When we talk about ukuleles, we think of a small guitar with a loud and cheerful sound but it's good to know that there are different sizes and models of ukuleles.
Today we're going to talk about the standard sizes, which are the ones that are most commonly used.
The smallest size is the soprano, the ukulele as conceived by the first Portuguese luthiers who landed on the Hawaiian Islands.
The tenor, on the other hand, is the largest size with a longer fingerboard is generally a few more keys in addition to the more voluminous sound box and is finally the concert size which is exactly in the middle between the two sizes.
But how does the sound change as the size of the ukulele changes?
The standard sizes commonly use the same tuning and will therefore have different efficiencies, but let's take a step back and try to understand together what "string efficiency" means, a very important element to understand the difference in timbre in the different sizes.
Think of tuning a string mounted on your instrument going higher and higher until it breaks well by recording the frequency or the note emitted before the string breaking we would have found the breaking point of that specific material that makes up the string which is Nylon, Nylgut, Carbon, etc.
I will be able to increase the diameter of the string as much as I want but it would always break at the same note or to be precise in the same range of notes, the closer a string is tuned to the breaking point the more efficient it will be, note well with the increase in diameter I will increase the tension of the string or how hard it will be if I try to crush or pinch it but its breaking point will always be the same.
The string orchestra is a perfect example to understand what the efficiency of a string is.Let's take the example of the violin which is an instrument with a tuning very close to the breaking point,
not infrequently you see a violinist who tuning, especially the cellars, breaks a rope.
The ground entering the head in the ears is bright incisive, the sound box is minute but the sound is extraordinarily strong is the most common type of instrument and tuning among soloists who prefer a sound with an excellent attack and little support
The double bass against a a tuning far from the breaking point the sound enters the belly is warm and percussive the sound box is impressive and the sound is persistent even at long distance with a worse attack but with an excellent support ideal for accompaniment for those who do not know it.
Attack on the initial segment of the harmonic emission, essentially the very first sound you hear while the sustain represents how long the sound lasts.
Throughout history, luthiers had the concept of efficiency well in mind and have always tried to enhance the shapes of the instrument to better enhance the mounted string.
The ukulele was actually born respecting this rules by playing in its first models as a sort of small mandolin as we will see later but the tuning used today largely by GCEA has spread in different circumstances and contrary to what happens in classical instruments the smaller ukulele the soprano presents a tuning far from the breaking point and therefore not very efficient from the warm and pot-bellied sound since the twenties the music industry has introduced in the US market a new tenor size with a longer keyboard and therefore a greater vibrating length that enhances the characteristics of a richer and more powerful sound typical of a tuning closer to the breaking point by increasing the size of the keyboard of the soundbox n by using the same tuning we get closer to the breaking point and therefore to a greater efficiency of the string but also by changing the timbre which is more metallic and simplifying more guitaristically, the concert is once again exactly in the middle.
The result is that the soprano is perfect as an accompaniment instrument while the concert is even more so the tenor tend to have characteristics closer to the sound of the bright and metallic-sounding soloists obviously the larger sound box in the concert and even more in the tenor give the I play a greater richness of harmonics while maintaining the metallic timbre.
Now we see why we tune the ukulele in this way: here the story is complicated but in a nutshell we can say that the precursors of 'ukulele are undoubtedly the machete as large as a tenor ukulele five-string instrument tuned re sol do mi and la and the braguinha as large as a soprano tuned re, sol, si re the machete spread among the rural populations taking the name of taropatch from the name of the plants cultivated by the peasants
the ukulele remained until the end of the century and is linked to the braguinha maintaining the original tuning as explained in the book "Original method and self instructor on the ukulele" of 1915 written by Santos and Nunes, the nephews of the first luthiers inventors of the instrument. Instead at the end of 1900 the use of machete tuning in the ukulele spread by exploiting the first four strings of the latter.
The first document that explicitly refers to the current GCEA tuning is contained in the manual "The Ukulele a Hawaiian Guitar and how to play it "from 1910 this tuning that we still use today was the most appreciated by musicians who arranged songs and made it popular in the ukulele.
To conclude, there are no rules that establish which size are the best and above all there are no physical limits in particular hands that are too large or too small to adapt better to one size rather than another and it is not true that certain genres can only be done on certain measures. Each size has a particular timbre that we will try to summarize shortly but which may still vary slightly according to the type of string mounted and the type of wood with which the ukulele is made.
The soprano has a recognizable sound typical of the warm panic ukulele ideal for supporting the voice in the singing that acts as a carpet to the vocal line letting it emerge in all its beauty in fingerstyle it is dirtier and less precise which is not necessarily a meaning negative.
The concert is a cross between the two sizes, ideal for those who do not want to stray too far from the soprano's sonority but still want a slightly brighter tone and a slightly longer keyboard, one could say that it is neither meat nor fish but at the same time. at the same time consider it the perfect size because exactly in the center between the two measures.
The tenor is a very popular size among guitarists and soloists in general, perhaps for the more metallic tone more akin to the instrument they already play or perhaps for the idea of a keyboard the wider this measure loses a little the sonic identity of the ukulele, entering into more guitarist directors, however, very appreciable in many musical variations with an excellent volume and in fingerstyle it gives the best of itself with a sound that immediately reaches maximum volume but that turns off very soon ideal for very fast passages and in the chords the larger sound box gives it a very rich sound that overlaps the voice creating a very full sound.
"Usually you start with a soprano ukulele, when you think you have become good then you will feel the need to play a concert or a tenor but only when you really are you will return to playing the soprano "