Advantages and disadvantages of baritone ukuleles
Baritone ukuleles are a great addition to your musical palette due to their wide range, but they might not suit everyone. Below is a list of the benefits of owning one as well as qualities that might work against them.
- They provide vocalists and ensembles with a rich, deeper sound and fuller accompaniment for a variety of music.
- Owing to similar chords and tuning, guitarists who want a different sound will find baritone ukuleles a natural progression.
- A long neck and spacious fret separation makes it easy to play complicated chords.
- It has fantastic sustain and resonance.
- Advanced players will enjoy exploring the combination of guitar and ukulele musical styles it provides.
- It provides a harmonious blend of guitar and ukulele tones.
- They are the heaviest ukuleles, with majority of them bearing a standard length of 30 inches and a scale length of 19 inches. This makes them unsuitable for travelling performers and people with smaller hands.
- Since they are differently tuned from other ukuleles, beginners are likely to have a longer learning curve.
- They are not as widely available as other ukuleles, especially if you are looking for a budget option.
- They lack the traditional bright and crispy sound of typical ukuleles.
Features to consider before buying a baritone ukulele
Granted, you can easily be dazzled by all the various ukulele designs, sizes, brands, and models. To ensure you don’t get carried away by ornamental aspects over the essential ones, we have pointed out the fundamental features to consider when making your selection.
Acoustic vs. acoustic-electric
Baritone ukuleles can be acoustic or acoustic-electric. Acoustic ukuleles do not require electronic components to generate sound. They work by reverberating string vibrations in the sound hole and body. Projection is mainly achieved by the size and shape of the body, though amplification can also be done using an external microphone. On the other hand, acoustic-electric models feature a built-in pick-up which detects sound vibrations, then converts them into electrical impulses that are amplified into audibility through a simple plug-and-play process.
While acoustic ukuleles generate sound that has a more natural resonance but lower volume, acoustic-electric produce a brighter tone at higher volume. The advantage of acoustic-electric models is that they can work both when unplugged and when plugged into power. Their high volume makes them suitable for live performances. They also allow addition of effects like reverberation, delay, and distortion.
Materials used for body
Ukuleles incorporate various types of wood and their variations in body construction. Wood is used both sonically and decoratively. Owing to their individual composition, different types of wood have different effects on tone. Some have natural patterns and hues that add character and uniqueness to the ukulele.
Ukuleles may have only one type of wood in the entire body or different types of wood in various parts. Caramel CB500 has the entire body and fretboard made of rosewood while Kala MK-B Baritone Ukulele features an agathis top, resin back and sides, and rosewood fretboard.
The popular types of wood used in body construction are koa, mahogany, spruce, cedar, rosewood and maple.
Solid wood yields richer, mellower and more resonant tones. The sides may feature laminates, which are more affordable and resistant to harsh weather elements. However, laminates can suppress the tonal properties of the wood underneath.
Koa is a dense Hawaiian tropical wood with an exotic grain appearance. It is iconic in ukulele heritage. Koa initially generates bright and crisp tones, then richer and more resonant tones as it ages. Due to its high price, it is mainly used in customized ukuleles.
Mahogany is popular for its stability and emphasized midrange which produces darker and warmer tones. It is also light in weight, and surprisingly loud.
Spruce is light and stiff, resulting in vibrant, articulate and consistent tones. It features a dynamic range that can pack a massive punch, and is frequently used for ukulele tops.
Cedar is commonly used with steel strings. It is particularly responsive to light touches which it amplifies to warmer and more controlled volume, making it a dream tonal wood for strummers and fingerstylists.
Fretboard and neck materials
The baritone ukulele neck is usually made of mahogany or maple because both types of wood are strong enough to withstand string tension.
Rosewood, maple and ebony are widely used for fretboards and bridges. Rosewood is the most popular choice for fretboards, as well as ukulele back and sides, due to its sturdiness, hardness and versatility. With the exception of Caramel CB103 and Luna Guitars UKE VMB RDS which have fretboards made of walnut, all the other ukulele models in this guide feature rosewood fretboards. Rosewood yields a well-balanced acoustic sound by deepening lower tones and brightening higher ones.
Being a homegrown American species and readily available has made maple one of the most common tonal woods for ukulele fretboards and bridges. Its denseness and stiffness produces clear and targeted bright tones with minimal decay. It also provides good separation which increases playability for distinctive chords.
Ebony has smaller-sized grain which lends it a smooth appearance that increases playability. It generates sharp and bright tones, and a smooth sustain. Walnut produces bright and clear tones.
Saddles are made of rosewood, ebony, graphite, walnut, brass, bones and plastic. The same materials are used to make nuts. Kmise Baritone Ukulele features real ox bone nut and saddle. The weight and texture of nuts have an impact on resonance and sustain. The best sounding baritone ukulele has well-fitting nuts made of durable, self-lubricating material that makes tuning the strings easy.
Baritone ukuleles are the heaviest among all. When you have some models such as Kala MK-B Baritone Ukulele weighing a maximum of one pound, every additional milligram counts towards playability. Factors that add to the overall weight include the type of wood and bracing, tuner material, truss rod, built-in electronic components, thickness of finish, and whether the tuner is exposed or enclosed. Wood such as rosewood is denser than mahogany, and the built-in preamp and tuner in acoustic-electric models add to the overall ukulele weight. Acoustic-electric models like Caramel CB103 and Caramel CB500 use ergonomic designs to accommodate the additional electronic components while keeping the weight low. Both models weigh 1.98 pounds only.
Geared tuners are durable and more precise, but if they are made of heavy material, the additional weight to the headstock might knock your ukulele out of balance when you should be knocking it out of the park.
While traditional ukuleles use friction tuners to regulate string tension, majority of the current models use geared tuners which are either enclosed in a casing, or open like in the Luna Guitars UKE VMB RDS baritone ukulele. Gear tuners have a higher gear ratio that allows for greater accuracy when fine-tuning. They may also include a locking mechanism that prevents string slippage and enhance sustain and intonation. Friction tuners are lighter and more efficient in string winding due to their high rotational speed, but beginners might lack the finesse to do it with precision. If your ukulele has steel strings, gear tuners would be a better option.
Strings vary in type, tuning, and size. With strings prone to losing their vibrancy and intonation after a while, it is important to choose the best value baritone ukulele strings. The commonly available string materials are nylon, synthetic polymers, titanium and steel. The materials differ in strength, sound produced, stretching capacity, and resistance to natural elements. The best baritone ukuleles mostly feature Aquila strings.
Manufactures also add various patterns and designs for additional visual appeal. For instance Kmise Baritone Ukulele and Oscar Schmidt OU53S Baritone Ukulele feature a rosette adorned with abalone around the sound hole and binding. Some types of wood, such as the zebrawood featured in Caramel CB103, have their own natural patterns.
Another feature to look out for is the type of finish which provides protection against weather elements. A good finish should be light to avoid limiting the tonal properties of the wood underneath. Satin finish is mostly used for a smooth, glossy look and a gentle glow.
Baritone ukuleles may be inexpensive, compared to other stringed instruments, but it doesn’t hurt to know you are covered in the event of unforeseen damage. The lifetime warranty that comes with Oscar Schmidt OU53S ukulele offers great assurance.
How to tune a baritone ukulele?
Baritone ukuleles are like mini-guitars without the two bass strings. Unlike soprano, tenor and concert models which feature the standard GCEA tuning, the baritone ukulele features similar tuning to the four highest guitar strings; DGBE. The strings are ordered from low to high as opposed to the common re-entrant tuning in other ukuleles. Re-entrant tuning has a higher octave G note on the fourth string. You can use GCEA tuning on baritone models to raise the pitch and simulate the chords in soprano, tenor and concert ukuleles. This is done by placing a capo on the fifth fret. You will also need special GCEA strings, like the ones sold by Aquila, to accomplish that.