When and How Do I Change My Ukulele Strings?

Ukulele with custom guard and strap

Has your ukulele started to go out of tune faster? Does it just not sound as good as it did a few weeks ago? Don’t worry, you aren’t losing it. It’s just time to change the strings of your ukulele.

It’s a fairly painless process that gets faster to do every time you do it. The first step is to take your old strings off - cut them if you need to, just be careful to not scratch up your instrument!

Next you want to clean your ukulele. This is very important not just for looks but it also helps maintain the instrument and keep it sounding good! For starters you can wipe things down with a rag, but if you want to step it up a bit use some fingerboard oil and some body gloss. I’m no expert with this, but I’ve had good results using GHS guitar gloss on my ukulele body and using Boogie Juice fingerboard oil both to clean and refresh the uke a bit.

Now you need to find new strings! My personal favorite of the strings I’ve tried is D’addario’s “Custom Extruded” nylon strings - though I may be a little biased, as they are Jake Shimabukuro’s go to strings as well (and he’s the one who inspired me to play ukulele in the first place). However, no other set I’ve tried stays in tune as well, sounds as good, or lasts as long, not to mention the set is relatively inexpensive.

When you get to putting on the new strings, you might find the slot they go in might look different on your ukulele from the ukulele your friend or favorite musician might have on theirs. There are three main types that I’ve seen:

Close-up view of a traditional bridge showing how the strings loop through it
Traditional bridge

Traditional bridge: This is probably the most common one, and it’s the style you’re likely to see on a classical guitar. Slide the string almost all the way through the hole, leaving a little bit on the end. You then take the excess bit of string and use it to tie a knot, like so: Going from behind, loop the excess under the main length of string, then through the circle created by the first step, then do that again, going from behind, under the string, then through the circle. Then, pull the string tight while holding the excess to the body, then pull tight. It was a confusing process for me the first few times, but after a few tries you will get the hang of it. If that sounded complicated and you’d prefer a visual explanation, you can watch this YouTube tutorial from Cordoba on the subject.

Close-up view of the 'knot it and slot it' bridge style
Knot bridge

Knot Bridge: My first ukulele had this kind of bridge! It’s very simple, tie a knot at the end of the string to make a little ball and shove it in. No hassle. I’ve come to like the traditional bridge more, but this type of bridge was very easy for ten-year-old me.

Close-up view of a pin bridge showing how the pins hold the strings in by friction
Pin bridge

Pin bridge: This is a personal opinion, and you may feel differently, but I have never liked this bridge type. Thankfully, while it is very common on acoustic guitars, I’ve only seen a few ukuleles that have this. If yours has one, do yourself a favor and get a pin pulling tool. Using the tool, you can pull out the pin without scratching up your instrument or getting too frustrated. Once the pin is out, just remove the old string, stick in the new string (no need to tie a knot this time), and shove the pin back in. Tension will hold the string and pin in place.

Finally, one note about how wind your strings on the tuning pegs. You can just pull the string through the hole and start tightening, but make sure you turn the tuning pegs in the same way for all the strings on the same side of the headstock so that you consistently turn the pegs in the same direction when you need to tune it later. To keep things simple, always run your strings up and around the tuning peg going from the inside to the outside. If you do it this way, your strings won’t get in each other’s way and you will always be turning the tuning pegs towards the headstock to tighten (sharpen) the strings and towards the body to loosen (flatten) the strings.

And then you’re all done! Hopefully this helped you with changing your strings. If you have any questions or comments feel free to send me a message on my Instagram @ukulele_sho or through my website, shotunes.com

Have a good day, stay safe, and keep strumming!

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