When it comes to uke strings, no matter what level of experience you are at with them, there is always something new to learn. Here are some questions I get a lot – asked by both beginners and veterans alike.
Whether you want to know the difference between fluorocarbon and nylon strings, or need mnemonics to remember your favorite tuning setup, I’ve tried to answer all popular questions on strings here:
How Many Strings Does a Ukulele Have?
A standard ukulele typically has four strings. These correspond to the highest strings on a guitar, albeit capo’d at the fifth fret (for standard ‘C’ tuning) and the 7th fret (for traditional ‘D’ tuning). By the way, if you’re using a capo on your uke, then here are my recommendations for the best ones, and I also wrote a guide on how to make your own!
Whereas the baritone uke’s four strings exactly match the first four strings of the guitar (standard ‘G’ tuning).
Over recent years, variants have sprung up, with the most popular being eight-stringed ukes (arranged in double pairings) and six strings (generally on the 1st and 3rd pairings only).
With the ever-growing popularity of the ukulele, expect all manner of string configurations to appear in the coming years!
The chart I’ve created below shows standard string tunings in black, and popular alternatives in green:
Which Strings are Thicker or Thinner on a Ukulele?
On a standard ukulele, using pre-entrant tuning, the thickest string will be the 3rd or ‘C’ string (‘D’ in traditional tuning). The thinnest string will always be the 1st or ‘A’ string (‘B’ in traditional tuning).
On the other hand, if you prefer low ‘G’ tuning, your chunkiest string will always be the last or 4th string.
Although it’s not a hard and fast rule, the baritone uke rarely employs re-entrant tuning, so the thickest string is the 4th or ‘D’ string and the thinnest, the 1st or ‘E’ string. The 3rd and 4th are also wound in metal with a nylon or composite core.
Although I’ve covered this in other blogs, re-entrant tuning merely means the strings don’t follow in a direct highest to lowest pattern. Having a high ‘G’ or ‘A’ on the 4th string gives the uke its very specific tonal character. This isn’t for everyone and in recent years, solo players in particular, who tend to incorporate a lot of melody lines in their playing, will often favor a low ‘G’ or ‘A’.
When it comes to ukulele variants, such as the eight-string ukulele, the thinnest in the octet will generally be the high ‘C’ or ‘D’ (the 3rd pairing).
The thickest however, in physical terms, is the low ‘C’ or ‘D’. This will usually be an unwound string. The lowest in tone, by contrast, is the low ‘G’ or ‘A’ which will be wound. So in this case the thickest string isn’t always the deepest sounding. This all sounds a bit confusing, but if you see an eight-string uke in the flesh, you’ll see exactly what I’m referring to.
The high octave strings on eight, six and five string ukes will generally be strung on the outside or nearest to the players’ chin. In much the same vein as 12-string guitars, you can also string the high octave strings on the inside – it’s very much personal choice.
So generally, the question ‘which strings are thicker or thinner on a uke’, generally depends on the pitch of the string and in some cases the type of string it represents (wound or unwound).
What Are the Names of the Strings on a Ukulele?
As I’ve alluded to in the above sections, the ukulele comes in three distinct tunings, with the exception of some players who like to experiment with something a little more esoteric!
Standard ‘C’ Tuning (as used by the majority of today’s musicians): G C E A
Traditional ‘D’ Tuning (used in the 1920s and 1930s): A D F# B
Standard Baritone ‘G’ Tuning: D G B E
The ukulele family consists of several members, with some being more naturally suitable for one or the other tuning. Which you choose shouldn’t be a hard and fast rule, but rather, a general guide.
Sopranissimo: D5 G4 B4 E5 (octave higher than baritone) or A4 D4 F#4 B4
Sopranino: A4 D4 F#4 B4 or D5 G4 B4 E5
Soprano: G4 C4 E4 A4 or A4 D4 F#4 B4
Concert: G4 C4 E4 A4 or A4 D4 F#4 B4
Concert (Low G or Low A): G3 C4 E4 A4 or A3 D4 F#4 B4
Tenor: G4 C4 E4 A4
Tenor (Low G or Low A): G3 C4 E4 A4 or A3 D4 F#4 B4
Baritone: D3 G3 B3 E4
Bass / U-Bass: E1 A1 D2 G2
8-String: G4 G3 C5 C4 E4 E4 A4 A4 or A4 A3 D5 D4 F#4 F#4 B4 B4
6-String: G4 C5 C4 E4 A4 A4 or A4 D5 D4 F#4 B4 B4
5-String: G4 G3 C4 E4 A4 or A4 A3 D4 F#4 B4
Tips to Remember the Order of Uke Strings
Remembering the note names of the strings in the correct order can be a little tricky until the tuning becomes second nature.
Below, I’m going to offer you some interesting mnemonics if you’re having trouble coming up with something suitable. The mnemonic itself needs to be memorable, so you may wish to include a favorite holiday destination, pet, family member, sports team, celebrity etc. within the four word sentence.
You really can go to town on this one and be as silly as you like! With ‘D’ tuning you have to improvise a little to get the additional ‘sharp’ in or you may end up tuning to ‘F Natural’!
GCEA Standard ‘C’ Tuning
Green Cats Eat Avocados
Goats Can Eat Apples
Give Composers Easy Access
ADF#B Traditional ‘D’ Tuning
Alan Detunes Five Sharp Banjos
Agnes Discovers Five Sharp Banjos
Alpacas Drop Fifty Sharp Blackberries
DGBE Baritone ‘G’ Tuning
Dogs Get Bigger Eventually
Dinosaurs Gladly Bury Eggs
Dizzy Gillespie Buys Earplugs
EADG Bass / U-Bass Tuning
Elvis Advertises Dodgy Guitars
Elves Ate Delicious Gooseberries
Every Afternoon Dingos Graze
What Are Ukulele Strings Made Of?
Ukulele strings are made from a variety of materials, but most standard ukes generally use nylon or a composite synthetic material.
The most popular with your average ukeist is the Nylgut range invented by Italian company, Aquila.
Nyglut possesses the same weight characteristics as traditional animal gut strings, together with a low degree of humidity absorption. These strings are known for their longevity and ability to hold their tuning for long periods. Click here to check the range for sale on Amazon.
Another popular manufacturing material with high-end all-wood ukes in mind is fluorocarbon. These originate from the Japanese string company, Worth.
Worth Browns in particular, have found favor with a number of top players in recent years. It’s probably a generalization, but low to middle-end ukes tend to benefit more from the application of a set of Nylgut strings and the more expensive models with fluorocarbons.
There are many types of ukulele strings out there, so a bit of experimentation maybe unavoidable until you find the set that makes your particular uke sing!
Electric solid-bodied ukes are more akin to their cousin, the electric guitar and will almost exclusively use metal strings. These are generally steel and/or nickel, occasionally with a variation of brass and bronze. Fingers hurting with these strings? You’re not alone – and I wrote about some finger pain solutions here.
The 4th or ‘G’ /’A’ string will be wound. Which you choose for your electric uke will be a matter of experimentation. I must also point out that true electric ukes shouldn’t be confused with electro-acoustic models, which use standard nylon or composite strings.
U-Bass strings are mainly manufactured from a form of polyurethane, which has a rubbery feel to them. Another type of string that will work on some u-basses is manufactured from steel with a nylon or composite core.
Beware employing these on all u-basses, though, as some haven’t enough neck strength (even with a trussrod) to accept that higher degree of tension. Check with your manufacturer first!
How Long do Ukulele Strings Typically Last?
Longevity of any string depends on a variety of factors, so, it’s very difficult to put an exact figure on it. I’ll keep this brief as I’ve covered this in greater detail in a previous article. But, the general rule of thumb is the more often you play and with a greater degree of zest, the quicker your strings will lose their zing and also start to go out of tune more easily.
The strings can also lose their integrity and eventually break of their own accord. This can happen at the most inopportune moments, such as during a gig (Murphy’s Law / Sod’s Law). That’s why it’s a good idea to have a backup uke if you perform regularly. Saying that, it’s not unusual for strings to last two years with infrequent use.
In my own case, my childhood ukulele still had its original string set on until around about a year ago when the re-entrant ‘G’ finally snapped. My other ukes get a change of string every couple of months or so, but I didn’t have the heart to change the set on my heirloom uke for purely sentimental reasons!
Electric uke strings will need a more frequent change, though, as metal deteriorates more quickly than nylon or composite, particularly with the wound strings.
You can also employ the same thinking to the wound strings on a baritone ukulele, even though they don’t have a metal core. The sound becomes dull and lifeless and will suffer more quickly than the remaining unwound strings.
For further information on this subject, please refer to my blog on ‘How Often to Change Ukulele Strings, and Why You Should’.