In 2019, I purchased a guitalele after playing the guitar since 2003 and the ukulele since 2008.
So what is a guitalele?
A guitalele is a hybrid guitar ukulele instrument with:
- the body of a tenor or baritone size ukulele,
- six nylgut strings like a classical guitar instead of the ukulele’s usual four,
- and a tuning with the same intervals as a guitar except tuned up a fourth (as if you were to capo the standard guitar on the 5th fret) to ADGCEA
The guitalele also goes by other names like the guitarlele or the guilele which I will use interchangeably throughout this article.
The Difference in Sound Between a Guitar, Guitarlele, and Ukulele
In the video above, you get to see and hear the difference between these instruments.
Unlike some other guitar hybrids (like the mando guitar) which feature a truly unique sound, the guitalele sounds almost identical to a standard classical guitar capoed on the 5th fret.
Why You Might Want to Add a Guilele to Your Instrument Collection
At this point, you might be wondering why you would purchase a guitalele if its sound is so similar to that of a classical guitar (capoed on the 5th fret).
There are actually several reasons to own this instrument.
You Want The Ultimate Travel Guitar That’s an Instrument in Its Own Right
Standard guitars are not easy to transport (especially when toted around in a bulky hard case).
This is why many guitarists opt for a travel guitar, a less than full size instrument that’s easier to transport.
But travel guitars don’t quite travel as well as guitaleles and don’t quite sound as good as full-size guitars.
For starters, guitarleles are even smaller and more portable than most travel guitars.
Also, many guitarists are disappointed with travel guitars’ sound because they are smaller and cannot project sound in the same way that a full-size guitar can.
In other words, if you have the expectation of a travel guitar sounding like a full-size guitar, you will probably be disappointed.
However, because the guitalele is an entirely different instrument, most approach it without expectations (at least without expectation that it will sound just like a full-size guitar – which it doesn’t) and ultimately enjoy it more.
Another great travel aspect of the guitalele is that its strings are nylon which are less prone to rust and corrosion than a standard guitar’s steel strings.
This is helpful if you are visiting (or live) somewhere very humid like an island climate.
You Want to Be Able to Play Both Ukulele and Guitar Tunes on One Instrument
If you can play both the ukulele and the guitar, you can play all your favorite tunes from either instrument on the guitalele.
The first four strings of the guitalele are tuned the same as a ukulele with the exception of the lowest (4th) G string on the ukulele which is an octave higher than the 4th G string on the guitalele.
In other words, you can play ukulele tunes on the guitalele as long as you only strum the top 4 strings and guitar tunes when playing on all strings.
You Have Small Hands Or Simply Enjoy Playing a Smaller Instrument
There are several enjoyable aspects to playing a smaller instrument.
The frets are smaller which means you don’t have to stretch your hand as much to reach the strings and form chords.
Though a small instrument can be difficult to play for someone with large hands, it can really help those with small hands.
Also, the smaller the instrument, the more convenient it is to pick up and play, and the more you will play it.
I’ve found this to be the case with my situation; that I gravitate towards my smaller instruments since they are easier to pick up, put down, and play in a wider range of situations.
You want all the ease of playing a ukulele with all the flexibility of playing a guitar.
Because guitalele strings are nylon like the ukulele, they are easier to press down than standard steel guitar strings.
This is very attractive to beginner musicians who don’t want to build the callouses and hand strength necessary to play a standard steel string guitar.
And because the guitalele is tuned in the same intervals as the guitar, most guitar learning resources will help you also learn on the guitalele.
So you can easily press down the guitalele’s strings like the ukulele and you can use all the learning resources available to both guitarists and ukulele players.
You Often Capo 5 on the Standard Guitar
The 5th fret is one of my favorite frets to capo.
Usually if a song is outside my vocal range without a capo, it’s in my vocal range when I capo on the 5th fret.
If you’re like me and you love capoing on the 5th fret on the standard guitar, the guitalele is probably a great instrument for you.
If these reasons have you interested in buying a guitalele, don’t worry.
Guitaleles are reasonably priced with good entry-level instruments typically priced around $100.
This guitalele package is a great deal and comes with a very highly-rated instrument.
If you want a higher-quality, (nearly) performance-ready instrument, check out this one.
I consider this instrument nearly performance-ready because it only has one strap button.
I always try to buy performance-ready instruments which, to me, means the instrument:
- is electric/acoustic (has a pickup so you can plug in and play live),
- and has strap buttons (so you can play standing up).
Though I’ve had trouble finding guitaleles with strap buttons, adding a strap button is an easy addition for a luthier (instrument repair expert) to make.
Downsides of the Guitalele
Playing the guitalele isn’t all roses.
I’ll list some of the challenges with buying, owning, and maintaining a guitalele below.
Guitaleles are less common and therefore you have fewer purchase options.
Guitaleles are nowhere near as popular as the guitar or ukulele.
Less demand for these instruments means fewer manufacturers are making them.
So you may have trouble getting a guitalele that’s just right for you, especially if you have strong instrument preferences.
Their lack of popularity also almost surely means that servicing the instrument will be more expensive.
(This has been my experience.)
And just like for the instrument itself, you have much fewer string options for the guitalele.
Guitaleles’ body-size prevents them from projecting sound like larger instruments can.
Guitaleles are very small compared to most stringed plucked instruments.
Thus, they simply can’t produce the same volume of sound as a larger instrument can.
This is one of the reasons why I always try to get instruments that have a pickup; so that I can plug in to an amp if the sound isn’t as loud as I want or if I’m playing with others that are drowning out my instrument.
Guitaleles have narrow frets.
I mentioned above that the guitalele’s narrow frets can be helpful for someone with small hands.
While this is true, narrow frets also have their downsides.
When frets are small, this makes bar chords and certain other chord shapes difficult to accomplish.
Plus, as you work your way up the neck, the frets become narrower making it more difficult to play this instrument with a capo.
Frequently Asked Questions
I’ve come across a few questions related to the guitalele that I want to cover in this post.
Is guitalele the same as guitar?
The guitalele is NOT the same as the guitar. It is not a travel or less than full-size guitar either. It is its own instrument (a hybrid between a guitar and a ukulele) with its own tuning and history.
Can you play a guitalele like a guitar?
You can definitely play a guitalele like a guitar because the chord shapes are the same. Playing a guitarlele will result in the same notes as playing a guitar capoed on the 5th fret.
How do you pronounce guitalele?
There are many ways to refer to a guitar ukulele hybrid including: guitalele, guilele, and even guitarlele. Here are phonetic pronunciation guides for each term: guitalele: GIT-uh-lay-lay guilele: Gi-LAY-lay guitarlele: just like you pronounce guitar with lay-lay at the end.
I’d like to know if i need a guitalele with a truss rod, if i intend to play with a high e/octave tunning ?
Will it bend the neck of my guitalele y it doesn’t have a truss rod ?
You shouldn’t need a truss rod on your guitalele for high E/octave tuning with nylgut strings. Just make sure to get proper strings that can handle that amount of tension. Aquila makes strings specifically for this tuning. You can find them here. Also, if you do want a guitalele with a truss rod, I own this one, and I’ve been very pleased with it.
Great website, thanks!
I started playing the guitalele a couple of years ago because I love to sing and enjoy busking. I could never stay motivated with a regular guitar, they’re too big and cumbersome. But with a guitalele everything is golden.
Now I’ve learned the chords and have a few gigs I want to upgrade my instrument, hoping for a better sound, a regular strap (not the hook in the hole) and a proper plug in, not the thing I stuck on my Yamaha.
I’m very interested in the Caramel series, like what you have, but in the Amazon listing it seems to be tuned to EADGBE.
I don’t have the headspace to remember regular guitar chords now (working mother of three) so my question is, will it take the standard guitalele tuning?
Thanks! The Caramel guitalele may be factory-tuned to standard guitar tuning, but it is a guitalele designed for standard guitalele tuning.
I think I remember receiving my Caramel guitalele with guitar tuning and having no problem tuning it up to A to A.
That said, not too soon after re-tuning, my high A string broke. Unfortunately, there aren’t many good string options for guitaleles, particular those with bridge pins requiring ball-end strings. That said, check out my guitalele strings post to figure out which strings are best for you!
Thank you so much, Harrison.
You don’t have to post this, I just wanted to say I really appreciated your thoughtful answer and have ordered my new instrument.
The strings article was really helpful too.
I look forward to reading more of your stuff.
I’m so happy I could help!
Hi Harrison. Thanks for everything so far.
So I got my instrument in record time, and loved it as is so I put off changing to steel strings. But I finally bit the bullet because my professional guitarist dad can sure play passive aggressive just as well.
I put the new strings on last night and played a little, and I get it. My issue is, despite reading everything I could find, I’m still a little confused about using the truss rod. I understand that now I’ve put on higher tension strings I should, but I want to know if it’s something to do now and then, and if I’m right to turn counter-clockwise?
If you already have an article just a link is fine.
Thank you again,
Hello again, Linda!
As I mention in this article, steel strings deviate from manufacturers’ recommendations for the guitalele. So, even if your guitalele has a truss rod and can (theoretically) support the tension of steel strings, it wasn’t designed for this. For instance, guitars have extra internal bracing to support the tension of steel strings that guitaleles don’t have. So you can put steel strings on your instrument (I have put them on my Caramel guitalele before), but it probably won’t quite sound right. Truss rod adjustments can help it sound better, but I couldn’t make a truss rod adjustment recommendation without seeing the instrument. That said, you can venture onto YouTube and probably find someone more confident in their recommendations there. Just be careful and know that steel strings could possibly damage your instrument.