So you’ve heard that some ukuleles have metal strings, eh? And now you are here to find out which ukuleles use these metal strings? Perfect, cause I’ve got a boatload of answers for you, and nothing else to do with them!
Having previously covered the nature of plastic ukulele strings in all their glory, I’m here today to expand on just how metal strings fit into the ukulele world, and answering all your burning questions in the process. Questions like… What are metal ukulele strings actually made of? Why use metal instead of plastic? Which ukuleles have metal strings on them? Can I put metal strings on my ukulele? I loved your article about plastic strings. Can I have your autograph? Oh, wait, that last one wasn’t yours? My bad…
What Are Metal Ukulele Strings Made Of?
What does the city of Pittsburgh and the most popular instrument in the Caribbean have in common? Steel! The vast majority of metal strings have a core made of steel (a few keyboard instruments have metal strings with brass cores). The steel used for these musical strings is hardened and tempered.
Acoustic guitars are most commonly fitted with steel strings; this is why you may have heard the name acoustic guitarused interchangeably with steel string guitar. Of course, not all acoustic guitars actually use steel strings. For example, classical guitars, used primarily for classical (surprise surprise) and spanish guitar music, use synthetic/plastic strings as most ukuleles do.
Metal strings have a much higher tension than synthetic strings, and can therefore cause issues on instruments that aren’t designed to be used with steel strings. Going back to the guitar, steel string guitars are built to be much more robust than classical guitars in order to withstand the additional tension.
Read more: What Is A Truss Rod?
This is exactly why most ukuleles use plastic strings. You can call the ukulele many things, but robust generally isn’t one of those things… However, bigger ukuleles, like the tenor or baritone, do use steel strings on occasion. The baritone, as the largest member of the ukulele family, is approaching the guitar in size. It is tuned the same as the bottom four strings of a guitar (e a D G B E), and the two deepest strings on the baritone, the D and the G, are often wound metal strings (more on wound strings in a minute!). Its size, along with the use of these metal strings – and the low D note – is why the baritone sounds so much different than its smaller ukulele relatives. With tenors, the C string is sometimes wound, and if you get a low G for it, this will also be a metal string sometimes. Notice a pattern here? It’s the low notes on the bigger ukes that use metal strings.
Now, on the less common side, you also have solid body electric ukuleles (which most often come in tenor size). These electric ukes, which look like mini electric guitars, use all steel strings, both wound and unwound (just like the guitars they’re emulating).
What Are Wound Strings?
Ok, as promised, let me give a brief explanation of wound strings.
A wound string is a string whose core is wrapped in another material. In the case of metal strings, the steel core is often wrapped in another metal such as bronze or nickel. Furthermore, there are two main types of wound strings; flatwound and roundwound.
Roundwound strings are the most common, and involve a round wire being wound tightly around the core. These strings are less expensive and easier to manufacture, but have some drawbacks. With roundwound, the strings have a bumpy surface, which causes more friction with a player’s fingers and leads to the squeaking sound you may have heard when someone slides their hand up or down an electric guitar.
The winding wire of flatwound strings is more of a square with rounded edges, meaning when wound tightly, it provides a smoother profile that leads to less squeaking. Flatwound strings also have a longer lifespan as less dirt and debris gets stuck in between the layers of the wound metal.
So there you have it. I hope you found this article helpful!
For more lessons on chords, techniques, and songs to help you along on your own uke journey, make sure to check out our site www.ukelikethepros.com. We offer you a bunch of great ukulele content that comes hand-in-hand with an awesome ukulele community that will support you in this journey.