FROM THE SPRING 2018 ISSUE OF UKULELE | BY GREG OLWELL
Compared to some other instruments out there (ahem, electric guitars), breaking a ukulele string is rare. (Breaking strings is uncommon enough that if it happens often, you should take it to a luthier for a diagnosis.) Because ukulele strings can last and last, it can be easy to leave them on your uke for a long time. However, even if they still work, strings will wear from playing and stretching and won’t sound as good as they used to sound. The degradation in tone can happen so slowly that you might not even notice that your uke doesn’t sound as good as it used to.
Before you run your credit card on that new uke hanging on the wall at your favorite store or add a new ukulele to your online shopping cart, try this: a new set of strings. It could be a fresh set of whatever you have in a drawer at home, or may be the latest string released by one of the noted makers—either way, a fresh set of strings on your favorite ukulele is the quickest, easiest, and cheapest way to give your old friend a new energy. And, maybe you’ll rekindle some of the passion for the instrument.
With the ukulele’s still-growing popularity, it’s no surprise that string makers have been developing new ideas. With new materials, different looks, and artist-curated sets, they’re striving to create new sounds and offer players abundant options when shopping for strings. In short, this is really good for players. Now we make choices based on what we want to hear, like brighter or softer strings, choose wild colors, and even experiment with different tunings. And the best part is that it’s about the cheapest thing you can do.
New “Kids” Strings
Across the nation, schools and teachers are turning to the ukulele for music education and as a classroom tool. Using different-colored strings to teach some playing basics is one innovation that teachers are raving about and students seem very responsive to. Two string-makers use four different colors in each set of strings to color-code playing and teaching. Beyond the playful look, it’s turning out to be even easier to instruct a young player to “put your first finger on the yellow string.” Italian string maker Aquila debuted the idea in 2016 with its Aquila Kids strings and US string maker DR Strings just added its first ukulele strings, the new DR Multi-Color set. Both sets are designed for soprano or concert ukes (with tenor likely coming at some point) and use the same scheme for standard GCEA tuning (low to high): green, red, yellow, and blue.
Given the ukulele’s popularity and it’s affinity for wide-sharing and tight community, it’s no surprise that makers are turning to some of the most popular players for artist-branded strings. Going beyond a simple endorsement, these signature sets of strings are finely honed sets of strings that you’ll find these players actually using.
GHS Strings is one of those companies that had uke strings available even during the Dark Ages when uke wasn’t cool. It makes a huge variety of ukulele strings and they have the biggest roster of artists and specialty sets. First up are the sets for Sarah Maisel and Craig Chee, who each have a signature tenor set aimed at their preferred feel and tones. The GHS Sarah Maisel Signature Low G tenor set features titanium nylon with a wound fluorocarbon low-G, gauged at .035 (low G), .040 (C), .033 (E), .028 (A). The GHS Craig Chee Signature Ground Nylon for Tenor features a high-G tuning gauged at .027 (G), .040 (C), .032 (E), .027 (A). Craig also helped develop the GHS Bari-Tenor set, for players who want to turn a tenor size uke into a re-entrant tuned baritone. The GHS Andrew Molina artist-curated strings are a thinner and higher-tension re-entrant set made with fluorocarbon, which Andrew likes for the feel and quick response.
Aquila worked with the face of Ukulele Underground, Aldrine Guerrero, to design its first artist signature set: the Aquila Aldrine Guerrero AGXAQ tenor strings. They’re made with a light mint-green colored nylon and a unique tension (evidently Aldrine is especially picky about his A string).