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tw62862
12-29-2015, 08:32 AM
I recall a previous post in the UU Forums on this topic, but I don't remember if there was an agreed upon answer.

What is the official definition of a ukulele?

The closest description I've found said, "A 4 stringed instrument that is a member of the lute family". However, I've seen 4, 5, 6 and 8 string ukuleles. I've also seen Banjoleles and Guitarleles that seem to overlap the family/definition as well.

I can find numerous sources that discuss its origins, size and tuning variants, and so on. But my question still remains...

Other that, "I know it when I see it" :cool:
Any thoughts?

DownUpDave
12-29-2015, 10:40 AM
If it looks like a ukulele, sounds like a ukulele and brings a smile to the face of the person playing it then it's a ukulele.

All the other meaningless details are just variations on the main theme of a small freted instrument with four nylon strings

Ask the same question about guitars, it is even more varied. Spanish, Classical, Flamingo. Acoustic steel string, dreadnought, parlor, OM, Jumbo, 6 string, 12 string, electric. Someone says "I play guitar", that is even a broader spectrum of possibilities.

Rllink
12-29-2015, 12:14 PM
If it looks like a ukulele, sounds like a ukulele and brings a smile to the face of the person playing it then it's a ukulele.

All the other meaningless details are just variations on the main theme of a small freted instrument with four nylon strings

Ask the same question about guitars, it is even more varied. Spanish, Classical, Flamingo. Acoustic steel string, dreadnought, parlor, OM, Jumbo, 6 string, 12 string, electric. Someone says "I play guitar", that is even a broader spectrum of possibilities.The first time I actually saw a Boat Paddle ukulele, I thought, "what the heck is that".

Ukulele Eddie
12-29-2015, 01:40 PM
If it looks like a ukulele, sounds like a ukulele and brings a smile to the face of the person playing it then it's a ukulele.



Dave -- my co-poobah -- don't forget, "if it smells like a ukulele". ;-)

Tootler
12-29-2015, 10:36 PM
If it looks like a ukulele, sounds like a ukulele and brings a smile to the face of the person playing it then it's a ukulele.

All the other meaningless details are just variations on the main theme of a small freted instrument with four nylon strings

Ask the same question about guitars, it is even more varied. Spanish, Classical, Flamingo. Acoustic steel string, dreadnought, parlor, OM, Jumbo, 6 string, 12 string, electric. Someone says "I play guitar", that is even a broader spectrum of possibilities.

Then there's the Risa "stick" to add to the variants on a four string thingy

stevepetergal
12-30-2015, 03:30 AM
Jumping Flea

kkimura
12-30-2015, 03:48 AM
Fun! Fun! Fun!

Nickie
12-30-2015, 05:00 PM
"Bundle of joy".

tw62862
12-31-2015, 04:54 AM
I think that I worded my question wrong...let me ask it like this.

What makes a ukulele...a ukulele...and not a guitar or banjo or mandolin?

Some ukuleles have 3, 4, 5, 6 and 8 strings, so apparently it isn't based on the number of strings...
They can be tuned in different ways (i.e. GCEA, ADF#B, etc.), I'm not sure it's tuning...
They come in multiple sizes (sopranissimo, soprano, concert, tenor, baritone, bass, contrabass), so size doesn't seem to be the factor...

I friend comes over and sees your tenor uke hanging on the wall and says...
They say "oh...you play the guitar"?
You answer, "no, this is a ukulele".
They say, "it looks like a guitar...what makes it a ukulele"?

I appreciate and agree with the answers, "it makes me happy", "fun, fun, fun", "bundle of joy". But I'm still wondering when you look at different stringed instruments...what makes it a ukulele and not something else?

pluck
12-31-2015, 05:43 AM
In order to be a ukulele it must be made by some person or entity that makes ukuleles.

DownUpDave
12-31-2015, 06:00 AM
Dave -- my co-poobah -- don't forget, "if it smells like a ukulele". ;-)

I am going to have to approach this topic with as much tact and decorum as possible.........I love to smell the sound holes of my ukuleles. There I said it, to heck with sensitivities and being careful about how you say things.

I love the sweet smell of cedar, the smokey smell of rosewood and cocobolo, the peppery smell of Port Orford cedar, the................what was the question again.:confused:

mattydee
12-31-2015, 06:01 AM
I recall a previous post in the UU Forums on this topic, but I don't remember if there was an agreed upon answer.

What is the official definition of a ukulele?

The closest description I've found said, "A 4 stringed instrument that is a member of the lute family". However, I've seen 4, 5, 6 and 8 string ukuleles. I've also seen Banjoleles and Guitarleles that seem to overlap the family/definition as well.

I can find numerous sources that discuss its origins, size and tuning variants, and so on. But my question still remains...

Other that, "I know it when I see it" :cool:
Any thoughts?

I actually think number of strings is misleading... Number of courses + tuning is what does it. 4 courses, tuned in fourths makes the uke. Sometimes those courses are single strings (standard), sometimes they are doubled (8 string), sometimes some are single while others are doubled (5 and 6 string). And tuned in fourths, whether or not it's re-entrant: GCEA, gCEA, DGBE, etc. Traditionally small-bodies and strung with nylon (or other non-steel options), but those seem to matter less these days.

For hybrid instruments, it's tricky, but if we stick to the above, it gets easier. For example, I believe the guitarlele to be more guitar than uke - 6 courses - and some makers (see Córdoba, also a uke-maker) even call them mini-guitars. But the only thing a banjolele shares with its cousin is the drum head. Tuning and courses are more uke-like. Alternate turnings are just that, alternate.

tw62862
12-31-2015, 06:50 AM
I actually think number of strings is misleading... Number of courses + tuning is what does it. 4 courses, tuned in fourths makes the uke. Sometimes those courses are single strings (standard), sometimes they are doubled (8 string), sometimes some are single while others are doubled (5 and 6 string). And tuned in fourths, whether or not it's re-entrant: GCEA, gCEA, DGBE, etc. Traditionally small-bodies and strung with nylon (or other non-steel options), but those seem to matter less these days.

For hybrid instruments, it's tricky, but if we stick to the above, it gets easier. For example, I believe the guitarlele to be more guitar than uke - 6 courses - and some makers (see Córdoba, also a uke-maker) even call them mini-guitars. But the only thing a banjolele shares with its cousin is the drum head. Tuning and courses are more uke-like. Alternate turnings are just that, alternate.

Thanks Matty!
That's what I was looking for.

70sSanO
12-31-2015, 08:03 AM
Official definitions typically lead to exclusions. There was a thread a short while ago where a UU member was told that he couldn't bring a U-bass to a community ukulele group because it wasn't a ukulele. It didn't matter that the other players wanted him there either.

So, hopefully no "Official" definition exists.

John

mds725
12-31-2015, 08:26 AM
Rick Turner built me two almost identical Compass Rose baritone-scale instruments. One has nylon strings an octave lower than tenor GCEA, and Rick refers to it as an "octave ukulele." The other has steel strings tuned DGBE, and Rick refers to it as a steel string baritone ukulele. However, the steel string ukulele is very similar to a tenor guitar (a 4-string steel string instrument) tuned "Chicago" tuning, like a baritone ukulele and the top four strings of a steel string guitar. This led to a discussion in a UU thread about how to categorize instruments. Rick was adamant that instruments are categorized by tuning; that is, because my steel string was tuned DGBE, it was a steel string baritone and not a tenor guitar, which is typically tuned CGDA. Others argued that the instrument should be categorized by its function -- if a steel string Compass Rose plays like a tenor guitar tuned DGBE, then it is, functionally, a tenor guitar tuned DGBE. (Some of how an instrument is categorized is marketing, and my feeling is that if a builder wants to call his instrument something, then that's what it is. He or she is the person who has to sell it.) Categorizing an instrument by its tuning leads to some interesting questions - does my steel string Compass Rose baritone ukulele become a tenor guitar if I string it in CGDA tuning? Does a tenor or baritone ukulele become a machete or a cavaquinho (commonly DGBD, although guitarists sometimes tune them DGBE) if I tune it like a machete or cavaquinho? Does a tenor guitar become an ukulele if it's tuned GCEA? Pono recently began offering what it first referred to as a nylon strung tenor guitar, with a tenor guitar scale and nylon strings tuned DGBE, but it later renamed this instrument a "baritone nui" (big baritone) ukulele. And the functional categorization leads to some interesting questions too. Some luthiers have begun building steel stringed ukuleles. Is it fair to call them ukuleles if they have steel strings? There are so many variations now that there are instruments that blur the lines and make categorization based on any one factor difficult.

Ukulelerick9255
12-31-2015, 08:45 AM
It's a 4 stringed instrument descended from the Portugese Machete. Any more strings than 4 is a variance from the original definition and instrument.

ricdoug
12-31-2015, 01:42 PM
The 'ukulele came to Hawai'i via Portuge (Portuguese) migrant sugar cane farmers. Their instrument was a lute named "Braghina". When the Portuge played their braghina, their rapidly moving finguh looked like fleas jumping around the fretboard. The new luthier's (Lute-Ier), built a new version.

'Uku = Flea

'Lele = Jump

tw62862
12-31-2015, 01:53 PM
Official definitions typically lead to exclusions. There was a thread a short while ago where a UU member was told that he couldn't bring a U-bass to a community ukulele group because it wasn't a ukulele. It didn't matter that the other players wanted him there either.

So, hopefully no "Official" definition exists.

John

I'm not looking to exclude anyone. My question was more of a practical existential nature.

When I see a ukulele and a guitar next to each other...why is one a guitar and the other a ukulele? There is some set of attributes that defines one versus the other.

Mivo
02-06-2016, 03:59 AM
In your example of your friend seeing a tenor ukulele and associating it with a guitar, that is just the result of the friend's inexperience with instruments. He, as well as many non-players, associate the figure-8 shape with guitars, regardless of the number of strings or the size. When non-musicians see my tenor or soprano, they talk about them as being like guitars, just smaller. When they see the pineapple, they ask what instrument it is. (Probably because it doesn't look mandolin-like enough, like the missing f-hole that is often linked to mandolins.)

For me, what makes a ukulele is the number of strings (courses make it a variation already, I feel) paired with the sets of the most common tunings. I believe size matters to a point insofar that it does affect the sound. Depending on when you ask me, I sometimes feel that tenors and baritones are pretty borderline and hybrid-y, but most string instruments that gave a neck and a sound body over which strings are stretched are essentially just a variation of the same ancestor, with borders being often really blurred. So that leads back to the typical sound that is associated with an instrument(*) and then we enter the circle of exceptions and variations anew. :)

(*) Oh, and even that is slippery. I think the re-entrant tuning is part of what defines a ukulele, but what does that make a low-g tuned tenor?

So in the end, it doesn't matter. Official definitions are descriptive. They just list the common aspects, including the ambiguous ones.

johnson430
02-06-2016, 12:16 PM
I am going to have to approach this topic with as much tact and decorum as possible.........I love to smell the sound holes of my ukuleles.
:

Haha.
I smell my mango tenor often.
It has such a distinct aroma.
It is like no other wood I have smelled.

For the OP.

I do not know if,in 2016, you will find a true definition of ukulele.
I could have given you a really good definition back in 1998 though.
=)