Which strings on vintage ukes??

marcocolo

Member
Joined
Feb 13, 2014
Messages
69
Points
6
Hi all. I'm an only 2 month player living in the sticks of Iowa. When you live where I do it's impossible to try before you buy. So, life is short and I've bought a few and I've come to realize I really love the "mojo" of early 1900's ukuleles.
My question is: these old ukuleles originally came w/ nylon strings ,yes? Probably fishing line. My understanding is they had very low tension. My concern is that new strings could put a lot of stress on these sometimes rather fragile works of art.
Which strings out there (that sound good) are really low tension like the originals on these old Kumalaes, Nunes, Kamakas, Harmonys, etc.? Thanks in advance.
 

marcocolo

Member
Joined
Feb 13, 2014
Messages
69
Points
6
Well, from the lack of responses am I to assume this is a non-issue?
 

janeray1940

Active member
Joined
Nov 19, 2009
Messages
5,670
Points
36
I'm surprised there hasn't been more response since there are a lot of vintage aficionados here. My guess was that these ukes came with gut strings, not nylon strings, but I'm no expert and could very well be wrong! I do know that gut strings were common in the first part of the last century.

You might want to look into D'Addario Nyltech strings, easily available on Amazon. I've heard vintage uke folks say these are the closest they've found to the sound and feel of real gut strings. I've used them and they are really nice sounding strings, particularly on mahogany ukes. To me they definitely feel lower tension than fluorocarbon strings (which I actually prefer, but I like high tension).

Hope that helps, and maybe gives you a starting point as to what to look for.
 

peewee

Active member
Joined
Sep 9, 2010
Messages
1,885
Points
38
I think old strings were made from gut...

but I don't think there are major issues with using Martin M600 strings for example. Soprano sets are pretty low tension, and the neck is short. I have a style 1K from the mid 20s with these on, in D tuning no less..no problems.

Unless there are other structural issues with the instrument of course.

If a uke is particularly valuable or fragile, or if it's keeping you up at night, you might just de-tune between uses.
 

FrankB

New member
Joined
Jan 7, 2014
Messages
424
Points
0
Nylon strings were invented around WWII, so your ukulele would not have been strung with nylon. Albert Augustine was a New York instrument maker, and was unable to get gut and silk during the war, but did find nylon materials at an army surplus store. He was quickly backed by the DuPont company, and also the support of Andres Segovia.

The Martin soprano/concert string set is a weird one. The flourocarbon strings are relatively small diameter, except for the .034" C string. That string is stiff as a rod, and came right off my Martin concert. I suppose you'd be safe with any of the nylon sets designed for the size instrument you have. Just make sure it doesn't say Hard Tension on the label.
The Martin M600 might be okay if you ditch the thick C string. I did, but I have several sets of extra strings with more narrow C strings.
 

actadh

Well-known member
Joined
Jan 12, 2014
Messages
2,055
Points
48
I bought a vintage camp ukulele on Etsy that the seller said was re-strung with Martins before it was listed- I assumed it was with the M600's. That was my first experience with them as my Luna came with Aquila Nylgut.

I did not like them. The M600's seemed wound really tight, were very thin in comparison to the Nylgut, and it appeared that they may have been the cause of the wooden nut to become sliced on the C string area. That string always seemed close to the G string to the left of it leaving a bit of a gap between it and the E string. It was hard to play an "F" chord.

I kept them on for a few months trying to like them, but did a string change to Aquila Nylgut. Much better sound to me. They are a thicker string, but seem to stay in place on the nut where the C string goes over to the tuner.

My only difficulty in stringing them was that the ukulele needs the "tie a knot and slip into a slot" type of stringing and I had to work hard to get the C and the E string not to pop out at the bottom.
 

marcocolo

Member
Joined
Feb 13, 2014
Messages
69
Points
6
Is there a list anywhere showing the string tensions of all the ukulele string makers products? I think that would be a great resource.
 
R

RyanMFT

Guest
Hold on there....some of us vintage fanatics are working so we couldn't respond immediately.

As other posters have said, early 1900's ukes were strung with gut strings. I have had a couple ukes arrive still sporting gut strings, and they can be had even now, but no one I know uses them.

As for what to use, I have A LOT of vintage ukuleles ranging from the 1890's to the 1960's. In general, I like Martin M600 strings. Aquila actually are a higher tension string than Martin. As for the other poster who didn't like Martin strings, they may have been Martin's Crystal Nylon strings....which were horrible. Or, the seller might have been b.s. ing you, I doubt new Martin strings were responsible for causing issues on the nut of an old uke, but wear and tear causes that kind of stuff.
 

hmgberg

Active member
Joined
Jul 21, 2010
Messages
1,773
Points
38
Is there a list anywhere showing the string tensions of all the ukulele string makers products? I think that would be a great resource.

Sometimes you can find tension charts on individual manufacturer websites.

Gut strings will produce a vintage sound, but they are not very durable. Plus, they are expensive. I loved the sound of the few sets I had, but I played them out in a couple of weeks. Nylon strings are more durable. Some brands are still made, Hilo and Kamaka come to mind. Fluorocarbon strings are even more durable than nylon. In fact, because they are stronger, they need not be as thick as nylon strings. As a result, fluorocarbon strings tend to sound brighter; thinner string = brighter sound, although less volume.

Aquila Nylguts sound more like gut than fluorocarbon strings, but they are comparatively heavy. I have had problems fitting Aquilas on vintage ukes because the bridge slots are occasionally too narrow. You can widen them, but may not want to mess with a vintage uke. Another reason why you may steer away from Nylguts is because I do believe they are higher tension than other kinds of strings. Ironically, they feel floppier, but I seem to recall at one time comparing tension charts and seeing that Nylguts are pretty tight at pitch.

An alternative I've become fond of are Aquila Reds. They sound more vintage than fluorocarbons, and they are not as thick as Nylguts. Weight is added to the string composition through the use of copper, which is why they are red in color. This way, the strings don't have to be as thick. I read this on the Aquila website. You can check it out yourself.

If you are afraid of tension pulling on the bridge, you might opt for a lighter tension string. Worth makes them. For soprano and concert, they are designated CL (clear light) or BM (an unfortunate designation, for sure - brown light). I usually get them from Elderly.

If you buy from strings from Southcoast, you will have enough options to make your head spin. Dirk can guide you though, provide you information on tensions and such. He's been helpful to me, especially with some problem ukes.

Hope this helps.
 

marcocolo

Member
Joined
Feb 13, 2014
Messages
69
Points
6
Thanks all! This does help. The one ukulele I'm most concerned with is an old Kumalae. Paper thin top-sounds wonderful and LOUD!. Don't want to put undo pressure on it. Maybe I'll contact Southcoast.
 

marcocolo

Member
Joined
Feb 13, 2014
Messages
69
Points
6
Also, I've been looking for a tutorial on how to string a ukulele w/ wooden pegs- can anyone point me in the right direction?
 

kenikas

New member
Joined
Aug 14, 2009
Messages
1,151
Points
0
I use the Worth Clear Lights on my Kumalae, they've also done wonders for my Kamaka Gold Label.
 

Patrick Madsen

UU VIP
UU VIP
Joined
Oct 29, 2011
Messages
2,548
Points
48
Southcoast strings for me; every uke I have has an improved sound with SC strings. Living Waters also had a nice non-wound string but I prefer a wound so Southcoast fits the bill.
 

UkerDanno

Well-known member
Joined
Aug 3, 2012
Messages
2,969
Points
48
I love the sound of Martin M600's on my 1930's Martin style 0...
 

igorthebarbarian

New member
Joined
Feb 17, 2012
Messages
2,270
Points
0
If you're into vintage ukes, you should follow Jake at Antebellum Instruments:
http://antebelluminstruments.blogspot.com/

He is a member on here also and does a great set-up on everything he sells. I think he uses Martin M600's on a lot of the older 100-year-old ukes.

Also, shot-out to Iowa! I will be there in August for a family reunion/ state fair time. Should be a blast