5 Main Differences Between Guitars and Ukuleles

guitar ukulele Mar 08, 2023

Prepare yourself for the Battle Roya between Guitars and Ukuleles! Ukuleles look like mini guitars, but what are the main differences between them? If you can play one, does that mean you can play the other? Are the chords different? Are they tuned the same way? So, so many questions, and here we have the answers for you.   

It is true that if you can play the guitar, you'll already have some key skills in place for when it comes to learning the ukulele and vice versa. But they are not the same instrument, and not just because of the size. The guitar and the ukulele are in fact different enough that you won’t be able to just pick one up and start playing. Well, Terry did. I know this because I was there. But that's a story for another time, and it's besides the point anyway.   

Back on topic: there are a few important differences between the two instruments, and thus there are a few important fundamentals to cement into place before you can become a master of both.

So, what are the main differences between guitars and ukuleles? What are the key things you will need to learn in order to play both? And, of course, everyone wants to know, Which is easiest to play.

5 Main Differences Between Guitars and Ukuleles


You just can't miss it. When it comes to guitar vs ukulele, the most noticeable difference is the size. 

One of the most petite guitars, a standard, full-size classical guitar, measures around 38 inches (96.5cm) long. But other styles of guitar are even larger, measuring up to 40 inches or even longer.

Ukuleles also come in a variety of sizes, but they are all pretty tiny when compared to a guitar. Soprano ukuleles, the smallest size, can be almost half the length of a guitar at just 21 inches. The next size up, concert ukuleles, usually measure around 23 inches, while the largest standard ukulele, the tenor, is around 26 inches. You can, however, also get a baritone ukulele, which is the closest to a guitar in both tuning and size. But they still only hit at about 30 inches.

As far as shape goes, the body of the guitar and ukulele naturally differ depending on the make, but most ukuleles tend to have the typical figure-of-eight shape, just like the shape of a standard acoustic and classical guitar. 

And both the guitar and the ukulele can come with a cutaway shape on the body near the neck at the bottom. Cutaways allow the player an easier reach to the higher notes on the fretboard. 

But of course, the main and most obvious difference between a guitar and an ukulele is that a guitar has six strings and a ukulele has four. But that's not all. 


Most guitars, especially steel string acoustic and electric guitars, have steel strings. These produce a strong and vibrant sound. It is true that some guitars do use nylon strings, but you see mostly that in Classical and Flamenco guitars. Most ukuleles, on the other hand, have fluorocarbon strings, which is part of the reason they have a warm and pleasant sound. But of course, there are exceptions. Solid body electric ukuleles, like the Risa or Flight come with steel strings. 

And, now here's the rub: not only are there fewer strings on the ukulele, but they are tuned to different notes. Yep. It's only on a baritone that you'll find similar tuning.

On a standard guitar, the strings are tuned, from low to high, to E-A-D-G-B-E. A standard ukulele is strung, from low to high, to G-C-E-A. And it gets better: while the ukulele will have a high A on the bottom and descent through E and C, the G string on top is high. This, in addition to woods and size, is what gives the ukulele it's distinctive sound.

Now, you can choose to string your ukulele with a low G on top, and many players do, but the traditional standard is a high G on top.


It cannot be denied, the guitar and the ukulele also produce pretty different sounds.

The most important factor is the size, as the sound cavity inside the body determines to a large extent how low and resonant the sound will be.

And, the guitar tends to have a richer, fuller, and more dynamic sound due to the two additional strings on the guitar, and the steel strings if you have them. 

To hear just how different the ukulele and the guitar sound when playing the same song, check out this video.

Scale Length & Nut Width

The scale length and the nut width on ukuleles and guitars are also different, and these are two of the most important things when it comes to how easy the instrument is to play.

On a standard guitar, the scale length is usually 25.5 inches, while on a standard Tenor ukulele it will be just 17 inches.

The nut width is basically just the width of the neck across the strings. The standard nut width on most guitars is 1.75 inches, while on the ukulele it ranges from 1 ⅜ inches to 1 ½ inches. This is only natural because the ukulele has two fewer strings to accommodate.

But what does this mean for playability? Well, the different scale lengths and nut widths mean that you need to work your fingers differently to get your chords. On the guitar, the space between the individual frets is much larger, and you need to stretch your fingers in order to be able to get to all the notes that you want. Having six strings also means that you need to use your pinky finger more often to form the chord shapes, which is not always easy.

On the ukulele, it is more often about squeezing your fingers into the small space and getting the strings you want without touching the strings above or below.

How Hard To Play

And now we get to the crux of the matter: the last of the main differences between the guitar and the ukulele is how hard each is to play. While this will come down to personal preference to a certain extent, the ukulele is generally easier to play.

When it comes to the size of the instrument, this is also personal preference. Some people prefer the solid heft of a full-size guitar and feel like the ukulele is just too tiny. But for others, the smaller and lighter body of the ukulele is the more comfortable of the two.

Steel strings are also a lot harder on the fingertips than nylon strings, which also makes the guitar more difficult to play. Many new guitar players will actually start to learn with nylon strings while their fingers build up calluses and become accustomed to putting appropriate pressure on the strings. While nylon strings can be easier on the fingers, nylon string guitars have a wider nut than steel string acoustic and electric guitars.

And as already mentioned, the six strings require more finger dexterity and flexibility to spread your fingers to make the chord shapes, and also use the pinky finger regularly as part of your shapes.

So for these reasons, while most people will probably be able to bang out a basic song after their first ukulele lesson, it can take a lot longer to get a guitar to make the kinds of sounds that others will appreciate.

If You Play The Guitar, Can You Play The Ukulele? And Vice Versa?

If you play the guitar and pick up a ukulele, or you play the ukulele and pick up a guitar, you won’t be able to start playing immediately, though your existing playing skills should mean that you pick it up pretty quickly.

But it's not just getting used to the different size of the instruments and the different number of strings. These two stringed instruments have their strings tuned to different notes, so where you will find the individual notes and where you will need to place your fingers to make the chords will be different. 

You can see examples of just how different the chords are on ukuleles and guitars on our ukulele chord chart and our guitar chord chart.

But with an understanding of the theory of notes and chords on these types of stringed instruments, it shouldn’t take long for you to adapt your skills to the new instrument.

Why Not Try A Baritone?

Baritones make an excellent transitional instrument between guitar and ukulele, so why not start here?

A baritone is the largest type of ukulele, usually measuring about 30 inches in total and with a 19-inch fretboard. But the size of the baritone is not the only thing that is different about this instrument.

The standard baritone is not stringed to G-C-E-A like a ukulele, but instead it’s tuned like a guitar without the two top strings, so to D-G-B-E starting at the bottom.

This means that when you play the baritone, you are looking for notes in the same way as on a guitar, and you are making diminished versions of the guitar chords.

Thus the baritone is the perfect transition instrument. If you are going from guitar to ukulele, you can get accustomed to the smaller scale and the reduced number of strings before worrying about learning the new chord shapes.

If you are moving from the guitar to the ukulele, you can become accustomed to the different note structure needed to play the guitar before dealing with the larger size and those challenging additional strings.

Now, if you’re looking for an affordable, entry-level baritone to get you started, then consider this Kala Mahogany Baritone Ukulele, currently on sale in the Uke Like The Pros Store.

This high-quality instrument features a mahogany top, back and sides and a separate mahogany neck with a walnut fingerboard. It is a traditional design that is considered the industry standard, making it an excellent instrument for beginners or anyone looking for an affordable, transitional instrument.

If you are willing to pay a little bit more for a higher quality instrument, then check out this Kala SA-B Solid Acacia Baritone Ukulele or the Pono Baritones. Both brands are currently available in the store with 30% off.

What makes the difference with the Kala SA-B and the Pono Baritones is that they are all solid wood, which produces a richer and fuller sound. This is combined with a solid mahogany neck and quality craftsmanship, producing a brilliant sound with great clarity.

Guitar vs Ukulele - FAQs

  • Which is better, guitar or ukulele? This depends completely on personal preference and whether you prefer the full sound of the guitar or the smaller island sound of the ukulele.
  •  Is it better to learn guitar or ukulele first? As most people agree that the ukulele is easier to learn and play, so sometimes players might want to learn this instrument first. But the reality is that they are two different instruments, so you should start with the one that you want to learn. If you want to learn to play the guitar, start with the guitar.

The Verdict

While a guitar and a ukulele might look pretty much the same, just with one of them on a smaller scale, there are actually quite a few significant differences between these two instruments.

They have different tones, different numbers of strings, different types of strings, and are tuned to different notes. You play them slightly differently, too, and they produce notably different sounds.

So, if you are a guitar player you won’t be able to just pick up a ukulele and start playing it in the same way, and vice versa, but it shouldn’t be too difficult to adapt your skills to the new instrument.

What is your favorite instrument, the guitar or the ukulele (or the baritone)? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.


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