Who does not love the sound of a gentle ukulele, or enjoy jamming to a rocking guitar solo? Both instruments are a wonderful source of music and have produced countless classics that we all love, but for many people unfamiliar with these instruments there may appear at first glance to be little that separates them. Both are string instruments that are played with fingers pressed down on the strings and the other hand plucking them, both are often made of wood and are hollow-bodied, and frankly, the ukulele may seem to just be a smaller (or even ‘inferior’) version of its “bigger brother”, the guitar.
However, there are in fact several differences between these two venerable instruments, many of which will favor the Ukulele for new learners or younger children. That is not to say the Ukulele is a child’s instrument. Read on to discover some of the key – and surprising - differences between the Guitar and the Ukulele.
Ukuleles are generally much smaller and lighter than Guitars
As you may have already noticed, ukuleles are smaller and lighter than guitars, usually half as light. This makes a great deal of difference when it comes to the overall comfort of playing and ease of learning the instruments. Because of the ukuleles’ smaller size, it’s more comfortable to hold in the hand and carry with you if you want to play on the go or travel with it, and better suited for people who aren’t as tall. This is also what makes it ideal for children to play, as it will not tire them out by playing longer. A guitar usually runs from between 30 to 41 inches in length, but a ukulele is usually between 21 and 30 inches in length. Variants exist outside of this, but it does mean that if you are picking up the ukulele, you will immediately notice this size and weight difference. For individuals of shorter size or who have issues with lifting weightier instruments, it is worth bearing this in mind.
Guitars are usually more expensive than Ukuleles
As a follow-on to the previous point, and partly because of this size difference, a guitar is often much more expensive than a ukulele, often by several magnitudes. Guitars, especially electric guitars, can cost quite a pretty penny, though the price will often vary. As a solid rule of thumb, a good guitar for a learner or casual, everyday kind of user will run anywhere between $100 and $400. For professional studio musicians, truly expensive guitars can even go over $1000 per guitar. A good ukulele, by contrast, should not normally cost you more than about $100, with most being anywhere between $30 and $75, for an instrument that you can rely on. For individuals looking to pick up an instrument on a tight budget, you cannot go wrong with the inexpensive ukulele. Still, a good quality guitar, even an electric one, is worth every bit.
The Guitar usually uses Steel Strings while the Ukulele uses Nylon Strings
Given the size and weight of the guitar and ukulele, it should come as no surprise that they also use different strings (for the most part). The guitar is usually equipped with steel strings, which have a much greater tensile strength, while ukuleles use nylon strings. Nylon strings are not as tough, but with a ukulele, they do not need to be. The instrument itself, by virtue of being smaller and lighter, does not need the heavier steel strings to produce the desired sound. Nylon strings are easier to press on, which is another reason why ukuleles are ideal for beginners. Steel strings produce a much brighter and more vibrant sound, while the nylon strings may offer a mellower, softer sound when plucked or strummed.
With a different sound comes a different approach to the kind of music you may want to play, so it’s worth bearing this difference in mind if you want to invest in one (or both) of these instruments.
The Guitar has Six Strings while the Ukulele has Four Strings
The major difference that’s quite noticeable when holding a guitar and ukulele is that the guitar has six strings, while the ukulele has four strings. With six strings, it can be more difficult to handle and play, while four strings to press on naturally fit easier in the hand. The guitar and ukulele usually have different levels of tension on each string, with the guitar having between 24 to 35lbs of tension to a ukulele’s 7 to 13. With the higher tension of each string, the guitar is capable of producing a much brighter, more vibrant sound than the ukulele’s mellower, softer notes. This may be a blessing in disguise if you’re forced to pick between the two but live in a crowded apartment or a shared housing space, as the ukulele’s softer sound overall can be less of a disruption.
Guitars and Ukuleles are tuned differently to one another
The guitar and ukulele follow a similar structure and can be played in the same general manner, but how they are tuned and the range of chords available to them does vary. The guitar specifically is tuned in the following order: E-A-D-G-B-E, while the ukulele is tuned with the following four: G-C-E-A. The Ukulele’s notes are essentially the top four strings of the guitar, tuned up by about 1/4th. Playing a D chord for a guitar on a ukulele would result in a G chord, also 1/4th higher. While the similarities are there, not all notes can be carried over directly from a guitar to a ukulele, so playing the same kind of music may not always carry over seamlessly. This does mean that the guitar has a wider range of music it can produce and be played with than the ukulele necessarily does. Whether rhythm, electric, acoustic, or hybrid, the guitar offers an incredible variety of music for you to learn and play.
Ukuleles are usually easier to learn than Guitars
On the flip side, the reduced number of strings for the ukulele gives it the benefit of simplicity. With fewer strings to manage and fewer chords to memorize, the ukulele is known as a much easier instrument to learn for beginners. Ukuleles are one of the best for customers on either a budget or who don’t want to put off by the greater difficulty curve of a guitar. This isn’t always the case, however, and some individuals may prefer the style and size of a guitar. Furthermore, though the ukulele may be easier, it may not be as well suited to playing the kind of music that you prefer.
Each instrument, as you can see, has a wide variety of differences going for them despite their initial similarity on sight. While the ukulele is smaller, generally cheaper, and considered a better-suited instrument for beginners to plucked string instruments, the guitar is capable of a wide range of chords and musicality, with a vibrant sound that’s wholly unique to it. Neither the guitar nor the ukulele is inherently “better” than the other, and both have amazing qualities that make learning them an enjoyable experience. Now that you’ve had a chance to learn about these two instruments, head on over to ashthorpe.com to browse our wide selection of guitars, ukuleles, and other.