Parts of the Ukulele
It is important to know the names of the parts of the ukulele so that you can tune, restring and look after your ukulele easily. It also helps to know the parts of the ukulele in case you want to talk about the ukulele with other players; although do keep in mind that some parts of the ukulele are known by multiple names - as such, it's best to be familiar with all of the names used to identify a certain part. In this article we'll run down the common names used to identify the different parts of the ukulele, along with the main features of each part. Feel free to grab your own uke and identify the corresponding parts as we go!
Parts of the Ukulele
Headstock [also known as the head of the ukulele]
The headstock is the top of the ukulele - the part which holds the tuners. The headstock is also the part of the uke that is furthest away from the body of the ukulele. The headstock is usually made of a solid piece of wood or plastic. It needs to be quite strong to support the tension of the strings and the tuners.
Tuners [also known as pegs, tuning pegs, tuning heads, machine heads or tuning keys]
These four pegs are located in the headstock of the ukulele, and as their name suggests they are used for tuning the strings. Some tuners point backwards, and some point out the side depending on the style of your uke. The top end of the string is threaded through the tuner and then the tuner is turned, causing the string to tighten or loosen, depending on what way you turn. Tuners have lots of different names because of the various changes to their design over the past several hundred years. Some tuners are geared, making them easier to turn, while others rely on friction (though this style of tuner is very rarely used on modern ukes). When you tune your ukulele from the tuner, you should unwind the tuner slightly first and then tune back up to the right note to avoid string breakages and over-stretching the string - this advice is particularly important for those ukes that have metal wound strings.
Want to know more about tuning the Ukulele? Check out our How to Tune the Ukulele article!
The nut is the small ridge in between the headstock and the fretboard that the strings rest on. The nut has small notches on it which keep the strings evenly spaced at the top of the ukulele. The nut also elevates the strings off the fretboard by a few millimeters so that you can play the ukulele by pressing down on the strings. The ukulele would be unplayable without the nut, with strings that slip out of place and rub against the frets.
The fretboard is the front surface of the neck, beneath the strings. Usually the fretboard is colored black, an aesthetic habit that has seemed to stick from when fretboards were commonly made of dark hardwoods like rosewood and ebony. A good fretboard needs to be strong and perfectly smooth so that it can be glued exactly onto the neck.
The frets are the small bars that are hammered into the fretboard at very specific intervals. The frets stick out a little from the surface of the fretboard so when a finger is placed behind a fret, the fret stops the string instead of the finger itself. This means that unlike a fretless instrument (like those in the violin family) the ukulele can only play in semi-tonal increments. Frets get closer together the closer they are to the sound hole. This is because as the string gets shorter, the difference between one semi-tone and the next is smaller.
Fret markers are little inlaid white 'dots' on the fretboard, though fret markers can sometimes be other shapes and colors too. These little dots help you to find your way from one note to another, and are particularly helpful when moving larger distances up and down the fretboard. Fret markers are usually present on the third, fifth, seventh, tenth and twelfth fret.
The neck is the piece of the ukulele located behind the fretboard. It is curved from side to side to allow the uke players hand to cup around the neck and fingerboard comfortably, and it is usually made of solid material (either plastic or, more commonly, wood). The neck of the ukulele needs to be strong in order to support the tension of the strings. The neck and the headstock are usually made of one solid piece of material.
The body of the ukulele is the main 'box' part and comprises of a backpiece, sides and a frontpiece. The body of the ukulele is important as it amplifies the sound of the vibrating strings. As such, much of the tone of the ukulele is dependent on the body. Ukulele 'bodies' come in varying shapes and sizes, many of which mimic the classical or modern forms of other instruments. Some ukuleles have a 'cut-away' body shape much like that of some modern guitars, where the shoulder of the instrument has literally been cut away so that the player has easier access to the top notes on the fretboard.
Located under the strings in the body of the ukulele, the sound hole is a round hole that projects out the sound that reverberates inside the ukulele body. When you are playing the ukulele, if you strum over the sound hole you will produce the loudest sound, whereas if you strum down or up the strings further, the sound will be much quieter. Some ukuleles have a pattern inlaid around the sound hole, known as the rosette.
The bridge if the ukulele is the part that the strings are attached to on the body of the instrument. The bridge is usually glued to the body of the ukulele, and can come in two different types - tie-bar and the standard bridge. Tie-bar bridges have small holes in them which the string is threaded through. The string is then tied to the bridge in a specific way to secure the string. Standard bridges have small notches in the end of the bridge closest to the bottom of the ukulele. To secure the strings to the standard bridge, the strings are knotted at the end and then this knot is inserted into the notch. For this type of bridge, the tension of the string then works to keep the string in its correct position. The side of the bridge closest to the sound hole usually has a long, narrow strip inserted into it called the saddle.
To learn more about how to restring a ukulele, see our How to Restring A Ukulele article.
The saddle of the ukulele performs much the same function as the nut, except it is located in the bridge, down the bottom end of the string. The saddle raises the strings to the right height needed to keep them consistently distanced from the fretboard, right the way to the nut. Like the nut, the saddle also has small notches in it to keep the strings evenly spaced from each other.
The strings of the ukulele are usually made of nylon on concert and soprano ukuleles. Other types of ukulele, such as the tenor and the baritone, may have a mix of nylon and metal-wound strings. Metal-wound strings are used on these ukuleles in order to create a fuller tone on the lower strings of the instrument. Sometimes ukuleles are strung with steel strings like the top strings on a common steel-string guitar, although steel strings can damage most kinds of ukulele, and they produce a much different tone. The first ukuleles were string with gut strings, which are made out of animal intestine. The strings of the concert and soprano ukuleles are most commonly tuned G4-C4-E4-A4, which is unusual as most stringed instruments are tuned from lowest note to highest. This kind of tuning of a stringed instrument (where the strings are not tuned from lowest to highest) is called re-entrant tuning.
To learn more about the tuning of the ukulele, including how different types of ukes are tuned, see our How to Tune the Ukulele article.
Ready to tune up your ukulele? Head over to our Ukulele Tuner.