THE EFS & KIKU GUILELE STRING SETS

This edition of String Tips is about a recent entry into the “Ukulele” world.  While these instruments go by more than one name, we'll call them "Guileles" (easier to say).  The tie to the Ukulele is in fact tenuous, as these are true six course instruments, not four course.  That doesn’t mean there isn’t potential for such instruments; so we’ve designed what we feel are string sets that make them truly viable as an acoustic instrument that a serious player might actually consider.  To write about these tunings we’ll need to use standard notation.  While it’s very intuitive, if you need a chart reference, you can find find one on the Terminology page (click here) - there’s even a Tips letter that fully defines its theory with advice on a way to easily remember how to write with it yourself (click here).     With the Guilele, we’re speaking of the same string layout as on a 6-string guitar - except it’s on an Ukulele-sized body.  The conventional tuning for the more common 17” scale instrument is like a guitar, but 5 steps up.  Using standard notation, that typical tuning would be: A - d - g - c' - e' - a' .  The appeal of these instruments was first to guitar players who wanted a compact travel instrument.   With that intent in mind the compromises that the wide deep range of the stringing entails don’t matter at all.  The important point of such an instrument is compact portable size, not sound.  And with that function, the difference in pitch with the standard Guilele doesn’t matter either;  the need to transpose only exists if it were truly being played as a guitar.  If it's only a solo practice instrument, then you can ignore transposing and just play it with the same chord shapes as a normal guitar.   However there's also an appeal with these instruments for Ukulele players, as the size and scale are that of a Tenor Ukulele, and the 1st 4 strings are the same as an Ukulele linear C tuning.  Thus, it can be played with the standard Ukulele chord chord names and these put it in pitch with any C tuned Ukulele.  Ukulele players, will need to incorporate two extra strings into their playing, but many seem to welcome that challenge.   The limitations of an instrument like this are pretty much what you would expect.  It's inevitable acoustics will suffer with a linear tuning that spans two octaves on a body so small.  What happens with the “standard” tuning is that 2 of the 6 strings end up pitched below a Tenor Ukulele's usual body resonance.  A guitar only does this with the 6th string, so the Guilele will have a muddier bottom end, even with the higher tuning.  Of course you can always work around bad acoustics by amplifying an instrument, and it seems most, if not all these models come ready to plug in.   One other issue is with the strings.  The 5th & 6th strings are, of course, heavier than what you would put on a standard Ukulele - they're often 5th & 6th strings from a classical guitar.  Those are the least responsive strings on a classical guitar, and the most difficult to play because of their girth.  Unfortunately, when you try to manage them on the 8" shorter scale of a Guilele, those characteristics are magnified.  Thick strings are easier to handle on a long scale.   So we wanted to see if there could be a solution to these issues, and we think we have some nice options - ones that make the Guilele more pleasurable to play, and makes it a viable acoustic instrument at the same time.   **************************   We turn to the traditional remedy for a small lightly built wood bodied instrument - reentrant tuning.  This was a common arrangement for the Renaissance guitar, an instrument much closer to Ukulele size than the modern Classical guitar.   A reentrant tuning brings the notes into a closer range.  Put the notes into a closer range, and you can start to look at both better acoustics and more enjoyable and responsive strings.   One reentrant form works like a dream on the Guilele.  It comes from the Tenor Guitar and is named for its inventor, Eddie Freeman.  Eddie worked with the Selmer Guitar Company in France in the 20s and 30s to create the legendary Eddie Freeman Special  Tenor Guitars.  We used that form extensively with our beautiful, but sadly discontinued sets for 5ths tuning; more information on Eddie Freeman himself can be found in the Tips archive in the “5ths Tuning on the Ukulele” letter, (click here).   The Eddie Freeman Special, or EFS tuning as we'll call it, is a "mid-reentrant" form.  On a 4-string instrument, the 2nd string would drop an octave.  With six strings, it is the 3rd string that becomes reentrant and goes an octave down.  Or you could just as easily look at this arrangement as having the 6th through 4th strings an octave up.  We now offer arrangements that can be tuned to two different fixed pitches for the two standard sizes of 6-string Guileles currently being offered.  For the more common 17” scale Tenor Ukulele bodied instruments, instead of A - d - g - c' - e' - a' one of our arrangements gives a - d’ - g’ - c' - e' - a'.  We have a more “true guitar-based” option as well.  Fixed notes there, instead of E - A - d - g - b - e’  would be e - a - d’ - g - b - e’.  And there are 20” scale Guilele models now as well.  The deeper  e to e’  tuning is also offered for that scale. In using the EFS form on the Guileles, two of the three sets we have put together actually give 6 fully resonant notes on both sized bodies.  These would be the  a to a’  tuning for Tenor sized bodies and the  e to e’  tuning for a typical Baritone sized body.  We've always felt that on 4-stringed instruments, 4 fully resonant notes are vital to good acoustic sound.   With these set-ups all 6 notes ring out clearly. The third option we have is for an  e to e’  tuning for Tenor sized bodies.  Here you you have five of the six notes with full resonance.  The exception would be the 6th string e note.  Still, the 6th string classical guitar has the same situation with its below resonance 6th string.  It seems a compromised note on one of six strings is a much better situation than, for example what you’d hear on one note out of four.  It’s a limitation that will be acceptable for many. For some reason, in spite of the fact that the Ukulele’s most accomplished melody players use a reentrant form, there is a perception that a reentrant arrangement is best suited for strumming.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Here is a “field recording” by Tor Bekken (the Doctor) playing an EFS set-up on a standard sized Guilele.  Picking is obviously a great part of the playing here, and the chording is tremendously effective as well. ************************************************ In addition to the EFS set-up, we also offer a variant called “Kiku tuning”.  Kiku comes from an Hawaiian expression meaning “independent spirit”, and is used by an accomplished player from the islands named Zanuck Lindsey.  With this set-up the 4th string is an octave lower, making the bottom 4 strings like a 4-string linear Ukulele arrangement rather than those strings being in the reentrant Ukulele arrangement you have with the EFS set-up.  So for the the tunings would be a - d’ - g - c' - e' - a' instead of the EFS stringing of  a - d’ - g’ - c' - e' - a' for a to a’ tuning;   e - a - d - g - b - e’  instead of  e - a - d’ - g - b - e’  for  e to e’. On the Tenor bodied Guilele, even with the dropped 4th string, “Kiku” a to a’  is still usually a fully resonant tuning.  The g note may be your only concern (for a method to check your instruments resonance, see the Tunings page).  For the 20” Baritone bodied Guilele, the 4th string in e to e’ is no longer fully resonant.  But as with  e to e’  EFS tuning on Tenor bodies it is only one string out of six.  The most problematic of the Kiku set-ups is  e to e’  on a Tenor body.  The dropped 4th string means that unlike the EFS set-up, now neither the 6th nor 4th strings will be fully resonant.  In other words, with only four of six strings ringing out clearly, you now start to enter the world of typical linear Guilele tuning where the sound is muddier than a true guitar.  Still the strings are not as thick as guitar strings, and if you are playing it amplified, that makes it a much better “guitar tuning” than what you’d have with the monstrous strings required for a linear arrangement on that short a scale.  Here is Zanuck playing a Kiku set- up on a Tenor sized body in the  e  to e’  tuning.  He plays it beautifully - it sounds great;  but bear in mind he’s playing amplified.  And amplified, as opposed to acoustic, will likely be the preferred use for most players with this one set-up. While each player will find his own preference for each arrangement, we can say in general that what you hear in these two selections will be a good indication of typical usage.  As with reentrant versus linear 4 string tuning, the reentrant arrangement on strings 1-4 of the EFS is one that most will find better suited to fast picking, chord melody and improvisation, while there is a bit deeper sound with Kiku which many find pleasing on ballads and slower, melodic pieces.  And while chords sound good on both, the EFS chording will more often give sweeter sounding inversions.  The make-up of these sets is as follows.  For EFS sets in Medium & Heavy Gauges the wound strings are the 6th, 5th & 3rd.  The 5th & 3rd are the same hand wound, hand polished material found in the W3 series.  With the Extra Heavy Gauges, the 2nd string is also W3 wound material.  In all instances. the 6th string is a more traditional high density polished wound string.  With a Kiku set-up, the 4th string is also high density wound & polished. In settling on the W3 material as most often appropriate for balance in sound and feel, it also seemed best to now offer this stringing as “Add-Ons” to the 4-string W3 sets.  During the formulation process any W3 set offered was also tested to be compatible with these 6-string Add-ons.  So look look EFS & Kiku options on the “Ukulele Sets - W3 Series” page.  One thing to note, however.  With the EFS Add-On you’ll simply receive the extra wound 5th & 6th strings - you’ll have six strings in total.  But with the Kiku Add-On you’ll have seven total strings.  We won’t pull the standard plain 4th string - it’s not a big component in the price.  The  “Add-Ons” for the Kiku option will consist of wound strings for the 6th, 5th and 4th.  But as those ordering this option will still receive the plain EFS 4th with the wound Kiku 4th as well, they can try both configurations to see which they prefer. To find these sets click below: