The rise in demand and popularity of the ‘ukulele has brought many new and old luthiers from all over the world ready to contribute to the ‘ukulele building dialogue. This exchange of ideas breeds variety which in turn breeds innovation. Over the years, a
multitude of different styles of ‘ukuleles has been made from the unique design of the Flukes and Fleas (Magic Fluke Company) to the eco-friendly bamboo ‘ukuleles of Paulele (Takumi) to the rise in a side port hole on high-end ukes. These reimaginations and innovations push the definition of the ‘ukulele and provide variation to an instrument which is often portrayed as one-dimensional.
One of the approaches to innovating the ‘ukulele has been to take traits of another instrument, often superimposed, and combine it with the uke. These hybrids range from the banjolele (popularized in 1930s and 1940s by George Formby), mandolele (invented in 1986 by Bill Griffin), and the instrument we are going to talk about today: the guitalele.
Depending who you are talking to you might hear it be called a: guitalele, guilele, guitarlele, or something to the effect of an ‘ukulele guitar. Either way, the consistency remains in the tuning and it’s relative size being around a tenor or baritone ‘ukulele. Most guitaleles are equipped with nylon and nylon-core wound strings like what you would typically find on a classical guitar.
Legendary classical guitarist Pepe Romero Sr. plays a guilele made by his son and talented luthier Pepe Romero Jr.
The guitalele tuning meets half way between the guitar and the ‘ukulele. The tuning in ascending order is ADGCEA which is a mostly a 4th up (the 2nd string is a 5th) from the standard tuning on a guitar or EADGBE. Depending how you want to look at it, many view the guitalele as either a guitar with a capo on the 5th fret or just a low-g strung ‘ukulele (gCEA) with two extra bass strings. The left-hand technique becomes the same as playing an acoustic or classical guitar making the guitalele approachable and accessible for both ‘ukulele and guitar players.
Corey Fujimoto demoing a Kanile’a GL6.
With the size mirroring a tenor or baritone ‘ukulele, the guitalele doesn’t have the same timbre as you would with a full-size guitar. Instead, you have an instrument whose range is as wide as the guitar (relatively) but with a tighter and more “contained” tone. The tight low and middle-end help expand the ‘ukulele player’s range with little adjustment to tone in comparison to an ‘ukulele player picking up a dread knot for the first time. That being said, the guitalele (just like the ‘ukulele) is easy to transport and a very convenient size for travel making it appealing to musicians on the road or tight for space.
On the note of size, the guitalele isn’t the first instrument to be a smaller and higher pitched version of another instrument, let alone the guitar. In Portuguese and Spanish, the term requinto is used as a prefix for these smaller instruments such as requinto drums or a requinto guitar. While the requinto guitar is typically tuned the same way as a guitalele, they are a little larger in the body and thusly producing a larger and fuller sound.
Ryo Montgomery playing his custom KoAloha KTM-DVI.
The guitalele is now a staple in the ‘ukulele community. As we see more artists adding the guitalele to their arsenal, we are seeing an influx on various designs ranging in quality from companies such as KoAloha, Kanile’a, Yamaha, Kala, Cordoba, etc. While the differences may be subtle, it’s enough to for the guitalele to stand as it’s own instrument.