A Guide to Ukulele Strings: Order, Names and More
The right strings can make a huge difference in how your “Hawaiian guitar” sounds and plays. However, there are a lot of string options out there, and everything from the ukulele design to how you tune it plays a role. This ukulele string guide covers all the basics, such as the ukulele strings in order, string materials and other things to know before buying your next set.
First: Ukulele Sizes
Before anything else, remember there are many types of ukuleles. The most common are soprano (standard), concert, tenor and baritone, each with different string length and tension requirements. Manufacturers label strings with the ukulele they’re designed for, so check this. You wouldn’t put bass strings on a guitar, and you shouldn’t put tenor strings on a concert uke, either.
How Are Ukulele Strings Numbered?
On all ukeleles, the string numbering system is like that of a guitar. The bottom-most string while you’re playing is string one. The second string from the bottom is string two, the next is string three and the top-most string is string four.
Also like guitars, tunings are listed in reverse order of the string number. So for the standard ukulele tuning of G-C-E-A, string four is tuned to G, string three is the C, string two is the E and string one is the A. This leads well into a longer discussion of string notes and tunning.
What Are the Ukulele String Notes?
The aforementioned G-C-E-A is the most popular modern tuning for soprano, concert and tenor ukuleles. Each successive note is a perfect fourth (five half-steps) from the previous note. It’s the same tuning on a lap steel guitar; when the strings are played open, it produces a C6 chord.
There are two ways to achieve this tuning. The most common is reentrant tuning (G4-C4-E4-A4) where the G-string is tuned to the G note directly above the C and E. This gives you a more even sound since the strings cover less range. It’s also known as high-G, high-C and high-4 th. For linear tuning (G3-C4-E4-A4), the G-string is one octave lower, creating a broader, more guitar-like sound. Linear tuning is also called low-G or low-fourth.
Using reentrant or linear tuning is ultimately up to personal preference. It should be noted that manufacturers make different strings for high-G and low-G tuning, so always confirm you’re buying the correct set.
As for baritone ukes, they use a standard tuning of D-G-B-E (aka D3-G3-B3-E4). These notes are the same as top four strings on a standard guitar.
Other Ukulele Tunings
Each ukulele style has at least one common alternate tuning. For the soprano, concert and tenor ukuleles, you’ll frequently find songs written in D-tuning (A4-D4-F#4-B4), where every string is one whole step up from normal. D-tuning was the standard tuning up until the mid-20 th century, and it’s good to know if you want to play traditional songs.
Another option is to start with low-G or high-G tuning and bring the A string up one half-step to Bb. This “slide tuning” changes the open chord from C6 to C7, which makes it easier to play the blues. You also can tune the tenor ukulele to standard baritone tuning and vice versa. Different gauges might be needed for these variations to account for the changes in string tension.
Ukulele String Materials
Like all stringed instruments, the earliest ukuleles used gut strings made of sheep intestines. Sounds delightful, doesn’t it? While you can still find authentic gut strings, the industry has largely switched to man-made options. Nowadays, the two most common materials for uke strings are nylon and fluorocarbon.
Nylon Uke Strings
Nylon became popular around World War II because it was much cheaper to produce than gut strings and gave players a more consistent sound. Higher-end nylon ukulele strings are ground down to give them even more grip and tonal consistency. In both cases, humidity doesn’t affect the tuning.
This material does have downsides, though. The tuning is impacted by temperature changes, and it takes a long time for the strings to stretch and settle. Since each string maker uses their own nylon polymer, the sound can vary greatly, meaning you have to shop around before finding the strings you like.
Fluorocarbon Ukelele Strings
Many players are now switching to fluorocarbon. Originally developed in the 1960s to make fishing lines and leaders, it’s great for playing the ukulele, too. It has a louder, brighter sound than nylon and is less sensitive to temperature. Fluorocarbon doesn’t stretch as much, and since the material is denser, the strings can be manufactured in smaller gauges that are easier to play. The biggest downside is that fluorocarbon is much more expensive.
Other Uke Strings
While less common, there are some options beyond nylon and fluorocarbon. Let’s go over them briefly:
- Steel Strings: Use these for a twangy sound like a guitar or banjo. Steel is also better at holding alternate tunings.
- Titanium Strings: This gives you a brighter tone than nylon — though not as bright as fluorocarbon — with more projection and longevity.
- Nylgut and Nyltech: Made by Aquila and D’Addario, respectively, these materials closely replicate the sound of gut strings while having more stability.
- Wound Strings: Nylon or metal-wound strings are louder and give low notes more definition, which is ideal for tenor and baritone ukeleles. However, they squeak more and are harder to cut to size.
Like other stringed instruments, the right string choice is up to your fingers and ears. Browse our entire collection of ukulele strings to see what’s available. Need help? Call Strings and Beyond at 1-877-830-0722.