Mandolin vs. Ukulele: (Differences & Which One Is For You?)

Pro Music Vault Home Comparisons String Comparisons Mandolin vs. Ukulele: (Differences & Which One Is For You?)

As a beginner, it’s always more prudent to start with easier to learn and more affordable instruments. An instrument that you can learn to play with less effort will encourage you to practice passionately.

The mandolin and the ukulele are both string instruments. However, they have different tunings, sizes, and shapes.

The mandolin is a stringed instrument that has a fretted fingerboard and typically features eight strings that are usually tuned in pairs. It is a versatile instrument that is often used to play chords and melodies in a wide range of music genres.

On the other hand, the ukulele is a small guitar-like instrument that has four strings and is typically tuned to produce a series of individual notes or chords. The ukulele is known for its distinctive, mellow sound. Unlike the mandolin, the ukulele is not typically used to play complex chord progressions or melodies, but rather simple and catchy tunes.

Our Top Mandolin Pick for New Players
Our Top Ukulele Pick for New Players
Ibanez M510DVS Mandolin, Dark Violin Sunburst
Kala KA-15S Mahogany Soprano Ukulele
Our Top Mandolin Pick for New Players
Ibanez M510DVS Mandolin, Dark Violin Sunburst
Our Top Ukulele Pick for New Players
Kala KA-15S Mahogany Soprano Ukulele

This blog post will discuss more about what distinguishes these two popular instruments, so you can decide which one best suits your needs!

First off, to make your work easier, this article discusses at length the fundamental differences between ukulele and mandolin. The instruments are dissimilar in many ways, despite both being categorized as members of the lute family. Just to make things more confusing!

After understanding the various features of these two instruments, and the benefits of learning either (or both!) of them, you should be able to make a decision based on some combination of portability, affordability, ease of learning, and other factors…without any bias!

Table of Contents

Mandolin vs Ukulele Difficulty: Which One Is Easier?

As a beginner, the ukulele is usually the best bet. No matter how much you love the mandolin, going for the ukulele first is safer, as you can learn to play more quickly and the cost is more affordable.

The final decision is yours, but the ukulele really is incredibly easy to understand.

See also  Banjo vs. Ukulele: (Everything You Need To Know)

The mandolin requires more intuition in tuning, and the form of music it is most compatible with also calls for a higher degree of expertise.

For that reason, you will need lots of practice just to have presentable skills in playing the mandolin. That’s why we’d lean towards the ukulele – but you can always learn the mandolin afterwards!

Differences Between The Mandolin and Ukulele

Origin

The ukulele is a plucked lute that originates from Hawaiian musical traditions that were brought there in the 19th century by Portuguese immigrants. In the 20th century, the instrument became famous in America and elsewhere around the globe.

Mandolins, on the other hand, are strummed or plucked instruments originating from Naples, Italy, in the late 18th century. However, the original mandore form of mandolin evolved around the 14th century.

Strings

At first glance, these two instruments’ strings may appear similar, but mandolins have 8 strings, and therefore 8 tuning pegs.

In some cases, mandolins may have up to 12 strings. Their strings are metallic, which makes them harder to press or strum with bare hands. Use a pick when you’re playing!

Ukuleles, on the other hand, have 4 strings made of nylon. They’re easy to strum without a pick.

PRO TIP: Trust the top brands when it comes to strings. This D’Addario set and these Ernie Ball strings are some of the best options when it comes to mandolin and ukulele, respectively.

Tuning

The tuning experience with these two instruments is significantly different. Standard ukulele strings are tuned to GCEA. The ukulele tuning sounds like a guitar and, in fact, it is common to find ukuleles faithfully playing various guitar sounds in concerts. The nylon strings make ukuleles sound mellow.

A typical mandolin is tuned to GDAE, which matches a violin’s sound. The steel mandolin has some timbre, biting tone, and someone who can play the violin can likely play mandolin scales as well.

Keep in mind, though – you can tune a mandolin like a ukulele, if you want.

PRO TIP: Whether you choose the mandolin or the ukulele, pick up a multi-instrument tuner that will work well with your choice. This tuner is a bestseller that works very well with both.

Music Style

Comparatively, mandolins have a bit louder sound than ukuleles. Given that, they’re often used in bluegrass music, American folk music, and European classical tunes.

The strumming of a mandolin’s steel strings makes the instrument best for precise notes, and makes it a good instrument to be used with banjos, guitars, and others.

The musical sound from a ukulele’s nylon strings is a perfect fit when playing folk music. Dancing with the sounds of a ukulele is preferable, due to the sweet, low tone produced. The unique timbre mandolin sound, on the other hand, is more prestigious.

See also  Banjo vs. Mandolin - (Which One Is Easier?)

PRO TIP: Whether you go with mandolin or ukulele, the Hal Leonard Method Books are some of the best instructional books out there to speed up your learning process. The Mandolin Method Book and Ukulele Method Book are both top sellers that will make you a better player.

Materials/Design

Ukuleles use different woods in their design and construction, although there are variations where some are made partially or entirely from plastic material. What makes many ukuleles cheap is their construction – some are made from laminate spruce or plywood.

Costly ukuleles, on the other hand, involve hardwood construction like mahogany or Hawaiian fine wood, known as acacia koa.

Mandolins are designed with a hollow wooden body, and a flat-necked, fretted fingerboard. They also have a floating bridge pinblock where strings are attached, and automatic tuning tackles instead of friction pegs to fix metal strings.

PRO TIP: Protect your instrument from daily bumps and bruises, and you’ll extend the lifespan of the instrument and its tone quality. This padded ukulele bag and this mandolin gig bag are good options that won’t break the bank – whichever instrument you choose.

Types

Ukuleles come in four categories based on their sizes. These categories are tenor, concert, soprano, and baritone.

The sopranos are the smallest model, and the earliest size stemming from Hawaii. The concert size was developed after the soprano, and was a little larger, louder, and with a deeper tone.

[See our 2023 recommendations for soprano ukeleles and concert ukeleles.]

After that, the tenor type was devised larger in volume and bass tone.

[See some of our favorite tenor ukeleles under $300.]

Finally came to the most recent type called baritone, designed in the 1940s.

[Check out our 2023 recommendations for beginner-friendly baritone ukuleles.]

Mandolins come in three typical forms. The earliest is the Neopolitan style, also known as bowl-back, which involves a vaulted back designed from several wooden strips that are either two-plane or canted with an uncarved top.

The other style is a banjo-styled body.

The late 19th century brought a third new form, with a carved top and a violin-family-inspired back, which won many enthusiasts (especially in the USA).

String Tension

Mandolins have 8 metal strings, whereas ukuleles have 4 strings made of nylon. Hence ukulele strings are soft to play and typically a better choice for first time players.

The high-tension mandolin strings require decent hand strength or thick cellulose to pluck. Ukulele is much easier on this front!

Affordability

The cost of purchasing a mandolin is far greater in comparison to the price of the ukulele. The cost of a reliable mandolin starts at around $100 and up. On the other hand, an excellent ukulele to start jamming on is often less than $75. So, it’s often safer for a beginner to invest in a ukulele than to go for a mandolin that could cost much more, AND end up discouraging them when the learning process takes too long.

See also  Mandolin vs. Lute - (What's the Difference?)

Wrapping Up

With all the factors and differences mentioned above, hopefully now it’s easier for you to choose the ideal musical instrument to start learning! Like we’ve hinted at, for a beginner the most affordable and easiest to learn is often the wisest choice! Just keep in mind – if you decide to pick the ukulele, be careful, as not all cheap ukes bring good quality.

Whichever you choose, though, you can rest easy because both instruments will bring you pleasant, sweet sounds.

FAQs

What is the difference between a mandolin and a ukulele?

Mandolin and Ukulele are different stringed instruments. The mandolin has eight strings and is generally tuned in fifths, while the ukulele has four strings and is typically tuned in fourths.

What is the sound difference between a mandolin and a ukulele?

The mandolin has a brighter and sharper sound compared to the ukulele, which has a more mellow and softer sound.

Which is easier to play, mandolin or ukulele?

The ukulele is generally considered easier to learn and play than the mandolin due to its smaller size, fewer strings, and simpler chords.

What kind of music can be played on a mandolin?

The mandolin is commonly used in various music genres such as bluegrass, folk, country, and classical.

What kind of music can be played on a ukulele?

The ukulele is commonly used in music genres such as Hawaiian, folk, and pop.

Which is more affordable, mandolin or ukulele?

Generally, the ukulele is more affordable than the mandolin, especially for beginners who are looking for an entry-level instrument.

Is the mandolin louder than the ukulele?

Yes, the mandolin is generally louder than the ukulele due to its sound projection and larger resonating chamber.

Which is more portable, mandolin or ukulele?

The ukulele is generally more portable and easier to carry around than the mandolin due to its smaller size.

Can I use the same picks for mandolin and ukulele?

Yes, you can use the same picks for both instruments as long as they are the appropriate size and thickness.

What is the tuning for a mandolin and ukulele?

The mandolin is typically tuned G-D-A-E, while the ukulele is typically tuned G-C-E-A.

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