If I got a five-string uke, could I tune it like the bottom five strings of the guitar?

(Bottom as in "closest to the floor when the instrument is held and played normally.)

I’ve been playing guitar for many years now, and lately I have been gravitating more and more to Renaissance and early Baroque era music. Guitars in those days had only four or five courses although each “course” usually consisted of two strings, much like a twelve string guitar today. The paired strings would either be in unison or octaves of each other. There’s quite a repertoire of early music for the five-course guitar, and today there are luthiers who build costly replicas of early era guitars and lutes.

While one of these replicas is not in the budget at the moment, it occurred to me that some type of ukulele might have something to offer. The early guitars were smaller and had a quieter and higher sound. So does the uke. Having gut strings, the early guitars had a mellower tone. So does the uke. And my investigations, consisting of taking a four string uke down from the wall at a guitar store and playing the first few lines of Roncalli’s Passacaglia in A minor on it, show that as long as you don’t need that bass A string, you can play classical guitar music on one just fine! (Obviously, the gentleman in the YouTube link above is not me, but presumably a surgeon specializing in kidney transplants, judging by his name).

It occurs to me that a five string ukulele of at least decent quality would be very suitable for this type of music. But typically the top string in a five-string uke is an octave to one of the other four strings. Could it be tuned in such a way that music on the five bottom strings on the regular guitar could be transferred to the uke without any modification whatsoever?

I mean, so that the strings on the ukulele would have the same relative pitch to each other as the corresponding strings on the guitar. I’m aware that the absolute pitch would have to be considerably higher.

  1. Sounds like you are basically asking if you can put a bass string on a uke - should be no prob since nylon strings don’t add a lot of tension - having that string be a heavier bass string vs. a thinner octave string shouldn’t stress the uke - if the uke is of decent quality. You may have to file the nut slot - the groove that the string fits across at the top of the fingerboard on the way to the tuning peg. Those are typically sized to fit the string.

  2. Have you looked at Baritone ukes? They are bigger than standard (tenor) ukes and would therefore be closer to a guitar

  3. I don’t know of 5-string ukes - but that isn’t saying much. My mom collects ukes - has over 40, inluding vintage Hawaiin and a Martin or two, and some custom-made ones - some of the exotic ones have courses, like a 6 string one where the two middle strings are actually two-string courses, but the outer strings are singles. I haven’t see her with a 5-string…

Hope this helps

Thanks for responding. From what I’ve been able to determine, baritones almost always have four strings (single or double). An eight string uke would be in some respects very close to an archaic guitar, but I would sure miss the top course. I suppose the music I like could be played on it, but it would sure require a lot of arranging. There’s not much I wouldn’t do for a five-course, ten string ukulele, if they even exist. Doubled strings are largely responsible for the characteristic sound of early guitars; when playing this music on my conventional guitar I find myself playing unison notes when I can, even when not called for by the notation. Usually this means that one of the notes has to be an open string.
ope this helps

Have you checked out a Tiple?(wiki link) - they are a variant of a smaller guitar-type instrument, different from a uke. Many / most have courses - some are up to 12 strings, I think. I remember that Martin made a tiple for a while…

Wow, those look interesting!