Nov 10, 2023

What Ukulele Strings Should I get? What you need to know to pick the right strings

Wondering what kind of strings to get??

What Ukulele Strings Should I get? What you need to know to pick the right strings

Here I unlock the ukulele string mysteries for you - so you can try some different kinds of strings that you think you might like and rule some that you might not like.

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Ukulele strings are made out of a few different materials - more than anything this will determine the sound and feel of the strings.

Some strings will be warm and mellow - some loud and bright and the others falling in between somewhere.

There used to be a handy chart on the back of a D'Addario string package (it's no longer there on the new packaging) here it is:

What Ukulele Strings Should I get? What you need to know to pick the right strings

This chart helps you to understand the sound qualities of the different materials used to make strings. Here you see the different types of string materials on a scale from mellow to bright. Below the chart I indicated what string materials these are, Black nylon (rectified on D'Addario's chart) being the mellowest strings and Fluorocarbon (carbon on D'Addario's chart) being the brightest.

Strings will vary within category's as well, all the fluorocarbons will not have the same brightness - they however will be the brightest strings in general.

Now let's dive into how different types of stings will sound, we'll look at what players think and say and I'll provide additional pro's and con's that you should know.

Soon you'll have all of info you need to try some different sets of strings and find the sound you like for each of your ukes.

A few things to keep in mind before we get into the strings:

  • You might say the ukes pick the strings!
  • A particular set of strings may sound good on one uke and bad on another.
  • NO ONE can tell you what strings to get - you need to take what you learn here and try some different set's you think you'll like - you'll then discover what the best strings for you (or your uke) are. What another person likes may not be what you like...
  • Perhaps you like a different set on each uke... Many people do. Although it's uncommon, some folks mix string sets to get the sounds they want...
  • Thicker (heavier gauge) strings may have more tension (depending on the material), so they'll be a little harder to push down. Thicker (heavier gauge) strings will have more volume and projection
  • You will have more volume and projection with a higher action, less volume and projection with a lower action.
  • REMEMBER: Low G's can be purchased separately for set's without them or for set's with a low G you don't like. For example Worth strings do not come with wound low G's so many folks will purchase a wound low G separately. A classical guitar wound D string (usually .029 or  .030  or so) can be used as a low G. 

With the knowledge presented here - you (or your uke) can pick some strings and have some fun along the way...

Mellowest - Black Nylon

Rectified (in the chart above) means that the strings that have been ground to precise tolerances to deliver a mellow sound.

Rectified dose not mean that it will be black nylon  - La Bella and others make rectified clear nylon strings.

The two most popular brands for rectified black nylon strings are the Kamaka and the D'Addario.

These strings have a dark warm sound.

Kamaka is a ukulele builder. The Kamaka (rectified black nylon) strings come on all of their ukes - many people get these ukes and immediately switch out the strings because they are too dark and mellow.  The Kamaka's are available in a low G, it'll be a silver wound.

The Kamaka strings are made by D'Addarrio but the gauges are a little different - various gauges (for each size uke) are available with the Kamaka's while only one gauge (for each size uke) is available with the D'Addario.

D'Addario is the largest musical instrument manufacturer. The D’Addario family's connection to string making can be traced back to the 1600s (they migrated to Queens NY in 1905). In 1930 they transitioned from producing gut strings to steel and nylon core strings - perfecting nylon strings in the 40's and 50's.

Ernie Ball makes a set of black nylon that has a warm tone and a percussive attack - they're not rectified but made out of a black nylon resin.

The Ernie Ball's have a 'ball end' so you don't have to tie them if you don't want to - you can cut the ball end off if you like (I would - and just tie them). Low G's are bronze wound. If you look at the gauges the Ernie Ball's are the thickest.

Ernie Ball ball end strings:

GHS makes some black nylon strings as well, some with custom variations like silver wound and aluminum wound strings, and they do some wound 3rd's.

If you think you'd like a dark mellow sound, black nylon strings would be something you should try.

A few possibilities:
  • D'Addario (rectified black nylon - aluminum wound 3rd on the tenor set)
  • Kamaka (rectified black nylon - Silver wound low G)
  • Ernie Ball (black nylon resin - Bronze wound low G - ball ends)
  • GHS (black nylon resin - Silver and aluminum wound strings available, wound 3rd's available)

Some folks consider this type of string to produce a true Hawaiian sound.

Nylon strings will be harder to keep in tune initially and take longer to hold a solid tune (nylon stretches more than the other string martials) - this is why ukulele manufacturers typically do not put them on new ukes - could be frustrating for a beginner...

If you think you may get frustrated and smash your ukulele because it won't stay in tune you should stay away from any and all nylon strings - just kidding, you should try them anyway!

Other sizes and styles available at product links

Other sizes and styles available at product links

Mellow - Clear Nylon

Custom Extruded (on the chart above) referrers to the manufacturing process D'Addario uses to make it's clear nylon strings. Strings in the 'warm' category are clear nylon.

Jake Shimabukuro uses D'Addario clear nylon strings. If anyone tells you they never stay in tune because they're nylon, they're wrong (I see people saying that all the time) - just take longer to settle in. When they do they have a beautifully balanced warm tone.

D'Addario, GHS, Ernie Ball and La Bella make clear nylon ukulele strings. The Ernie Ball are 'ball end.'

Like D'Addario, La Balla's roots go back to the 1600's - they got their start in Italy with gut strings and moved to NY in the early 1900's.

A few possibilities:
  • D'Addario (extruded clear nylon - Silver wound low G)
  • Ernie Ball (clear nylon - Bronze wound low G - ball ends)
  • GHS (clear nylon - Silver and aluminum wound strings, low G's and wound 3rd's available)
  • La Bella (clear nylon (some rectified) with aluminum wound 3rd's or brass wound Low G's available)

If I didn't scare you with the cautionary note on tuning and you think you might like a mellow sound - try these... You can always take them off and throw them out - there are favorites of mine. Having played classical guitar I like the sound of nylon...

Other sizes and styles available at product links

Middle of the road - Titanium

These strings use a Titanium monofilament material for modern brightness and projection. D'Addario and GHS make a titanium String set.

These strings have an attractive, translucent purple hue and a polished, smooth feel similar to nylon.

GHS makes a titanium set as part of their custom series - it's hard to find.

Other sizes and styles available at product links.

Bright  - Nyltech, (new) Nylgut & Polygut

Aquila (new) Nylgut strings may be the most popular ukulele strings - they come on most ukes and are a good 'middle of the road' string for sound and playability.

NYLGUT is 3 synthetic plastics blended together, the idea is that these sound similar to GUT strings (gut strings were made out of animal intestines).

Aquila Super Nylgut are less stretchy and claim to offer better intonation tuning stability than New Nylgut.

IF YOU USE AN AQUILA LOW G SET (which has a wound low G): You will need purchase 3 or 4 extra single wound strings with every set. When played often a wound string may last only about 1-2 weeks (I'm lucky if they last me a week). They do claim (Aquila) that they have a nicer sound than other wound low G's and that's the trade-off. Other low G's may be a little better as far as how long they last but not much...

Some widespread opinions about Aquila Nylgut:

Some say that these strings work great on entry level uses with questionable intonation - the nature of these strings help those ukes to sound great. They will hold a tune quicker that nylon as well...

There are also those that say they don't sound that good on higher end ukes - that's of course a matter of opinion - you may like them on high end ukes... Many players will put these on entry level ukes and something like a fluorocarbon on the high end ones... That's a matter of personal taste as well - that's why you need to try them.

D'Addario has a Nyltech string that they made in cooperation with Aquila. You might say this is D'Addario's version of the Aquila Nylgut.

Martins polygut strings were developed with Aquila as well - so we have yet another variation. These are graphite grey in color. Some say these have an easy to play rubbery feel.

Everyone's getting aboard the Nylgut train... Aquila is obviously the engineer here... Defiantly some to try.

  • Aquila New Nylgut (silverwound low G)
  • Aquila Super Nylgut (silverwound low G)
  • D'Addario Nyltech
  • Martin Polygut

Other sizes and styles available at product links.


GET YOURS: D'Addario EJ88T Nyltech Ukulele Strings - Tenor

 Martin Premium Polygut Ukulele Strings - Tenor - Graphite Gray

Brightest - Fluorocarbon

These are the brightest of all ukulele strings...

They are made of a special polymer called polyvinylidine fluoride (PVFD) also known as fluorocarbon - not carbon - although they are sometimes called 'carbon.'

What players say - observations and opinions:

Fluorocarbons are very bright with plenty of projection which makes them great for live performances but they don't have the warmth and tonal character you'd find in a nylon string (there's always a trade off). 

The brightness and projection is why many like these strings. 

Fluorocarbon's lack of warmth and tonal character makes nylon a better fit for the studio. Some fluorocarbons will advertise a warm sound but it will not be anywhere close the the warmth you get from nylon. Also, compared to nylon, fluorocarbons are a bit harder on the fingers. 

Jake Shimabukuro uses D'Addario clear nylon strings - it's all about the tone for him, and the recording.

The best way to record a ukulele will be with a high quality condenser mic so the strings used to record are very important. Most classical guitarists prefer nylon for this reason. 

If you plug into an amp to play live and then go direct out of the amp to the mixing board - the strings won't matter much.

IN A NUTSHELL: Fluorocarbons are great for the stage, while nylons are best for the studio. If you're looking for power and projection - fluorocarbons are your best bet. If you need to give your fingers a break - Go with with nylon.

This gives some insight into why Kamaka uses Black nylon strings for all their ukes - they're really going for that warm tone above and beyond anything else - the trade of: They have none of the brightness that some players may want.

Many folks do notice a much warmer sound when switching to nylon from fluorocarbons and they notice the nylon strings are easier on the fingers.

If you like the idea of a loud bright sound (nothings brighter) you must try these...

Yes, this is the same fluorocarbon that's used for fishing line...

Fluorocarbon would seem to be the most popular string material (as much as you hear about it - and as much as players talk about it) - so there are lot's of options.

People rave about the Worth strings. Masaya Takahashi (producer of Worth Strings, in Japan) wanted to make his own ukulele strings but found that he had to purchase a large amount of Fluorocarbon, more than he could ever use in his lifetime. So he decided to make his new strings available to the public on the internet.

They are available in quite a few different gauges, the clears, and browns (brown in color - not as bright) are equally as popular. Fingerstyle players prefer the browns because they are a little warmer.

D'Addarrio and Martin also make some of the popular fluorocarbon strings.

Other players in the fluorocarbon field are DR (moonbeams), GHS, Freemont (Black Line), Oasis, Living Water, Uke Logic and more...  There are lot's of options for Fluorocarbon, with colored strings being a little warmer and preferred by fingerstyle players, and clears being brighter.

A few possibilities:
  • Worth Clear (unwound low G - extra long, string two ukes with one set)
  • Worth Brown (unwound low G - extra long, string two ukes with one set)
  • D'Addario (unwound low G)
  • Martin
Other sizes and styles available at product links


Now you have all the tools you need to try some different strings and find something you like - have fun!

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