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I got an Ukulele as a gift. I am not a ukulele music fan, and I dislike its tuning scheme, but I like the fact that it is lightweight, small and soft enough for my kid to tinker with it, and I would like to try some songs made for the cavaquinho on it. The question, If I put the G string in position 2, C string in position 4 and E string in position 3, can I tune it as 4:D, 3:G, 2:B, 1:D, like a cavaquinho? Will the strings tear from the extra tension, or its neck bend over time? Trading it for a cavaquinho would be the best solution, but I really liked the softness of the ukulele's strings.

  • I've updated my answer with string gauges. – Alphonso Balvenie Aug 20 '17 at 20:03
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You will have to change the string gauges to tune up that high, but yes, it can be done. I have more information in my answer to a similar question:

Can I tune a banjolel to DGBE?

EDIT:

I ran the maths on the string tensions for a tuning of DGBE at the 4th octave for the DGB and 5th for the E. The Ukulele tension of the strings has a range from low tension to a higher tension: (in Kg, 1st string is highest)

  • 1st string: 3.5 - 5.5 kg
  • 2nd string: 3.2 - 5.3
  • 3rd string: 3.1 - 5.6
  • 4ths string 3.4 - 6.7

This puts the gauges available (in 100's of an inch):

  • E (1st) .014 - .018
  • B (2nd) .018 - .023
  • G (3rd) .023 - .029
  • D (4th) .031 - .040

Both D'Addario and Savarez sell nylon string singles in various gauges, so you should be able to find strings in each range. You'll probably have to experiment to find what tensions you prefer.

  • So, I get a feeling I should get strings for a Tenor or Baritone Uke in order to get the higher notes without adding too much tension. I'm writing up a tutorial and will post it here. But I need to know if the unit weight is a constant of the relaxed string or if it is a measure that decreases with higher tensions. Daddario only provides the UW for the guitar strings in their tension guide. – Benari Aug 15 '17 at 21:45
  • the unit weight is a constant of the string, literally determined by its mass. String cores are wound with metal to make them heavier without making them too large, which is why you have wound strings on the low end of Nylon string guitars. – Alphonso Balvenie Aug 17 '17 at 0:46
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I followed Alphonso's steps on the banjolele's similar solution. Comparing the strings of all ukulele's sizes using D'Addarios string tension data as a reference, the string type that could be tuned to these notes with minimal tension (among standard ukulele sizes and classic guitar) would be the Concert Ukulele strings. Taking the formula:

T(Tension) = (UW x (2 x L x F)^2)/386.4

we can see that the tension (in pounds) of a particular string will grow like this:

Tension (new tuning) = Tension (Default tuning) * (L * F)²/(L0 * F0)²

where F is the frequency to which we are tuning the open string, L the arm's length in inches, F0 the string's default tuning frequency (Hz) and L0 the arm length for which the string was designed.

I made a spreadsheet using values from D'Addario's J65 series

The tensions with default tuning, using D'Addario's J65S strings is:

G 10,78
C 7,5
E 9,65
A 10

If I just re ordered the Ukes original J65S strings to minimise the added tension and tuned them in DGBD, the tensions would be:

D   9,4535228253
G   13,6497608163
B   17,1060130102
D   17,82225

This nearly doubles the stress on the three first strings. The lowest tension I could get was with the J65C concert Uke strings:

D 6,9018279443
G 7,871173473
B 9,8327838235
D 13,91632569

The Tenor also gives tensions that are not that high or too low either (still, too much tension on string 1)

D 7,4241883996
G 8,5543305789
B 11,0476219633
D 14,801918226

The increased stress on the 1st string is still too high. Therefore, it does not look like the 1st string will stay tuned like this for very long, to say the least. So, better get a cavaquinho or learn to play the uke with its default tuning.

There may be other strings in the market, but those strings used as examples were chosen for their ubiquity and detail rich specifications.

  • 1
    I'm coming back to this question with more info when I have time, but when I've done tuning changes on an instrument I usually buy the strings in the individual gauges necessary. Some string manufacturers sell them this way for that reason, especially for Ouds and other instruments that have many different tuning schemes. Classical Guitar strings can be used, they are just very long. I think one of my technicians did a uke conversion like this, and if I can get the string gauges I'll post them. – Alphonso Balvenie Aug 17 '17 at 0:50

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