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.
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.
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.
Now 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?