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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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    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.

  4. #4

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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

    I have several ukuleles in various sizes and am not planning on getting any more...

    at least, not yet.

    I also play some blowy things and a squeezy thing

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    Quote Originally Posted by Henning View Post
    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.
    What you have linked here is correct for metals and so applies to steel strings. Polymers, however behave differently.

    There's a simple experiment you can try at home to illustrate the behaviour of polymers under tension.

    1. Cut a strip about 1" wide from a plastic carrier bag - the type of cheap bags given out by shops is ideal

    2. Hang it up and add a weight to the bottom that's just enough to ensure the strip of plastic is taut but not significantly stretched. Mark where the bottom of the strip is. (If you hang the strip from the top of a door you can tack a piece paper behind it).

    3. Now add a weight on the bottom of the strip so it stretches (about 8 oz or 250g should be enough) and mark where the base of the strip is now.

    4. Leave it for about 10 minutes and mark where the base of the strip is now.

    5. Remove the weight and mark where the strip returns to initially.

    6. Leave it again for about 10 mins and mark where the base of the strip is now.

    As long as the weight you used is not too large (8oz should be OK but it's about 20 years since I did this myself as part of a polymer engineering course and I can't remember the exact values I used) you should observe the following.

    * There will be an initial instantaneous stretch when you add the weight.
    * The strip will continue to stretch when you leave the weight on.
    * When you remove the weight it will shrink back instantly but not all the way to it's original length.
    * If you then leave it, the strip will continue to shrink back and, if left long enough should shrink back to its original length - providing you haven't put too large a weight on and taken the material beyond its "elastic limit"

    This behaviour should tell you why polymer strings take time to settle and also why, if you decide to tune down to a lower pitch, they will initially feel somewhat floppy. If you've ever tuned down, you will probably notice that they go sharp when you leave them. This is the strings "catching up" with the sudden change you imposed on them

    If you do tune down you need to give them time to settle to the proper tension for the new pitches.

    Hope this is helpful.
    Geoff Walker

    I have several ukuleles in various sizes and am not planning on getting any more...

    at least, not yet.

    I also play some blowy things and a squeezy thing

    Internet:
    You Tube Channel: http://www.youtube.com/user/TootlinGeoff
    Soundcloud: http://soundcloud.com/tootlingeoff

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