Which one to choose Ukulele or Guitar? This is a very common dilemma!
Remember those cute little guitars with four strings? In case you didn’t know, they are called Ukuleles. Ukuleles are not small guitars. They are in fact, quite different in their own right.
While the most obvious difference is in their size, Ukes also have fewer strings. Almost all Ukes have nylon strings as compared to steel strings on an acoustic guitar.
Is Ukulele a better choice than guitar as your first instrument? The answer is never as easy as a Yes or No.
Before making a decision, you should know about the differences between both instruments. Knowing these differences will help you make a choice that is tailored for your needs.
Ukulele Vs Guitar: Basic Difference
|Difficulty Level||Easier to hold chords, fret notes due to low string tension||Harder on the fingers, difficult to hold chords due to more strings|
|Tone||Warm and sweet||Bright and full|
|Size||Small||At least twice that of an ukulele|
|Scale length(from nut to bridge)||13-19 inches||More than 20 inches|
|Strings||Gut, fluorocarbon, nylon||Steel (Nylon for classical guitars)|
|Versatility||Limited tone and range||Used in all kinds of musical genres|
|Maintenance||Low||Greater susceptibility to weather changes and needs more maintenance|
|Cost||Inexpensive||Medium to very high|
Size and Build
Although the guitar and ukulele are similar-looking instruments, both are built differently. Ukulele is smaller than a guitar. The scale length, i.e., the distance between nut and bridge, is much shorter for an ukulele.
Having a smaller build can be both advantageous and disadvantageous. The four ukulele sizes, from smallest to largest, are: soprano, concert, tenor, and baritone.
Due to a smaller body, the ukulele has less acoustic projection – making it not as loud as an acoustic guitar. In addition, having a smaller body means that the ukulele has a narrower frequency range than guitar. So it does lack some of the bass and mid-range of a guitar.
On the other hand, having a smaller body makes it much more sensitive to picking, making it ideal for fingerpicking. Its smaller and lighter build also makes it more portable and easier to move around with.
Ukulele has less number of frets than a guitar. This means that it has fewer notes on its fret-board. It also has a shorter scale length than a guitar that results in lower tension across the strings, making it easier to play on.
As opposed to a steel-string acoustic guitar, there is no truss rod or neck reinforcement/adjustment mechanism for an ukulele. This is because ukulele strings do not exert the same amount of tension as steel strings.
Strings and Tuning
Due to a smaller build, ukuleles are fitted with either Fluoro-carbon or nylon strings that have much lower tension than steel strings of an acoustic guitar.
In this regard, ukulele shows more similarities with the classical or flamenco guitar. Sometimes, nyl-gut strings are used on an ukulele. Different string materials provide different tonal characteristics to the instrument.
Even at a glance, it is clearly noticeable that the ukulele has just 4 strings as opposed to 6 strings on a guitar. Having lesser strings makes ukulele less complicated than a guitar.
The tuning on an ukulele is also different from the standard tuning on a guitar.
Standard tuning on ukes looks like the following: g C E A.
This kind of open tuning makes it much easier to hold chords that are otherwise difficult to hold on a guitar with a standard tuning.
As already discussed, Ukuleles have lesser number of frets as compared to a guitar. This means that the number of playable notes on a ukulele is less.
Consequently, the octave span or range on an ukulele is lesser than that on a guitar. The number of frets on an ukulele depends on its size.
The smallest ukulele, soprano, generally has 12-15 playable frets. Larger ukuleles like the tenor or the baritone have 15-20 frets.
Normally, ukuleles have a span of 1-2 octaves. Guitars, on the contrary, have a span of around 3.5 octaves.
Ukuleles show tonal characteristics that distinguish their sound from that of guitars. A lot of factors contribute to the different sounds of ukuleles. The most prominent factors are: size and strings.
Since ukuleles are much smaller when compared to guitars, they tend to produce more high frequencies while lacking the low-end of guitars. While ukes do not sound as full as guitars, they have a sweeter characteristic to their tone due to the prominent high-ends.
Another factor that dominates the sound of ukes is the string material. Ukulele strings are usually made of nylon, nyl-gut or fluorocarbon. These materials have a mellower and warmer sound than steel-strings.
If you are wondering whether ukulele is easier than guitar, then we must say that Ukuleles, in general, are easy-to-play instruments.
It is much easier to hold chords on an ukulele than on a guitar. This is because most ukuleles are tuned to open tunings – most open chords can be easily held using one or two fingers. On the other hand, even simple chords on a guitar usually require more than just two fingers.
As discussed previously, ukuleles have lesser string tension because of nylon strings and a shorter scale length. This also makes it easier to play than a guitar as the strings on an ukulele are easier to press down.
Since ukuleles are much smaller in size than a guitar, they are preferred by people with a smaller frame, especially kids. Ukuleles also have a narrower neck that aids people with relatively smaller hands.
However, it should also be kept in mind that it is harder to have perfect intonation on smaller instruments. This is because the distance between consecutive frets starts to decrease as we move higher up the fret-board.
Therefore, on a really short scaled instrument like the ukulele, even the tiniest of errors in positioning the higher frets, while manufacturing, may result in bad intonation.
In smaller ukuleles, like the soprano and concert sizes, playing higher up the frets may sound out of tune to some extent. This problem is less common in well-built guitars.
Ukuleles are very versatile instruments. People play all sorts of genres ranging from pop to jazz on ukuleles. However, ukes are not nearly as versatile as guitars. There are many factors that make guitars more versatile.
Guitars have a fuller and bigger sound due to a larger body. Again, due to greater number of strings, more notes can be fretted at the same time on a guitar. More notes lead to more musical possibilities.
This is why, a guitar is considered to be one of the most versatile instruments ever made. Due to the smaller size of the ukulele, comparing it with a guitar is unfair.
Regular acoustic guitars are fitted with steel strings. Steel strings are inherently brighter and fuller sounding than the strings of an uke. They also have a lot more sustain.
An acoustic guitar is specially built with neck and body reinforcements to withstand the high tension of steel strings.
The high tension of the strings also contributes to the fuller, brighter tone of guitars.
More tension also allows the use of techniques like bending that provide guitars with their signature sound. Ukes are not designed for such techniques.
Both guitars and ukuleles are stringed instruments with a wooden body, and are affected by temperature and humidity. However, ukuleles do not require as much maintenance as guitars.
Ukuleles have a smaller body. The amount of wood used in an ukulele is significantly less. Therefore, maintaining it is far easier.
Ukuleles also do not necessitate any kind of neck adjustment as their strings do not exert much tension over the instrument. Lower string tension also means that uke strings are less likely to break than guitar strings. This also lowers the maintenance cost.
Since ukuleles do not use steel strings, fret-wear is minimum. Re-fretting of ukuleles is very rare unless it is played a lot. Smaller and lesser number of frets on the uke also means that a re-fretting job would be much cheaper when compared to a guitar.
Price-tag is a big factor for beginners. Usually, people who are looking to pick up their first instrument are reluctant to invest a lot of money, and rightly so.
Sometimes, people do not get enough time to practice or get intimidated by the learning curve of the instrument. A lot of people give up too early.
Therefore, for your maiden musical voyage, it is wise to invest in a relatively inexpensive instrument.
In terms of cost, ukulele is well suited for a newbie. Everything is smaller and less complicated on an uke. Good ukuleles can be purchased at the price of entry-level guitars.
Why Ukulele is Better than Guitar?
Easy to hold
Ukulele is a small instrument. It’s compact body size enables people with a smaller frame to hold it easily. This is especially true in case of kids. It is also very light-weight. Thus, it does not put much strain on your body if you play it for a longer period of time while standing up.
Easy to play
The ukulele is easier to play than guitar. Firstly, it has nylon or gut strings. These strings are much softer on the fingers than steel-strings on an acoustic guitar. Secondly, the strings on an uke do not have much tension.
Thus, strumming with your fingers is easier on an uke than on a guitar. Finally, ukes have a much thinner neck profile. This makes fretting notes less difficult for beginners and people with small hands.
Easy to learn
The learning curve of a guitar is much steeper than that of an ukulele. It is much easier to hold chords on ukes with the opening tunings.
This is why it takes just a few days of practice to learn your first song on an ukulele even if you are a complete beginner. The same is not true for a guitar.
Due to their smaller size and low weight, ukuleles can be carried around easily. It is easy to accommodate an ukulele with your luggage. Even small guitars, on the other hand, take up way more space.
Moreover, ukes are not susceptible to weather changes as much as guitars. Hence, they are perfect for taking outdoors.
Why a Guitar is Better than an Ukulele?
The fuller, brighter tone of an acoustic guitar can never be matched by an ukulele. Due to steel-strings, notes have greater sustain. Moreover, guitars can also achieve the tone of an ukulele by the use of capos on higher frets.
On account of their larger bodies, guitars are much louder than ukes. Even small-sized guitars can easily fill up an average-sized bedroom. The sound of ukes, on the other hand, can be masked by loud singing or additional instruments.
Not only do guitars have longer necks than ukes, but also have more playable frets. This means that the octave range of a guitar is greater than an uke. A guitar usually spans 3.5-4 octaves. The biggest of ukes can cover only about 2 octaves.
If we compare Guitar vs Ukulele, there is no doubt that the guitar is a more versatile instrument and is used in almost every genre of music that we hear today starting from Pop, Rock and metal to Blues, Jazz etc.
In contrast, ukuleles are mainly limited to 4 chord pop songs due to its limited tone and range. It also finds some limited use in Jazz due to the warm nature of its tone. Of course, there are exceptions everywhere.
Even with all its limitations, ukuleles have become very popular in the last few decades. It is not only very easy to learn, but also very inexpensive as compared to guitar. This has made it the instrument of choice for kids and beginners.
However, its popularity is not merely limited to them. Many guitarists have occasionally transitioned to the ukulele for vocal accompaniment due to the sweeter nature of its tone.
Ukes are ideal for introducing any beginner to the world of stringed instruments. Learning on an uke can be much more rewarding in the beginning. It also aids in a smooth transition to guitars.
Having prior experience on an uke can help bypass much of the frustrations that any beginner faces while learning to play guitar.