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#frequently asked questions about the ukulele

At Flea Market Music, we do our best to keep site visitors and store customers informed about all things ukulele.  To that end, we have worked hard to compile a listing of some of the most frequently asked general questions posed to us over the years, along with our answers to them.  

Many thanks to Dan "Soybean" Sawyer (and Dale Webb of The Magic Fluke Company) for providing us with many of the answers found herein.  If you have a question regarding vintage ukuleles, be sure to consult our Uke Yak section, where you can submit a question to our resident expert, Chuck "Frets" Fayne.

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Question:   I’m new to the ukulele and surprised to find that there is more than one size. Why is this?
Answer:   For years, we’ve seen images of folks strumming the uke on sheet music covers, television and in old movies. Invariably, they were playing the soprano (or “standard”) size uke. This has been the most popular uke and the one we associate with people like Roy Smeck, Ukulele Ike and Tiny Tim. However, there has always been a small contingent of musicians who wanted a larger instrument. Martin designed two larger ukes back in the 1920’s. They were the concert and tenor. These sizes gave musicians more space on the fingerboard and a bigger sound. So, in order from small to large: soprano (or standard), concert and tenor.
Question:   What is a baritone ukulele?
Answer:   In the 1940’s one additional size ukulele was introduced; the “baritone.” It is the largest ukulele. Popularized by Arthur Godfrey, it is tuned D-G-B-E, the same as strings #4 to #1 on the guitar. This makes it easy for guitarists to pick up and play. It’s worth noting that the baritone was a mainland invention made for student guitarists and not originally played in Hawaii.
Question:   Are there other sizes?
Answer:   At one time, there were “midget” or “sopranino” size ukuleles being made. Believe it or not, they were even smaller than a soprano uke.
Question:   Which size uke is best for me?
Answer:   Start with the most popular sizes, soprano or concert. This way you will have a point of reference if later you decide to try something else.
Question:   How can I tell what size of uke I have?
Answer:   By measuring. Using Martin ukes as the standard, soprano ukes are approximately 21 inches long, concert ukes are 23” long, tenor ukes are 26” long and baritone ukes ukes are 30-31” long.
Question:   How should I measure my uke?
Answer:   There are two main ways of sizing ukuleles. The first is to simply measure how long your uke is from top to bottom. The second and more accurate way, is to measure the string scale-length. This is done by finding the distance from where the strings leave the nut, to the center of the 12th fret, and doubling that measurement.
Question:   What is scale length?
Answer:   The length of the part of the string that actually vibrates to make an open note. In other words, the distance from the nut to the bridge saddle.
Question:   Why is this important?
Answer:   People often get confused between size and scale length. It's really not so much the size, but the string scale length that makes the difference in feel and sound of the various ukes. So here are some rough guidlines for scale length. Soprano = 14 inches and under. Concert =14 1/2 to 16 inches. Tenor = 16 1/2 to 18 inches. Baritone = 18 inches and higher.
Question:   My vintage Harmony uke doesn’t seem to match your sizing.
Answer:   Harmony had their own system of sizes which did not correspond to Martin or others. Their "concert" was actually a shorter scale than Martin's soprano. It was 12 15/16ths inches. Their tenor was more like what we now call a concert.

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Flea Market Music offers an on-line community for ukulele players, informative books on the ukulele, ukulele CDs,songbooks, videos and information on our instrument manufacturing of the FLUKE ukulele. Brought to you by "Jumpin" Jim Beloff. -