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Thread: Strings: tension vs. scale vs. diameter?

  1. #1
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    Default Strings: tension vs. scale vs. diameter?

    So, lot of talk recently about these topics, but it seems to me to be going round and round.

    I'm trying to understand something, generally, and without splitting hairs on 'linear density' and 'composite extrusion uniformity' which are typically technical details not available to the consumer of strings as far as I can tell.

    With, all other things being equal (this is VERY important - and to simplify the answers).

    Given a set of generic theoretical fluorocarbon strings, for a 'MEDIUM' gauge and/or tension, I have the following questions:

    1. If the strings are specific as for tenor, what happens when you put them on a concert or soprano in terms of tension - does it take MORE or LESS tension to get them to G3-C4-E4-A4 (linear) or G4-C4-E4-A4 (re-entrant) tuning?

    2. On the converse of #1, provided that the uncut strings are long enough, what happens if you put strings specific as for soprano on a concert or tenor in terms of tension - does it take MORE or LESS tension to get them to G3-C4-E4-A4 (linear) or G4-C4-E4-A4 (re-entrant) tuning?

    3. What about putting shorter scale specific string on a baritone or baritone strings on a shorter scale instrument - does it take MORE or LESS tension to get them to D3-G3-B3-E4 (linear) or D4-G3-B3-E4 (re-entrant) tuning?


    Now that you've got your thinking cap on - same questions for for 'LIGHT' strings, and/or 'HEAVY' strings...

    For example, if you take the ever popular Martin M600 strings, and put them on a soprano, the tension is sort of 'medium' but It seems to me when you put them on a concert or even if you put them on a tenor (heaven forbid OMG such blasphemy ) that the strings have MORE tension...and if you were to again go against the grain and put Martin M620 'TENOR' strings on concert they are less tension, and if you put them on a soprano, they are almost floppy (and the C string sounds kind of thunky and dead, despite being the same gauge as used in the M600 set).

    There is a purpose to this madness which I will reveal later, but I do not wish to bias any discussion.

    Also, since I am always tinkering and trying to work out things to better serve my individual purposes, I consider the 'official designations' for a specific scale length more a guideline, rather than an immutable law of string use.

    Please share your experiences and opinions, all of which will have value to me. Thank you.

    Please discuss...

    -Booli
    Last edited by Booli; 07-03-2014 at 04:31 PM. Reason: formatting
    Guinea proverb: "A cow that has no tail should not try to chase away flies."

  2. #2
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    Three things are used to determine the tension of a string: scale length, weight of the string (lb/lin inch) and the note you're tuning to.

    So to answer your questions:

    1-The tension of the strings would be less, since you are taking the scale length from 17" on a tenor to 15" on a concert, there will be less tension overall.
    2-The opposite happens. If you put a set of strings that says "Soprano" on a concert or tenor (provided there is enough length), since you are increasing the scale length, you are increasing the tension of the strings to tune to the same note.
    3-Putting baritone strings on a smaller scale instrument gives you the same result as #1.
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  3. #3
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    However, it is my understanding that thicker tenor strings on a soprano will require higher tension than thinner soprano strings of the same material for the same tuning.
    -Hodge
    Humble strummer of fine ukes.

  4. #4
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    Time to get out the popcorn, sit back and learn something
    Currently enjoying these ukuleles : *LdfM tenor, *LfdM 19" super tenor. *LfdM baritone, *I'iwi tenor , *Koolau tenor, *Webber tenor, *Kimo tenor, *Kimo super concert, *Mya Moe baritone, *Kamaka baritone, *Gianinni baritone, *Fred Shields walnut pineapple super soprano, *Kala super soprano, *Loprinzi super soprano, *Black bear ULO concert , *Enya X1 concert, *Enya X1 pineapple soprano, *Enya Nova *Gretsch tenor, *Korala plastic concert

  5. #5
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    You simply cannot over-simplify this subject if you want answers to be real. Linear density is if utmost importance, and it's really easy to understand.

    Basically, not all string compositions of the same diameter will weigh the same at a given length. A 1" length of .025" diameter flurocarbon may weigh more than a 1" length of .025" diameter nylon, for instance. And it will weigh less than a 1" length of .025" steel. Linear (that is length) density (that is basically weight)...one of the three interactive elements in string design.

    So "thicker" for higher tension ONLY applies if the string material is exactly the same formula.

    The problem is that hardly any string companies will give you a straight answer on any of this. You're stuck with adjective-modified descriptions like "low tension", "high tension", "extra high tension" that are basically meaningless beyond comparing strings of a single given brand.

    Another issue may be if different string companies are comparing their strings at different scale lengths. It's not enough to say "soprano", "concert", "tenor", or "baritone" without specifying the exact scale length. They are not all the same, and a shorter scale will exhibit lower tension for a given set of strings.

    D'Addario is the industry leader in giving out real numbers...they tell you the scale length, the diameter, and the pitch. From that you could calculate the linear density if that were of interest to you. Nobody else that I know of gives out the real (and important if you want to compare one string brand to another) and vitally important numbers. Vital, that is, if this is important to you.

    I used the D'Addario chart a number of years ago to develop a spreadsheet of recommended optimum guitar string gauges for different open tunings, and that became part of an article I wrote for Acoustic Guitar Magazine.

    It would be great if all uke string companies published their string tensions at an industry agreed scale length and pitch. I say pitch because there are still some soprano players using "D" tuning, a whole step up from "modern club tuning". Raising the pitch raises the tension.

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    Rick, that's great info and very helpful, but finding the linear density published anywhere (aside from D'Addario) is like getting blood from a stone - maybe you have a secret source?

    Quote Originally Posted by Rick Turner View Post
    So "thicker" for higher tension ONLY applies if the string material is exactly the same formula.
    So in my example above with the Martin M600 or M620 strings, can we safely assume for the sake of this question of the Martin string sets being of the same formula?

    What about if we look at the 10 or so different string sets for Worth BROWNS (from #BL to #BS) (as it's own comparison within these sets) or across the variations of Worth CLEARS (from #CL to #EX-HD) (see http://worthc.to/english/w_strings.html and scroll down) - can we figure each types of these (Martin, Worth Browns, Worth Clears) are each unto their own, yet consistent formulae?

    Quote Originally Posted by Rick Turner View Post
    It would be great if all uke string companies published their string tensions at an industry agreed scale length and pitch.
    I agree, and being that I'm on my way to being a real strings geek, I'd really love to have access to this info.

    I would be remiss if I did not mention that SouthCoast seems to be the only company that publishes relative/comparative tension info for tuning and scale length.
    Guinea proverb: "A cow that has no tail should not try to chase away flies."

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    Quote Originally Posted by Rick Turner View Post
    The problem is that hardly any string companies will give you a straight answer on any of this. You're stuck with adjective-modified descriptions like "low tension", "high tension", "extra high tension" that are basically meaningless beyond comparing strings of a single given brand.
    That's been one of the big priorities of mine since I came aboard GHS Strings last year. We are now one of only three string companies that have published tension charts for our electric bass strings (other two being D'Addario and Kalium), and I provided all of the fluorocarbon set info for the string comparison chart that is on this forum. And for reference, I used the "standard" scale lengths of 13", 15" and 17" for soprano, concert and tenor sizes. I use "standard," mainly because my Boat Paddle concert has a 16" scale, which is going to have more tension than a 15" scale.

    If there's anything else that people are curious on from GHS, I will find it out and publish it.
    Last edited by Jon Moody; 07-03-2014 at 04:00 PM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by One Bad Monkey View Post
    That's been one of the big priorities of mine since I came aboard GHS Strings last year. We are now one of only three string companies that have published tension charts for our electric bass strings (other two being D'Addario and Kalium), and I provided all of the fluorocarbon set info for the string comparison chart that is on this forum. And for reference, I used the "standard" scale lengths of 13", 15" and 17" for soprano, concert and tenor sizes. I use "standard," mainly because my Boat Paddle concert has a 16" scale, which is going to have more tension than a 15" scale.

    If there's anything else that people are curious on from GHS, I will find it out and publish it.
    Thank you so very much for all of your efforts on this, they are very much appreciated.

    Please keep up the good work!
    Last edited by Booli; 07-03-2014 at 04:45 PM.

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by One Bad Monkey View Post
    So to answer your questions:

    1-The tension of the strings would be less, since you are taking the scale length from 17" on a tenor to 15" on a concert, there will be less tension overall.
    Would it be reasonable then to expect that if you need to have lower tension strings on a given scale, that you could take the next scale size up and put them on to achieve this?

    i.e., tenor strings on concert or soprano, OR concert strings on soprano?

    You might wonder why the need for lower tension strings?

    I have two reasons that have come across my path:

    1) On an older (50+ yrs), (family heirloom) precious uke, the bridge is lifting (about 0.5mm), and you lack the funds (to pay a luthier for repairs) or skill to make repairs yourself right now, and other than completely removing the strings, you'd like to minimize stress on the bridge and still have the option to tune it to pitch occasionally and give it some play time (while de-tuning the strings completely slack when it's not being played.)

    2) If you have trouble with your hand (as in pain) to generate enough pressure to cleanly fret barre chords, lower tension on the strings makes this easier, while also making note bending easier.

    In the case of #1 above, would it be better to just not play it at all until it can be repaired?

    What do you think?

    -Booli

  10. #10
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    Sorry on two counts:

    1) You cannot assume that all the strings from a given manufacturer have the same linear density. Worth and D'Addario in particular have quite a few plastic formulas for different sets.

    2) Take any and all strings off of that uke NOW. Do not even hope that a light tension set will be OK for any instrument with a lifting bridge. Yes, many's the time when a bridge pops off, all is well...other than the need to reglue the bridge...after removing all old glue carefully and doing it the right way. Then there are those times when the bridge will pop off of....revealing 75% of the top space under it...taking nice splinters and chunks of the top forward of the bridge away leaving your unfortunate luthier with a f...ing mess to deal with, and you with visible damage to the uke top...forever.

    If you really can't afford to deal with that uke properly, consign it to being a wall hanger until you can deal with it.

    Would you drive your car with the front brakes 95% gone? If so, then you may be 95% gone soon...like that uke.

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