Does your ukulele sound dull? And have you reached a point where you don’t enjoy playing it because of how it sounds? It may be time to replace the strings. But where do you start? And what tools do you need to get the job done?
This article reveals how to change ukulele strings in a few simple steps. So reach for a new set of strings: it’s ukulele string replacement time!
To restring a ukulele, follow the steps below:
- Unwind each tuning peg to remove each string
- Insert each new string into the appropriate hole in the ukulele’s bridge and secure it by tying it into a knot
- Pass the long end of the strings (not the bridge end) through the tuning peg holes and wind them around
- Tune the ukulele
I elaborate on the above steps in the article and reveal how to change strings if the ukulele has bridge pins, so stick around for the details.
When performing string changes, you’ll need the following tools:
- Ukulele strings
- Wire cutters (or nail clippers when cutting nylon strings)
- String winder (recommended)
How to Change Ukulele Strings in Four Steps
Once you’ve gathered your tools, it’s time to restring your uke. Follow the steps below to give your instrument a facelift.
Step One: Remove the Old Strings
The first step to replacing your uke strings involves unwinding its tuning pegs (also called tuning keys). You can do this manually, taking one tuning peg at a time, but using a string winder is faster.
The strings should be nice and loose when you’re through unwinding them. At this stage, you can either use the wirecutter to cut each string or undo the string knot and push the string through the bridge hole. Never cut taut strings, as they could snap back and injure you.
If you choose to cut the strings, you’ll remove each one in two places: the knotted head and the string’s limp body at the bridge. Do either step (cutting or removing the knot) for all four strings.
Step Two: Add New Strings
Once you’ve removed the old strings, the next step is to thread new ones through your ukulele’s bridge. However, doing this step will depend on your instrument’s bridge type. Let’s learn how to thread and secure strings on the two types of ukulele bridges: the tie-bar and slotted bridge.
A tie-bar bridge has small holes drilled in it through which you can thread each new string. You secure a string on this bridge type by looping it over itself and tying it into a double-loop knot:
- Start by passing the string through the bridge hole. Leave some excess string length on the other end, as you’ll use that to tie the double-loop knot
- Next, bring the excess string over the bridge and slip it underneath the longer end of the string
- Then, loop the end of the string over the longer part and pass it through the loop. Repeat the last step (passing the string through the loop)
- Finally, complete the loop and align the tail (the longer end) with the bridge before tightening the double knot
When changing ukulele strings on an instrument with a slotted bridge, you’ll need to tie a knot toward the end of all the strings. This knot will sit in a small cavity at the bridge’s base, securing the rest of the string you’ll run through the bridge’s slot.
Step Three: Wind the Strings
Once you’ve securely attached the string to your instrument’s bridge, the next thing you’ll need to do is cut it to the ukulele’s length. You can measure the string needed by pulling it a few inches past the ukulele tuning peg you’ll fit it to.
Then, thread the string’s end through the corresponding tuning peg hole. I recommend looping the string around the peg a second time before threading it through the peg hole again. You’ll get a nice grip on the tuner that way.
Finally, wind the string around the tuning peg using the string winder. All wound strings should wrap inside the tuning post, not outside, so turn the string winder anti-clockwise. Also, keeping some tension on the string when you start winding is a good idea. To do this, gently pull the string toward the bridge while turning the winder.
Depending on the string’s thickness, you should aim for 5-10 turns around the tuning pegs. Snip off the excess length at the bridge and tuners once the string is nice and taut.
Step Four: Tune Your Ukulele
After fitting the string, tune it to the correct pitch. Note that you might have to retune the strings a few times before it stays in tune. You can accelerate the process by giving the strings a gentle pull, not stretching too hard, so the string doesn’t break.
With the above steps, you’re done replacing a string on a ukulele. Repeat the above steps with every string, and you’ll have an instrument ready to make music.
Changing the Strings on a Uke With Bridge Pins
If your uke has bridge pins, replacing its strings is straightforward. Start by unwinding the tuning pegs to loosen the strings, as you would on a uke without the pins. Then, remove each bridge pin using a plier or other tool specific to bridge pin removal. You can put a thin cloth between the plier’s teeth, so you don’t damage the pin.
Once you’ve extracted the bridge pin, tie a knot on the end of the string before threading it through the bridge pin hole. Finally, reinsert the bridge pin into the hole. Easy peasy!
When Should You Change the Strings and How Often?
How regularly you change strings depends on preference and how often you play your instrument. For example, if you play regularly, you’ll need to consider a string change sooner. Some ukulele dealers recommend changing strings every six months, though it isn’t uncommon for some uke players to do so every few years or weeks.
Below are some tell-tale signs that indicate it’s time to restring your ukulele:
- They’ve Become Difficult to Tune: If you find yourself tuning the strings too often, you’re likely due for some new ones
- A String Has Broken: If a ukulele string breaks, it may be a good time to replace all the strings with a new set. However, try replacing the one string first to ensure the problem lies with the strings. If that same string breaks again, some outside force interfering with your uke’s strings may be to blame
- The Strings Are Worn Out: There’s no escaping a string replacement when the depreciated condition of your strings is clear for all to see. The string will eventually break while you’re playing, which will hurt a lot
Which Replacement Strings are Best?
I recommend Aquila Nyglut strings. Several beginner-friendly ukes come with these strings, as they’re easy to play and have a nice, robust tone. Alternatively, nylon strings work just as well, producing a mellow tone that sounds almost guitar-like.
Ukulele String Maintenance
Although there’s no hard and fast rule regarding how long ukulele strings should last, a good estimate for uke string longevity is between eight months and a year.
Proper ukulele maintenance reduces the likelihood of needing a string change before the eight-month mark. With that in mind, what can you do to get the most out of newly-replaced strings?
The best thing you can do is clean them after every session. When you play your uke, the sweat from your fingers gets on the strings. Luckily, unlike guitars, whose strings are made of metal and susceptible to rust and corrosion, ukulele strings are immune to environmental factors like weather and temperature.
However, even though your uke’s strings won’t rust from your sweat, they can still catch dust and oil from your fingers. Therefore, cleaning them regularly will prevent grime build-up.
Fortunately, you don’t need sophisticated tools and products to do the job. A quick rub down with a dry microfiber cloth is all it takes to remove grime and have the strings squeaky clean for your next session.
To remove dust or a sticky substance (like congealed beer or oil from greasy food) from the strings, you can wet the cloth with water before cleaning the strings. Also, try to wipe the bottom of the strings with the cloth, not just the top. While you’re at it, clean the rest of the ukulele.
With this article, you now know how to change ukulele strings. The process takes some getting used to, but with time, you should get the hang of it. Eventually, it shouldn’t take you longer than 10 minutes, 15 at most, to swap out your uke strings, so look forward to that.