There are few instruments as easy to just pick up and play as the humble ukulele. With a few chords memorized, anybody can start producing those chilled, Hawaiian vibes. Soprano models, notable for their highly compact bodies and fretboards, have become a staple feature of beach parties and informal jam sessions the world over.
This image has done wonders for the ukulele's popularity. However, it doesn't tell the full story. Hidden beneath the surface is a whole family of instruments with different sizes and sounds to suit many styles of play. The concert ukulele is just one of them.
For the aspiring ukulele player attempting to develop their talents, or the would-be buyer seeking something a little more versatile, these additional models are well worth investigating.
Frets and Lengths
Instruments in the ukulele family can be broken down into four separate classes; soprano, concert, tenor, and baritone. The key differences between them are their full lengths, scale lengths, and amount of frets, with each increasing as you move from soprano to baritone models.
The full length is measured from the top of the headstock to the bottom of the body. Scale length is measured between the nut (where the strings are held in place below the headstock) and the saddle (where the strings attach to the body below the sound hole).
While different brands may vary on the exact specifications, generally speaking, the four classes of ukulele can be identified as follows:
- Soprano: full length of 21 inches, scale length of 13 inches, and between 12-15 frets.
- Concert: full length of 23 inches, scale length of 15 inches, and between 15-20 frets.
- Tenor: full length of 26 inches, scale length of 17 inches, and between 15-20 frets.
- Baritone: full length of 30 inches, scale length of 19 inches, and at least 19 frets.
Not only do the increased scale lengths on the three larger ukuleles allow for more frets, but they also create more space in between the frets themselves. For adult players and those with larger fingers, this extra space can make all the difference between a strained or relaxed playing experience.
By increasing the scale length, however, you trade off some of the unique portability of the soprano models. Concert ukuleles are just one size up and would be the obvious choice when looking to balance size with playability.
How does it sound?
Most of us have some idea of what a soprano ukulele sounds like even if we've never played one ourselves. They come out high pitched and jangly, with next to no bass tone and very little sustain. Perfect for creating those tropical melodies.
If you imagine the sound of the soprano ukulele on one end of a scale, and that of a classical acoustic guitar on the other, then the concert, tenor and baritone ukuleles occupy the space in between. Each step up from the soprano has a larger body which produces a deeper and more resonant tone.
While standard tuning on soprano, concert and tenor ukuleles is GCEA - or C tuning - the baritone is tuned to DGBE - known as G tuning - to mimic the top four strings of a guitar. Since the baritone is equally large as a quarter size acoustic guitar, its sound is very similar. Many ukulele players find it strays too far from the original qualities of the soprano.
Concert and tenor ukuleles produce comparable sounds that are much closer to the soprano. Tenor models are somewhat deeper and fuller, while the concert ukulele succeeds in projecting the essential soprano tone by adding volume and warmth. This makes the concert model great for recordings, playing with other instruments, and miked up performances.
The Banjo Hybrid
Though the standard concert ukulele is a step above the soprano in terms of volume, it can still feel a little lacking if your aim is to produce a loud and sustained sound. This was a problem faced by vaudeville performers in the early 1900s. They favored the instrument for their comedic and musical routines but often struggled to make themselves heard in packed auditoriums.
Banjo makers John Bollander and Alvin Keech responded with the banjo uke or ‘banjolele'. This crossover instrument combines the short scale, strings, and tuning of a ukulele with the banjo's round pot, head and bridge. Thanks to the unique properties of the banjo head, banjoleles sound snappier and louder than ordinary ukuleles. They also produce a tone all of their own which straddles the line between both instruments.
Today, banjo ukuleles remain a popular alternative to either of their musical forebears. Ukulele players trying to replicate the banjo's sound will be able to transfer their skills to the instrument with ease. It's also well suited to new musicians looking for a simple way to learn their favorite folk and old time tunes.
As with the ukulele, banjo ukes can be found in soprano, concert, tenor, or baritone models. Concert and tenor banjo ukuleles are the most practical of all these instruments. Their banjo heads are large enough to really resonate the sound, but not so large as to overpower the ukulele's influence or become cumbersome.
That's why Deering is proud to offer the Goodtime Concert and Tenor Banjo Ukeleles. Thanks to our decades of experience in banjo production, these two, high-quality instruments are sure to satisfy the needs of any aspiring player.