If you are looking to buy your first ukulele, the different sizes on the market can be confusing. There are four main sizes of ukulele, as well as some more unusual designs.
The four most common sizes (in ascending size order) are Soprano, Concert, Tenor, and Baritone.
You may also find “pineapple ukuleles”, such called because of their resemblance to the fruit, and these tend to be on the smaller end of the spectrum. Guitaleles are another option, a hybrid between the guitar and ukulele. Some companies even make bass ukulele models or “U-bass”.
For most beginners, one of the mainstream sizes will be a good starting point. Most of these have standard tuning and provide the classic ukulele sound you’re looking for.
The Typical Sizes Explained
Soprano ukes tend to be 21 inches in size, so it is the smallest of the four sizes. If you love the bright, “plinkier” sounding ukuleles then this is probably the one for you. The small size means less resonance. This provides short, sharp tones with lots of high frequencies.
Soprano is probably the most common of all of the different sizes of ukuleles. They’re usually cheaper as they need fewer materials to make.
If you are buying for a child, teen, or adult with smaller hands, a soprano uke will usually be comfortable to play.
Soprano ukuleles are extremely popular, but so is the next size up…
The concert size is a little bigger. 24-25 inches is standard for these ukes. They are a good compromise for those who want the traditional sound that a soprano ukulele produces while providing a bit more space for larger hands.
The slightly larger size also means more resonance and projection, so if you are looking to play with others or perform, you will find a concert ukulele to be a great option.
The tenor size is around 26 inches. This larger model means a louder sound, and more of the middle and bass frequencies starting to shine through. Tenor ukes also tend to project well and fill the room with their sound.
The longer scale length is great if you have large hands, and you can maneuver around the fretboard and strum or pick with ease.
The only real downside of this member of the ukulele family is that you are starting to lose a little of the traditional Hawaiian bright sound you get with soprano and concert ukes.
This is the largest of the standard sizes. They tend to be 30-31 inches. Baritone ukuleles do not have the most traditional ukulele sound. However, if you are used to playing the guitar, this might be a great transition to ukulele as this one uses a tuning more similar to guitar tuning.
Being larger, there is a fuller sound to the baritone ukulele, great if you want to play bass notes and chords, but it is easily confused with a classical guitar.
You might be a little confused about the way ukuleles are tuned if you are used to other string instruments.
You will find that the smaller ukulele sizes (concert and soprano) use reentrant tuning. This is a method where the strings are not in order of pitch. They don’t go from low to high in their tone. For Ukulele, this tuning is known as “GCEA”. These are the notes when the strings are played open, from top to bottom.
Tenor ukuleles may also be tuned with reentrant tuning. However, they can also be tuned to “DGBE”. This is when the uke’s tuning is the same as the first four strings of a guitar. If you are used to playing the guitar already, this can be a helpful method to switch over to uke.
Baritone ukuleles are always tuned to “DGBE”. Purists claim that this is not a standard ukulele and that these instruments should actually be classified as a guitar.
Choosing The Right Size For You
There are a few simple considerations that will really help you to make the right choice.
Firstly, the size of your hands. You probably know if you have small, large, or medium hands. It will largely depend on your build and age.
For small hands, you will find any of the ukulele sizes comfortable. Most people with small hands go for a soprano or concert model for the authentic bright sound and portability.
For big hands, a concert ukulele will usually be okay for strumming, but if you want to do some fingerpicking and solos, a tenor model will give you more space to do so.
If you are still unsure of hand sizes, measure from your wrist to the tip of your longest finger. 7.6 inches is average for a man, 6.8 is average for a woman (source). Are you above, below, or close to the average?
Hand size isn’t the only thing to consider.
Whether or not you have played guitar before could come into your consideration. If you have, you can pick up models with the DGBE tuning really quickly and be playing songs you love in minutes. Tenor or even baritone sizes are great for this.
The tone should be considered. If you want a really traditional ukulele tone, you should go for one of the smaller sizes. If you want more of an acoustic guitar sound, the baritone model will be your weapon of choice.
The Best Sizes For Beginners
If you are a beginner, soprano or concert ukuleles will probably fall into all the right categories, especially if your hands aren’t too big. They give the bright and crisp sound most of us associate with a ukulele.
Also, these smaller sizes tend to be cheaper, and often sold as bundles with accessories, perfect if you are just getting started. We recommend learning on a model with reentrant tuning, too, and both concert and soprano sizes are perfect for this.
If you do have large hands and want to get the most out of fingerpicking, there is no harm in going up a size to tenor. But beginners should stick to GCEA tuning. Most learning materials will assume you are playing in this standard tuning.
Though all these choices seem daunting to start with, it shouldn’t be hard to choose the right ukulele size for you. If you are unsure, you can head to a music store and see if you are able to play a few in different sizes. You’ll get a feel for which might be the most comfortable for you.
It’s likely you will fall in love with playing the ukulele, so the next instrument you buy will probably not be your last. As many ukulele players do, you can always expand your collection and experiment with different sizes in the future.
Anna teaches piano and guitar and also has extensive experience recording music. She’s well read in music psychology and love to share the benefits of learning to play music.