Ukulele Basics: Sizes, Types, String Order

ukulele basicsThe ukulele is a small guitar-like instrument from Hawaii that originated in the 19th century. It generally employs 4 strings to provide a unique sound. It’s played with the fingertips, thumb, or a pick. There are 4 basic ukulele sizes. Each one has its one sound and tone which can be changed with tuning and string size.

Most ukuleles are made of wood. The cheapest ukes are made of ply or laminate wood, with a soundboard of a higher quality better sounding wood like spruce. More expensive ukuleles may be made of mahogany, but the highest priced ones are from a Hawaiian wood, koa.

Four basic types of ukulele sizes

ukulele sizes

The soprano uke is the standard Hawaiian instrument. It’s approximately 21 inches long, with 12 frets. It will be tuned to G C E A but can be tuned to A D F# B, which is sometimes called Vaudeville tuning. The frets will be close together, so if you have large hands, you may want to start with another size. This is what most people learn on.


This ukulele is 23 inches long, which provides more tension on the strings. It can have 15-20 frets and is sometimes considered an alto. It’s usually tuned like a soprano ukulele, G C E A, but the G may be tuned an octave lower. Its larger size may provide a fuller sound than the soprano.


The tenor is an even longer ukulele, at 26 inches long. This length gives it even more sound fullness. It will have 15 or more frets, and you’ll be able to reach more high notes with more frets. It is generally tuned as a concert ukulele, but can also be tuned to D G B E, like a baritone.


At 30 inches or even longer, the baritone will generally have 20 frets. . It is typically tuned to D G B E, similar to the bottom 4 strings on a guitar. Baritones are good for fingerpicking and blues players, who want a deep, rich sound. Strings are available for other tunings.

There are additionally 2 not-so-common ukuleles. The sopranino or piccolo, which is only 11 inches. It will generally be tuned to a D G B E or C F A D tuning. It will have a higher pitch than the standard uke. The bass ukulele has the deepest sound, and it will be tuned to E A D G.

More Ukulele Basics

When buying strings for your ukulele, make sure you get the strings for your instrument. Changing the strings may change the way your ukulele plays. What type of string you get will be your preference. A harder string will sound brighter, but may be rough on your fingers when you start playing. Softer strings produce warmer sounds, but tend to stretch faster.

If you enjoyed this article, you will likely find this basic ukulele chords post helpful.