Intermediate Instruments:  tenor & baritone Ukuleles

         “Construction” and “Standard Features” for all Instruments are in the “Design Notes” section

 

The tenor and baritone ukuleles are big toned instruments, but were invented in the mid 20th century, well after the portuguese braguinha, became the hawaiian ukulele.  While many people love these larger bodied instruments, they do not have the sound traditionally associated with the ukulele.  For that reason, we felt we could approach these instruments with a clean slate.  We looked at the characteristics of both these larger ukuleles, their Latin American cousin, the four stringed Cuatro Venezolano, and of course, Omar Corrales’ techniques in the classical Spanish Guitar. The result is a true hybrid, sharing the characteristics of all of these, and producing what we feel is a new standard in the large end of the ukulele family.

 

One thing that struck us as we looked at Cuatro construction is how much these instruments differ from the construction of the current “big ukuleles”.  The Cuatro is a much older design, dating back half a millennium.  It is actually acknowledged to be the most direct descendant of the Renaissance Guitar.  Yet even though in it’s largest versions, it is bigger than any ukulele, it’s top thickness and bracing are almost identical to Soprano Ukulele construction, not the heavier build found on current Tenor and Baritone Ukulele designs. 

 

The answer is fairly obvious.  The current popular ukuleles were formulated by large mainland manufacturers and both were originally designed to boost sales by giving ukulele players an instrument more akin to a modern guitar. 

 

By the strictest definition, one could say that the original tenor ukulele was a design failure.  Strings, of course, have to be one of the key elements in stringed instrument design.  The original high re-entrant key of G (guitar derivative tuning) strings that this instrument was designed for are never installed anymore and difficult to even find as an aftermarket offering.  The alternate key of C tunings that ukulele players have since commonly applied to this instrument might be considered an improvement, but cannot be considered ideal.  In order to drive the soundboard, they need to either be at a high tension, or converted to a linear set-up with wound strings.  In either case, this means the heavier build is still necessary. 

 

With the Baritone, wound strings are commonly installed, and the tuning is generally the same as strings 1-4 of a six string guitar. This tuning is not only too deep to be ideal on a body so small, but the use of the high density strings used to achieve this tuning on a small scale length mean that again, a heavier, more guitar-like construction is required. 

 

In our point of view, these designs result in instruments that are either compromised ukuleles, or cramped, poorly designed 4-string guitars.  

 

Our versions of these instruments are built with Cuatro tops and bracing, or in others words, with traditional ukulele construction.  We also kept the generous neck width common in the Cuatros.  It was one of the features of these instruments we liked the best.  These will be the easiest playing ukuleles you will ever find, with clear notes and easy fingering all the way up to the end of the long scale.

 

These sizes are where a transition begins to occur between the best application for tunings.  The closely spaced notes of traditional high re-entrant ukulele tunings are best suited to small bodies, but as size increases, a linear (or low 4th) tuning makes better use of the larger body volumes.  

 

Our two models are actually identical in all dimensions except depth.  Our Tenor has a slightly shallower body than is normally seen, while our Baritone is significantly deeper.  What we have done, in effect, is take a body that is similar in face area to a Tenor Ukulele - combine it with the scale commonly found on a Baritone Ukulele and then by giving the body two different depths, we have created two very different sounding instruments. 

 

Both instruments, then, feature a 20” scale.  While this is normal for a Baritone, this makes the Tenor model more of what some would call a “baritenor”.  These fretboards give a full 16 frets to the body.  This is what you might expect on a standard instrument with a cutaway.  With our designs you have the cutaway room, but without sacrificing traditional appearance.  The long, comfortable fret board also makes the capo an extremely useful option. 

 

The Southcoast Tenor Ukulele, with it’s shallow body, is designed exclusively as an instrument for the traditional high re-entrant ukulele tuning.  It perfectly fills a hole in the existing ukulele family.  Because of the long scale, you would not tune this instrument in the key of C.  A body of this volume is best suited to a somewhat lower pitch to begin with (the same is actually true for the standard tenor uke as well).  The keys of A and B flat are the best matches for the Tenor body volume.

 

While recommendations for tunings for this instrument are in a very narrow range, this focus allows us to fine tune the design.  We can build for best response for these high re-entrant tunings, and not worry about a “worst case scenario” with high tension or wound strings.  This instrument is therefore built extremely light, and that is one reason it gives such great response.

 

In addition the long scale means that the strings used for A and B flat are one gauge thinner than they would be on  a typical tenor.  This brightens the sound and moves it more toward the feel of the smaller ukuleles.  Combine these elements with the shallow body, and the sound of our Tenor is light, bright, airy and with the clearest tone of any of our instruments. 

 

Our Baritone model straddles the line between the popular tenor and baritone designs, and the depth and volume of it’s body handles deeper tunings beautifully.  Our Baritone is without doubt our most versatile instrument.  Our designs are generally very specific when it comes to string set-ups.  This instrument was designed for a specific set-up as well.  It just happens that these parameters produce a number of other nice options when you are standing at this “crossroad” of instrument size.  

 

To begin with, our instrument can be tuned with low re-entrant strings in key of D tuning as with a traditional Cuatro. (see the Cuatro page and the String Guide link below).  It can be tuned to traditional ukulele high re-entrant set-ups in the keys of A & G.  With A tuning, you are two steps below the traditional key of C ukulele tuning.  With G, you are tuning as a Baritone Uke, but with a high top or D string.  This was actually Martin’s original recommendation for their tenor uke.  It is much more at home here, on this Tenor / Baritone / Cuatro hybrid.

 

With the long neck of this big uke, you have a greater fretboard range than with a typical ukulele.  If you want, you can tune as low as the high re-entrant “guitar tuning” key of G , capo up to “standard uke” key of C tuning if need be, and still have 11 very comfortable frets to the body  

 

Our design intent, however, was geared toward those players who prefer linear (or low 4th) tunings.  This instrument will sound wonderful with a light set of wound strings.  The keys of B flat and A resonate much better in an instrument of this size than the G (guitar based) tuning found on the popular baritones.  If you want to play a linear G set-up, the best answer, the one that gives much better performance, is the obvious answer.  Play this guitar based tuning on one of our 4-string Guitars.    

 

With the 20” scale and deep body our Baritone becomes the Holy Grail for those who have wanted to play a linear key of C tuning without wound strings.  The 20” scale is where response and tension work best for that string set-up and the deep body is perfectly suited for this range of notes - a much better fit than with on the standard tenor uke.  With this arrangement, we can offer a linear ukulele set-up that is much more in keeping with  traditional “ukulele sound” .  This was our main goal for this instrument from the beginning.  

 

For detailed information and specific string recommendations, click here for our Southcoast Guide to Tuning and Strings.

 

 

   

 

 

 

 

 

                                                                   

             

               

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Tenor Ukulele tuning samples - click below - wait for file to load

 

                  Tenor Ukulele - High re-entrant B flat                                                       Tenor Ukulele - High re-entrant A

 Update:   New Model Tenors and Baritones  will be available in 3 standard configurations.  Check “Design Notes - Models & Features”  for further details.

 

 

 

 

Baritone Ukulele tuning samples - click below - wait for file to load

 

               Baritone Ukulele - Low re-entrant D                                         Baritone Ukulele - Linear B flat - wound strings

 

               Baritone Ukulele - High re-entrant A                              Baritone Ukulele - High re-entrant G

 

                                                                 Baritone Ukulele - Linear C - no wound    

             Tenor Ukulele

             Baritone Ukulele