If you want your ukulele to sound like an electric guitar, get yourself a ukulele electric pickup. Although guitars and ukuleles look similar, they sound very different. The exception is the baritone uke, which is like a guitar missing 2 of its bass strings.
The different types
Ukuleles are often differentiated based on their size. And when it comes to that, there are 4 kinds of ukes, with the smallest of them being the soprano. This is the most popular and well-known out of the 4 sizes and its sound is often the one associated with the classical uke.
If you’ve ever seen a ukulele, it was probably a soprano. In Hawaii, people refer to it as the standard uke, as it is the closest thing to the original instrument that was born on the island. Being the smallest of the ukuleles, it features a maximum of 15 frets and the whole body, including the fretboard, is a lot narrower than in the case of other ukes.
That is a good thing for people that have smaller fingers because you don’t need to get across a large area to play the chords you want. But it’s certainly a disadvantage for bigger hands or bulky fingers.
If you want the instrument that gives you the traditional Hawaiian feeling, this is the one. If you, however, are looking for something to sound like a guitar, you should keep away from this little uke. However, when you’re on a tight budget and you’re looking for a cheap stringed instrument, it’s a great choice.
Then you have the concert ukulele, which is a bit bigger. It also feels a bit like the traditional Hawaiian instrument, but its tone is deeper and its sound fuller, louder. It’s the ukulele that should be played by those with bigger hands because the frets are also wider.
Such a uke is a more versatile option and can be played by both beginners and experienced instrumentalists.
Moving towards the sound of a guitar
If you’re looking for something similar, but slightly bigger, there is the tenor ukulele. This instrument gives an even deeper and louder sound. That is also a reason why the tenor ukulele is becoming more and more popular amongst professional musicians. It also offers the possibility to be fitted with a high G string and a low G string, offering more range.
The tenor uke is a good choice if you simply want a ukulele with a deep tone or if you want to experiment with more frets and more styles. It doesn’t offer the classic uke sound, and it’s like a hybrid between ukulele and guitar in some cases.
The biggest ukulele, coming close to the standard guitar size, is the baritone. Actually, this instrument is tuned in the same way as the highest 4 strings of the guitar. So it’s like having a guitar, minus 2 bass strings.
Although baritone ukes still have some of the feel and sound of the ukuleles, they aren’t as light as you might expect and they play differently. If you want to learn the uke, the baritone is not for you. The tuning is completely different, and the size is way bigger, so you won’t learn how to play a classic uke with this.
However, if you want to step towards learning the guitar, the baritone is really great for that. It’s also great if you’re looking to do the opposite thing – switching from a guitar to a ukulele. There are some differences between this instrument and a guitar but they can be overcome.
There is also another type of instrument called guitarlele. As the name suggests, it’s a mix between the two, in the sense that it’s a baritone ukulele, but with 6 strings tuned like a guitar. This instrument is basically for those looking to replicate the uke sound without learning another instrument.
Or, they are a good thing for ukulele players wanting to learn the guitar, although, if you’re looking for that, you might as well just buy a proper guitar.
More about the baritone
There are some things to know about the biggest ukulele before you actually start playing one. First of all you should know the tuning, and in the case of this instrument that goes like this: D G B E. This means it’s a linear tuning, where the D string is the lowest note, different from the re-entrant tuning of other types of ukes, where the G string in the G C E A tuning is a high note.
It’s also interesting to know that when you use a capo on the 5th fret of the baritone, the strings will produce the G C E A notes, which are the basic tuning of the small ukuleles. That makes playing this instrument a bit easier, because the chords are actually the same, although they sound a bit different because of the different strings.
Now, why would you want to play this instrument? Well, you could do it if you want a uke that can sound like a guitar. The tone of a baritone uke is low and mellow, almost similar to the guitar. Also, this tonality offers you the possibility to play ballads and slow songs, and you can also fingerpick as you would do with a guitar.
The bass strings of a baritone ukulele are metal wound, like the ones used on guitars. That also brings you closer to the feel of the bigger, 6-stringed instrument. But if you don’t like those, and you want a uniform feel across the ukulele, you can replace those bass strings with nylon ones.
This instrument is also great if you’re playing in a group of ukuleles, as the baritone will sound great in a mix and it will bring much-needed warmth to the overall sound. Also, especially for experienced guitarists, the strings are much easier to be played on the baritone, because the spaces between the frets are large enough to accommodate larger fingers.
There are also some chords that are easier to play on a baritone uke. The E chord is one that most people dislike, but it’s created the same way as the A chord on smaller ukuleles.
Things guitarists should look at
You know that guitars usually have between 22 and 24 frets, while the small ukuleles have something between 12 and 15. As a result, you should look for a larger uke that gives you at least 20 frets.
Pay attention to the neck thickness too, as ukes tend to have a very thin neck and fretboard. Small ukuleles let your hand reach a lot more frets, but they are harder to play, especially for someone who is used to playing a bigger instrument like a guitar. Some chords are also more difficult to reach.
Those accustomed to the thick neck of a guitar should search for ukes that have similar characteristics in terms of dimensions. The body size is also important if you’ve gotten used to playing a large acoustic guitar. Holding a small uke in your hands only, without touching your legs or body, is awkward.
Larger ukes, on the other hand, can almost feel like a guitar if their body is big enough. But you should also consider the tuning. As we previously said, most types of ukuleles are tuned differently, compared to a guitar. That means the chords are totally different.
However, the baritone uke can have the same chords as the guitar, minus the notes that would be produced using the 2 bass strings found on the guitar, which don’t appear on the uke. Some people may want to avoid learning new chords, so a baritone uke is great for that. Playing the baritone implies creating the same chords essentially.
You also need to consider the sound of the ukulele. Although similar to a guitar, the baritone doesn’t exactly replicate its sound. Ukuleles are known for their happy, high-pitched songs, so replicating a heavy piece of music on such an instrument can be difficult.
Of course, the larger the size of the instrument, the deeper the sound. Fortunately, the baritone offers enough bass and it can be similar to a smaller guitar. One advantage of this instrument is that it’s more portable than a guitar, and lighter. So if you’re looking for something to use for unpredicted gigs, the baritone ukulele is great for that.