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Can The Ukulele Have Metal Strings?

We all know that ukuleles come with “softer” nylon or fluorocarbon strings, but... Steel?

by Jennifer VanBenschoten

Aloha, friends! We all know that ukuleles come with “softer” nylon or fluorocarbon strings, and that’s one of the reasons they’re so attractive to beginner musicians. But can the ukulele have metal strings?

I’ll be honest, my road to the ukulele was a long one, going all the way back to my freshman year of college. I was majoring in music, and piano was my main instrument. As part of our curriculum for my major, we were also required to take two semesters of guitar classes. That was where I discovered that I was terrible at playing guitar. Despite over a decade of playing the violin (in addition to playing the piano), I just could not make heads or tails of the guitar, and it was one of the reasons why I decided to switch majors.

Part of what had me so flummoxed was trying to play the acoustic guitar with steel strings. Yikes! My violin callouses on my fingers were no match for the steel strings, so I just assumed that I’d never be able to play the guitar or ukulele or any guitar-type instrument. Thankfully, I was so wrong about that! I had to wait 25 years to pick up a ukulele, but once I did, I was hooked! And I discovered that I could indeed play a guitar-like instrument! (I even have two guitars in my current collection of instruments!)

Then as I started collecting ukuleles, I started seeing these curious creatures: ukuleles with steel strings! I had to acquire one of these beautiful beasts to test my mettle (pun fully intended) on those strings, and it made me wonder – can the ukulele have metal strings?

What Kind of Strings Do Ukuleles Use?

One of the things that sets acoustic ukuleles apart from most acoustic guitars is the strings that are used on each instrument. Most of the acoustic and acoustic/electric ukuleles with a pickup come equipped with nylon (nylagut) strings, or fluorocarbon strings. On the other hand, while there are some nylon guitars (usually classical guitars) out there with nylon strings, most acoustic and acoustic/electric guitars out there come with steel strings.

So if you’re wondering, can the ukulele have steel strings? The answer is a little complicated.

Ukuleles weren’t created using metal strings. The original ukuleles created by Portuguese immigrants in Hawaii back in 1879 were strung with strings made from sheep, cattle, or even goats. (Yikes.) These were also the same type of strings that were used for most string instruments, including guitars, violins, and cellos.

Mass produced metal strings (steel strings) started to become readily available in the early 1900s, and guitar players embraced them quickly. But why weren’t they used on the ukulele? The answer lies in the construction of the ukulele: a smaller instrument than the guitar, the ukulele lacked the inherent strength of the build to accommodate metal strings. The smaller body size of the ukulele means that it lacks the strength to withstand the tension that steel strings require.

What About Wound Ukulele Strings?

You may have played or even own a uke or two that has metal wound strings. These aren’t technically metal strings, since they are actually a nylon string at their core that’s been wound with metal. Wound strings definitely have more of a metal “twang” to them and are great for players of ukuleles with low G strings and baritone ukuleles, they aren’t actually metal strings.

Which Ukuleles Can Have Metal Strings?

The first ukulele I purchased that has metal strings is a hollow-body ukulele. Meaning that just like an acoustic ukulele, the body is made up of a top, back, and sides. But the interior construction is much different and includes more bracing so that the instrument can withstand the tension from the metal strings it uses.

Now there are a number of different solid-body ukuleles out there on the market, and yes, you guessed it – they use metal strings! These ukuleles are more like miniature steel string electric guitars. In order to get the best sound from them, you need to connect them to an amplifier of some kind. You can also use effects pedals with them the same way you would with an electric steel string guitar – they can sound just like a steel string electric guitar with metal strings, but with the size of a ukulele!

While we definitely don’t recommend putting metal strings on your regular acoustic ukulele, there’s no reason to limit yourself! Check out all the great metal ukulele strings and streel string ukuleles in the the Terry Carter Music Store! You’ll find great steel string ukuleles from Risa and Flight, as well as Terry’s own brand of new metal strings for your steel string ukuleles. Check out all the options – including a set of baritone-tuned metal strings for your tenor ukulele! As always, if you need assistance, our friendly customer service team is there to help you every step of the way until you’re fully satisfied with your purchase.

Check out all the options for steel string ukuleles and continue your ukulele journey today!

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