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... On a musical instrument...
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 couple of luthiers I have the utmost respect for (Rob Collins at Tinguitar and Mike DaSilva) use 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 some of 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 and / or high G
40lb - Soprano / Concert G string or Tenor A string
50lb - Soprano / Concert E string or Tenor A or G string
60lb / 70lb - Soprano / Concert C string, Tenor E string
80lb - 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. You really need to experiment though.
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!)
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 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!
© Barry Maz