Guitalele aka Guitarlele, Guilele, Guitar Ukulele, 6 string Ukulele

old Hawaiian Guitarlele at Lardys Ukulele Database
1940's Hawaiian
Yamaha GL1 Guitarlele 6 string Ukulele Corner
My Yamaha GL1
KoAloha Guitarlele at Lardys Ukulele Database
KoAloha D-VI
Like a number of concepts in the world of Ukuleles, (and chordophones in general), this instrument is a bit nebulous in its definition and wooly in its history starting with the name which has a number of different spellings? So lets start with the facts that are certain; the Guitalele has 6 courses of, usually, 1 string, (I have seen 12 string double courses versions), is not reentrant and tuned A~D~G~C~E~A

The wooly history goes along the lines of: I have seen a couple of early Hawaiian examples that date, (I'm told), from the 1940's whether these were the first or if the instrument dates back further I don't know, (it could even be the Guitaleles in question aren't as old as claimed; though they were a good 40 years old). I believe at the time there were called Guitar-Ukuleles or Ukulele-Guitars not Guitaleles. After these there is, in my observation, a hiatus until the millennium in Hawaii; outside of Hawaii there is no real pre-millennium history at all; or is there? I ask this because the Guitalele is the same size as a 1/4 Classical Guitar, (This way of sizing instruments is quite common on classical instruments and always, to my mind, it looks odd when you see something described as a 4/4 Guitar or a 4/4 Violin). 1/4 Classical guitars have been around for quite a while and though not particularly common; certainly not as quality instruments and they have often been described as childrens Guitars, even though with the wider Guitar necks they are not good for this. Of course the big difference is the tuning; a 1/4 Guitar is supposed to be E~A~D~G~B~E the same as an ordinary Guitar.

So here are two hypotheses for the inception of Guitalele, they might both be true? or neither?
  • The early examples I have seen are in fact a bit younger than claimed and were suppose to be Lili'us contemporary with Sam Kamaka's first "official" invention of the configuration. Unfortunately the makers in question, (and neither of the ones I have seen were attributed to any maker), got the brief wrong and produced a 6 course instrument rather than a 4 course instrument with 2 double string courses.
  • Someone had a 1/4 Guitar that needed re-stringing and rather than use the right strings they used a set of full size Guitar strings. Tuned normally these would have been slack to play with a dead sound and poor intonation so the person tightened them up until the sound was bright and the intonation good, co-incidentally picking the same tuning as a Ukulele tuning as the right place to be.

  • Moving on from the beginnings, the key point for the development of the Guitalele was 1995 when Yamaha started production of the Guitalele GL1, (Yamaha use the spelling Guitalele and they were the people to popularise the instrument so I try and go with this spelling). they went on to distribute the instrument worldwide and thus really raise awareness of it. It is interesting though, that some of the first other manufacturers to pick up on it were some of the major Hawaiian manufacturers, (does this mean there is some more Hawaiian history that I haven't found?). Today the Guitalele features in a lot of other peoples catalogues; from mass manufacturers to top luthiers and in all parts of the world, making it a mainstream instrument.

    So that's the history as best as I can work out, on to what exactly it is and there are a lot of different definitions out there. The most common statement you see about the Guitalele is that its a Guitar / Ukulele Hybrid, but I think exactly how much the Ukulele played in its development and how much is coincidence is moot. However today this is what it is described as and all of the makers of them, (apart from Yamaha; but they don't have a Ukulele section in their main Catalogue), put them in the catalogue with the Ukuleles so it certainly lives now in the Ukulele family. I have put what I think are the uncontested facts about one at the top of the page but this doesn't include scale length and the reason for that is I have seen a wide range of sizes. The most common is 430mm, (17in), the same as a Tenor Ukulele and I have no problems with this, the problems start when you go much smaller or larger. Smaller, down to a Concert Ukulele scale, and you are the same size as an Octave, (or Mando), Guitar which is usually tuned E~A~D~G~B~E but an octave higher than an ordinary Guitar. Larger, into the Baritone Scale and you have a Terz Guitar which is tuned E~A~D~G~B~E the same as an ordinary Guitar or a Requinto Guitar which is often tuned A~D~G~C~E~A but has a different, longer history and is separate in its inception from the Ukulele. So if you take a Baritone tuning you have exactly the same instrument, but if you leave the tuning A~D~G~C~E~A you get into the same issues as with Jumbo Tenor Ukuleles? Given the overall crowdedness of the scale lengths, when defining a Guitalele, is it fair to say that it has to have a scale length of 16 to 18 inches? Or is it better to just say it is a definition for any 6 course instrument, regardless of size, that is tuned A~D~G~C~E~A? (I plump for the latter but who am I to say?)

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