As far as string instruments go, there are scarcely any more popular in the Western world than the guitar and the ukulele. The latter of which, the ukulele, has even been going through a bit of a resurgence in the past decade or so, owing to its price and the internet’s capacity for democratising the pecking order of instrumentalists, offering all sorts of guidance and instrumental lessons for free. This, combined with the relatively low price point, has led many to don a ukulele who might not otherwise.
The same very much goes for the guitar, in fact, despite the comparison of ukulele chords vs guitar. With online auction sites stronger than ever, you can pick up a guitar online for next to nothing, and you can source tutorials and lessons on YouTube or on websites like this for exactly nothing.
Their relative popularity at the moment belies their key differences, many feeling they can just as easily pick up either instrument with a minimum of hassle, expecting just as instantly to be able to master the instrument. To each their own, and to each their own abilities at each particular instrument, for though they are so similar, they are also very different indeed, constructed for different purposes.
It is our aim today to elucidate the differences and similarities as best we can.
The History of Ukulele Chords vs Guitar
The concept of stringed instruments has been around for eons, one of the first instruments to be created, and a foundational family of the instrument canon, along with woodwind and percussion. The most recent data suggests that the first signs of the modern day guitar date from back in 1050 BC, which is, I’m sure we can agree, a pretty darn long time!
This is all to imply that stringed instruments were around long before this, and only that the version of the guitar we know and are familiar with was established at this time! The ukulele is more than likely derived from this very same version of the guitar, bridging the gap in some way between ukulele chords vs guitar.
Most will often jump to the conclusion that the ukulele came to be in Hawaii, and to all intents and purposes it did, especially since it has been so widely embraced by the Hawaiian culture, going so far as to occupy a place high in the musical hierarchy alongside the gorgeous and singular lap steel and pedal steel guitars.
However, since the literal translation of ukulele in Hawaiian is ‘the gift that came here’, it would be safe to assume that the ukulele did not wholly originate in Hawaii. It has since been discovered that the first instruments that could be said to be related to ukulele were brought to the Hawaiian island by Portuguese immigrants in the late 19th century, not to mention the likelihood of colonialists. It was thus adopted as one of Hawaii’s primary instruments.
Similarities between Ukulele & Guitar
Both instruments share a number of characteristics that have, more often than not, led many to be confused by the instruments individually, believing them to be entirely related to the point of being the same. These similarities must clearly be pretty important for the large majority of people to mistake the instruments for being the same, so they are certainly worth considering if you are intending to in any way take up musical ambitions with either of the two instruments:
Both ukulele chords vs guitar share a common body shape, a sort of bottom heavy number 8 filled in entirely. The shape seems to have been deemed the most optimum for sound amplification, projection, and tone, having been adopted by countless other instruments in the string instrument family, including a whole host of those used in classical contexts: violin, viola, cello, double bass, contrabass etc.
While there are many variations of these shapes, often to varying levels of irony and comedic value, this is an almost entirely ubiquitous shape to find both the ukulele and guitar in. It is in the size that there is more variety, at least with regards to the acoustic versions of these instruments of which we speak.
There are countless sizes of each instrument. Guitars in gradations small enough to be considered close to being a ukulele. The same goes for ukuleles, some versions like the bass ukulele approaching the size of a slightly smaller than average size guitar.
There are even such variations of the instrument as the guitalele, which attempts to bridge the gap between the guitar and the ukulele even more strictly, occupying an uncanny space between the two that borders on scary, though is actually perfect as a travel companion, or as one reviewer believes to be a perfect bridge between his guitar leanings and his wife’s ukulele sensibilities.
Both the guitar and the ukulele are fretted instruments, both of which more often not feature a wooden neck with horizontal frets, usually comprised of metal. It is this primary similarity, alongside that of the often very similar body shape and sometimes very similar body size, that most casual listeners are likely to relate to, causing them to believe they are the same.
Both instruments use their adjoining frets to sound different pitches, up and down the fretboard, rendering ukulele chords vs guitar a lot more similar than some might initially think.
The ukulele and the guitar can both be used as harmonic accompaniment instruments or as melodic instruments that occupy more of a front line. Owing to the inherent similarities in their construction, this extra similarity in their place within a group should come as no surprise.
Both instruments allow for a melodic instrument to perform above them, acting as a bed on which this melody can lay. So too can these instruments project themselves and use their timbral qualities to communicate these melodies over an accompaniment, sometimes even themselves if adept enough at finger picking.
Despite the difference in their size, both are played in the exact same fashion, with direct use of fingers or with plectrums. Because the guitar is typically larger and thus more resonant, it is more often used as a melodic instrument than a ukulele in a large ensemble band context, lending credence to the dichotomy of ukulele chords vs guitar melody.
The musical contexts within which we can find both these instruments have many of the same touching points. Despite the ukuleles prominence in much of Hawaii’s traditional music, it has also found a place in many forms of folk, pop, and jazz music, all of which enjoy the guitar alongside it as a main stay in their instrumental palettes. The popular songs have their ukulele chords, like Justin Bieber’s Love Yourself or Passanger’s Let Her Go.
As a rule of thumb, the guitar tends to occupy more genres. This can be chalked up either to the guitar’s inherent ability to fit more contexts, or perhaps simply because the guitar has been around these highly Westernised genres in a frontal capacity for far longer than the ukulele, it still being slightly subversive to use a ukulele in these contexts despite recent trends otherwise.
The beauty with these instruments, however, is that they are still there to be mastered and used by whoever for whatever context. Ukulele and guitar can fit into nearly context if you really want it to, just like any instrument in fact. Don’t let cultural norms and hegemonic heaving breath on your neck influence any of your musical decisions.
Differences between Ukulele and Guitar
Despite these often glaring similarities that many outsider observers are wont to declare and make note of, there are several differences that separate these two instruments.
They are inherently the same when described on a literal level: a fretted musical instrument that is ‘held flat against the player’s body and played by strumming or plucking the strings with the dominant hand, while simultaneously pressing selected strings against frets with the fingers of the opposite hand. A plectrum or individual finger picks may be used to strike the strings. The sound of the guitar is projected either acoustically, by means of a resonant chamber on the instrument, or amplified by an electronic pickup and an amplifier.‘
And yet separated by a whole host of differences they can never quite unite, unless they have a child in the form of the Guitalele.
As we have touched upon before, the most obvious difference should come as no surprise as being the veritable sizes of the instruments. From tip of headstock to crevice of bottom, a standard ukulele can range from 11 to 21 inches, whereas a full size guitar can be up to 40 inches, goofs excluded.
The smaller size of the ukulele chords vs guitar make it objectively more manageable for beginners, especially those with smaller hands. It is typically far lighter in weight, and so much easier to transport, perfect if looking to play an instrument on the go between cities visiting friends.
This stretches to the chords played, as the size difference is inherent in every aspect of the instruments, right down to gaps between frets and strings. There are, of course, countless variations of each instruments, as previously mentioned, some of which bridge the inherent gap between them, but those aren’t under our consideration today.
The ukulele and the guitar each have a different number of strings, an obvious difference for those just now giving each a closer inspection.
Guitars more often than not have six strings tuned from lowest to highest, from E to A to D to G to B to E, in the most standard of tunings. Ukuleles, however, have only four strings and don’t follow the logic of low to high string order, tuned as they are in standard from G to C to E to A.
This inherent lesser number of strings means that the ukulele can be easier to learn how to play, or at least for a beginner to use to wrap their heads around the logic of stringed musical instruments as a whole.
The strings too, which on guitar can be comprised of coiled steel are here comprised usually of nylon, are far easier on the fingers of a beginner, whose fingertips are not yet used to the wear and tear that fretting strings can induce, not yet calloused against such things, making them decidedly easier for ukulele chords vs guitar.
The inherent difference in size between the ukulele and the guitar means that they occupy different pitch ranges. A guitar, more often than not larger than your standard ukulele, is capable of sounding a larger range of notes, lower and higher than that of a ukulele.
Many guitars have at least a range of three octaves, often of four or more on electric guitars, typically from E2 to E4 or 5. A ukulele, by contrast, at its most basic form, which is often that of a soprano ukulele, only has an octave of around an octave or so, from C4 to A5.
There are, as previously discussed, many, many variations of these instruments, and these variations don’t hesitate to stretch to the parameter of size, owing to how popular and ubiquitous these instruments have become.
If these differences aren’t enough to convince, then any one with ears should surely be able to tell the sound of ukulele chords vs guitar apart. The inherent difference in their sizes, and the fact that both the ukulele and guitar tend to use different strings entirely, result in a very different tone.
The timbral quality of a guitar is often considered fuller, richer, more capable of different of delivering a mixed timbral palette or warmth and clarity, whereas a ukulele, for usually being equipped with nylon strings, has a far more bright and light characteristic than the tonal richness of a guitar.
Each has their place, of course, and each can be perfect when implemented in appropriate contexts (or not, if you are more of an experimenter). Comparing the ukulele and the guitar in this way is somewhat backward as it in some way lends credence to some old fashioned sense of one instrument being superior to the other. Neither is better than the other, they are both singular and special in their own way, perfect as they are subjectively for different people and different contexts.
So, there you have it: a fairly comprehensive list of the differences and similarities between the ukulele and the guitar as formats.
Since so much of music and the relationship between a musician and their instrument is to do with feeling, these purportedly objective truth facts so barely laid out on this web page ought to be taken with a pinch of salt. For, though they are indeed objective – at least as far as our current laws of physics, maths, and music are concerned and co-aligned – , it is all about the feeling.
So, if you are intending to purchase either one and are seeking advice on which is best for you, it would be much better for you to visit a music store that will be able to help you decide by providing real examples of each that you can feel in your hands. Even if you do end up sourcing it for cheaper on the internet, this aspect of using your senses to decide in the flesh is vital in my opinion.
And if your intention is to use the facts in this article as ammunition against someone else for holding the opposing view that either the guitar or ukulele is better than the other, then I urge you not to.
Comparing the ukulele and the guitar in this way is somewhat backward as it in some way lends credence to some old fashioned sense of one instrument being superior to the other. Neither is better than the other, they are both singular and special in their own way, perfect as they are subjectively for different people and different contexts.
FAQs Ukulele Chords vs Guitar
The chords themselves will not be different, composed as they are throughout the Western tradition of triads of root notes, major 3rds, and perfect 5ths. The difference here lies in the way that they are played and the shapes which the fretting hand will have to assume in order for them to sound out. This is because the order of the strings and their pitches are inherently different between the ukulele and the guitar. Otherwise, the chords are the exact same, besides the timbral differences of course.
This is a highly subjective question, as with much of music and music study itself. Many would have you believe that the ukulele is easier to play than the guitar, and certainly there are several points that objectively ring true and illuminate why this might be the case. For example, the size is oft considered more comfortable and more portable; the strings are not only typically fewer but also often composed of nylon plastic, a material that goes far easier on the fingertips of a beginner who will almost certainly not be calloused against the steel strings of a guitar. However, some people simply gel better with a guitar, for whatever reason, so it’s certainly worth trying out both before making a decision.