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A Guide to Ukulele Strings: How to Choose Ukulele Strings

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Nov 8, 2020 • 4 min read

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Jake Shimabukuro Teaches ʻUkulele

A ukulele is a fretted string instrument that produces sounds similar to a guitar, mandolin, or banjo. There are multiple types of ukulele, including soprano ukulele, concert ukulele, tenor ukulele, baritone ukulele, and even the rare bass ukulele. The key element to any ukulele is the instrument's strings.

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How Many Strings Does a Ukulele Have?

A standard ukulele has four strings (unlike a guitar, which has six). They are traditionally tuned G-C-E-A so that the open strings sound a C6 chord; ukulele players sometimes call this C tuning.

How Long Are Ukulele Strings?

The length of a ukulele’s strings varies depending upon the size of the ukulele. Two numbers matter when selecting strings: the total length and the scale length, which is the distance from the nut to the bridge, or the actual length of string that vibrates when you pluck or strum it.

  • Soprano ukulele strings are 21 inches long, for a 13-inch scale length.
  • Concert ukulele strings are 23 inches long, for a 15-inch scale length.
  • Tenor ukulele strings are 26 inches long, for 17-inch scale length.
  • Baritone ukulele strings are 30 inches long, for 19-inch scale length.

5 Types of Ukulele String Materials

The sound of a ukulele varies depending upon its string material. This can make shopping for new strings slightly overwhelming, but fortunately most players will only have to choose from a few key string styles.

  1. Nylon strings: Nylon strings produce a warm, mellow tone. They are the modern descendent of traditional gut strings that were made from livestock intestines. If you plan to use your ukulele for strumming gentle Hawaiian music, you'll get the sound you want from nylon strings. Nylon is durable, and it's resistant to humidity. The downside is that it doesn't hold its tuning as well as other string materials.
  2. Fluorocarbon strings: Fluorocarbon strings are very similar to nylon strings, but with a brighter overall tone. A fluorocarbon set of strings may also last longer than its nylon counterpart and be somewhat easier to keep in standard ukulele tuning.
  3. Steel strings: Steel strings are not conventional for ukuleles. In general, they're better suited to musical instruments like the guitar and bass guitar. But if you want a bright, twangy sound from your ukulele—and you want strings that can reliably hold different tunings—steel may be the way to go.
  4. Wound nylon strings: In some ways, wound nylon strings split the difference between traditional nylon and bright steel. These strings have a nylon core that is wrapped with a thin polymer thread. They have a somewhat richer sound than standard strings and are most common on baritone or tenor ukuleles.
  5. Wound metal strings: These strings are similar to wound nylon strings, but with a metal core. They get about as bright as you can without crossing over to steel strings—which may make your ukulele sound more like a guitar.
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What Is Standard Tuning for a Ukulele?

For most concert, soprano, and tenor ukulele players, G-C-E-A tuning is typical.This translates to the following on a concert ukulele:

  • The fourth string. Tune this bottom string to G4. Typically, this string is called the G string. Some players call this string "low G," but it is actually the second-highest pitch of all the strings.
  • The third string. Tune the next string up is to C4. Sometimes called the C string, the third string has the lowest pitch of the strings.
  • The second string. Tune this string to E4. Also known as the E string, it has the second-lowest pitch of the strings.
  • The first string. Tune this top string to A4. Called the A string, it has the highest pitch of the strings.

Note that these strings do not go from the lowest pitch to the highest pitch; the lowest pitch is actually produced by the third string. Such ukulele tuning is known as reentrant tuning, as opposed to the linear tuning you find on most stringed instruments.

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3 Ways to Tune Ukulele Strings

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Jake Shimabukuro teaches you how to take your ʻukulele from the shelf to center stage, with techniques for beginners and seasoned players alike.

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You can tighten and loosen ukulele strings by turning the tuning pegs on the instrument's headstock. Most players use electronic devices to assist their ukulele tuning. These include:

  1. Pedal tuners: This type of ukulele tuner receives an audio signal via a quarter-inch audio cable. It then passes that signal (unchanged) out through another quarter-inch cable. You can only use pedal tuners with ukuleles that contain an electronic pickup. Most pedal tuners are designed for use as guitar tuners, but they can also handle the pitches produced by a ukulele.
  2. Clip-on tuners: Clip-on electronic tuners attach to a ukulele headstock and measure vibrations in the actual wood of the instrument. You can use clip-on tuners with any type of ukulele, whether or not it has a pickup.
  3. Smartphone tuning apps: Though it isn’t ideal, it is possible to tune your ukulele with your smartphone. Your phone relies on its external microphone to pick up the sound of your instrument, and other ambient sounds can interfere with its reading. Still, a tuner app on your phone is quite handy as a backup.

Want to Pack Some Hawaiian Punch Into Your ‘Uke Skills?

Grab a MasterClass Annual Membership, stretch out those fingers, and get your strum on with a little help from the Jimi Hendrix of ‘ukulele, Jake Shimabukuro. With some pointers from this Billboard chart topper, you’ll be an expert on chords, tremolo, vibrato, and more in no time.

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