View Full Version : High vs low tension strings.

07-18-2014, 06:52 PM
Sorry if this is a dead horse but every newbie has his day. lol

What do you see as the pros and cons of high tension strings?

07-18-2014, 07:08 PM
My take is that the feel of thicker or thinner strings is what makes the difference. Choose strings which make your instrument sound good to you. Then decide if you like the feel.

For instance: I have tried D'Addario T2 strings on my Pono tenor. Sound was OK but I didn't like the feel. They felt too big around to me. BUT, some play those strings because the lower tension lets them bend notes as they play.

Ya pays yer money and ya takes yer chances.

07-18-2014, 07:52 PM
For me, higher tension is all pros and no cons. I find that for fingerpicking, especially higher up the neck, I get more clarity and sustain from them. For some, higher tension strings can be harder to fret (and especially to barre) - I haven't had any problems with this, but others who have played my ukes have remarked that they found my strings of choice to hurt their hands.

07-18-2014, 08:13 PM
If the strings are too light (for me) I find I bend them out of tune too easily. This is more apparent on a radiused neck than a flat one because the strings slip sideways more easily if not fretted vertically. "Sitting up properly" and "holding the instrument correctly" both contribute to rectifying the problem, but hey, sometimes you just want to lay back and chill a little :cool:

07-18-2014, 10:09 PM
For me, higher tension is all pros and no cons. I find that for fingerpicking, especially higher up the neck, I get more clarity and sustain from them. For some, higher tension strings can be harder to fret (and especially to barre) - I haven't had any problems with this, but others who have played my ukes have remarked that they found my strings of choice to hurt their hands.

I just bought a Pono strung with Ko'olau strings. They are the highest tension strings I've used. They do hurt a little. I am getting on and have lost considerable finger strength and have some arthritis. Honestly I'd have changed them out within the first few days but I think they are a terrific sounding string. So I'm hanging in there. I also find them really beautiful strings. A golden yellow G, E, A with a silverish wound C string. They are not a thin string either but I kind of like fat strings.

07-19-2014, 02:02 AM
Pros are as mentioned by Janeray40, plus louder volume.

Con is as mentioned by you, Ice.

I have to say that the ability to fret high vs low tension strings, while perceptible for a newer player, will fade with practice: a skill improvement in fretting and barre precision, and a very slight improvement in hand strength naturally (I say very slight bc the actual fretting pressure difference is truly minimal).

One has to determine for themselves if they are willing to ache until this process takes place, or just get lesser tension strings (and the process of skill and strength will still occur, just more slowly. Throw on another set of high tension strings after a year of low tension practice and you perhaps won't even note the difference..

07-19-2014, 02:33 AM
I found Alohi strings (similar/same as T2) had a few benefits:

1. Got rid of some slight fret buzz on a really low action uke
2. Sound great when using an UTS pickup.
3. Great clarity
4. Feel really smooth, don't feel like high tension

My only con is the tension is very much influenced by temperature.

07-19-2014, 02:43 AM
A related "noobie" question - is it possible for high tension strings to damage a ukulele? Are there ukuleles that can handle high tension strings, while others may not be built for the higher tension? If so, how can I tell the difference?

Well, more than one question, but these are related. I would be interested in experimenting with different strings on my ukuleles, but do not want to damage either of them in the process.



07-19-2014, 04:05 AM
I've found strings that I like very much, that are readily available. So, that's what I'm used to playing. They don't happen to be "high tension" strings. The one time I tried high tension strings (they were not labeled or advertised "high tension" but they sure were) I found fretting them bothersome, especially near the head. Fretting hard like that took my focus away from the music. I'd rather make music than experiment all the time. So, I will not again bother.

I hear about "more volume" and "longer sustain" all the time. If it's true, it's minimal at best. It's mostly the instrument and technique that provide these benefits. I've now got very serviceable instruments, so I'm working on the technique. I consider experimenting with high-tension strings a waste of my time. I suspect there's no real danger that high tension strings can damage my instruments, but never heard a luthier say they won't. So, I'm not bothering with the risk either.

The benefit I see to high tension is that the strings vibrate in a smaller arch. Since there's less motion to the strings, it's likely that playing fast and loud (at the same time) is a bit easier because the strings hold relatively still. Not worth it if you ask me. More volume and speed is not a very interesting pursuit.

Jake Shimabukuro plays high tension strings. This is a great endorsement. But not only is he free of considering potential damage to his instruments, he could likely kick all our asses if you strung his ukulele with knitting yarn.

07-19-2014, 04:06 AM
Sometimes it's better to follow the maker's advice on strings. Most quality makers have cut the nut slots specifically for cerain diameter strings. If the buyer changes to different-diameter strings, odds are there will be "fit" problems with the nut (and that's a discussion in itself) - not a good idea.

The higher the string tension, the greater the neck strength has to be to avoid unintentional bowing. Each quality instrument maker knows what the total tension limits are for their instruments and most string makers publish the tension numbers for their strings by instrument. Having these numbers and with some basic math, the buyer can usually avoid a "high tension" problem.

Note that in many of the mass-produced instruments the maker usually installs "light" strings. Doing so helps avoid bowing problems in instruments made with weaker/softer neck wood which is often used to reduce costs and the occasional erratic gluing of joints which can occur during mass-production.

When in doubt, an email to the maker or a visit to the maker's website (most have FAQ pages) can be quite helpful.

07-19-2014, 04:52 AM
As I recall (and I may be wrong), on that PDF table that someone posted on a string thread recently which listed dozens of string types and their specs, including tensions, the difference between a high tension string and a low tension string was, what, about 10 lbs. of tension or so? So, like 39 lbs of pull versus 50 lbs. or something. So, even with these adjectives of "high" and "low", it seems rather minimal in actual differences (on fingers, on bridges, on necks, on topwoods, etc.) between ukulele strings types. Certainly nothing compared to the relatively huge-mongous tensions on acoustic guitars from six wound steel strings that might enucleate a human eye if snapped during a vigorous strum.

In owning nearly fifty different ukuleles over the recent years (shamefully, I'm not kidding; and most of them vintage 50+ years old), I have yet to find one with a bowed neck (and if a neck was bowed, which I have not seen, then I would guess the instrument would either (a) have other clear evidence of gross dehydration, suggesting that as a cause, or (b) have been fairly recently been made with a neck-wood that simply had a natural propensity to move, beginning to warp after the build, a character of some pieces of wood).

07-19-2014, 04:57 AM
Enucleate!! Yeah.