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Thread: Soprano Tension-- due to size or strings?

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jun 2019
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    Minneapolis, MN
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    Default Soprano Tension-- due to size or strings?

    I have acquired an old (2003) KoAloha soprano (KSM-00). I was surprised by how 'loose' the strings feel- I believe it is set up with Hilo black nylon strings. I was wondering if the 'loose' feeling is due to the strings, or that sopranos have significantly less tension than concert or tenor ukuleles.

    By 'loose' feeling I mean I can bend the strings with very little effort to get the note more sharp, and often times find myself pressing too hard that the strings go sharp anyways.

    I am still new to ukes, but have been practicing on a beginner concert uke (Aklot), and really enjoying and playing the most my Tenor (Fender Montecito)-- I think both of them have Aquila strings.

    I know every instrument needs to be practiced upon, really getting to know it, but my efforts transferred effortlessly between concert and tenor (and a 6 string tenor)- that I am a little discouraged by how different the soprano seems to handle. I really wanted a NICE soprano for a road trip next month (my tenor is a little too long to be riding shotgun). I LOVE the look and sound from the KSM-00, and have zero regrets buying it, I just want it to be perfect

    I guess the questions I need answered are:
    1) Does a soprano inherently have far less tension than the larger instruments?
    2) If strings bear some of the factor, should I switch from nylon to fluorocarbon or Nygut?
    Your friendly neighborhood optician

  2. #2
    Join Date
    May 2015
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    Yes, if you use the very same strings (which usually you wouldn't) on a soprano as on a tenor, the soprano would have lower tension simply because it has a shorter scale length. Tension varies a lot depending on what strings you choose. Before you rush out and buy new strings though, also note that because the soprano is smaller, it is more sensitive to small variations in how hard the strings are pressed down in the fret, and small changes in tuning etc,. This is especially noticeable on the even smaller sopranino and sopranissimo ukes. First thing I would do given the issues you describe is look at the action at the nut ( how high are the strings over the frets near the nut ) and maybe get the action lowered to reduce the amount you need to bend the string to fret it (but not so low as to affect volume or cause buzzing). Careful fretting to avoid pressing too hard in to the fret helps too.

  3. #3
    Join Date
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    Hilo black nylon felt very soft to me (when I could still get them). Aquila feel stiffer. Fluorocarbons feel stiffest of all.

    But a soprano is likely to be lower tension than a tenor in any event, because there are limits in how fat (or thin) you can go on non-steel strings and still have them work.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Feb 2016
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    Hi Op, in addition to the very good observations made above, I might offer that I often feel that my string tension is just a little too "squiggly" when using the common "gCEA" tuning on a soprano-scale uke, although that tuning feels perfect on a concert-scale uke. So I will solve this by tuning the soprano-scale uke upward one-half step (that is, "one fret's worth"), or even a full step up ("two frets' worth", in which case you'd end up in "a D F# B", like fellow member Jim Avery). The upside to doing this is that it'll often make the soprano "sing" a little more sweetly, and it gives those strings a little more "fight". The downside is that if you're doing a lot of singing, it can push your vocal range a little beyond its ideal limits; and it isn't always practical if you're joining a group session where the other folks are going to be tuned to gCEA. So, I'll just toss those thoughts out there...

  5. #5
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    Actually, as a cheap, fast, do it yourself fix, I would try changing the strings to, let's say, Martin--a favorite of mine, though not sure how they sound on a Koaloha--or Aquila, if you like nylon. Those Hilos may have been on it since 2003, anyway, and old strings are notorious for causing intonation issues. As noted above, fluorocarbon will feel stiffer. I play all sizes and often will practice a song on the soprano that I intend for the tenor, to take advantage of the lower tension of the shorter scale.

    It's possible you've developed a habit of pressing too hard on all your ukes. This will slow you down and hurt your hands in the long run, and I did it too. It's the string touching the fret that makes the note, not your finger touching the fretboard. As I recall, Koaloha have moderately tall frets. Experiment with how little pressure it takes to fret the note. Pressing harder doesn't make it louder, but sometimes the left hand gets carried away with what the right hand is doing.

  6. #6
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    It's really both. The shorter scale will reduce the tension for a given frequency, but there are strings that would improve on it. As others have said, try adjusting to it first. I tried Worth Clear CD (hard) strings on my sopranino and that improved the tension a bit (not as much as tuning up to aDF#B though), but there are other options out there which others may chime in on. Being a beginner, you don't want to get too creative on picking custom string sizes without some good advice, but picking from standard soprano string sets might improve things slightly.

    Try and see if you like playing tuned up as Bill suggested - that's the easiest. Once you get used to the soprano, you can try tuning down again if you prefer.
    Glenn

  7. #7
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    You might want to check to make sure that you are in the right octave and not a lower one. Just throwing that out because I play a concert and a soprano and I sure don't notice a difference if there is one.
    I don't want to live in a world that is linear.

    I just want everyone to understand that I am not a ukulele expert, even though it may look at times like I'm pretending to be.

    https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_n...tective+Agency

  8. #8
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    I like Living Waters on my KoAloha Opio soprano. Just the right amount of tension for me.
    - Laura

  9. #9
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    Mar 2013
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rllink View Post
    You might want to check to make sure that you are in the right octave and not a lower one.
    Would the uke even be playable at all if the strings were that slack?

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Jun 2019
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    Minneapolis, MN
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    Fantastic feedback, everybody! I'll experiment, never thought of tuning up a 1/2 or whole step-- I'm sure my ladyfriend can change her pitch
    Your friendly neighborhood optician

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