If you’re wondering what the difference is between the guitalele vs piccolo guitar, this post is for you!
I’ve been a guitar player since 2003, a ukulele player since 2011, and a guitalele player since 2019.
So I know a bit about these instruments!
Ibanez makes one of the more popular piccolo guitars.
And Caramel manufactures some of the more popular guitaleles.
So what’s the difference between a guitalele and piccolo guitar?
The primary difference between the guitalele and piccolo guitar is that the guitalele has nylon strings and the piccolo guitar has steel strings.
Otherwise, they are generally the same instruments with similar size, scale length, and tuning (in the same intervals as a guitar but pitched up a fourth: ADGCEA).
The piccolo guitar also has a slightly wider body type, making it look a bit more like a guitar than the guitalele does.
The piccolo guitar can support steel strings because it has a truss rod, or steel bar inside the neck of the instrument. This bar serves the important purpose of supporting the neck and preventing it from warping or breaking due to the tension of steel strings.
Nylon string instruments like the guitalele or ukulele do not need a truss rod because nylon strings put far less tension on the instrument’s neck.
So although a guitalele may or may not have a truss rod, a piccolo guitar will always have a truss rod.
Guitalele Vs Piccolo Guitar: Size
Like I mentioned above, piccolo guitars are usually slightly larger than guitalele.
The body size of a piccolo guitar resembles the shape, depth, and width of a guitar, but on a smaller scale.
The guitalele’s body, however, more closely resembles the shape of a ukulele, which has a smaller width and depth.
Here’s a table in which you can compare sizes of both a piccolo guitar model and a guitalele model:
As you can see, the piccolo guitar is a larger instrument with a sound more similar to a steel string guitar.
And the guitalele’s shape and nylon strings create a sound more similar to a ukulele or classical guitar.
The guitalele and piccolo guitar have the exact same standard tuning: ADGCEA.
This tuning is the same as the guitar’s tuning but pitched up a fourth as if you were to capo the guitar on the fifth fret: perfect fourths from low to high, with no high-pitched strings in between.
Due to its construction, the steel strings of the piccolo guitar increase the overall tension of the instrument. But like I said, the truss rod in the neck can support this tension.
Plus the sealed tuning machine heads are also designed to help support the string tension.
This instrument is a guitar specifically designed for playing high pitches comfortably
On the other hand, the nylon strings of the guitalele require a lower tension in order to be properly tuned.
You can tune both instruments at the same time if you like. The only thing you have to account for is the contrasting tone quality of each.
Guitalele Vs Piccolo Guitar: Strings
Both instruments have single, equally-spaced strings just like a guitar.
The main difference here is the strings’ materials, of course. Steel strings have a sharper, louder sound but are harder to play compared to nylon strings. You have to put in more finger pressure in order to get a good-sounding left hand.
On the other hand, you will have an easier time pressing down nylon strings, and they will typically have a warmer, more muted sound.
Since the piccolo guitar was designed to carry steel strings, you will not find nylon strings for this instrument.
The guitalele was also designed to carry nylon strings only.
Plus, if your instrument doesn’t have a truss rod (and many guitaleles do not) then putting steel strings on your guitalele will likely break the instrument or warp its neck.
(You can learn more about putting steel strings a guitalele in my post where I did just that.)
You can use regular acoustic guitar steel strings for the piccolo guitar.
But since the tuning is up a fourth, be sure to use extra light strings like these that won’t put undue stress on your instrument.
For the guitalele, stick to the nylon strings on the market for the instrument. However, again, if you are curious about using steel strings on your, first check out my own experience here
In summary, the piccolo guitar may use light-caliber steel guitar strings, while the guitalele uses only nylon strings.
Both types of strings are radically different in terms of gauge and tension, so don’t use them interchangeably.
Guitalele Vs Piccolo Guitar: Sound Comparison
Even when the instruments are tuned the same, the sound is radically different.
The piccolo guitar’s sound resembles that of a folk guitar, but with a brightness similar to the guitalele.
In this video Ibanez demonstrates the tone range of their EWP14OPN/Piccolo Guitar.
The higher tonal range makes it sound a bit lighter and brighter.
On the other hand, the guitalele’s sound is warmer, more muted, and doesn’t quite cut through the mix like a steel string instrument does.
Plus, due to the body’s width and depth, the resonance is even more limited than the piccolo.
Also, the fret-spacing on the piccolo guitar is slightly wider than the guitalele.
This can be an advantage for beginners who often accidentally touch an adjacent string they don’t mean to touch causing it to buzz.
That said, the guitalele could be a better fit for players with small hands like children who struggle to reach across the neck to form chords.
Piccolo guitars are typically more expensive than guitaleles.
The prices vary, but a piccolo guitar will likely cost you at least 30-40% more than an average guitalele.
Notably, Ibanez piccolo guitars are built with better materials than your average guitalele. Thus, the higher price is fair enough considering the quality of the product
For example, this Ibanez Piccolo Guitar is approximately twice the standard Yamaha Guilele model price here.
Guitalele Vs Piccolo Guitar: Learning Materials
You can find lots of learning materials for the guitar, but this is not the case for the piccolo guitar and the guitalele.
Both instruments are essentially considered to be versions of a guitar and a ukulele. Due to this and the novelty nature of these instruments, learning materials for them just aren’t as common.
That said, I’ve written a summary of some of the books available on Amazon for learning the guitalele (which are transferrable to the piccolo guitar).
Also, if you are interested in learning the basic chord shapes on either of these instruments, check out this post.
Lastly, know that there are some songs you can learn on either of these instruments with the help of YouTube as I describe here.
Which instrument should you pursue?
So, which instrument should you pursue? Check out this table to find out:
You might pursue the piccolo guitar if several of the following are true.
You might pursue the guitalele if several of the following are true.
You already play the steel-string guitar, and you want to play in the higher tonal range of a ukulele.
You already play the nylon-string guitar and would like to play in the tonal range of a ukulele.
You already play the steel-string guitar and would like a steel-string travel instrument with a twist.
You already play the nylon-string guitar and would like a nylon-string travel instrument with a twist.
You want to learn how to play the steel-string guitar but have small hands.
You want to learn how to play the nylon-string guitar, but have small hands.
You are willing to pay a bit more for your instrument than the guitalele.
You want an inexpensive instrument.
You already play the steel-string guitar, capo on fret five frequently, and would like a dedicated capo-five instrument.
You already play the nylon-string guitar, capo on fret five frequently, and would like a dedicated capo-five instrument.
Are willing to learn this instrument with almost no dedicated learning materials.
Are willing to learn this instrument with few dedicated learning materials (but more than the piccolo guitar).
Guitalele Vs Piccolo Guitar: Conclusion
I hope this article helped you learn more about each of these instruments!
As usual, let me know in the comments if you have any further questions!
Besides the piccolo guitar having a truss rod, the bracing needs to be different, more robust due to the increased tension on the top as well as the bridge.
Good point! Yes, usually instruments with steel strings have stronger internal bracing to support the increased tension.
Can I have the Ibanez piccolo tune to the usual EADGBE? I can find EADGBE nylon strings for mini guitar that fit well on the Yamaha GL-1, but couldn’t find any for the Ibanez.
Would strings made for full size guitar work?
Yes, strings for a full-size instrument should work just fine if you’re planning on tuning to standard guitar tuning: EADGBE!