Guitar vs. Ukulele (10 Big Differences)

The guitar and the ukulele are similar on the surface. These are both stringed instruments that can be played with a variety of techniques and methods, and they are both used in various musical contexts. However, there are some major differences between these instruments that are important to understand.

The most obvious difference between the guitar and the ukulele is the size. The guitar is much bigger than the ukulele. The standard guitar has 6 strings, while the ukulele has only 4 strings. Ukuleles are also cheaper than guitars of similar quality. In general, it is easier to learn to play ukulele than guitar.

Whether you are a guitarist looking to play ukulele, a ukulele player who wants to learn guitar, or if you are a beginner musician and you are deciding which instrument to start with, both the guitar and the ukulele are great instruments. However, there are some key differences between them that should determine your decision. Let’s explore the ten important differences between the guitar and the ukulele.

1. The Size of The Instruments

The first and most obvious difference between the guitar and the ukulele is the size of these instruments. The ukulele is significantly smaller than almost all guitars, and this heavily influences the way the instrument feels to play and the way it sounds.

The guitar is a larger instrument than the ukulele, making it louder, heavier, more cumbersome, and more versatile with a much wider range of usability as well.

Guitar and ukulele, David MulderCC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The smaller size of the ukulele makes it more comfortable to play, but it also limits the instrument. The larger size of the guitar makes it more cumbersome, but the larger size makes it louder, provides a better pitch range, and makes the instrument more versatile as well.

2. The Number of Strings

The number of strings that are on these instruments is a significant difference as well. The guitar and the ukulele are both stringed instruments, but the number of strings that they use is very different.

The ukulele always has four strings. Regardless of the size of the instrument, there are typically only four strings on a ukulele. There is a specialized type of ukulele that has six strings, but this is generally considered to be a different instrument altogether.

The guitar, however, has six strings as a standard, but it is very common for the guitar to have various numbers of strings. Standard guitars have six strings, but guitars with seven strings, eight strings, nine strings, and even four or three strings are relatively common as well.

3. Price Ranges

A significant difference between the guitar and the ukulele that is well worth mentioning is the price that these instruments are available.

Both the ukulele and the guitar are available in very high-end models that can cost many thousands of dollars, but the ukulele is always ultimately in a lower price bracket than the guitar.

The smaller size of the ukulele means that less material is required to build it, which will always keep the price lower than guitars regardless of how well-made the ukulele is.

Ukuleles are less expensive than guitars and range from as little as $80 to as much as $5000 depending on the brand, the materials, the craftsmanship, and where the instrument is made.

Guitars can be within the same price range as ukuleles, with very cheap guitars selling for as little as $80 and some good quality guitars selling for $1000 or so, but the upper limit of the guitar price range is significantly higher than that of the ukulele.

Some very high-end, very rare, or very sought-after guitars have been sold for prices upwards of $500 000. These shocking prices are not very common, but guitars played by famous musicians or those that are built by the best guitar makers in history will sell in this high price range.

A realistic guitar price range is anywhere from $100 to $10 000, depending on the brand, level of quality, and hardware used on the instrument.

4. The Difficulty of Learning

An important difference between the guitar and the ukulele, especially for beginners, is how difficult these instruments are to learn to play.

The truth is that no instrument is easy to learn, and the limits of what the instrument is capable of are only governed by your willingness to practice, but there is a different learning curve when comparing the guitar and the ukulele.

The ukulele is much easier to learn in the beginning due to the simple chords and chord shapes that are possible on this instrument. The ukulele is small, and it only has four strings, which means that building simple chord shapes and strumming along to a song can happen very quickly, even for a person who has never played an instrument before.

Mastering the ukulele is a big challenge, as is mastering any other instrument, but the ukulele is much easier to get started with than the guitar.

Guitar

The guitar is a more challenging instrument to start with than the ukulele. The guitar is bigger, there is more to learn, and there is more physical effort required in the beginning when learning to play this instrument.

After the beginning stages, the guitar becomes easier to play, but getting started on the guitar is more challenging than starting on the ukulele.

5. The Tunings Used

The strings are a major difference between these two instruments, but the strings of the instruments also determine the way the instrument can be tuned.

The guitar and the ukulele use very different tuning systems and the tuning of each instrument determine the way that the instrument is used.

Ukuleles are typically tuned with the notes G C E A, and the configuration of the strings is unique in the world of string instruments. The lowest two notes on the ukulele are the middle two strings, the C and E strings.

The highest two notes are the bottom and top strings, the A and G strings. This means that the chord shapes and structures, as well as the melodic possibilities on the ukulele, are vastly different from those on the guitar.

The guitar is typically tuned with the notes E A D G B E from lowest to highest. The highest pitched note is at the bottom of the guitar, and the lowest note is the top string on the guitar.

Both instruments can be used with alternate tunings depending on the preferences and requirements of the musician.

6. The Range of Pitch

The size of these instruments, the strings that are used on them, and the tunings that they use also mean that the guitar and the ukulele have a very different range of possible notes compared to one another.

The guitar is a larger instrument with thicker strings, meaning that it can play notes that are far lower than the reach of the ukulele.

Ukulele

The ukulele has a range of almost two octaves, from C4 to A5, typically. The guitar has a typical note range of four octaves on six-string guitars, but extended-range guitars have a range that far exceeds four octaves.

The ukulele has a limited range, but it remains very versatile. The guitar has a very wide range and is the most versatile string instrument of all.

7. Instrument Variations

Another difference between the guitar and the ukulele is the variations of instruments under the same type of instruments. This includes the various types and sizes of each instrument.

The ukulele is typically made in four different types: the soprano, concert, tenor, and baritone versions. There are other versions of the ukulele, including electric versions, six-string guitarlele versions, banjo versions, bass ukuleles, the pineapple ukulele that has a different body shape, and even the tiny sopranino ukulele.

However, the four standard versions are the most common ukulele types and are generally considered to be the only real ukuleles, other than the guitarlele and the ukulele bass that are considered to be completely separate instruments in their own right.

The guitar is a different story. There are a great many variations of the guitar, so many in fact that there are too many guitar variations to list them all here, and they are all considered to be guitars rather than separate instruments.

Electric guitars, steel-string acoustic guitars, and classical guitars are the three standard types of guitar, and each of these has multiple variations and sizes.

Guitar variations include guitars made of various materials with a great number of varying strings, different body types, different sizes, different styles, different uses, and there are even guitars that are built to be combinations of multiple guitars in one body.

8. The Usability of the Instruments

The usability of an instrument is not a topic that is often thought of when making instrument comparisons, but this area is an important comparison to make between the ukulele and the guitar, as these are two very widely used instruments.

The guitar is an instrument that can be used in almost any setting and situation. Classical guitars are used for orchestras and string quartets, electric guitars are used in rock bands and pop music, acoustic guitars are a staple of country and the blues, and the guitar can be seen in almost every musical context within the modern world.

This makes the guitar very accessible and makes the guitar very useable. A guitarist can find a place to play almost anywhere, while the ukulele player has more limited uses and opportunities.

The ukulele is a more niche instrument that is used in a limited range of musical styles and genres. Fewer bands use the ukulele, and this instrument is not used in a wide range of musical situations.

This means that the ukulele player may find it challenging to find somewhere to play or to find other musicians to play with. The guitar is a much more useable instrument in the real world than the ukulele.

9. Instrument Versatility

The versatility of the guitar and the ukulele are also important considerations to make when comparing these two instruments to one another.

The guitar and the ukulele are both string instruments, which are known to be the most versatile type of instruments overall. However, there is a big difference between the versatility of the guitar and the ukulele, even though they are both string instruments in the same family.

The guitar is a drastically more versatile instrument than the ukulele. The larger size, higher number of strings, the larger range of the instrument, and the more varied options for chords and melodic possibilities available on the guitar make it more versatile than the smaller ukulele.

The guitar is an almost limitless instrument regarding versatility, and there is almost nothing that the guitar cannot do, especially when the vast range of guitar variations is considered.

The ukulele, however, is smaller, has fewer strings, has a narrower note range, and has a very limited range of uses. The ukulele is not as versatile as the guitar, even though it is a string instrument in the same family.

10. How Fun the Instruments are to Play

The final big factor to consider when comparing these instruments is how fun they are to play. Which of these two stringed instruments is more fun?

Well, the answer here is very subjective and comes down to personal preferences, but both instruments are great fun to play!

The guitar is fun to play because it is so versatile, and so many different techniques and styles of music can be used and explored with it. The guitar can do everything, but it is more difficult to play, so the enjoyment of playing this instrument comes from its capabilities rather than physically playing the instrument.

The ukulele, however, is just fun to play. Right from the very first time you pick up a ukulele, it feels fun to play. This instrument is so easy to learn that it is fun from the beginning, and it only becomes more enjoyable as the player progresses in musical ability.

Both the guitar and the ukulele are great fun to play, but they are fun in different ways, and how enjoyable you find each instrument to be is found in what you want to do with the instrument.

Conclusion

The guitar and the ukulele are both string instruments, but that is where their similarities end. These instruments are fundamentally different in almost every way, even though they may appear very similar.

Take your time to experiment with both instruments before you decide which is best for you, or take the time to learn both, as the techniques and skills used for each instrument complement one another very well!

References

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ukulele

https://www.masterclass.com/articles/guide-to-ukulele-sizes#10-different-ukulele-sizes

https://www.masterclass.com/articles/ukulele-vs-guitar#4-differences-between-ukuleles-and-guitars