The Southcoast Guide to Tuning & Strings
Page 8: Linear Ukulele Strings - low 4th no wound string set
© 2008 South Coast Furniture, Inc.
for discussion of “high re-entrant tunings” and “scale” see the “Tunings & Terminology” page
Our linear ukulele string set is for guitar interval or “low fourth string” tunings. This set is formulated without metal wound strings in either the 3rd or 4th position. They are best suited for medium to medium-large bodies, and are not recommended for the 13” or 15” scales or for any scale with a soprano body. Tunings are dependent on your scale length, and therefore change in key from one fretboard length to the next. All our string sets are 30” long, and as such, are sufficient for any scale. Our recommendations for the Linear String set are as follows:
For the 17” scale - tune to key of D
For the 20” scale - tune to key of C
for sound samples of all tunings on most scales, go to the “Instruments” page of our main site (link below). then visit any or all of the individual instrument pages - each has samples in a variety of tunings.
Want to try out more than one set? See our page “Combination Packs”.
In addition these new tunings often involve the introduction of wound strings into the equation. The reason for this is that trying to drop the 4th string an octave with traditional treble material can often result in a string that becomes so thick that it sounds more like a rubber band than a musical instrument string. In resorting to wound strings you now introduce problems of volume overtones and imbalanced sound. Even the most subdued wound strings are louder and have longer sustain than treble material.
There are presently two common set-ups for linear uke tuning. The standard baritone is arranged with a 50/50 set-up between the wound and treble strings, and is tuned to Key of G, to make it a “mini-guitar”. As with a 6 string guitar, with this arrangement, you no longer have a duet between instrument and strings, but three part harmony between the instrument and “two” sets of strings. This is the best set-up for a four string set using wound strings. Two wound strings produce a lot of volume, however, and need either a large or heavily built body to handle it.
While a Baritone body is indeed big enough to manage a pair of wound strings, the strings needed for tuning to the key of G do not give very good performance. Without much thought, we can see that the standard Baritone Uke scale is almost 6” shorter than a classical guitar, and yet is tuned to the same key. Obviously, the high density strings needed for a playable tension do not give optimal performance.
The second linear ukulele arrangement is usually found on the standard tenor, and consists of a single wound 4th string. A single wound string presents another significant challenge. Whereas with a four string 50/50 arrangement, you had 2 wound strings paired with 2 fairly thin, fairly bright trebles, now you put your strongest/brightest (wound) string right next to a relatively thick, dull, soft treble 3rd string. The transition between 4th & 3rd is truly awful, and instead of being one of three harmonizing voices, your one wound string now sounds more like a duck out of water.
While we feel both these arrangements have obvious flaws, I know that there are lots of people who have grown accustomed to and love the sound of their linear tuned ukuleles. It is also more than obvious that a lot of beautiful music is made with instruments tuned in this fashion. Our goal, then, is to offer set-ups that can give good balance and not overpower a relatively small sound box.
Today, new materials have given us the option of playing without wound strings at all. A linear set formulated in this fashion gives more of a “ukulele character” to these tunings than any other arrangement. There are still limitations on what you can do. Science is close, but has not yet gotten to the point where any note can work with “treble material”. Many “no wound” linear sets go too thick with the 4th string, trying to give people workable tension on tunings they are used to. The result is the 4th string is dead. Others use a thinner more responsive 4th string, but in many set-ups, the tension is so loose as to be almost unplayable.
The first key to producing a no wound linear set is understanding the relation of scale length to body size. The scale must be long enough, and the tuning high enough, to permit the 4th string to be thin enough to give decent response and tension. The tuning must not become so high, however, that it begins to sound lost in too large a body . The choices are therefore limited, and you see that we have only two recommendations for these strings.
The other key to producing a set of this nature is string selection. To get adequate response from your 4th string, the tunings are relatively high, and so at the other end your first string can become extremely bright, especially compared to the 4th string. In this case, our individual selection of material for each string is key. It allows our set to transition smoothly from one note to the next and finish so that the 1st string is not as dramatically different in tone from the 4th as with a set of single material formulation. I believe our offering is unique in these regards, and offers the potential for the best solution available to linear ukulele tuning (for further discussion see the “String Selection” page).
For Standard Ukuleles:
This set will be a revelation for owners of standard Baritone ukuleles. Our Baritone has a somewhat different body, and was designed expressly for this no wound linear C tuning, but even standard Baritone owners will be astounded at how well this tuning works on their instruments. Sonically, the low G is a better fit for the Baritone Uke body than it is for the Tenor. If you have ever wanted to both brighten up your Baritone and at the same time make it sound more like a ukulele and less like a guitar, then this set is your answer.
For standard Tenor Uke players, you run up against the limitations of science here, and will need to raise your linear tuning from C to D to use this set. No need for panic - some of the worlds most famous ukulele players now use this D tuning no-wound set-up on their standard tenor ukes. It is actually a better fit for a Tenor size body and will do away with the possibility of a “booming” 4th string. Remember that the Key of D was one of the original options for the standard soprano uke. Most of the older sheet music has D tuning ukulele tabs, and of course if you are a solo player, it doesn’t matter at all (see the Tunings page for further discussion).
You may prefer a linear tuning with the sound of wound strings - no reason you have to be a traditionalist. A 50/50 arrangement between the wound and treble strings can produce wonderful sound when the body of your instrument is comfortable with it. We now offer excellent options for those set-ups (see the Linear String Sets - Round & Flat Wound pages).
For Tenor Uke players the lightest of these sets will set up for you in the key of C, and can produce a spectacular guitar like sound. Today, almost all modern Tenor Ukuleles are built with construction that is heavier than was used on the early light built ukuleles. These new modern Tenors should handle two wound strings with no problem. They will work on the Standard Baritone, but as they are lighter than Baritone Uke strings (and therefore produce livelier sound and better response), you will need to tune higher than the key of G.
If you want a deep linear tuning, key of G for example, that produces top performance, there is an easy solution - one that offers no compromise. Simply move up to a larger body, appropriate for the depth of those notes and which shows of the full range and power of the 50-50 set up. Both our Southcoast Tenor & Plectrum Guitars fit the bill. They were designed for these applications and produce better sound using wound strings than any other 4 string instruments being offered today.
Last I will make brief mention of tuning in 5ths (5 note intervals) on an ukulele. These set-ups are appealing to many because the wider range of notes gives an even fuller sound to a four string instrument. The main difficulty with this set-up is as discussed above. The strength of a 5ths tuning, the even wider range of notes, becomes even more cramped on a small ukulele body than the linear 4ths tunings. Again, our 4 string guitar bodies body handle this type of tuning beautifully - the original Tenor Guitar was used first for 5th tunings - not 4ths.
At one time a lot of 4-string players played both of these tunings, and on a variety of instruments. If you want to know more about this type of tuning, go to the Linear String Set - 5ths page. If you have an ukulele and want to try playing in 5ths to get an idea about whether you like it, then we now offer what we feel is the best configuration for classical strings in 5ths. Putting one of these 5ths sets on an ukulele gives you an opportunity for a trial run without buying a 4-string Guitar.
Price per set: $8.50 (includes shipment in the U.S.)
For International shipping click here
Quantity Discount (shipping always included):
2 packs & 3 packs contain 8 & 12 string packets in single packet/mailers (See “Combination Packs” page for example). To order multiple sets in individual packet/mailers, select “Single Set” and change quantity at checkout.
Linear tuning has created all sorts of problems with string selection on ukuleles. There is a reason these low fourth tunings are not the traditional set-up. Small bodied instruments work best when the notes are spaced closely - as they are with high re-entrant tunings. Dropping the 4th string a full octave creates a real conundrum. First, a little sound box does not do a good job with low notes. Second, unless you have steel strings, as with the mandolin, you can’t raise the tuning high enough without ending up with a first sting so small it will constantly break.