July 6, 2013 8:22 PM   Subscribe

I am itching for a sound bigger than my concert ukulele but have tiny, tiny hands. I don't really foresee performing on the uke (although you just never know)-- mostly I use the uke to write songs for my guitarist-singer friend to sing while I play the violin. So I am thinking...guitalele? What can you tell me about it? OR should I get a 1/2 size guitar? And where in Toronto can I buy the Yamaha one that costs only 100?
posted by atetrachordofthree to Media & Arts (14 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Are you thinking that you can't actually play the guitar? I have smallish hands, and have found that there are many models of guitar that have a thinner neck and are very much more playable than other guitars.
posted by Miko at 8:52 PM on July 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Me and my tiny, tiny hands will be watching this space closely.
(You might check out used Daisy Rocks. They're 2/3 scale, usually.)
posted by ApathyGirl at 8:52 PM on July 6, 2013

I really love mine. It's not a beautiful-sounding instrument, but is cheap, sounds very decent (better than similarly scaled down guitars usually do), and plays easily and in tune. Mine is my go-to travel instrument, and has survived a lot more car-time and battering than it should have been put to. It has a fairly wide but comfortable fretboard (think of it as a very small scale classical guitar without that much low end). Its tuning (like the fifth fret of a guitar) also is pretty easy to transpose, though I rarely play it with other instruments. It suffers a little in volume and tone from its lack of expensive wood, (it's a step down in sound, for instance, from a Koaloha concert uke) but for $100 or less, it's a phenomenal value.

Other economical small instruments you might consider would be the short-scale Yamaha classicals--I have a 1/2 scale that I like very well that sounds pretty good, and was also relatively inexpensive. Only slightly larger and much more full-sounding is the LXM little Martin steel string: also a great instrument, the best sounding guitar at its size, but is considerably more expensive. The little Martin is really a parlor guitar made of cool High Pressure Laminate and is bombproof and sounds great with other instruments.

Have you considered / tried a mandolin? I just took it up, and with only a little fiddle experience, found it very natural and quick to pick up, particularly if you want to play melodies.
posted by LucretiusJones at 8:52 PM on July 6, 2013

Consider the harp ukulele.
posted by Nomyte at 9:49 PM on July 6, 2013

Taylor makes the Big Baby and Taylor GS Mini guitars which would be perfectly suitable for you, other than the price. The LXM Little Martin LucretiusJones references is also more expensive than your upper limit. However, all of these have pretty good acoustic sound.

The smaller Yamaha (either classical or steel string) would work., They would have a smaller sound.

I guess I'm just saying, LucretiusJones is correct. The Yamaha GL1 Guitalele or a small size guitar, no matter how small your hands appear to you.
posted by blob at 9:51 PM on July 6, 2013

Oh, and Yamaha dealers in Toronto can be looked up from this page.
posted by blob at 10:04 PM on July 6, 2013

Phone McQuade's on Bloor St. West they list one. I got mine there several years ago. Cool little thing but I never really got into it though.

You might also want to consider a cuatro venezolano. It has a scale length the same as a baritone uke but with a bigger, more flamenco-ish sound. It's basically tuned the same as a soprano or concert uke, no new chord shapes to learn.
posted by bonobothegreat at 11:03 PM on July 6, 2013

As bonobothegreat said, L&M have them. Cosmo up in Markham have them too, usually in stock. They can sound really nice; Canadian composer William Beauvais has written a duet for classical guitar and guitalele.

Mandolins are much more versatile than many give them credit for. Same tuning as violin. Cheap ones tend not to have much bass. Electric ones can be as loud as you need them to be.
posted by scruss at 1:12 AM on July 7, 2013

Look at a tenor guitar. Martin makes a fine one (think Nick Reynolds). 4 strings, various tunings. If that's a bit pricey check other makers. I'm guessing you have an eye for stringed instruments in general, so quality v tone won't be an issue with you.

I have a baritone uke that I play from time to time. It's not really expensive, and I don't sound like jakeshimafuckingbukuro, but it keeps my hands loose and my sense of humor intact. I tune mine to an open G chord, so I don't get too confused when I get back to my guitar.
posted by mule98J at 1:38 AM on July 7, 2013

I was going to second looking at tenor guitars as well, or possibly a parlor guitar (six strings, but with more manageable proportions than the huge dreadnought style that's become the norm for acoustincs.)
posted by usonian at 8:11 AM on July 7, 2013

...and if you're looking at tenor guitars, why not check out tenor banjos, which can have a very big sound indeed with a resonator and/or tone ring. Same tuning as tenor guitars. (Vice versa, really, as tenor guitars came into being as a way for tenor banjo players to play guitar without having to relearn any fingerings.)
posted by usonian at 8:17 AM on July 7, 2013

If the problem is small fingers and limited reach spanning frets, and not body-size (dreadnoughts are terrible for arm positioning, playing near furniture, and general comfort), the magic stat to look for is "scale length" -- a Little Martin is a 23 inch scale length, the Guitalele is 17, standard baritone uke probably around 19 inches, Irish Tenor banjo about 19 1/2 to 21, Tenor guitar from 21 to 23, and regular guitars hover around 25 inches. Concert ukes, for comparison, usually clock in around 15 inches, mandolins at about 13 inches (similar to a violin).

Parlor guitars aren't necessarily short-scaled: some just have smaller bodies more comfortable to play instead of prioritizing volume.

Lots of short scale small body guitars with steel strings suffer from thin sound and too much brightness to my ear-- I have always found the Taylors to suffer from these problems. Small-bodied guitars not from major makers are sometimes "toys"--badly fretted, badly braced, and poorly set up: that's one reason I've recommended the small scale Yamahas or the guitalele to friends with kids. For all the cheap and small, they're real instruments, made with careful tolerances.
posted by LucretiusJones at 12:58 PM on July 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Have you tried playing a few different guitars? If not I'd recommend going to your local guitar shop and explain the problem to someone there.

I expect there will be a normal sized guitar that works for you: the issue a lot of people with small hands have on guitars isn't really reach but strength (if this isn't true for you feel free to stop reading!). The two ways to make it easier are to find a smaller neck profile that fits your hand better, and a guitar with a lower action so it takes less force to push the strings down. Don't worry if you can't play a barre chord at first, but see if you can hit all the notes in a 3 fret space without moving your hand.

Also, I don't know if you're at all interested, but electric guitars are usually a lot easier to play than acoustic ones, so maybe that's worth looking into? Good Luck!
posted by Ned G at 6:53 PM on July 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Please disregard if you are strictly looking for an acoustic instrument, but if you ever get the urge to plug in, many electric guitars are playable for small hands. The way to judge (and this would apply to acoustics as well, but I know little about them) is to determine what exactly is small on your hands. I knew a writer who had gigged for years as a blues guitarist, who had the stubbiest little fingers I'd ever seen.

My wife also has small hands, but her palm is larger than usual, and thus she found that a Gibson neck, which is wider and thicker, sat better in her palm and allowed for more finger motion. Gibson Les Pauls are the archetype, though we chose an Epiphone Casino for her. Gibsons tend to have a 24 3/4" scale length (nut to bridge).

My hands are fairly small as well, but I favor the Fender neck style (Stratocaster, Telecaster, etc). These are slimmer than Gibson style necks, so my fingers can reach the frets more easily. Fenders tend to be 25 1/2" scale length. However, a few Fenders have a 24" scale length, and thus a shorter neck: the Mustang and the Jaguar. I owned a Fender Lead II, which was 24", and is very rare (only because no one liked them), and found it a breeze to play.

When shopping for guitars with friends, I try to identify a store with a variety of instruments. Guitar Center is usually a good fallback choice, but don't buy it there! Play their instruments then locate the equivalent at a good local store. Trust me, you won't regret it.

If you and I were going guitar shopping for electrics, I'd have you try these:
1. Fender Stratocaster
2. Fender Telecaster
3. Gibson (or Epiphone) Les Paul
4. Gibson ES-335
5. Fender Mustang or Jaguar
6. Gretsch! Can vary from 24 to 25 inches, but I find the necks are a little smaller than Gibsons.
7. PRS, Ibanez, Heavy-Metal-O-Caster: tend to have very thin necks, which I don't care for, but really work for some folks.

That said, manufacturers do very the neck thickness by model and release year. That's why people talk about the "meaty" 50s' Fender necks. The good news is that with Fender guitars, you can actually swap out the necks with a different thickness/shape. and are good for that.

Again, if you want an acoustic, the idea is similar, but the brand names and specs will be different. Hope this helps!
posted by cheekycheeky at 8:21 PM on July 7, 2013

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