Instruments | Ukulele | Stringed

The ukulele is a fretted stringed instrument that looks like a four-stringed guitar. It is most commonly associated with Hawaii, where its name translates as ‘leaping flea’, but there are no other string instruments native to Hawaii and the ukulele in fact has its roots in Portugal.

Origins of the Ukulele

Three Portuguese instrument makers arrived in Hawaii in 1879, bringing with them native instruments including the cavaquinho, on which the ukulele is based. They opened shops selling their new instrument and it quickly caught on among the local population. It was often used at times of celebration and even made an appearance at the jubilee of King Kalakaua. Very soon the ukulele took off in other states, as the craze for Hawaiian music swept across the United States in the early-twentieth century.

Types of Ukulele

There are four sizes of ukulele: the soprano, the concert, the tenor and the baritone. Each has four strings and a varying number of frets, from around 14 on the soprano to at least 22 on the baritone. All the instruments have four strings based on the intervals fourth–major third–fourth. There are not set pitches for each instrument, however, and players raise or lower their strings in order to play in a key that best accommodates their music.

In the 1930s and 1940s the ukulele’s success spread to Europe. It became particularly successful as part of the British music-hall tradition, or variety acts that performed during the Second World War.

Introduction | Stringed Instruments
Instruments | Banjo | Stringed

Source: The Illustrated Complete Musical Instruments Handbook, general editor Lucien Jenkins


An extensive music information resource, bringing together the talents and expertise of a wide range of editors and musicologists, including Stanley Sadie, Charles Wilson, Paul Du Noyer, Tony Byworth, Bob Allen, Howard Mandel, Cliff Douse, William Schafer, John Wilson...


Classical, Rock, Blues, Jazz, Country and more. Flame Tree has been making encyclopaedias and guides about music for over 20 years. Now Flame Tree Pro brings together a huge canon of carefully curated information on genres, styles, artists and instruments. It's a perfect tool for study, and entertaining too, a great companion to our music books.

Rock, A Life Story

Rock, A Life Story

The ultimate story of a life of rock music, from the 1950s to the present day.

David Bowie

David Bowie

Fantastic new, unofficial biography covers his life, music, art and movies, with a sweep of incredible photographs.