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The ukulele is said to be like a mini guitar, and they are both very popular instruments that many would like to learn. It may be difficult to decide between a ukulele and a guitar. As such, we have curated this article for you to find out more about each of the instruments. Let’s dive into the similarities and differences between a ukulele and a guitar. (The guitar referred to in this article would be the acoustic guitar).
How are they similar?
Both the guitar and the ukulele are string instruments that produce a sound through natural amplification. This means that the sound of the instruments are produced when the string vibrates over the body of the instrument. They have a similar body shape with a fretboard, which is where you would place your fingers on to produce the different notes and sounds. As such , you may come across similar finger movements on the fretboard when playing most of the notes, chords and scales.
How are they different?
1. Size and Weight
Size wise, the guitar is much larger than the ukulele, with the body of a guitar being roughly 50 percent larger than a ukulele. The ukulele comes in various sizes but the most common would be the soprano ukulele, which has a scale length (length of the vibrating string) of around 33 cm while the guitar has a scale length of around 61 to 66 cm.
Weight wise, a guitar, on average, weighs around 1-3 kg, while a ukulele weighs only 0.2-0.8 kg.
Based on the size and weight alone, the ukulele is definitely more convenient and portable to carry around.
(From Left: Ukulele, Guitar - Acoustic)
2. Strings and Frets
The guitar has 6 strings, with 18-20 frets (vertical metal strips on the fretboard), that can play a range of up to 3 octaves. On the other hand, the ukulele has 4 strings, with 12-15 frets and can play a 2 octave range. Therefore, we can definitely play a wider range of notes, chords and scales on the guitar as compared to the ukulele.
The guitar is made of steel strings and has a wider neck, while the ukulele is made of soft nylon strings with a narrow neck. As such, it is much easier to press on the strings of a ukulele as you would feel less string tension under your fingers. Although the guitar strings might be slightly challenging to press on, the playing and strumming on the guitar would sound comparably louder and fuller due to the steel strings and the broader range of notes. Nevertheless, the level of comfort of your fingers on each of these instruments vary from person to person, depending on the size of your fingers and hands. Someone with bigger hands might in fact find the ukulele more difficult to play on due to its small body and narrow neck structure.
The ukulele produces a bright, gentle, and light sound, and it also has a soft tone as the ukulele’s body is much smaller than that of the guitar. However, the ukulele might lack some depth in sound as compared to the guitar which has a much richer and fuller sound. (Watch this video to listen to the differences).
The strings are tuned differently for the ukulele and guitar. The standard tuning for the strings of the guitar are E2 – A2 – D3 – G3 – B3 – E4, while the soprano ukulele is tuned at G4 – C4 –E4 – A4. Although both instruments are tuned differently, the relative position of the notes are about the same. Thus, many finger movements and chords are closely similar when playing the guitar and ukulele. Of course, it is likely that the chords are easier to play on the ukulele because the same chord that requires 2 or 3 fingers to be pressed down on the guitar might only require 1 finger when on the ukulele.
Strumming on the ukulele is also much easier as compared to the guitar as it is easier to use your fingertips on the soft strings of the ukulele. You may also use your fingertips to play on the guitar’s steel strings but it would take some practice and getting used to, in order to get the right tone. Thus, it is easier to get the technique of strumming right on a ukulele while a guitar might require some time.
We have summarized the various similarities and differences between a ukulele and a guitar into a table and a short video demonstration below. Do take a look!
Technically speaking, the ukulele may be an easier instrument to learn due to its softer strings and smaller size. As such, the ukulele would be easier for younger children as it is more comfortable and less of a stretch on their fingers. However, for the older children and adults, it would really depend on what style of music you would like to play or the sound and tone that you would prefer. Some might choose the guitar over the ukulele due to its wider range of tones and functions, ultimately being able to learn a wider range of musical styles.