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Thread: Another thread about string tension... What exactly is "high string tension?"

  1. #1
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    Default Another thread about string tension... What exactly is "high string tension?"

    Dear All,

    This is my first post, I'm Rob! I've been playing the ukulele for around 2 years. Introduction over!

    So, I've been reading up on string tension... And, I'm still none the wiser - OK, I think I have a grasp on the basic principles, but I still have some questions. I've looked at various websites and many of the forum posts on UU, yet haven't really been able to find an answer to my questions.

    I have been comparing information from various string manufacturers and sometimes it is hard to find out the precise string tension of popular sets of strings.

    For this post, I will use soprano string tensions to compare.

    I'm sure at one point or another we have all heard the term "higher string tension" being used, sometimes as a selling point. I read an article by the Ukulele Site, which raised alarm bells! In the article they mention 'Microwound' strings and NOT to use them on lightly braced ukes in case they create a 'belly' - http://www.theukulelereview.com/2012...shell-and-new/ Whenever I hear about higher string tension it is usually referencing fluorocarbon strings and comparing them to Aquila's (if I'm not mistaken?) So, having read that article my first question was could fluorocarbon strings create this 'belly' if the instrument was designed for Aquila strings? With cheaper instruments this may not be a problem because they are usually heavily braced, but with higher end instruments would this be the case? One brand that springs to mind is Kanilea who specifically voice their instruments with Aquila in mind...

    I then found a useful document comparing major string brands - https://www.google.co.uk/url?sa=t&so...IHPpaXJzAqQGoQ (downloadable PDF) initially I skipped over Daddario and went looking for information on Worth string tension, there was no information except for string diameter. I then looked for other fluorocarbons and found some tension information was included about Martin strings all 4 strings are listed as having 30lb/13.6kg (for M600 Soprano/Concert) string tension - am I correct to presume this is the total for all strings, instead of per string?

    Again, the document also includes per string information about Daddarrios and gives individual string tensions, but misses the Pro Arte EJ99SC fluorocarbon strings. Luckily, searching for these strings Daddario includes string tension information (A = 7.9lbs/3.586kg, E = 7.130lbs/3.237kg, C = 6.770lbs/3.073kg, G = 7.490lbs/3.400kgs) the total tension of these strings is 29.29lbs/13.296kg - slightly less than the Martins.

    Looking again at the downloadable string comparison chart, Aquila nylguts have a string tension of (A = 8.157lbs/3.7kg, E =7.0547lbs/3.2kg, C 6.6138lbs/3kg, G = 7.4956lbs/3.4kgs) the total tension being 29.3211lbs/13.3kg - again completely comparable to the Daddario fluorocarbon strings.

    So, basically it appears that string manufacturers are aiming for around 30lbs of string tension for a soprano - this website claims 33lbs http://www.vintageukemusic.com/ukuleles/tuning.htm which maybe the case for other fluorocarbon strings?

    This also begs the question, considering fluorocarbons come from the same factories - are all the string tensions of other popular fluorocarbons such as Worth comparable to the above results? What is the difference in tension between CL, CM etc.?

    From my understanding, fluorocarbons can be thinner because they are denser than nylon - so, what exactly is the "higher string tension" people often refer too?

  2. #2
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    Welcome to UU

    You are asking some big questions, which have been discussed previously in dozens and dozens of threads, and it will be difficult to summarize answers in a short time, or a concise manner.

    I will have to think about this and will report back with a meaningful reply.

    In the meantime, if you follow the link in my signature below, you might get closer to useful answers to some of your concerns...

  3. #3
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    Ive never even considered string tension. I guess I figure that if a big name is making strings for ukuleles they are staying within the standards.

    Booli is a good one to rely on for answers. In the meantime you might consider contacting Ken Middleton the maker of Living Water and ask him all of these things via email. He is good about responding and I think he could be helpful.
    Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.

  4. #4
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    My possibly na´ve observations after trying a few quite different kinds of strings are..

    Thicker strings typically need more tension than thinner ones of a similar material.

    The set of Martin soprano strings I tried broke when I tried tuning them up to BbEbGC.

    I prefer very thin nylon strings as they (on the ukuleles I usually play) seem to intone better than thicker strings, the lower tension makes fretting more comfortable and I just prefer the sound.

    Steel strings randomly chosen by a music shop owner for a soprano banjolele I bought when a beginner are painful to play!

  5. #5
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    It's my understanding tension works this way for sustain.

    Low Tension = less sustain
    High Tension = more sustain
    Kanile'a Kuuipo - Tenor - (For Sale)
    Lanikai LU-21C - Concert

  6. #6
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    As a clue, your final question is phrased "high string tension", where a more useful question might he "higher string tension". I've tested various strings on various ukes using a spectrum analysis program along with my ears.

    A string has two essential jobs to do. First, it has to tolerate the tension required to bring it to pitch, and pretty much stay there after settling in. Secondly, it has to vibrate in a way that produces a lovable sound. In addition, it has to tolerate a lot of playing without degrading physically.

    "Tension" is another way of saying "resistance to elongation". Nylon, for example, has a lower resistance to elongation than does fluorocarbon. So, you can -- in fact -- make a thinner string from fluorocarbon. In fact, you can match the "tension" of a nylon string to a fluorocarbon string by making the fluorocarbon string proportionately thinner. But that's just the beginning...

    When you pluck a string, it doesn't just wiggle back and forth in one continuous wave over the length of the string. The vibration producing the fundamental pitch you are tuned to will be the strongest (and therefore the loudest), but other wave patterns of smaller size will build within the length of the string. These produce overtones of pitch different than the fundamental. This gives a string it's "voice", and it's not equal in all string materials. The more flexible the material and the lower the tension -- in theory at least -- the more pronounced the overtones will be.

    Strings will also differ in the amount of "sustain" they produce (how long it takes the plucked note to fade out after plucking). This, of course, varies a lot with tension and attack (how you pluck or strum).

    In very general terms, strings made up of materials with a lower resistance to elongation from a "softer" material will sound "warmer", while strings of "harder" materials with a higher resistance to elongation will sound "brighter". However, there are a host of other matters we're concerned with, including the amplitude difference from string to string, how mushy or non-mushy a quickly strummed chord sounds, etc.

    So, speaking functionally, you string your uke up with something and play it. After awhile (give it a few days) you decide you don't like it -- or you might like it better. So, you read dozens of threads on UU looking for recommendations. Instead of practicing and playing, varying your attack (how you strum or pick) to find a sound you like for a particular piece of music, you search for the ideal set of strings. A certain amount of this is rational. After that it can become both obsessive and compulsive. And, you've done it to me now! I have to order some microwound strings to try!!!

    Ukuleles vary significantly before you even put the strings on. Wood species, thicknesses, bracing patter/thickness/taper and a host of other factors add up to create the voice of an individual uke. Strings are the variable you can control once you've got the instrument, and it is absolutely true that a good string to uke match can make a very big difference.

    My advice, then, is to put all this tension business in the back of your mind. Remember that "higher" tension (it's relative to an imaginary baseline of "normal" string tension) may prove to be brighter and cleaner sounding -- but perhaps a bit harsh and "jangly" (to use a technical term).

    Now that we've gotten all that out of the way, strings impact two other things: Playability, or how hard it is to properly fret the string. Thicker strings of harder materials will be harder to fret. Most people adjust to that, however. Secondly is intonation -- does the uke stay in tune going up the neck. The problem here is that you tune the uke with the string unfretted, or "open". Depending on the height of the "action", you are going to stretch the string as soon as you fret it. The frets are spaced based on a mathematical progression to produce the notes of the scale. Fretting the tuned open string shortens it just a tad, throwing that measurement off. That's a very simple explanation, but you can see the point -- strings of differing tension will have a varying impact on intonation.

    Aside from the two above points, it's mostly about the sound you like -- and there's only one realistic way of getting there -- try different strings. This is where the forum search function is handy as there are plenty of folks hereabouts who have collected a lot of empty string envelopes. Lastly, it is difficult for me to imagine that anyone would produce a ukulele that would be damaged by higher tension strings. A little belly, sure. If you notice a belly forming you're probably going to approach the problem logically anyway.
    Robert Edney
    Robert@ElixirViolins.com

    Much more interested in playing the ukulele than making violins just now...

  7. #7
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    Thanks robedney for some very informed information!

    The only thing I can say as a player about tension, is some strings I've found had so much tension, that I didn't like them, they were to hard to fret.
    Kanile'a Kuuipo - Tenor - (For Sale)
    Lanikai LU-21C - Concert

  8. #8
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    Hello, Thank you! To everyone that has responded!

    I think my problem is with the term "high(er)" string tension... If the numbers I gave are accurate then there maybe some variance between individual strings but as a whole it would appear that string manufacturers are aiming for 30lbs string tension for a soprano. Of course, there must be some difference between strings made by the same manufacturer for example Worth with their CL, CM, CD lines - it would be helpful if they gave tensions.

    The fact that fluorocarbons can be thinner (and are thinner) than Nylon strings to provide a similar tension... Must mean tension is pretty standard across the board?

    BTW does anyone have a picture of this 'belly' I can't imagine whether it would be sticking out or sinking in!

    I also think "resistance to elongation" sounds far less threatening than high(er) string tension! ;-)

  9. #9
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    Great answer Robeney. If the OP is worried about "high tension" strings damaging a modern instrument he can go forward without any concerns. As you pointed out it is just higher tension string relative to one manufacture against another. This really just impacts the players comfort more than anything. If you are heavy handed and an aggressive player you might like higher tension strings.

    As far a bellying is concern this is common in high quality lightly built ukuleles. Gordon from Mya Moe has always said builders walk a fine line between building as light as possible for great sound and still achieving longevity of structural integrity. Voicing is another issue that is personal. Yes Kanilea sends out it ukes with Aquila strings tuned to high G. The best sounding Kanilea I have personally heard was strung with florocabons in low G with a wound 4th string. Some like the taste of chocolate, others vanilla or strawberry.
    Ukuleles.............yes please !!!!

  10. #10
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    I just found this site if people are interested in the string tension of Worth's - http://www.stringbusters.com/Ko-Besp.../UKULELE+WORTH

    It would appear that they are lower in total tension than other strings, for soprano at least - with some variance among concert and tenor.

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