Friday, March 08, 2013

The Great Ukulele String Hunt

As reported earlier, my uke came strung with Aquila Nylguts, the same kind I use on my guitar. The tone on the ukulele seemed a little bright to me, so I ordered strings from four different makers to try out. 

Four sets might seem a bit much, if you aren't a stringed-instrument player, but they might save me a long period of not being happy with the uke's sound. 

Normally, strings for my guitar last anywhere from four to six months, and if I bought new brands for the uke on that schedule, it might be years before I found the tone for which I am looking.

So the deal is, I figure the cost and aggravation of string-changing up front outweighs the long-term wait.

Here's how it works: You restring the instrument with a new set. They'll take a few days, maybe as long as a week, before they stretch enough to stay in tune when playing. You give them another week or so, and then you swap 'em for the next set. Wind up taking a couple months instead of maybe a couple years, and that's assuming you get through all of them. Could happen that the first or second set you try sounds perfect, and if that's the case, you quit right there. Save the others for emergency back-up if you break a string,  or pass them along to somebody else on the Great String Hunt.

Of course, it could also be that you burn through those and don't get what you want.

The Holy Grail might take a while to find ...

Complicating this is a phenomenon with stringed wooden instruments wherein the top "opens up," i.e., the glue and wood and finish and braces achieve some kind of stability after x-amount of playing, and the thing begins to sound better. This doesn't happen with plywood tops, but with solid woods it does, and how long it takes depends on a bunch of factors, including the kind of wood it is. On guitars, cedar tops open relatively quickly. Spruce tops take longer, but continue to get better for a longer period.

Apparently violins, cellos, and double basses can continue to get better for centuries.

Can't do anything about that aspect. If the top opens up on  particular brand of strings, I'll go with that.  

I mentioned the brands I've ordered, decided upon after some research, and three of the four have arrived. The last one, Living Water, has to come from the U.K. They are big on the ukulele over there, proportionately more so than here.

First up after the Aquila, I'm trying Southcoast Uke Strings. These come from a company that makes ukuleles, in Mandeville, Louisiana. They feature two wound strings, both the low G and C.

I could do recordings of each and ask for input; lot of folks do that via YouTube, but the objective ear is as hard to find as the Holy Grail. If you listen to some of those, you can usually tell a difference even in a blind test. The question of which sounds better seldom results in a consensus. Some folks like bright, some like warm. Nature of the otics ...

I might do that, but the deciding factor will likely be how they sound to my ears, and how they feel under my fingers, since I'm the one who will be listening and playing it the most.

Stay tuned for more exciting adventures in the quest for strings ...

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