The guitalele has been gaining popularity as of late and this has led to plenty of discussions around guitalele vs guitar because of how similar the two are. The guitalele is a relatively new instrument and as such is somewhat shrouded in a bit of mystery and misconception. Today, we will demystify this cool little instrument and see if guitarists can play it without any additional training.
What Is A Guitalele?
The guitalele is essentially a hybrid of the guitar and the ukulele. It shares features of both but is in many ways a unique instrument in its own right. At first glance, it might look like a smaller version of a travel guitar. It has six strings just like a guitar but its size is closer to a tenor or baritone ukulele. The strings are made from nylon similar to a classical guitar. The tuning is what makes the guitalele unique as it combines elements of both a guitar and a ukulele to create something different.
As mentioned before, the guitalele has six strings. It is tuned to A-D-G-C-E-A (from the topmost string to the bottom-most string). A guitar’s standard tuning is E-A-D-G-B-E. Musicians will recognize that each string on the guitalele is tuned up a fourth of the corresponding string on a guitar. What this essentially means is that the guitalele’s open notes are exactly the same as the open notes of a guitar with a capo on the fifth fret.
History Of The Guitalele
While the guitar and the ukulele have been around for a long time and have been commercially produced for about a century now, the guitalele is a much younger instrument. While individual specimens have existed for a few decades, these have mostly been novelty items or experimental pieces custom-built by luthiers. The first commercially produced guitalele that gained some degree of popularity was the Yamaha GL-1 launched in 1997. Since then, other brands have also started to make the guitalele but it remains very much a niche instrument.
Can A Guitarist Play The Guitalele?
It all depends on your definition of “play” and how proficient you already are on the guitar. Let us look at three different scenarios that will help you get an understanding of how difficult or easy it will be for you.
If you are an absolute beginner and your guitar knowledge is limited to open chords then you will find out that your skills will be surprisingly good enough to play open chords on the guitalele as well. Everything will just be four steps up. To make this simpler, here is how every note on the guitar will translate to on the guitalele on the same fret
- C -> F
- D -> G
- E -> A
- F -> B
- G -> C
- A -> D
- B -> E
The only challenge you will run into would be getting the position of your fingers correct as the frets on a guitalele are much narrower. On the plus side, you won’t have to press the string as hard as you would on a guitar.
If you are someone who knows how to play open chords, barre chords, riffs and you have a fair understanding of how the notes are laid out on the fretboard of a guitar then you will have no trouble having fun on the guitalele. It will take you just a few hours without any guidance for you to play the guitalele. Again, the narrow frets will be a hurdle at first and even after a few hours, you will occasionally miss a note or two. This is great for casual playing. Transcribing a particular song or chord progression meant for a guitar onto a guitalele should be fairly easy as long as you don’t have to play on the same scale.
Learning new guitar songs, improvising, or creating your own music would be challenging as you would constantly have to figure out where the next note would be and this can be a hindrance to enjoying what you are playing. To put it simply, it will be very straightforward to play something that you already know provided it doesn’t matter if the scale changes. Everything else will be a bit of hassle.
Advanced guitarists should face no problems playing the guitalele. The only real problem an advanced guitarist would face would be readjusting their muscle memory to the smaller form factor of the guitalele’s fretboard. Once that is done, it should be fairly easy and intuitive to play even complicated musical pieces and improvise nuanced stuff. The only thing to keep in mind would be the nylgut strings which will be a hindrance when trying to execute advanced techniques such as multiple string bends and extreme vibrato.
Can A Guitalele Be Used As A Travel Guitar?
Owing to its size and portability, it can be very tempting to treat the guitalele as a travel guitar. After all, it is essentially a guitar with a capo on the fifth fret. However, there are a couple of caveats. As long as you are only planning to play casually, the guitalele will do just fine. However, if you plan to use it as a serious practice instrument then it won’t work as there are far too many differences between the two including the absence of the first four frets, much lower string pressure, and narrower frets. If you are going on a vacation and would simply like to have an instrument to play, the guitalele is perfect as it is smaller than most travel guitars and you can have plenty of fun. However, if you want to use it in a more serious setting like playing for a group or for practicing for a guitar performance while on the go, a travel guitar would be a much better proposition.
Related Article How To Travel With a Ukulele?
Pros And Cons Of A Guitalele For Guitarists
Like all material things, the guitalele has its fair share of advantages and disadvantages. These become a bit more streamlined from the point of view of a guitarist.
- Fairly inexpensive
- Highly compact and portable
- Guitarists can easily transfer their skills to the guitalele.
- Low string pressure makes this a great instrument for people with weak fingers who normally cannot fret the strings on a steel-string guitar due to an injury or age
- Niche instrument that can be difficult to find
- Finding teachers and instructional material can be really difficult
- Not suitable for a public performance as the sound produced doesn’t have the necessary reach and it can be a difficult instrument to mic
Who Should Buy The Guitalele?
The guitalele is a bit of a paradox when it comes to describing its target audience. Technically, it is an instrument that is easier to learn compared to other stringed instruments like a guitar or a violin because of its physical characteristics but as we have reiterated multiple times by now, finding good teachers and instructional materials for the guitalele is a very difficult task. This makes it more difficult for a complete novice to get started on this instrument.
However, it can act as a great accessory instrument for a guitarist with at least a decent level of proficiency on the guitar. The guitalele is perfect for someone who already owns a guitar or multiple guitars and is looking for something to add to their collection that is a bit more on the casual side.
To Sum Things Up!
The guitalele is definitely an interesting instrument but a niche one. This means that getting a good instrument, spare parts, etc. can be difficult. However, being a niche instrument, it is still in its nascent stage and this can offer plenty of creative freedom and exploration. Its compact form factor also makes it very easy to just pick up and play anytime and anywhere which is never a bad thing. It could very well be just the thing that takes your journey as a guitarist and a music creator to the next level.