If you’re having a hard time choosing the best ukulele strings for you, we have a guide on that topic, so make sure to check it out. What we will be discussing in this article is how good plastic strings are compared to the metal ones. So without further ado, let’s get right into the subject.
About plastic strings
When looking for strings you will probably be unable to find plastic strings per se. However, nylon and fluorocarbon are the materials used for ukulele strings and they can be considered plastics. Usually, these strings are clear, although sometimes they have a blue hue to them.
If you touch and bend such a string you will see that it’s very malleable – when you bend the string it will remain in that position. Fluorocarbon is a very popular material amongst those that like to fish as it’s often used in fishing lines.
The fun fact is that fluorocarbon was initially used by fishermen and after seeing its resistance and its potential to produce sound, somebody decided to use fluorocarbon for strings. Surprisingly, this material has great potential to turn a wooden instrument into a great-sounding one.
Pros and cons of plastic
One downside of plastic strings is that, if you have a cheaper uke or one that is made of laminate wood, you will see that the sound produced is a hollow one. It seems that it lacks force, and, furthermore, the ukulele doesn’t stay in tune too much. That is because of how the instrument reverberates and when using plastic strings, the combination isn’t a good one.
However, if you use fluorocarbon or nylon on a solid-wood ukulele or an old instrument, that is the best way to get the most of that particular instrument in terms of volume. Because fluorocarbon is a stiffer material, it’s also louder, making your ukulele project sounds better. Furthermore, these materials are great at accentuating the tone of your uke’s wood. So the sounds will be even brighter or mellower, depending on the wood your instrument is made of.
Because of its characteristics, fluorocarbon is one of the most popular options in terms of strings, for solid-body ukuleles. This is such a versatile material that some professional players that break a lot of strings prefer buying a reel of fluorocarbon and use that as material for their strings. It’s a reliable and cheap material, so even if you break a lot of strings, you can always change them easily.
Types of plastic strings
Although most plastic strings are clear, there are some of them that come with a black or brown color. The sound of these strings is a bit mellower, and they are a good option, especially for those who play jazz. That’s why they are popular for that purpose. They offer great dynamics, but not too much volume.
Made in Japan, Worth Strings are the most popular fluorocarbon strings and they come in black, brown, or clear. The strings that this company makes can be put in 2 categories. The first is the premium one, where you find high-quality sets of strings for about $20. On the other side, the company offers sets that cost around $10, still made of fluorocarbon and still good, but not for professional use.
The good thing is that you can find fluorocarbon strings of different ranges and for different types of ukes. Worth Strings offers a lot of alternatives and the best way to see all the plastic string types is to go on its website or on other brands’ websites and analyze what they offer.
What about metal strings?
Unlike other instruments such as the guitar, the ukulele doesn’t work that well when all the strings are made of metal. That is because this instrument is characterized by the sound produced with the help of the strings made of softer materials such as gut, nylon or similar materials.
Technically, the metal strings that you find on most ukuleles aren’t actually metal. Their core is made of nylon or similar materials and only their exterior is made of a type of flexible metal. These are called wound strings and they are used for producing lower notes.
On a uke, you will most probably find such a string to be the low-G one and sometimes the C. Wound strings come in 2 forms, round or flat wound. The advantage of the second type is that such a string doesn’t squeak that much when you move your fingers on it.
Because they have the metal layer, wound strings reverberate a lot more than normal ones and some cheap ukuleles sound bad because their thicker wound strings vibrate a lot more than their other ones.
Should you only use metal strings?
Some players like wound metal strings and few of them even go as far as using only metal strings for their ukes. But keep in mind that they do that knowing what the gauge should be. A nylon string and a metal string of the same gauge have a very different force that they pull with.
So if you just change your regular nylon or fluorocarbon strings for some metal ones of the same gauge, you won’t be doing any good to your ukulele. Many brands, however, sell metal-wound strings that are way thinner than their counterparts, yet produce the same musical note, the G most often.
You should also know that metal strings produce a different sound. They don’t have the same attack as the regular strings and their resonance is different. Furthermore, as you move your fingers on them, they squeak.
They put a lot of stress on your uke
The ukulele is not an instrument that’s designed for high stress, like the guitar, and that’s why it’s advisable if you don’t use metal strings. It’s ok if your G string only is made of metal, but having all-metal strings will put too much pressure on your uke and break it.
Solid-body electric ukuleles can accommodate metal strings but that is because they are a lot sturdier. Keep in mind that there are instruments, such as the mandolin, that are quite similar to the uke and they use metal strings. And these instruments have their unique sound, so trying to put steel strings on a uke will change its sound drastically.
The advantage of metal-wound strings is that they have a mellower sound that most people like. They also tend to be louder because they have more tension in them. But that last thing is also a disadvantage for beginners that find it hard to press metal strings and produce clear notes.
Furthermore, these harder strings can cause a lot of damage to the fretboard, because they require you to press them harder. That is why plastic frets will gradually be destroyed when using metal strings.
There is also the sound aspect of things. The classic ukulele has its sound due to the Koa wood it’s made of but also due to the strings that were originally gut ones. Metal strings, on the other hand, sound different and they will make your uke resemble a guitar more. Your uke won’t feel like a genuine one if you only put metal strings on it.