For some time now I felt a bit guilty about my views on Aquila. You see, I really have never got on well with their standard Nylgut strings on this musical instrument. I just never liked the tone or feel, but still, recognised what a great company they are. I was therefore very interested to see their new launch of a brand new product, only very recently available in uke stores. Their 'Lava' brand of new Nylguts.
|Aquila Lava Ukulele Strings|
Before we take a look, some housekeeping that will be old news to regular readers of my stuff. I don't recommend particular strings to others for one simple reason - they are a totally personal choice. The only person who's opinion on strings matters is the player who is playing them. It's simple really - we all have different ukes (mostly) but more importantly we have different playing styles, ears and musical tastes. What I like may not be what you like, and what you like may not suit me. BUT THAT IS COOL. As such, this is not a 'review' as such, but just an opportunity to tell you about this new string formula. What I say about older Aquilas or indeed these new ones should not be taken as the gospel!
So looking back at the older ones, what was my gripe? Well, it was simple really. I fully accepted that they worked wonders on cheaper laminate wood ukes with the power they are capable of at driving those thicker tops. But I don't really own or play a lot of ukes in that category, and I always found them a little too over powering, and capable of sounding overly bright and boomy. Add to that, the fact that I really didn't like their telltale 'rough' feeling on the fingertips and in short, I started looking at others. These days I pretty much solely play a variety of fluorocarbon strings which suit me well. (As I say - your choice is not wrong, whatever it may be!).
There was another gripe though, and nothing that puts any blame on Aquila... I just get completely sick at the ongoing myth I see online where people claim that they are the 'best strings'. In my view the only best string is the string you like best! Don't let people tell you there is one best string, and in the same way don't let anyone tell you that your string preferences are wrong.
In 2014 though I did have a short test with their new 'super nylgut' range and was pleasantly surprised at the changes. Gone was the roughness and the whole thing seemed calmed down a little. New for 2015 is this 'Lava' version of the same new strings, but (as may have been given away by the name) - they are not white but black.
Just another admission here, I don't (like some) choose my strings based on colour. I often see the endless debates that go on online where people fight like cat and dog over what is better - Worth Clear or Worth Brown, and I honestly defy anyone to really tell any major difference between them. No, I choose my strings based on how they sound and feel to me, and the colour matters not one bit. So what about these?
Well, contradicting that viewpoint somewhat, these do look extremely cool. I used the word 'black' above, but really they are a kind of dark graphite grey which looks great I think. The (sublime as always) packaging tells me that the colour comes from adding Mother Of Pearl to the mix. I had no idea Mother Of Pearl was inherently black in colour but there you go. I do like them, and they are certainly different from anything else on the market I can think of. On closer inspection, they also differ from the original matte finish Nylguts in the way that SuperNylguts do - they are opaque but glossy on the finish. As always with Aquila they come in colour coded slip wallets in the packaging as other Aquilas meaning no confusion in putting them on.
For this test I am mainly looking at their Tenor strings, though they come in other regular scales too. For now though, I have been testing the Tenors in both Low G and regular re-entrant G varieties.
For the Low G set, I installed these on a Pono MTD solid mahogany uke - a tenor I usually keep strung in low G tuning. Sorry Aquila, but massive disappointment to see that the low G string was not in the classy black, but was a wound G string. Basically, low G strings come in two flavours - either thicker regular strings, or strings wound with a metal winding.
|Note - the Low G is NOT black!|
This is the latter, and it's not something I have ever got on with. You see, I find the wound strings not only generate string noise as the fingers slide on the windings (as these do) but I also find they naturally sound louder than the other unwound strings and can take over the mix in strumming (as these do!). Not for me at all, but your mileage may vary. But let's leave that to one side - not everyone even goes down the low G route, so it would be unfair to judge the whole line based on this. Please though Aquila - a regular unwound low G would be appreciated!
Otherwise the glossy feel is a lot nicer on the hands than the regular Nylguts and I am impressed with the tone. They still kind of sound like Aquilas, but with the intensity (but not volume) turned down a touch. They sound warmer to my ears than the regular strings and very similar to the SuperNylguts I played last year. In fact - is there any difference to the other Super Nylguts apart from colour? They claim there is, but I can't hear it. That is not a criticism though, as these are night and day compared to the regular Nylguts I couldn't get on with.
|Note the glossy look|
What about their tendency to boom when I played them though - has that changed? Well, I thought I would test the regular tenor set on a uke that really exposed the booming I had experienced with their regular range so threw a set on a Fluke Tenor uke from the Magic Fluke Co. Ahh, my trusty battered Fluke.. as you can see from the pictures!
|On the battered old Fluke|
Generally speaking the tone is improved, and it's nice to lose the string noise, but I do still question whether they are a touch overpowered. I wouldn't say they boom as much, but on strumming they do get a little confused and muddy with not as much separation between the strings. I never found Aquila were a string to 'chime like a bell' but there is still a touch of muddiness. I don't sense it as much on the Pono, so perhaps you could say it is down to the Fluke body. It was certainly the case with the original Aquila strings to my ears, and these are much better, but there is still something there that troubles me. Thankfully though they sound great on the Pono and on either uke they sound far sweeter than any other Aquila string I've played when fingerpicked.
One last thing I will say about them - they take an age to stretch and settle it seems. I know all uke strings can take time but these really do seem to take longer than any other brands I am using at the moment. Not a huge criticism, just an observation.
All in all I take my hat off to the brand. They don't sit still and this sort of development does seem to show that they listen to opinions and are working to improve their lines. Can we ask any more of any brand? And let us not forget, Aquila actually make these strings, which, if you believe the allegations, is not the case with a lot of Fluorocarbon strings which come from fishing line manufacturers.
I don't think these are quite enough to move me away from my current string choices, but as I say, your mileage may vary. They may well grow on me, and I really hope they do. That's the thing with strings in any case - not only are they a personal choice, but the strings I like and play today are different from those I liked five year ago - tastes change.
So whilst I will not tell you what you should play, if this article makes you give them a try, then I have done my job. You may like them, you may not, but as I say there is no 'best' string. I will add to that - there ARE however some 'bad' strings (usually those on cheap as you like toy ukuleles) but these are NOT bad strings.
Check out the video below to have a listen (for what its worth) and thanks to Sutherland Trading on behalf of Kala and Aquila for sending me the samples to test out.
© Barry Maz