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Which Ukulele String Is the Thickest?

et’s find out a little more about how a ukulele string works!

by Jennifer VanBenschoten

Have you ever noticed the thickness of the strings on your ukulele when you’re playing or swapping out your strings? Have you ever wondered which ukulele string is the thickest? And does the thickness of your ukulele strings really matter at all? Let’s find out a little more about how a ukulele string works!

How Is Your Ukulele Tuned?

 I’m going to talk about tenor, concert, and soprano-sized ukuleles for the purpose of finding out which ukulele string is the thickest. Among these three ukulele sizes, the two most common tunings are re-entrant and linear. Let’s find out what each of those means.

Re-entrant tuning

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. 

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.

Read more: Is The Ukulele Easier Than Guitar?

 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

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.

How A Ukulele String Works

I’m going to indulge in my inner science geek here for a minute and talk about how a ukulele string works. Ukulele strings work to create sound through physics and this is where I love the way that art and science meet when we sit down to play our favorite instruments!

When you strum or pluck a ukulele string, it moves – and that movement creates a vibration. The movement of the string moves the air around it, pushing the air forward and sucking it backward. Vibrations and movement create a frequency that we can sense with our ears and if you place your hands gently on a ukulele while it’s being played, you can actually feel the vibrations and the frequencies as they travel through the air. 

These vibrations travel through the air and our ears sense them as different tones that make music! Pretty amazing, right?

And depending on the thickness of your ukulele string, those frequencies and vibrations will be sensed differently by our ears and hands. 

Thicker ukulele strings will vibrate more slowly, and at a lower frequency than thinner strings. We can hear this in the lower tones of a ukulele with a low G string, or even with a wound C string. Thinner ukulele strings vibrate faster at a higher frequency, causing them to sound light and cheerful to our ears.

Which Ukulele String Is the Thickest?

If you’ve ever changed your own ukulele strings, you might have noticed the labels on the strings when you opened the package. Most ukulele strings are packaged with labels of some kind – either in individual envelopes with the name and thickness of the string printed on it, or with a piece of color-coded tape stuck to one end of the string. And depending on which tuning and string set you’re using, you might find that the same strings are actually each a different thickness.

String sets that use a re-entrant tuning will generally have the C string as the thickest ukulele string. The E, A, and high G strings are all relatively close in thickness, and in some string sets, the high G and A strings (fourth and first, respectively) are actually the same thickness. This is because that middle C string is the lowest note on the re-entrant tuned ukulele and has to vibrate at a frequency slower than the other strings.

A linear-tuned ukulele will most likely have the low G string (fourth string) as the thickest string in the set. Again, because that low G is the lowest note o the ukulele, it will have to be the thickest string so it vibrates more slowly than the higher notes.

Some string sets actually include a wound G and C string, and those two strings can be the same thickness. A wound string is wrapped in a thin coil of steel so it sounds a little louder than a regular string. Because the low G and the middle C string are both relatively close to each other in tone, you can use the low G string as a middle C string on your ukulele for a delightfully rich, robust sound! It may not apply to all things in life, but in the world of ukuleles, the size (thickness) of your ukulele strings does matter!

Are you looking for a great new set of ukulele strings? We’ve got you covered. Check out all the options available to you in the Terry Carter Music Store! And if you’re still not sure where to start, the experts at Terry Carter Music are here to help with any questions you have about replacing the strings on your well-loved ukuleles.

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