Alright. Let's talk strings, and let's get basic with it.
For starters, ukuleles usually have four strings, with the exception of some ukuleles that have 5, 6, and 8 strings though these are much less common. These variants produce very different sounds than a standard 4-string uke.
It's also important to keep in mind that your strings won't last forever, even on a brand new instrument. As you play, your strings start to fray and become more and more stretched out, which affects the sound of the instrument overall.
In fact, you should change your strings out anywhere from every few weeks to every few months depending on how often you play.
We'll be covering the four standard uke sizes: soprano, concert, tenor, and baritone.
But what do the strings mean?
Each of the strings, regardless of which type of uke or string instrument you have, represents a music note that can be tuned to a specific tonal value.
Because they're meant to produce different pitches, the strings are crafted differently, with different thicknesses, tensions, and lengths determining the tonal pitch. This brings us to our first point: length.
You already know that ukuleles come in different sizes and those sizes directly correlate with the length of the strings that you should use.
When buying new strings, I like to start with the length because it's the easiest thing to determine. Most strings that you can buy are clearly marked. If you know you need strings for a soprano uke, the strings package will usually say soprano on the front.
If you're shopping for strings that are marked only by the length, here's a handy breakdown of those measurements.
|Uke Type||Length of Strings||Scale Length|
You can, of course, switch different strings for different instruments to produce a more unique sound for whatever you're trying to play. "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" by IZ got funky with his strings to produce one of the most well-known ukulele songs ever.
Admittedly, I don't know much about this and I've never tried to switch out a string for another string, so I'm not going to cover that in this guide. This is possible, and you absolutely can do this.
Now that you know how the length of strings works, let's move on to the second point: string material.
The sound that your ukulele produces is dependent, in part, on the material of your strings. Thankfully, there are only a handful of main string types that you can choose from. Here's a breakdown of the most popular you'll see:
- Nylon strings: Nylon is one of the most common ukulele string types and the design is based on the traditional gut string material (more on that below). Nylon is durable and resistant to humidity, but it tends to not hold tune very well. With nylon strings, you'll likely be tuning and re-tuning often.
I personally like nylon because it produces a softer sound!
- Fluorocarbon strings: Fluorocarbon strings are similar to nylon strings but they're a little more advanced in that they tend to last longer than nylon strings. In fact, they're easier to keep in standard tuning and they hold their tune longer.
- Steel strings: Steel strings are not your standard uke strings because they're more suited to larger instruments like guitars, but steel strings offer a unique twist on the standard uke sound.
- Gut strings: The traditional string was a derivative of sheep intestine which can still be purchased today but for a higher price than nylon or fluorocarbon. Gut strings tend not to last as long but many musicians prefer gut because of the softer feel. Gut also tends to slide better if you want to slide between frets.
|Nylon||Warm, rich tones. Good for gentle strumming.|
|Fluorocarbon||Brighter, pinched sounds. Good for quick jigs.|
|Steel||Bright, deep tones. Slightly twangy similar to a guitar.|
|Gut||Rich, classic, complex sound.|
If you're in the market for new strings lookout for length and material.
Now, let's jump into specific brands to look out for.
There are plenty of great brands on the market but there are a few names that you can always count on:
One of the most popular ukulele string makers, Aquila strings are made in Italy from Nylgut - which is a synthetic material that tries to emulate the classic feel of gut strings without being made from gut. In fact, brands like Kala and Cordoba include Aquila Nylgut strings with their ukuleles. They offer many different strings on their store such as these Nylgut Tenor Strings.
My tenor uke came with Aquila strings and I'm genuinely happy with them!
Another large name in ukulele strings is Ernie Ball. Known for being affordable and durable, Ernie Ball strings are an excellent choice if you want to upgrade on a budget. They have so many different options and their descriptions are detailed enough to walk you through everything you need to know about uke strings! Here's one of their classic clear ukulele strings.
I use Ernie Ball on my soprano uke!
Martin has been a name in the game since the early 1920s and is mostly known for making quality guitars that are enjoyed throughout the world. They specialize in making fluorocarbon strings that are perfect, specifically, for sopranos and concert ukes. They also offer a wide range of string types, such as these tenor-gauge ukulele strings.
Partnered with Aquila to produce another synthetic string-like material called Nyltech, D'Addario strings are made in the USA. They're easy to play, durable, and hold their tune well. Check out these titanium tenor ukulele strings, for example.
When it comes to deciding on what string works best for you and your ukulele, you already know the length of the strings that you need based on what type of ukulele you play. Thankfully, that step is easy and the next one is a little more involved and starts with a question:
What kind of sound do you want to produce with your ukulele?
The fun part about picking up a new instrument is finding out what musical voice works best for you. What sort of songs do you like playing? Upbeat? Slower and more mellow? A fancy jig? The possibilities are, frankly, endless and if you don't know, that's fine. Learning an instrument is about the journey and the small progress that is made through realizations along the way.
Take your time, play around with different songs, different styles, different ukuleles, and try different strings! Thankfully, they're relatively inexpensive which means you can try different string materials until you find what works best for you.
More importantly—have fun. I've always said that it's impossible to feel anything but happy while playing the ukulele.
Happy strumming, friends.