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Thread: Why are ukes mostly tuned to gCEA instead of DGBE?

  1. #1

    Default Why are ukes mostly tuned to gCEA instead of DGBE?

    It seems to me that linear tuning DGBE is much more logical than gCEA. What is the advantage of gCEA that makes it the dominant tuning? I am 75 years old. Would I be better off choosing one tuning or the other and sticking with it - or will it be good for my brain to try to learn both tunings?
    Yes, I know there are more than two choices - please don't confuse me
    If I want to play a melody one note at a time - it seems that DGBE tuning would be easier.

  2. #2
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    As a bass/guitar player my first two ukes were a bass (EADG) and a baritone (DGBE) as those tunings were familiar to me. I've since bought a Soprano and Concert (both gCEA) and honestly it was not difficult to get used to the new tuning. If you get a baritone (DGBE) and capo at the 5th fret you'll have GCEA tuning.

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    I think it depends on the country you live in. In Canada, or British Columbia anyways, the preferred tuning they used is G tuning rather than C tuning. I'm sure those more technical will respond Selwyn. Yeah, find the tuning you like and stick with it if you are just learning. I play both tunings; for tenor I use GCEA, for baritone I tune it DGBE, like the top four strings of a guitar

    The way you have DGBE written would make for a low D string. If you want to play like the gCEA tuning you have, it would be dGBE; making the d string the higher pitched. If you want to play with a low pitched G string it would be GCEA.

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    Yes, DGBE would be easier and if that is what you want, it is only logical. I don't know why ukuleles are tuned reentrant, but they are and to me that is what makes them interesting and challenging. I would imagine it is to make the sound of the ukulele unique from other stringed instruments but I don't know that. There are ways to get around those two or three lower notes that are absent with the reentrant tuning, but they are not as easy and just going up and down the scale. It is challenging. The reasons that I myself play the ukulele is because of the tuning and the unique sound. When all I want to do is linearly go up and down the scale plucking out melody notes I'll do it on a guitar. Lots of notes on a guitar and they all follow each other up and down in a very orderly fashion. I do that, by the way. When I want to have a little fun, I play my reentrant uke. To me it feels like I'm flaunting convention. I'm a rebel on the ukulele, a child of the sixties. That's me anyway.
    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.

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    Although I’ve got a couple of sopranos tuned to gCEA, the main ukulele I play is a concert uke with blues strings tuned to DGBE. The reason for this is that I mainly play my ukulele as an accompaniment to a harmonica on a neck rack, and as the harmonica is quite high pitched already I much prefer playing a DGBE tuned uke with it.

    There are some things to note about doing this though. After playing gCEA tuning the DGBE strings do feel a little sloppy for a minute or two, also it’s not as nice when it comes to finger picking.

    However, for providing a rhythm accompaniment to my harmonica I much prefer it.
    Last edited by Miffymog; 11-12-2020 at 07:45 AM. Reason: Didn't post properly first time

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    DGBE is borderline too low on a baritone. It's MUCH too low on smaller sizes.

    Can you do it? Sure. But the tension and body resonance doesn't work in your favor.

    Dirk at Southcoast wrote a great piece on this and why he recommended high-D on baritone while he was alive. His site is gone, but Wayback Machine still has some of it: https://web.archive.org/web/20180428...arbaritone.htm.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Selwyn Silberblatt View Post
    It seems to me that linear tuning DGBE is much more logical than gCEA. What is the advantage of gCEA that makes it the dominant tuning? I am 75 years old. Would I be better off choosing one tuning or the other and sticking with it - or will it be good for my brain to try to learn both tunings?
    Yes, I know there are more than two choices - please don't confuse me
    If I want to play a melody one note at a time - it seems that DGBE tuning would be easier.
    Well, I'm not an expert or historian. I agree that if you're just going to play chords, linear tuning is maybe more logical, but the high G will have a slightly different sound. Now, if you're going to fingerpick melodies, having a high G opens up different possibilities for how to arrange tunes or lay them out. I came to the uke from clawhammer banjo, where we have a short high G or A string, but many common tunings have the 1st and 2nd string (the ones closest to the floor) tuned only a whole step apart. That seems weird until you learn some of the traditional tunes and find that the melodies make use of that step (or, with a fret or two down, a third) all the time. And that high 5th string comes in handy in lots of ways too. I use it for melody notes when the melody goes high enough. The rest of the time, it rings like a rhythmic drone.

    Now, a banjo and a uke are not the same, but I would imagine that the reentrant tuning evolved for similar reasons - to achieve pleasant chord voicings or to make reaching particular melody notes easier.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Selwyn Silberblatt View Post
    It seems to me that linear tuning DGBE is much more logical than gCEA. What is the advantage of gCEA that makes it the dominant tuning? I am 75 years old. Would I be better off choosing one tuning or the other and sticking with it - or will it be good for my brain to try to learn both tunings?
    Yes, I know there are more than two choices - please don't confuse me
    If I want to play a melody one note at a time - it seems that DGBE tuning would be easier.
    The original tuning of ukes was adf#b, and I think that going up to DGBE would sound much too plinky. Also at the time they used gut strings and am not sure if they were manufactured at a diameter suitable for that to get playable tension.

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    From a music theory perspective what reentrant tuning does is give you perfectly stacked triads in root position, 1st inversion, and 2nd inversion. This "tight" chord voicing is part of what gives reentrant uke it distinct sound. I know of of no other string instrument that can give you those voicings so readily. This is the magic of the reentrant tuned ukulele.
    Last edited by CPG; 11-13-2020 at 06:18 AM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Brad Bordessa View Post
    DGBE is borderline too low on a baritone. It's MUCH too low on smaller sizes.

    Can you do it? Sure. But the tension and body resonance doesn't work in your favor.

    Dirk at Southcoast wrote a great piece on this and why he recommended high-D on baritone while he was alive. His site is gone, but Wayback Machine still has some of it: https://web.archive.org/web/20180428...arbaritone.htm.
    I miss Dirk from Southcoast. He was a generous and extremely wise person who was always a pleasure to talk with; and he had the best ukulele strings.

    Dirk recommended gCEA for concert sizes, fBbDG for tenors, and aDF#B for sopranos; which is how I tune mine. The chord shapes are the same so that helps.
    Last edited by NewKid; 11-13-2020 at 06:52 AM.



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