The Southcoast Guide to Tuning & Strings

 

 

String Qualities –

Today we might say we are in a “Golden Age”, when it comes to the selection of material for stringed instruments.  It was not all that long ago that when it came to “treble” or non-wound string material, the centuries old option of gut, or the “modern” option of the original DuPont nylon were all there were.  Gradually over the last few decades, more and more formulations have become available.  These give sounds from soft to bright, and their different densities open new possibilities for selecting tensions.  The string sets presently being offered, however, almost all follow the practice of building their sets from only one single material. 

 

“Exaggerated Tension” –

This is a term I use to explain the normal practice of setting tensions within a string set.  You may think that once you have decided on a comfortable tension, that all your strings should be chosen to give that tension across the board.  This is indeed one option, but it is seldom done, and almost never offered in sets.  In high re-entrant ukulele sets, the common practice is for the 1st & 4th strings to have a higher tension than the other strings.  The 3rd string will have the lowest tension, and the 2nd string will fall in between, usually closer in tension to the 3rd string than the outside strings.

 

The reason to do this is to balance the sound.  When your set is made up from strings of the same material, as ukulele strings traditionally were, the thicker strings are somewhat “dead” with less vibrato and sustain in comparison to the thinner strings.   To minimize this difference, the high notes, or the thinner strings are often as thick as is comfortable, and the lower note strings as thin as is practical.  With the high notes, a thicker string is not only is a bit deader, but the resulting high tension reduces the vibrato.  With the low notes, the reverse is true: pushing the gauge to the thin size makes the string a bit livelier, and the low tension increases vibrato. 

 

Every manufacturer does this to a certain extent with their sets, but there are some who carry it to an extreme, with high strings like steel cables and the lower ones almost flapping around in a stiff breeze!  This highly “exaggerated tension”  is always a losing game, however, as no amount of compensation can give a thick string of one material the same response as a thinner one of the same material unless the difference in gauges is very small to begin with.

 

Mixed Sets –

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if your strings could have more or less the same tension across the board, and produce the same volume and vibrato.  Since it is not possible using the same material, the solution lies in using a combination of materials.  These are called “mixed sets”, and can, indeed come very close to giving balanced tone across the board, with much smaller variations in tension. 

                 Page 3:  String Selection

© 2008 South Coast Furniture, Inc.

The first, and still most prevalent example is the common guitar set, where a single type of treble string is mixed with a single type of metal wound string for the basses.  With the increasing variety of string types available today, however, there is no reason that a custom set for a four stringed instrument could not have as many as four different materials.  In ukulele sets, new material also means that the need for wound strings is greatly reduced.  New, brighter formulation “treble”, or unwound,  materials can be used for the low notes, together with softer material for the high notes, and in this process, tension can also be considered.

 

This is the essence of the selection criteria for our Southcoast string sets.  Our strings offer the most uniform balance, both in tone and tension, of any strings available today.  No longer will you need to compromise with dull low notes, so that your high notes are not shrill.  No longer will you suffer shrill high notes to get a clear bass.

 

You will notice the difference with our sets from the very beginning.  As the strings are of different densities, the thicknesses are not graduated as they are in single material sets.  They will also stretch and “set-up” at different rates.  But mostly you will discover how much more comfortable it is to play at a relatively even tension; a tension that allows for the best possible projection.  You will be more than pleased with how the strings “transition” from one to the next.  Mostly, we think you will truly love the clarity and smooth bright tone, both across, up, and down your fretboard.

 

 

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