TUNING YOUR UKULELE

Part 8: Tuning for Feel

When it comes to the subject of tuning for feel, obviously we’ll need no sound clips, no charts, no visual or audio illustration of any kind.  And this subject will need less discussion than any other part in the series. Most of the time when feel is paramount for a particular player, they are looking at one or both of two main areas.  First would be the actual feel of the string material itself, and second would be tension.  When you begin to talk about feel as it relates to material, there are always very particular areas where texture may be important to some players.  But in the majority of cases, the issue that jumps to the forefront is the issue of wound versus plain sets.  A certain percentage of Ukulele players simply don’t like the feel of wound material; they prefer sets made up of all plain strings. We’ve taken care of those reservations better than anyone else.  We’ve led the way in the use of polished wound material - a development that has largely bridged the gap in what many object to with wound material in the first place - the finger noise it gives.  All wound strings from Southcoast now feature a “virtually noise free” polished surface.  Given this, then when it comes to fixed note tuning, to stay with all plain sets in all applications would mean that a specific feel is truly your only consideration.   When it comes to tension for fixed note tuning, we cover the options here like no one else.  It’s one of the main functions in what we offer.  Who else, for example, offers 7 different sets in 3 different types of material and three different tensions for an Ukulele Reentrant C tuning on a standard Tenor?  And we do 7 different sets in five different materials for a Linear C tuning on the same instrument.  Pick a tuning - pick a size, we’re generally going to offer you a variety of choices in tension and material.  We know how important it is and how difficult it can be to get the just right feel when you’re tuning to a fixed set of notes - and no one else will help you out in that regard like we will. Here’s one way to get a “feel” for the right set with us.  If you have, let’s say, a Medium Gauge Ukulele set and want to get an idea of what a Light Medium or Heavy Medium would feel like, simply tune your Medium Gauges down a half step for a Light Medium feel or up a half step for a Heavy Medium feel.  With plain sets in this example, you could go a full step up or down to get an idea of Light Gauges or the Light Heavy Gauges.  Bear in mind that this is only an approximate guide.  Our strings aren’t truly formulated to exactly these sort of specs, and that fact that you are listening to notes that are at least a half pitch lower or higher may throw you off as well.  Try to concentrate strictly on feel - that’s all we’re talking about at the moment.  When you put the lighter or heavier gauges of your new set on, you tune back to your original notes et voila!, same tuning - new tension.  And don’t take this test too far with wound string sets.  A half step at the most.  More than that and the tensions of the set may start to feel unbalanced, as the wound strings have less flexibility than the plain strings.  And don’t ever do this sort of thing with flatwound sets.  There’s only enough flexibility there to go up and down just a little bit, and their feel shouldn’t be used as a guide for anything else. That pretty much wraps things up as far as our discussion of feel with fixed note tuning.  But we gave this topic its own section because it’s a consideration that’s extremely important to a lot of players.  What we’ve discussed up to this point is how the subject pertains to fixed note players.  Obviously many people, primarily those involved in group play, need to tune to a fixed set of notes.  That’s why we’ve worked so extremely hard to give them options in tension and texture.  But, for those who use Interval Tuning, then all at once, feel is no longer any sort of issue at all! If, as in this Part, we are speaking of feel as your only consideration, then you simply take any set whose texture pleases you and tune it to exactly the tension that pleases you as well.  Of course to do this, you need a string set with relatively equal tension from string to string.  Otherwise tight outside strings on a reentrant set, for one example, or loose plain 4th strings on a linear set for another, become either too tight or too loose to give you the flexibility you need to truly set your own tension.  Relatively equal tension across the fretboard is something we’ve always given top priority to with our sets, not only because it’s a “feel” we like in fixed note tuning, but because we wanted folks to be able to set their own tension if that’s an option for them.  Wound sets will always have a bit less flexibility in this regard than plain sets, but that’s about the only limiting factor. This ability to give players “the perfect feel” is one of the main advantages to using Interval Tuning.  So if feel is an important factor for you, and you’re not tied to fixed note tuning, then Interval Tuning can usually give you exactly what you want.     
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