There comes a time in any stringed instruments life, when a new set of strings is the order of the day. New strings always means a fresher, more vibrant sound. This is as true of the ukulele as it is of guitars, violins and so on. Having taken the time to pick the right ukulele, and having spent months learning songs and chord shapes, you are no doubt keen to make sure you buy the right strings for the job!
If you are a beginner, or this is the first time you have needed to change the strings on your instrument, this handy guide should help you on to the right path.
To start the ball rolling, here are some answers to frequently asked questions:
When should I change the strings on my Ukulele?
How long is a piece of… Oh wait a minute.
Seriously though, your ears will naturally become accustomed to the slowly deadening sound of ageing strings. Whatever type of string you use, the tonality will dull over time. If you play every day for extended periods, you are going to deaden them much more quickly than if you only pick your uke up occasionally. The simple answer then, is when they sound flat, or you notice that the sound of your ukulele is changing.
A new set of strings is the single most effective, value for money, sound upgrade you can give your ukulele.
As a frame of reference, if you play your uke a few times a week, you may get away with a string change every four to six months. Even less if it is just a casual hobby.
A more serious leisure player who is playing daily, would almost certainly want to change strings more frequently. This would not only prevent the dulling of tone, but also reduce potential for string breakages.
Players who are gigging and recording regularly will have already developed their own habits, but it is not uncommon to change strings for every significant gig or session. Some players will prefer to change an entire set if a string breaks. Others will just replace the broken string, especially if it is at a gig. Tonally, old and new strings sound different, so this practice is very much a personal choice.
Single ukulele strings are readily available from most manufacturers.
How much should I spend on ukulele Strings?
You can find strings ranging from just a few dollars to as high as $35 a set. If you have spent $30 on a ukulele, spending $35 on strings just doesn’t figure. Although top end strings sound great, they are not going to improve the sound of your budget ukulele by enough worth. There are likely to be more fundamental set up and construction issues that will be affecting the sound of your ukulele. Equally, you want the best sound for the $30 you have spent on your uke, so there is no point in buying rubbish.
Once you get to ukulele’s of $100 plus, then it is more a case of how much you can afford to spend, and what you are going to be using the ukulele for. An open mic in the pub, or busking in the town centre may warrant a reasonable, mid range set, but recording your first album probably deserves a bit more!
Suggested string choices for different instruments:
Example: Kala – Makala MKTE Ukulele (RRP $140) – High G
String choice: Aquila Nylgut
Nylgut has become a universally accepted choice for factories building budget ukuleles. Nylgut has a strange property in that it can mask intonation issues on cheaper instruments. That is to say, if you put a more expensive string onto a budget instrument, it may reveal flaws. Here you have two choices.
You can stick with Nylgut, which is a great product with it’s own sound characteristics. In doing so you will be getting a good all round, bright punchy sound. Nylgut is durable and retains tuning well.
The other option is to go for a fluorocarbon string, or even nylon, and experiment with tone. Should this reveal intonation flaws, you could then have the ukulele set up professionally by a luthier. If you have only spent $30 on a uke this seems totally impractical. The Makala is an instrument that you may well want to invest the extra money into. Budget and personal choice will inform you.
Example 2: Exotic wood, hand crafted or custom Uke Tenor – $250 to $500 High G
This type of instrument is beautiful in both tone and appearance. You can really tell the difference with your string choice at this level of ukulele.
Nylgut will work. They can sound brittle or harsh.
Fluorocarbon is a much more likely starting point. All stringed instruments stand or fall by the wood they are made of. A Fluorocarbon string will really bring out the tonality locked in a solid body. $12 to $25 budget will reward you with a great sound. In fact with Fluorocarbon coming in a variety of types, all indicated by the colour, tone will also vary according to your taste.
You can probably appreciate that there is no definitive right or wrong string. Part of the fun is that you can experiment, and find out what suits your playing style and instrument.
Which string manufacturer is the right choice for you and your instrument?
This is a popular question, however, it is a bit of a red herring. The manufacturer has SOME bearing on the sound and quality. It is far more useful an exercise to find out which material works best for your instrument and music style. Once you have answered this, then you can pretty much shop on price, especially if you are buying strings by mail order.
Some rules of thumb:
Cheap, starter instruments with potentially bad intonation, through to $100 instruments – Try Nylgut first and foremost.
Solid and exotic wood instruments – Try Fluorocarbon first, and then compare the different colours depending on your playing style. Also try Nylon if you use the instrument regularly enough to warrant all the retuning or are looking for the ultimate warm tone.
If you are particularly keen to experiment, Gut was the traditional material for ukuleles. Real gut strings are available, but are perhaps less popular today. Manufacturing techniques for real gut are a specialised area, and ethical issues are also a factor here.
There are a bewildering array of ukulele strings on the market. They range in price from a few dollars to more than the price of a budget ukulele, so what is the difference?
Don’t get too hung up on the amount of strings available. To re-iterate, find out which material suits your instrument and playing style and then narrow your choice to that material.
Generally speaking, nylon and gut are the most high maintenance in terms of tuning, but offer incredibly warm and soft tones.
Somewhere in the middle comes Fluorocarbon, with various colour shades to suit different styles. Clear Fluorocarbon is brighter and more dynamic, the darker the string, the softer and quieter the tone.
Finally Nylgut is resilient, bright and loud, and will definitely suit cheaper instruments more than those made of exotic materials.
Taking care of your Ukulele Strings
With all of the strings mentioned so far, the simple rule is clean your ukulele after use. Wiping your strings over with a dry cotton rag will remove skin oils and corrosive elements that your hands leave on the string. This will enhance the life of the strings and keep them sounding crisper for longer.
As ukulele strings are not traditionally made using steel, (although there are options for wound low strings if you want to go for a specific sound), there are less issues with corrosion. If you do use a nickel wound, or steel strings, then you should follow the same advice, but be more thorough in your approach. This is especially true if the instrument is kept in a dusty of humid/damp environment.
A regular cleaning routine should also include the fingerboard, frets and nut/bridge. And a string glide product is great for ease of playing and prolonging string life if you use a wound or steel string.
GHS Strings FAST FRET
So here are suggestions for the best ukulele strings available in 2019
1. Ernie Ball ukulele, Nylon strings (Around $8.00)
Ernie ball are one of the legendary string manufacturers with some impressive artists on their testimonial list, including Eric Clapton, Paul McCartney, Slash, the Rolling Stones and many more. Their ukulele range is simple. There are two types of ukulele string available in the Ernie Ball Range; Concert and Soprano.
The ukulele range is brand new, and one of the appealing features is that the strings are ball ended, which means that you don’t have to tie one of those knots at the bridge end! This makes changing strings a relatively simple process.
The Ernie Ball Ukulele strings are nylon. This means that they will have more give in them and take longer to settle in, so do bear that in mind. Best for regular players, who are looking for a warmer, softer tone. They are most suited to solid body and exotic wood instruments. At around $8.00 a set they won’t break the bank and would be a great product for anyone wanting to try out a nylon string.
Ernie Ball Ukulele Strings (Clear)
Ernie Ball Ukulele Strings (Black)
2. Martin ukulele Fluorocarbon strings (Around $13.00)
Martin is another name that is synonymous with quality musicians and products, and have also developed a really strong range of ukulele strings. Divided into two ranges, standard & premium, they offer the Ukulele soprano and tenor in Fluorocarbon and baritone in a choice of materials including some metal strings. Metal strings include, silver plated copper and wound aluminium.
The premium range is made in partnership with Aquila and is cited as being graphite grey polygut™ Now, this is a little confusing as it is unclear whether this is Nylgut or some other blend of materials, however, we are focussing on the fluorocarbon for this review. Suffice to say that the polygut™ is a markedly different proposition to the Fluorocarbon and is designed to be so. The premium range would suit the better end of the budget range ukuleles. If you are looking to replace a Nylgut, why not give them a shot and let us know what you think.
The Fluorocarbon ukulele string range from Martin is very popular, and has a choice of tonality depending on the colour. The clear is the brightest and sharpest of the bunch, so if you are looking for overall volume, clarity and punch, it will be your first choice. The darker fluorocarbons are softer and warm. Ideal if you are a more jazz influenced player.
Martin Ukulele Strings – M600
3. D’Addario ukulele titanium-strings (Around $15.00)
D’Addario are another industry standard. If you have spent any time around musical instruments then you will no doubt have heard of them. D’Addario started out life as a family business in the beautiful Italian mountains. They have poured passion and commitment into their products, as only the Italians know how. When it comes to music, D’Addario is one of the most established companies in the world. I love D’Addario strings. I use them exclusively on my guitars. Typically D’Addario offer a broad range of ukulele strings, and you will find one for whatever budget and instrument type you have. The titanium gets a special mention here as it sits bang in the middle of Daddario’s “tonal” range. It has all of a nylon string, and yet the punch and clarity of Nylgut. Titanium is a great choice for players of all types. Another thing I love about Daddario is their incredibly simple tone chart. Check it out here!
One of the other great features of this string is that it has a good rate of tension, so if your instrument needs to be strung with a high tension string, BUT you don’t want to sacrifice tone and feel, then Titanium could be your string.
Check out the range here and look out for some great prices on the titanium range!
D’Addario Strings (Full Range)
4. Aquila ukulele Nylgut strings (Around $5.00)
Largely considered to be the most popular manufacturer of ukulele strings out there, Aquila are another company who have developed a broad range of products for the discerning player. Aquila are another Italian company and they have certainly defined the sound of the instrument over the years. A number of production partnerships with other manufacturers is testimony to their place as one of the world leaders in ukulele strings.
Aquila have a broad range of strings, but here we feature their very own Nylgut string, as used on literally millions of budget and mid range ukuleles. If you have a ukulele with that more brittle feeling, white string, then you have already played a Nylgut string. Sure, there are many other choices, even from Aquila themselves, but Nylgut has its place, and for a good all round budget string it is perfect. As discussed, it is probably not the string for your more exotic woods where you want to draw out the tone. For a laminate, or even a budget solid, then you can slap these on with no fear!
You can check out their range here:
Aquila Ukulele Strings (Full Range)
5. Worth High end Ukulele strings (Around $35)
If the amount of ukulele strings available has started to make your head spin, then Worth will probably tip you over the edge! Worth have one of the largest ranges of ukulele strings out there. Do take the time to explore their full range. Worth make excellent strings and are focussed on providing the ukulele player with an option at every level of playing. Worth are a Japanese company, which as you would expect, means total dedication and commitment to their product. You will find more affordable strings in their range, but the top end of their catalogue boasts a product with outstanding tone and feel. If you are recording an album, or playing a gig with a top end sound system and engineer at your disposal, then these should be high on your list.
Worth, like Daddario, have taken the time to put together an incredible chart which breaks down into minute detail, what each of the products does, it’s target market and suggested instrument type. You can learn a lot form this chart, not just about strings, but Ukuleles in general. Have a read and see for yourself!
Advanced/Pro players, session players and those with a penchant for quality products may not look much further.
As with most things musical, a lot of this comes down to your own personal taste. The type of instrument you play, the music and your playing style will all have a bearing on the string that you decide to use. If you have more than one ukulele you may even find that there is no one solution. Your choice of string may even vary form someone with the very same instrument.
The main thing to remember is that you should enjoy the process of discovering which string is right for you. It may take you two or three purchases to find the right one. That is all part of the journey!
We hope that this Top 5 Best Ukulele strings guide has given you a solid start in picking the right strings. If you are just starting out and are interested in ukuleles, then why not check out best ukuleles guide here.
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