Strings In Depth Part One - D'Addario Ukulele Strings
This entry was posted on February 29, 2016.
Ukulele Strings by brand
Last year I wrote several blogs that broadly covered Ukulele strings by brand. I must admit that I was a bit concerned nobody would read them but the response was overwhelmingly positive and hasn't ever really stopped coming so thank you very much. With that said, I think now might be the time to expand on that a little bit more and offer a bit more of an in depth and focused review about the different strings in each brands range. I figured I would start with D'Addario because we currently sell a wider variety of D'Addario strings than just about any other brand. We will see where the rest takes us…
PART ONE – D’ADDARIO UKULELE STRINGS
The D'Addario range has been simplified greatly in the past year and it will be much less complicated if we focus only on the D'Addario Ukulele strings you can still buy. If you are wondering why some of the old Pro Arte strings or the Hawaiian J54 strings aren't here it is because they no longer exist or have been replaced with new packaging and updated codes. The Ukulele world has some players extremely set in their ways but I say don't be scared of change. I had sets of ‘Hawaiian’ J54 D'Addario strings sat on the shelf for FIVE YEARS before they changed the packaging to EJ53T and everybody realised that they were a great string for certain Ukuleles and specific sounds.
D’Addario strings have a chart on the back that details the differences between each type of string they manufacture and this part of the blog will relate back to that starting with the mellowest string they sell;
EJ53S, EJ53C, EJ53T, EJ53B Pro-Arte Rectified Black Nylon Strings
This very affordable string is so mellow and subtle that you might wish you were sat on a beach as you play. These strings replace the older ‘Hawaiian black nylon’ series and they serve a purpose for a certain type of player.
If you fingerpick in the lounge quietly whilst the family watch the TV then you will like the subtlety of this string. You won’t get any kind of uncontrollable attack when you play and the slightly slinky tension means it is a forgiving string for a beginner/intermediate player that may wish to hide mistakes from the people around them.
If you strum, you’ll find these strings can sound warm, a little muddy and dull which is typical of any black nylon string really and not necessarily detrimental. Put another way - Tonally, the strings could be described as warm, quiet and dark. Kamaka branded strings and La Bella LB11’s are very similar and Nylon strings tend to last a very long time if you treat them well.
The Tenor sets come with a wound 3rd which may interest you Pono players and the Baritone set has two very smooth wound strings.
EJ65S, EJ65C, EJ65T, EJ65TLG, EJ65B Pro Arte Custom Extruded Clear Nylon Strings
Another affordable nylon string that has a lot of similarities to the Rectified Black Nylon strings I have just mentioned. The Clear Nylon has a little bit more bite and bark to them and feel slightly higher tension than the black nylon strings.
If you fingerpick these strings you get the same kind of warmth as you would from a black nylon set but you definitely get more volume and these strings can be quite transparent in making a cheap plastic or laminate Ukulele sound cheap and plastic. A positive spin on that would be that these strings can make opened up and solid wood instrument sound fantastic and will give a woody aged tone to woody aged woods.
If you strum in a Ukulele group with loads of other people around you then these strings will certainly be suitable but other strings will help you stand out more and this is reflected in the price.
Tonally, these strings are the ‘classical guitar’ strings of Ukulele strings – They are a bit niche and if you spend a couple of pounds more you will likely get a string that enhances your instrument rather than just being an honest representation of the instruments quality.
This may be the cheapest Low G Tenor set you can buy and the wound low G really compliments the rest of the set. If you aren’t getting the sound and feel you want from Nylgut or more refined Fluorocarbon strings then this set may be a good plan B.
EJ87S, EJ87C, EJ87T, EJ87B Titanium Ukulele Strings
So, lets answer your first question – No these strings are not actually made of Titanium because if they were, the Ukulele would fold up and even Superman wouldn't be able to play ‘When I’m cleaning windows’.
The Titanium strings are advertised as being “crafted from a dense monofilament material that has an attractive, translucent purple hue and a polished glass like feel.” This translated into English means that the strings are a Fluorocarbon string that are a clear/purple colour and smooth to the touch. The title is more an indicator that these strings are built with an emphasis on resilience and consistency in mind.
The purple hue is an attractive idea that works well in practice and in execution because it isn’t over the top. Using these strings wouldn’t leave you on stage with lights shining on you and an audience distracted by your amazing technicolor strings. Equally, those that like a splash of colour may be disappointed that these strings aren't bright and purple enough to make Timmy Mallett blush (dated reference).
If you fingerpick, these strings will suit you. They are on the brighter side but still have enough depth and clarity to them that you can play with some subtle dynamics.
If you strum, these strings will probably suit you too. They don’t distort when you give them a good old whack and they are likely to last as long as anything out there. An example of why you might choose these strings is that we sell a lot of these strings to Pono Concert, Tenor and Baritone players that want a cleaner and more modern sound to traditional fluorocarbon strings. The bigger sizes respond well to a dense hard string like this. Give them a try before you go back to your old faithful…
EJ88S, EJ88C, EJ88T, EJ88B Nyltech Strings
Now on to arguably the most popular D’addario string of modern times – The Nyltech synthetic gut string. Aquila had a massive impact on the Ukulele world when they introduced the Nylgut string and today I would estimate that 95% of the Ukuleles we sell under 400GBP will have the Aquila Nylgut strings fitted as standard. If you think about it, that is a scary amount of players that hear and feel this type of string on their first instrument and that quickly means that this becomes the norm and understandably this familiarity will push other strings out in much the same way that somebody that always drinks Pepsi will prefer it to Coke whether they know why or not.
I am not having a dig at Aquila. I think that they drastically improve the sound and intonation on many of the starter/intermediate Ukuleles but they do seem to have a very unique boxy sound to them that can be a bit of a leveller and make Ukuleles drastically different in build quality and price sound the same.
Why am I talking about Aquila? Well, the Nyltech strings are made by D’Addario in collaboration with Aquila. The Nyltech and Nylgut strings are very similar with a few subtle and noteworthy differences. Firstly, the Aquila strings come bundled in a set with dyed ends to indicate which is which whereas the D’Addario strings come individually packaged.
Secondly, The D’Addario strings are noticeably more consistent. I have measured up individual strings from differnet Aquila packets before using a micrometer and the string thickness/gauge can vary dramatically from one packet or batch to the next. I have never experienced this with these D’Addario strings (or any for that matter) and we even chose them as the string to fit to the Southern Ukulele Stores own SUS Concert Ukulele.
If you fingerpick, these strings can sound a little bit plinky plonky. Traditional gut strings had a boxy quality that these strings emulate and if you play quite hard it is possible to get an almost rockabilly like thwack out of your instrument on the thicker strings. This is the same on a Kala KA-S at 70GBP or a Hawaiian built Kanile’a K1T at 800GBP.
If you strum you will like these strings. They invoke a traditional visceral kind of sound. If you play in a Ukulele group surrounded by other people, these strings are a very good way of making yourself heard.
I don’t think that the Nyltech strings work on every instrument though. Pono Ukuleles hate them; they cause all kinds of squeaks and buzzes on them. They aren’t very well suited to Koa either. One customer ignored our advice and put them on a 1500GBP Kiwaya soprano and hated the sound so much they contemplated selling the instrument when all it needed was a more traditional string. Similar stories exist about KoAloha/Aquila/D’addario nyltech combinations. It isn’t a knock on the string at all, you likely have already tried the D’Addario Nyltech strings and they may well be your perfect companion.
EJ99SC EJ99T EJ99TLG EJ99B
The final string in the modern D’Addario Ukulele catalogue is the Carbon string. Similar to other clear fluorocarbon strings like Worth or Martins, we really like these strings as a collective at the shop. The gauge is a bit thicker than some of the alternatives but if you have an all solid wood instrument and you want a string that will make your Ukulele sound good then you should try these at least once. D’Addario describe these strings as having a bright and modern tone and I can’t dispute this. The Carbon strings sound like a studio recording of a Ukulele. They don’t buzz on a well set up Ukulele and they can handle pretty much any style of player.
If you fingerpick then louder strings exist but these strings are only as good as your Ukulele and the player. I recently had a customer put these on a 100 year old De Vekey and it sounded full and bright and had a renewed lease of life to it that you couldn’t have predicted it would when it came in. The Low G set is one of the few available with an unwound Low G and a fingerpicker will certainly appreciate that option.
(Photo courtesy of Fleamarket)
If you strum then these strings are clear and true and will be as good as any Fluorocarbon string we have but perhaps avoid the unwound Low G if you want good intonation and a crisp, balanced sound.
Overall, these strings sit alongside Martin, Fremont and Worth as fantastic choices for an intermediate and advanced player. When the Martin M620 strings aren’t in stock – you can’t really go wrong with the EJ99T’s as a stand in set. I have a set of these on my KoAloha and had to check the packet to make sure that they weren’t Worth clears. At 10GBP a set, they aren’t going to be a good choice for a 24GBP Ukulele but that isn’t a bad thing.
I hope that this helps you make an informed purchase? Please do send across or comment with any questions about things I may not have covered and I will get back to you.
Until next time
Alex Beds (Pepsi and Ukulele enthusiast)