Ukulele vs Guitar – How Are They Different & Which Is Best For You

Ukulele VS Guitar - What is the Difference and Which Should You Learn

You’re about to pick up a new hobby but you’re just not sure whether to start with the guitar or the ukulele, right?

Maybe you’re a pro or a complete novice.

Either way, I’m glad to say I’ve got the answers.

Having learned both instruments over the years, I have learned all the ins and outs when it comes to these guys (yes, I talk about them as if they’re my friends, you’ll get used to that). 

So, let’s answer your questions and figure out which instrument you should start learning today.

Let the battle commence…

Ukulele vs Guitar: FAQ

First of all, I’ll give you some straight answers.

Don’t worry though, I’ll go into much more detail in just a sec. I mean, you’re not here for the simple answers.

I know, I’ve got you.

Is the ukulele better than the guitar?

The ukulele is much easier to learn than the guitar, so some people may say yes, it is better. But, it really all comes down to personal preference. Only once you learn both the ukulele and the guitar will you know which one wins in your eyes.

Should I learn the ukulele first?

Yes, I think learning the ukulele first is the best bet for complete beginners. However, I will go into more detail as to who might find the guitar easier to learn later.

Does learning the ukulele help with playing the guitar?

Practicing the ukulele frequently will help you play the guitar. A lot of learning an instrument is just muscle memory, so learning the ukulele will make playing the guitar easier over time.

Is it easy to go from playing the ukulele to playing the guitar?

The transition between the ukulele and the guitar is pretty painless. As I said, playing the guitar is all about muscle memory. It may take a little bit of time to get into the swing of things but, yes, it is easy to go from playing the ukulele to playing the guitar in most cases.

Are the ukulele and the guitar tuned to the same key?

No, the ukulele and the guitar are not tuned to the same key. The standard tuning for the ukulele is to the key of C (G, C, E, A), whereas the guitar is tuned to the key of G (E, A, D, G, B, E). I will, however, give you some tips as to how you can translate skills from the ukulele onto the guitar or vice versa in a few minutes though! Plus, I’ll give you a pro tip on how you can play the guitar like a ukulele. Yup, that’s right! It’s possible…

What’s the difference between the ukulele and the guitar?

Choosing an instrument to learn isn’t easy! Especially if you’re a complete beginner. If you’re struggling to choose between a ukulele or a guitar, then learning the difference between the two will help you make your mind up. So, let’s dive a little deeper into the differences between these two instruments.

The Size Difference

Of course, the most obvious difference between the ukulele and the guitar is their difference in size. Standard ukuleles range from being 20 inches long (soprano size) to around 26 inches long (tenor size). On the other hand, guitars range from anywhere between 36 inches to well over 40 inches. Now, I know it’s easier to picture an instrument in terms of its total length from top to bottom. However, talking about instruments in terms of their full-length size rather than their scale length is one of my biggest pet peeves, and here’s why: the full length of your instrument does not matter.

What matters is the length from the nut, to the saddle or, in other words, its scale length. I mean, say you had a giant ukulele with a scale length of 13 inches (that actually sounds pretty cool, right?) and a standard soprano ukulele. You would be able to play these two ukuleles exactly the same because their scale length is the same. You with me? So, as a general rule of thumb, if you’ve got big hands an instrument with a longer scale length will be easier to play but if you’ve got smaller hands then go for a shorter scale length.

Putting this into terms of the ukulele and the guitar, if you’ve got big hands you may find the guitar easier to learn, whereas, if you’ve got small hands you’ll definitely find the ukulele easier to learn.

The Strings

Another difference between the ukulele and the guitar is the number of strings. Ukuleles only have 4 strings, whereas guitars have 6 strings. It’s as simple as that! On top of that, ukuleles have soft nylon strings, whereas acoustic guitars have steel strings. Now, the classical guitar poses a slight complication as it too has nylon strings. Usually, when people ask me about guitars they mean acoustic, so we’ll just stick to that for now. The last thing I want to do is confuse you!

The Fretboard

As ukuleles have much skinnier and shorter necks than guitars, their fretboards are often easier to manage. Now, I’m going to talk in terms of nut width. For all you beginners out there, that’s the width at the top of the fretboard before the headstock. Ukuleles have an average nut with around 1 ⅜ to 1 ½ inches. The standard nut width of an acoustic guitar is around 1 ¾ inches. It may not seem like a big difference, but let me tell ya, your fingers will definitely notice.

Although ukuleles can be easier to manage due to their skinny necks (Woah, I feel like I just insulted my uke), I’d honestly do anything to avoid the finger cramps you get from jamming your fingers onto a tiny fretboard. Well, maybe not anything but I certainly avoid it like the plague. So, if you’ve got bigger hands but you’re adamant that you want to play the uke, just go for a concert or tenor ukulele. Problem solved! I mean, who wouldn’t want to play the ukulele, they’re just the best!

The Sound Difference Between Ukuleles and Guitars

The last notable difference between ukuleles and guitars is the difference in the way they sound. As I mentioned earlier, ukuleles are tuned to the key of C, whereas guitars are tuned to G. Meaning the two instruments sound quite different!

What Does the Ukulele Sound Like?

Of course, ukuleles have a very unique sound. Their sweet, Hawaiian voice would make the perfect accompaniment for a day at the beach or a little jam around the campfire. Although they’re not very versatile, there’s nothing to stop you from playing a range of different styles on your uke. If anything, playing the ukulele might make your overall style more unique. Not many people have the courage to play Red Hot Chilli Peppers on the uke, but hey… You might!

What Does the Guitar Sound Like?

Guitars are a little more versatile where the genre is concerned. Whether you’re into punk rock or country, the guitar can easily suit your style. That’s what makes it so popular! The guitar has a much wider range of tones because it has such a long fretboard. I mean, it has a range of 4 octaves. How are our poor little ukuleles supposed to live up to that? I’m just kidding, I love both the niche voice of the uke and the adaptable sound of the guitar. It’s simply up to you which you prefer!

Ukulele vs Guitar: Which one should you learn?

I remember asking myself this same question. The easy answer is that you should learn the ukulele before learning the guitar because it’s easier to pick up. Plus, the skills you learn are easily transferable if you do decide to learn the guitar later. However, I know that ease of learning might not be what you’re after, so let’s look at some other deciding factors.

What is Your Vocal Range?

Your vocal range can easily determine whether you should learn to play the ukulele or the guitar. If you have quite a high vocal range, the ukulele would make a lovely accompaniment but if your vocal range is on the lower end, the guitar is probably best. I don’t want to throw a spanner in the works here but if you really fancy picking up the uke and you’ve got quite a low voice, you can always go for a tenor instead of a soprano or concert ukulele.

Do You Already Play a Stringed Instrument?

If you already play a stringed instrument like a mandolin, violin or banjo, then you will probably find learning the ukulele incredibly easy. So, if you’re looking for a bit more of a challenge then go for the guitar. Plus, if you’re already used to playing an instrument with steel strings, you’re fingers won’t have to suffer!

A Range of Ukulele and Guitars on Display

How Committed Are You to Learning a New Instrument?

Have you ever invested in a new hobby with the dream of becoming a pro and then realized you just don’t have the time? Did I ever tell you about the time I bought those extortionate watercolor paints? Well, they’re still in my cupboard in their original packaging – I know, it’s terrible. So, it’s a good idea to ask yourself how much time you can dedicate to learning a new instrument.

If you’ve got all the time in the world then, by all means, order one of each. If you’ve only got a couple of hours a week, however, the ukulele is probably a better choice. Most people I’ve taught can learn 4 chords in about an hour, which is enough to play quite a few popular songs! Plus, if you pick it up really quickly then you’ll be a pro in no time, and picking up the guitar afterward will be a breeze. Another question to ask yourself is whether you enjoy a challenge, or if you just want to entertain yourself with something easy.

It’s important to note that the guitar takes more time and patience to learn but, as I said, the ukuleles pretty simple to pick up.

What’s Your Budget?

If the previous three questions didn’t make up your mind, then this one probably will. Have you got less than $100 to spend, or are you willing to make a bigger investment? Taking a look at the price of ukuleles versus the price of guitars may help you to make a more informed decision.

How much are ukuleles?

Ukuleles are much more affordable than guitars. For a good quality, beginners uke you’d only really have to spend between $50 and $150. Plus, when the time comes to upgrade to a more professional model, you still won’t have to break the bank. You can find amazing solid-wood ukuleles from $200.

How much are guitars?

I don’t want to break your heart or anything, but a good quality beginner guitar will cost you anything from $200 to $800. Now, that’s not to say you shouldn’t make the investment. If you know you’re going to put the time in and practice, then, of course, your new guitar will be worth the money.

How to Play the Guitar Like a Ukulele

If you’ve decided you’re going to start with the ukulele and work your way up to the guitar then this little trick will come in handy. So, as promised, I’m going to share my top tip for playing the guitar like a ukulele. Here goes, my (not so secret) secret… Put the capo on the 5th fret. Yup, that’s basically it. If you put a capo on your guitar at the 5th fret then the top four strings will strike the same notes as open ukulele strings (C, G, E, A).

Plus, if you play with a guitar pick then you can easily avoid the bottom two strings and play the same chord shapes as you do on the ukulele. There! Easy peasy lemon squeezy.

Guitar vs Ukulele: Choose the Best One for You

I don’t know about you, but I think stringed instruments are easy to learn, yet hard to master.

Whether you want to start with a ukulele and work your way up to the guitar or you’ve chosen to jump in at the deep end and pick up a guitar first, you’re going to have so much fun. The great thing about stringed instruments is that you can learn the basics pretty quickly, after that you’ve just got to master your craft!

Learning an instrument will open you up to a whole new world and I’m so excited for you to get started.

So, now that you’ve made your decision, what are you waiting for?

Further Reading: