THE EXTRA HEAVY GAUGE UKULELE SET

This edition of String Tips is about another entry into our line of "Ukulele Strings".  While most of our strings are for Ukuleles, we've always used that term "Ukulele Strings" (as opposed to "Linear Strings", for example) for the category of the "high reentrant" or “high 4th” arrangement that has been associated with the Ukulele since its earliest days.  As you might imagine, this “Extra Heavy” set will generally allow deeper tunings, and though it is at home on the biggest of 4-stringers, the impetus for creating this set actually comes from the Tenor.   When the Tenor Ukulele first came into being, the common Ukulele reentrant form was naturally applied to it as well.  What a lot of today's players may not know, was that the original tuning for the Tenor was not a reentrant Key of C, as is so often used today, but a reentrant G.  In other words, the tuning was d' g  b  e'.   That tuning didn't last long, and there were a couple of reasons.  First, the stringing for that low a range of notes on that short a scale was less than ideal.  In those days of gut, a plain 3rd string would have been atrocious, so an unpolished wound string was used.  Even the 2nd string, however, needed to be heavy; but to avoid too dead a note on that string, the approach was simply to use a lighter gauge 2nd string.  With that tensions throughout had to be pretty loose: sloppy Soprano-like would be a good description. That tension wasn't all that killed the tuning.  Players coming from the smaller instruments were used to lower tension.  What they weren't used to was the sound.  The Tenor Ukulele was actually the music industry’s first attempt at an Ukulele in "guitar tuning", and for Ukulele players used to the bright tones of the smaller instruments, the difference was dramatic.  For awhile, the tuning moved up into an intermediate range - B flat or A.  Cliff "Ukulele Ike" Edwards was the most famous player to use these intermediate set-ups, and a Tenor Ukulele is very much at home there, both in terms of acoustics and stringing.  Still most Tenor Ukulele bodies are capable of full resonance in the lower reentrant G tuning; the 3rd string, a g note, after all is the same as the 4th string used in a Linear C tuning.  That set-up is now gaining ground on reentrant C tuning for Tenors, in no small part because of the depth of that low note.  At one time, we were the only real option for the original Tenor tuning.  We introduced a number of sets for reentrant G tuning on the Baritone, and the heavier of these are the two Heavy Gauge sets.  They come either with or without a wound 3rd.  While newer materials today give us more clarity than with the early Tenor sets, these Heavy Gauge sets are closer to normal tension on the 19-20" standard Baritone scale.  While they are playable on the 17" Tenor scale, they are still lower in tension than many players would prefer.  The Extra Heavy Gauge set takes care of that problem.  Don't let the term "Extra Heavy" worry you in regards to tension.  As with any gauges, a set only has a high tension if you string it to a higher Key than it is recommended for.  This set will have have only a slightly firm feel in G tuning on a 17" scale, but nothing extraordinary.  To get these tensions, and still have a clear and balanced tone, however, we've gone to a double wound configuration.  These are new low density polished strings for low noise under hand, that at the same time are not overbearing in regards to sustain.  Girth on these strings is also very similar to what a plain string would be. But for more normal tension in this setting, a plain 3rd, as with the Heavy Gauge Sets, is just no longer an option.  The wound 3rd is now a necessity.  The other strings in the set, of course, also need more tension, meaning heavier gauges.  The wound 2nd also becomes a necessity at this point, both for balance in tone and a good transition between the 3rd & 2nd. The result of the unique configuration, as you might imagine, is a unique sound.  The sound you would generally expect from an Ukulele reentrant form is one with bright trebles, and often a softer, quickly dying sound from the bass notes.  With this set, the plain "outside" strings, or trebles, are heavier than a lighter gauge set, and as such they have a somewhat warmer sound.  In their latest edition, however, higher density material keeps them from sounding too muted.  Compared to a traditional plain string reentrant set, these "inside" W3 formula strings, or bass notes, with their clearer sound, tilt the balance somewhat toward the bass.  Yet both tone and sustain are actually much more equal across the board than you would ever get from a plain string set.  ******************************************* We mentioned at the outset that these strings would also be a great sounding option for the larger 4-string instruments.  One thing to realize, however, is that G tuning with these strings will simply be too taught for most tastes at the 19-20” scale of a standard Baritone.  You’ll need to back off a bit, down to around an F tuning at maximum.  This range of notes, however, in the Ukulele reentrant form, is still fully resonant on a typical Baritone body.  With instruments of a 23” scale, normal tension falls in the range of tunings like E flat and D (an octave below where you would tune on a Soprano), but with a moderate tension, this set can also serve as an “Octave C” tuning set on a 23” scale - or in other words as a “bass” rhythm tuning, an octave below modern Ukulele pitch.  And the Tenor/Parlour Guitar bodies usually found on these instruments handle the 3rd string low c note, making this a fully resonant note on a Classical Tenor Guitar. This sort of sound is what you heard in the latter stages of the career of the late great Eddie Kamae.  He almost always appeared with his double puka 4-string Parlor Guitar bodied instrument, and while most recordings show him using it for rhythm (as at right) his picking was wonderful to hear as well. The Extra Heavy Gauge Ukulele set is found at the bottom of the W3 Ukulele sets page, here:  http://www.southcoastukes.com/uku-w3.htm