When you’re looking to swap out the strings on your ukulele, you might be wondering, are ukulele strings all the same thickness? You might even have noticed a difference in thickness of your ukulele strings if you’re doing a lot of fingerpicking or chord melody playing.
We’re going to take a deep dive into the world of ukulele strings in this blog and find out more about all the different options for ukulele strings and how ukulele strings work together to create that lovely, distinctive sound that we all know and love!
How is your ukulele tuned?
The first thing to look at when we’re asking, are ukulele strings all the same thickness, is how your ukulele is tuned. Four-string ukuleles are usually tuned G-C-E-A, in either re-entrant or linear tuning. Let’s take a look at what both of those things mean.
The traditional way to tune a ukulele is with re-entrant tuning. This is how the original instrument was tuned when it was created by Portuguese immigrants who arrived in Hawaii 1879.
Read more: Ukulele History: Where it all began!
Strings on a ukulele are numbered from 4 on the top to 1 on the bottom. To find the fourth string on your ukulele, hold it the way you normally would when playing it, with the back of the ukulele held against your body, and one side of the ukulele pointing towards the ceiling and the other side facing the floor. The string closest to the ceiling (the top string), is the fourth string. The string directly below that is the third string, the string directly below that is the second string, and finally, the string on the very bottom closest to the floor is the first string. While it might seem counterintuitive to number the strings of a ukulele that way from top to bottom, but after a little while, it will be second nature to you.
It begins with a high G (above middle C) for the fourth string. The next string, the third string, is tuned to middle C. The second string is tuned to the E above middle C, and then the first string is tuned to A above the E string.
Linear tuning is also referred to as “low G” tuning. This is where the fourth string (G) on your ukulele is tuned four steps below middle C. The remaining three strings – C, E, and A – are all tuned the same way they would be on a re-entrant ukulele.
With linear tuning, you can easily play a G major scale using the pattern of half steps and whole steps the same way you would play a C major scale.
Now that we know the two most common ways for a ukulele to be tuned, we can ask the question, are ukulele strings all the same thickness?
Are Ukulele Strings All the Same Thickness?
When you’re changing out your ukulele strings, take a good look at each one as you take them out of the package. Most ukulele strings are packaged in separate envelopes with labels or have color-coded stickers attached to one end of each string. This way, you know exactly which string goes where on your ukulele.
Because each string on the ukulele vibrates at a different frequency, most ukulele strings differ in size, if only the slightest bit. It really depends on the brand and type of ukulele string that you’re using.
If you’re using a re-entrant set of strings on your ukulele, you might notice that the high G and the A strings (fourth and first, respectively) are actually the same thickness. That’s because the frequency of the high G and the A string are so close (just one whole step apart from each other on the chromatic scale) that many ukulele string manufacturers will use the same thickness of material to create the strings.
For ukulele string sets that are tuned to linear tuning with a low G, you might even find a few sets of strings out there that have what’s called a wound low G. A wound low G string is wrapped in a very thin coil of steel wire and sounds a little louder than a regular low G. In the case that you’re using a wound low G, it will most definitely be the thickest string in your set.
Some re-entrant ukulele string sets even use a wound C string for an interesting affect. You can even find ways to combine string sets and create a linear low G string set that uses wound low G and wound C strings to make your tenor ukulele sound more like a baritone!
Remember that when you’re swapping your strings out to a wound low G or even a wound C string, you might need to have a luthier or other professional widen the notch in the nut near the base of the headstock to accommodate a slightly thicker string.
Does String Thickness on the Ukulele Matter?
I think after looking at all the ways to tune a ukulele and understanding how thickness of a string affects the tone, pitch, and overall feel of the ukulele, I think we can answer that question with a resounding YES. You can make your ukulele sound like an entirely different instrument just by swapping out one or two strings.
Using wound low G and C strings will give your ukulele a richer tone. Using the thinner high G and C strings will make your instrument sound light and cheerful and carefree. It all depends on what you prefer when making your own unique music!
If you’re looking to upgrade your strings or make a change in your ukulele setup, check out all the options for new strings in the Uke Like the Pros Store. You’ll find dozens of great options for both liner and re-entrant tunings from some of the best string manufacturers out there. And if you have questions, or experts are here to help you get answers and outfit your ukulele with the string set of your dreams!