View Full Version : Steel strings for ukuleles ???

09-28-2017, 02:30 AM
Hi there !

Original metal-bodied National ukuleles (from the last 1920's and into the 1930's) did sometimes come equipped with steel strings - and some of the original National brochures mentioned the sale of steel strings. Thus, I could assume that, at least for resonator ukes, steel strings are possible.

Does anyone know what sort of string gauges would be used ?
I have a Beltona Tenor reso uke I really want to try steel strings on.

Any help out there ?

Many thanks in advance !

09-28-2017, 02:49 AM
Answering my own thread here !!!

I found this great page on ukulele strings - that gives some help towards using steel strings (you have to scroll quite far down the page to the bit about steel strings) :


09-28-2017, 02:50 AM
Try Southcoast classical metal strings. I would hesitate to try real steel strings on any uke without checking with the manufacturer first. Even metal-bodied reso ukes usually have wooden necks. And to get the reso to work properly, you have to have just the right tension.

Here's a video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6vZbHZmN-rY) where I'm fingerpicking a cheap Kala wood-bodied tenor reso uke with Southcoast classical metal strings.

- FiL

09-28-2017, 02:50 AM
I would bet that steel strings ona Beltona would not work. You might email the Beltona people and ask them. If you want to try steel strings on a resonator, why not buy a cheap resonator mandolin and remove a few strings. I have one of these http://www.ebay.com/itm/Johnson-Metal-Body-Mandolin-with-Featherweight-Case-/232502373626?hash=item362238acfa:g:FzwAAOSwy1VZrup g
that I paid $150 for (shipping included) and decided to keep it at 8 strings and tuned in fifths.

09-28-2017, 06:03 AM
All resonator instruments have wooden necks !
The resonator cones require a decent amount of down pressure to drive the cone well - so, in theory at least, I think steel strings should be fine.
I have asked the world authority on National instruments about strings - as he has lots of original National brochures, with sections on cases, straps, strings, steel bars etc.

09-28-2017, 07:15 AM
All resonator instruments have wooden necks !
The resonator cones require a decent amount of down pressure to drive the cone well - so, in theory at least, I think steel strings should be fine.
I have asked the world authority on National instruments about strings - as he has lots of original National brochures, with sections on cases, straps, strings, steel bars etc.

Sounds like you have answered your own question . Please let us know how it works out for you.

Patrick Madsen
09-28-2017, 10:09 AM
There's a world authority on Nationals? Who is he? would like to check out his site if he has one.

09-28-2017, 03:59 PM
Try Southcoast classical metal strings...

When I inquired with Southcoast about these 'classic metals' strings back in July 2017, Dirk told me:

"We discontinued that material almost a year ago to concentrate on the more typical classical material."

So it seems that they are not available any more.

Using 'guitar', 'banjo' or 'mandolin' steel strings will apply about 4-5x MORE tension on the neck, body and saddle than nylon-type strings, and as such, EVEN with a metal body, and EVEN with a truss rod, you still run the chance of warping the neck or causing the neck joint to fail, i.e., the instrument will be DAMAGED.

Aside from that, on a shorter scale, you will have a hell of a time trying to position the saddle on a resonator in order to get your intonation anything close to +20 cents or more SHARP, even if you rotate at an angle such that the lower pitched strings (assuming low-G) have more vibrating length than the E and A strings...

You need to have an instrument that is built for steel strings in order to handle the tension, as well as a different saddle configuration.

Having said that - FiL - thanks for sharing that video - that's some mighty fine playing and singing there and it sounds great!

10-04-2017, 02:46 AM
Hi again !

Many thanks everyone for your replies.

The word-authority on National resonator instruments is called Mark Makin, from England.
He just published a new book on National instruments, about 2yrs ago, and was a major contributor to a previous book on Nationals, by Bob Brozman.

I asked him about steel strings on National ukuleles - as I had previously seen some online discussions about steel strings being mentioned for National ukuleles, in original 1920's & 30's catalogues, from National.

Mark told me that funnily, he had JUST had a conversation about this very subjects a few weeks before, with two other WELL known names in vintage National instruments - mainly a collector with a vast knowledge of these instruments (Colin McCubbin, www.notecannons.com) and possibly the most experienced luthier in the world at restoring vintage Nationals (Marc Schoenberger, www.nationalguitarrepair.com).

They concluded that the wording of National's original catalogues, in the section about (instrument cases, spare parts) and strings, that the wording may have led to some misinterpretation about what to use on National ukuleles. It says something like "always use the best steel strings for National instruments".
Some vintage National ukuleles have been found to have steel strings on them AND sound good.
So, with that information floating around on the web, in some quarters, it has become possible common-knowledge that steel strings are OK to use on vintage National ukuleles.

However, the conclusion these knowledgeable guys came to, is that steel strings were NEVER intended for the National ukuleles - which many of you may be quite glad to hear cleared up.
I'm not sure if the subject of steel strings, for Steve Evans, of Beltona guitars (& ukuleles etc) has been an option for his ukuleles, because of the general assumption(s) stated above, or if he always fancied trying that, without ever hearing the common misunderstanding.
In any event, Steve Evans of Beltona DOES offer steel strings on his ukes, as an option - but he told me that standard friction tuners will not hold steel strings - and recommended to me the Gotoh Planetary tuners, if I didn't want guitar-style tuners.
We have already discussed him converting my custom 5-string tenor Beltona reso uke to steel strings - I just haven't sent him my uke yet.
So I have discussed this stuff with Steve - but at the time he couldn't remember what string gauges he recommends (as partly, I'm not sure if he has done that for Tenor ukes before, let alone a 5-stringer). He said the uke will need a new biscuit bridge and possibly a new nut - hence, I will send it to him for all the necessary changes.
The point in this thread was to see IF anyone else had tried steel strings - and see what worked for them - and that way, I would have more than just Steve's recommendations alone.
So, of course I wasn't just gonna throw steel strings on my uke and see if it collapsed or not, without asking around first !!!!

I'll let you know how I get on.

10-04-2017, 04:31 AM
Hi there !

That is me and a Beltona 5-string uke ** BUT ** this one is a Concert non-reso uke (wood top, fibre-glass back & sides).

The Beltona reso 5-string in question, is the one on THIS video, comparing with two vintage National resonator ukes (all with nylon strings on, AND with my DUFF uke playing !) :


10-04-2017, 08:18 AM

You could get one of these. If you are intimidated by 8 strings, you could remove every other one.

10-04-2017, 02:16 PM
Effectively a steel string ukulele is actually a cavaquinho, another four string instrument that is descended from Portugal. It is supposed to be very popular in South America. Change the search from a steel string ukulele to cavaquinho and you will find four string instruments that are made in numbers for steel strings and you will find strings sets from companies like D'Addario. There are probably cavaquinho bulletin boards as well, if you can read Spanish or Portuguese. You need to put "-ukulele" in the search line to get rid of the ukulele advertisements.
Here is a link to a Dutch site that uses the name Ry Cooder and lists many instruments and tunings. If you pick out the four string tunings (or four course) you may get some other instruments to search on.
The marketing reality is that in 2017, once a seller puts steel strings on a ukulele, it is unlikely to be marketed as a ukulele anymore because everyone knows that ukuleles only have nylon strings. It will be marketed as a cavaquinho or one of the other steel string instruments with four courses.
Looking at your videos, you love your resonators and play well, I hope you find what you are looking for.

:agree: & well said brother :)

Maybe these are the links you meant to include?



10-04-2017, 10:47 PM
Hi again !

Many, many thanks everyone !!!

That gives me plenty to go on !

All the very best to you all.