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How to Restring Your Ukulele

Jennifer Wilber works as an ESL instructor, substitute teacher, and freelance writer. She holds a B.A. in Creative Writing and English.

How to Change the Strings on Your Ukulele

How to Change the Strings on Your Ukulele

How Often Should You Change Your Ukulele Strings?

How often you need to change the strings on your ukulele will depend on how often you play and the quality of the strings you use. Some players change their strings every couple of weeks, while others find they can go several months before needing to restring their instrument.

You will know its time to restring your ukulele when its tone starts to sound duller and less vibrant and bright. You may also notice that the strings don’t feel as smooth as they once did, and that you can feel small nicks, bumps, or grooves on the strings.

Aquila Lava strings for soprano ukulele, outside of packaging. The inner packaging is color coded to prevent mix ups.

Aquila Lava strings for soprano ukulele, outside of packaging. The inner packaging is color coded to prevent mix ups.

What Strings Should You Use?

The strings you prefer are a matter of personal opinion. Try a variety of different strings until you find the ones you like best. Many players prefer Aquila strings. Aquila offers a variety of different types of strings to suit different players needs. (For this restringing, I chose Aquila Lava strings for both ukes that I needed to restring, because they supposedly have the same sound properties as Aquila’s Super Nylgut strings, but were just slightly cheaper, and I wanted to see how the black would look after only using white strings before.)

Be sure you select strings designed for your ukulele. Ukulele strings are made for a specific type of uke: soprano, concert, tenor, or baritone. Also, be sure to select strings for your preferred tuning. While most ukulele players use the standard high G tuning, others prefer to have a low G instead of a high G. You will need different strings for these different tunings.

You need you ukulele, new strings, a string winder (optional), a wirecutter (string winder with built-in string cutter shown), and a tuner (option, not pictured here)

You need you ukulele, new strings, a string winder (optional), a wirecutter (string winder with built-in string cutter shown), and a tuner (option, not pictured here)

What You Need

You will, of course, need your uke, the new strings, and a couple other useful tools to restring your ukulele:

  1. Your ukulele
  2. New Strings
  3. String cutter (wire cutters or sharp scissors work too if you don’t have a string cutter)
  4. String winder (optional – some string winders have an attached string cutter)
  5. Electronic tuner (optional)
  6. Trash can for used strings and excess parts you will trim
  7. A table or other flat surface to work
dolphin-shaped tie-bar bridge (top left), more normal-shaped tie-bar bridge (top right), and standard bridge (bottom)

dolphin-shaped tie-bar bridge (top left), more normal-shaped tie-bar bridge (top right), and standard bridge (bottom)

Tips Before You Start

  • Before getting started, determine whether your ukulele has a standard bridge or tie-bar bridge. A couple of the steps are slightly different, depending on what type of bridge your uke has.
    • On standard bridges, the ends of the strings will be hidden under the bridge and strung through small holes on the bridge, with knots holding them on (similar to the balls on guitar strings).
    • On tie-bar bridges, you will see that the strings are tied onto the bridge.
  • It is best to change one string at a time so that you don’t get confused about which string goes where and to you can look at the other strings as a reference guide to help you with the one you are currently changing.
Loosening the string is quicker with a string winder.

Loosening the string is quicker with a string winder.

Step 1: Loosen the String and Remove it from the Tuning Peg

Loosen the first string until it is loose enough to slide off the tuning peg. You may wish to use a string winder if you have one to make this process quicker. If you aren’t sure which way to turn the tuning peg, pluck the string. If the pitch gets lower as you turn the peg, it is getting looser. You can also rest a finger on the string to see if the slack on the string is increasing as you turn the peg.

Once it is loose enough to remove, carefully and gently pull it off the peg. Depending on how it is attached, you may want to carefully cut the string near the headstock of your ukulele to make it easier to remove from the peg.

Removing old strings from ukulele with a standard bridge.

Removing old strings from ukulele with a standard bridge.

Removing old strings from ukulele with a tie-bar bridge.

Removing old strings from ukulele with a tie-bar bridge.

Step 2: Remove the Strings from the Bridge

Next you will remove the string that you have just loosened and removed from the peg from the bridge. This step will differ slightly, depending what type of bridge your ukulele has.

Standard Bridge

If your ukulele has a standard bridge, carefully slide the string out of the slot on the bridge, keeping it parallel to the ukulele. Sometimes the strings get stuck, so you may find that some of the strings are more difficult to get out. Be careful as you gently try to work the string out. Vigorous tugging may damage the bridge, so be gentle as you work the string free. Never pull upward on the string, as this may also cause damage.

If needed, you may have to use a pair of tweezers to get the knotted string free. If you do need to use tweezer, be extremely careful not to scratch the surface of your ukulele.

Tie-Bar Bridge

For tie-bar bridges, carefully untie the string by pushing it toward the bridge to loosen the knot. The knot may be tight, so you may need to be tough to push the free end of the string through the know to get it completely untied. Be gentle as you until the knot to avoid damaging the bridge.

Installing new string on standard bridge.

Installing new string on standard bridge.

Installing new string on tie-bar bridge.

Installing new string on tie-bar bridge.

Step 3: Attach New String to Bridge

Once the string is removed from the bridge, you are ready to put the new string on. The strings will likely be color coated, so be sure to select the correct string. From left to right, the strings (if you are using the standard tuning) are G C E A. My favorite way to remember this is Giant Cats Eat Always (which was inspired by my fatto catto, Salem).

Standard Bridge

If your uke has a standard bridge, tie a knot at one end of the string, leaving about half an inch left on the end. Slide the knot into the slot in the bridge, and pull the string upward, checking that the knot is secure. Once you are sure that the knot is secure, pull the string out and trim the excess length off the string, leaving just a few millimeters. Slide the knot back into the slot in the bridge and pull the string up toward the headstock.

Tie-Bar Bridge

For ukuleles with tie-bar bridges, slide one end of the string into the hole on the bridge until there is about an inch of string sticking out through the bottom of the bridge. Take the short end of the string sticking out of the bottom of the bridge and loop it up behind the string at the top of the bridge. Loop the string around itself 2-3 times (take note of the old strings that are still on the ukulele. This is how you should tie the new string).

Wind the new string onto the tuning peg.

Wind the new string onto the tuning peg.

Step 4: Fasten Strings to Tuning Pegs

Once the strings are fastened to the bridge, you are ready to fasten them to the tuning pegs. Slide the top end of the string into the hole on the tuning peg and turn the tuner to tighten the string, holding the straight taut with your other hand. Pull the string upward and try to make sure the string is winding downward toward the bottom on the tuning peg. Trim the excess length of the string off once the string is tight.

Repeat steps 1-4 with the other three strings.

Repeat steps 1-4 with the other three strings.

Step 5: Repeat with the Other Three Strings

Repeat steps 1-4 three more times with the remaining three strings. You may wish to tune the strings as you go, though you will likely need to retune them all again once you are finished restringing your ukulele.

Once all four strings are replaced, trim off any excess lengths of string that you haven’t removed yet.

Tuning a ukulele with a clip-on electronic tuner.

Tuning a ukulele with a clip-on electronic tuner.

Stretching the new strings on a soprano ukulele.

Stretching the new strings on a soprano ukulele.

Step 6: Tune Your Ukulele and Stretch the Strings

After you have restrung your ukulele, you should tune. It likely won’t stay in tune at first until the strings are stretched out. You may wish to stretch the strings now, or simply allow the strings to stretch as you play your ukulele.

If you want to stretch the strings faster, you can do this by gently putting your finger under each string and pulling up gently. Be sure to retune the ukulele after stretching the strings. You can also stretch the strings simply by playing the instrument. After you play it several times, the strings will stay in tune better.

© 2019 Jennifer Wilber