Ukulele vs. Guitar: What’s the Difference?

The ancient lute was the forerunner of both the guitar and ukulele. These string instruments’ appearance and use have diverged over time, and they are two entirely different types these days. Therefore, you can see numerous similarities between these two. Essential differences result in various sounds, ways of playing, and purpose.

Sometimes it is not easy to decide which one to choose, so you should determine all the ukulele vs. guitar’s advantages and downsides. Luckily, you can quickly switch from one instrument to another once you learn how to play. Let’s see how to make the right choice.

Ukulele vs. Guitar – Types

Guitar

Most musicians consider the guitar, invented in 1050 BC, a more serious instrument than the modest ukulele. Many types have been developed for centuries, and you can choose between various forms these days, including:

  • Classical
  • Acoustic
  • Electric

The classical guitar with nylon strings is a smart choice for novices. If you prefer playing a steel-stringed guitar, you can choose between:

  • Concert and Grand Concert
  • Dreadnought
  • Auditorium and Grand Auditorium
  • Parlor
  • Jumbo
  • Travel Acoustic

However, there are also less popular models, such as:

  • Resonator
  • Lap steel
  • Pedal steel

Most of them are voiced in the tenor range, but some rare models also exist, including:

  • Alto
  • Soprano
  • Baritone

The bass guitar is basically the same as the electric bass, but the playing style differs from a standard guitar.

Ukulele

Ukulele 1
Image: Noname Music

Portuguese immigrants brought the string instrument to Hawaii in the 1880s, and it was a base for the modern ukulele. I find its name lovely, even though it literally means ‘jumping flea’ in Hawaiian because of the energetic fingerpicking while playing. You can find a few ukuleles types available on the market nowadays, including:

  • Concert
  • Tenor
  • Soprano
  • Baritone
  • Contrabass
  • Bass
  • Pineapple
  • Pocket
  • Electric

Ukulele vs. Guitar – Size

Ukulele vs. Guitar - Size
Image: Noname Music

It is more comfortable playing and practicing a tiny ukulele than a 35% to 50% bigger guitar for more beginners. This instrument is smaller, even comparing with a 3/4-sized acoustic guitar.

Instrument

Length

GuitarUkulele
Body19 to 21 inches (48 – 53 cm)

10 to 13 inches (25 – 33 cm)

Scale

23 to 26 inches (58 – 66 cm)13 to 17 inches (33 – 43 cm)
Total38 to 41 inches (0.9 – 1 m)

21 to 26 inches (53 – 66 cm)

Therefore, novices, especially children, don’t need to stretch their fingers far on the fretboard while playing ukulele chords and scale patterns. Some guitar chord shapes negatively affect players’ hands and stretch them because of longer scale length.

On the other hand, those with larger hands will feel more comfortable while playing the guitar. There is one more thing. A small ukulele is lightweight and more portable, so you can quickly bring it everywhere when necessary.

Ukulele vs. Guitar – Strings

Ukulele vs. Guitar - Strings
Image: Noname Music

Number of strings

One of the crucial differences between the guitar and ukulele is the number of strings.

  • Guitar – Most models have six strings, but you can find those with twelve, even unbelievable 49 ones nowadays. They are most often tuned E-A-D-G-B-E, from the lowest to the highest.
  • Ukulele – In most cases, this instrument has four strings. They don’t follow the standard guitar strings’ order but are tuned G-C-E-A. However, it can come in alternate configurations with six or even eight strings.

Since the ukulele has fewer strings, it is a more straightforward instrument to learn. This number allows playing plenty of one- and two-finger chords, which are simple to play.

String type

Even string types are different for these two instruments.

  • Guitar strings – They are almost always made of metal, except for the classical guitar. Their tension is high, and the tone they produce is loud and bright.
  • Ukulele strings – They are always made of nylon or similar synthetic material that is flexible enough for this purpose. The result is a recognizable soft and warm tone this instrument produces. The only exception is a low-G tuned string made of a thin synthetic core with a metal winding.

Thanks to these strings, most players consider the ukulele a more comfortable instrument to play, especially for kids and beginners.

String tension

String tension measures instrument strings’ level of looseness or tightness. It can significantly vary depending on scale length, string thickness, and the material they are made of.

  • Guitar string tension – It is approximately 24 to 35 pounds (11- 16 kg) per string.
  • Ukulele string tension – It is usually 7 to 13 pounds (3 – 6 kg) per string.

Since the guitar string tension is almost three times that of the ukulele, it sounds louder and brighter. On the other hand, the string tightness makes this instrument harder to play.

Therefore, you will play your ukulele much more comfortable because of the low-tension strings. On the other hand, it can’t produce as much volume.

Ukulele vs. Guitar – Tuning

Ukulele vs. Guitar - Tuning
Image: Noname Music

Tuning four ukulele strings is different than guitar ones, but you should adjust them the same way as the thinnest (highest) four D-G-B-E guitar strings. Even though the ukulele is tuned G-C-E-A, the relationship between the strings in both instruments is the same.

The difference is in tuning guitar strings. You will do it the way each string increases higher in pitch in a linear relationship with each other.

On the other hand, the highest ukulele string is positioned at the bottom, and the fourth one is tuned one octave higher related to others. That means it is higher in pitch than the third string. This standard ukulele tuning is well-known as re-entrant tuning.

Ukulele vs. Guitar – Tone Quality

Ukulele vs. Guitar - Tone Quality
Image: Noname Music

Tone quality represents the most significant difference between the guitar and ukulele. The crucial factors that affect the instrument tone are:

  • Wood type
  • Instrument body size
  • String tension
  • Pitch range
  • Playing style
  • Manufacturer

While the sizeable acoustic guitar with nickel-coated strings is loud and produces a full sound with basses, the ukulele will sound quieter, lighter, and mellower. Keep in mind that playing the guitar with a pick will result in more volume.

Ukulele vs. Guitar – Scale Length

The scale length on any stringed instrument represents the distance between the saddle and nut. It is a string section that vibrates while playing. This part is approximately 25% to 50% shorter on the ukulele compared to the guitar.

Consequently, the frets are closer together, so the player doesn’t need to stretch fingers too far to form chords. That makes the ukulele a convenient instrument for kids and people with smaller hands.

Ukulele vs. Guitar – Learning

Ukulele vs. Guitar - Learning
Image: Noname Music

If you want to see the first results as soon as possible, you should start playing the ukulele. It is much easier for a beginner than playing the guitar.

In fact, with only three or four chords, you will be able to play many famous songs. With a few dozen ones, you can cover most music pieces. Even though this is pretty the same with the guitar, the learning process is more time consuming and requires more practice.

Several features make learning ukulele more comfortable:

  • The small-sized ukulele is kid-friendly
  • Playing the ukulele with soft strings with low tension will be painless for your fingers
  • Thanks to a shorter scale, the ukulele requires less stretching
  • Since this instrument has fewer strings, chords are simpler, and you will notice faster initial progress

On the other hand, you should also consider reasons that make guitar quicker to learn:

  • People with large hands will have trouble to play the ukulele’s chords since its frets are small, which won’t be a problem with guitar
  • You will quickly find an excellent guitar teacher
  • Lessons are available everywhere

Ukulele vs. Guitar – Price

The guitar is more expensive than the ukulele, and you should pay at least $150 to $200 for a quality acoustic instrument. The average beginner ukulele costs approximately $50 to $100.

Reasons to Choose the Guitar Over the Ukulele

  • More variety – Unlike the ukulele, which is limited by the sounds and range, the guitar is an excellent instrument for playing rock, metal, jazz, blues, and country.
  • It is a deep instrument – Since the guitar has a more extended fingerboard and more strings, it also has a broader range than the ukulele in most cases.
  • More opportunities – Guitar players have more options to play this instrument professionally since every band needs at least one to two guitar players.
  • Serious instrument – Except for Hawaii, the guitar is taken more seriously than the ukulele worldwide. Numerous famous musicians have played the guitar, but almost no one knows who Jake Shimabukuro is.
  • Make further learning easier – Once you master guitar, you will effortlessly learn to play other string instruments. So, it won’t be hard to switch from guitar to ukulele after learning the scales, chords, and music theory. It is much harder in the opposite case.

Reasons to Choose Ukulele Over Guitar

  • Easy to learn – Ukulele has a few chords that involve only one or two fingers. Plus, its nylon strings are soft and won’t cause finger pain like the guitar.
  • It is comfortable – Thanks to its smaller neck, the ukulele is a better option for beginners, especially kids.
  • It is portable – You can carry your ukulele everywhere and use it whenever the opportunity for entertainment arises.
  • Wide options – Believe it or not, you can play almost everything on this instrument.
  • It is cheap – Most ukuleles for beginners are less expensive than guitars.

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