There are many types of ukuleles available in the world today. They come in different sizes, pitch ranges, and distinct styles to give them all a unique sound. Some ukulele craftsmen experiment with different woods, metals, and plastics to change the sound of the instruments, too.
The first major difference you will find in different types of ukuleles are their size. Traditionally, ukuleles come in four sizes: soprano, concert, tenor, and baritone. The most common types of ukuleles are the soprano and concert, but this does not mean the other sizes do not have their merit.
Soprano is the smallest size of ukulele available. Its size makes it great for children and folks with smaller hands. Its small size also gives it a light, springy kind of sound that can’t be replicated with other sizes of ukuleles. Be aware though that there are many novelty and poorly made ukuleles in this size, since construction costs are so low. However, with a bit of browsing you will be able to find a well-constructed soprano uke.
As the name suggests, this size is popular among performing ukulele players. It’s slightly larger than the soprano so it’s easier to navigate the fret-board for those with larger hands. The notes also have a bit more of a round tone with the concert uke, due to its larger size. The higher notes tend to resonate brightly with a nice chorus effect that is hard to find in a larger size. Also, with a concert ukulele you can replace the high G string with a G string one octave lower. This gives the instrument a broader range.
A tenor ukulele is a bit larger than a concert ukulele. As you might guess, the notes sound a bit thicker than a concert ukulele. This size is even easier to navigate for those of us with large hands than the concert ukulele. As with the concert ukulele, you can play it with a low G string as well.
A baritone ukulele is larger than a tenor uke and is tuned a fifth lower. This means that the tuning is the same tuning as the high four strings of a guitar. This gives it a sound that is perfect for musicians who want a sound a little higher pitched than guitar but not quite as high pitched as a smaller ukulele. It is still smaller than a banjo as well, so a baritone ukulele is still very easy to travel with.
In the last few years a new type of ukulele has been developed: bass ukulele. These are bigger than the baritone and utilize a different tuning. They can only be heard through a pickup (most of these ukes are sold with a pickup installed). They have the same tuning as an electric or double bass, yet with much shorter necks. It’s actually quite astounding how low they can go in pitch for how small the instrument is.
Electric or Acoustic?
When picking out a ukulele it is also important to decide if you want an electric ukulele, electro-acoustic, or solely acoustic ukulele. Electric ukuleles are similar to electric guitars; they don’t make much sound unless they are plugged in, and they are usually made with steel strings and magnetic pickups giving you a metallic sound. An electro-acoustic ukulele is similar to a standard acoustic ukulele, but it has a passive pickup installed in it so you can plug it into an amplifier. It usually has nylon strings, like acoustic ukuleles, so it has a more traditional sound. If you go for an electric or electro-acoustic type of ukulele it can be pretty fun to experiment with effect pedals as well. An acoustic ukulele is a traditional ukulele without the capability of being plugged in.
Another type of ukulele is the banjo ukulele, or banjolele. The banjolele has the same tuning as a ukulele yet is made of similar material to a banjo. Instead of the traditional body of a ukulele, the banjolele is made with a small drum head on the body of the instrument. The banjolele combines the twang of a banjo with the lightheartedness of the ukulele. The banjolele is a fairly new type of ukulele that can mix between different genres of music and leave some listeners wondering what instrument was being played. They are made in a variety of sizes.
You can also try out resonator ukuleles. These are made with the same idea as resonator guitars. There is a metallic speaker cone resonator installed under the bridge of the instrument. This resonator gives the instrument a bit of echo and warmth that can’t be replicated by ukuleles made solely of wood or banjoleles. You can find resonators made with sold metal or with a mix of metal and wood. These come in various sizes as well.
So yes, there is a wide variety of shapes, sizes, sounds and makes of ukuleles available for you to choose from. Make sure to play many types of ukuleles before you find the right uke for you. Armed with a little bit of knowledge of what’s out there you will be sure to find your sonic sweetheart.