Low-G Ukulele String & Tuning Guide

A “low-G” string drops the pitch of the G-string in a traditional GCEA ukulele tuning by one octave using a special string.

It creates a “mellow” sound that extends the range of the uke by five extra notes.

Here are two ukulele of the same model, one with high-g, one with low-G:

high g low g ukulele string size comparison
  • The smaller high-g string is appropriate for tuning to the G note above middle-C (392hz: G4)
  • The larger string is appropriate for tuning to the G note below middle-C (196hz: G3)
Use the right string for the job!

Tuning a high-g string down an octave will result in a flabby string that doesn’t play in tune.

Tuning a low-G up an octave will probably cause it to snap!

Each tuning has a different note flow. High-g re-entrant tuning goes high-low-high, like this (observe how the arrow follows the note heads). Changing to a low-G string (linear tuning) moves the first note down one octave and keeps the strings ascending all the way up.

high-g vs low-G ukulele notation

The Best Low-G Strings for Ukulele

I use a Savarez KF95 for my low-G, but this section will explain why you might want something different.

There are two main styles of low-G: wound and unwound.

  • Wound low-G strings are created with a nylon strand in the center and a metal winding around the outside.
  • Unwound low-G strings are plastic, just like the other strings in a pack.

Technological Differences

In order to achieve a G3, 196hz frequency pitch at a tension similar to other ukulele strings, you need a specific amount of mass in your low-G string.

  • Higher density material = smaller diameter string
  • Lower density material = larger diameter string

Wound low-G strings have more mass than unwound ones, allowing them to be thinner.

All things being equal, a thinner string often sounds like it rings truer, which is why wound low-G strings are known to have a pure sound, whereas thicker, unwound low-G strings have the reputation of a thump-y, muted sound.

To hear the difference in wound and unwound low-G strings, listen to Herb Ohta Jr.’s Ukulele Breeze album on which he uses a wound low-G (albeit an “old school” one with an obvious tone) and then to Ukulele Journey where he switches to an unwound low-G.

In order to understand which feel you like, you just have to play each kind of low-G.

The Best Wound Low-G Strings

In general, a wound low-G has a truer sound and sustains longer than an unwound string. But, depending on the quality, it also can have a metallic ringing tone. Wound strings can also squeak when you shift your hand and tend to feel like they roll under your fingers.

Thomastik-Infeld CF27 & CF30 – Made in Vienna, Austria, these strings are the best of the best. They balance fabulously with fluorocarbon and are flatwound to reduce noise from hand shifts. Diameters: .027″ and .030″ (.035″ also available).

Fremont Soloist – Same basic specs as the TI strings, but crafted at what seems to be a bit lower level. Only available in one size, but cheaper than a CF27. Diameter: .030″

Classical Guitar D-strings – Any nylon classical guitar 4th, D-string can also be used as an ukulele low-G. Though not specifically designed for it, they will serve the purpose fine. Options abound! Do not use a steel-core D-string from an “acoustic” or electric guitar set!

The Best Unwound Low-G Strings

An unwound low-G tends to have a warm tone with less sustain, but no squeaks or rolling. The thicker the string, the more muted it is. However, a thin unwound low-G, even though it sounds better, can feel flabby and wispy.

Savarez KF95 – This specialty harp string has enough tension to feel tight on an ukulele, but is still small enough in diameter to avoid some of the dampening effect.

The KF95 is one meter long, the KF95A is two meters long. Though the string material itself is exactly the same, I prefer getting the later which is long enough for 3 low-Gs and ends up being cheaper.

Aquila Red – This string is made of a weird proprietary material that supposedly allows for a smaller diameter string. They sound good, but the strings are kind of delicate and must be installed well to avoid breakages.

Generic – Almost all high-end fluorocarbon unwound low-G sets do a decent job. Implementation is a trade off in diameter between tension and over-dampening. Most of these options tend to be fairly low tension. This is fine for sound, but can make for an unmatched feeling set. On the other side of the coin is the Worth LGEX which is heavy enough to reel in a shark, but sounds like a shoelace!

What is the difference between high-g and low-G?

The main difference between the two string sizes is how they sound.

High-g has a more focused, brighter sound because its note range isn’t as large (middle-C is the lowest note). It’s best for a more traditional, Tin Pan Alley or Hawaiian rhythm sound or a campanella picking style.

It keeps the notes in a chord closer together for tighter-sounding voicings. This can create cool piano-like note clusters which are really cool when playing jazz chords.

Low-G extends the range of the ukulele by five notes (G below middle-C is the lowest note). This makes for a more warm, full sound and creates a wider range of notes when you play any chord.

Having these additional “bass” notes can be useful for solo fingerpicking arrangements which allows you to get a more rounded sound when playing by yourself.

To get an idea what styles and sounds you can achieve, here are some artists and the G-string they use.

A few players who tune their ukulele with a high-g:

  • Jake Shimabukuro
  • Troy Fernandez
  • Del Rey
  • Early-era Eddie Kamae

A few players who tune their ukuleles to low-G:

  • Brittni Paiva
  • Herb Ohta Jr.
  • Taimane
  • Ohta-San

Implementing a Low-G String on Your Ukulele

A low-G string is often a drop-in replacement for high-g. You put it on your ukulele just like any other string in the 4th-string slot.

Because of a wound low-G’s thickness and stiffness, you might only need one wrap in the “tuning knot” at the bridge. Since the metal in wound strings crimps when you bend it, a single wrap will usually hold just as well.

Nut Adjustments:

Many ukulele are set up for a high-g string from the factory since this is the most common tuning, especially for budget and mid-range ukes. A “set up” means the string will sit properly in the nut at the right height over the fretboard.

If you try to put a larger low-G string in a thin, high-g nut slot, it won’t be able to fit. The string will sit up in the slot and rest too high above the fretboard. The playability of your ukulele will suffer and you’ll have to push the string further down to make it contact each fret.

To fix this, you have to file the nut slot to an appropriate width for the low-G string. Typically, you DO NOT want to increase the depth of the nut slot, just the width.

This is a simple enough change to make if you have the skills, but it’s irreversible. So make sure you’re confident before you start. Otherwise, hire someone competent to do the job.

The easiest way to do this is by tightly folding a piece of fine-grit sandpaper a number of times until its width is similar to the new string and the edge is nicely rounded.

Then, place the sandpaper file in the nut slot and gently slide it back and forth along the length of the slot. Go slowly and check the fitment of the string often to make sure you don’t sand too much.

Oftentimes wound low-G strings will fit into a stock nut slot. This is not usually the case for unwound low-Gs since they tend to be larger in diameter.

Since more and more people are transitioning to low-G, many uke companies are anticipating the use of both string types and file the nut so that it will accommodate either.

Tuning a Low-G String:

Getting the octave right on your strings can be a challenge when you are just starting out. You want to make sure you’re tuning the string to the octave it’s intended for – where it’s not floppy, but also not too tight. If you try to tune a low-G string to high-g pitch it will most likely break.

For reference, a low-G note is G3: 196hz. A high-g is G4: 392hz. Some tuner apps will tell you which octave you are in in addition to the pitch of the string. I like insTuner.

To Low-G or Not to Low-G…

Before you come to conclusions on whether you want to tune your uke with a low-G or high-g, but sure to try both. Seems obvious, but lots of people latch onto one stigma or another and take whatever they read somewhere as gospel, avoiding that other string. Always try to avoid this and form your own opinions.

If you mainly strum your ukulele, the difference between the two strings won’t – from a technical standpoint – be very noticeable. You can strum the same way with a high-g or low-G and not have to change anything about your playing. Simply answer the question: does my uke sound better with a high, tighter sound or a lower, deep one? Then string up accordingly.

However, if you spend a lot of time picking single notes or playing solo arrangements, you’ll need to rearrange your fretting patterns when switching from high-g to low-G – or vice versa. This is simply a matter of studying the intricacies of the tuning matrix and finding alternative ways to play the same notes.

A unique compromise to this dilemma is a 5-string ukulele. These instruments usually have a coursed G-string which use both low and high-g for a full, octave sound. The problem is that these strings are located very close to each other and probably canʻt be plucked separately.

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