Length: 20 inches (51cm)
The soprano ukulele is the most traditional size of ukulele. When most people think of an ukulele, this is the one that pops into mind. It is the smallest of the 4 main types, which makes it a perfect choice for children. It has that classic twangy ukulele sound due to the GCEA tuning (the same tuning for concert and tenor sizes). This would be a recommended choice for any beginner as it is very easy to handle. Most music shops will have this size and it is usually the cheapest of all the sizes. It is also super light-weight and easy to travel with, so you can take it anywhere for your next jam.
Length: 23 inches (58cm)
The concert ukulele is the next size larger than the soprano size. The concert size has a longer fretboard and more space between frets make it more comfortable for people to play, especially if you have larger hands. It maintains the classic sound of the ukulele, but the larger body gives a richer, deeper tone than the thin tone of the soprano. The range of notes is extended due to the longer fretboard which allows more freedom while playing. Nowadays, there are many concert ukuleles that are also Acoustic/Electric and come with built-in tuners. For these reasons, this size is an attractive choice for performers.
Length: 26 inches (66cm)
The tenor ukulele is the 2nd largest of the 4 main sizes of ukulele. It has a fretboard that extends past the range of a concert ukulele and larger frets as well. For this reason, it may be a good choice for musicians of larger instruments who pick up the ukulele and don’t want to feel cramped on the fretboard. The sound is even fuller and deeper than the concert size, but the sound of the tenor ukulele starts to become closer to an acoustic guitar and loses the classic ukulele sound. Many profressional ukulele use this size since it has the largest range, making it ideal for solo performances.
Length: 30 inches (76cm)
The baritone ukulele is the largest size of ukuleles. It also has the lowest range of notes, not only due to the larger body, but the baritone has a different tuning than the first 3 sizes of ukuleles. It is tuned DGBE, which is the same as the 4 bottom strings of the guitar. So in this way, it is more of a hybrid instrument, half guitar and half ukulele. It commonly takes the role of a bass when playing with the other sizes of ukuleles.
There is no ukulele more Hawaiian than the pineapple ukulele. The first pineapple ukulele was developed by Sam Kamaka Sr. in the 1920’s. Not only did it have that classic pineapple shape, but it was painted like a pineapple on the front and back. These are commonly made in the soprano size. The shape of the body creates a distinct sound, adds volume as well as a rounder, more mellow tone than the classic soprano.
Banjo Ukulele (Banjolele)
This hybrid instrument takes a banjo body and the classic ukulele tuning to create a truly unique sound. The first banjo ukulele was invented by Alvin D. Keech in 1917 and became popular in the 1920’s. Apart from its unique hybrid sound, the banjo body adds a lot more volume as the drum head greatly projects the vibrations. This made it a viable option for Vaudeville acts and larger ensembles during the Jazz Age.
The bass ukulele takes the baritone ukulele body and replaces the traditional strings with thick, rubbery polyurethane strings. These strings give it the exact range of an upright bass and can be used exactly as the bass in the band. It is quite unbelievable to have such a low range with such a small instrument body, as nearly all other instruments in the bass range are usually large, deep, and bulky. This one is definitely worth a try, the sound will most certainly surprise you. This is also the most portable bass instrument.
The Stroviols Ukulele is a mechanically amplified instrument developed by August Stroh in the 1910’s and 20’s. The design used phonograph technology to add more volume in an age before electrical amplification. This proved useful especially for recording, as certain instruments, such as horns, would overpower more quiet string instruments.
The Swagerty Ukulele was developed in the 1950’s and 1960’s as the surf craze became more popular. The single bent-neck Treholipee model is cool enough, but the Kook-a-le-le model has 2 necks to double your delight. The idea was that you could bring these down to the beach, play a few tunes, stab it into the sand while you catch some waves, then come back and keep jamming. These may also good for spear-fishing if you happen to be stranded on an island.
Personally, I got a chance to play one of these and it was a pretty cool experience. The focus is definitely on the look rather than the sound. They are light-weight, but also almost the height of a person, so not the ideal portable choice. If you are thinking of picking up one of these rare pieces for your collection, keep in mind that the strings may still be the originals and getting replacements will be a challenge. One thing is for sure though, you won’t find another ukulele like this!