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The Ukulele is a stringed instrument usually associated with Hawaiian music. The Ukulele is a Hawaiian adaptation of the Portuguese Machete, a small guitar-like instrument that immigrants brought to the Hawaiian islands in the 19th century.
The simplicity and small size of the uke have made it increasingly popular among both hobbyists and professional musicians alike. Typically ukuleles have four strings but sometimes they have six or eight. It has a shorter scale than a guitar, resulting in a higher standard pitch.
Although Ukuleles traditionally have gut strings or, more commonly today, nylon strings, metal strings are also sometimes used. New, rubber coated metal strings were also recently introduced for Bass Ukuleles.
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There are four common types of ukeleles:
Soprano Ukulele: This is the most traditional ukulele size and most associated with Hawaiian music. They are typically about 21" long. Because the strings have less tension they do not stay in tune as well as other ukes. Really cheap ukuleles are usually Sopranos. Although the most popular, this is probably not the best type of ukulele to learn on.
Concert Ukulele: Typically 23 inches in length, the Concert Ukulele typically sounds much better and maintains its tune better than the Soprano Uke. They look very similar.
Tenor Ukulele: Typically about 26 inches in length, Tenor Ukuleles have a fuller and richer sound, at least if they are of good quality. They project better and have a warmer tone, making them preferred by many live performers.
Baritone Ukulele: Baritone Ukuleles are about 30 inches in length and produce a sound more similar to that of a guitar. In addition they are tuned differently; the same as the bottom four strings of a guitar. This makes the Baritone Ukulele a favorite among guitarists interested in playing the uke.
A version of the Baritone Ukulele known as the Bass Ukulele is taking the market by storm, thanks to special new Aquila strings that have a rubbery feel but that have a metal core. Easy and fun to play, they are quickly growing in popularity.
The quality of a ukulele, like that of an acoustic guitar, is usually associated with solid wood versus laminate/plywood, the kind of solid wood it is made from, and the resulting sound quality and beauty of the instrument. As a result of professionals and hobbyist collectors taking a greater interest in this instrument, many higher quality ukuleles today are color stained and highly glossed and some have cut outs or even a more decorative shape not commonly associated with ukuleles.
Because of their similar size and shape, we have chosen to also list other instruments that are similar to ukuleles in this section, including Portuguese machetes and cigar box three and four string guitars.