Like most stringed instruments, ukuleles come in different sizes. The two most common sizes, especially for beginners, are the concert ukulele and soprano ukulele. In this review, I’ll discuss each of them to help you decide the right one for you.
The concert (or alto) ukulele is the next size up from the soprano ukulele. Compared to the soprano ukulele, it’s slightly heavier, wider in the neck, and has a longer scale length by an inch. Due to its bigger size, the concert ukulele produces a warmer and fuller sound with more midrange than its smaller counterpart.
Read on to learn more about the soprano and concert ukuleles’ differences and their pros and cons.
How Are the Soprano and Concert Ukuleles Different?
The ukulele is a four-string instrument that’s smaller than an acoustic guitar. It originated in Western Europe and was introduced to Hawaii in 1879. The story went on a Portuguese immigrant named Joao Fernandez jumping out of a boat and started playing his branguinha, a small, guitar-like instrument.
4 Kinds of Ukulele Based on Size
There are currently four kinds (or sizes) of ukuleles, namely:
Among the four sizes, the soprano and concert are the smallest. Typically, people who’ve never played the ukulele before start on a soprano ukulele because it’s affordable and relatively easy to play.
Let’s break down the differences between these two ukuleles:
1. Size and Weight
Soprano Ukulele Is the Smallest of the Four Standard Ukulele Sizes
The soprano ukulele measures 21 inches (53 centimeters) long and has a scale length (distance between the nut and saddle) of 13 inches (33 centimeters). Meaning it is the smallest of the four standard ukulele sizes.
Concert Ukulele Has a Larger Body and Thicker Neck
Meanwhile, the concert ukulele is 23 inches or 58 centimeters long, with the scale length being 15 inches or 38 centimeters. In addition, compared to the soprano, it has a larger body and longer and thicker neck, giving you a fuller sound and a wider range of notes.
Concert Ukulele Is Heavier than the Soprano
Both are light in their weight, although the concert is usually a little heavier than the soprano. The weight of the soprano ranges from 8 to 14 ounces (226 to 400 grams). The weight of the concert ranges from 15 to 22 ounces (425 to 624 grams).
Difference in Size and Weight Has an Effect on Playability and Sound
These differences in size and weight can have a noticeable effect on their playability and sound. For instance, concert ukuleles tend to be louder and have a rounder and warmer tone because of their larger body.
Soprano Ukulele Has a Shorter Neck
In addition, the shorter neck of the soprano means it’s easier to play and requires less arm extension. That’s why people with shorter arms and fingers (or hands) will be more comfortable playing a soprano ukulele.
Consideration: If you’re a solo artist, look for a ukulele with a fuller sound and greater projection (meaning, louder). But if you’re not a solo artist, you have to consider that a louder ukulele could compete with other performers’ instruments.
2. Fret Spacing
To play the ukulele, you need to press down on its strings against the fingerboard (also known as a fretboard). Make sure your fingers are just behind the vertical strips of metal (frets)—not on top—that go across the fingerboard at precise intervals to produce notes.
Concert Ukulele Has a Longer Fingerboard
Because of its longer fingerboard, a concert ukulele has 15 to 20 frets. The shorter neck of a soprano ukulele limits its frets to 12 to 15.
The wider neck and extra-long fingerboard of concert ukuleles allow wider spacing between frets.
Spacing Affects How Easy It Is to Position Fingers on the Fingerboard
The spacing between each fret is important because it will affect how easy it is to position your fingers on the fingerboard correctly and whether fretting will feel cramped or not. However, frets that are farther apart could be difficult to reach for people with shorter fingers.
3. Sound and Tone
The ukulele has always been unique when it comes to its sound and tone. Compared to acoustic guitars’ full, loud sound, it produces a lighter and more cheerful sound that reminds you of a relaxing day at the beach.
Soprano and concert ukuleles are tuned the same, but they don’t sound exactly the same. The difference in their sound has to do with their size. Remember: The bigger the ukulele’s body, the deeper and louder it sounds (which resembles the sound of guitars).
Concert Ukulele Has More Bass and Low-mids
As I’ve previously mentioned, the concert ukulele has more bass and low-mids, giving it a warm and comfy sound. It can also project better, so its overall volume tends to be louder. Due to its deeper tone, it complements well with just any about voice style.
Soprano Ukulele Has a Light and Jangly Sound
In contrast, being slightly smaller in size, the soprano ukulele has a light, sparkly, and jangly sound. The soprano ukulele’s sound is what most people consider the classic sound of ukuleles.
Can You Play a Soprano Ukulele and Concert Ukulele Together?
Definitely! The difference in the sound characteristics of each type of ukulele allows them to complement each other instead of clashing. But if you want to be sure, the best thing you could do is visit your nearest music store and test each ukulele size.
Factors That Affect Playability
When I say playability, I refer to how easy learning to play the soprano and concert ukuleles is. Many factors could influence a ukulele’s playability, such as the size of your hands and fret spacing.
One overlooked feature of a ukulele that significantly impacts people’s fretting ability and speed is the fingerboard radius. This refers to the degree of curvature or arc (from round to flat) across a ukulele’s neck. This is often expressed in inches or millimeters.
Soprano Ukulele Is Easier to Play for Beginners
As I said, a soprano ukulele is ideally a good starter size. Its shorter scale and tighter fret spacing make it easier to play for children, beginners, and people with shorter fingers and hands. If you keep practicing, you’ll be able to play a three-chord tune in one hour or so on this ukulele.
Concert Ukulele Fits People with Large Hands
People with more experience or larger hands will immediately feel at home on a concert ukulele. But that doesn’t mean you can’t use a soprano ukulele. Some brands offer soprano ukuleles with a longer neck to cater to people who want more frets and wider fret distance and the traditional ukulele sound.
But if you’re serious about learning to play the ukulele, you won’t mind playing either one of these ukulele sizes. As you keep practicing, you’ll eventually get used to playing either one of them.
Overall, the learning curve for each ukulele size is short. You’ll be able to play this instrument within three to six months comfortably. You can easily adjust to playing the ukulele if you know how to play the guitar because you can use the same guitar scale and chord shapes. The names are just different.
Again, soprano vs concert ukulele – what’s the difference? The concert ukulele is longer, has a wider neck, and heavier than the soprano ukulele. So, it also has a warm, comfy, and fuller sound than the soprano.
Tuning Soprano and Concert Ukuleles Is Similar
When it comes to tuning, soprano ukuleles and concert ukuleles are similar. They both have a reentrant tuning of g-C-E-A, which is considered the standard and popular tuning. This is one reason it’s relatively easy to switch between these two ukuleles.
So, what is reentrant tuning?
Reentrant tuning is a method that places the strings with the highest notes outside a stringed instrument. Ukuleles have four strings ordered in this way (starting from the bottom-most string): high-low-high-higher.
Advantage of Reentrant Tuning
Why do soprano and concert ukuleles use reentrant tuning?
One of the biggest advantages of reentrant tuning, especially for absolute beginners, is it makes it easier to play common chords on the ukulele—most notably the key of C. It’s also easy to find the correct chord charts or chord diagrams. As a result, you won’t find it difficult to jam with other ukulele players.
Again, the difference between the two lies in their sound. So, even if they have the same tuning, they’ll sound different. Since it’s slightly larger than the soprano, a concert ukulele will have a fuller sound.
Plus, they have a different number of frets. That means their note range would vary—C4-A5 for the soprano and C4-C6 for the concert.
6. Scale Length
Soprano Ukulele vs Concert Ukulele Scale Length
Soprano ukuleles have a 13 to 14 inches scale length. Meanwhile, concert ukuleles have a scale length of 15 to 16 inches.
Note that scale length and overall length aren’t the same things. Most ukuleles’ overall length is 1.5 to 1.6 times longer than their scale length.
When we say scale length, we’re referring to the playing string’s length. This is measured between the nut (found at the end of the fretboard) and the saddle (white plastic that holds the strings in place in the bridge).
Every ukulele size will have a different scale length. Therefore, it serves as a main identifying characteristic of this musical instrument.
Why Should You Pay Attention to a Ukulele’s Scale Length?
- It has a significant impact on the level of harmonics (shimmery, chime-like sound), sustain, and overtones (higher frequencies that are played simultaneously as the keynote).
- It doesn’t just affect the sound of the strings, but it also determines how they’ll feel when you play. This is one reason some people prefer ukuleles with a longer scale because they’re simpler to finger pick.
- The fret spacing is another aspect of a ukulele that the scale length affects. The soprano and concert ukuleles, which have a short scale length, don’t leave enough room between the frets for you to maneuver. As a result, it’s relatively difficult to finger pick.
- The longer the scale length, the higher the resonate (which usually increases the volume). The downside is it reduces the “warmth” of the sound.
Short Scale Length Means Less String Tension
Ukuleles with short scale length, such as the soprano and the concert, has less string tension. This makes it easier to fret notes, but it will not give a louder and snappier sound. If you don’t have an aggressive playing style, the longer sustain (length of time the string vibrates) and increased “touch” of ukuleles with low-tension strings could be for you.
The estimated tensions on the soprano and concert ukuleles:
- Soprano: 33 lbs.
- Concert (four-string): 35 lbs.
Note: Ukulele strings need to have just the right tension—not too tight and not too loose. If the arrow of your tuner is slightly towards the right, it means the string is too tight. On the other hand, if the arrow is slightly towards the left, the string is too loose.
Since ukuleles come in various designs, features, shapes, and materials, you can expect their price to vary completely. Typically, their prices can be categorized into four:
- Budget: $50
- Beginner: $50-$150
- Intermediate: $150-$500
- Advanced (or High-end): $500 or higher
Soprano Ukuleles Are the Cheapest
Among the four ukulele sizes, soprano ukuleles are usually the cheapest. However, this doesn’t mean their quality is low. Since they’re more popular and widely available, they tend to be more affordable than concert ukuleles.
So, if you want to learn how to play this instrument but are not yet ready to commit and shell out money, a soprano ukulele is a good option.
Note: Don’t focus too much on the price. Make sure the model you’re buying plays well and will last until your skills improve to the next level. If you can, go to your nearest musical instruments store to get a better idea of which model and size best fit your needs.
Conclusion – Soprano Vs Concert Ukulele
Before I end this article, consider the following tips and reminders:
- Study the benefits and drawbacks of a soprano ukulele and a concert ukulele.
- I know it’s quite obvious, but don’t go for dirt cheap ukuleles. They’ll most likely have a ton of issues.
- Always check the craftsmanship of the model you want to buy. This includes the quality and type of strings, wooden materials, and other features. The price of good-quality ukuleles often start at $100. Those that sell for less than $50 are considered “toy” ukuleles.
Concert vs soprano ukelele—so, which one is the best? From what you might’ve learned from this article, there’s no definite answer to that question. The best ukulele is the one that meets your skill level, playing style, and budget.