If you’re debating the pros and cons of the guitalele vs. the travel guitar, this article is for you.
I’ve played the guitar since 2003 and the guitalele since 2019.
In this post I address differences between the two instruments and which is better to learn depending on your style.
What are the Differences Between a Travel Guitar and a Guitalele?
The fundamental and most obvious difference between the two instruments is the size.
Though both are smaller than a standard full-scale guitar, travel guitars come in more sizes than the guitalele.
Specifically, a travel guitar can come in different scale sizes.
Smaller scale lengths, such as ¾ or even ½ of a standard guitar are often intended for children first learning with smaller hands.
Despite its small stature, a travel guitar is still, for all intents and purposes, a guitar.
It has the same complete scale length of a guitar, just smaller.
The scale length of a travel guitar even includes ¼ of a standard guitar, which is the size shared by a guitalele.
By contrast to the travel guitar, the guitalele standardly comes in its ¼ scale — the size of a traditional ukulele.
Both instruments have frets and six strings (although with different tunings).
Guitalele Vs. Travel Guitar Standard Tuning
The six strings on a guitar from lowest to highest in standard tuning are EADGBe.
To help you remember the notes of the strings, you can learn this mnemonic: Every Amateur Does Get Better Eventually.
The six strings on a guitalele from lowest to highest in standard tuning are ADGCEA.
This is a fourth higher than the guitar; like playing the guitar with a capo on the fifth fret.
(You can learn more about standard and alternate guitalele tunings in this post.)
This differs from the amount of strings standard ukuleles have, which is four strings instead of six.
With similar tuning, a guitalele plays exactly as a guitar would, but in a higher pitch.
(You can check out the guitalele I own and recommend here.)
With the same tuning as a guitar, chords on the guitalele can be played exactly in the same shapes as they are on the guitar.
The difference being, however, they would not be the same chords due to the pitch change — they would be a fourth above.
For example, strumming an E Major guitar chord shape on a guitalele would give an A Major chord — a fourth above.
Knowledge and experience on either instrument can be transferred to the other, but the trick is keeping track of the pitch shift.
To recap the differences between the two instruments:
Can come ¾ scale, ½ scale, and even ¼ scale.
Comes only in ¼ scale — the same size as a ukulele.
standard tuning is EADGBe.
standard tuning is ADGCEa.
The Pros of a Guitalele
What’s so cool about a guitalele?
- Its size makes it extremely portable for the musician on the go. No need to carry around a big bulky guitar case.
- It’s different, which makes it cool: how many times have you seen someone pull a guitalele out around a campfire instead of a guitar?
- The difference in pitch on the guitalele results in interesting voicings of the same chords on a guitar.
- Versatility of sound due to the pitch change from the guitar.
- A guitarist can pick up a guitalele quite easily since it plays exactly the same way a guitar does, travel or otherwise.
- The nylon strings on a guitalele (though they can also be strung with steel strings like a guitar) are softer and comfortable to play.
- Guitaleles are more affordable.
The Cons of a Guitalele
Though different and cool, a guitalele might not be ideal for every player.
- Due to its size and much like a ukulele, the strings and frets might be too close together for a player with larger hands to play comfortably.
- A guitarist with no knowledge of transposing or music theory picking up a guitalele might have a hard time keeping track of the shift in pitch for the chords.
- The small size eliminates much of the possibility and room to do any “lead” playing — the frets higher up the fretboard might be too close together to play comfortably.
- Guitaleles lack “musical demand” whereas many opportunities exist for guitar players.
The Pros of a Travel Guitar
The standard travel guitar is as timeless as the guitar itself.
- A selection of scale and size options leaves room for players of any age and background to pick the right size for them.
- You can transfer anything you learn on a standard guitar to a travel guitar without having to worry about a shift in pitch.
- Selecting a scale size can help a player find a travel guitar with a comfortable spacing for frets and strings.
- The larger size compared to a guitalele gives way to space to play both rhythm and lead music with little inhibition.
- The selection of scale leaves the possibility of also not having to carry around a large bulky instrument or case.
The Cons of a Travel Guitar
As with any other instrument, it might not be best for every player. Instrument preference is as diverse as music itself.
- Slightly larger in size and therefore not as easy to carry as a guitalele.
- The lower pitch of a travel guitar in standard tuning compared to a guitalele might not be as appealing to someone looking for a brighter, different sound than a guitar.
The Difference in Playability Between a Guitalele and a Travel Guitar
Every musician has their own influences, their own style, and their own preferences in playing.
As such, it is impossible to select one universal instrument or type of music suitable to everybody.
The style of music one plays and their own personal influence and play-type certainly pulls weight in terms of which instrument you choose to manifest your musical mind.
Guitaleles, due to their elevated pitch and nylon strings have more of a cutesy, playful, and brighter sound.
Similar to a ukulele, the smaller size of a guitalele would also hinder one’s ability to play lead.
Though it is certainly possible, it is also likely it will not be as comfortable on a guitar.
The elevated pitch of a guitalele being brighter would shine through any mix, as does a ukulele.
While this is good for pop music, it might not be so great for deeper sounding music such as blues or hard rock.
I’ve even heard a guitalele played as a jazz accompaniment — it was different and awesome!
Travel guitars look, feel, and play just like a regular guitar.
Though the scale size can vary, most travel guitars are larger than ¼ size guitaleles.
With a bigger size, the playability of a guitar gives players more room to really dig in and play more roughly.
A guitalele, though more comfortable to play, might not provide that room to rip in to the instrument that a guitar has.
It’s important to remember that though the travel guitar gives more space to rip into the instrument, the playstyle between the two is fundamentally different.
A player likely would not pick up a guitalele to rip into the guitar and play crazy lead guitar solos; a player picks up the instrument to strum chords.
Alternatively, a player can pick up a travel guitar to do both.
The preference people lean to depends on what they want to play. If someone wants to strum chords in a beautiful alternate voicing and tuning, they would pick up a guitalele.
If someone wants an instrument able to play both chord strumming and some lead (or some Hendrix-style hybrid of the two), a travel guitar is the better option.
The Verdict: Is a Guitalele or a Travel Guitar Better for Me?
The easiest way to answer that question is to examine your playing style. Do you consider yourself a lead player or a rhythm player? Or both?
As we’ve examined, music and the way people play instruments are both entirely subjective. Everybody has their own style and influences.
Maybe you like to strum chords and examine new voicings of different chords.
Then the guitalele may be the right choice for you.
If you’ve got small hands, perhaps you can even incorporate lead playing.
Or maybe you’re more of a lead guitar player.
If you like learning guitar solos and scales and writing your own licks, a travel guitar is likely a better choice for you.
Or perhaps you are a hybrid sort of player and are looking for something different to throw into your recordings or play around a campfire.
In this case, both instruments should probably be in your instrument collection.
Each instrument has its own voice in the same way each and every individual has their own voice.
It’s up to you to try them out and see which you like better!
Hopefully reading through this article gave you some insight into the key differences between a guitalele and a travel guitar.
Need more direction?
Let me know in the comments, and I’ll do my best to help!