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View Full Version : Is the Tenor size the new "standard"?



GVlog
04-23-2011, 06:57 AM
I hope this isn't an old topic. I can't believe it hasn't been discussed before. But I couldn't find anything with the search function.

I don't know how it is in your neck of the woods, but whenever I go to the many ukulele dealers here in California (and we have a lot), the most numerous size you'll find hanging from the walls is the tenor. After that, you'll find concerts. Sopranos and baritones are getting hard to find.

As I understood it, the soprano was the standard. But many of today's popular performers (and I should probably add "younger") are appearing with tenors. Has that changed the concept of what many new ukers think of as the standard size?

This isn't meant to be a discussion of "what's best" (so don't turn it into one). I'd like it to be a thoughtful discussion of how the uke and its image is evolving.

It may also be an interesting discussion of future ukulele trends. Shop owners have told me that prospective baritone players have instead been going to guitaleles which are tenor-sized. Production offerings of baritone ukuleles are being trimmed. (Maybe we should blame Yamaha, Daniel Ho and KoAloha? :D) Might even guitaleles become a full-member of the ukulele family between the tenor and the baritone?

DaveVisi
04-23-2011, 07:02 AM
I think we're pretty close to considering Tenor the new standard. I have all the sizes but Baritone, and unless I need the short scale or brighter tone of a Soprano, my daily player is my Tenor.

mm stan
04-23-2011, 08:14 AM
Aloha GVlog,
Have you ever taught of the soprano's being sold out???

70sSanO
04-23-2011, 08:50 AM
Yes. I would think that the more current ukulele music is better suited for a tenor while more of the older 20's - 40's ukulele music is better suited to a soprano.

I think younger players are influenced more by Jake and Aldrine and their choice will be a tenor.

This is not that much different than the solid body electric guitar supplanting the hollow body electric guitar in the 60's by younger players.

John

GVlog
04-23-2011, 10:15 AM
Have you ever taught of the soprano's being sold out???
Yes, but the folks at the shops actually told me that buyers want tenors and concerts, not sopranos or baris. One retailer told me it would be more profitable for them to just stock those first two sizes, but their dealerhsip arrangement requires them to carry all sizes.

A shopowner implied that there is a generational divide. The young players want mostly tenors.

Huna
04-23-2011, 10:43 AM
yah I don't go for tenors myself ... been playing soprano most all the time but am getting a new concert as its on its way to me. I never play my tenor. I don't play gigs so I don't see the advantage of a tenor for me. Since I play mostly soprano, the concert is like a super easy uke to play and yeah the tenor neck is soooo easy but the uke is bigger too. I have a soprano with a tenor neck and don't play it that much even though its super easy to play and super great sounding. I like the smaller ukes but I am not a performer.

itsme
04-23-2011, 10:51 AM
A shopowner implied that there is a generational divide. The young players want mostly tenors.
Well, with baris, I think the consensus is that a lot of people feel they're too much like a guitar, so if that's the sound you want, you might as well get a guitar instead.

Sopranos are too Tiny Tim and "kitsch" to some.

Tenor is what Jake plays, and it's what a lot of rocker types are using. Smaller than a guitar, but big enough to be taken seriously. At least that's my theory and I'm stickin' to it.*

*Said by someone who is now up to five tenors but has never even played a concert, soprano or bari. :p

ryansuzukamusic
04-23-2011, 10:54 AM
I think most people regardless of style will find it a little easier chord a concert or tenor fret board compared to a soprano fret board. Also, I agree most folks (though not all of course) who I met who play sopranos are influenced by an older "20's - 40's" ukulele music.
Now, as amazing as they are I don't even listen to Uke soloists like Jake and Aldrine, and they ARE amazing musicians I must add. I'm simply a contemporary songwriter who's voice works well with a six string tenor uke. Plus most of the songs I sing are sad ones. From my perspective, I can get a little more depth and range from a tenor as opposed to the soprano.

In my own personal battle I'm also tired of folks seeing the ukulele as a distinctly happy instrument. That image is hard to fight w/ an instrument as comically small and sonically high pitched as a soprano ukulele. The ukulele, baritone, tenor, concert or soprano, will always be BEAUTIFUL and WARM but it doesn't have to be happy. They are capable of so much more. When I'm playing bills with a bunch of guitar players, a tenor ukulele helps in you getting taken a bit more seriously.

Not sure if anyone thinks anywhere close to me on why they may prefer tenors. They simply work for what I want to do as a performer. Basically, Tenors work for my mix of indie pop/americana w/ a Skip James meets Son House sensibility. Sorry to rant,
Ryan
http://www.YouTube.com/user/ryansuzukamusic
Download a free album (it says "name your price" and you can just input "$0"):
http://ryansuzuka.bandcamp.com

Kem
04-23-2011, 03:28 PM
I like all of the three different sizes I own. I started on the soprano when I was a little kid and have at long last found myself another soprano (my original is on the other side of the country and is no longer capable of playing even remotely in tune). I've never had particularly flexible hands, despite the fact that I play several million musical instruments, and I appreciate the less roomy fretboards of the soprano and concert. However, I like the tenor too; it just hurts a bit more when I'm all arthritis-y. Who cares what's trendy and what's not? Play what you want to play.

(I keep playing my new soprano when I should be marking papers. Bad Kem.)

Ukuleleblues
04-23-2011, 04:06 PM
I have every size but a tenor. Oh well.

greenway
04-23-2011, 09:44 PM
I'm still young... But I have no obvious preference to a size - I just like all of em :P -

But it's kinda sad that the local shops here only have dodgy cheap brands. :(
I haven't even found a Dolphin :O

ConspiracyUkeist
04-23-2011, 10:34 PM
i've got a Concert right now, but I'll tell you, although my hands are SMALL, I like the Tenor. Small enough that I can hope to be like Guitar George, who knows all the chords, large enough for my fingers to have room.

ItsMrPitchy
04-23-2011, 11:34 PM
I can only speak for experiences in my area. In UK some shops don't even stock tenors you have to order them in because people mainly buy soprano and concerts. One shop said that he had sold two tenors in the past five years. Where I am sopranos and concerts definetly out sell tenors, which is a shame because tenor is my favorite size.

Pukulele Pete
04-24-2011, 12:59 AM
Anything larger than a soprano is cheating. When I pick up a concert it feels more like a guitar, it feels way too big.
IMHO

Hippie Dribble
04-24-2011, 01:13 AM
I agree with Pete. When I read these forums and watch youtube and the well known uke players, I find tenors seem to be quite a deal more popular. For me it's soprano first, concert a distant second and I have 2 tenors but hardly touch them. I prefer the traditional sound and body size of the soprano ukes.

fromthee2me
04-24-2011, 01:47 AM
I own both, and my experience is that the tenor gives a vey nice guitary sound, whereas with a soprano, you can really "strum it up". It is sad that quite a few replies express discomfort as to how others see them with a soprano..... I am always pleased when I play my soprano with a guitar player, who remarks how the uke can hold its own accoustically, and the instruments together compliment the session as well. Even people who see the soprano uke for the first time are pleasantly surprised.

Bao
04-24-2011, 02:17 AM
I have to honestly say that i was influenced by Jake to buy a tenor but even before knowing about Jake Shimabukuro's ukulele talents, i felt the soprano was too small for me whenever i played.

v30
04-24-2011, 05:01 AM
Never tried a tenor before until yesterday. Was at a local music shop yesterday that hat I didn't know existed (looking for strings) and they had a kala spalted maple tenor. I picked it up and started playing and wow, now I'm lusting after a tenor bigtime. I'm keeping my eye on the UU marketplace.

GVlog
04-24-2011, 06:10 AM
Sopranos are too Tiny Tim and "kitsch" to some.

Tenor is what Jake plays, and it's what a lot of rocker types are using. Smaller than a guitar, but big enough to be taken seriously. At least that's my theory and I'm stickin' to it.
I imagine that there are folks who share those same lines of thought.

I encountered a customer who was returning a soprano. He had bought it for his son who wanted an ukulele. His son however said it was "too small and the wrong size". The father said to me, "Growing up, this is the size I expected all ukuleles to be!"

SweetWaterBlue
04-24-2011, 06:18 AM
Anything larger than a soprano is cheating. When I pick up a concert it feels more like a guitar, it feels way too big.
IMHO

I could cure that in about 1 second by letting your hold my dreadnaught guitar.

Scorpex
04-25-2011, 05:32 AM
I'm seeing a few more tenors around in our uke community, but sopranos still hold sway. I have several tenors and do play them, but my favourite size is concert.....string tension plays a large part in this choice. I am just not so keen on the higher string tension required on a tenor. And when you combine tenor string tension with strings that are too high in the nut....man, those ukes are just about unplayable for chord work....especially by beginners who don't realise that the ukes need work.

Jnobianchi
04-25-2011, 05:40 AM
Here at meet ups and other ukulele evenings, soprano is by far the most popular choice. I see tenors less often than baritones, which just seem to edge tenors out. Concerts are probably the least common.

hoosierhiver
04-25-2011, 06:03 AM
In terms of mass numbers of ukes sold, soprano must still be way out front. Almost all cheaper ukes are sopranos.

In regards to mid-level ukes, I'd say it's pretty even bewteen soprano/concerts/tenors. Baritones are probably about 5%.

With the serious players, I'd say tenors make up about half the numbers.

haole
04-25-2011, 06:07 AM
I must be a freak for not having any size preference. My sopranos, concerts, and tenors get equal attention!

It would be interesting to see if the trend would change if Jake or Aldrine or Brittni were seen rocking sopranos more often.

SweetWaterBlue
04-25-2011, 06:27 AM
The soprano will always be the standard ukulele for me, and not because I am almost old enough to draw Social Security. Playing my soprano is much harder than playing my tenor, but there is something special about playing it, and its sound will always be more like a ukulele in my mind than a tenor. Admittedly, I have a low G on my tenor, but playing it always seems more like playing a small easier to play guitar without as much bass. I understand why the pros mostly play tenors. Better intonation, easier shredding, more volume, etc. but the new standard ukulele - nah.

A lot of guys in my SEUkers group have all the sizes, but I often notice that many still bring their soprano or concert to meet-ups. Maybe because they are just easier to carry?

I am not even sure why ukulele folks feel the need to try and define just one size as a standard. When I was in band we never tried to say that an alto sax was a real saxophone, but a tenor sax wasn't. They were just different instruments with different sounds. Good composers fit them into the music where their sounds fit. One has to wonder why the baritone did not become the "standard" ukulele, since Arthur Godfrey probably did more to promote the instrument through the magic of TV in the 1950s.

scubatrevor1024
04-25-2011, 06:32 AM
When I look for a new uke to buy all I look at is tenors. I have a tenor now and a soprano with a long neck. I just like the size of the tenor and the longer neck.

Lanark
04-25-2011, 09:19 AM
To my thinking the tenor thing relates more often than not to the whole size=seriousness thing that has been going on forever. The idea that you start on soprano and "graduate" to tenor "when you're serious" about playing. (which is often reflected in the rest of the world by some guitar players' attitude about the size of their instrument compared to yours. If you know what I mean..) And which gets sort of perpetuated into a "fact" by constant repetition on the various ukulele message boards. In a lot of ways I think that's a huge part of what informs this whole "debate".

The soprano is seen as the "kitsch" size and the tenor as the "pro" instrument. (But let's face it kids, very few of us are actually going to need those extra frets that Jake uses.) And as somebody pointed out, the first uke a lot of people encounter is usually a low quality & brightly colored monstrosity shaped like an ukulele that's super cheap. The lowest level of tenors most folks are likely to encounter are usually at least functional instruments. That's going to make an impression.

There's also a certain amount of hesitation by some parts of the community who are just plinking along for their own amusement commit to mastering what are initially some of the more challenging parts of what playing the ukulele can be like such as the shorter scale lengths & friction tuners. A tenor with geared tuners works just great for them.
The smaller fretboard can be a pretty big challenge for somebody who's never picked up a fretted instrument before. If you can bypass a potential stumbling block in the interest of just having some fun, by all means have at it. It's all cool. Mileage will vary. But it's not the whole of the potential experience.

Personally I tend to play whatever is closest to where I'm sitting. tenor, concert, soprano or a sopranino. They're kind of interchangeable to me in a lot of ways. They each have their own quirks that effect what I play on them, but how they get played is pretty much the same.

I would also imagine that as this Wave of ukulele interest goes forward it will all be about tenors until the follow up backlash wave comes along and gets all bout traditionalism and the pendulum swings back towards sopranos again. Just give it time.

In the meantime just play the scale length you enjoy. They're all the same instrument. It's like debating about which shade of green is the "new black". Just seems kind of silly to me.

Little Island Nick
04-25-2011, 04:01 PM
Interesting theory not saying it isn't correct....just saying............

Little Island Nick
04-25-2011, 04:04 PM
I think most people regardless of style will find it a little easier chord a concert or tenor fret board compared to a soprano fret board. Also, I agree most folks (though not all of course) who I met who play sopranos are influenced by an older "20's - 40's" ukulele music.
Now, as amazing as they are I don't even listen to Uke soloists like Jake and Aldrine, and they ARE amazing musicians I must add. I'm simply a contemporary songwriter who's voice works well with a six string tenor uke. Plus most of the songs I sing are sad ones. From my perspective, I can get a little more depth and range from a tenor as opposed to the soprano.

In my own personal battle I'm also tired of folks seeing the ukulele as a distinctly happy instrument. That image is hard to fight w/ an instrument as comically small and sonically high pitched as a soprano ukulele. The ukulele, baritone, tenor, concert or soprano, will always be BEAUTIFUL and WARM but it doesn't have to be happy. They are capable of so much more. When I'm playing bills with a bunch of guitar players, a tenor ukulele helps in you getting taken a bit more seriously.

Not sure if anyone thinks anywhere close to me on why they may prefer tenors. They simply work for what I want to do as a performer. Basically, Tenors work for my mix of indie pop/americana w/ a Skip James meets Son House sensibility. Sorry to rant,
Ryan
http://www.YouTube.com/user/ryansuzukamusic
Download a free album (it says "name your price" and you can just input "$0"):
http://ryansuzuka.bandcamp.com
Interesting theory not saying it isn't correct....just saying... I am new to the ukulele and only know for me
having played a little (very little) guitar the Tenor was my choice because I liked the tenor sound much better than a soprano.
I only have a Kala Jazz Tenor and was considering a concert for my second ukulele but....I have just about decided a Mainland
cutaway tenor with electronics will be ukulele #2 (ahhhhhhhhhhh sweet!)

Skottoman
04-25-2011, 04:41 PM
Interesting thread...

I have a few of each size (except Bari). I play them all most equally. I think the reason the Tenor may be becoming more popular is as others have mentioned, the new style of uke playing (Jake, Aldrine, etc) is melodic and uses more than just simple chord strums. The new generation of players who don't want to sound like a uke player from the 30's will go for Tenors to play this more complex style.

And that leads to how I use my ukes...

- Sopranino/Soprano - I love these ukes for the "bark" and strumability with chords. Fingerpicking a soprano just isn't as clean as a larger uke. They ROCK for strumming!

- Concerts - (My fav) Good mix of strumability and fingerpicking precision. Plus there are some songs I don't have enough frets on a soprano to play. These are my go-to ukes and I have the most Concerts.

- Tenors - Best for fingerpicking instrumental versions of songs. All the frets you need for anything. Although not so great for strumming and no longer have the 'bark' of the little sopranos.

My 2 cents.

Cheers,
Skottoman

uke4ia
04-25-2011, 06:07 PM
I like the tenor because it best fits the style of music I was trying to play on uke for 20 years before I even learned that tenors existed. The notes ring for a couple of seconds instead of a quick "plink", and it's good for fingerpicking. I play my tenor far more than my other ukes not just because I prefer tenors, but because it's a Kawika and its amazing sound puts my other ukes to shame.




In my own personal battle I'm also tired of folks seeing the ukulele as a distinctly happy instrument. That image is hard to fight w/ an instrument as comically small and sonically high pitched as a soprano ukulele. The ukulele, baritone, tenor, concert or soprano, will always be BEAUTIFUL and WARM but it doesn't have to be happy. They are capable of so much more. When I'm playing bills with a bunch of guitar players, a tenor ukulele helps in you getting taken a bit more seriously.


In my area, I find that ukulele players as much as guitarists assume the uke is only for the purposes of being retro or campy. I'd play "Roundabout" or "Supper's Ready" on my Martin soprano and the uke players would stare at me like I had a third nostril. No offense to the guy who started the Rock the Mellow contest, but I hate the whole assumption that the uke's true calling is to take actual rock songs and sedate them. We limit the uke more than the uke limits us.

janeray1940
04-25-2011, 06:24 PM
I still see mostly sopranos and concerts among the uke groups I've played with.

When I can get my stubby fingers to span five frets on a tenor, then I'll let myself get one. I'm getting closer, but until that day, I'm a concert girl all the way.

ryansuzukamusic
04-25-2011, 08:06 PM
Interesting thread...

I have a few of each size (except Bari). I play them all most equally. I think the reason the Tenor may be becoming more popular is as others have mentioned, the new style of uke playing (Jake, Aldrine, etc) is melodic and uses more than just simple chord strums. The new generation of players who don't want to sound like a uke player from the 30's will go for Tenors to play this more complex style.

And that leads to how I use my ukes...

- Sopranino/Soprano - I love these ukes for the "bark" and strumability with chords. Fingerpicking a soprano just isn't as clean as a larger uke. They ROCK for strumming!

- Concerts - (My fav) Good mix of strumability and fingerpicking precision. Plus there are some songs I don't have enough frets on a soprano to play. These are my go-to ukes and I have the most Concerts.

- Tenors - Best for fingerpicking instrumental versions of songs. All the frets you need for anything. Although not so great for strumming and no longer have the 'bark' of the little sopranos.

My 2 cents.

Cheers,
Skottoman

Ah awesome point! I'm one of the bozos who prefer a tenor though I don't solo like the Jake/Aldrine folks. I'm a songwriter and the main focus is on my voice (which happens to work really well with a tenor uke). I do minimal picking just for a little texture for my chording. I just wanted to add that for those who want a nice big strum sound and still like the tenor size and sound, I usually play a SIX STRING TENOR which has a nice warm punch. Check it out on my YouTube channel:
http://www.youtube.com/user/ryansuzukamusic
Just FYI:In case you were wondering what kind of Uke it is, I bought it off a friend for $250 w/ the case who said his family friend made it. It has a stamp inside that says "Broad Horizons". That was 2 weeks before I left Hawaii (where I grew up) for Chicago (where I've been for 10.5 years)
Anyway, this is a nice alternative for folks who like a big chord sound. There are also 8 string tenors out there as well.

Thanks,
Ryan
P.S. Those in the USA, I know this is an ukulele forum but check me out THIS Thursday night on American Idol, playing harmonica behind Crystal Bowersox! Shameless plug, I know.

bbycrts
04-26-2011, 06:15 AM
If you can make music and it makes you smile then it's all good!

Tenors do seem to be the most popular now, but it's soprano for me all the way...

hobblecreek
04-26-2011, 11:38 AM
This is not meant as a defense of the Concert size, but I think one reason I see so many Tenors in shops and on-line is that the Tenor inventory doesn’t appear to be selling as quickly do the Concerts.

If you spend a series of successive weeks surfing what’s available at many of the high-end shops (Acoustic Vibes, Acoustic Music Works, Music Emporium, Mandolin Bros., Artisan Guitars, etc.) you find that Tenor inventories tend to remain static or seem to be growing – shops appear to have ordered lots of Tenors vs. Sopranos and Concerts. I frequently see a new Concert get listed here or there and then it is sold quickly. The exception would be Gryphon where they have a nice, balanced selection of every size, and fewer Tenors than the others. Even Elderly currently seems to be slightly skewed to a higher number of Tenors in inventory.

My best recollection of what I saw at the last Denver Uke Community 2 weeks ago: roughly 2/3 of the ukes being played were Concerts and the remaining 1/3 was divided between Sopranos and Tenors (significantly fewer Sopranos than Tenors).

At the end of the day, each player should play what feels and sounds best to them – whatever size that ends up being. On some days (and with some songs) the instrument of choice will vary. But, I have to admit that despite what I’ve written in the foregoing, I am seeing more and more Tenors being played across all genres. As for me I will stick with my Concerts.

Ron
04-26-2011, 12:28 PM
I own a soprano, tenor, bari.
I tend to use the tenor for live performances. We're essentially a country band so tenor seems to suit more and we've just started using the bari (tuned GCEA becauee, yes, the usual bari tuning just sounds like a guitar to me). Occassionally we bust out a soprano for songs that e think it suits - like San Fansisco Bay Blues.
I play the soprano a lot at home and for fun.
No preference really - just the tenor is more suited to what we do.

In NZ soprano still seems to hold sway in the recreational uke groups.

Tudorp
04-26-2011, 12:59 PM
I am finding that out myself. I have always been a Soprano nut. Love em. Still do, but now finding that I am enjoying playing concert more now. But I will never abandon my sopranos fully. I don't like baris at all tho. I now have ended up with several tenors in my house now seeing now I am selling them, and find that I need more tenors than the others.