The sopranissimo can be hard to fret due to the small fretboard.  Given its small size, the engineering precision of the manufacturing process is critical.

The sopranino, which is just 18 inches, has been gaining popularity in recent years.  Effectively it is a slightly smaller soprano.

Introduced in 1928, the pineapple ukulele is shaped like… (you guessed it) a pineapple.  It has a similar size and string length to the soprano but is specifically designed to have a larger surface area and sound chamber.  This produces a, louder and fuller tone than the soprano, yet still maintains a similar timbre.

A bass ukulele is a modern creation, with the first models created in the early 21st century.  The strings are tuned to E, A, D, G, which is the same as standard bass guitar.  As you would expect from the name, it produces a fat, round bass tone.

Tuning and range of notes

As we’ve seen, in standard tuning the soprano, concert and tenor are all tuned to the same basic notes G, C, E, A.  Therefore, if you can play one of these models, then you can play the others too.  The only difference being the amount of stretch between frets.

Each model has a different musical range.

Ukulele Standard Tuning Range

Why are there different ukulele sizes?

When the ukulele originated in the 1880s, the soprano was the only size.  Therefore, many view the soprano as the “standard” size.  They were created as a Hawaiian version of the Portuguese machete instrument

By the 1920s, the ukulele had become popular on the mainland United States.  To meet player demands the concert and tenor ukuleles were introduced giving a louder sound than its predecessor.

Then, in the late 1940s came the baritone, which has the loudest and deepest sound of all the common ukulele models.

Which size to buy?

There is no right, wrong or best; it’s down to your personal preference.  But to get you thinking, here are some pointers.

Most ukulele books and online lessons assume a tuning of G, C, E, A.  As this matches with the soprano, concert and tenor models, it would make sense to select one of those as a beginner instrument.

Think about why you want a ukulele.  If you just want to strum some chords and learn some songs, then a soprano or concert should meet your needs.  But if you really want to play scales, and become a ukulele virtuoso, then a tenor will provide more room for your hands to move.

Think about your hand size.  Those with small hands can generally stretch to play a soprano, concert or tenor with ease.  However, those with large hands can struggle to squeeze their fingers together sufficiently on a smaller model.  I have seen some players with particularly wide digits use a single finger-tip to cover multiple strings, but that’s really not ideal.  So, if you have larger hands, then a tenor may be more suited to your needs.

How much do you want to pay?  The more materials required, then the more it will cost.  The better-quality materials used, the more it will cost.  So, if you want a high-quality instrument constructed from Koa wood, then you may need to consider your budget and potentially opt for a smaller model.  Alternatively, if you have $100 to spend and aren’t too concerned about the materials, then some of the cheaper brands have a variety of options available at various sizes.

If you’re still not sure what size to get, then either go to a music shop and try some out, or just buy a concert ukulele and have fun.  A concert is a nicely balanced instrument for chords and starting to play single notes.  As you find out what you like you can investigate other models.  Remember, nobody ever said you could only have one ukulele!