Ukuleles are available in various forms, sizes, colors, and materials. They also include a variety of characteristics and distinctive features. This post will look at the different types of ukuleles and how they differ. Some ukuleles are unique and rare, while others are more traditional and found commonly at most music shops.
The Different Types of Ukuleles
1. Acoustic-Electric Ukulele
Acoustic-electric ukuleles are like standard ukes, but they have pickups that can make them louder. It is accomplished by enhancing the sound produced by the strings.
You can play some Ukelele without being plugged in. It is called an acoustic-electric ukulele. If you want to, you can plug it in, and it will sound louder. It is good for performances or if you want to play with other instruments.
Acoustic-electric ukuleles typically cost more than regular acoustic ukuleles. They have extra hardware, like pickups and preamps, which allow you to plug them into an amp and get a better sound. If you want to use your acoustic-electric Ukulele to its fullest potential, you’ll also need an amp and cable.
2. Solid Body Electric Ukulele
Electric ukuleles that have a solid body are made to be plugged in and played. They don’t make much noise without amplification because they are not hollowed out like other ukuleles. It may be helpful for some people who want to practice quietly late at night, but it’s not good for performances.
Electric ukuleles resemble miniature versions of electric guitars. Some versions resemble legendary guitars, such as the Epiphone Les Paul, Fender Stratocaster, and Fender Telecaster.
Electric ukuleles do not have the same sound as traditional ukuleles because they are not constructed with a hollowed-out soundbox. Similar to the difference in sound between an acoustic and an electric guitar.
3. Archtop Ukulele
Some ukuleles have an arch top. It means that the top and bottom of the Ukulele are curved. It differs from regular ukuleles, which have a flat top and back. Archtop guitars also have this feature. The difference is that guitars typically have an adjustable bridge, while some ukulele models do.
The archtop ukulele is perfect for playing jazz and blues music. It produces a unique sound that has deep, subtle nuances. The classic F-hole guitar design inspired the f-hole design, often included on the archtop ukulele. This type of Ukulele offers a vintage look and feel. It may be embellished with the F-holes favored in the jazz guitar world. Most brands offer an archtop ukulele, but not all brands offer a ukulele of this design.
Next, We’ll Discuss Hybrid Ukuleles.
Some people have been mixing ukuleles with other instruments to create new, unique sounds. For example, they might incorporate a ukulele with a banjo, guitar, harp, or bass. These hybrids are sometimes made in small quantities because they are special.
4. Bass Ukulele
The bass ukulele is a relatively new invention that became well known in 2009 when Kala released their U-Bass. Some people think it’s a novelty instrument. Still, the bass Ukulele has become an accepted part of the ukulele family of instruments.
Depending on its form, a bass ukulele might be mistaken for a huge Ukulele or a tiny bass guitar. The hollow body bass ukulele sounds like an upright bass. In contrast, the solid body bass ukulele is a shrunken electric guitar. Strings are thicker than regular ukulele strings, resulting in deeper low tones on the smaller instrument. Acoustic or electric versions are available.
In addition to the contrabass Ukulele, bass Ukuleles also include the contrabass Ukulele. Contrary to the bass Ukulele, which is usually an octave higher than a standard bass guitar, the contrabass ukulele shares the same octave as a classical bass guitar.
Ukulele orchestras, which have become more prevalent in the last few decades, can use the bass ukulele. Some bass ukuleles come without frets. Be aware when ordering one for yourself if you’ve never played on a non-fretted instrument.
5. Banjolele (Banjo Ukulele)
The Banjolele is a type of instrument with the string set up of a soprano uke on the body of a banjo. It was popularized in the 1920s and has continued to be manufactured since then. It produces a classic banjo sound but with a ukulele undertone.
The Banjolele is typically the same size as a soprano Ukulele. It has 16 frets and is built like a banjo but on a smaller scale. Most banjoleles are made of wood, but some models are metal. They are commonly tuned in C tuning, G-C-E-A. However, they can also be tuned up to D tuning, A-D-F#-B, for a more strident tone.
Banjoleles are popular because they are charming and have a history. Rebecca Sugar and Mr. B George Harrison are notable people who play the Banjolele. The Gentleman Rhymer, Frank Skinner, Andy Eastwood, Alan Randall, and Jeff Clause from The Beatles.
6. Guitalele (Guitar Ukulele)
The guitalele is a combination of a ukulele and classical guitar. It is played like a guitar but smaller than a guitar and more portable. It has six strings and is relatively common for a hybrid instrument.
The tuning of a guitalele is the same as a guitar, but it is transposed up a fourth. It means the notes on a guitalele will be higher than on a guitar. Like a guitar, the guitalele is suitable for either picking or strumming.
7. Harp Ukulele
The harp ukulele is a type of Ukulele that has been around since the 1910s. It was developed when the popularity of the harp guitar was increasing. There are two main types of this instrument: the string-less extended bout type and the unfretted string extension, which forms a miniature harp guitar.
The harp Ukulele is very different from other Ukuleles because it has an extra arm that holds harp strings. These strings can be played open, while the other strings on the Ukulele can still be fretted. The number of harp strings added to a ukulele depends on who made it.
The harp ukulele is a unique instrument that is not often seen. It does not mean that it isn’t out there. Some luthiers are experimenting with the design of the harp ukulele. It comes in both electric and acoustic versions. Some levers can be added to the harp strings, called sharpening levers. It makes the harp Ukulele one of the unique types of Ukuleles available.
8. Lap Steel Ukulele
The lap steel Ukulele is a unique type of Ukulele that combines the features of a lap steel guitar with those of a regular ukulele. It has raised strings at both the nut and bridge ends of the fretboard, and the frets are unusable. Some lap steel ukes have markers instead of frets. They usually have four strings and a square neck.
The player puts the lap steel ukulele on their lap or a table in front of them. The player changes the pitch by moving a metal slide called a “steel” along the strings with their left hand. The strings are plucked or picked with the right hand. Because of how it is played, this instrument is also called the slide ukulele or the UK steel.
Resonator ukuleles are a type of Ukulele that are sometimes grouped into this category. However, they are played differently and will be discussed separately. Some notable lap steel ukulele players include James Hill, Debashish Bhattacharya, and Del Rey.
Here Are Some Additional Types
There are other options for people looking for a ukulele. These alternatives are unique and fit into specific niches. But you might find one of these options better for you than the one we discussed. They share few similarities, but each of these instruments can be useful.
9. Travel Ukulele
Now that people can travel so quickly, ukuleles can go worldwide. A regular ukulele is portable, but some makers have started making a particular type of Ukulele for travelers. This new type of Ukulele is more compact and more challenging, so it won’t get damaged as easily when you’re on the go.
The thin body is the essential part of a travel ukulele. A regular Ukulele is between 3.5 and 4 inches thick, but a travel ukulele is usually between 1.5 and 2.5 inches thick. It makes it possible to put your travel ukulele in a backpack or carry-on bag.
The travel ukulele is smaller and has a thinner body, which means it produces less sound and isn’t as deep. They are also usually more expensive because they have to be built more precisely because they are smaller. Wood, laminate, or plastic may be used to craft travel ukuleles. Travel Ukuleles can also be thin body or backpacker Ukuleles. Some travel Ukuleles have odd designs, while others are slimmer versions of the standard shape.
10. Resonator Ukulele
The resonator ukulele is a type of Ukulele that produces sound using one or more aluminum cones. These cones work as speaker cones and make the Ukulele louder with a different tone and appearance.
There is a wide variety of resonator ukuleles that may be purchased. A resonator ukulele can be built from metal, fiberglass, wood, or a combination of these three materials. A good number of resonator ukuleles are constructed out of steel, aluminum, or brass, and they are commonly painted. Others have wooden bodies that are usually stained or lacquered. Most of the time, they have f-holes and look old. They sound good with blues, bluegrass, country, and jazz. Bob Brownian and Del Rey are two well-known resonator ukulele players.
11. Super Ukulele
Some people have started to put a longer neck on their ukuleles. It is called the “long neck” or “super” version of the Ukulele. For example, there are super soprano, super concert, and super tenor ukuleles.
A super soprano Ukulele is like a regular soprano ukulele but has a longer neck. It makes it easier to add frets and keep the soprano sound. Superb performance Ukuleles have tenor necks, whereas super tenors have baritone necks. It makes the instrument easier to play high up on the fretboard and for soloing.
12. Tahitian Ukulele
The Tahitian Ukulele is a type of Ukulele that is native to Tahiti. It is also called the Tahitian banjo or Polynesian Ukulele. This type of Ukulele has a shorter neck and fretboard, making it easier to play.
The Tahitian Ukulele differs from other ukuleles in that its soundbox is not hollow. One piece of wood is used to carve the entire figure, including the head, neck, and torso. There are eight strings arranged in four doubling courses. It produces a thinner, higher-pitched sound and has an open back. A large conical hole is punched in the instrument’s center, which functions similarly to a banjo with a wooden top.
Beyond Four Strings
The standard Ukulele has four strings. The strings go from the highest pitch (G) to the lowest pitch (A). Ukuleles are usually tuned differently than guitars. The top string is higher in sound than the second string. The E string is in the middle, while the lowest A string is the highest.
Some ukuleles have more than four strings. Each of these variants has the standard four strings, plus some extra strings that let you play different notes or create deeper tones. Sometimes these additional strings are grouped with other strings to form a course.
Two strings close to each other on the fretboard are played together as one. This technique will be helpful in the future for ukuleles with doubled courses.
The 5-string Ukulele is very similar to the 4-string Ukulele. They are both built similarly, but the 5-string has an extra string. That string is usually tuned one octave higher than the other strings. It makes the 5-string ukulele sound fuller, and it is helpful because the G note is used a lot in Ukulele music. You can usually pick one of the two strings, but it is more common to play both simultaneously.
The 5-string Ukulele is a newer type of Ukulele that is growing in popularity. People like it because it has a second G string, which makes it sound better. Before this type of Ukulele was invented, people argued about the best way to tune their 4-string ukuleles. Some people liked the low G, and others wanted the high G. However, players of 5-string ukuleles no longer have to worry about it. It is because this issue has been resolved with this instrument.
There are two common types of 6-string ukuleles. One is strung identically to 4-string and 5-string ukes, but its six strings are distributed across four courses. The other instrument is the “guitalele,” so-called due to its resemblance to the guitar. The guitalele’s six strings are distributed across six independent courses, giving the player access to a broader range of notes. This page previously described the guitalele as a hybrid instrument.
The 6-string Ukulele with four courses is designed to create a richer sound than the basic 4-string Ukulele. The C and A strings are doubled, resulting in six strings across four courses. These could be greater or less than the originals. Still, Cs and As are frequently tuned in octaves and unison, respectively. This variety of the 6-string Ukulele is excellent for strumming Hawaiian music, just like its parent instrument. It uses the same chord forms as the standard 4-string Ukulele.
The 8-string Ukulele is set up with its strings separated evenly over four courses. It is similar to the basic 4-string Ukulele but with four courses. The four-course variant of the 6-string Ukulele is also set up this way. Typically, the strings are tuned with the two G strings and the two C strings separated by an octave. On the other hand, the two pairs of E and A strings are frequently set to the same pitch. This tuning approach preserves and enhances the Ukulele’s signature sound more than any smaller alternatives.
Numerous methods exist to tune the 8-string variation. However, most musicians advise experimenting. You can try different ways to adjust it until you find a tuning you like. Most people use the 8-string variant for strumming. But it is also possible to pick the strings with your fingers, just like on a mandolin.
There are three common styles of ukuleles: the traditional figure eight, the oval pineapple, and the cutaway.
The traditional ukulele shape is based on the figure-eight shape of the guitar. The two inward curves on the top and bottom give it the signature figure-eight shape, which is shared with its guitar relative.
It is the most common shape of the Ukulele. It is found in different sizes and types. Some shapes are wider at the bottom, while others are symmetrical.
The pineapple Ukulele is louder and has a more mellow sound than other types of ukuleles. It has an oval-shaped body and is Hawaiian in style. Many brands and manufacturers currently offer at least one pineapple ukulele line. Some go even further by providing vibrant patterns, designs, and hues.
There are also guitars and ukuleles with a unique shape known as the cutaway. It means that part of the body has been cut away, so it is easier to reach the higher frets. Many people find this shape to be stylish too.
Cutaway ukuleles are typically found in the tenor size. They are generally a bit more expensive because many believe them cool-looking.
Many types of materials can be used to make a ukulele. Wood is the most prevalent material, but it is not the only one. There are dozens of wood types, each with a unique sound, appearance, and purpose.
Laminate vs. Solid Top vs. Solid Wood
First, there are three Ukuleles: the solid wood Ukulele, the laminate Ukulele, and the solid top/laminate Ukulele. The solid wood ukuleles are made with a single layer of wood to create a better sound. They’re more expensive and less durable than other ukuleles because they’re more sensitive to temperature and humidity. The high-end ukuleles are usually made with solid wood.
Laminate is a material made of thin layers of wood. It is often used to make affordable and durable instruments, like ukuleles. Even though laminate doesn’t sound as good as solid wood, it still sounds okay when the instrument is made well. Recently, some ukulele makers have started using a particular type of laminate called “high-pressure laminate” or HPL. This material is more durable and resistant to water than other types of laminate.
Solid wood top ukuleles are made of one solid piece of wood for the soundboard. The other parts are made of different materials glued together.
The wood used in a ukulele is important for the instrument’s sound. Different tonewoods make different sounds and can be used together or separately to make a ukulele. People prefer what wood they want in their ukuleles, so here are brief descriptions of each kind of tonewood.
Koa is an exotic wood that grows naturally in Hawaii. Koa makes a great sound and has a mellow sound with excellent sustain. The grain on koa wood is also quite beautiful, which is why koa ukuleles are high-end and more expensive.
Mango wood is a wood that is no longer as prevalent as it once was. It is often used to make ukuleles because they are durable and valuable. Mango wood gives off bright tones and comes in many different grains.
Mahogany is a popular wood for making necks on ukuleles. It gives a balanced sound for different types of music. Mahogany can be found on many ukes’ top, back, and sides. Solid mahogany body ukes are an excellent choice because they are affordable.
Spruce is a type of wood that produces a loud sound. It is light-colored and has well-balanced tones.
Rosewood is one of the most common varieties of wood for ukuleles. It is a strong wood that looks good and has a warm sound. There are two types of rosewood: Brazilian and Indian. Indian rosewood is darker and less grained than Brazilian rosewood.
Cedar is a good choice for fingerstyle playing because it produces warm, soft, and dark tones. Cedar is commonly used in soundboards and appears as a darker reddish-brown.
Maple is frequently combined with other types of wood, including spruce. Maple amplifies high frequencies and is often used on the backs and sides of ukuleles. Its beautiful grain can also be used on artistic ukuleles.
The hardware that makes up a ukulele’s tuning mechanisms and frets can be made from metals like chrome, brass, and nickel. Certain ukuleles, such as resonators and lap steel, include metal components extending beyond the instrument’s hardware. We will explore these types in more detail later on.
Plastic and Fiberglass
Some Ukulele makers will offer Ukuleles made from plastic or fiberglass. While these won’t produce the same beautiful tones as wood, they are great for traveling or children because they are more durable and resistant to humidity or temperature changes.
The carbon fiber ukulele is a relatively new addition to the alternatives to wood for Ukulele. The Ukulele’s brilliant sound is due to its polycarbonate construction. It is impervious to water and highly resistant to harm.
Other Unique Shapes
There are different shapes of ukuleles. Some of them are unique and rare. Other companies make pear, bell, peanut, and boat paddle shapes. The name of the Ukulele describes the shape.
Armadillo ukuleles are unique and uncommon. For the Ukulele’s back, an armadillo’s shell is utilized. Today, it is more customary for the armadillo shell to be made of wood. South Americans refer to these ukuleles as charangos.
There are even odder shapes out there that you may encounter when checking out ukuleles. However, this section covers the vast majority of possible shapes.
Ukuleles with Pickups
Several types of ukuleles come with the ability to plug into an amp. It will do so by using a pickup device that picks up the sound of the Ukulele and sends it to the amplifier. There are two different types of pickups: active and passive. Active pickups include a built-in preamp, typically require a 9V battery, and have a larger output because they are powered. Passive pickups are the original design and lack a built-in preamp.
Passive pickups are more susceptible to feedback than active pickups. But it is also simpler to use. When choosing a ukulele with a pickup, you should consider the pros and cons of each type.
No matter what material your Ukulele is made of, the build and craftsmanship are very important. You should research brands to see their reputation and warranties.
Choosing the correct type of Ukulele is a subjective decision based on the instrument’s intended use and personal preferences. A beginning player may want a simple, traditional ukulele, while a professional or collector may prefer hybrid or boutique models.
Different performers might need different types of amplification. Some people might not want amplification at all. It is best to figure out what you want before looking for a ukulele. After reading this article, you should strongly understand the many types of ukuleles.
Frequently Asked Questions About Types of Ukuleles
The soprano ukulele size is the most popular. Most people picture this when they hear the word “ukulele.” This size has a classic, traditional sound.
If you want a louder sound, you could choose a larger ukulele. But remember that the bigger the Ukulele, the deeper the sound will be. The tone of a soprano Ukulele is more piercing than that of a concert ukulele, which is also more resonant.
Acoustic ukes usually sound better when played without amplification, while acoustic-electric ukes typically sound better when played with amplification. The top high-end ukuleles are prized for their acoustic sound and rarely come with built-in electronics.
Tenor ukuleles are better for beginners because they have a comfortable structure. It means starting awkwardly and getting better with practice is easier. Tenor ukuleles also have a fuller and louder tone, which is a plus.