Today I’m going to explain the extent to which ukulele strings are compatible across the four main uke sizes.
As an owner of all different shapes and sizes of ukuleles, I have done a fair amount of experimenting with string cross-compatibility myself!
Mixing strings across different sizes can change the voice of your uke (sometimes for the worse) but may be desirable to suit your playing style. There are even a few combinations that turn your ukulele into a whole new instrument!
Let’s get into the long and short of it (pun intended).
Are Ukulele Strings Cross-Compatible?
Some, but not all, ukulele strings are cross-compatible. String gauge and tension are optimized to fit the scale length of each ukulele size. Soprano and concert strings are similar enough that they can be used interchangeably. Other combinations can produce interesting and often desirable effects.
A Quick Guide
|Soprano Strings||Concert Strings||Tenor Strings||Baritone Strings|
|Baritone Ukulele||No||No||Yes (different tuning)*||Yes|
Can You Use Soprano Ukulele Strings on Other Ukes (i.e. Concert, Tenor, or Baritone)?
Soprano strings work just fine on a concert ukulele! People who enjoy the bright and lively tone of a soprano uke may find they even prefer this sound for their deeper-voiced concert uke.
On the other hand, strings designed for a soprano ukulele will not work for tenor and baritone ukuleles. It will be hard to find a set long enough to fit these larger instruments and even if you did, the thin, delicate strings would likely snap under the tension required.
Can You Use Concert Ukulele Strings on Other Ukes (i.e. Soprano, Tenor, or Baritone)?
Concert ukulele strings are only slightly thicker than soprano strings (if at all) and will definitely be long enough to fit a soprano ukulele. They can even add some depth to the soprano’s higher-pitched voice.
When used on a tenor ukulele, concert strings produce a brighter and quieter sound with reduced string tension. This makes it easier to fret and can be helpful if you find tenors hard to play. Just make sure to check the string length first as tenors are longer than concerts.
Concert ukulele strings are not suitable for use on baritone ukes due to their short length and thin diameters. Baritone ukuleles require longer and stronger strings.
Can You Use Tenor Ukulele Strings on Other Ukes (i.e. Soprano, Concert, or Baritone)?
Tenor ukulele strings are the most versatile!
Tenor strings can technically be used on a soprano ukulele but you may run into some problems. The thicker strings may not fit into the smaller nut slots, the strings may also be too slack since they are designed for much higher tension, and the tone may suffer.
Tenor ukulele strings will give your concert uke more volume and punch. They will also feel larger due to their thicker gauges and will add a noticeable amount of tension. If you are a heavy strummer this may be just what you want!
You can string a baritone ukulele with tenor strings provided they are long enough and you are willing to tune it down a full step from DGBE to FBbDG to lower the tension. This will give your instrument a truly unique voice!
Can You Use Baritone Ukulele Strings on Other Ukes (i.e. Soprano, Concert, or Tenor)?
The baritone ukulele is a different animal and its strings are no exception.
Baritone ukulele strings are too long and thick to be used on soprano and concert ukes. The strings will not fit properly into the nut and will be very slack due to low tension. Two of the strings are wound, which further complicates matters as they often unwind when cut.
Stringing a tenor ukulele with baritone strings can be done, but you will not be able to tune to the standard gCEA. You will have to tune your uke to DGBE, which will convert your tenor to a higher-voiced baritone with lower tension.
This can be a fun way to experiment without buying a new instrument as long as you don’t mind learning new chords!
3 Differences Between Strings for Different Ukulele Sizes
While similar, ukulele strings vary slightly to accommodate the range of sizes they must fit. Here are 3 key differences:
1.) The String Gauges (i.e. Thickness)
String gauge is the number you see on the front of string packages. The higher the number, the thicker the string.
Gauges vary within a set of strings for a given ukulele size. These differences matter even more when going between ukulele sizes. The bigger the ukulele, the bigger the gauges.
You can play around a little bit to experiment with different sounds. Thicker strings will give you a louder and bolder voice while thinner strings will be quieter and brighter.
Note: Nut slots on ukuleles are designed to fit the gauge range for its size. If you really like the sound of thicker strings, you can widen the nut slots. But keep in mind that this is permanent.
2.) The String Tension
Tension refers to how tight a string feels when fretted and is affected by the scale length and the density of the string.
Strings are designed for specific scale lengths and are therefore under an optimized amount of tension when tuned to pitch. Each ukulele size has a different scale length, and that’s one of the reasons it’s best to stick with the strings specifically designed for that size.
You can play around with this within reason: too much tension can damage your ukulele and too little makes the strings so loose it’s unplayable.
3.) The String Material
Ukulele strings are made out of many different materials and each has its own properties. The most commonly used are nylgut/nyltech, nylon, and fluorocarbon. Thickness varies quite a bit between them!
For comparison, check out the below table showing the thickness of different D’Addario soprano strings:
Ukulele strings, especially those used for low G tuning and baritone ukes, can also be wound. Wound strings have an inner core – typically nylon – and are wrapped with a plastic polymer or even metal. They allow for deeper bass tones and add volume.
Wound strings tend to wear out faster and you should avoid cutting them as they tend to unravel. They should also not be used on ukuleles with plastic nuts and fretboards.
Different Ukulele Tunings
It’s also important to understand that soprano, concert, and tenor ukuleles are typically played in High G tuning (gCEA) and standard string sets are optimized for this. You can also safely tune to D tuning (ADF#B) with these string sets.
Low-G tuning (GCEA) requires you to tune the 4th string down a full octave to a low G. You cannot tune a standard 4th string to low G and will need to purchase a special string for this. Low G strings are thicker and often wound to accommodate this lower tuning.
Baritone ukuleles have their own tuning (DGBE) and the D and G strings are wound. Baritone strings cannot be tuned to gCEA.
Can You Use a Tenor Low G on a Soprano or Concert Ukulele?
Low G tuning sounds richest on a tenor ukulele. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be done on the smaller ukes!
Keep in mind that in order to produce the deeper sound, low G strings must either be wound or made considerably thicker.
A tenor low G string will likely be too thick to fit in the soprano ukulele’s nut slots and the tension will be too low to produce the desired sound. Several brands make low G strings optimized for sopranos if you want to try this.
You can string a concert ukulele with a tenor low G with a few considerations. The unwound low G will likely be too thick to fit in the nut slot. You can either cut the nut slot deeper or use the thinner diameter wound low G. You’ll want to avoid cutting the wound G string.