It's all about the strings... (Updated)
This Blog was originally published in January 2015 but our range of ukulele strings has broadened since then so I hope this updated version provides more insight.
The great string debate..
Let's talk about strings.
Every day my colleagues and I speak to at least several different customers that want to know what strings to put on a ukulele. I admit this is subjective and everybody has an opinion but hopefully this post based on shared experiences will help some of you find your way to optimising your ukulele and perhaps even save you money not trying strings that will sound less than perfect and wind you up (get it?
First of all, various old posts on the internet will teach you that Aquila strings are the be all and end all in string technology and optimisation and I won't dispute that they improve very cheap laminate or plastic ukuleles significantly but are they the best? To answer that it is worth bearing in mind that many of the online sources praising Aquila were written several years ago before any UK/EU retailers got wind of the other strings available.
I like Aquila, I like recommending Aquila to certain customers with specific requirements however, It is very rare that a solid wood ukulele sounds its best with Nylgut strings. Aquila has its own slightly boomy sound and with the exception of Kanile'a ukuleles you won't find many high end ukulele companies using Nylgut strings.
If you are purchasing your first ukulele or perhaps an intermediate ukulele like a Kala, Ohana, Islander etc then the Aquilas will normally have a positive effect on poor intonation and provide a bit of extra volume to a quiet ukulele.
We dispatch a lot of educational ukulele orders to schools and find the Aquilas are the perfect string to put on the good beginners ukuleles like Makala Dolphins or Brunswick.
This is before we even talk about the different variations of Aquila strings - Lava, Super Nylgut, Red, Bio Nylon. It is much the same outcome though. A lot of customers found the Aquila Red strings are quick to break but that problem has seemingly vanished in the last year or two.
Worth strings seem to be the seasoned players choice on intermediate and high end ukuleles. Fluorocarbon is an excellent and dynamic string material that brings out the real character of the wood. If you have a solid Koa or Mahogany ukulele made to a high spec then these strings are worth trying (get it? No? moving on...). If however you have a laminate or perhaps slightly thicker built ukulele then these strings will accentuate a lot more of the negatives than the positives.
Worth currently produce two distinct series of string in a variety of different combinations.
Brown - warm, mellow, quieter and good for jazz or introverted players. Clear - an excellent string for strumming, clarity and a little bit of crispness.
The standard Soprano/Concert string is BM or CM and the standard tenor string is BT or CT. Any further questions about the plethora of choice available it is worth giving us a call.
Daddario strings are possibly the biggest string manufacturer in the world and produce close to a dozen different types of ukulele string as of 2016.
The Titanium series is a unique looking string crafted 'from a dense monofilament material'. The strings look clear with a purple tinge and feel a lot like nylon. These strings can be a little quiet on laminate sopranos or concerts and are much more popular and suited to the bigger sizes.
The Titaniums are very tight to the touch and have a great dynamic range that can be Dark and brooding and manage to be very loud and very clear. A lot of the gigging musicians we deal with on a day to day basis choose these strings. We regularly sell half a box of the baritone strings to Richie from the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain.
Daddario's Nyltech series are easily explained by comparison. They use the same techonology as Aquila and the string packet even features an Aquila logo. Here is the controversial bit - We prefer the Daddarios. The Nyltechs come individually wrapped and I think they gauges supplied are on the whole more consistant than Aquilas and they provide a much more accurate intonation on the C string. They are even a little bit cheaper. If you like Aquila I wholeheartedly suggest trying these strings next.
In 2016, D'Addario released a series of strings known as Carbon. These Fluorocarbon strings share more or less every characteristic with the Worth Clear strings but are a slightly heavier gauge. They sound crisp, clear and modern and have fast become D'Addario's best selling Ukulele string here at the Southern Ukulele Store.
The Martin strings seem be a string that goes in and out of fashion every couple of years. Recently we have seen a massive upsurge in the amount of people enquiring about them and purchasing them. These strings sound great on anything if you like quite a bright and clear sound. We use them on our own SUS branded ukulele because we find they stay in tune almost immediately, bring out the character of the wood and they are loud without being 'shouty' or distorting. These strings are a good alternative to Aquilas on the starter ukuleles as well. The Tenor and Baritone strings are a favourite of ours for Pono, Martin, Kremona and Moku ukuleles and one of the better choices for masking nasty buzzes and rattles on instruments.
Fremont strings are also Fluorocarbon and respond to solid wood instruments a lot like the Martin strings. The Medium gauge feels quite a bit lighter than most strings so these can be a bit more forgiving to a player with a light touch. The Blackline strings are worth a try!
Fremont also produce the Soloist which is the best wound Low G string on the market. Don't even bother with other Low G's this one is the winner.
These strings will surprise you. La Bella strings often get overlooked because the majority of the ukulele strings they sell retail for less than £5. We have found that both the LB13 banjo ukulele strings they sell are as good as any banjo uke string out there and the number 25 Baritone set they sell is the most popular string choice for us when restringing a Pono ukulele. Some praise indeed! Highly recommend having a set of these in your case as a back up or as a way to rejuvinate an old instrument.
I hope this blog has proven at least a little bit insightful. I am a bit obsessive about strings and have spent hundreds of pounds of my own money learning about the effect strings can have on tone. Don't ever hesitate to ask for me when you call the shop.
Pono make their own strings. We stock the Alohi and Mahana brands and both are very similar with subtle differences; The Alohi strings share the D'Addario Titaniums purple hue and sound very tight and modern so good for strummers or players that don't want a muddy sound.
The Mahana strings are much more like other Hawaiian inspired Ukulele strings. They sound a bit darker and are a lighter tension. These are currently the strings that Pono Ukuleles arrive with out of the factory.
Until next time here is a cat.