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.
The Difference in Sound Between a Guitar, Guitalele, 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 Guitalele 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, guitaleles 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.
What kind of strings does a guitalele use? The most popular strings for guitalele are made by Aquila. As I mentioned above, the guitalele’s lesser popularity compared to either the guitar or ukulele means that there are very few manufacturers that make strings for this instrument so there aren’t many options. Some people have experimented with stringing their guitalele with classical guitar strings with success and may be an option for you if you don’t like Aquila or have your favorite classical strings that you want to try.