The ukulele has become a global phenomenon in recent years. And its popularity shows no sign of waning. Gone are the days of Tiny Tim and George Formby. Now, it’s the weapon of choice for artists such as Eddie Vedder and even Taylor Swift.
But few people fully understand the mighty uke. Is it just a tiny guitar? Or is it something else entirely? Well, get ready to find out all the answers. Right here is everything you’ve ever wanted to know but didn’t dare to ask. So let’s find the answer to the burning question… “What is a ukulele guitar?”
What Country is the Ukulele From?
The sound of the islands
Most people assume that the uke must be native to Hawaii. After all, the word ukulele translates to jumping flea in the Hawaiian language. Plus, a huge part of its popularity is thanks to iconic Hawaiian artists like Israel Kamakawiwoʻole and Taimaine Gardner.
However, its original name was “Machete,” and it was born on Madeira, a European island belonging to Portugal. During the 1880s, Hawaii became a common destination for Madeiran immigrants. They brought their ukuleles with them and soon began performing in the streets, much to the joy of the native islanders.
The rest is history…
It quickly became a hit throughout Hawaii. And soon, it became synonymous with traditional Hawaiian music. King Kalākaua even fell in love with its sound and chose to feature it prominently during royal performances.
From then on, the ukulele could not be stopped. It was adopted by Japan, England, Canada, and other countries. But no matter where the uke travels, it will always be considered a true symbol of Hawaii.
Of course, the best ukuleles come from Hawaiian brands. This Lanikai Ukulele is a perfect example. With its traditional good looks and old-school sound, it’ll whisk you away to beautiful Honaunau Bay.
What is a Ukulele Made From?
The cheapest and most basic ukulele models are often made from plastic. Don’t worry that doesn’t mean they sound bad. They don’t have the same depth of tone as the higher-end options, but they’re a great place to start for a ukulele beginner.
One such uke is this Kala MK-SWT Soprano Ukulele in Clear Color. It looks cooler and more modern than the traditional ukes. Thanks to tough polycarbonate, it’s super strong, and best of all, it doesn’t sacrifice sound for style.
Knock on wood…
Purists prefer wooden instruments, though. Wood gives us that classic ukulele tone we all know and love. But which kind of ukulele wood is the best?
There is a lot to choose from. Budget-friendly models tend to be constructed from plywood. That sometimes has another wood such as spruce added to improve the tone. Mahogany is one of the most popular options. It has stunning red hues and, although light, is pretty sturdy. Its sound ranges around the middle frequency, with a few lighter and sweeter aspects.
But what’s considered the best (and most expensive!) is Koa. Koa is a type of Acacia that’s only found in Hawaii. Some say the wood absorbs the islander’s love for the uke as it grows, making it the ideal material.
Double the fun
However, many ukes use two different kinds of woods. Firstly, the soundboard (that means the top) needs something that will help project the sound, like mahogany or spruce. But the back and sides of the body should use a tougher material, so the sound doesn’t escape, such as rosewood.
The renowned Kala brand makes some awesome hybrid wood ukuleles, like this Kala KA-15S-S Mahogany Soprano Ukulele. The back and sides are constructed from that hardy mahogany, while the top is light spruce. It offers the player a cheerful, charming tone and doesn’t break the bank in the process.
What is the Difference Between Guitar and Ukulele?
Well, they are quite similar. Plus, we can’t answer the question, “What is a ukulele guitar?” without comparing it to a standard guitar. They both have a figure-eight-shaped body with a soundhole in the front. They also each have a long neck, used as a fretboard. And, of course, they’re both played using strings.
But that’s where the similarities end. The ukulele and the guitar have completely different sounds, tuning, finger patterns, and range. This is because the ukulele isn’t a guitar at all; it’s a type of lute.
The most obvious difference is the size. Ukuleles are much smaller than guitars. This means that they are much easier to hold, as well as giving them that higher tone and quieter sound.
Yes, there are many different sizes of ukulele. The smallest is the “sopranino,” a tiny, almost pocket-sized instrument. Then there’s the standard soprano, robust concert, deep tenor, and mighty baritone. They may be different, but they have one thing in common: they’re all smaller than a guitar.
A quick tune-up
Then, there are the strings. Most guitars use six strings. The majority of ukuleles have just four, meaning the two instruments have to be tuned differently.
The standard tuning for a guitar is E, A, D, G, B, and E. The ukulele uses G, C, E, and A. So, to play chords, they use completely different finger positions.
If you want to learn ukulele chords, then you’ll probably need a bit of help. That’s where this Ukulele Chart Poster comes in handy. Not only does it display every chord you’ll ever need, but it also has helpful hints on scales, chord progressions, and more.
Interested in the Ukulele?
We can help you find what you are after; check out our in-depth reviews of the Best Tenor Ukuleles, the Best Baritone Ukuleles, the Best Bass Ukulele, the Best Luna Ukulele, the Best Lanikai Ukuleles, the Best Electric Ukuleles, the Best Concert Ukuleles For Beginners, and the Best Ukuleles for Beginners you can buy in 2023.
Also, take a look at our detailed reviews of the Best Ukulele Case, the Best Ukulele Straps, the Best Ukulele Capos, and the Best Ukulele Tuners currently on the market.
And don’t miss our handy guides on How to Play Ukulele, How to Tune a Ukulele, and Famous Ukulele Songs You Can Learn for more useful ukulele information.
What is a Ukulele Guitar? – Final Thoughts
It’s an instrument comparable to no other. Sure, it shares similarities with some, but the ukulele is unique. What else could provide that delightful tone combined with the sheer joy that comes from playing it? It’s not a guitar. But it’s not a true lute, either. The humble ukulele stands tall, all on its own.
Happy strumming, folks!