The ukulele is a fun, affordable, and easy to play instrument. A fantastic feature is that ukulele strings require very little maintenance to stay in excellent playing condition.
Guitar Strings vs. Ukulele Strings
Guitar and Ukulele string require different care and maintenance as they are made from different materials and produce different sounds. The metals used in acoustic guitar strings, and silver-wound classical guitar strings are susceptible to corrode, rust, stretch out, and break. Heavier gauge guitar strings are wound to provide additional mass to produce low tones. Steel, silver, and other metals used in guitar strings immediately begin oxidizing when exposed to air and from the oils from your skin. Therefore, it is recommended to change the string on the guitar as often as once per month to maintain an optimal tone. Equally, frequent guitar string changes prevent wear on the frets caused by corrosion on the strings, which can act as a nail file on the metal frets.
No need to worry about these factors on most ukuleles as they feature durable nylon strings. It is essential that to note it is standard for a soprano, concert, and tenor ukuleles to feature all-nylon strings. Baritone ukuleles and some soprano ukuleles are an exception. Because Baritone ukuleles utilize a combination of plain or non-wound strings and wound strings, similar to classical guitar strings. Furthermore, there are also some soprano ukulele string sets that have low wound G and C strings which need to be replaced more often. The wound strings are installed in the same fashion as plain, non-wound strings.
When to Change Strings
The ukulele gets a bad rap as beginners can trouble keeping it in tune. The truth is that the nylon strings stretch quite a bit more than you might expect and they take time to settle. Good news, once they do settle, or “break-in,” the strings have a long lifespan that can provide several years of playability. Hence, if you have a new ukulele that is not staying in tune, you may try to pre-stretch your strings and we can help. Check out our blog, How to Break In New Ukulele Strings, to find out how!
Since most nylon strings have a lifespan of 1-2 years, the general rule is to change your strings when you start to see signs of wear, fraying, discoloration, or loss of tone. Changing your strings is also good if you are looking to experiment with the different ukulele tones or sounds.
What Kind of Strings Should I Use?
Aquila Nylgut strings are the most popular strings. Used on many beginner ukulele models due to the full, voluminous, tone and easy-to-play medium tension. As a result, Aquila Nylgut is perfect for strumming chords and a wide variety of applications on almost any ukulele model. These synthetic strings are made to replicate the sound and feel of vintage gut strings and are recognizable by their solid white appearance.
If you prefer a mellower or clearer tone, try a crystal, nylon, or other synthetic composite string such as Worth, D’Addario, or Martin. These strings offer a classical guitar-like tone with more clarity and a greater separation of timbre between notes. For most vintage instruments we recommend using these types of strings because they retain a more vintage look. The bold white Aquila strings have only been introduced in the past decade. On vintage instruments, you may find the nut and bridge needs to be re-fitted to accommodate the thicker gauge of the Aquila strings. We invite you to check out reviews on different types of strings and experiment to find out what sounds best for you!
How to Replace a Ukulele String
· Wire cutters (or nail clipper for cutting nylon strings)
· String Winder
First, check your ukulele to see what kind of bridge you have because it will determine what type of knot to use. The 2 most common types are a tie-bar ukulele bridge or a slotted ukulele bridge.
Changing Strings on a Tie-Bar (or String Through) Bridge
The tie-bar bridge has a hole bored through it so the string can be inserted into and then looped back around itself and secured with a knot.
Insert string into bridge
Leave enough excess for knot
Bring end of string over
Tuck end of string under
Loop string over
Insert string through loop
Step 7 (same as Step 5):
Point end of string up
Step 8 (same as Step 6):
Insert loop a 2nd time
Complete double-loop knot
Align tail with back of bridge to secure knot and tighten
Step 10 is the most crucial step to ensure the string does not slip. Be sure to tuck the end of the string against the back of the bridge. In the image, you will see the string end at the back of the bridge (the same surface the thumb is touching). That way the string will become more secure as added tension locks the knot in pace.
Cut the end of the string using wire cutter (or nail trimmers in a pinch) leaving ½” – 1” of excess string.
Some manufacturers tuck the tail end of the string into the loop of the adjacent string. This is not a requirement and is ultimately a personal preference as either way will secure the strings.
Changing Strings with a Slotted Bridge
The slotted bridge requires a knot to be tied at the end of each string. The knot fits snugly in the end cavity and the string runs through the thinner slot. This style bridge is used by many vintage and contemporary ukulele manufacturers such as Martin, Gibson, Gretsch, and Kamaka, for example.
Occasionally, a slotted bridge can allow the string to slip through once the knot is compressed. This typically happens when tuning up to pitch, especially in the thinnest strings (high G or A). For that reason, a standard square-knot tied at the end of the string may not be large enough to keep the string in its place. As a solution, we recommend a larger “figure-8” style knot.
If the string’s end knot slips through the slit you may be able to retain the same string, as long as it is not broken and long enough to wrap several times around the tuning peg.
How to Tie a Figure-8 Knot
Start by putting a bend in the string
Cross the end of the string underneath to form a loop
Cross the end of the string over itself by flipping it to the left
Bring the end of the string under the loop and through the opening
Winding the strings on the tuning pegs:
When installing a new string keep in mind that you will not usually need to wind the full length onto the tuning peg.
Insert the string into the hole in the tuning peg. Leave approximately 1.5-2” of slack in the string length to wind around the peg.
Next, pull the free end of the string back around the peg (Figure 2a) and tuck back under the string that fed into the hole (Figures 2b, 2c).
Begin turning the tuning peg to begin winding the string. Keep tension on the string so that each wrap winds snugly on the peg
TIP: Tuning pegs use gears to allow for easier, more precise tuning. For example, a 14:1 tuning gear ratio means that you will need to turn the tuning buttons 14 times to turn the tuning peg 1 full rotation. That works great for fine-tuning your instrument but means a lot of turns when installing new strings. I prefer to use a string winder tool to help expedite this process such as the On-Stage String Winder or the D’ Addario Planet Waves String Pro-Winder with a built-in wire cutter.
Be sure to wind the string in the same direction as specified by the manufacturer. This should also be how the original strings were wound.
For example, many headstocks require the G and C strings to be wound to the right of the peg, while the E and A strings are wound to the left, as shown below:
While Fender-style headstocks have the string windings all going the same way:
Each string should be close in alignment from the tuning peg to the bridge; there should be no sharp angles of the string at the nut as it will put undue tension on the string or cause the string to slip out of the nut groove. A minimum of 2-3 windings around the peg is recommended but you may have more depending on how much the string stretches when tuned up to pitch.
Now it is time to tune your ukulele up to pitch. We prefer to use a clip-on tuner as it is quick and precise, especially when tuning a classroom set. Some of my favorite models:
- Snark SN-6 Ukulele Tuner
- Kala KK-BK Clip-on Ukulele Tuner
- Kala KK-R-BLK Klipz Rechargeable Tuner
- D’Addario Planet Waves PW-CT-12 Mini Headstock Tuner
Remember that new nylon strings stretch quite a bit and the knot will need to cinch into place. We find tie-bar bridges allow strings to break in more quickly, while slotted bridges typically require more time for the strings to stretch as the ball-end knot can take longer before it settles. For more information on how to quickly get your new strings to settle in, check out How to Break in New Ukulele Strings.
Sam Marchuk is an Education Consultant for West Music specializing in folk instruments and curriculum for the elementary classroom. He has been playing ukulele since 2005 and is an avid collector of vintage and contemporary ukulele models. As an Education Consultant, Sam assists with the selection and acquisition of instruments and curriculum with teachers across the U.S. He enjoys matching up players of all skill levels and classroom teachers with the right ukulele to fit their personality, style, and budget. Sam has demonstrated the potential of the of the ukulele at numerous state and national music education conferences, helped with the startup of ukulele programs across the U.S., and has taught beginning ukulele at the annual Strathmore Ukulele and Guitar Summit in Rockville, MD.