The sweet, simple sound of strumming the ukulele strings has lured so many people in learning how to play the instrument. Although it took some time for the ukulele to be appreciated seriously in the music mainstream industry compared to the other stringed instruments, its unique, unpretentious vibe makes it popular to music enthusiasts.
The simplicity of the design of the ukulele with its four plastic strings only requires a person to learn 4 to 6 chords to play different songs. It would not take long for anyone to learn how to play Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s popular medley version of “Over the Rainbow” and “What a Wonderful World.” After becoming more proficient in strumming, one can play Jake Shimabukuro’s version of George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” which amazed many people that it became viral over at YouTube.
The sound of this happy instrument, as most people would fondly call it would highly depend on the size of the instrument along with the kind of strings that come with it.
Know the Different Types of Ukelele Strings
A typical ukulele would have four strings strung to it, and they are arranged according to thickness. The thickest string is placed at the very top, and then the thickness of the string is reduced as it goes down to the bottom. The fourth string has the thinnest diameter.
The most common ukulele that you would find in any market worldwide probably has nylon ukulele strings, but since it has evolved through the decades, you would also find some using various types of strings.
1) Nylon Strings
While the nylon string is most commonly used and it can give out that unique sound that only the ukulele can produce, it does not mean they all sound exactly the same. Why? It is because the nylon strings can be made out of varied forms of nylon polymers. They are not created equal in the sense that these nylon strings go under different processing methods. The end product will affect not only the tone it produces but also the price tag that comes with it.
The great thing about nylon ukulele strings is that they are not only the most affordable strings in the market, but they are also not affected by humidity, thus making them more durable than steel, and they are easy on the fingers. However, the extreme change in temperature stretches them, and that would mean re-tuning must be done. Generally, it produces a warm tone.
2) Fluorocarbon Strings
This is also another type of polymer which is often used by fishermen for their fishing line. It is also quite affordable and produces brighter tones compared to a nylon string. Its durability is one of its main features as it does not contract that much when exposed to changes in temperature. Just like with nylon strings, fluorocarbon strings can be cut easily to a required length with regular scissors at home. It is a great advantage when you are re-stringing your ukulele.
3) Steel Strings
This type of string is not for your regular ukulele as it would likely damage the instrument and not produce the same unique sound it has been known for. There are types of hybrid ukuleles that can handle steel strings such as guitar/ukulele, dobro/ukulele, and banjolele. However, even with these types of hybrid instruments, it is wise to ask for help instead of just purchasing any steel-string and strung them yourself.
4) Titanium Strings
As titanium strings are made of metal, they are undoubtedly more durable and stronger than nylon. They definitely would not snap under any pressure intentionally or accidentally. These titanium strings offer brighter and louder tones, which is quite perfect for ukulele players that need volume during performances.
5) Wound Nylon Strings
These strings went through an engineering process where the inner nylon core is wrapped with a polymer-made winding material, which sometimes results to a squeaking sound when strummed. However, these strings are best if looking for baritone tones. It offers a much richer, deeper sound.
6) Wound Metal Strings
These strings are basically similar to that of the wound nylon strings, but instead of a nylon core, a metal core is used, and it is wrapped by either copper or aluminum winding materials. They are best used if trying to achieve lower notes with larger ukuleles. The downside is the squeaky sound it sometimes produces.
If you have chosen to use these wound nylon/metal strings, make sure that you increase the cutting length as the inner core tends to separate with its outer material.
Plastic Strings vs. Metal Strings for Ukulele
Just like with any other musical instruments, the player’s personal preference will always be the final judge of any pros and cons discussion. However, it would also be a smart move to make comparison notes between plastic strings and metal strings usage when playing the ukulele. This is to see your options instead of just exposing yourself to just one material, one construction, and one method.
Due to the difference in the material, the sounds that they produce are quite different too. Even with the same gauge or tension, it would not sound the same when strummed. It can also be detrimental to the ukulele itself. Remember that not all ukuleles are made with the same sturdy material. Some ukuleles are created from lighter laminated wood. Metal strings have a different pull, and if the body of the instrument is not strong enough, it would be best not to try it with them and just stick with nylon and fluorocarbon strings. However, string manufacturers today have come up with thinner wound metal strings, which make them easier for the ukulele to handle. Metal strings also create a squeaky sound when strummed. Some players do not mind, but there are those who do not like it.
Which Type of Ukulele Strings Is Most Suitable for You?
With all the options available to ukulele players, there is no such thing as the perfect ukulele string for everyone. It will always boil down to personal preference because everyone has their own playing style. It is highly recommended to be open to try all of them so you can assess which one works best for you. Remember that it is important to know if your ukulele can handle the stress of different types of strings before trying them. Always take down notes when trying them along with package dates for comparison later on. This will be the only way for you to evaluate which is the best string for your playing style.