So you are looking to buy your first ukulele and as you’ve been shopping around you noticed something funny. Ukuleles, unlike guitars, commonly come in different sizes: Soprano, concert, tenor, and baritone. What do these names really mean, and does it matter what ukulele size you get?
The short answer is, yes, when it comes to ukuleles, size does matter! And there are several important ways that size factors in when it comes to which ukulele is best for you.
That’s why we’ve put together this guide – to clearly explain what the different ukulele sizes are, and what to look for when purchasing one for yourself!
The Ukulele Size Collection: 4 Sizes
When trying to figure out what different sizes of the ukulele there are out there, depending on where you look, there can be as many as 8!
Those 8 sizes, from smallest to largest, are as follows:
Sopranissimo – Sopranino – Soprano – Concert – Tenor – Baritone – Bass – Contrabass
If that seems overwhelming, fear not, it’s important to note that commonly there are really only 4 sizes that matter.
The sopranissimo and sopranino are extra small ukes (more on them later), bass ukuleles are more like a mini bass guitar than an ukulele, and I’ve never even seen a contrabass sized ukulele. So if we knock off the two at either end of the list, we are left with: Soprano – Concert – Tenor – Baritone.
I’m going to delve into each size in more detail, but before I do I want to highlight what different measurements mean, which ones are most important, and how to understand them when looking at ukuleles.
Lengths and Widths
When talking about the length of an ukulele, manufacturers and sellers will generally list a few different numbers and you might be left wondering, what’s the difference between the body length and scale length?
For starters, body length will generally be the length of the entire instrument, from the very end of the body, to the tip top of the head. Each of the aforementioned sizes have a semi-standard body length (which I’ll detail when I cover each size individually).
The scale length, sometimes referred to as nut-to-saddle, is essentially the playable portion of the ukulele. From the saddle (where the strings start on the body) to the back end of the first fret on the fingerboard, where the strings meet the nut.
Again, each specific size of ukulele has a pretty standard scale length.
These lengths are important to keep in mind for a few reasons. With body length indicating the overall size of the instrument, this measurement will give you a good idea of how big the instrument will be in comparison to you. The scale length will directly impact how many frets the instrument has, meaning the bigger the scale length, the more high notes you’ll have access to. For those playing basic chords and strumming, those extra frets may not matter much, but if you intend on progressing to more complicated melodies and other chord shapes that you can move up and down the neck, the longer scale length will be important.
Read more: What Ukulele Size Is Best For Beginners?
The last measurement I want to highlight is the nut width. This measurement is important in that it indicates how wide the fretboard is. 1 ⅜” is a pretty standard measurement for an ukulele nut, but you can find some with widths as wide as 1 ½”. It may not seem like much, but for people with bigger fingers, that extra space really matters. Unfortunately, you won’t find you have a lot of options with this section, unless you specifically look for ukes with wider nut widths.
Now back to the four main sizes. The sizes I’m about to list are standard, but can vary a little from uke to uke.
Body length: 21 inches
Scale length: 13 inches
Number of frets: 12
The smallest of the four main sizes, the soprano ukulele is probably what most people picture when they think of an ukulele. With such a short scale, sopranos usually have only 12 frets, which means each string can play only one full octave up from its open string note.
Sopranos can be played by anyone, but are best suited for children, and those with small fingers. They also make great travel ukes due to their extremely compact size, so if you are looking for a good travel companion, look no further!
Body length: 23 inches
Scale length: 15 inches
Number of frets: 15-20
The concert is another relatively common ukulele size that works well for the majority of people. In comparison to the soprano, it generally offers an additional 3-5 frets at only 2 additional inches in total length. If you are unsure of which size to get after reading this article, the concert is probably the safest bet as it offers more fret space than the soprano while maintaining a smaller profile than the tenor. The concert is probably as close as you’ll find to a “standard” ukulele.
Also, it’s important to note that extra scale length doesn’t just mean more frets, it also means the frets at the top of the neck tend to be a little bigger as well. Another thing to keep in mind for those with larger fingers.
Body length: 26 inches
Scale length: 17 inches
Number of frets: 15-20
Tenor ukuleles are noticeably bigger. One big difference with tenor ukuleles compared to soprano and concert, is that it’s more common for them to come with a low G string (some concerts do as well, but it’s less common). If you are unfamiliar with the difference between high and low G strings, check out the video below.
Tenor ukuleles are great for those with bigger fingers, and for those who want to play fingerstyle ukulele.
Body length: 30 inches
Scale length: 19 inches
Number of frets: 19+
Notice that each time we go up a size, the fretboard gets to be about 2 inches longer while the overall body length goes up an extra inch each time (i.e. 21 to 23, 23 to 26, 26 to 30). Given that increase, it’s easy to understand why the baritone really sticks out due to its size. You could call it a big ukulele, but it might be more appropriate to liken it to a small guitar.
And it’s not just the size that makes this one different. The baritone is also tuned differently. While the standard ukulele tuning is G-C-E-A, a baritone is tuned D-G-B-E. If you are familiar with guitar tuning (E-A-D-G-B-E), you may recognize the similarities here. Due to their size, and their tuning, baritone ukuleles actually tend to sound more like classical guitars than ukuleles.
The Smallest Members of the Ukulele Family
Before I wrap this post up, I just want to give the sopranissimo and sopranino ukuleles some love. The sopranino has a scale length of about 12 inches, and has 10 frets, while the sopranissimo has a scale length of about 11 inches (and also 10 frets). The sopranissimo’s body can be as short as 16 inches… That’s shorter than just the scale length of the tenor!
These two instruments are so small, their scale length so short, that they often have to be tuned up a whole step from standard tuning (to A-D-F#-B). This is because if tuned to the standard G-C-E-A, the strings are too slack/loose and don’t sound very good.
For more lessons on chords, techniques, and songs to help you along on your own uke journey, make sure to check out our site www.ukelikethepros.com. We offer you a bunch of great ukulele content that comes hand-in-hand with an awesome ukulele community that will support you in this journey.