The Difference Between a Ukulele and Guitar

The Difference Between a Ukulele and Guitar

Whether you are brand new to playing music or just want to try something new, ukuleles and guitars have a few characteristics that distinguish themselves from each other. You will definitely want to compare the instruments before buying so you know what is best for you. 

Interesting Facts About the Ukulele

While similar in many aspects, ukuleles and guitars are also very different. The most obvious similarity is that they are both string instruments and the biggest differences can be both seen and heard. Ukuleles are typically much smaller than guitars and often have four to eight strings. They can range in size from just over a foot in length to just under two feet. Guitars have a much larger sizing range and often have between four and 18 strings. 

The ukulele belongs to the lute family and is often associated with Hawaiian music. There are four types of ukulele classified by size, shape, and sound. The four categories are: soprano, concerto, tenor and baritone. Soprano ukuleles are on the smaller side, ranging just over a foot in length and baritone ukuleles can get up to 20 inches in size. The ukulele is the Hawaiian version of the braguinha, which was introduced by Portuguese immigrants as early as the 1880s. 

More expensive ukuleles are made from hard wood and cheaper ones are made from plywood. While the shape will stay relatively the same, they can vary to look like the number eight, an oval, boat paddle, or a square. The sound hole is off-center on the ukulele’s body and the neck is near the sound hole along with the bridge. A ukulele is played the same as a guitar, by plucking the strings with most commonly the right hand and using the left hand on the frets. 

A ukulele usually only consists of four strings and can be easier to learn for beginners since there are fewer strings and frets. Unlike the classification of guitars being acoustic and electric, ukuleles are classified by their size and the type of sound they make. The most common sized ukulele is called soprano. It’s the smallest type of ukulele and is easy for beginners to play because it is the smallest of the four groups. 

Another type of ukulele that is just slightly larger than the soprano is called concert or alto ukulele. The tone of an alto is fuller and is a good option for people with larger hands that still want to have a beginner friendly instrument. The third type of ukulele is called the tenor and is typically a larger type of ukulele. Its sound is fuller than concert, and some models can have four or six strings. The largest type of ukulele is called the baritone. It is usually the most expensive compared to the other ukulele types. It can be a good stepping stone model for advanced players as it looks like a mini guitar and can be tuned like one. Aside from these types of ukuleles, some of them are classified according to their shapes.

In summary ukuleles:

  • Are cheaper options than guitars 
  • Have four different types: soprano, concerto, tenor and baritone
  • Have four major shapes: the number eight, oval, boat paddle, or a square shape
  • Range between 13 inches and 20 inches in length

Interesting Facts About the Guitar

A guitar is a string instrument that can have between 4 to 18 strings and most frequently has 6 total. A key difference is that the sound of the guitar is often amplified. There are three main types of acoustic guitars: classical, steel string and arch top guitar. This instrument is most commonly associated with blues, rock, country and metal but is also essential to flamenco, bluegrass, folk, jazz, soul, pop, and mariachi genres.  
Unlike the ukulele which is a fairly new instrument, the guitar has roots as far back as 4,000 years. The guitar was first brought to Spain by the Moors who played a regional version of a guitar and most countries around the world have adopted a model of some sorts. 

The guitar head is used for adjusting the tension of the strings and ultimately the sound. The neck is the longest part of the guitar and contains the finger board. The body amplifies the sounds with the use of its hollow cavity sound hole. The primary way to play the guitar is the same as a ukulele but also has slight variations to make a unique sound. The guitar has a much larger range than a ukulele and is able to go down two octaves further than the ukulele. 

In summary guitars:

  • Are more expensive than ukuleles
  • Have two different types: electric and acoustic
  • Have many different shapes and styles
  • Range between 24 and 25 inches in length 
Woman Playing Guitar

The two major differences between the two instruments are price and size. A ukulele is considerably cheaper and smaller, making it more practical for many people. Additionally, the sounds of a guitar can be classified in two main groups: acoustic and electric. Ukulele has a total of four: soprano, concerto, tenor and baritone.  

Comparing the two:

Guitar

A string instrument with its early origins dating back to 4,000 years.

Typically between 24-25 inches. 

Typically has six strings and a wider sound range. 

Has two main types of sound. 

More expensive. 

Ukulele

A string instrument with its early origins dating back to the 1880s.

Varies in size between 13-20 inches. 

Typically has four strings and a smaller sound range. 

Has four main types of sound.

More affordable. 

 

Both instruments can be played with the fingers but some people also use a pick to easily pluck the guitar strings. Using a pick does not change the sound that the strings make when they are plucked. Most ukulele players prefer nylon strings since it sounds better on the instrument and guitar players might prefer either nylon or steel strings when playing. 

Guitars are more common and played more frequently but can be challenging for beginners or younger players based on its size. Guitars are slightly more versatile with what can be played based on the additional strings and frets, but ukuleles have a light and unique sound to them. It will ultimately depend on your musical taste on budget for which instrument to pursue.