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View Full Version : Ukuleles with metal strings -- a few questions.



Mivo
11-10-2014, 09:02 PM
So lately I have been getting up at 2-3am for work, and I like to practice a bit in the early morning (working in my own place, so stealing an hour here or there is fine as long as I'm around), but there are neighbors.

This presented a perfect excuse to buy yet another uke! I was lusting over a Les Paul style electronic Risa soprano (this one (http://www.thomann.de/gb/risa_soprano_ukulele_lpstyle_ts.htm)), since I could plug it into an amp and use headphones, and had already moved it into the shopping cart when I realized that it has metal strings.

I have no guitar, mandolin, or banjo background, so metal strings are something that is entirely foreign to me, and I have a few questions, if anyone would be so kind.

a) Do all solid body electronic ukuleles have metal strings?

b) How often do you need to replace metal strings, compared to nylon/fc ones?

c) How much harder/more painful is it to play something with metal strings? Would you use or recommend a pick? (I'd rather not.)

d) Anything else that is important that I'm not even thinking of?

I don't need another uke (it'd be #5), so if this is a bad idea, don't hesitate telling me. ;)

PhilUSAFRet
11-10-2014, 09:22 PM
a. No, there are solid bodied ukes out there with piezo pickups that use standard non-metal uke strings. i.e. Pono solid bodies.

b. Depends on the strings, amount of play, etc. Not really sure about this one.

c. A pick can be useful if you want brighter tones/attack. Don't rule out at least occasional use of one. Metal strings can be hard on the fingers, but callouses will build up as they do for regular acoustic guitar play. Also, harder on the fingernails with uke style strumming. I assume this uke would not be your daily player. I've seen a few pickers with "wolf man" style fingernails. I couldn't grow them if I tried.

d. I have been wondering how plastic coated metal strings such as the Elixers would feel. I think I am going to try some with my next string change either on my Risa tenor or the new Asian jazz uke I bought recently.

Buying another uke that would give you joy is only a bad idea if you can't afford it and the money is needed for something more important.

Just my opinion, for what it's worth. :shaka:

Mivo
11-10-2014, 09:44 PM
Thanks, Phil! The effect of metal strings on the nails when strumming is something I hadn't thought of at all. It probably wouldn't be my "main" uke, although price-wise it's in the same region as my go-to soprano, and if it sounded good, I'd probably use it quite a bit. The money isn't needed for anything else, but there's generally no shortage of wants, of course. :) I've been eyeing a banjo-ukulele, too, but that certainly wouldn't be a 3am instrument either, and I could put it toward a custom soprano, too. I should look into the Pono you mentioned and see what the availability is over here. (Or I just practice later in the day.)

Jim Hanks
11-11-2014, 01:38 AM
Have you considered the Risa stick soprano? Nylon strings, piezo pickup, and should be available direct from Risa in Germany. Like this one (https://www.ukulele.de/shop4/de/product?info=213&x9d86d=u01jo8c1dtq137nfj3etopqfs3) )

SteveZ
11-11-2014, 02:15 AM
If the problem is to be able to practice in the wee hours and not disturb anyone, consider just putting an under-the-bridge pickup (preamp also suggested) on a uke (or buying one with one installed) and then stuff the uke with some dampening material to muffle the sound board. That way the normal projection is reduced and reliance on the headsets can work. The RISA solid sticks (used to own one) are solid blocks of wood, so they rely on the pickup since the projection from a solid, vibrating piece of wood is quite low.

Mivo
11-11-2014, 02:32 AM
Thanks, Jim and Steve. I'd looked at the Risa "sticks", but while I think the design is really original, I think I'd have trouble holding it properly, and I suspect it would't have the "feel" that I associate with playing uke, if that makes sense at all. Steve, I actually recently bought a Schertler contact mic (looks like this (http://www.schertler.com/_Media/basikset_1200.jpeg)) that I have been using with my kalimba(s). Not tried it yet with the uke, but this might just work.

And Phil ... "thanks" for making me look at Pono's models! ... :D

WhenDogsSing
11-11-2014, 04:08 AM
You might like a Teton nylon string solid body instrument. They have a headphone outlet for private playing. Here is a link to a used tenor on EBay:

http://www.ebay.com/itm/Teton-Solid-Body-Electric-Tenor-Ukulele-Gig-Bag-/321579975289?pt=LH_DefaultDomain_0&hash=item4adfa90279

bnolsen
11-11-2014, 04:30 AM
have the eleukes improved? I know there were some complaints about the pickups but they have plenty of solid body options.

PhilUSAFRet
11-11-2014, 04:34 AM
have the eleukes improved? I know there were some complaints about the pickups but they have plenty of solid body options.

It's my understanding that they have. Have to be sure you are getting a newer model as opposed to an old one. Still some out there with no MP3 jack.

SteveZ
11-11-2014, 05:10 AM
You might like a Teton nylon string solid body instrument. They have a headphone outlet for private playing. Here is a link to a used tenor on EBay:

http://www.ebay.com/itm/Teton-Solid-Body-Electric-Tenor-Ukulele-Gig-Bag-/321579975289?pt=LH_DefaultDomain_0&hash=item4adfa90279

That looks cool. It's like a full-size RISA-type stick design.

Ramart
11-11-2014, 10:03 AM
So lately I have been getting up at 2-3am for work, and I like to practice a bit in the early morning (working in my own place, so stealing an hour here or there is fine as long as I'm around), but there are neighbors.

This presented a perfect excuse to buy yet another uke! I was lusting over a Les Paul style electronic Risa soprano (this one (http://www.thomann.de/gb/risa_soprano_ukulele_lpstyle_ts.htm)), since I could plug it into an amp and use headphones, and had already moved it into the shopping cart when I realized that it has metal strings.

I have no guitar, mandolin, or banjo background, so metal strings are something that is entirely foreign to me, and I have a few questions, if anyone would be so kind.

a) Do all solid body electronic ukuleles have metal strings?

b) How often do you need to replace metal strings, compared to nylon/fc ones?

c) How much harder/more painful is it to play something with metal strings? Would you use or recommend a pick? (I'd rather not.)

d) Anything else that is important that I'm not even thinking of?

I don't need another uke (it'd be #5), so if this is a bad idea, don't hesitate telling me. ;)

a) No. Eleuke ukes are solid but have an under-saddle piezo pickup, like standard acoustic/electric ukes, so they use non-metal strings. Such ukes won't play quite as quietly with headphones as will electric ukes with metal strings that use electro-magnetic pickups, like your Risa LP.

b) I can't say for sure.

c) Electric instruments with metal strings and magnetic pickups generally are easier to play in terms of adequate picking or strumming volume, because you use amplification. But thinner metal strings may be more painful to fret initially, less so if you already have callouses.

d) I already have an acoustic/electric tenor but, for much the same reason as you state, I just ordered a solid-body tenor uke with two single-coil pickups (the Telecaster-style Vorson, which seems like a great bargain in light of positive reviews from several UU'ers). Check it out: http://www.americanmusical.com/Item--i-VOR-FTLUK3-LIST Get 10% off from AMS if you preregister your email address in an inquiry and wait for AMS's "welcome" email. These Vorson ukes also come in Stratocaster and Les Paul styles, in black, flame maple, and quilt maple finishes; and they have truss rods, strap pins, and a die-cast bridge with individual-string saddles for fine-tuning intonation.

Tootler
11-11-2014, 11:54 AM
Risa have a third solid electric uke, the Uke'Ellie. It's tenor scale, nylon strung with an under saddle pickup. It has a quirky look but is more conventional than the Risa stick. I have one and can thoroughly recommend it. It's between the stick and Les Paul in price.

Ukulelerick9255
11-12-2014, 03:05 PM
If you want to get a steel string solid body uke only one guy to buy it from Jim Hellar at Monkey wrench music, Google the company he builds the best.

Wicked
11-12-2014, 04:36 PM
If you want to get a steel string solid body uke only one guy to buy it from Jim Hellar at Monkey wrench music, Google the company he builds the best.

The best in that price range, perhaps.

IamNoMan
11-12-2014, 05:58 PM
So lately I have been getting up at 2-3am for work, and I like to practice a bit in the early morning (working in my own place, so stealing an hour here or there is fine as long as I'm around), but there are neighbors...

I have no guitar, mandolin, or banjo background, so metal strings are something that is entirely foreign to me, and I have a few questions, if anyone would be so kind...


b) How often do you need to replace metal strings, compared to nylon/fc ones?

c) How much harder/more painful is it to play something with metal strings? Would you use or recommend a pick? (I'd rather not.)

d) Anything else that is important that I'm not even thinking of?

b). Depends how much you play and if you play out much. Metal strings will last longer; but heavy use will effect the brilliance of the strings, particularly if they are wound type. I don't play electric so maybe the brilliance is not an issue.

c). Presumably the metal strings are a smaller gauge than Nylon or fluorocarbon. This should make chording easier. It will be decidedly more painful playing with metal strings. I can play the banjo for maybe an hour before my fingers get really sore. I can play the ukulele for hours with little or no pain at all. I have heavy duty calluses. - Metal strings can and do cut through calluses. Should you go the metal string route you might consider lowering the action as much as possible. I don't use picks. I wouldn't rule them out though.

d). You can expect wear on your fret wires over time. Re neighbors: Should you go Banjolele take off the resonator and stuff a sock in the pot. This will deaden the volume. Strumming up higher on the neck will attenuate the harmonics. - might not be a consideration with amplified instrument though.

Teek
11-12-2014, 06:05 PM
Having a Risa Les Paul in my stable I can say it is impeccably crafted, truly gorgeous and has an awesome silky feel to play. I have lusted after the Monkey Wrenches but haven't played one, but I can't see getting any better than a Risa. As good as yes, different certainly. If you want a US made custom I would check them out, I discussed a custom with him before I bought the Risa, but he didn't sound anxious to build me a uke at that time.

The strings on mine are all extra lights so don't really hurt to fret and also the action is way lower on a steel string electric compared to an acoustic, you barely need to touch the strings, so the saying "plays like buttah" fits, it is really a super responsive instrument with a perfect neck, and your fingers just glide over the fat round fret wires. It came to me with heavy wound strings and I think that is wrong for this uke; I used the top four strings of an Ernire Ball extra slinky set and they are great. I wanted it to sound like a uke, not a tiny guitar, but you can experiment with that. If you want to do some heavy shredding on heavier strings, yes your fingers could get sore.

When I was playing it more I was plugging into my amp with headphones and really enjoying it at all hours. I have recently brought it to the front of my "need to play" list and have been enjoying it again. One thing you may find is that you need a nice strap, they are heavy like all solid bodies.

If you want a Risa LP get one, the only choice is do you want black or a cherry burst? If you can get one used in the USA (and if you are in the USA) I would definitely grab it over any other maker. If you don't care about the Les Paul look, then try something else, but don't be afraid of the steel strings. My steel string acoustics are way harder on my hands because of the size of the scale and I still have good fingernails even after fingerpicking. I sure have some callouses though. I don't think you'd really get those from a RLP unless you played it a lot, it's only a tenor scale. Also if your ears are good you can play it without plugging in and still hear it, it's just very very soft, but at 2:30 am would be a soothing way to wake up.

Jim Yates
11-12-2014, 06:45 PM
a) Do all solid body electronic ukuleles have metal strings?
I'm not sure of the answer to this, but I do know that the Godin company makes solid body electric nylon string guitars. They do not have magnetic pick-ups and if yours does, you won't be able to replace the strings with nylon..

b) How often do you need to replace metal strings, compared to nylon/fc ones?
I have not replaced my ukulele strings in over a year. I replace my steel guitar strings about once a month...more often if I'm playing a lot.

c) How much harder/more painful is it to play something with metal strings? Would you use or recommend a pick? (I'd rather not.)
If the instrument is set up properly, it shouldn't be too hard to play, but nylon strings always seem to be a bit easier on the fingers, especially for a beginner.
You could use a pick, but it's not necessary.

d) Anything else that is important that I'm not even thinking of?
Have you thought about what kind of amp you're going to need?
I don't think I'd use re-entrant tuning with steel strings, unless you play clawhammer style.

exoticices
11-12-2014, 10:59 PM
The Risa LP is sublime. It will become your main uke! I don't have a problem with my left hand, but the fingernails on my strumming hand have a harder time than with a normal acoustic uke.

Don't dismiss the Risa Solid. Yes, it does feel strange to hold at first but you get used to it. I found it actually improves my technique as it forces me to hold the uke 'properly'.

SteveZ
11-13-2014, 02:35 AM
For the truly industrious, another option is to take a four-string electric mandolin, such as the Epiphone MandoBird IV (available only used) and the Fender Mando-Strat, and retune then to GCEA or whatever one's preferred tuning may be. The appearance of the instruments (look like sharp rock stock) and the price (<$300) may also be an inspiration to try something new.

joesilver
11-14-2014, 10:54 AM
...If you want a Risa LP get one, the only choice is do you want black or a cherry burst?...
The Risa LP is also available in a satin plain mahogany version, with dot fingerboard markers and without binding. I have one in tenor scale, and like it very much. It is indeed a well-crafted instrument. I play it in a duo with a partner who plays acoustic soprano uke exclusively.

As a result of playing the steel-string uke, I've taken a detour into the world of effect pedals, of which I've collected several: delay, chorus, tremolo, and several different flavors of distortion. I also own a Pono solidbody nylon-string tenor uke, but I find that effects work better, to my ears, with steel strings.

Ramart
11-14-2014, 11:03 AM
The Risa LP is also available in a satin plain mahogany version, with dot fingerboard markers and without binding. I have one in tenor scale, and like it very much. It is indeed a well-crafted instrument. I play it in a duo with a partner who plays acoustic soprano uke exclusively.

As a result of playing the steel-string uke, I've taken a detour into the world of effect pedals, of which I've collected several: delay, chorus, tremolo, and several different flavors of distortion. I also own a Pono solidbody nylon-string tenor uke, but I find that effects work better, to my ears, with steel strings.

Another pedal option mentioned in UU in connection with electric ukes is an octaver, as a way to lower the uke's tone into guitar-like range. But even polyphonic octavers supposedly capable of handling chords are reported to yield mushy tone results.

Anyone here have a specific recommendation for a brand/model of polyphonic octaver that works with a uke?

DCFatDog
11-19-2014, 09:58 AM
Actually I would have to recommend Bruce Heron at Blue Star Guitar. He makes custom electric ukes that are well built, well designed, exceptionally playable, and very affordable. His prices are especially fantastic given the fact that you get a custom built American made instrument from someone who actually will take the time to talk to you directly about your musical likes and dislikes and will follow up periodically after the sale just because he thinks its the right thing to do.

I have been a UU member for a while, but never posted anything before. However, I wanted to share my two cents on steel string ukes.

I rank the Blue Star product along with the Risa LP series; but Blue Star electric ukes are more reasonably priced. Blue Star makes music for the masses, once instrument at a time. In short, if you are interested in an electric uke, call Bruce, you will get a custom built electric instrument from a talented American luthier.

I have an electric Blue Star tenor, that Bruce made for me earlier this year, and I could not be happier. I had never played an electric instrument, and didn't know what to expect. Bruce, talked me through the whole process. We went simple for this build, given my inexperience with amplification. I have already decided that I am going to get Blue Star Electric Baritone sometime next year. I've already started talking with Bruce about tweaks from the tenor to the baritone, now that I am starting to find my amplified style.

I just read that Blue Star is working on a short scale bass uke, so I will have to add that to my wish list for the year after that. Bruce can design an instrument that meets your design aesthetic, playing style, and budget (to a point- this is a hand made instrument here after all). If price is the only consideration, consider the Vorson. However, if you've considered monkey wrench or RISA LP, then do yourself a favor and call Bruce Heron at Blue Star Guitar.

Ramart
11-26-2014, 06:52 AM
... If price is the only consideration, consider the Vorson. However, if you've considered monkey wrench or RISA LP, then do yourself a favor...

Is it necessary to knock one brand to promote another? In defense of Vorson: I can afford a RISA, etc., and price was not my only consideration when I decided to buy a Vorson. Though I appreciate value for money, I was pursuaded by the numerous positive reviews here on UU for Vorson instruments. And I took a leap of faith that Vorson isn't exaggerating when it claims its engineers are all dedicated musicians who use only quality woods and components and pride themselves on their "meticulous craftsmanship."

My Vorson has impressed me with its build quality, fit/finish, playability, etc. Also, four fully adjustable saddles, truss rod, solid electronics, and so on.

Lots of successful professional musicians satisfy millions of fans while choosing to play only mass-produced Fenders and Gibsons or even their Squier and Epiphone second brands.

DCFatDog
12-04-2014, 11:27 AM
No offense was intended. I was not hating on the Vorson or on mass-produced instruments. My first uke was a $5 First Act soprano that I found on a clearance shelf at Walmart a few years ago. I played it for two years before trading up and I still have it.

I was simply making an observation, not trying to steal your joy. The Vorson runs under $150. A custom deluxe KonaBlaster tenor from Blue Star will be in the $300-400 range. The Risa LP is $600-$700 and a Monkey Wrench custom is upwards of that. They are all great instruments that will provide countless hours of amusement and each has its benefits.

My point was that if price is the only consideration, for example, because of budget limitations, the Vorson is an excellent choice.

I ordered the Blue Star because the LPs were in short supply and I just couldn't wait. I contacted Blue Star base on UU recommendations and was pleasantly surprised to find the prices so reasonable for a custom build. I reached out via the web page and Bruce got back to me right away. The KonaBlaster Tenor turned out to be an awesome investment primarily because its a nifty little uke and because of the personal attention that Bruce brings to the table. He asked questions about preference and playing style before commencing the build, and then has checked back periodically just to follow up, answer questions, and offer tips and suggestions. I know that if something goes horribly awry with my Kona Tee, Blue Star service is just a quick phone call away, and Bruce is currently helping me design a custom baritone, using the feedback he's gleaned from my experience with the tenor.

Now maybe in another few years I will get myself a Risa LP. Heck, in a Barbie Dream World I'd get a Risa LP and get a Monkey Wrench! But Blue Star allowed me to enter the world of custom builds and custom service at a reasonable price point.

I'm not hating on the Vorson; just trying to add some Blue Star goodness to the mix for those who are considering the move to electric. And for the record - I have a Vorson as well. I keep it at my SO's house along with a Vox Night Train Amp Plug as my musical backup.

Whichever electric uke you choose, enjoy it. Turn that amp up and play that sucker LOUD.

Ramart
12-07-2014, 11:26 AM
No offense was intended. I was not hating on the Vorson or on mass-produced instruments. My first uke was a $5 First Act soprano that I found on a clearance shelf at Walmart a few years ago. I played it for two years before trading up and I still have it.

I was simply making an observation, not trying to steal your joy. The Vorson runs under $150. A custom deluxe KonaBlaster tenor from Blue Star will be in the $300-400 range. The Risa LP is $600-$700 and a Monkey Wrench custom is upwards of that. They are all great instruments that will provide countless hours of amusement and each has its benefits.

My point was that if price is the only consideration, for example, because of budget limitations, the Vorson is an excellent choice.

I ordered the Blue Star because the LPs were in short supply and I just couldn't wait. I contacted Blue Star base on UU recommendations and was pleasantly surprised to find the prices so reasonable for a custom build. I reached out via the web page and Bruce got back to me right away. The KonaBlaster Tenor turned out to be an awesome investment primarily because its a nifty little uke and because of the personal attention that Bruce brings to the table. He asked questions about preference and playing style before commencing the build, and then has checked back periodically just to follow up, answer questions, and offer tips and suggestions. I know that if something goes horribly awry with my Kona Tee, Blue Star service is just a quick phone call away, and Bruce is currently helping me design a custom baritone, using the feedback he's gleaned from my experience with the tenor.

Now maybe in another few years I will get myself a Risa LP. Heck, in a Barbie Dream World I'd get a Risa LP and get a Monkey Wrench! But Blue Star allowed me to enter the world of custom builds and custom service at a reasonable price point.

I'm not hating on the Vorson; just trying to add some Blue Star goodness to the mix for those who are considering the move to electric. And for the record - I have a Vorson as well. I keep it at my SO's house along with a Vox Night Train Amp Plug as my musical backup.

Whichever electric uke you choose, enjoy it. Turn that amp up and play that sucker LOUD.

You seem to have missed my point, which was that your advice appeared to be an unreasonable, illogical put-down. You seemed to be making a damning, broad-brush critique based on price alone. Again, I can afford a RISA, et al, and I'm a picky buyer. I chose to buy a Vorson specifically because of outstanding specs AND because it had received numerous positive reviews from experienced owners here on UU. Those factors only underscored Vorson's outstanding value pricing.

A dismissal like "...if price is your only consideration..." means you think the uke has no redeeming virtues other than a low price. That could not be farther from the real truth regarding Vorson instruments. I too believe "the Vorson is an excellent choice," but I say that even for those who have NO budgetary limitations.

Icelander53
02-07-2015, 06:49 AM
That's not what I took away from his comment. I never felt he was putting any ukes down but rather listing options and stating that if you can't afford the higher prices then stick with the decent low end ukes. That seems like a very reasonable approach to this.

I think for myself I might just try a Vorson instead of the Godin and Pono, as I just want to play pretend rock star in the bedroom. I'm not looking to play loud and feedback free on stage so maybe the less expensive Vorson will fill the need for an exciting fantasy life of the underdog rock star. :music:

I have two beautiful acoustic Pono's and a Fluke a Moku and Gretsch, Alulu, and a Lanikai. I have a Epiphone and a mahalo electric but in concert which I don't really like to play anymore. So I think maybe the Vorson would fill the niche spot for the occasional heavy metal moment.

Still I have to admit to a UAS need to play a Godin but it looks like I may just wait awhile.

I guess what I've been trying to figure out is what electric will best fit my present and possible future needs. And what I do not really know is how well you can play rock star on plastic strings. And the operative word is "play". I don't need things to be picture perfect electric guitar sounds but rather just something for fantasy play around. Maybe the Godin can do that and then more if I do every need to be a amplified uke playing regular uke fare. Plus I really like the look of them, especially in the sunburst. But if there is a major difference with sound then I'll be happy with the vorson over the Godin. And of course the finger issue but it seems that is not the same kind of issue you have with guitar steel strings. If that's true then another reason to try the Vorson.

Decisions, decisions. I thought my UAS was at bay.

kissing
02-07-2015, 12:24 PM
Erm.. if Vorsons are on the level of Epiphone and Squire, and Risa & Monkey Wrench are on the level of higher end brands such as PRS and Gibson, I really don't think it's unreasonable to recommend the higher end instruments if you can afford them.

So you chose to buy the cheaper instruments based on favourable reviews.. thats no reason to get snarky on someone who made a valid recommemdation. Nor does it make the perspective that Vorsons are good value for money any less true.

You can get very far on a cheap instrument if you set it up well, etc. But higher end instruments do have their merits in overall quality and attention to detail!

Icelander53
02-07-2015, 12:26 PM
I recommend owning both just to keep one humble and happy.