A short story about Ukulele strings
I’ve owned a Ukulele for about 4 years. I’ve been playing (mostly) charity or community gigs for the past few months. Summertime means there’s quite a lot of performances at Parks, Fairgrounds, and Delis. Armed with a brand new Kamaka Tenor Deluxe and having several gigs in a row, I decided to go on a little tour of strings for each gig; presented here in the order I tried them. This is no ad and none of these companies know I exist. I’m just a person with a uke who can’t make up his mind.
The strings that come with the Kamaka are their own (but rumor has it they are made by D’Addario). They are black nylon and can be described in a single word: thud. Course they use the terms: warm, round, and balanced. Also these strings felt super tight and not very bendy. They came off one week into owning the Uke.
Now, since D’Addario is my favorite string maker for my guitars, I decided to check out their uke line. From their website, they have several flavors.
Black Nylon which they say is “A warmer, mellower tone than clear nylon and a popular choice for traditional Hawaiian Ukulele.” To me this sounds like the Kamaka strings, so I skipped them.
Pro-Arté Custom Extruded Nylon is next up and provides a lot of fancy words in its description: “Each Custom Extruded Nylon sets are manufactured on D’Addario’s own advanced monofilament extrusion line built exclusively for the production of musical instrument strings. Each set features our exclusive laser sorted Pro-Arté clear nylon trebles for unsurpassed intonation with a warm, projecting acoustic tone.” So I tried these out for a week. They felt more slinky than the Kamaka strings but still rather stiff. On my tenor these were still a little too mellow for my liking and they didn’t feel like the wood was really resonating or sustaining. Sidenote: I ended up using these in Soprano size on my Pineapple which is naturally brighter due to the instrument’s smaller size and they are great there.
Pro-Arté Titanium is a dense monofiliment which they say has “slightly brighter tone and increased projection, resulting in more volume, clarity and dynamics.” I seated these next on my uke. There’s no titanium in the string as far as I can tell but I’m not sure. These strings felt a little bendier than the Clear Nylon but it might just have been in my head. They pull more tension on the neck so I can’t explain it. Who knows how that magic works. I just know how it felt.
Next, Pro-Arté Carbon Ukulele, they say, are “fluorocarbon sets are ideal for progressive ukulele players looking for a bright, modern sound.” Modern sound to me kinda means and sounds more like a guitar. They are pretty much an extra-light gauge and you can feel it. It almost seems too thin to put on the tenor but the strings are bendy but not too slinky. That said, the sustain, resonance, projection, and tone is pretty stellar if you like to shred. Easy strumming, not so much but not too bad either.
Now the more common Uke string maker is Aquila; they are known for thier synthetic gut strings. They are supposed to give you the same punch and overtones as old school strings used to without the burden of hiring a cat gutter. D’Addario Nyltech strings are made in partnership with them and I strung them on last thinking I was going to hate them. I’m not sure if they are that much different from the Aquila family of strings (or where they fit). But I will say these will make you go hmm. I like this gauge better than the extra-light carbons as I prefer some string width but they aren’t as beefy as the other sets. I restrung half of the carbon strings with the Nytech when I changed over so I could do a side by side. I think they are almost as bright as the Titanium or Carbon strings but seriously have some volume and overtones which makes them seem more mellow. So with a nail or a pick you get the attack you want but you get the warmth with a lazy strum.
Right now, I’m digging the Nyltech. I’m not sure how they compare to Aquila’s strings but I think I’ll park here for now. I do wonder if I’m I hearing more of the string than my koa Uke? I’m not sure, but right now they seem to be the perfect balance for my shred+strum playing style. Then again, Aquila makes quite a lineup which makes me think I need to run a second experiment.
ps: You’ll need to know the best way to tie uke strings to a slotted headstock.
Update: After a few years, I moved to Pro-Arté Titanium strings. Once the uke ‘broke in’ a little bit, I felt the synth-gut strings were overpowering. The Pro-Arté Titanium ended up being the feel and tone I wanted over the Pro-Arté Custom.