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View Full Version : What Makes One Sound Like Ukulele, The Other Guitar



johnnysmash
11-10-2018, 10:29 PM
What is it that makes one instrument sound like a ukulele and another instrument sound like a guitar? The wood, construction, strings, scale length? What?

Rakelele
11-11-2018, 05:40 AM
I would look at this as a continuous spectrum from a "more uke-like tone" to a "more guitar-like tone", with the later being defined by more sustain and depth. In my experience, the three most important factors are body size, scale length and tuning. A tenor will sound more "guitar-like" than a soprano, and even more so when you tune it down a step or two. Capo a guitar at the fifth fret (=shorter scale and higher tuning) and it will sound a bit more like a uke. A guilele leans both ways, combining typical aspects of ukulele and guitar sound.

breearbor
11-11-2018, 01:21 PM
it's a bit of all the things you've mentioned. even amongst instruments of the same type, each one sounds a little different because of the different wood types, what it's strung with, the shape and bracing on the inside, etc. different materials , shapes, and sizes carry sound differently and that gives each instrument its unique sound.

as rakelele mentioned if you take a guitar (especially a classical guitar with nylon strings) and capo it at the fifth fret it will have similar tuning to a ukulele, and sound quite a bit like one. but the tone and volume will be slightly different. i imagine a ukulele and a guitar with similar strings, similar construction, and the same wood type would sound more similar. but still distinct because of the size.

bird's eye view of my ukelele
11-11-2018, 01:41 PM
i think re-entrant tuning is key to a really uke-y sound - also the shorter the scale, the more plinky and uke-y the sound. but re-entrant tuning is the big factor, in my opinion - i have put low g on soprano ukes, it changes the sound enormously, to something much more guitar-like, even with the tiny scale

kohanmike
11-11-2018, 06:56 PM
i think re-entrant tuning is key to a really uke-y sound - also the shorter the scale, the more plinky and uke-y the sound. but re-entrant tuning is the big factor, in my opinion - i have put low g on soprano ukes, it changes the sound enormously, to something much more guitar-like, even with the tiny scale
That's exactly what I was going to say, it's the re-entrant (high G) tuning compared to a linear (low G) tuning. I played guitar for almost 50 years, but when I first played a high G ukulele over 5 years ago, I was completely captured by the sound. I tried a low G uke, but did not like it, so I only play high G. My feeling is, if I want a guitar like sound, I'll just play guitar, but I like the high G uke so much, I haven't touched my guitars again and probably never will.

8 tenor cutaway ukes, 5 acoustic bass ukes, 10 solid body bass ukes, 7 mini electric bass guitars

• Donate to The Ukulele Kids Club, they provide ukuleles to children's hospital music therapy programs. www.theukc.org
• Member The CC Strummers www.youtube.com/user/CCStrummers/video

DownUpDave
11-12-2018, 11:38 AM
Pardon me for being dense but this is the guitar form.....so every guitar I have played does sound like a guitar. None sound like ukuleles so I'm not really sure what question you were asking?

A ukulele sounds like a ukulele because of the 4 nylon strings, short scale length, small body and reentrant gcea tuning

kohanmike
11-12-2018, 06:26 PM
Pardon me for being dense but this is the guitar form...
Geez, I didn't even notice it's the guitar forum.

8 tenor cutaway ukes, 5 acoustic bass ukes, 10 solid body bass ukes, 7 mini electric bass guitars

• Donate to The Ukulele Kids Club, they provide ukuleles to children's hospital music therapy programs. www.theukc.org
• Member The CC Strummers www.youtube.com/user/CCStrummers/video

kissing
11-21-2018, 11:47 PM
In my opinion, nylon string guitars and ukuleles are closely related in sound.

Ukuleles are small bodied, short scaled nylon string guitars with 4 strings, typically tuned re-entrant GCEA (and low G, and baritone DGBE).

Guitars are large bodied, longer scaled ukuleles with 6 strings, typically tuned EADGBE.

I steer away from making distinctions like how ukuleles are "ukulele-like" because they are more trebly and twinkly sounding, and guitar is more "guitar like" because they have that deeper, mellower tone. Big ukuleles like the baritone more-or-less sound similar to classical guitars, and when you play a classical guitar high up in the fretboard or capo'd, you get a very similar sound to uke. Some soprano/concert/tenor ukuleles even sound like small classical guitars depending on the tonewoods, construction and strings used, etc.

As a regular player of both guitars and ukuleles, I treat them as instruments of the same family.
Obviously due to the different scale length and tuning, their sound and playing characteristic will differ. But in the big picture, they're still closely related, like how the violin is related to the viola and cello.

Now steel string guitars are where I draw the clear distinction of differences in sound - although even that might become increasingly difficult to take for granted with the emergence of "steel string ukuleles", such as the Seagull one.

DownUpDave
11-22-2018, 12:48 AM
Pardon me for being dense but this is the guitar form.....so every guitar I have played does sound like a guitar. None sound like ukuleles so I'm not really sure what question you were asking?

A ukulele sounds like a ukulele because of the 4 nylon strings, short scale length, small body and reentrant gcea tuning

I see the OP has revised his question, thank you now I see where you are coming from now. In essence I think the reentrant tuning is what really gives the ukulele it's distinct sound. Along with g,c,e,a tuning, 4 nylon strings, s short scale length and a small body.

Kissing makes some very good points about a baritone being a small 4 string classical guitar. But change it to reentrant d,g,b,e and it does not really sound like a guitar anymore. Change strings and change the tuning to reentrant g,c,e,a and it sounds like a ukulele.

kissing
11-22-2018, 01:59 AM
I see the OP has revised his question, thank you now I see where you are coming from now. In essence I think the reentrant tuning is what really gives the ukulele it's distinct sound. Along with g,c,e,a tuning, 4 nylon strings, s short scale length and a small body.

Kissing makes some very good points about a baritone being a small 4 string classical guitar. But change it to reentrant d,g,b,e and it does not really sound like a guitar anymore. Change strings and change the tuning to g,c,e,a and it sounds like a ukulele.

That's a good point about re-entrant tuning.

I just don't see the ukulele as exclusively a re-entrant instrument though, nor is re-entrant entirely unique or invented for the ukulele.
Re-entrant tuning exists for guitars and other instruments too, though not as frequently.

An ukulele tuned in linear low-G or DGBE is as much an ukulele as one tuned re-entrant. And it may be no surprise to you that I mostly play my ukuleles tuned as linear.

I do keep one ukulele tuned re-entrant GCEA just to have that option when I need it.
Yes, it does sound quite different. But that is the result of it sounding like a re-entrant ukulele, not so much it sounding inherently more "ukulele-like".
It still behaves much like a low-G ukulele and like a guitar, but just with a modified tuning.

Quite a bit of it is semantics too I guess.

I once tuned a guitalele like a guitar (EADGBE) but with the bass position E an octave high, resulting in a "re-entrant" guitar.
What does such an instrument sound like?


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QUu6vwbGFsQ
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QUu6vwbGFsQ

DownUpDave
11-22-2018, 06:32 AM
Our ears make it sound like a ukulele. I hear a reentrant ukulele and it sounds like one. I hear a steel string acoustic guitar and it sounds like one. They are very different sounding........as simple as that and yes Kissing it is all semantics. Someone had asked an even harder question before, what makes a ukulele a ukulele. That got piles of discussion which was interesting because there are 4 , 5, 6 and 8 string ukuleles. Different sizes, scale lengths and tunings. Not many similarities between a custom 8 string baritone and a 1930s Martin soprano

SteveZ
11-22-2018, 01:27 PM
Steel versus nylon - the strings define the two every time. Take a baritone uke and a tenor guitar (close to the same scale) and play them side by side -
the difference in the strings is everything. The same with a 17-fret tenor banjo and a tenor-scale banjo-uke, or even a concert-scale uke and a mandolin or mandola. Steel has a sound whch synthetic strings can't duplicate, and vice versa.

There is an inherent sofness in the sound created by nylon/synthetic strings which fits certain playing styles and situations. Going from tenor guitar to tenor uke with the same melody, played in the same manner, brings the melody to an entirely different level. That difference can be rewarding, going ether way. It just depends on the mood and the stuation. Having both playing options is a blast.

kissing
11-23-2018, 04:47 AM
Steel versus nylon - the strings define the two every time. Take a baritone uke and a tenor guitar (close to the same scale) and play them side by side -
the difference in the strings is everything. The same with a 17-fret tenor banjo and a tenor-scale banjo-uke, or even a concert-scale uke and a mandolin or mandola. Steel has a sound whch synthetic strings can't duplicate, and vice versa.

There is an inherent sofness in the sound created by nylon/synthetic strings which fits certain playing styles and situations. Going from tenor guitar to tenor uke with the same melody, played in the same manner, brings the melody to an entirely different level. That difference can be rewarding, going ether way. It just depends on the mood and the stuation. Having both playing options is a blast.

https://www.theukulelesite.com/seagull-steel-string-electric-ukulele.html

:D

DownUpDave
11-23-2018, 09:28 AM
https://www.theukulelesite.com/seagull-steel-string-electric-ukulele.html

:D

Reentrant tuning in GCEA seems to be a strong deciding factor as to a ukulele sound even though these are steel strings


If you heard a recording of my Kala soprano reentrant GCEA being strummed then my Martin 000-15M guitar, EADGBE being strummed you would have no trouble identifying which one was the uke and which was the guitar.

Jim Yates
11-23-2018, 02:25 PM
That's a good point about re-entrant tuning.

I just don't see the ukulele as exclusively a re-entrant instrument though, nor is re-entrant entirely unique or invented for the ukulele.
Re-entrant tuning exists for guitars and other instruments too, though not as frequently.

An ukulele tuned in linear low-G or DGBE is as much an ukulele as one tuned re-entrant. And it may be no surprise to you that I mostly play my ukuleles tuned as linear.

I do keep one ukulele tuned re-entrant GCEA just to have that option when I need it.
Yes, it does sound quite different. But that is the result of it sounding like a re-entrant ukulele, not so much it sounding inherently more "ukulele-like".
It still behaves much like a low-G ukulele and like a guitar, but just with a modified tuning.

Quite a bit of it is semantics too I guess.

I once tuned a guitalele like a guitar (EADGBE) but with the bass position E an octave high, resulting in a "re-entrant" guitar.
What does such an instrument sound like?


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QUu6vwbGFsQ
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QUu6vwbGFsQ

I wonder how many of you have played a guitar in Nashville (high-strung) re-entrant tuning.
My wife's old Yamaha, her first guitar, is now our house high-strung guitar. The bottom four strings are tuned an octave higher - eadgBE. I first started playing with high-strung guitars about 40 years ago and I bought individual strings with a banjo string for the octave G. I now buy a 12-string set and split them between a regular guitar and the high-strung. It's nice to pull out a re-entrant guitar when we have too many guitars in a jam.

Here's Ian Tamblyn playing a re-entrant guitar at a house concert.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KnxdDZUuybY

SteveZ
11-23-2018, 02:47 PM
https://www.theukulelesite.com/seagull-steel-string-electric-ukulele.html

:D

And doesn't that steel sound sweet!

Jim Yates
11-24-2018, 04:17 AM
@Kissing said, "I just don't see the ukulele as exclusively a re-entrant instrument though, nor is re-entrant entirely unique or invented for the ukulele. Re-entrant tuning exists for guitars and other instruments too, though not as frequently."

One re-entrant instrument that is just as common as the ukulele is the 5 string banjo. This instrument is rarely, if ever strung linear.

DownUpDave
11-24-2018, 05:19 AM
Looks like no one can agree on what makes a ukulele sound like and ukulele and a guitar sound like a guitar. That was the question asked by the OP. Again for "me" the stereo typical ukulele sound comes from reentrant short scale nylon strung GCEA tuned small bodied instrument. An acoustic guitar sound to "me" is steel strings tuned linear EADGBE.

kissing
11-27-2018, 02:24 AM
Comparing nylon string guitar and ukulele blurs the line a bit.

Comparing to steel strings is a bit unfair, because even comparing steel string guitars to nylon string guitars is a stark contrast.

Perhaps it's more like a spectrum.
The best analogy I can think of is when is a knife a knife and not a sword? Longer knives start behaving like swords, and shorter swords start behaving like knives :)

DownUpDave
11-27-2018, 05:03 AM
Comparing nylon string guitar and ukulele blurs the line a bit.

Comparing to steel strings is a bit unfair, because even comparing steel string guitars to nylon string guitars is a stark contrast.

Perhaps it's more like a spectrum.
The best analogy I can think of is when is a knife a knife and not a sword? Longer knives start behaving like swords, and shorter swords start behaving like knives :)

Hey Kissing is that what they mean when they say "This instrument really CUTS through the mix" :biglaugh: