How Do I Know If I Need New Strings?

Is your ukulele trying to tell you something?

With our Change Your Ukulele Strings Workshop just around the corner, I’ve been getting the same question from a lot of students: How do I know when it’s time to change my strings? There are several different things to be looking and listening for, as well as other situations in which a string change might be appropriate even if your instrument isn’t necessarily begging for them.

What to look for

Periodically, take a close look at your strings, especially around the areas where they hit the frets. You may notice divets in the strings, which indicate they are getting worn down. This is the most common visual indicator, but you may your strings look generally ragged and strained as you look up and down the fretboard more generally.

What to listen for

The most likely way you’ll be able to tell when it’s time to change your strings is the way your playing will start to sound different. Here are some things you might notice:

  • A change in tone. Worn strings have lost their full-bodied tone and have more of a flat, plunky sound.
  • A change in tuning. If you’ve tuned your open strings, but the chords you play still sound out of tune, or you have to constantly retune as you play, that’s a good indicator your strings have lost the ability to hold their tuning consistently.

Other considerations

Just because you’re not noticing any big changes to warrant a strings change, there are still several reasons why you might do so, either as a matter of personal preference and/or in anticipation of those changes mentioned above that you want to avoid from the outset.

  • As a general rule, you can choose to change your strings every certain number of weeks or months. This allows you to keep that full-bodied sound going all the time and prevents the hassles of dealing with constant retuning and generally bad-sounding strings. How often you change them depends on how often you play. Professional performers change them as often as every several weeks. For the enthusiastic hobbyist, every several months should suffice. For those on a budget or just not as invested in the whole string-changing thing, I recommend a minimum of every 6 months to a year.
  • Sometimes you might decide you want to try for a different sound on your instrument. In this case, you might decide to change your strings earlier than you otherwise would, because you want to try a different string material. The most popular, quality-sounding strings out there are called Nylgut, fluorocarbon, and titanium, with wound strings used for lower toned strings on tenor and bass ukuleles. (We’ll discuss these options more in depth at our workshop.) I don’t generally recommend straight nylon strings, because I find they just sound plasticky, but they are also a popular option. Steel strings that you often find on guitars are not appropriate for ukuleles.
  • This one is obvious, but just to be sure: if a string on your instrument breaks, it’s probably a good idea to change them all, as they are most likely wearing down by that point.
  • Likewise, if you can’t remember when you last changed your strings, or you have no recollection of ever changing your strings … IT’S TIME TO CHANGE YOUR STRINGS.

Final thoughts

As you can see, there’s no one way to determine when it’s time to change your strings. It’s a personal call. If you’re in the Portland, Oregon region and would like to join us for our upcoming Change Your Ukulele Strings Workshop, click here to register. I’m in the process of working on a video tutorial of the workshop for those further field… Thanks for your patience!