Just as all ukuleles are not the same, all ukulele strings are not the same either! In recent months I have been experimenting with a number of different types with some fascinating results…
The ukulele is of course a small bodied instrument and depending on the construction, each instrument can sound completely different. My background in acoustic guitars has been useful in broadly identifying how instruments will sound. For example a mahogany constructed ukulele will sound very different to one made from koa or maple. The latter two woods tend to result in a brighter sound.
The type of strings in combination with these woods can totally change the sonic character of the instrument. In this blog I’ll offer my own observations on what I have found and the result of these string/wood combinations. It’s also useful to remember that the size of the instrument is going to also be a major factor in the overall sound.
Probably the best known and respected ukulele strings in the UK are the Italian made Aquila made strings. These are great sounding and in my experience an extremely reliable choice. There is also a wide range of options. I’m a fan of low G sets of strings and one of my favorite sets are “The Red Series”. These unsurprisingly are red in colour and here is a video on these.
I use these on my Collings pre-production concert ukulele and they sound wonderful. They use some copper in the construction of these strings and in my view they work really well with a mahogany constructed instrument. They definitely colour the sound, so that’s both “the good” and “the bad news!” I tried these on my Koa Tenor Kanilea ukulele and decided it made the instrument too similar to the Collings, losing some of the original character, so I swapped back to the original Bella standard ukulele strings which it had originally when I bought it.
A Gut feeling for your ukulele?
The standard Aquila “nygut” strings are a totally safe bet for any instrument and I always keep a stock of these. However the lesser known “genuine gut” strings are excellent in creating a very specific sound that to my ears make the instrument sound more in the sonic territory of a banjo. I use these on my soprano maple ukulele and they sound excellent.
The Disappearing Hilo sets
In recent times I also encountered the superb Hilo sets of strings. When I bought the Shimo Comet 3 ukulele from Tokyo, it has a low G set of Hilos with a wound 3rd and 4th string. This sounds sonically wonderful leaning more towards the sound of a high end acoustic guitar. The Comet 3 has an ebony fret board and that in my view really helps bring out the sound from the instrument. To my total horror I hear that Hilo have stopped making strings, so I have trawled cyberspace to buy up remaining sets! I especially like the low G sets. I bought the last six sets from Dean at Ukulele Mania and found another 4 sets online, so that should keep me going for a while!
You can transform your instrument when you change your strings. Every set has a different potential to express the sound of the instrument. I think it’s smart to experiment as string sets are usually pretty cost effective and you may be surprised at how much better your ukulele can sound!