As with anything that has a consumer market, string options for the baritone ukulele have exploded in the past few years.
Sorting through these to find the right set for your instrument can be a chore. Which is why I’m happy to offer up a review of my experiences for the common good.
General String Guidelines & Variations
A baritone string is a pretty straightforward piece of equipment. But it has enough variations to be confusing and frustrating to shop for.
Stretch a string between two points and three things affect its tension:
- Heavy strings (fat, thicker – more mass) tuned to DGBE on the same baritone ukulele with have a higher tension than light strings (thin, skinnier – less mass).
- A set of strings tuned to DGBE on a 20″ scale will have higher tension than they would on a 19″ scale. Because of this, longer scale baritones can use lighter strings and still achieve the same tension as heavier strings on a short scale.
- Assuming you tune the same string to two different notes on the same instrument (same scale length), the lower note will have less tension and the higher one will have more.
The more tension there is, the more energy is stored in the string. It sustains longer and will sound louder than a string with less tension when plucked with the same force.
However, the higher the tension, the harder the strings are to play. You have to press down harder to fret a note and there is also more pressure on the instrument.
While tension can affect the sound of the string, usually more obvious differences in tone come from the type of material used.
Since most string sets are made differently, the subtle changes in frequency response between them are almost as vast as the amount of sets available.
Before you go out and buy strings, you need to have an idea what your baritone ukulele might like.
To get a middle-of-the-road sort of sound (not bright, not dark), the general rule of thumb is to pair bright strings with dark instruments and dark strings with bright instruments.
If you have a spruce top baritone (spruce is typically “bright”), you might start by trying more muted strings to mellow out the highs. Conversely, if you have a koa baritone, you might try brighter strings.
You personal preferences should always take priority however. Trust your ears. And remember that strings are only a small part of the picture.
My Favorite Baritone Strings So Far
When my last set of baritone strings were giving up the ghost I went to Stringsbymail.com and ordered some options to try. While the options are overwhelming, if you know what you want (or need lots of options) Strings By Mail is fabulous.
Previously, I’ve found Southcoast to be the best show in town. Available in many tensions and with a well-balanced sound, they were a no-brainer. But since Dirk recently passed away and Southcoast closed up shop, I had to find some new options.
I like high-tension strings since they keep the uke “in line” and really allow me to dig in and get a precise sound without buzzing. This eliminates many options for me. Aquila, D’Addario, and Worth – all out of contention.
In the past I’ve used Savarez Alliance trebles on my standard GCEA ukes. They are great for a warmer sound than Worth and come in two tension options. I always used the low-tension red pack strings since I was scared what the high-tension ones might do to my uke (the red ones are still pretty tight).
Is this string combination worth $15? I think so. The result is fabulous. No buzzing, the tone is pure and balanced. Everything I loved about Southcoast, but in an even more polished package (not literally). Time will tell how it ages.
Other String Options
Since I know what I like after more than a decade of play the uke, I seldom go “string shopping.” Anything other than what I like is always “meh.” I’m not dedicated enough to try strings for the sake of trying and reviewing strings.
However, I’ve tried a few baritone string sets besides the T-I/Savarez combo above and would rate them like this, from best to worst:
- Southcoast HL-WB (no longer available as far as I know)
- Ko’olau Gold Series
- D’Addario Titanium
- Aquila Reds
Please note that because some are at the bottom doesn’t mean they are BAD at all. They just didn’t work on my uke, a Pono BE-DC solidbody, for one reason or another (not enough tension, string imbalance, etc…). I actually like the Reds, but they just couldn’t cut it for my setup and playing style.
Really, I haven’t run across any baritone strings that I didn’t like. Mostly I’d take them off because they’d buzz and chatter on the frets from low tension.
Because I’m not a walking encyclopedia of string knowledge, I’ll defer to some very useful links that contain the impressions of many folks. These come from Ukulele Underground where string discussions have provided many topics over the years.
Keep in mind that these, while quite informative, are from mostly opinions from amateur players and that, at the end of the day, they are just that – opinions.
Commercially available re-entrant string sets (high-dGBE)
And here are a couple of very in-depth articles from the Southcoast site that I’ll highlight here (now found in the Wayback Machine archives). These talk about the resonance limitations of the instrument and why Dirk would always recommend people tune their baritone higher.