Like many stringed instruments the sound of the ukulele is highly dependent upon the quality of the strings used. The best ukulele strings will enhance the volume and brightness of almost any ukulele. Great uke strings can be made of various materials with each having pros and cons. In this short guide we will get you started by sharing some of the best ukulele strings available.
Table of Contents
- 1 In a Hurry? Here Are the Best Ukulele Strings
- 2 The Bare Necessities of the Ukulele
- 3 The 5 Best Ukulele Strings
- 4 Which is the Best Ukulele String?
In a Hurry? Here Are the Best Ukulele Strings
The Bare Necessities of the Ukulele
Before you purchase any strings, it is a good idea to learn some ukulele and string basics! And if you already know, well it can’t hurt to review some Ukulele 101!
The original ukulele was the soprano size, until the Jazz Age came bebopping along and required some ukes with a greater range. Fast forward to the present and we now have four main sizes.
- Soprano – The soprano is the standard ukulele at roughly 21 inches. It is generally tuned to the notes GCEA, and those notes are tuned to the fourth octave on the piano.
- Concert – The concert is 23 inches and also tuned to GCEA. It can use the same strings as the soprano and gives the player a slightly larger fretboard to navigate. The best concert ukulele strings will also often be the best for a soprano.
- Tenor – At 26 inches the tenor has even a slightly larger fretboard than the concert and it is also tuned GCEA. The tenor still gives the basic ukulele sound but with more volume and projection.
- Baritone – The baritone is the odd member of the family at 29 inches. It is not tuned to GCEA, instead, we use uke strings made for DGBE, the same order as the four lower strings of a guitar. It is possible to tune the baritone to GCEA; however you MUST buy special strings to do this.
There are smaller ukuleles than the soprano and even a few bass ukes on the market, but these are generally not the best choices for beginners. Banjoleles or banjo ukes are also popular these days, and they come in similar sizes as the ukes mentioned above. If you have never bought a ukulele stick to the basic models as a beginner, like a concert or tenor.
Ukulele String Theory
There are a handful of strings to choose from, all made from a variety of materials. It is a fact that the best ukulele strings can sometimes make a cheap ukulele sound amazing. I will provide you with some great strings to start out with, but over time it is recommended that you experiment with different materials.
- Steel – No! We mention these first to make sure you avoid steel strings! Yes, it is true that some ukulele hybrids may take these, but 99% of the time you will never need steel. I tried once making a slide ukulele with steel strings, the bridge ripped right off!
- Titanium – Now initially the metal titanium may bring the same concerns to mind as steel but have no fear! Titanium monofilaments are not only safe for the ukulele in some cases they provide a brighter sound with more projection
- Wound Metal – As you can tell pure metal strings are not good for a ukulele, but wound metal strings are commonly used. These uke strings are made with nylon or plastic centers and have flexible metal wrapped around the cores.
- Nylon – These are some of the most common uke string ingredients you will find. Nylon is originally made up of synthetic polymers from petroleum. These strings have literally been chemically engineered to sound as great as gut strings.
- Wound Nylon – These strings are essentially nylon polymers wrapped in more polymers! This added thickness is great for tenors and baritones, especially for their low strings. Be careful though, these have a tendency to be squeaky!
- Fluorocarbon – Plastic like uke strings that are made with carbon and fluorine. Originally used in the fishing line they are very durable and can stay in tune longer. In some cases, they provide a brighter sound.
- Gut Strings – The OG of instrument strings. For centuries gut strings have been made from animal intestines. Many classical musicians love them for their incredible sound and feel.
Beware the Detuned String!
Most ukulele strings will take some time to settle, this is normal. That time can sometimes be in the days and it can get frustrating. The key is to find a proper tuner (TIP: learn how to tune your uke) that will tell you the note and octave. That way when you tune to G4 C4 E4 and A4 you will know when the uke is at the right spot. And then plan to tune it again as it will stretch.
If you read a lot of ukulele reviews (which is a great idea if you are buying one) you will see the most common complaint is the strings not staying in tune initially. Don’t fret (yeah, a bad pun!) and just be patient.
The 5 Best Ukulele Strings
Below I have picked the five best ukulele strings to get you started. Each one has its pros and cons depending on what wood your ukulele is made from and what kind of sound you wish to produce. It is true that music and sound are subjective, so I have done my best to choose based on sales, reviews, and of course a lot of personal experience.
Aquila is an Italian company that makes high-quality strings for violins, harps, lutes, and ukuleles. While I love my ukulele, I can’t deny it is very simple compared to those other instruments. Aquila is clearly a leader in string manufacturing, and nothing seems to beat the new Nylgut string. It has the same color, density, and acoustical properties of natural gut!
It also comes in all sizes, so it doesn’t matter which ukulele you have. They have sets for banjo ukuleles, DGBE for baritones and even strings made for ADF#B tuning! This was known as Hawaiian tuning and was popular in the 1930s, it really makes the uke sound bright when it is tuned that high.
The New Nylgut uke strings will likely still be popular many years from now as they work great on a variety of tonewoods. Your ukulele can be solid or laminated and these Aquila strings will likely have it singing. On the rare occasions that they don’t sound great, perhaps the best ukulele strings for you are fluorocarbons.
The D’Addario company is headquartered in the state of New York and is known for making strings and accessories for all types of musical instruments. With this company you can buy more than great uke strings, they have plectrums, straps, tuners and even humidifiers. They also have moderate prices for such high-quality strings.
These strings are made of titanium but are polished down for a nylon feel, they provide a bright sound with a lot more projection. If you are concerned about color or aesthetics, they do give off a purple hue, however, it is nothing too glaring.
These particular titanium strings are also made for soprano, concert, tenor, and baritone models. The baritone uses a silver-plated copper string, similar to other wound metal uke strings for the low D. Otherwise all models use the polymers wrapped in titanium. Despite being available for all models they are some of the best soprano concert ukulele strings.
For some reason, their brightness seems to work best on smaller ukes. The larger models just don’t seem to project as much as the soprano, perhaps it has to do with the physics and vibrations of the longer strings.
3. Martin M600
Martin is a well-known maker of amazing guitars and their ukuleles are just as incredible. They have been building instruments in Nazareth, PA for over 180 years so they can certainly be trusted in their craft. My personal inspiration for playing the uke came from the 1994 movie Mixed Nuts, where Adam Sandler’s character plays a Martin uke!
The Martin M600 is one of the most popular fluorocarbon strings on the market. Because they are thin and hard many beginning players find them perfect for the extra space and ease of plucking. In some cases, they can have a louder and fuller sound than other plastic or polymer type ukulele strings. Of course, they have a tendency to sound best on Martin ukuleles.
Like the D’Addario titanium strings, the Martin M600 are some of the best soprano ukulele strings to buy. Again the reasons (scientific or subjective?) are hard to pin down, but the simple fact is they go best on sopranos. The good news is that they are one of the cheapest strings on the list so giving them a shot won’t break the bank.
D’Addario deserves another spot on the list for some of the best tenor ukulele strings available. At first glance these seem like basic nylon strings, instead, they are a harder kind known as extruded nylon. However, that doesn’t make them so great, they have a slightly different tuning than most ukulele strings.
The normal tuning of most ukes is G4 C4 E4 and A4, this is known as reentrant tuning. However, what if you made that first G string a G3? This would make the uke strings go in order from low to high notes and is known as low G tuning. Israel Kamakawiwo’ole (or just IZ) used low G tuning for his famous cover of Somewhere Over the Rainbow.
Thanks to IZ many players like to try out low G uke strings and these D’Addarios are perfect for that. Instead of nylon, the low G here is made of silver-plated copper on wound nylon. This gives your ukulele a little extra projection in the bass. Low G tunings are the most common on concerts and tenors, I personally prefer my tenors to be strung with a low G.
The baritone ukulele has always been pushed to the bottom of many ukulele lists because it normally doesn’t share the popularity of the rest. However, as the demand for ukes has exploded over the years it is very common to see players buying baritones now. It is actually a superb ukulele for songwriters, considering it has the similar versatility of a small guitar.
In this case I have picked two strings for this example, the 116U for DGBE tuning and the 117U for GCEA tuning. They are both made from Aquila’s new Lava Nylgut. These strings have a gray-black color with a little hint of mother of pearl. The 117U strings are made with a high G, similar to GCEA tunings yet on a baritone scale. If you try to tune the 116U to GCEA they will break!
After trying GCEA I discovered that baritones simply sound better with their original DGBE tuning. However, using GCEA is all the rage these days and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the best strings for this change in tuning. Give it a try and maybe you will find your bari sounds awesome tuned like a soprano, concert, or tenor.
Which is the Best Ukulele String?
For at least 15 years now I have seen nearly every music store carry Aquila New Nylgut strings. While Aquila has developed new strings with better technology, many players still reach for the New Nylgut series. This patented variation of nylon is great for every model and all ukulele sizes.
That’s not to say the Martin’s or D’Addarios are bad strings, they were included on this list because of high quality and great sound. The best ukulele strings can depend on the wood, temperature, and even the fingerpicking style used by the player. Over time you will want to experiment with brands that are not even on this list.
When trying new strings always remember to let your ears be the judge. However in the meantime, if you want a set of uke strings that will provide a warm and full sound, Aquila New Nylgut strings have a knack for making musicians happy!