I recently had the opportunity to play around with a guitalele (often called a guitarlele or a guilele) and I have to say, I can see why they’ve gotten so popular in recent years!
What Is A Guitalele?
This neat little instrument is kind of a mix between an acoustic guitar, and a ukulele (hence the name, guitalele!)
It is about the size of a tenor ukulele, and sounds kind of similar. However, there are a few differences that makes the guitalele unique:
- The guitalele has 6 strings, vs. the ukulele’s 4.
- The guitalele is tuned to ADGCEA, which is equivalent to putting a capo on an acoustic guitar’s 5th fret.
- It can be used to play both guitar and ukulele style music, making it very versatile.
Like ukeleles, the guilele uses nylon strings and is portable enough to be carried with you. Although just so we’re clear – this isn’t a ‘travel guitar’ – it should be thought of as its own instrument.
Acoustic Guitar And Guitalele – What’s The Tonal Difference?
You may be asking – if the guitalele essentially plays the same notes as a guitar that’s capoed on the 5th fret, than what’s the point? Are there any differences in terms of sound or tone?
The main difference comes from the size of the body. Obviously, a full acoustic guitar is a lot louder, meaning that there’s a lot more resonance inside of the body of the instrument. Other than a louder, fuller sound, this also increases the prominence of the lower bass frequencies of the notes.
The difference between the two is best illustrated with this video:
As you can hear, the sound is very, very similar, but not quite identical.
Note that in the example video, the guitar is being played with nylon strings. The difference in sound is a bit more drastic if you’re used to playing standard steel-string acoustic guitars.
Why Might You Want A Guitalele?
The guitalele offers a number of unique benefits that you don’t really have with either standard acoustic guitars, or ukuleles:
- You can play both ukulele and guitar music on easily, making it very versatile. The top 4 strings are tuned to the same as a ukulele and the chords translate perfectly. However, you can also use the same chord shapes that you would on a guitar due to the tuning of the instrument.
- The additional two strings means you are not quite as limited as you would be on a ukulele.
- The added low-end brings out a lot of extra resonance and power, that is often missing from the ukulele.
- It’s very light and easy to carry around while traveling.
- The unique nature of the instrument draws attention if you’re a street performer.
- The guielele offers a wider, slightly thinner neck than a standard ukulele. For reference, the space between strings on the Yamaha GL1 guitalele is 10.2mm.
- The spacing of the frets is smaller, meaning that you won’t have to stretch your fingers as far to play chords. It is quite similar to a ukulele in this regard. This may make the guitalele a tad easier to start out on than the guitar.
- Some guitaleles have pickups, and are able to be connected to external amplifiers.
Let’s look over some of these in more detail.
You Want A More Versatile Ukelele
Despite having 6 strings, I personally find the guitalele to be closer to a ukulele than to an acoustic guitar.
This is due both to the size, the tuning, and the way you play it.
Therefore, while much of the skills are transferable between all three instruments, it is easier to transfer between playing a ukulele and a guitalele, than between a guitalele and a guitar.
Having the extra two strings really opens things up though, and those that have played guitar in the past are looking to pick up a ukulele may wish to opt for a guitalele instead.
You Need Something Fun To Take Around With You
Carrying around an acoustic guitar can be a bit of a hassle, due to its large size. This is true even if you have a dedicated gig bag, or you purchase a travel guitar.
The guitalele on the other hand can be taken anywhere pretty easily, even on planes.
The extra resonance and volume that it provides over a standard ukulele may make it a better option for street performers and campfire guitarists, who will be playing in front of small crowds.
Of course, all three instruments can be hooked up to an external amplifier, so if you plan on using one there isn’t much of an advantage either way.
You Enjoy Nylon String Guitars
Nylon strings are typically found on classical and flamenco guitars, but not on regular acoustics (which typically use steel strings.)
Other than their softer, lighter tone, they are a bit easier to play and less pressure is needed to make sound. If you’ve yet to build up calluses on your fingers, you may find the nylon strings more forgiving.
You Already Play Guitar Or Ukulele, And Want Something New
If you’re already proficient at one or two of the instruments, picking up the guitalele shouldn’t take you very long.
While you will need to memorize the fretboard and chords again, most of the skills are transferable.
This instrument opens up some new possibilities, and combines many great things from both guitar and ukulele.
You Regularly Capo The 5th Fret On Your Guitar
If you find yourself commonly using a capo anyway, then you’re probably the type of person that would really enjoy the guitalele.
For example, if you enjoy singing and playing at the same time, but utilize capos to change the key of the song to better fit your vocal range, why not carry a guitarlele with you and save yourself the hassle?
A Word Of Warning
If your long-term goal is to learn ukulele, than the guitalele can be a great instrument to start with. The music translates directly, and anything that can be played on ukulele can be played similarly on the guitalele.
That being said, I would avoid purchasing a guitalele first if your primary goal is to learn guitar, or play guitar-style music.
The first reason for this is that the chords do not directly translate to guitar, like they do on ukulele. While the chord shapes remain the same, they are postioned differently between the two instruments. This is because the guitalele uses different tuning.
To illustrate what I mean, the same shape you would use to play the ‘C’ chord on guitar, becomes the ‘F’ chord on guitalele.
This means you will need to relearn a lot when you transition to guitar later.
The second issue is that there isn’t a lot of learning material available for the guitalele yet.
It is still a relatively niche instrument, so both training and sheet music for the instrument is limited. While you could transpose music from guitar yourself, this is something that is beyond the beginner level and may come with its own set of frustrations.
Early on when learning an instrument, being able to play music is both inspiring to the player, and critical to developing the skill.
On both ukulele and guitar, there is a limitless amount of music available at all skill levels, pushing you to grow and expand your skill set. Unfortunately on guitalele, there just isn’t a whole lot published yet.
How do you tune a guitalele?
They are tuned similarly to any other guitar or ukulele. You can use a chromatic clip-on tuner that will be able to tune it without any issues.
How big is a guitalele?
Although specifications can vary between manufacturers, here are the specs and measurements for the Yamaha GL1 guitalele:
“Scale Length: 433 mm (17″)
Body Length: 319 mm (12 9/16″)
Total Length: 698 mm (27 1/2″)
Body Width: 229 mm (9″)
Body Depth: 70 mm (2 3/4″)”
How is a guitalele tuned?
Guitaleles are tuned to ADGCEA.
How do you change keys with a guitalele?
A guitalele can be safely retuned by adjusting the tuning pegs on the headstock. Additionally, you can use a guitar capo to change the key (a ukulele capo will be too small for guitaleles.)
Where did the guitalele come from?
The guitalele is an invention from Yamaha, with their GL1 being the original model that was first to hit the market.
How expensive are guitaleles?
Guitaleles are fairly cheap, typically being priced around $100. This makes them pretty affordable, even if you only play yours from time to time.
I’ve had a wonderful time getting to know this unique and fun instrument!
While it’s not going to replace your guitar any time soon, the extra 2 strings make it a lot more versatile over a regular ukulele.
Do you own a guitalele? If so, what do you like most about it? If not, why are you considering getting one?
I’d love to hear more about what draws you to this guitar-ukulele hybrid.
– Musical Sanctuary