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Thread: Changing tuning back and forth: affect on strings?

  1. #1

    Default Changing tuning back and forth: affect on strings?

    I'm working through Aaron Keim's Clawhammer Ukulele Book (which is excellent), and he's got a number of songs where the first and fourth string are both tuned to the same note, either G or A, depending on the song. I tackled one of these yesterday: Old Greasy Coat, with unison A's on those outside strings.

    I'm playing on a set of Martin Fluorocarbons that are a couple of months old and quite stable in normal C reentrant tuning. But in tuning the G string up a whole tone to A yesterday, it wouldn't hold the note well at all, going flat as if it was a brand new string, even after about 15 minutes of playing and multiple tension adjustments.

    Will it eventually settle down so it will be stable in both tunings?

    Much as I'd like to own enough ukuleles to keep one (at least!) in every tuning I might use, that doesn't seem very practical.
    Last edited by jackj; 08-16-2017 at 07:46 AM. Reason: Dang: can't edit misspelled title.

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    There is a lot that I could say about string tension and tunings, but might I suggest that Aaron Keim himself is likely to be the best source of an answer?

    He is a UU member, and you could PM him here, or to his email on his web site for The Quiet American...

    otherwise, we are all just dogs chasing our own tails...
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  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by jackj View Post
    Will it eventually settle down so it will be stable in both tunings?
    No. It's just the nature of strings in general (and particularly non-metallic strings) that they take days to settle well when there's been a significant change in the pitch (like a whole step change, not just after a string change); until that time, and particularly right after changing the tuning, they will quickly drift. Some also say that if you return a string to a lower pitch after it's been stretched out for a higher pitch, it will sound deader, and frequent retuning can cause strings to go out of intonation.

    Metal strings are more resilient, though they too will drift. If you plan to retune often, consider getting a uke which has been specially designed to take metal strings. You shouldn't use a normal uke for this: it would likely warp or break under the higher tension required for metal strings. Yes, it won't have the same sound; choose your poison: metal strings with a different feel and tone, a uke for each tuning, or inevitable drifting.
    Last edited by ubulele; 08-16-2017 at 02:35 PM.

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    In my personal experience.... Yes, going up in tuning has the same effect as a new string, as you've noted. It takes some time for it to stabilize to pitch. On the other hand...Once a string has been at a higher pitch and stabilized when you tune down to the lower pitch, there are issues. At that point, the string usually wants to go sharp as you play it...as if it's trying to return to the higher tuning. If I recall correctly I was using Martin flouros the last time I was playing around with tunings like this and it was the same for them as it was the nylons. I just don't think nylon (or flouro, or other variations) strings are well suited for going back and forth like that. Steel strings work a lot better for that, but it does wear on them.
    Last edited by jer; 08-16-2017 at 02:00 PM.

  5. #5

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    Thanks for the input! I was hoping that eventually all the stretch would get stretched out of the strings, such that they'd stabilize pretty quickly at different tensions. That was apparently a false hope, and I'll live with turning the tuning pegs when switching tunings.

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    I don't think it is all in the strings themselves. The knots at the bridge and the wraps at the tuners slip a little as they tighten up and the slack comes out of them. Sloppy knots and wraps take longer to tighten up.
    I don't want to live in a world that is linear.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rllink View Post
    I don't think it is all in the strings themselves. The knots at the bridge and the wraps at the tuners slip a little as they tighten up and the slack comes out of them. Sloppy knots and wraps take longer to tighten up.
    I believe you to be 107% correct on that.

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    Hi, jackj!

    Do you pull the string when tune it up?



    Many guitarists pull their strings (see the figure above) in order to stabilize when change strings. New strings need to stretch. This method is even seen in guitar books. I pull the strings when I tune them up from drop D or drop G as long as change strings on my guitars.
    Kamaka HF-1 100

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    Quote Originally Posted by jackj View Post
    Will it eventually settle down so it will be stable in both tunings?

    Much as I'd like to own enough ukuleles to keep one (at least!) in every tuning I might use, that doesn't seem very practical.
    I think so, so yes, unless the strings are worn out. As they should not be after only a few months of playing. It will however always take some time for the string to accomodate to the new tension.
    If you consider the yield limit, where a material starts to deform plastically, (in the case of musical instrument strings it would normally mean they break. )
    As long as you stay below the limit for plastic deformation the material is in the elastic zone and will return to its original shape when the applied stress is removed.
    What will happen when you tune from g to a is that the string is exposed to a higher tension and will start to stretch. When you on the other hand tune from a to g, the string is exposed to a smaller stress and will start to contract. This is a technical explanation and you can find more about it here.
    Last edited by Henning; 08-18-2017 at 07:39 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Rllink View Post
    I don't think it is all in the strings themselves. The knots at the bridge and the wraps at the tuners slip a little as they tighten up and the slack comes out of them. Sloppy knots and wraps take longer to tighten up.
    Quote Originally Posted by jer View Post
    I believe you to be 107% correct on that.
    Actually wrong. Yes, when you initially tighten new strings yes, you do need to take up the slack at the tuners and the knots at the bridge and this is what you get with steel instrument strings settling but with polymers which is what ukulele strings are made from (unless you're a purist and use gut and being a protein, that's actually a form of polymer) they continue to stretch for a time after the initial tightening and that's why they take much longer than steel strings to finally settle.
    Geoff Walker

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