Should You Be Playing A Tenor Or Baritone Ukulele?

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What is the difference between a tenor and a baritone ukulele? Do you have a baritone ukulele, and are you confused by why the ukulele songs you are learning just don’t sound right?

While the principal difference between soprano, concert, and tenor ukuleles is the size, the baritone is another beast altogether. It is tuned differently, and you need to play it a little differently.

So, today we are going to take a closer look at how exactly a baritone is different from a tenor ukulele, as well as the benefits of a baritone and why you might want one. We’ll also share our picks for the top baritone ukuleles that you can buy today.

Our Top Baritone Choices

If you are looking for a baritone that is the best of the best and you are willing to pay for it, then you won’t find a nicer instrument than the Kanile’a K-1 B Deluxe Baritone Ukulele.

If the Kanile’a is a bit pricey for you but you still want a solid wood instrument, then check out the Ohana BK-35GCE Baritone Ukulele, which is made from solid mahogany, with a cutaway and a pickup.

If you are looking for a reasonably priced baritone for beginners with a solid spruce top and a really great pickup to connect to your amp, then definitely check out the Kala KA-SSEBY-B-CE Solid Spruce Top Baritone Ukulele.

Another great baritone from Kala is the all solid Acacia, KA-SA-B. These are one of the best selling baritones on the market and have a great look, feel, and sound.

But if you are looking for something really affordable just to experiment at this stage, then the Kala KA-B Mahogany Baritone Ukulele is probably what you are looking for.

Finally, don’t count out Pono Baritones. These all solid wood baritones, which come in mango, mahogany, and acacia are made on the island of Java and are amazing. Check out Pono Baritones here.

Main Difference Between Tenor And Baritone Ukuleles

When you look at a tenor ukulele and a baritone ukulele, the first thing that you will notice is the difference in size. You can expect a tenor ukulele to be about 26 inches long, while a baritone is about 30 inches long depending on the design.

While you will notice that both instruments are about the same width when you turn them on their side, you will notice that the neck of the baritone is noticeably longer, and the body of the ukulele is also significantly bigger.

Read more: What’s The Difference Between A Guitarlele And A Ukulele?

This bigger size contributes to the lower tone produced by the baritone, because the bigger the body of the instrument, the lower the tone tends to be. But that is not the only reason.

While your tenor ukulele is tuned to G-C-E-A, often with  high G, producing that distinctive ukulele sound, standard baritone ukuleles are tuned to D-G-B-E, with a low D on the top string. Importantly, this is the same as the bottom four strings on a standard guitar. So the baritone is also tuned one fourth lower than the tenor ukulele to produce its distinctive sound.

It also means that you play the baritone a little bit differently. The chords are consistent with guitar chords, just with the four strings. The finger shapes that you use are the same as the shapes that you will use on a tenor ukulele, but the names of the chords are different.

This is why, if you are doing a standard ukulele course with a baritone, things aren’t going to sound quite right. You can change the strings on the baritone and tune it to G-C-E-A like on a standard ukulele if that’s something that you want to do.

But to really get the most out of a baritone, you should learn to play it as intended. If you want a jumpstart with this, then check out our Baritone Bootcamp Course.

Benefits Of A Baritone Ukulele

If you are looking for a ukulele, why might you want a baritone rather than a more standardized tenor or soprano?

We think that there are five main reasons why a baritone might appeal.

1. No High G

One of the things that many people find confusing about the ukulele is the high G at the top. On most stringed instruments, the highest note is at the bottom and you work your way up. But this is one of the things that give the ukulele its distinctive sound.

But not only can it be confusing to play when you are just learning or you are accustomed to other stringed instruments, you also get ukuleles that use a low G rather than a high G, and it is something that you need to actively choose between.

With a baritone, you just don’t need to deal with any of the G drama.

2. It’s A Bit Bigger

One of the big struggles that people have with the ukulele is the size, principally the size of the fretboard and getting your fingers comfortably in those spaces. But some people also just feel like the instrument is a bit small in their hands and feels lost against their bodies.

The baritone is just that little bit larger and heftier, so it is easier to play and it feels more substantial.

3. The Lower Sound

While the attraction of the ukulele is that high island sound, it doesn’t appeal to everyone. Some people prefer a lower sound, or might find it easier to coordinate their voice with a lower tone.

4. Gateway Instrument

A baritone is a great gateway instrument if you are a ukulele player who wants to move to guitar, or a guitar player who wants to move to ukulele.

If you are a ukulele player, you can grapple with the different note arrangements before dealing with the additional strings or the bigger instrument. Guitar players can move down to the smaller instruments with the same notes, and get used to that before tackling the new arrangement.

5. It’s Cool

The fact is that a baritone ukulele is something a little unusual and different. So it’s fun and a bit cool to do something a little less mainstream.

4 Best Baritone Ukuleles

If you have decided that a baritone ukulele is the right instrument for you, here are our recommendations for the best baritones you can buy, all available in our online shop.

Kanile’a K-1 B Deluxe Baritone Ukulele

Kanile’a K-1 B Deluxe Baritone Ukulele

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If you want the best baritone you can get your hands on, then this traditional-style made in Hawaii baritone by Kanile’a can’t be beaten. That’s why it is the instrument you will see used in most of our baritone videos.

  • Solid Koa body (top, back, and sides)
  • Solid mahogany neck
  • 20-inch baritone scale length (19 frets)
  • 1-½ inch nut width
  • Made in Hawaii
  • Koa tree is planted for every ukulele and baritone sold

This instrument isn’t cheap, but that’s because it is just so good. Made in Hawaii using traditional methods, it matches a solid Koa wood body with a solid mahogany neck. This gives it a full and natural sound that just can’t be beaten.

Read more: The 10 Best Baritone Ukuleles

It has a lot of nice details including a NuBone nut and saddle, ebony fingerboard, and head plate, white mother of pearl position markers, and the classic Kanile’a five-pointed crown headstock that makes it immediately recognizable as a very nice instrument from this respected brand.

Ohana BK-35GCE Baritone Ukulele

Ohana BK-35GCE Baritone Ukulele

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If you are looking for a more affordable instrument that still gives you the fantastic sound that you can only get with a solid wood body, then this option from Ohana is a great choice.

  • Solid mahogany body (top, back, and sides)
  • Solid mahogany neck
  • 19-½ inch baritone scale length (20 frets)
  • 1-½ inch nut width

This instrument is made from solid mahogany, both the body and the neck. So you get the benefit of a solid wood body but made in relatively affordable mahogany. Overall the instrument has a big, full, warm sound.

Made in China, the instrument has a lot of nice details that help it stand out. In particular, we like the black and white rosette around the soundhole, and the cutaway of the body on the underside of the neck, which looks stylish and gives you better access to the higher frets.

Kala KA-SSEBY-B-CE Solid Spruce Top Baritone Ukulele

Kala KA-SSEBY-B-CE Solid Spruce Top Baritone Ukulele

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This attractive instrument has a solid spruce top that gives clarity and dynamic range to the notes you will love. It also comes with a pickup pre-installed.

  • Solid Spruce top, laminate striped ebony back and sides
  • Solid mahogany neck
  • 20.25-inch baritone scale length (18 frets)
  • 1-½ inch nut width
  • Truss Rod

The solid spruce top is combined with laminate-striped ebony sides and back, which are really attractive and work nicely with the clear spruce sound. This also feels like a relatively small instrument, which will suit some players.

This should be your top choice if you are looking for a beginner baritone with a pickup to connect to an amp. This instrument comes with a Fishman Kula preamp and tuner pickup already installed. This is the best pickup you will see with such a reasonably priced baritone.

Kala KA-SA-B Solid Acacia Baritone Ukulele

Kala KA-SA-B Solid Acacia Baritone Ukulele

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Koa wood, the king tonewood of ukuleles, is in the same family as Acacia wood. This all solid Acacia wood has a warm and lush tone with rich overtones and presence.

  • Solid Acacia (top, back, and sides)
  • Solid mahogany neck
  • 20.0625 baritone scale length (18 frets)
  • 1-½ inch nut width
  • Truss Rod

These are one of the best selling baritones at the market, because it is all solid acacia wood and still under $400. If you’re looking for a professional looking and sounding baritone without breaking the bank the Kala KA-SA-B is a great choice for you.

Kala KA-B Mahogany Baritone Ukulele

Kala KA-B Mahogany Baritone Ukulele

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If you are looking for a very affordable, entry-level instrument that still sounds good, you won’t be disappointed by this mahogany laminate instrument by Kala.

  • Mahogany laminate body (top, back, and sides)
  • Solid mahogany neck
  • 20.25-inch baritone scale length (18 frets)
  • 1-½ inch nut width
  • Truss Rod

Basically, this is a very affordable instrument that still has a pretty good sound. So if you are just experimenting and aren’t ready to invest a lot of money in an instrument you aren’t sure you will want to play in the long-term, this is a good choice.

Pono Baritones

Pono Baritones

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Pono baritones are one of the finest baritones whose price range falls between Kala and Kanie’a. These all solid wood baritones are made in the island of Java and come in 3 different wood grains.

  • Solid Mahogany, Mango, or Acacia body (top, back, and sides)
  • Solid mahogany neck
  • 20 inch (511mm) baritone scale length (18 frets)
  • 1-⅜ inch nut width
  • Truss Rod

These baritones come in Standard, Deluxe and Pro Classic models. They all have solid wood. The Standard model has a satin finish, the Deluxe model has a gloss finish, and the Pro Classic has a gloss finish, premium wood, and ebony binding.

Baritone Ukulele Buying Guide

When it comes to buying your baritone, you have a few choices to make to help you choose the right instrument.

Price

You might want to start your search with a price range in mind.

If you are a baritone enthusiast, and you know what you like, you could spend up to $2,000 getting a top-range instrument that includes all the features that you are after.

But you can get a very decent, solid wood instrument that is suitable even for performing for less than $500.

If you are a beginner, or you are just experimenting and you don’t want to invest a lot in an instrument you aren’t sure you are going to continue with, you can get something that is decent to play for less than $150.

If you filter your search results within these price brackets, you will get to what you want more quickly.

Solid vs Laminate Wood

The principal factor that makes a big difference to the quality of the instrument and the price is whether the baritone body is made from solid wood pieces or laminate.

Solid wood produces a better, more natural sound. The denser the wood, generally the better the sound and the more expensive the instrument. For example, a solid Koa wood instrument will set you back more than a solid mahogany instrument.

If your budget doesn’t extend to solid wood, but you want that better quality sound, a hybrid is a decent halfway point. This will basically mean that the top is made from solid wood, while the sides and back are made from laminate.

Read more: The 9 Best Tenor Ukuleles

A fully laminate instrument is really designed for beginners who are just starting out. You can learn on that instrument before upgrading to a better instrument when you are more invested and have a better idea of what you want.

The Verdict

Unlike when you move from a soprano to a concert to a tenor, a baritone ukulele is not just the next size up. While it is a bit bigger, and that is part of the reason why it produces a different sound, it is actually quite a different instrument.

This is because rather than using the same strings as other ukuleles and being tuned like a ukulele, a baritone is tuned like the first four strings of a guitar. So, not only does it sound different, but you play it differently as you use guitar chords rather than ukulele chords.

So, learning to play a baritone is different from learning to play another type of ukulele. But this can be a great thing to do as it produces a distinctive sound, and it is a great instrument if you are transitioning between ukulele and guitar or vice versa.

Do you love the baritone? Do you have a favorite instrument? Share your thoughts with the community in the comments section below.

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