The ukulele is a vast and exciting world to explore.
As you continue to develop as a ukulele player, chances are you’re going to come across concepts, techniques, and terms that don’t make much sense upon your first brush up against them.
One such term is “low G.” What does it mean to have a low G? How does it work? How does it affect your instrument’s tuning? Does it matter, and furthermore, should you even care?
In this guide, we answer all these questions and more.
What Is A Low G? – Quick Answer
By now, you’re probably aware that standard ukulele tuning is G – C – E – A.
In that context, though, the G is usually the highest note on the uke (even though it’s the “lowest” string – the one closest to your face if you are holding the instrument upright).
Low G is where you swap out the thinner string for a thicker one and tune it an octave lower. That makes it the lowest note on the uke.
When you have four ascending notes in sequence, as you would with a low G, you have what’s called linear tuning.
Linear tuning is a common way to tune stringed and fretted instruments, be it guitar, bass, or even mandolin (with the notable difference that the mandolin features a double course of strings).
Can I Just Tune Down My High G To Make It A Low G?
In most cases, this is not practical.
Your high G string should be the thinnest on your instrument. So, if you were to detune it by a full octave, it would become slack and unplayable.
This doesn’t generally work in the reverse order either. Tuning up a low G to a high G could cause the string to snap!
So, if you want to go low G, your best option is to get a string (or set of strings) that accommodates this tuning.
Aquila is a good brand to check out if you’re going to be shopping for ukulele strings with a low G.
What’s The Difference Between High G & Low G Anyway?
A ukulele with a high G has a brighter sound suited to traditional playing.
Many say it gives their chords a “tighter” sound suited to Hawaiian rhythms or even jazz chords. Your chord clusters end up coming out more like a piano than a guitar.
No one should feel embarrassed to play with a high G, because even virtuosos like Jake Shimabukuro use a uke with a high G.
A ukulele with a low G broadens your instrument’s range on the low end. Naturally, that tends to give your instrument a warmer, fuller sound overall.
Access to lower bass notes can be great for intricate fingerpicking arrangements, solo performances, and even self-accompaniment.
When you have a low G, your instrument more closely resembles what’s standard on a guitar. This could very well be one of the reasons low G has grown in popularity. With this setup, your ukulele is basically the guitar five frets up with two lower strings cut off.
It would be good to keep in mind that some of the best ukulele players utilize a few different instruments, some with different setups and tunings (including high G and low G). Should you choose to go down the path of becoming a professional, likely you will end up with multiple instruments as well, to cater to the needs of different songs.
Does A Low G Sacrifice Your Ability To Play Songs That Use High G?
But even when there is only an octave difference between notes, it changes the sound of your playing. Given the fact that there are only 12 notes in music, this probably makes a lot of sense.
You still have access to the same high G on your ukulele, but you would need to fret the note (not available as an open string), making it a little less readily available.
Of course, the low G is always available as a substitute. It will sound a bit different because it’s an octave lower. This tends to affect strumming less, and solo, picked arrangements more (more on this later).
How Do I Put A Low G String On My Ukulele?
Putting a low G string on your ukulele may not be as straightforward as swapping out the string. This is because your instrument was originally set up to accommodate a high G. There are usually some minor adjustments that need to be made to your uke so that it works with a thicker string.
When stringing up your uke with a low G, you will probably only need one wrap in the tuning knot because the string is thicker.
Another important factor is the nut. A nut that has been set up for a high G has a thin groove, meaning a thicker string won’t fit properly. Without modification, a low G string may not sit at the right height, and it may even fall out of the nut depending on your picking attack.
The only exception would be a wound low G string, which may work as-is. Unwound low G strings will not fit properly.
Filing the nut slot is a relatively easy fix. But if you are not comfortable making modifications to your uke, bringing it to a professional for a setup is always the best bet (especially since the change would be irreversible).
With most ukes, the string slot should already be at an appropriate depth. The only adjustment you’d need to make is to the width of the slot. This would be done using sandpaper with a gentle back and forth motion.
Note that ukulele makers are aware that many players are transitioning over to low G and now create instruments that accommodate both high G and low G strings.
How Can I Tune My Ukulele With A Low G?
Setting up your ukulele with a low G and attempting to tune it up to a high G would be a mistake. That could lead to the string snapping or breaking.
Tuning to low G for the first time may feel a little weird. The key thing would be to pay attention to string tension. The right octave is usually the one where the string isn’t too tight, but also isn’t too floppy. If you gradually work up to the right pitch, you should be fine.
If you’re using a piano or tuner, it might be helpful to know that the high G on a ukulele is a G4, while the low G is a G3.
Is Low G Right For Me?
So, you’re wondering whether low G is a good idea for you.
The first thing to do is to try ukuleles with both a high G and low G. Even if you aren’t an experienced or skilled player yet, you should be able to feel and hear the difference just by giving both a whirl.
The tendency might be to read an article or take advice from some expert you like and ignore the possibility that a different approach might work better for you. No need to take everything you hear as gospel. You can try things out for yourself and come to your own conclusions.
In terms of playing style, especially strumming chords, you shouldn’t expect to notice too much of a difference. You can use the same chord shapes and techniques, so there’s no need to make any adjustments from a technical standpoint.
While strumming, listening for the differences between high G and low G can give you a better idea as to which might be more suited to you.
Meanwhile, if you are less of a strummer and more of a picker (or even like to mix things up), you might notice a bit of an advantage with a low G because of the added bass.
You might need to adjust your technique too, because although the same notes still exist on your fretboard, you might need to reach for higher notes in other ways.
Low G can be great for solo fingerpicked pieces, though, thanks to that extended bass range.
Can I Put A Low G String On A Soprano Ukulele?
You can! It isn’t necessarily recommended, because a soprano uke has been designed with that high G in mind, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t work with a low G. If you’d like to give it a try, go ahead!
Concert and tenor ukes are perfect for low G.
Can I Still Play The Same Songs The Same Way With Low G As High G?
If you’re just chording, then while there is a difference, it’s not significant enough to matter, except to the sound of the uke.
So, the answer is “yes,” you can still play the same songs the same way with low G.
It’s a little different when it comes to fingerpicking and more intricate arrangements. Because with high G, the highest open note on your instrument is on the fourth string. With low G tuning, that string suddenly becomes your lowest open note.
Meaning this. If there are higher notes, you’re used to playing on the G string, you would likely need to transfer them over to the A string.
The extra bass support you get with low G can be kind of nice, though, and it can feel a little bit like playing guitar in that sense too.
Fundamentally, there can be a bit of an adjustment moving from high G to low G, but it’s not so significant that you can’t overcome it. You’re not going to lose your ability to play certain songs. But you may need to adapt depending on what you’re playing.
What Is Low G On Ukulele? Final Thoughts
Ultimately, there isn’t a big difference between a high G and a low G. They are just an octave apart. So, when you add a low G, it becomes the lowest note on the instrument instead of the C.
In terms of playing chords, nothing changes. Regardless of whether you have a high G or low G, the same chords you’ve learned still work.
The main difference is with picking melodies, leads, and so on. That’s where the extra low notes can offer some nice bottom end support, and the position of higher notes changes.
Regardless of which you choose, have plenty of fun exploring the nuances that make each setup a little different.