Something Fishy? Fishing Line as Ukulele Strings | GOT A UKULELE - Learn Ukulele, beginners tips and reviews

15 May 2015

Something Fishy? Fishing Line as Ukulele Strings

OK, couldn't hold out much more on this subject, and I am seeing it cropping up more and more online these days. Something fishy has been happening at Got A Ukulele Towers... All (yes all) of my ukuleles are now strung with fishing line. You know, the stuff for... erm... fishing...


That is not actually as absurd as it sounds... read on.

You see, the thing is, most modern fishing line is made of stuff called Fluorocarbon. Heard that word before? Yes, exactly the same stuff as many ukulele strings. So I started to do a bit of research and realised that, despite what people may believe, there are not many ukulele string factories around the world making this stuff. They are, in the main,  buying their product from the makers of fishing lines. Why? Well, when fishing line makers are churning out this stuff in vast lengths, so they can justify whole factories to make it. Whilst the ukulele is popular, there just isn't enough string on every uke on the planet to match the amount that is dunked in the ocean by sea fishermen. In short - it makes sense to buy from the established factories who are already making the stuff and have the production facilities in place.



So before I get into the details of my experience, some caveats which are really important.




1. There is one brand that definitely makes it owns strings in its own factory. That brand is Aquila. Simple as that. I'm not aware of any other dedicated ukulele string factory, but am happy to be proven wrong if there is, but Aquila actually make lengths of string. I don't believe other brands do. I therefore draw no comparisons between these and Aquila - very different things.
2. I am conscious that I rarely give string recommendations to people, though that is not the intention of this post. I remain of the view that strings are a totally personal choice and I am writing this out of interest only not as a means to say 'this is the ONLY way forward'. Your mileage may vary! It's just an experiment really.
3. Likewise, this is not intended to be a post to suggest that the string brands are pulling some sort of huge conspiracy on ukulele players or trying to bash the brands. By buying lines and pre-packaging them, they are providing a hugely helpful service to people who buy strings and don't want to worry about the details like gauges or having to buy reels of the stuff at a higher lumps sum cost. As you read on you will see what I mean.
4. I have used the term 'fishing line' here as a catch all term so you know what I am talking about. Technically these are fishing 'leaders' and not the main fishing lines.

So back to the testing. I took some advice from a variety of sources, other players mainly but also read this wonderful piece from Kevin Wolfe and learned that a luthier I have the utmost respect for (Rob Collins at Tinguitar) uses them -  and decided to take the plunge. Whilst the concept of using any fluorocarbon fishing lines should work in the same way, I naturally started out with the benefit of experience of some other ukulele players who had tried some specific lines out. The brand I went with was a fishing line made by Seaguar, and in particular their 'Blue Label' line of fishing leaders. Pure fluorocarbon, looks like ukulele string, smells like ukulele string.. yadda yadda.. you get the picture. Made in Japan for fisherman is as much as I know really!

The first thing to note is this. Buying this stuff is not cheap. For good reason it is not available in ukulele lengths, but in reels of 25 metres or more. As such we are talking buying in bulk here. (Hence why I say above that the string brands are providing a valid and valuable service in making up string packs in ukulele friendly lengths). It takes a deep breath to buy that much line, but I thought for the purposes of the blog it was worth it.

Also, for me, I have quite a few ukuleles and I do change strings pretty regularly. I worked out that buying a set of five reels of string would be worth the outlay and would re-string all of my instruments several times over. As I DO spend (or have spent) a lot of money on packs of strings over the years, I thought it would pay off. I say that, what I mean is, it would pay off if they worked out for me - it was an experiment after all. So, all in all, with import costs (sadly these are not readily available in the UK where I am) the bill came to about £140 in UK in money.  It could have been cheaper but I bought more than four reels to give me some flexibility between soprano and concert scales. Either way, I have worked out that I now have about 30-40 sets of strings for my ukes that will cost me approximately £3 or less per set. Compared to the cost of strings on the general market (40 string packs would likely cost me about £300 or more), you are no doubt starting to see the savings. Why have that many sets in stock? Well, I figured that since starting with the ukulele I have probably bought that many over the years... Putting it another way, I could easily spend the amount I paid for these fishing lines on regular branded uke strings in a year.

The second thing to be aware of is choosing the right gauges. Fishing lines, naturally, don't sell their lines labelled in string tunings just so daft ukulele players can easily select them. They are sold with test breaking strengths in weights. So, following research from a number of people, including Kevin Wolfes post as linked above and a comparison of Seaguar string diameters against the handy string gauge listings on the Worth string site, I settled on a first  set of lines with test breaking strengths that matched what I thought I was looking for. What I found is that you can match breaking strengths levels that have gauges which are close (if not bang on) to the diameters of several major string brands, so I figured I would be good to go.

I would point out at this juncture that these are just the ones I went with based on research. I am NOT telling you these are the ones that will work for you. Please don't take this as some sort of gospel! At the end of the day, ukulele strings in packs differ widely and you can get different tensions in a variety of products. The lines I bought were as close a match as I could make for a fairly standard set of fluorocarbon strings.  For interest though, I have used  the following breaking strengths and list below the corresponding string positions. Some others I mention above use these, some recommend other variations. All is good! Experiment!

30lb - Soprano / Concert A string
40lb - Soprano / Concert G string or Tenor A string
50lb - Soprano / Concert E string or Tenor A or G string
60lb - Soprano / Concert C string, Tenor E  string
90lb - Tenor C string

For low G on a Tenor I have swapped the G string with 90lb test line. And before you ask, no, I have not gone into Baritone territory, but I think that would involve getting a 100-120lb line and then using  80, 60 and 50 for the others...  Of course - one can experiment with the above but generally speaking these will give the right sort of gauges and tension for the scale of uke in question.

So, with that out of the way, how have they worked out? Well, rather brilliantly I must say. For a while now I have been of the view that when it comes to fluorocarbon strings, whilst there may be differences, I think the differences are subtle. The uke and the player have far more impact on tone than whether you use on brand of fluorocarbon over another. I think that ( and no disrespect here) that a lot of it is snake oil and I would defy most people to tell the difference between most fluorocarbon strings in a blind sound test. And here's the thing. My ears cannot distinguish between these fishing lines and Worth Clear strings at all. Honestly. They sound clear, ring nice and bright, have good sustain - heck, they just work well. The only difference I have noted is these don't have a totally glossy feel on the fingers. I am not saying they are as rough on the finish as say, original Aquila Nylguts, but they are just not quite as smooth as Worth Clears. No matter, I actually like the feel to them, and they create no extraneous finger noise, so I am not worried.

In fact, I am staggered with how satisfied I am with them. Some have been on for a couple of months now and have had regular play, yet none have gone dull or snapped.  I've played at band practice with them over and over and never once thought 'what are these things'. They feel like ukulele strings! In short they make GREAT strings.

(Putting it another way, I won't have any need to buy ukulele strings for some time!)

Sound wise, I have shared this video before, but here we have a side by side comparison of some brand name strings and the same Seaguar fishing leaders - can you say one sounds worse than the other?



As a final word - I didn't write this to suggest it is wrong to buy brand name strings - as I say above, they offer a valuable service in packaging up strings without people needing to buy reels and reels of the stuff. It was interesting to experiment though and am certainly pleased! It does give some food for thought thought I think.

How they sound on my Kanile'a Tenor uke:



And finally - a side by sound comparison with Worth Brown strings on a concert ukulele



STOP PRESS - it worries me that I may get some people trying this and claiming they have damaged their instruments. I cannot see why, and have put them on my highest end instruments, but do take care with gauges, and don't put too much tension on your instruments. I think the gauges above are safe - but you go into this at your own risk!

STOP PRESS V2 - for anyone who questions why I have changed opinions  - this may explain - http://www.gotaukulele.com/2015/05/changing-tastes-and-time-sensitivity.html

STOP PRESS V3 - I have seen a few comments about these saying 'ah yes, but I bet they don't last as well as others'. I think that is nonsense - I have seen less signs of wear with them than many other strings and have kept these on several ukuleles far longer than I normally would. My report is, that nearly six months down the line, they stand up extremely well - still sound clear and resonant!

OH - and one of the most asked questions I get on this topic - where do you buy the lines. Well fishing stores (naturally) but they are also available on Amazon by CLICKING HERE or below!



33 comments :

  1. This is great Baz, is fishing line that expensive? As a former fisherman myself I don't remember it being that way, but 20 years have passed since then!

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  2. The heavy breaking strength reels get quite expensive Dave, and the shipping into the UK is the killer. But even so, makes for very cheap packs of strings!

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  3. You're probably right about the strings being mostly the same. String gauge choices are probably more different between sets than anything
    Those strings being resistant against dents is good. In my experience both martin m600s and worth ch's dent up pretty quickly on the 'a' string. But I also tend to play strings until they don't intonate properly anymore.

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  4. I've been wondering about this for some time. Thanks for posting it.

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  5. I noticed the string gauges on the floroucarbon string sets from at least two different brands match exactly the string gauges in these heavier size floro leaders. I suggest you add them to your chart in mm and inches.
    How about the nylon strings? - there are a lot more varieties there in the fishing world, and they are cheaper.

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  6. This was a one off - not a means of advising people. People need to do their own experiments really as ukuleles and taste differ. But I havent touched nylon as I don't like nylon strings.

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  7. Wow, they sound great! I'm curious about your choice to use heavier strings on the tenor. Are commercially sold tenor strings usually thicker? If so, I hadn't realized it. Thanks for a very compelling test of these strings!

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  8. Generally, yes they are Keith - longer scales need more gauge to get to tune.

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  9. Hi Barry,

    I have read quite a few articles and forum discussions about using fishing leader line for ukulele and classical guitar strings and several string brand names crop up repeatedly. I might have misunderstood, but I read the comment by "Anonymous" above as suggesting that quoting the string gauges in mm and inches, alongside the breaking strengths, would allow comparison with a wider range of string brands.

    I like all the caveats in your article. The first one asks for suggestions for other brands that make strings in their own factory. This comment was made on a Facebook Group this week by Norman May, who used to own Stringbusters: "D'Addario don't buy in fishing line, D'Addario extrude their own fluorocarbon to meet instrument string quality control needs." I don't know if that means that they make the strings in their own factory or if they pay someone else to do it for them. I also don't know if it means that the strings themselves are significantly different from strings made from "bought in" fishing leader line.

    When I first came across articles and forum discussions about using fishing leader line, I was inclined to think that the main difference between different brands of fluorocarbon strings must be in the packaging. Now I am less sure about that.

    The reason for that is that there is one popular "quality" brand that I have tried on every ukulele I have got. I know it is all down to personal preference but so far I have not liked them enough to leave them on any ukulele for more than a month and sometimes for less than a week. Each time I have thought, it is just a question of getting used to them, but I never do. I have also picked up and played other people's ukuleles (with their permission or by invitation!) and, without knowing at the time what strings they had fitted, not liked them. My ears do not like them and my hands do not like them.

    I am not saying which brand they are because that is not the point - someone else might love them. It does make me wonder though if some fluorocarbon string brands are more distinctive than others.

    Finally, something struck me when I looked at your video. In the YouTube sidebar of "Up Next" videos was this one: "Fake Seaguar Fluorocarbon Fishing Line from china".

    I have come across references to fake Aquila strings (made of fluorocarbon) either pre-fitted to cheap, gaudy ukuleles from China or on sale at prices that are too good to be true. I don't know if there are fakes of other brands of ukulele strings out there. However, if anyone is thinking of buying a load of fishing leader line then it might be as well to know that there is fake stuff out there, with the breaking strengths being less than as advertised on the packets.

    Best wishes,
    Liz

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  10. Thanks Liz - you may be right about D'Addario - but marketing speak is a funny thing! I am fairly certain that Worth are indeed Seaguar but can't be totally sure about it - Robin suggests they are in his video.

    But for me it's this - yes, I do think there are variances between fluorocarbons - but I just don't think they are actually that huge. My playing has more impact on strings. As I say, others mileage may vary so this wasn't a post to tell everyone that these are the only game in town - far from it. Just so happened that they worked for me.

    Good call on the fake stuff too - thankfully I bought mine from a reputable fishing store.

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  11. I have to admit that the fishing lines sound pretty good - although there's no other brand to compare them to in the video, of course.

    Anyway: Remember your review about Ken's living water strings? "Wow! Honestly, wow! It felt like I was playing a different ukulele!", you wrote after putting them on your Kanile'a.

    And you even heard a difference between the new Aquila Lava edition although Aquila claims that they're exactly the same as the pearly ones.

    ...and suddenly all strings or at least all fluorocarbons sound the same to you? Oh, come one. ;-)



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  12. Ludwig - yeah - you see - things change, tastes change, my playing style has changed. In the last 9 months I have still been testing loads of strings (as they get sent to me for opinions) and I started to find that I wasn't noticing much difference between them to my own ears any more. I used to despise Aquila strings, but lately I have found them ok too. I can't explain that, but that is how it has been for me. Oh - and there IS a side by side comparison in the first video on this post - between D'addarios, Aquilas and Seaguar fishing leaders. Same uke, same player, same pieces of music. I can tell a difference, but I would be hard pressed to say one was 'better' than the other. And I think that is my point.

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  13. Actually, I think, in the side by side comparison as well, the fishing lines sound pretty awesome.

    By the way: Have you changed any of your recording settings? I really do think you Kanile'a sounds awesome in your video.

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  14. If anything, this is a lesser quality sound recording as I didn't plug in the USB mic for this one - all my videos are recorded on a Mac - and this used built in microphone.

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  15. Nylon is not the same as fluorocarbon, both are used for fishing line as well as musical strings, and both have pros and cons in both fields of use.

    A monofilament wire extrudor (and gauge finisher) isn't that rare or expensive, and I believe most musical string manufactors have one. d'Addario most certainly has such a line on its premises in Farmingdale NY. In fact, d'Addario even prefers to do as much in-house as possible, that it even prints its own packages. Pyramid also has an monofilament extrusion line. I'm not sure about Martin or Worth. Considering Worth, I even think they don't since the CEO himselves declares that he started out in 2002 by buying in large amount of fluorocarbon and testing it.

    A sidenote: even Aquila isn't just a 'ukulele string manufacturer', Mimmo makes a whole menu of strings in different materials and gauges for different instruments. He doesn't however make any in either nylon or fluorocarbon but uses other mixes for his monofilament. (And he also still makes real gut strings as well!). That's why his strings would make lousy fishing line: too stiff, too visible.

    So back to the question: are nylon strings a more expensive repackaging of fishing line? Yes and no, I'd say. The materials and production technique are basically the same, and Worth even worked that way. But for repackaging shorter lengths, and marketing them, the price of a ukulele string package is probably right. If you really want to string up 30-40 ukuleles, buy the strings in bulk instead of seperate packages, and you'll notice that the price will drop to the level of that of fishing line.

    The only reason why I ever bought fishing line, was for very thin sopranino strings, and George Hinchliffe uses them for his high E string in a mandolin tuning.

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  16. Interesting Karl. Though the point to the post was not really to suggest that they are a viable alternative for everyone - just an experiment

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  17. Interesting stuff. It's kind of irrelevant if they are made in-house or bought in from a fishing line manufacturer, really. If they are 100% flourocarbon, then they are exactly the same thing, regardless of maker (or the intended use!) Of course the gauges may be different from one string company to another. As Baz says, it's not a bad thing at all if companies buy in lengths and repackage it in nice sensible lengths and gauges to sell to uke players at a reasonable price. I suppose string manufacturers doing it in-house could claim to have better quality control, tighter tolerances, etc. or at least be able to guarantee those things, but I suspect that sea fishman are just as likely to reject badly made line as uke players are to reject badly made strings!

    One thing to watch for is that some fishing leader has a softer outer layer (designed to help knots tied in the line to hold), which would make for a very bad ukulele string!

    We are spoilt for choice nowadays (I sound like a right old git!), but when I started playing, all you could get in the UK, if you were very, very lucky, were GHS black nylon (or Aquilas if you knew one of the two people in the UK who imported them!) and I've not been playing as long as many people. I've read stories of people using gut violin strings (in fact I had an old uke tutor book that suggested using them), or whatever else they could get hold of.

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  18. Just spotted this Kickstarter to fund importing some Seaguar line into the UK to cut up and supply as ukulele string sets:
    https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/411434397/ukulele-strings-seaguar-blue-label/
    Best wishes,
    Liz

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  19. I recently purchased a Deering Goodtime Banjo Uke with a concert scale (15"). I'm trying to tune it as a mandolin and have had some success with Aquila Soprano Uke strings tuned in fifths. The high E breaks quite easily and I wonder if anyone has suggestions for a better test fishing line that would stand the tension? Ideally I would like to know gauges or test strengths for all of the strings. Thanks!

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  20. I'm sure you know George Hinchliffe has done this for years. Don't you?

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  21. Yes I did - wasn't sure what brand though

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  22. Hi Barry,

    My wife has started playing uke (yay!), and she's working on fingerstyle, with a strong interest in classical, particularly Bach. She says some of the pieces work best with low G tuning, and all my ukes are re-entrant. (And I'm using fishing line for all my strings, now, happily.) I have a concert Fluke that I'd like to make my low G uke, and wonder if the 60-pound line would work for that. Thanks, and thanks for this great review/test!

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    1. In the notes, Barry said he used 90lb as low G or C.

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  23. Hello Barry
    I am thinking of buying Berkley fishline for my ukuleles but of course I am not sure that it will work. Is there anybody under your followers who have expierience with this brand ?
    Greetings from Dick and keepmupnthe good work !

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    1. Hi Dick - good to hear from you. I haven't used Trilene myself but will leave this up for others to comment: I do recall reading once that someone tried and there were issues with the longevity - but I can't put my finger on where I read that!

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  24. I'm still getting my strings free on Colwyn Bay beach.

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  25. Confused. You stated 90 lb for Low G on tenor, but what about Soprano/Concert?
    Say I am outfitting a Low G concert, I would need 30, 50, 60 and 90lb?

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  26. Fair point - I just dont tend to put low G's on Concerts. For a concert - I think you would do better to go down a bit - an 80lb string probably - but bear in mind all of these are just a guide that work for me - not gospel

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  27. Hi. Have you tried these on your Bruko no6?

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  28. I sold my 6 a while ago - but have them on my number 9!

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  29. Hi Barry Steve Evans here from Beltona.When I grew up in New Zealand playing the uke , fishing line was all there was and you tell that to the young folk today.....
    An interesting subject,uke strings. All the years I have made ukes I have always favoured Hilo strings. They were black Dupont material sized and polished and packaged simply by Bob Gleason in Hawaii. The price was around $3.50 a set. He was still making money at that price and selling a wide range of gauges and covering all uke types Sadly he was driven out of the market by big brands selling less choice for way more money. Could never figure that one. People wanted to pay more for packaging and less choice of gauges but they tell us that the market is always right don't they?

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  30. Thanks Steve! That's really interesting - and yes, I agree. I actually think the endless string debates these days are largely pointless and people just seem to get a thrill from changing strings every time a new package comes out. Personally, I prefer to avoid it!

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