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View Full Version : Volume and strings on good solid ukuleles



Pier
09-20-2016, 06:30 AM
after the successful topic about the sustain, I'd like to talk about volume related to strings.

often I read comments or reviews about strings mentioning the correlation between them and volume/loudness.

in my little experience with a couple of sopranos and few sets of strings, I noticed the difference only with the laminated uke.

let me explain:

I have this cheap Arrow uke bought for 30 euros like 10 years ago, on which I played a lot with the stock strings (some smooth black nylons, that were really good, but now I can't seem to find what they were), and it had a nice sound and volume.
almost an year ago I decided to try the reknown Aquila Super Nylgut (I'm italian, and I had to try them :D ), but they didn't change much in terms of loudness.
on that uke I tried the D'Addario Fluorocarbon, the Aquila New Nylgut and the D'Addario Black Nylon:
only with the New Nylgut I noticed actually an increase in volume/loudness, and only with the Black Nylon a decrease (loosing all the mid-frequencies).

on the other side, I have an Ohana sk38, which is solid mahogany, and extremely loud and "barking".
I've tried the same sets, and I didn't notice any difference in volume.

this uke always sounds nearly at the same volume, projecting the tone almost in the same way, and just with small differences in terms of frequencies, but none of those sets actually changed it's loudness.

the Black nylons by D'Addario, crap on the laminate uke, are fantastic on the Ohana.
both Super and New Nylgut are bright and full, projecting in the same way, and the fluorocarbon are clear and bright, but still with any increase in volume.

this led me to think that probably the "impact" of the strings is important only with laminate ukes, and with a good solid uke they only change the "sound" and frequency responce, but not that much to alter the volume perception.

what are your experiences?

mrStones
09-21-2016, 07:34 AM
Ciao Pier (yep, I'm italian too),
really interesting thread.
Unluckly I have no experience yet about different strings and all solid-wood uke. My only solid-wood is a Koaloha Opio but it has the stock strings on (Worth clear that works great). I hadn't feel the urge to change 'em yet.
It would interesting if you had a set of Aquila Red Series to try on the Ohana (loudest strings I tried), but it would be just a scientific curiosity...

On my sister's Kala tenor with solid Spruce Top I found that the volume increased when we strung it with Living Water (replacing Aquila New Nylgut I think).
Not a dramatic change, but it was indeed louder.
But it was a tenor and a solid-top, not all solid.
Hope it helps.

BearMakingNoises
09-21-2016, 03:09 PM
On my main Kamaka soprano I have tried a few sets in the past six months or so. Standard Kamaka strings were dark and quiet and too dull for me. A string broke and I had none laying around so the shop put some strings on it. Looked like black Kamakas but softer in feel and sweeter with more volume. The guy didn't remember what brand they were but thought maybe D'Addario I think. I bought some but they were felt totally different. I put a set of Nylaguts on shortly after and they were ok. Loud, bright and clean. The C sounded dead though. Currently I have Reds on. They are not as loud as the Nylaguts but sound fantastic on my uke. Loudest to softest would be Nylaguts, Black Mystery Brand, Reds, Kamaka Brand

Soundwise the Reds are killing it for me. They are very touch sensitive.

hmgberg
09-21-2016, 04:03 PM
If possible, you might ask someone else to play the ukulele for you. Stand in front of the ukulele to hear the differences in projection with various strings. It makes a difference where your ears are relative to the sound hole, in my experience.

PhilUSAFRet
09-21-2016, 04:14 PM
Oasis Lights are the strings strongly suggested by several Kamaka "experts." I installed them on one I acquired last year and haven't considered any other since. Good luck.

stevejfc
09-21-2016, 04:33 PM
Phil is on the right track with the Oasis. They are bright. I not sure that bright necessarily translates to loud though. Various strings can be bright, harsh, soft, mellow, radiant, sharp and a whole lot of other sounds/tones. Volume or decibels is loudness and that can be in any of the preceding tones. Other than changing the actual structure of an instrument through different woods, bracing, soundhole(s) etc, I have found only a few things really have an impact on ukulele volume: amplification, room or environmental acoustics and heavier strumming or picking.

Pier
09-22-2016, 11:42 PM
If possible, you might ask someone else to play the ukulele for you. Stand in front of the ukulele to hear the differences in projection with various strings. It makes a difference where your ears are relative to the sound hole, in my experience.

that's true, and in fact I always tend to record a lot, to check the differences "from a different angle", and still all I notice with the solid uke is that there are differences in sound, but not in the actual volume.
some are crispier, some are mellower, some have more sustain, some less, but the overall volume (and input gain to the mic) are the same.


only a few things really have an impact on ukulele volume: amplification, room or environmental acoustics and heavier strumming or picking.

so true!

Booli
09-23-2016, 12:32 AM
Here are some casual observations, based upon working as an audio engineer as well as testing over 100 sets of different strings on my more than dozen ukes in 3.5 yrs...and these are NOT being presented as scientific facts in any way, but only what I have experienced and YMMV...


When doing your recordings, mic placement as well as distance will have a great effect on the recorded sound, AS WELL AS the shift in tonal balance of the frequencies you hear...

e.g., mic at the 12th fret, 6-8 inches away will sound very intimate and have a more 'flat' response with most frequencies balanced - vs. same distance away but placed/aimed at the lower bout near the bridge will emphasize bass frequencies and tend to sound 'boomy' HOWEVER, with the mic 18"-24" inches away, placed at 'head-height' and aimed at YOUR head, will sound VERY much like what YOU hear with your ears when you are playing it....


There is an infinite discussion on MIC PLACEMENT and such techniques that one can learn about, but it is a deep dive down the rabbit hole and far beyond the scope of this thread - Wikipedia is your friend :)


ALSO...

String TENSION varies widely between different makers, different materials and YES, even among the SAME maker and SAME materials such as WORTHS (which has about 20 different gauged string sets) and YES even with MARTIN fluoro strings whereby on the SAME scale, i.e., M600 vs. M620 on CONCERT or M600 vs. M620 on tenor, will have a big difference in tension...

WHY does tension matter?

String tension, as well as playing force by the user of the instrument is what DRIVES the top (soundboard) of the instrument to resonate and pump air out of the sound hole - MORE tension (to a point) usually drives the top MORE and thus projects sound FORWARD more, however, too much tension and the strings cannot vibrate freely and sustain is all but lost, OTOH, TOO little tension and there is not enough torque on the bridge to resonate the top enough or very little and thus projection is less...

Also strings with too little tension will have very little dynamic range in that playing HARDER does NOT increase volume but makes the sound muddy and loss of note clarity

Similarly, strings with MORE tension tend to 'bottom out' when played harder, in that there is a certain maximum volume and you get nothing MORE from them when playing harder...like only 3-5 levels of volume change from softest-to-loudest..

FOR example: I find that the Aquila Nylgut and SuperNylgut CONCERT strings on an all solid-mahogany Mainland concert uke will 'bottom out' for volume when played HARDER, yet the D'Addario Nyltech strings, which are SIMILAR (and I suspect are in cooperation with Aquila) the Nyltech strings OTOH seem to have about 15-20 steps of volume change from softest-to-loudest when playing, YES ON THE SAME uke....

Similar examples exist with fluorocarbon strings, as well as nylon strings...

These 'STEPS' in volume is what I am referring to as DYNAMIC RANGE, i.e., the softest sound to the loudest sound, typically written as DECIBELS or db (but I wont get into that here)...

If your intent is a barking or plinking tone, likely you will not care much about dynamic range, but if you want dulcet, harp-like tones and clear note separation, then dynamic range is something you might want to look into and how to maximize it....

I am not the master of information on this, as the details will only manifest due to the inherent physics of sound, as well as YOUR own playing, hands-on, that YOU as a player need to feel and find via trial and error, just like I have...

:music:

Pier
09-23-2016, 02:13 AM
If your intent is a barking or plinking tone, likely you will not care much about dynamic range, but if you want dulcet, harp-like tones and clear note separation, then dynamic range is something you might want to look into and how to maximize it....

I consider this to be the basis for any musician in the world :)

for example, on the bass guitar I prefer soft strings due to the fact that I can dig them and slam them against the frets mantaining a "kind of compressed" range of volume that I can't have with hard strings.

by the way, I really appreciate your post, and post like yours are the reason I like writing on forums, opening topics with "not usual questions". personally, I work as a musician (mainly a bass player, but I'm also a sound engineer... too much stress to do it as the main job :D ), and I'm used to this kind of arguments, but most people don't, so an answer like yours is pure gold on the web.
thank you!

maxmax
09-23-2016, 02:50 AM
I'm not totally sure were this thread is going or what kind of replies you are looking for, but for the sake of conversation, I can tell of some troubles I've had with one particular uke. I bought a new Kamaka pineapple soprano earlier this year. This uke has a mojo that is insane for a new uke, even better than most of my Vintage ukes. To my eyes it just looks perfect, I love every detail on it. It plays very well too. But unfortunately, I just can't get the sound out of it that I am looking for. I'm close, but it's just not quite right. I've had so many different string sets on it it's crazy, and I don't even like changing strings.

The thing is, it has a slight overtone that sounds like plastic to me. I doubt people can hear it from a few metres away, but for me while playing it, it sounds plasticky. The only strings that take away this plastic tone, is the D'addario Pro-Arté Custom Extruded and the Ko'olau Mahana strings (same strings, slightly different gauges). If you listen closely, these strings sound very nice on the uke, but unfortunately, they also make the uke very quite and severely limits the dynamic range. These stings are also on the more textured side, and on this particular uke, string noise is very apparent and quite bothersome to me. They are among the easiest strings to play though.

So far I've settled on Living Water Fluorocarbon strings on this uke, because they are louder and have more dynamic range (still fairly quite though, particularly on fingerpicked notes) but I'm still not really happy with the sound. On banjo's it's easy to change the tone, there are countless different parts you can relatively easily swap out for a drastically different tone, but I'm really not sure what else I can try on this uke other than continue to try new strings. I really don't want to give up on it just yet since I really love just holding and looking at it, but I don' know...

So while no strings have been able to help me get this uke to sound like what I want it to, I do hear a difference in many of the qualities, volume being one of them, between different strings.

/Max

Pier
09-26-2016, 03:17 AM
I'm not totally sure were this thread is going or what kind of replies you are looking for,

the fact is simple: everytime I read comments or reviews about strings, there's always a reference about the volume.

for example, some time ago I was reading comments about black nylon srings (which now are my favourite), and most of those comments pointed out that with that kind of string is hard to "play with other ukuleles" in a band, or "they are only good for playing alone".

I tried them despite those comments, and found that the sound projection was not bad, and the actual difference with Aquila (for example) was related to the high frequencies. however, the Aquila are muddy when strummed, because they lack in mids, when the black nylons are clear but mellow, and just less sparkly fingerpicking.
same thing talking about fluorocarbons, that are stronger on the mids, and "on paper" they should have more volume/projection. same story, there's a difference in sound, but not so much one could say "these strings have more volume".

the thing changed when I tried different strings on my laminate soprano; on these uke the differences in volume are heavy, and the difference in sound/frequecies are even heavier.

so I was thinking that maybe with laminated ukes the strings have a stronger impact on the sound, compared to the solid ukes.

maxmax
09-26-2016, 09:43 AM
Well, my experience is just like the posts you are referring to, that are not the same as the experience you have had. Nylguts and fluorocarbons have had more volume than any kind of nylon strings I have tried. The titaniums are kinda loud, but I guess they aren't pure nylons either.

Different frequencies that bring out different strengths and weaknesses, absolutely, but definitely a difference in overall volume too. This is on the new Kamaka I mentioned earlier, other new mahogany ukes as well as both vintage Koa and vintage mahogany Martins. No exceptions yet that I have found. Not saying I am right and you are wrong, just my experience.

Cheers,
Max