Low-G Strings...”It’s All About That Bass”
Meghan Trainor was right! It really is all about that bass. Stringing a Low-G on a ukulele will give you all the bass you need! But lets get real for a minute. Low-G ukulele strings are a mystery to many players. While many artists opt for using High-G strings, Low-G strings are quickly becoming a popular option. By tuning the top G-string down an octave, you add five additional notes to the bottom of the ukulele range. This produces a deep, warm, and rich sound to the ukulele. Think Barry White!
So what are the differences between Low-G and High-G strings?
High-G strings are used in traditional ukulele tunings. Using this type of string makes for an odd pitch pattern that goes from high (G note) to low (C note), then back to high (E, and A note). This is actually uncommon among stringed instruments. This is why this type of pattern is called ‘re-entrant‘ tuning. So whenever you see the word ’re-entrant‘, know that its referring to traditional tuning with the High-G. Re-entrant tuning keeps the ukulele trebly and bright. It has been said before that it’s impossible to play a sad song on a ukulele when it us tuned with a High-G string.
Famous players that use High-G tuning are Jake Shimabukuro, Kalei Gamiao, and Kris Fuchigami. Check out Kris play his High-G tuned ukulele here!
As High-G strings are tuned ‘re-entrant’, Low-G strings make what is called ‘linear’ tuning. This means the string pitch order goes from low (G note) to high (C,E, and A note), or bass to treble. This pitch order gives the ukulele a rounded, even sound.
Having a second “bass” note can be useful for solo fingerpicking arrangements which allows you to get a fuller sound when playing. It creates a wider range of notes when you play any chord. When you strum a Low-G ukulele for the first time, chills will run down your spine. How can one string change the sound and ‘feel’ of the instrument? Believe me... it really does. It’s like comparing the mellow meow of a cat to the booming roar of a lion!
Players who tune their ukulele to Low-G are Taimane Gardner (she uses two Low-G strings on her five string ukulele!), James Hill, and the ridiculously talented Feng E. Watch Feng E. masterfully play using Low-G tuning here! In the video he’s using the Low-G primarily as a bass string. Prepare to be amazed!
Adding a Low-G String on Your Ukulele
A Low-G string simply replaces a High-G string. You just have to swap it out. So you may being thinking, “Why can’t I just tune my High-G string down an octave?” If you try and tune a High-G string down one octave it becomes way too loose and can’t even produce a sound. So by increasing the thickness of the string, it is now able to play at a much higher tension. And most importantly at a lower note. This is why Low-G strings were created. Without them you couldn’t achieve this.
Ukulele are usually setup for a High-G at the factory. This is due to the fact that ’re-entrant‘ tuning is more popular. Almost all the songs in the ‘book’ employ High-G tuning so players want to play and hear those songs the same way. So if you want to restring your ukulele with a Low-G you will have to file the nut slot to accommodate a wider string. If you try to put a larger string in a normal sized nut slot, it wont fit and lay on top of the nut. This will raise the action and possibly mess up the intonation on the G string. Also be absolutely sure you want to make the modification because it’s not reversible. If you want to change it back, you‘ll have the change out the nut. Oh NUTS!
“To wound, or not to wound! That is the question...”
Though this is not quite what Shakespeare had in mind, its still a deep and ethical question... haha! Wound Low-G strings are made by winding a metal wrapping around a nylon core. This design allows the wound string to hold the same tension as an unwound string, with added bonus of being thinner. Though, they do have some trade offs. Low-G strings are notorious for over-powering the rest of the strings, they squeak as you slide your fingers along, and they corrode. If you live in a humid place, it can corrode in as little as a few weeks! If you’ve ever had ‘green fingertips’ you know what I’m talking about.
(Pro-tip: Using a dish sponge with an abrasive side, wipe the rusted wound string. It will polish them back up in 10 seconds! They will look good as new).
Thankfully progress has been made with Wound Low-G strings, how they are produced so that they are more tonally balanced. And they were able to reduce the ‘squeakiness‘ of the string as well as it’s resistance to corrosion. So what about unwound Low-G strings?
Unwound Low-G strings are a ‘newer’ innovation. They are made of the same material as the other strings in the set (usually fluorocarbon), unlike their metal wound predecessors. The obvious advantage is the strings are smoother to the touch, therefore they don’t make any noise when you slide your fingers on them. They also match tonally to the rest of the set. I find sometimes that wound Low-G strings sound like they belong on classical guitars! So I personally find unwound Low-G strings more balanced in tone and clarity. Not to mention you don’t have to change them out since they don’t rust or corrode. This can save you a bunch of money!
On my personal custom ukulele I use a Tenor Low-G set from Living Waters Strings. They are made with fluorocarbon. I have been using these on my ukulele for the past 9 years! Shout out to Ken Middleton for these making these amazing strings! Pick up a set here!
So in the end it is totally up to you! If you are transitioning from the guitar and don’t want to miss out on the those rich bass notes, I recommend using a Low-G. And if your ‘down’ with tradition and want to play those bright and ‘happy’ notes, go re-entrant. Maybe get two ukulele and have one of each.
For me though...... it’s all about DAT BASS! “Low-G bass” that is......