What is a Guitalele

What is a Guitalele: Really Big Ukulele or Small Guitar?

Part guitar, part ukulele, the guitalele is an awesome hybrid instrument loved by traveling musicians and folk artists alike. It’s portable. It has a unique look, and it sounds great. While some people mistake it for an ukulele with six strings, it’s definitely its own instrument. But, what is a guitalele exactly?

A guitalele is a hybrid stringed instrument, a cross between a guitar and an ukulele. It has more strings than an ukulele and is smaller and more portable than a full-sized guitar. It’s, sometimes called guitarlele or guilele, combining its namesakes’ best qualities into a diverse instrument all its own. 

However you pronounce it, they’re fantastic to play and listen to! Here’s a fun cover of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” for you to check out the sound if you haven’t heard it yet.

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They sound a lot like tenor ukuleles do to some people. You could also compare the sound to a classical guitar, but opinions are definitely split on which instrument they are most like. The truth is, a guitalele is an instrument all its own, and we’re going to break down why that is.

Guitalele vs Ukulele: What is the difference?

Obviously, the guitalele borrows some of the qualities of the ukulele, but there are some pretty important differences, too. 

Guitaleles have six nylon strings, while ukuleles only have four nylon strings. You can play a wider range of lower notes and get a deeper, richer sound from it as well. You’ll have a much wider range of notes to play than you would on four strings like the ukulele.

Since it is a bigger instrument, the sound will naturally be a little deeper and more full. A guitalele and a tenor ukulele are roughly the same size. Guitaleles retain the tonal quality of the ukulele but are a little less plucky. Still, one of the great things about this instrument is how they retain the best of the ukulele quality, unlike a guitar.

How are guitalele and guitar different? 

One of the reasons people love to play ukulele or guitalele is because it’s easier if your hands aren’t quite big enough to play a full-sized guitar. Beginners and kids will find them more comfortable to play. And, while that’s a great reason to start learning guitalele, it’s important to acknowledge that they are actually very different from a guitar. 

The main difference between a guitalele and a guitar is that a guitalele is smaller and more portable, like an ukulele. Also, they’re tuned up a 4th to A instead of E like the guitar. Guitaleles do have six strings, but you’ll almost never find steel strings on them as you would on some guitars. And, some have bridge pins, while some don’t.

Guitaleles are actually very different from guitars when you look closely. They’re more like big ukuleles than small guitars, musically speaking. Here’s a video that shows the difference in sound. 

That said, it’s not bad to think about the guitalele as a travel guitar – even though a travel guitar is already a very successful thing on its own.

Travel guitar or guitalele? 

Speaking of travel guitars. People like to use ukuleles and guitaleles because of how portable they are, but are they better than travel guitars? Do they serve the same purpose?

A travel guitar is simply a mini guitar, meant to be taken on the road and on trips. A guitalele is a hybrid between a guitar and ukulele, meaning it has a different sound and even more portability than a travel guitar. And, as mentioned, the strings on a guitalele are also made of nylon, so they won’t be affected by moisture as much as steel strings.

There are plenty of good reasons to buy both instruments, so it comes down to personal preference for most players. Many people purchase a travel guitar expecting the fullness of sound that a full-sized guitar delivers and end up disappointed. With a guitalele, you know you’re buying a unique instrument that will deliver a great, rich sound. And, it’ll be louder than the standard ukulele, too. 

Guitalele Tuning

One of the ways you can access the versatility of the guitalele is by changing its tuning. 

The tuning of a guitalele is ADGCEa, which is the same as a classical guitar that has been capoed on the fifth fret. This is the standard tuning for guitalele, the final four notes being the same as the ukulele.

You can easily play all your favorite genres in this tuning, and they’ll have a fun and unique sound. You’ll need to think about the key you’re playing in since it will be different than a guitar. This is probably the biggest hurdle to get past if you already play either a guitar or an ukulele.

You can tune a guitalele to EADGEb, the way you would an acoustic guitar. This is a great tuning if you like to play genres like rock and pop. And, if you usually play guitar, this might make it a little easier for you when it comes to chords.

You can tune a guitalele all kinds of different ways. Since you have all six strings at your disposal, you can try out all kinds of tunings. Tune to Drop D and bang out some power chords or try Drop C and get your heavy metal on. It’s a very versatile instrument.

Just know that whatever you decide to do, you’ll need to think about different strings. 

Best strings

Since it is a unique instrument, you’ll need to buy guitalele strings to get the best sound and playing experience possible.

If your guitalele doesn’t have a bridge pin, you’ll need to buy specialized strings for it. If you’re lucky and your guitalele does have a bridge pin, you can buy guitar strings as well.

Strings aren’t that difficult to find in the usual places. Common brands you’ll see are: 

  • Aquila
  • La Bella
  • Ortega
  • Pepe Romero

Have you tried any of these on your guitalele? Post your favorite in the comments, and tell us all why you love them.

Examples of guitalele music 

As a hybrid instrument, a guitalele will let you play guitar songs and ukulele songs. Still, it’s nice to get to the roots of your instrument, so like an ukulele, we recommend you go for the classics. Your guitalele has a bright quality you’ll want to leverage.

Folk and pop songs all sound wonderful on this instrument, especially if there’s an island theme. We have an article that touches on the history of ukulele music. It’s great to be able to honor the instrument’s history and those who made it great.

Let us know in the comments what you love to play on your guitalele. 

Songs to try

Guitalele Chords: Are they the same as guitar?

Because it’s so similar to a guitar, you might be wondering if you play chords the same way, especially since you want to try out all your favorite songs. 

Guitalele chords are shaped the same as guitar chords, but they sound different because the instrument is tuned differently. If you already play guitar, and you put your hands in the same place on a guitalele, you’ll get a different sound. All of your chords are still shaped the same, but the key has changed. 

To transpose guitar to guitalele chords, all you need to do is follow the circle of fifths and take everything up a fourth. So, songs in the key of F will have C shaped chords on the guitalele. Songs in C will have G shaped chords. This is exactly how you would do it if you were playing your capoed guitar.

Who are guitaleles good for?

All of this information begs the question: is this the right instrument for me? 

Guitaleles are fantastic instruments for beginners, especially children, whose hands are too small for a traditional guitar. It’s also a great choice for ukulele musicians looking for a wider range of notes and cords to play. People in humid climates will appreciate playing with nylon strings. 

Guitaleles are awesome instruments for any string musician to add to their collection. They’re totally portable, meaning you won’t have to lug around your full-sized guitar, but unlike a travel guitar, you can also tap into the uniqueness of the ukulele sound with a guitalele. 


What is the correct guitalele pronunciation?

Some say guitalele, some say guitarlele, and some people even say guilele. We’re saying guitalele, and many manufacturers like Yamaha market them that way as well. 

Is guitalele easier than guitar? 

The guitalele and guitar both have the same difficulty when it comes to complexity since they both have six strings, but a guitalele is a little smaller, so it’s easier for some people to play and learn.

Where can I get tabs on the guitalele?

Tabs are few and far between for the guitalele unfortunately. Uke Like the Pros has some videos that show tabs. Riffspot has some religious tabs available. Although tabs can get you quite far, it is a good idea to try learning to read sheet music as well.

Final thoughts

What do you think? Are you convinced that the guitalele is its own instrument? Since its name literally derives from guitar and ukulele, we can see where people come from when they call it a big ukulele or a mini guitar, but truthfully, it is a fantastic instrument in its own right. 

You’ll be a hit anywhere you take this great instrument with you. Most people are familiar with uke but won’t have seen its cousin before. With a deep, soulful resonance and greater versatility than the uke, the guitalele stands out no matter what type of music you’re playing. 

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