High G vs Low G

A common debate amongst ‘ukulele players is the difference between High G and Low G tuning. I am often asked what are the benefits and disadvantages of either way of tuning, and whether to change strings. The short answer is that it just boils down to personal preference and the sound that brings pleasure to your ears. To get a little more specific I have a list of some thoughts regarding both tunings and just which one is fit for you.

For the record: The standard tuning for the ‘ukulele from the top to the bottom string is: G C E A. The 3rd string of the C-string falls right on middle C in standard notation. The difference between the High G and Low G tunings is of course in reference to the 4th or G-string. The High G tuning has the 4th string at a G above middle C while the Low G tuning has it at a G below middle C.

High G

High G

The High G tuning, also known as re-entrant tuning, is the traditional and the more common tuning for the ‘ukulele. This makes the G-string and the A-string very close on the staff, almost to the point of having 2 of the same strings. This helps produce a closed voicing for chords which tend to have more of a light and airy sound. Typically most players will start off with a High G ‘ukulele due to its commonality, nostalgic sound, and ease with practicing basic techniques. This doesn’t mean that High G tuning is only for the novice as many reputable players such as Jake Shimabukuro, John King, and Kalei Gamio string up their ukes with High G’s. The High G string can be used in a multitude of ways such as using it as a drone string, for banjo rolls, or for certain sweet sounding chord inversions.

Low G

Low G

The Low G tuning is linear style of tuning since the notes naturally ascend from the top to the bottom string. Most guitar players prefer this style of tuning because it is more like the standard tuning for the guitar (a 4th 0r 5th up from D G B E). This tends to produce open voiced chords so players have to be a little more aware of the chord inversions they chose. That being said, chords are richer and have the ability to be more complex. With a Low G tuned ‘ukulele you also have five extra half steps below middle C to work with as well. This makes it easier to complete particular scales and arpeggios and in turn popular among solo ‘ukulele players. Some notable Low G ‘ukulele players would be Lyle Ritz, Herb Ohta. Jr, and Brittni Paiva.

Screen Shot 2015-06-03 at 3.45.56 PMNow in an ideal world it would be great to have one of each. Both have their own characteristics and play style that brings out different approaches and techniques. While it may be tempting to ally yourself to one, it will ultimately limit your playing. Capitalize on what makes each style unique. Everything has it’s season!

What’s your preference and how do you have your ‘ukulele tuned?

-Neal Chin

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3 thoughts on “High G vs Low G

  1. High G because I’m new to it and that’s what the book said to do. I have recently begun to find songs online and ran into a Ronstadt song using a capo. I finally found one that was much easier and “rewrote” the chords and feel more comfortable. All this is to say (and I probably sound silly to those of you who have been musicians since childhood) that I thought I could learn ukulele without understanding music, just learning the chords, but my need to know it all will not let me so I’ve begun to study everything. I appreciate postings like yours to help me navigate through it all. Thanks!

    Like

    1. Aloha!
      You are not alone! Sometimes music theory can seem a little daunting to tackle but I feel if you learn it in bite size pieces it is a lot more manageable. Just like a language, you can emulate what you hear and get by but to really utilize music to it’s fullest extent it’s good to dive into theory.
      I am glad to hear the post are helpful for you! As you continue to play if any questions should arise please let me know! And as always thanks for reading!
      -Neal Chin

      Liked by 1 person

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