Last updated on December 8th, 2020 at 06:09 am
The Ukulele vs the Guitar, string instruments that have many similarities such as design, playing styles, and even the fretboard system. Although these instruments are similar, they are different in many ways. Today, we’re here to discuss with you what those differences are.
This will be especially important for new/first-time musicians who are thinking of picking up one of these instruments. The guitar and the ukulele are both fun instruments to learn that are great places to start when establishing a foundation in music.
Our hope for you after reading through this article is that you will have a better understanding of these two instruments and will be able to make a better decision in which one you want to dedicate time to learning. Remember to keep in mind that you can always learn one or the other later on, so don’t limit yourself to just one instrument. Alright, now before we get into talking about the difference between the ukulele and guitar, we need to go into more detail about what makes them so similar to each other.
Table of Contents
- 1 The Similarities of These Instruments
- 2 The Difference Between Ukulele and Guitar
- 3 Which Should You Play? (Things to Consider)
- 4 Does Learning One Help You Learn the Other?
- 5 Final Thoughts
The Similarities of These Instruments
These instruments are similar in design with the major distinguishing factor being the size of the body and the number of strings. Guitars and ukuleles share a common shape, amplifying sound with the vibrations of strings being transferred to the soundboard through the bridge.
Both are fretted instruments, each featuring a wooden neck with horizontal frets. These frets are used to alter the sound to different pitches.
They’re both string instruments that use the same fretboard system, having strings suspended over the neck separated by metal bars known as the frets. You press down your fingers on frets to generate notes while a combination of frets and open strings create chords.
I will be upfront, playing chords on the ukulele will be easier than the guitar. Ukuleles having a smaller neck and fretboard, allowing players to have an easier time forming chords. You won’t have to worry too much about complex finger placements and since ukuleles commonly use nylon strings, your fingers won’t take as much of a beating.
With that being said, having the two extra strings on the guitar allows the guitarist to have more chord options to work with. On the other hand, the ukulele gives players an easier time, allowing them to play simpler versions of the chords.
Strumming patterns are very similar when comparing ukuleles and guitars. An important thing to keep in mind is the usage of picks. While you can use guitar picks with ukuleles, it’s more common to play with just your fingers. On the other hand, you will find more guitarists using picks while they play as metal strings are tougher on your hands.
Strumming a ukulele with just your fingers is easier than doing the same with a guitar. (Nylon Strings vs Metal Strings)
The Difference Between Ukulele and Guitar
When compared, guitars are much bigger than ukuleles. Volume and tone are affected by the size difference of these instruments. It can also make the instrument easier or harder to play. There’s a lot of reasons why the learning curve on the guitar is steeper than the ukulele’s, with one factor being its size.
People with smaller hands will often find it more challenging to play the guitar, which can be a big deciding factor when choosing to learn one of these instruments.
Guitars on average cost more than ukuleles. While of course there are ukuleles that can run up a high price tag, in most cases, they will be lower priced than guitars. While guitars are usually more expensive, this doesn’t discount the quality of good ukuleles.
In terms of sound for these instruments, the tone is where you will notice the biggest difference. The key factors to this major difference are the types of wood used (Tone will change depending on the wood used) the size of the body, as well as how the instruments are manufactured. So keep in mind the tone of any guitar or ukulele will vary in many ways.
As you strum the strings of a guitar you will notice that its tone is generally louder and brighter. Guitars also pack more bass than their ukulele counterparts. The reason for this is the guitar’s bigger body. This gives the guitar room for a larger pitch range.
Guitars also often use high-tension steel strings (strings with more mass), which help produce a louder tone. As stated in an article written by inside-guitar.com, “. A string with greater mass produces more energy to move the guitar’s soundboard.” Also, many guitar players use a pick while they play, helping them produce even more volume.
On the other hand, ukuleles have a nice gentle tone and are quieter in comparison to guitars. Its smaller body and lower string tension make the tone of a ukulele softer and mellower.
The biggest difference between the sound of these instruments is the tone. In general, guitars are louder brighter, and have more bass than ukuleles. This is mostly due to the guitar’s bigger body, larger pitch range and high-tension steel strings. Guitars are often played with a pick which produces more volume and brightness. You can play ukuleles with picks, however, most times they are played with just the hands of the player.
Ukuleles have a tone that is treble-focused. People have often described the tone of a ukulele as gentle, sweet, or harp-like.
Guitars with classical nylon strings have a similar tone as a ukulele, however, come equipped with the added volume and bass of a guitar.
The scale length on a guitar and ukulele is the distance between the nut and saddle. Basically, it’s the section of the instrument where the strings vibrate, creating sound.
You will find that the ukulele’s scale is around 25-50% (depending on the type of ukulele) shorter than a guitar’s. Ukulele’s frets are also closer meaning players won’t have to stretch their fingers as far when forming chords.
Closer frets might be ideal for kids and people with smaller hands, making ukuleles great choices for first-time musicians. A good thing to keep in mind is that shorter scaled stringed instruments relate to lower string tension, a topic we’ll get into soon.
The standard tuning on concert ukuleles is G-C-E-A in that order while baritone ukuleles have a tuning of D-G-B-E. The standard tuning on a guitar from the lowest string to the highest is E-A-D-G-B-E. As stated by professional ukulele player Jake Shimabukuro on Masterclass.com,
“You can tune a ukulele in fourths, which will mimic the tuning of a guitar. However, a ukulele only has four strings so while it is possible to tune a ukulele this way, it may defeat the purpose of playing ukulele.”
The measure of tightness or looseness of the strings on an acoustic instrument. Ukulele string tension is around 7lbs to 13 lbs per string while guitar string tension is around 24lbs to 35lbs per string.
The string tension of guitars is around 3 times of the ukulele. Instruments with higher string tension are usually louder and brighter sounding, however, this tension makes them harder to play. Lower tension instruments are easier to play but are softer in volume.
Which Should You Play? (Things to Consider)
An important factor to consider before deciding on an instrument is the price. While you can find budget-friendly guitars, on average, ukuleles will usually be lower priced. There are expensive options for both instruments, however, you will find it easier to find good quality ukuleles that are affordable to more people.
If the price is an important factor in your decision, then I definitely recommend you check out ukuleles as it’s easy to find fairly priced beginner ukulele bundles. You can find guitar bundles as well, however, be prepared to spend more money.
Guitars will have more versatility than the ukulele, that’s a given. With a guitar, you have a lot more room to work with, having the opportunity to access a wider range of chords and intervals. Ukuleles are smaller, while their size makes them easier to play, you give up more range.
If you’re looking for an instrument that has a steeper learning curve but rewards you with more options to play with, consider starting off with the guitar.
New/First Time Musicians
Like we mentioned earlier the beginner-friendly instrument is the ukulele, however, the guitar does offer more opportunities for musical experimentation as you continue to improve upon your craft. Personally, I started with the ukulele back in elementary school and began learning guitar after a couple of years. I found the transition from ukulele to guitar easy, as my hands were already familiar with the playstyle.
Don’t worry, you can always learn the other instrument later on. Just pick the instrument that you are gravitating towards more as you will feel more motivated to learn it and play. Also, as a first-time musician, you’re going to be focusing a lot on building your musical foundation.
The Difficulty of the Instrument
Like we’ve been talking about throughout this article, the guitar has a steeper learning curve than the ukulele. This is something you need to consider when deciding on an instrument to learn. Don’t let the learning curve discourage you if you find yourself gravitating towards the guitar. Like anything in life, if you put in the time and practice, you will continue to improve.
Now, if you haven’t touched a musical instrument ever in your life and don’t deal with the steeper learning curve of the guitar, the ukulele is a great choice. They’re much easier to learn and get to a point where you can play some of your favorite songs. Ukuleles are great introductory instruments for first-time musicians, making learning music a little more accessible.
Baritone Ukulele (Closest in Comparison to the Guitar)
Baritone ukuleles are known to be the largest ukes of the four known ukulele sizes. It is also the closest in comparison to the guitar, a great choice for those who are torn between having to pick between the two instruments.
These ukuleles are also tuned exactly like the top four strings of a guitar (D-G-B-E), making it much easier to transition your playstyle between the two. Just keep in mind that’s it’s not going to sound exactly the same and that you are limited as you are missing the bottom two strings that a guitar would have.
Does Learning One Help You Learn the Other?
Like I have already mentioned, from my personal experience, transitioning from ukulele to the guitar was easier as I was already familiar with the type of instrument. This can be the same vice-versa. Guitars and ukuleles are close in comparison with it’s known differences, however, developing a foundation on one or the other can definitely help ease you in when you plan to learn the next instrument.
Your hands will become accustomed to these types of instruments and like me, I find myself playing both instruments, depending on the type of sound/tone I am looking for.
The ukulele vs guitar, a constant debate that many first-time musicians find themselves in when planning to learn an instrument. Hopefully, I was able to help you decide on which instrument would best fit you if you’re having a hard time choosing between the two. Remember that you don’t have to limit yourself to just one instrument and if anything, plan on learning both of them if you really want to. Just try to focus on one instrument first before doing so as this will help you improve upon your overall musical abilities without burning yourself out.