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Guitalele Vs. Ukulele: How They Differ and Which to Learn [2021 Guide]

I started playing the guitar in 2003.

In 2011, I began playing the ukulele, and since 2019, I have played the guitalele too.

I don’t have everything figured out with these instruments.

But I’m happy to share what I’ve learned about them so far, their differences, and which instrument I think you should learn in light of these differences.

Guitalele Vs. Ukulele: More about the Guitalele

The guitalele (also known as the guilele) is a hybrid of the guitar and ukulele.

Yamaha first introduced the now standardized guitalele in 1997.

Usually, people think of the guitalele as a travel guitar, mini guitar, or children’s guitar because of its small size.

However, this isn’t quite accurate since the guitalele has its own tuning.

Instead of a standard guitar tuning, the guitalele is tuned up a 4th as if you were to capo the guitar on the 5th fret (ADGCEa).

In other words, if you stuck a capo on the fifth fret of a classical guitar, it would have the same tuning and sound very similar to a guitalele.

Part of the reason it would sound similar besides the tuning is because the guitalele has six nylon strings like the classical guitar.

The ukulele also has nylon strings.

In fact, some people call the guitalele a six-string ukulele, not only because of its string material, but mainly because its size, shape, and tuning are so similar to the guitalele.

Baritone guitaleles have the same tuning as the top four strings of the ukulele: GCEA.

And the other sizes of ukuleles have a similar tuning, just with the 4th string pitched up an octave: gCEA.

Although some people may think of the guitalele as a travel guitar or a six-string ukulele, I tend to think of it as its own instrument closer in relationship to the guitar than the ukulele.

You can learn more about the guitalele in my article about it here.

Guitalele Vs. Ukulele: More about the Ukulele

The ukulele is a member of the lute instrument family.

Hawaiians adapted this guitar-like instrument from the Portuguese Machate in the 19th century.

Today, the ukulele comes in three main sizes (and other less common sizes).

The most common sizes are:

  • soprano (standard size),
  • concert,
  • and tenor.

Like I mentioned above, ukuleles have four nylon strings with a standard tuning of gCEA.

(Sometimes tenor ukuleles have a tuning of GCEA where the g string is not pitched up an octave.)

This high fourth string gives the instrument a unique sound.

There’s also an interesting story behind this high G string.

When Hawaiians first constructed ukuleles, they used animal guts (like the rest of the world) to make musical instrument strings.

Producing a thicker low G string would have been more costly.

So, they used the High G tuning with a thinner string.  

Similarities Between the Guitalele and Ukulele

Let’s discuss the similar features of these two instruments.

Travel-Friendly

Guitaleles and ukuleles are similar in size to a ΒΌ size standard guitar.

However, guitaleles are usually slightly larger and heavier than ukuleles.

Travel-size instruments have many benefits including the ability to play in a wider variety of locations, ease of transportation, etc.

Also, because of their size, guitalele and ukulele fretboards and strings are close together.

If you have smaller hands or shorter fingers, you may be able to reach the frets and strings more easily on these instruments.

However, travel-size instruments like the guitalele and ukulele also have some downsides.

Although these instruments may be easier to play for someone with small hands, they are likely harder to play for someone with large hands.

Plus, travel-size guitaleles and ukuleles won’t project sound as well as a full-size guitar.

Furthermore, fewer instrument manufacturers make high-end travel size instruments.

So you will have to look a little harder for a high-quality travel-size guitalele or uke.

Lastly, regardless of your hand size, capoing the guitalele or ukulele doesn’t work well since the already narrow frets become narrower as you move up the neck.

Corrosion-Resistant, Easy-to-Press-Down Nylon Strings

If you’re playing in an island or tropical climate, steel strings can rust or otherwise corrode more easily than nylon strings.

This is one of many reasons why the ukulele (and guitalele) are such perfect matches for tropical playing.

Also, nylon strings are easier to press down than steel strings.

So the mechanics of playing either of these instruments is easier than the guitar.

This makes each instrument attractive for beginner musicians.

Similar Tuning

The guitalele has six nylon strings, whereas the ukulele has only four nylon strings.

However, as I mentioned above, the first four strings of the guitalele are nearly identical in tuning to the ukulele’s four strings.

The difference is that the ukulele’s fourth G string is pitched up an octave.

Similarly Sized Fretboard and Number of Frets

Ukuleles and guitaleles typically have 12-15 frets on their fretboard.

Fretboards of similar lengths with similar fret widths mean you can switch between these instruments fairly seamlessly.

On the other hand, if you were to switch from playing a larger instrument with wider frets like a guitar to a guitalele or ukulele, you will initially feel disoriented as the frets won’t be in the place you expect.

Guitalele Vs. Ukulele: Differences

Although we have covered several similarities between these instruments, they certainly have their differences.

I’ll address some of these differences below.

Number of Strings

As I’ve discussed extensively, the guitalele has six strings tuned in the same intervals as a guitar but up a fourth to be in the same tonal range as the ukulele.

What I haven’t discussed is the implication of these extra two strings on the guitalele.

More strings typically means greater flexibility to play a wider variety of tunes.

This is certainly the case with the guitalele compared to the ukulele.

The two extra bass strings on the guitalele allow you to play almost any tune you could play on the guitar.

Conversely, lacking these strings on the ukulele means you will be more limited in what you can play on the uke.

Sound

The guitalele sounds like a guitar with a capo in the fifth fret because of the six-string feature.

With the two extra heavier bass strings, the guitalele may sound more complete and substantial to some than the ukulele.

On the other hand, the ukulele’s high G string makes its sound lighter and more unique.

Although you can try to achieve a similar light and unique sound by tuning to high-G tuning on the guitalele, it won’t sound quite like the ukulele unless you avoid playing the guitalele’s two bass strings.

Music-making

the guitalele’s fretboard covers more than three octaves.

The ukulele’s only covers two octaves.

This means that you will face inherent limitations on your music-making ability with the ukulele compared to the guitalele.

Ease of Learning

You will find ukulele chords are simpler than guitalele chords because the ukulele has fewer strings.

So, as a beginner musician, you might love the ukulele.

Likewise, more strings on the guitalele mean more complicated chords and more hand strength required, particularly for bar chords.

Dedicated Learning Materials

There are plenty of learning materials made specifically for the ukulele.

There are also plenty of songs originally played on the ukulele and uke tabs for those songs.

However, there are very few learning materials dedicated to the guitalele.

Although you can theoretically use any guitar learning resource for the guitalele, you will always have to adapt the concepts to the slightly different guitalele.

And although you can play guitar tabs on the guitalele, they will be in the wrong key unless you transcribe them.

Plus, hardly any popular songs are originally played on the guitalele because it is such an uncommon instrument.

So there are hardly any tabs made specifically for the guitalele.

Cost

Starter guitaleles and ukuleles are usually cheaper than guitars of similar quality.

However, nicer ukuleles become expensive much more quickly than guitars which are popular enough to have several mid-range quality and price options.

And guitaleles just aren’t common enough to have the same number of purchase options as the ukulele (and definitely not the guitar).

Thus, if you want a particularly high-end guitalele, you will likely need to custom-make it.

Guitalele Vs. Ukulele: Which is the best instrument for you?

If you don’t already play either the guitar or ukulele, I don’t recommend a guitalele.

Instead, check out my article comparing the guitar and ukulele to help you decide which to pursue.

If you already play the guitar and you’re interested in getting that uke sound, I highly recommend the guitalele instead of the ukulele.

As a guitarist, you will already be able to make all the chord shapes and you can get that ukulele sound without learning an entirely new instrument.

I had this desire as a young guitarist to get that ukulele sound.

Unfortunately, I didn’t know about guitaleles.

So I purchased a ukulele but did very little with it as a guitarist.

It wasn’t until recently that I learned about guitaleles and realized that what I actually wanted was a way to play all my favorite guitar tunes with that ukulele sound (which is what you get with a guitalele).

Finally, if you already play the ukulele and you’re interested in guitar, the guitalele could be a great choice for you.

Since ukulele players are accustomed to nylon strings, the steel strings of a standard guitar can be difficult for them.

However, the nylon strings of a guitalele with its tonal range similar to the ukulele offer a gentler transition to the guitar.

Conclusion

I hope this article has helped you understand the differences between the guitalele and ukulele!

And I hope that, understanding these differences has helped point you in the direction of which instrument may be best for you to pursue.

If you have further questions, let me know in the comments!

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