Ukulele vs 4-String Guitar: What’s the Differences?

by Madonna

In the world of stringed instruments, the ukulele and the 4-string guitar (often referred to as a tenor guitar or sometimes as a baritone guitar) are two intriguing options that, while similar in some respects, cater to different musical tastes and playing styles. This article explores the differences between a ukulele and a 4-string guitar, delving into aspects such as size and portability, tuning, sound and tone, playability, music styles, and price range.

Size and Portability

One of the most noticeable differences between a ukulele and a 4-string guitar is their size.


Ukulele: Ukuleles are generally smaller than 4-string guitars, with the most common sizes being soprano, concert, tenor, and baritone. The soprano ukulele, the smallest, measures about 21 inches in length, while the baritone ukulele, the largest, is approximately 30 inches long. The compact size of the ukulele makes it highly portable, easy to carry around, and ideal for traveling musicians.


4-String Guitar: A 4-string guitar, typically a tenor guitar, is larger than a ukulele, with an average length of about 36 inches. While still smaller than a standard 6-string guitar, the tenor guitar’s increased size provides a deeper resonance and fuller sound. Although less portable than a ukulele, the 4-string guitar is still relatively easy to transport compared to full-sized guitars.



The tuning of the strings is another critical difference between a ukulele and a 4-string guitar.

Ukulele: Standard tuning for a soprano, concert, and tenor ukulele is G-C-E-A, with the G string often being reentrant, meaning it is tuned higher than the C string. This unique tuning gives the ukulele its characteristic bright and cheerful sound. The baritone ukulele, however, is typically tuned to D-G-B-E, similar to the highest four strings of a guitar.

4-String Guitar: The tenor guitar is usually tuned in a variety of ways, the most common being CGDA (like a tenor banjo or mandola) or DGBE (like the top four strings of a guitar). This tuning flexibility allows the tenor guitar to be used in various musical contexts and makes it easier for guitar players to transition between instruments.

SEE ALSO: Ukulele vs Guitar: Which is Better for Beginners?

Sound and Tone

The sound and tone of an instrument are heavily influenced by its size, construction, and string tension.

Ukulele: Due to its smaller size and typically nylon strings, the ukulele produces a bright, percussive sound with a relatively short sustain. The tone is often described as light and cheerful, making it perfect for upbeat and tropical music. The baritone ukulele, with its larger body and lower tuning, offers a deeper and richer tone compared to other ukulele sizes.

4-String Guitar: The tenor guitar, with its larger body and metal strings, produces a more resonant and fuller sound than a ukulele. It offers greater sustain and a richer tonal palette, which can range from bright and twangy to deep and mellow, depending on the tuning and playing style. This tonal versatility makes the 4-string guitar suitable for various musical genres, from folk and jazz to country and blues.


Ease of play is a significant consideration, especially for beginners.

Ukulele: The ukulele is often praised for its beginner-friendly nature. Its smaller size and nylon strings require less finger strength, making it easier for newcomers to press down the strings and form chords. The narrow neck and closely spaced frets further simplify chord transitions, enabling beginners to pick up basic songs quickly.

4-String Guitar: While the 4-string guitar is also considered relatively easy to play compared to a 6-string guitar, it does require more finger strength due to its metal strings and larger size. The wider neck and more widely spaced frets can be challenging for beginners with smaller hands. However, for those already familiar with the guitar, transitioning to a 4-string guitar can be straightforward, especially if using guitar-like tuning (DGBE).

Music Styles

The type of music an instrument is best suited for can influence a musician’s choice between a ukulele and a 4-string guitar.

Ukulele: The ukulele is synonymous with Hawaiian music and is also widely used in pop, folk, and children’s music. Its cheerful sound makes it ideal for genres that benefit from a light and uplifting tone. Ukulele music often involves strumming patterns and simple chord progressions, making it accessible for sing-alongs and casual performances.

4-String Guitar: The tenor guitar’s versatility allows it to fit into various music styles, including jazz, blues, folk, country, and even some rock genres. Its fuller sound and range make it suitable for melodic lines, soloing, and complex chord voicings. The tenor guitar is often used by singer-songwriters and musicians looking for a unique sound that bridges the gap between traditional guitar and ukulele tones.

Price Range

The cost of an instrument can vary widely based on brand, materials, and craftsmanship.

Ukulele: Ukuleles are generally more affordable than 4-string guitars. Beginner models can be found for as low as $30 to $50, while higher-end models made from premium materials and crafted by renowned luthiers can range from $300 to $1,500 or more. The baritone ukulele tends to be on the higher end of the price spectrum due to its larger size and richer tone.

4-String Guitar: The price of a 4-string guitar (tenor guitar) typically starts at around $200 to $400 for entry-level models. Mid-range instruments can cost between $500 and $1,000, while professional-grade tenor guitars made from high-quality materials and by respected makers can exceed $2,000. The investment reflects the instrument’s versatility and build quality.


Choosing between a ukulele and a 4-string guitar depends on various factors, including the musician’s experience level, preferred music style, and budget. The ukulele, with its compact size, cheerful tone, and beginner-friendly nature, is ideal for those seeking an accessible and portable instrument. In contrast, the 4-string guitar offers a richer sound, greater versatility, and suitability for a broader range of musical genres, making it a valuable addition to any musician’s collection.

Understanding these differences helps musicians make informed decisions, ensuring they select an instrument that aligns with their musical goals and enhances their playing experience. Whether strumming a joyful tune on a ukulele or exploring the melodic possibilities of a tenor guitar, both instruments offer unique and rewarding musical journeys.


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