If you’ve never changed your ukulele strings before it can be incredibly difficult. It’s an art that takes a lot of practice, even for the most experienced player. In this guide, we’re giving you a detailed look at changing your strings properly without damaging them or your uke.
When Should Strings Be Changed?
How often you decide on changing your strings is completely down to you. There are some players who choose to change them every few months – others will leave it for years. That being said we’ve come up with some guidelines that will help you know if it’s time to change those strings.
- The strings are harder to tune. An old set of strings will need to be tuned a lot more often than new strings. Even when you can get old strings to tune properly they still won’t sound exactly right and you will be able to hear that the intonation is off.
- One of your strings breaks. If you have a string that breaks, unless you have a brand new set, it’s probably better to replace all of them. If you break the string a second time in the same place then you will want to take a closer look at the saddle or nut of the uke. There could be something there that’s weakening the string and causing it to break.
- There’s excessive wear on the strings. Sometimes the integrity of a string can become compromised. Take a closer look at your strings and see if it’s time for a change. A frayed string will make a buzzing sound and is much more likely to snap while you’re playing.
The common rule of thumb is that a set of new strings will help your ukulele to sound brighter and have a stronger sound too. Even if you haven’t noticed any of the signs we’ve outlined above you may want to change the strings to get a better sound.
How to Change Your Strings
Before you begin to change your strings you may want to keep a few things handy. All you truly need to change the strings is a brand new set of strings. Never take the old ones off until you have bought new ones to replace them.
There are some tools that are optional but will make your life a whole lot easier.
- String winder – This tool saves you a lot of time when winding up a tuning peg. There’s plenty of cheap options out there if you’re on a budget.
- Nail clippers – These are by far the best tool to cut the strings.
- Tuner – Unless you want to guess the pitch of your notes you’ll want to keep a tuner nearby.
Removing the Old Strings
Start by loosening the tuning machine until you can pull the string out of the head. Then move to the bridge and undo the knot there. Slide the string out from the bridge hole. Be careful not to let the string scratch the surface of the instrument at this bit.
If you are planning to clean your fretboard or just make the whole process easier you may want to change all of the strings at once. This is usually fine to do but if you have an older, vintage uke then these don’t react so well to having all of their strings released at the same time.
Tieing at the Bridge
Take a new string and feed the end of it through the hole located in the bridge. You need to leave around two or three inches sticking out so that they’re pointing towards the base of the instrument. Now you will want to tie a knot. Here is the process for you.
- Feed the end of the string through the hole in the bridge, leaving those ends sticking out.
- Pull the shorter end of your string over the top of the bridge so you are pulling it back towards the nut.
- Take the string from the left-hand side. You will want to wrap it under and around the longer end of the string. Now pull it to the right, making sure it points away from the neck and soundhole.
- Grab the short end of the string again and pull it towards you. Then wrap it over itself.
- Feed the string underneath the bridge and place it between that and the first loop you made.
- Pull the string back towards yourself and then repeat step five above.
- The short end should now be near the corner of the bridge. Hold your uke and you will need this end to be pointing at the ground.
- Now that you have your bridge knot hold onto it and pull on the longer end of the string. This will cause the knot to tighten.
Something to note here is the different type of bridge you have. The advice we’ve set out above is for a standard bridge. If you have to fasten the string to bridge pins or if you have a slotted bridge you will need to research different methods to do this.
Securing the Strings at the Ukes Headstock
The knot should now be holding your string in place but you will want to secure it into the headstock next. Grab the long end of the string and pull it across your fretboard then take it up to the center of the headstock. You want the string to be in-between your two sets of the tuning pegs. This is because every string will need to exit its turn on the right tuning peg and go out towards the headstocks center.
Take a look at the tuning peg. You will notice there is a hole there. Get your string and pull it through this hole. Strings are all different sizes and they will each be different to wrap and tune around the pegs. You want to use as little wraps as possible to secure your strings into place. The size of the string should always be taken into consideration before you pull it tight.
There’s a general rule of thumb you can use here. The A string is the lightest so when you are changing this one, make surer to tighten it as far as possible. The G string on the other hand is the thickest. Make sure with this one you give yourself a few inches of slack while your tightening. This is a really difficult part of changing the strings so it may take some practice before you master it.
Tightening Up the Strings
If you’ve got this far great job! The next step is to tighten up the strings onto your ukulele. Take your string and insert it into the right nut slot. Now you can start winding that string onto your tuning pegs.
Your C and G tuning pegs should turn anti-clockwise when you tighten the strings up. The A and E pegs need to turn clockwise. The reason for this is so that all of the strings end up going up the center of the ukes headstock. The strings need to cross at the shallowest angle possible on the nut. If the strings make a sudden extreme bend in their nut slot it can bind the strings up and tuning becomes a real issue.
Another thing you need to look out for is whether you have friction tuners or geared tuners because these all turn differently. You can figure out if you have friction tuners because the peg goes straight through the headstock.
A geared tuner is a lot less intuitive. Look at the tuners head-on and you will notice that all of the pegs will turn anti-clockwise to tighten the strings up. It can be very confusing since there are two pegs that point up and two pegs that point down. All you need to do is watch the strings when you are tightening up the peg and make sure it’s going the way you want it to.
The Over-Under Method
The first wrap around the tuning peg with your new ukulele string should go over the shorter, protruding end. The rest of the wraps need to go underneath. The reason we do this is so that the loose end gets sandwiched between the wraps, creating tension, holding the string in place, and stopping it from slipping. Smaller strings sometimes need a knot when they’re at the tuning peg to stop them from slipping off.
Tuning Your Strings
As you begin to turn your tuning pegs you will want to watch the bridge knot where it meets the tuning peg. You will be increasing the pitch and as these two come closer together, you will want to reach for that tuner. Use your tuner to find the right pitch on your ukulele and get it as close as it can possibly be.
New strings have a tendency to slip out of tune almost as fast as you can turn the peg to tune them up. The more the uke gets tuned, the more it will begin to settle. Even after you have managed the long process of changing strings they still need to stretch out for a few days so you will continuously need to tune them. Playing them every day can help this process so you don’t have to tune the instrument as often.
Once you’ve got your new strings and they seem to be holding their pitch you can do some tidying up. Trim off the loose ends of the strings with your nail clippers at the headstock and bridge of your ukulele. You can trim these as short as you want as long as you have tied the knot correctly at both ends.
Changing strings is a really skilled process and it will take a lot of experience and time to be able to do it properly. It’s very awkward and difficult the first time you try it. Once you’ve done it a few times you’ll soon get the hang of it. If you’re not confident in changing your strings then make sure you take your ukulele to a professional to get it restrung.