Guitar vs. Ukulele

Do you have the bug to play an instrument? Have you seen someone playing a ukulele and thought you’d like to give a try? Maybe you think the ukulele is just a toy and you would be better off learning the guitar. Let pit the guitar vs. ukulele and help you pick a direction.

History of Guitar and Ukulele

The guitar has been around a long time. One of its earliest ancestors is the lute, a stringed instrument reminiscent of the modern mandolin in appearance. The guitar is believed to have developed in Spain in the 16th century. Originally the instrument had four or five courses of strings. Courses means the strings were doubled like a mandolin. By the nineteenth century, the guitar had six single strings. Throughout the nineteenth century, the body of the guitar began to grow. In the twentieth century, the guitar became electric.

The ukulele was introduced to Hawaii by the Portguese sometimes in the 1870’s. Workers from the island of Madeira, an island off the coast of Portugal, brought their small guitar-shaped instrument known as a Machete to Hawaii. Within twenty years, the instrument, renamed ukulele, was popular with Hawaiian musicians. The term ukulele is Hawaiian for jumping flea.

Is Ukulele Easier to Play Than the Guitar

While this is a matter of opinion, most would agree the ukulele is easier to play than the guitar for many obvious reasons.  First of all, the ukulele has four strings, the guitar has six. Secondly, the ukulele has nylon strings where most guitars have metal strings. Metal string hurt new players! Finally, guitars are usually played with a pick where a ukulele is played with your fingers. So learning guitar, requires you to learn how to use a pick while learning the instrument. 

The size of the instruments offer unique challenges depending on who is playing. The small neck, smaller space between frets and nylon string may make the ukulele easier to play for a child or smaller person but this can be a challenge for an adult. Many adults find the small fret spaces of the ukulele difficult to manage, particularly those who already play guitar.

To sum up, ukulele is easier to play than the guitar, yes but that does not necessarily mean someone should not learn guitar just because it is harder. All of the challenges a new guitarist faces can be worked out through practice.

Is the Guitar More Versatile Than the Ukulele

When it comes to versatility, the guitar generally wins. Of course, this can be argued as well. 

The ukulele is generally used for strumming chords to accompany a singer. Because there are only four strings, the player is limited to four note chords. Of course, this is usually not a problem for most players. More advanced players will play fingerstyle ukulele arrangements. These arrangements will incorporate song melody and harmony notes for the chords. This allows the player to perform the complete songs without accompaniment. Fingerstyle can range from simple to very difficult. There are some jazz players who will also use the uke for improvisation. 

The guitar gives the musician many more options. With six strings and the player can use barre chords, the player can play six note chords. This allows a guitarist to use many voicings and play complicated “Jazz” chords. The amount of notes on a guitar is much greater than the ukulele. Some guitars actually have two octaves on a single string.

Improvisation or soloing is much more common on the guitar than the uke. This is the cornerstone of the rock guitar gods. This also relates to the facts that guitars are often electric. Adding electricity allows the player to access more tonal variations through the amp. In addition to the amp, effects pedals such as chorus, delay and wah wah pedals expand the sounds of the guitar. Can’t you hook up a ukulele to an amp and pedals? Well, yes, you can! So maybe these arguments aren’t completely valid.

Versatility can be a matter of opinion. Chances are a metal band would not have much use for a lead ukulele player. But a Hawaiian folk group probably doesn’t need a guitar shredder either. One only has to watch ukulele master Jason Shimabukuro to see the possibilities of the ukulele but he is a rarity.


Speaking of versatility, the guitar is used across wider genres of music. It’s not that the ukulele cannot play metal, punk or prog rock but there are very few examples of anyone doing this. However, this could be a niche that an entrepreneurial uke player could capitalize on. Blues guitarists are a dime a dozen, but how many blues ukulele players can you name?

Cost of Ukuleles and Guitars

Cost could be the biggest advantage ukulele has over guitar. You can get a very decent ukulele for fifty bucks. You can get a really nice one for $300. Guitar on the other hand, $300 will get you a decent started instrument. You may find a used one for less and you certainly find some “beginner” models for less. The problem with a beginner guitar is they have a tendency to be pretty crappy – the last thing a student needs.

Should I Learn Ukulele or Guitar

Hopefully what you have read so far has helped you decide how to answer. There are a few questions you should think about.

  1. How much time do you want to commit to learning? If your answer is not much, then your choice should be ukulele. If you plan on putting lots of time, then guitar will keep you busy.
  2. What type of playing do you want to do? If you’re playing alone then ukulele is fine. If you’re hoping to play in a band, probably guitar.
  3. What type of music? Ukulele is great for ballads, rock, folk, pop. If you plan on a greater variety, you may opt for the guitar.

The best answer is how about both? At least down the road. What you learn on one instrument will transfer to the other. An open D chord on the guitar is a G chord on the ukulele. A melody on the ukulele can be played the same way on a guitar, although it will be in a different key.

If you are thinking of starting….just start!

Keep on picking!

This Post Has One Comment

Leave a Reply