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Thread: The Case of the Magic Mystery String

  1. #1
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    Default The Case of the Magic Mystery String

    I have a soprano Kala Pineapple ukulele and I tried to restring it and the whole world fell apart.

    So about 2 1/2 years ago I met a luthier and he showed me how to restring my ukulele. I used a regular pack of D'Addario clear strings, but he gave me a special wound string to use for the C string. He worked on some high end and crazy instruments, and he told me it was a spare from another pack that this single string would retail around $60, so this thing is high quality. Over the next year or so he taught me to build and repair instruments and I've strung many strings since.

    I have no idea what kind of string he gave me. The string sounded freakin beautiful and I didn't want to replace it, but it has been played almost daily for 2 and a half years, I was told it was in danger of breaking. Unfortunately, he passed away unexpectedly and far too young, so I have no real way of knowing what kind of string I need to replace it. And I'm kinda sentimental about it. And he's the guy I would have asked, but now I can't, so here I am.

    I put a set of Aquila Reds on my uke. I should have never taken the wound string off because it lost it's range and sounds like a tin can. There is a lot of debate about the reds, I love them on my baritone ukulele. Unfortunately, they sound too piercingly bright for my soprano. I thought maybe if I put the wound string back, It would fill out the sound and the world would be right again. Wrong, the string lost it's elasticity when I took it off, even though I was careful. It is now limp and floppy and it sounds like a dying baby walrus. Terrible. I even though I might have it an octave low, and I started to tune it up. But no. It's just flaccid.

    The guy at the music store had heard me play just yesterday, and he said that he'd never heard a string go dead like that before. He also suspected it was down an octave, but no. So we decided to look for a replacement. It has a white fibrous core, I don't know if it's nylon or silk. Is there any way to tell? I believe it is round wound with a very fine silver plated copper. It looked silver when I got it new, and now it has whole sections of copper shining through where it gets the most wear. The digital caliper said it was about a .029 or .030 inch gauge. I ended up getting a pack of Martin Classic Guitar strings, the D string is listed as Silverplated Copper on Nylon .030 inches. I know it's not as high end, but it looks like the wound wire is about as thin as the old string, very fine compared to acoustic guitar strings.

    So I brought it home and put it on. The new string also sounds like a dying baby walrus. I never knew how huge of a difference the strings can make. I'm gettin all emotional again just writing about it. I don't know what to do. My go-to guy is gone. My uke sounded like the happiest dream yesterday, even if the A and G were a little dull. That magic C string gave it a unique and robust sound (or as robust as a soprano uke can get). That string only went out of tune like once a month, even after 2+ years of strumming. I'd be willing to put down a few dollars to get the right replacement string for my instrument, I just don't even know where to start looking. I can post pictures if it would help, but I don't see how it would.

    Here are the burning questions in summation:
    1. What kind of string is this?
    2. I have a wound C string for a tenor uke. Would it work on my soprano? I'm concerned about damaging my baby with unduly high tension.
    3. Have you tried the Aquila Reds? Whaddya think of em?
    4. I'm probably going to move the reds over to a different uke, so for the other three... what kind of strings would you recommend for a warm, clear tone?

    Thank you!

  2. #2
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    Quote Originally Posted by missdreamweaver View Post
    ...he gave me a special wound string to use for the C string. He worked on some high end and crazy instruments, and he told me it was a spare from another pack that this single string would retail around $60, so this thing is high quality.
    I have never heard of any uke or classical guitar strings that cost that much. Makes me think maybe this guy was pulling your leg.

    Wound strings do tend to get dull faster than non-wounds. On my CG, I'll typically go thru 2 or 3 sets of (wound) basses for every set of (plain) trebles.

  3. #3
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    Don't despair. Fine instruments need time to adapt to new strings, especially if you took the old ones off all at once. Play the classical guitar strings for a week and see how they settle in. If you still don't like them, try Savarez Allianze classical guitar strings, the ones in the blue package. I know some pros who swear by them, and I use them on my baritones. However, for a warm, clear tone, I'm partial to Worth Browns, which do not have a wound C string. You might also contact the folks at Southcoast Strings, who seem to have made a science of wound strings for ukuleles. Their website is rather confusing, but the strings have gotten good reviews (I've never used them, myself).
    Last edited by mzuch; 05-22-2014 at 03:10 PM.

  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by itsme View Post
    I have never heard of any uke or classical guitar strings that cost that much. Makes me think maybe this guy was pulling your leg.

    Wound strings do tend to get dull faster than non-wounds. On my CG, I'll typically go thru 2 or 3 sets of (wound) basses for every set of (plain) trebles.
    It's likely that the whole package was $60, but knowing him, it's not out of the realm of possibility that it was a $60 string. He worked on some fancy instruments for some big name people. And the string wasn't dull. Not until I removed it and tried to put it back on. The nylon strings wore out before it did. If I hadn't taken it off it would have been fine.

    I'm using standard high G tuning, sorry I forgot to mention that earlier.
    la la la...

    <3 dia

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by mzuch View Post
    Fine instruments need time to adapt to new strings, especially if you took the old ones off all at once. Play the classical guitar strings for a week and see how they settle in.
    I only put one of the classical guitar strings on, and it sounded limp and dull from the moment I pulled it out of the package. A string wouldn't brighten up over time, would it?


    Quote Originally Posted by mzuch View Post
    If you still don't like them, try Savarez Allianze classical guitar strings, the ones in the blue package.
    I was actually looking at getting a set of these strings to try. They are listed as High Tension, but that is for set up on classical guitar. I don't know if it would be too high tension on my ukulele? I don't want to damage it.
    la la la...

    <3 dia

  6. #6
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    In addition to contacting Southcoast, you could try Guadalupe. They are well versed in use of different materials and are willing to make different strings designed for your application. Try them all and see if there's one that works for you. Thomastik/Infeld makes high end strings, Augutine, D'Addario,...Long list. You will find something. I hope you'll keep us in the know through your trials.
    If everybody wanted peace instead of another TV, then there would be peace.
    -John Lennon-

  7. #7
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    I don't understand, apart from sentimental reasons, why you would use a wound string on a soprano. Might someone enlighten me?

    I would try fluorocarbons, Worth Browns as mentioned, or Living Waters, Fremont Blacklines, and the list goes on and on. String trials can be a royal pain! But once you find out which strings the uke likes, you have a happy uke.

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by peaceweaver3 View Post
    I don't understand, apart from sentimental reasons, why you would use a wound string on a soprano. Might someone enlighten me?
    I don't understand, either.

    Sopranos are IMO meant to sound "perky" in high G tuning.

    Save your wounds and low Gs for a tenor, or at least a concert.

  9. #9
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    I don't play soprano but Southcoast does list the MU-W3 set for soprano:
    http://www.southcoastukes.com/ukulele.htm

    If you like that sound and feel, that's where i would start. Anything to get rid of the "dying baby walrus" sound - that's the saddest thing I've ever heard well, maybe not but its up there
    Ukelele:
    Iriguchi Tenor "Weeble" - Bb, SC SMU
    Blue Star 19" baritone Konablaster - DGBE
    KPK pineapple SLN-GCEA
    Cocobolo 16" SC#1-gCEA, SC SLMU
    Ono #42 19" baritone, Ab, LW
    Imua iET-Bb, M600
    Covered Bridge CLN pineapple - Eb cuatro, SC XLL
    Rogue bari
    Bonanza super tenor, cFAD SC LHU
    Kala KSLNG-C Lava
    Guitars:
    Jupiter #47, TI CF127, G
    Kala KA-GL-Koa, G EFS O Warm/Worth B

    Jim's Blog

  10. #10
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    So I have tried a few different strings now. Not for long, but it doesn't take long to know that nothing I have tried has been close to right. The wound string I had been using on my ukulele didn't sound like a wound string, at least not any of the ones I have since tried. I changed out the reds for the classical nylons. love em. But the C string still sounds like a moose in comparison. I tried the tenor C. Sounded even worse. I put a nyltech string on, even worse, weak and floppy compared to the concert guitar strings. I put the old mystery string back on. I'm totally at a loss. I'm keeping the Concert Guitar Nylons on, they sound great. I just have to figure out what to put in place of the C string...

    This is the clearest recording I can find of me playing this ukulele when it had the mystery wound C string. This was a few years ago, in a noisy bar, and there's a good bit of rustling and adjusting of the recorder towards the beginning, so be patient. You can hear it well in the second half of the recording.
    https://soundcloud.com/missdreamweaver/i-wanna-go

    This string was something special and unusual, Dale was always getting into weird, extravagant, custom builds. It was likely something he ordered special and the customer changed their mind. I really dislike the sound of all these other wound strings on here, I don't know what was so different about this one. I'm gonna hit up a couple of music stores tomorrow and see what I can find out.

    You're right, testing strings is really freaking annoying. I can't stand it. I'm so angry at myself for taking that string off. This is the first time since I learned to play that my ukulele has been out of commission, it's a worse feeling than when I lost my phone. I have to get something halfway decent on there, it's not even remotely playable.
    la la la...

    <3 dia

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