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How To Restring A Ukulele

Updated on March 17, 2016
Give new life to an old ukulele by re-stringing it with new, fresh strings.
Give new life to an old ukulele by re-stringing it with new, fresh strings. | Source

The ukuleles is Hawaiian instrument developed in the late 19th century from an older Portuguese stringed instrument called a machete.

There are four types of ukulele each with there own timbre, the soprano, concert, tenor and baritone. The smallest and most commonly seen ukulele is the soprano and the next biggest is the concert, they are generally tuned identically but has a louder and deeper tone.

People used to re-stringing guitars and most other stringed instrument will find the string configuration of soprano and concert ukuleles odd as the string closest to you when holding the ukulele in a playing position is actually the 2nd thinnest, the next string down is the thickest, the next the 2nd thickest and the string furthest away from you the thinnest.

In contrast when playing an electric or steel-string acoustic guitar (nylon strung classical guitars with both metal-wrapped and plain nylon strings are a little different as the first plain nylon string is generally quite a bit thicker than the preceding metal-wrapped string) the string closest to you is the thickest with each string decreasing in diameter in steps as you move downwards.

It's the peculiar string configuration of the soprano and concert ukuleles which is partly responsible for the instrument's unique, bright but slightly dissonant, island tone when strumming chords.

Tenor and baritone ukuleles on the other hand generally have the thickest string at the top with the strings decreasing in size as you move downwards. The tenor is tuned the same as the soprano and concert but the closest string is generally an octave lower. The baritone is tuned like a tenor but every string is tuned 5 notes lower than on the tenor, making them the same pitch as the highest four strings of a guitar in standard tuning.


Standard Ukulele Tuning

Ukulele Type
4th String (Closest To You)
3rd String
2nd String
1st String (Furthest From You)
Soprano (Most Common)
G4 (392 Hz)
C4 (261.6 Hz)
E4 (329.6 Hz)
A4 (440 Hz)
Concert
G4 (392 Hz)
C4 (261.6 Hz)
E4 (329.6 Hz)
A4 (440 Hz)
Tenor
G3 (192 Hz)
C4 (261.6 Hz)
E4 (329.6 Hz)
A4 (440 Hz)
Bartitone
D3 (146.8 Hz)
G3 (196 Hz)
B3 (246.9 Hz)
E4 (329.6 Hz)

Use this table to help get your ukulele in tune. The number next to the note is the octave number and the number in brackets the frequency of that note. If you're unfamiliar with the normal pitch of each string and your tuner provides this extra information it can help to avoid accidentally tuning to the same note an octave high and breaking the string in the process. If you don't have a chromatic tuner but have a microphone you can use this very handy online tuner which will tell you both the note being played and the frequency below it.

How To Tell When Your Ukulele Needs Re-Stringing

Most ukuleles are strung with plain nylon strings (although the lower strings are often metal-wrapped on tenor and baritone ukuleles). Nylon strings being essentially just high-quality fishing line tend to last a long time before needing to be replaced. Nylon strings don't corrode like steel guitar strings do, making them much more able to withstand oils and moisture from your fingers as well as dust and humidity in the surrounding air. Casual players will find that they can keep the same set of strings on their ukulele for a year and have them sound more or less the same as when they put them on, however more regular players tend to change them once every couple of months. The metal frets of the ukulele will slowly wear away the strings, causing them to have thin points which reduces their ability to play in tune and increases the chance of breakage. Experienced players may also notice a reduction in brightness of their tone as this happens. The long-life of ukulele strings and relative inexpensiveness of ukulele string sets means it won't break the bank to keep your ukulele strung with strings of good condition.

Procedure For Changing Ukulele Strings

1. Detune and remove the old string from the ukulele. Ensure hole in tuning head post is pointing in line with ukulele nut for ease of installing the new string.

2. Tie a knot in one end of the new ukulele string. Thread string through the bridge so each strings sits in the slot of the bridge.

3. Thread the other end of the string through the hole of the correct tuning post. Turn the tuning head anticlockwise if the tuners are on the left hand side or clockwise if the tuners are on the right hand side to tighten the string. Ensure you put the string tight before tuning and make sure the strings sit in the correct slot on the saddle and nut. Watch and make sure the string wraps neatly around the post below where it exits the hole as you tighten the string.

4. Continue turning the tuner while plucking the string and checking the pitch against an electronic tuner. When the correct note is reached, trim the excess string from the tuning head.

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