The general consensus on choosing ukulele strings is that you just have to try a bunch and see what you like. The sound and playability of a given string set is highly subjective to personal preference and differs considerably from instrument to instrument.
That said, comparing strings is expensive, time-consuming and laborious. So I enjoy reading others’ impression of different strings and use that information, for whatever its worth, to at least inform what I might try next.
In that spirit, this page lists all the ukulele strings I’ve tried and my impressions of them. Unless otherwise indicated, these were high-G and installed on a solid mahogany tenor ukulele, either a Pono MT or a Mainland Classic. Reviews are ordered by date (not preference), with the most recent set reviewed at the top.
Last updated: 6/6/2015
These came in from Uke Republic today and I strung them up on my mahogany tenor Pono. Living Water Strings are made by Ken Middleton, who you may recognize from his many excellent YouTube videos or his being an Ohana rep. Ken also sells the strings directly from his website. I can contrast these most with the Super Nylgut as that’s what they replaced. First they are clear. Second, they are very light (thin). Especially the C string is considerably thinner than I’m used to. This has the effect of reducing the volume of that string, which I see as a good thing – it’s usually notably louder than the other strings. Third, the strings have a lower tension than most I’ve played. This, in combination with being thin, makes them a pleasure to play. The only downside I’ve noticed is that they are a tad squeaky under my picking fingers. In my experience with other fluorocarbon strings, this dies down after they’re worn in a bit, but it was a surprise coming from the glassy smooth Super Nylguts. Soundwise, they are warmer than the Nylgut but have noticeably more note definition. It’s a wonderful mix, and I’m sold!
Aquila Super Nylgut
Aquila recently released these Super Nylgut strings. The selling points with these are 1) a “very smooth and polished” pearl finish, 2) increased strength that protects the strings from wear from the nut, frets and nails and 3) “faster setting”, meaning they hold a tune sooner when first installed (“seconds” according to the package).
For #1, I’ll agree that the strings are attractive and smooth under the fingers – this is nice but wouldn’t sell me on the strings alone. For #2, only time will tell. I tend to change my strings after 6 months or so when they start to lose intonation consistency due to wear. For #3, set-in time after installation is no faster than any other strings I’ve tried. Sound-wise, they are similar to Aquila Nylgut – very bright, a little too bright on a solid wood instrument for my taste. I do look forward to installing the 2nd pair of these I bought on my laminate uke. Buy on Amazon.com.
These are the strings endorsed by Jake Shimabukuro. They are classical guitar strings repackaged for use by ukulele players. They are high tension strings, but I don’t feel much of a difference in playability. Being made from nylon, they are slightly fatter than fluorocarbon strings, but they play fine. They’re smooth on the fretboard. I liked these better than the Worth Clears, but still not as much as the Martins. They sound good enough, especially for nylon strings, but they are just a tad on the quiet side for my liking. My sense is that if I fingerpicked with fingernails these might be great. Alas, at least at the moment I’m playing with pads. I’ve also noticed they don’t stay in tune as well as fluorocarbon strings, again likely due to being nylon. Buy on Amazon.com.
Worth strings come highly recommended by some heavy hitting players. Like the Martin’s, they are made with fluorocarbon. They have a thin feel to them and are smooth on the fretboard. Sound-wise, I am not a fan. I found them to be a little on the quiet side and a little flat on tone. One thing worth noting – you may be surprised at how much they cost compared to other ukulele strings (almost 3X) but the consolation is that you can get two stringings from each set. Just cut the strings in half before installing and you get two sets from the one. Buy at TheUkuleleSite.com.
Aquila Red (low G)
Aquila Reds are a new type of string designed to achieve less variance in width across the strings. Normally, lower note strings are thicker than higher note strings. Thicker strings generally have less sustain and can offset intonation a bit, making them sound slightly out of tune depending on what fret you’re on. For this reason, Reds are very popular with the Low-G crowd who don’t like the blaring volume and squeekiness of a wound low-G string. Aquila even sells sets of just low-G strings so you can put on one of these for the G and use something else on the other strings. Aquila Red strings are textured, not smooth. I’d describe the texture like construction paper. Not particularly rough, but definitely not smooth. I found them comfortable enough. Sound-wise, however, I found them way too bright. The tone was a little too banjo-ish and didn’t sound very “ukulele” to me at all. Buy on Amazon.com.
These Martin strings are made from fluorocarbon, like some fishing line. They hold a tuning for a long time, they are thinner than nylon strings and they are nice and smooth on the fretboard. I find these strings to be a happy medium between the loud, bright Aquila Nylgut and muted, mellow nylon strings. To my ear, they’re just right in terms of volume, tone and sustain. They produce a nice clear bell-like tone. Currently, these are my favorite strings. Buy at Amazon.com.
These come by default on new Pono ukuleles, at least they did on the two I’ve purchased. I’m a huge Pono fan, and Pono is made by Ko’olau, of course. Given what great instruments Ponos are, I find it surprising how dead the stock strings sound. It’s all personal preference, I know, but when I received my first Pono (a mahogany concert) and strummed my first chord, I was a little horrified at the lack of presence, volume, you name it. Just dead on arrival. After panicking a little I realized it was probably the strings. I slapped some Aquilas on that I had lying around and my fears that I’d bought a total lemon were allayed. If you’re going for a very mellow and subdued sound and usually finger pick, these are worth a try. Ko’olau Golds are made from traditional nylon, which explains the muted tone. They are also highly polished, giving them a really nice feel on the fretboard. Buy at KoolauUkulele.com.
These are by far the most popular ukulele strings, and for good reason. Most new ukuleles come strung with these, especially the lower end variety. Nylgut is famous for making a cheap ukulele come alive with volume and presence. These are what I put on my laminate ukuleles because they just sound and play great. But for my solid wood ukuleles, I agree with what most people say about them – they’re a bit too bright. They sound good, for sure, but the tone lacks the depth produced by other strings, namely the Martins discussed above. Buy at Amazon.com.