Updated: Mar 22, 2020
It's not as hard as you might think to change strings on the ukulele. It's a fussy undertaking, for sure, but with a little patience you'll be able to do it -- and enjoy some bonding time with your sweet, little friend.
But first, do you really need to change your strings? Probably. Think about this: Each time you make a chord, you are causing one or more strings to be pressed onto a fret. Every time you do that, the fret digs a little divot into the string. You can tell if damage is being done by running your thumbnail along the bottom of each string. Do you feel little divots? That’s fret damage. That degrades the vibration of the string.
Over time, string degradation makes it harder to tune your string to a true note and could be the cause of your ukulele losing its sweet ring.
Other elements that contribute to string degradation: Sunlight, time, playing, oil from your fingers, and that foamy beverage you dribbled on them the last time you gathered with your friends. Yep, it all contributes to string degradation. Let's do this.
Before you launch into taking your strings off, keep this in mind:
There are many ways of changing strings. I'm outlining below how I like to do it.
READ ALL OF THE INSTRUCTIONS FIRST! You might make things easier for yourself if you're aware of why you're doing something and what what comes next.
Find the right time. It might not be wise to change strings right before you head out to play with others or perform. It can take a few days for nylon strings to stretch out enough to stay in tune for more than a half a song at a time. To hasten the stretch after changing strings, play as much as you can, continually tuning until they begin to hold. I leave my uke out and tune it up every time I walk by during that break-in period.
Change one string at a time! Your uke doesn’t like having all the tension removed at once.
Look at how the string is attached to the tuning pegs and the bridge. Take a picture of both ends as a reference to help you make sure you're replicating them correctly. Note how the strings are wound on the inside of the tuning pegs, on both sets of pegs (this applies to ukes with solid heads, with tuning pegs arranged on the sides in two's). On the bridge end, some models have bridges that require the equivalent of a granny knot at the end of the string to hold it in. Many others require a special knot that we'll explore below.
Gather your tools: - A fresh set of strings (make sure they're the right length for your uke). Need strings? I have Aquila New Nylguts available for $10. Just shoot me an email with your name, address, and whether you need soprano, concert, or tenor strings. Pop $10 in my PayPal account (My account is under firstname.lastname@example.org ) or let me know that you're sending a check, and I'll send 'em right out! - Scissors to trim the strings with - A cloth to wipe down the fretboard and body as you remove each string - A peg winder can help make things easier, but is definitely optional. The alternative is to wind the peg yourself - just hum a happy tune and it'll be a breeze.
Using the tuning peg, loosen the string you’re changing until you can remove it from the peg. I usually start at the G string.
Remove the other end of the string from the bridge. But make sure you observe how the string is attached. Maybe even take a picture of the knot and the holes and how the string is fed through them.
Do a little housecleaning. Nothing fancy, just wipe down the fretboard and the area around the sound hole and bridge as you remove each string.
Feed your new string through the holes. Many ukes have a tie-bar bridge. Use this 4-step knot-tying process to attach the string to the bridge:
Leave enough tail so you can capture it under the next string's knot (see "Repeat the process on the next string" step below). Tug on the string to make sure you have, indeed, secured the string to the bridge. These knots can come undone under pressure if not done correctly. The C string is thicker and can be harder to make a secure knot -- you might need to do a triple half-hitch and really babysit the knot as you proceed. Now it's time to attach the string to the peg.
Align the peg's string holes so they run parallel with the fretboard. Run the string through the peg from the bottom up.
Leave some slack in the string below the nut before beginning to wind the string. How much? I stack two fingers on the fretboard near the nut and pull the string lightly the rest of the way through the peg. All you're doing here is making sure you have enough string available to make several wraps around the peg. If you have small fingers, you might stack three. You'll get a feel for how much slack to leave as you go.
The string should be wound so it comes up the inside of the peg and over the top of the peg (see image below). This applies to ukes with a solid head and tuning pegs arranged in pairs along the sides.
As you turn the peg, guide the string on the first wrap above the hole. On subsequent wraps, guide the string below the hole so it creates neat coils closer and closer to the peg head. This secures the string to the peg so it can withstand the tension as you tighten it. See the edge of the peg board on the right side in the image below? The image shows the correct wind direction on a peg that is located on the RIGHT side of the peg head. Make sure the string winds so it comes up on the INSIDE of the peg itself, whether the peg is on the right or the left.
Guide the string into the slot in the nut and the slot in the bridge as you tighten. Once it stays in place, turn on your tuner to make sure you're not over-tuning the string. Some ukes cannot take the stress of over-tightening.
Repeat the process on the next string - but this time, as you're tying the knot, feed the tail of the string to the left through the big loop of string, at the bottom of the bridge, before tightening all the way. This captures the end of the other string so it doesn't snag your sleeve. Cut any excess off the peg- and tail-end of the string.
Once you have finished this process on all four strings, do a happy dance! You have now bonded with your uke in a lovely, caring way; perhaps you have invented a few novel expletives -- either way, it's done and it'll be a LOT easier the next time!
A note about the images: I pulled these off the internet several years ago and am unable to find the source. Kudos to the photographer and I hope to find them someday to credit them properly.