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Thread: Baritone Uke steel string conversion results

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    Default Baritone Uke steel string conversion results

    Hello all,
    I have seen a couple threads on this subject and just finished a conversion so I thought I would share the results. First some background. I play a Blueridge Tenor in DGBE tuning and sometimes GDAE or GDAD. I also play mountain dulcimer. I wanted to get a little travel tenor, so I picked up 2 Lanikai LU-21 B Ukes from Butler music. They were inexpensive Blems, but perfectly playable with a little setup work. They were around $50 each. I also picked up a mando tailpiece off StewMac in case I needed it.
    Some research showed that nylon string tension on these Baritone ukes was around 54 pounds. I wondered if the neck and top could handle steel strings. I have a bias towards the sound of steel strings, even though these little instruments sounded pretty good right out of the box. A little boomy, hollow and a little short on sustain, however.

    The 20.3 inch scale length is a benefit to young players or those with small hands, particularly in the more open 5th tunings such as GDAE. $50 to introduce someone to music or to experiment with a tenor or have an instrument all set up in an alternative tuning. What a deal!!!

    First I let them adjust to the cold, dry of Northwestern Maine and played them a couple days. Then I relaxed the strings and laid a straight edge on the neck and measured the deflection at the 7th fret with a feeler guage. It was -.001". Then I laid the straight edge acroos the lower bout an inch above and below the bridge to see how the top looked unstressed. It varied acrooss the bout from .000 to -.018 on the tail side and .000 to -.032" on the neck side. Then I brought the nylon strings into tune and repeated the measurements. The neck remained unchanged, the top on the tail side went from +.0025 to -.016. in other words the string tension bowed the top up .0025, as expected. On the neck side the tension depressed the top about .0015 from the previous measurements as the bridge rocked forward.
    I concluded the neck can take considerably more string tension, while the top is right about at its optimum design point and the bridge is starting to rock forward under tension. So I set my steel string tension ceiling at 60 lbs.
    Using the steel string tension calculator at Stewmacs website, I selected the following string guages. E .011 @ 12.5 lbs; B .016 @ 14.8; G .018 @12.4; D .032w @ 19 lbs. Total 58.7 lbs. Since small instrument usual lack bass, I wanted a higher string tension and mass on the bass. A .028w might be better and kick the G up to .020w. But I didn't have those strings and went with what I had on hand, being 45 miles from the nearest music store.
    So I strung it up and remeasured the instrument under tension. No change!! So the million dollar question, How does it sound?? Of course this is subjective, but having 2 of the same instruments one set up in steel the other in nylon allowed me to do a nice comparison. Volume about equal, the nylon may have a bit of an edge, but the tonal quality to me is a bit more boomy and hollow sounding. The steel has much improved sustain and much better clarity. What I immediately noticed with the steel was that the intonation was off, and I think that I noticed it due to the clarity of the individual strings. I did not notice this as much with the nylon. The action was way to high at both the nut and bridge. out came the files and feeler guage. I dropped the string height at the first fret to .025 by carefully filing the nut and checking frequently. I dropped the height at the 12th fret to about .115 by sanding the bottom of the bridge. Intonation came right in.
    If you wanted to do this for GDAE tuning you could use: E .011; A .016; D .024 or .028 and G .042. The tension would be at the 60 lb and should be ok.

    So for $50 bucks I have a beautiful little Tenor Traveler!! It might be possible to get a cleaner sound than nylon by using Flourocarbon strings, but those are only available for the 2 treble strings, the D and G are still wound nylon (as I understand it). anyhow it still would n't sound like steel.

    It might be possible to install a tailpoece and go to more medium weight strings, but I'm not sure if that would improve things. I thought I would do this, but I am very pleased with the instrument as is. These little Lanikai Baritone Ukes are really nice little instruments.

    Tom
    Last edited by Granger; Apr-09-2013 at 1:35pm.

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    Default Re: Baritone Uke steel string conversion results

    That's a nifty idea and I hope it keeps working for you. I have a few Bari's sitting around and did set one up for CGda and it worked fairly well but not as notable or brite as a Kala Tenor I own. If you can keep from using the tailpiece, by all means stay with the more traditional bridge. This instrument is set to pull up on the strings rather than a tail piece which will push down. The top is more or less set up for the standard bridge - within the limits of a ukulele.

    At one level, the string choice you've gone to is close to a traditional string weight of older Tenor banjos. The newer instruments seem to have a more robust design to the neck and control rods. Which possibly brings up the inherent weakness in the Ukulele design - a generally smaller wedge / tenon to the neck - body joint. Keep your eyes on it and if the finish looks as if it is starting to crack around the joint, reglue as the lighter weight construction probably has stressed out to the maximum.

    Then again - this may only be a concern in ten or so years ... enjoy and have fun. Oh yeah - if you could make a recording or video of you playing it, it would be appreciated.

    Dion
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    Default Re: Baritone Uke steel string conversion results

    Dolamon,

    Good thoughts. Will keep an eye on that neck joint! As I intend to build a Bari for steel strings this summer I will give that area of the design special considaeration. I hope to be able to use a set of medium weight strings on it. X braced, pin bridge, carbon rod in the neck, but now I see I need to give the neck joint more thought. I have built dulcimers successfully, but this will be only my second necked instrument as an amatuer builder, the first necked instrument build went into the wood stove. LOL.

    Tom

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    Default Re: Baritone Uke steel string conversion results

    My post seems to have been lost while adding attachments, so here's the short version...

    I used D'Addario strings because they had tension specs published. I scaled the tension form 25.5 (=/-)" scale to 20" as follows:

    published guitar scale tension for desired note * (20/25.5)^2, and selected D and G from EJ16 series
    phosphor-bronze PB032 0.032" and PB024 and 0.024", and plain steel 0.011" and 0.009", resulting in 3.2% higher calculated tension than with D'Addario EJ87B (50.7# total). Worst case string tension difference was 1# higher than the EJ87B strings.

    Still have to work on the saddle but need some action measurements before I get too far. I replaced the plastic saddle with a two piece sandwich of maple epoxied together.

    I filed a round concave profile on the bottom of the saddle as I crammed a round piezo coax pickup in the slot while I had the strings off...

    The blown-out pic shows the end of the round coax piezo pickup.

    The end pin jack has a Chinese preamp. I had two, one with a ceramic six-segment piezo I removed two from, and one with a piezo polymer coaxial cable pickup. This one was soldered to the preamp circuit board so I switched preamps. This one has a TL061 op amp. The one with the ceramic piezo had a jack/plug and had two bipolar transistors instead of the op amp (if any one cares).

    I think the instrument sounds more balanced than with uke strings, and the tuning doesn't require the crazy tightening every time I return to it as it did with the polymer uke strings.

    The reason I went this route was not liking the clunky sound the B (2nd) string had, the dead upper register sound, or the intonation when fretting (12th fret open harmonic was and is after conversion still very close to perfect)...just gotta get the action better so the fretted intonation is better.
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    Default Re: Baritone Uke steel string conversion results

    The Macaferri-style mustache pieces are its Halloween costume. If (I hope I can say WHEN) I'm satisfied with the sound and tuning, I'll put better-proportioned ones on, to finish off it's personality change...

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    Default Re: Baritone Uke steel string conversion results

    I selected my alternate strings to get as close as I could to the weird asymmetrical tuning the D'Addario EJ87B strings have (16.64#. 17.83#, 7.11#, 9.12# for D-G-B-E)

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    Default Re: Baritone Uke steel string conversion results

    Another thing that makes feel more confident about the math and rationalization is looking at select string packages that have several different pitches and tensions, some tighter, and many looser...

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    Default Re: Baritone Uke steel string conversion results

    murrayuptown,

    Way to go!! I would have guessed the low tension on the B and E strings might make these a bit too floppy, but apparently not!! I will have to change my G to an .024 and drop the tension a bit with smaller strings on the B and E. A suggestion might be to replace the maple with a Tusq saddle. It is easy material to work with and produces a great sound. I am still enjoying mine and it is holding up fine. Keep us posted.
    Encouraged by this project, I made a little travel tenor that is a knockoff on the Martin Backpacker. It has a 23" scale, 12th fret at the body, the body is slightly larger than the martin, a bit wider and deeper. I think that improved the tone over the martins. I'll have to put a picture of that up.

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    Default Re: Baritone Uke steel string conversion results

    I was thinking about rearranging closer to what YOU did, but maybe both approaches make sense...just different ways of driving the top...and I already bought multiple sets of my new 'signature' (Frankenstring) set...to avoid accidental use of heavier 'found' strings.

    I was afraid 9 & 11 were pretty light so I'll keep an eye on that too.

    I initially changed only the bottom two wound ones and did not like the two metal and two titanium sound.

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    Default Re: Baritone Uke steel string conversion results

    I've revisited the D'Addario tension chart and came up with a second string arrangement (sounds like I'm composing!).

    Only reason I used D'Addario was because they go to the trouble of giving tension vs. pitch at a given scale length.

    I still stuck with the assumed 20" scale for mine, because I didn't have access to look up the actual length (20.3"?).

    PL010 PL013 PB022 and PB029 at 20" scale got me within a couple tenths of # total tension of the EJ87B D'Addario Baritone strings...I think 50.6 vs package # 50.7. I think the 20.3 vs 20 error would raise tension 3% [tension being proportional to (scale length ratio)^2].

    Local store didn't have PB029 so I took PB030 which adds 0.58 # at 20".

    I don't have the spreadsheet on this PC, but making the plain steels larger and the wounds smaller was a move toward balancing the tension equally across all 4 strings, vs. the large difference the wound nylons had vs. the plain titaniums in the EJ87B set.

    I don't think the small numeric 'error' amounts to any concern, but it lets me know I have options in string choices if I wish it sounds differently on the wounds vs the plains.

    Next I started looking at the gypsy strings, like EJ83-84L/M, and wondered why the plain steel tensions were higher in that set for the same gauge (PL010 was common to both arrangements being compared) than they were in the EJ15/16 family. I first assumed the scale length was longer on the gypsy guitars, but D'Addario states that the scale lengths are the same within the acoustic guitar range. I then assumed it might be tailpiece/bridge construction vs. glued-on acoustic bridge and dropped pursuit of that. The local store wouldn't have gypsy strings anyway.

    I think I'll finish my setup with the maple saddle insert & original plastic nut because they cost me nothing, and if I can get the fretted intonation to a satisfactory point, I may try my hand with legitimate materials like Tusq. If I cannot, I will at least know what I like/dislike about the string choice before I fall back on having a professional undo my DIY...not planning on failure, just looking at options. I forget what my original plan was for the nut...I vaguely recall not wanting to butcher the original parts so I could revert to original materials if I really screw it up.

    I think the PL010 and PL013 are going to sit lower in the nut than the fatter original titanium polymers that were 0.028 and 0.033, as well as the PL022 and PL030 vs. the EJ87B's wound nylon 0.030 and 0.035. With the original nut and the maple saddle which I hollowed out on the bottom to attempt good coupling with a round coaxial piezo pickup in the bridge under the saddle, the (open string) 12th fret harmonics are seemingly close enough, as well as I could tell before with a clip-on Snark tuner.

    I convinced myself the harmonics were of course still intonated correctly because I didn't change the bridge/saddle position, but that's probably oversimplified...the shape of the top of the saddle is supposed to play a role in compensation...but on such a short scale it becomes less significant. What I never liked on this instrument is that the fretted intonation is disappointing to me, in addition to not liking the inconsistent tone between the wound and unwound strings...but I'm not uke-strumming either.

    I've got to finish cutting the Macaferri pieces too...spent some time trying to decide what looks the least stupid tapering from the 1" width of the glued-on bridge down to the points...

    I looked at some pictures of some early Macaferri and Busato tenor guitars, one with f-holes and one rare one that was a nylon string with glued on bridge (1925), so if it looks a little different there is no single 'right' look. It's just for practice on a cheap instrument anyway...keeps me off the street.

    I have also started experimenting with iStrobosoft on a smartphone after reading Siminoff's Tap Tuning book (to bring this post back somewhere closer to the mandolin world). Not particularly important for string tuning, it reads out to 0.1 cent so it may be helpful for comparing intonation on the various bridge/nut iterations.

    I still haven't mounted the battery holder for the endpin-jack preamp. A friend said his was too heavy for the Velcro adhesive and recommended a small nail or screw into the block at either the neck or other end, whatever it's called (tail block?). I haven't decided yet how to go about it.

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    Default Re: Baritone Uke steel string conversion results

    Interesting thread, I have been reading about tailpiece downward force compared to glued bridge falward & upward force.
    However I can't actually find anyone who has tried a floating bridge set up. I guess it would first of all require removing the glued on bridge & that it going to be fairly destructive to the ukuelele finish & possibly the integrity too.
    I would love to hear your steel stringed uke?

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    Default Re: Baritone Uke steel string conversion results

    Murray - this may help your string tension calculations ... http://www.mcdonaldstrings.com/ Look in the right hand column - towards the bottom and find his String Tension Calculator (he just changed his file system so there now is a direct link to it) http://www.mcdonaldstrings.com/stringxxiii.html Read the instructions and scroll down to the bottom of this page and modify the scale length and number to suit you ... A hint, start out with the mandola with a ninteen inch scale and then adjust as needed.

    Graham is a really excellent luthier an amazing historian of fretted instruments and a nice guy to boot. He's only been perfecting this for the past twenty or twenty five years and normally is spot on.

    Enjoy
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    Default Re: Baritone Uke steel string conversion results

    Just imagining the torque on the glue joint pulling the bridge off after a while ..

    maybe running the strings all the way to the tail end will reduce that .
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    Default Re: Baritone Uke steel string conversion results

    No doubt but it would also change the tone?

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    Default Re: Baritone Uke steel string conversion results

    This guy seem confident with his steel string uke .... http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/NEW-4-STRI...item1c3d630447

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    Default Re: Baritone Uke steel string conversion results

    Yes, I'm still alive.

    I see there have been more posts here. Thanks for the links.

    I've re-calculated strings couple more times...still has 0.008-0.010-0.024w-0.032w (pl-pl-PB-PB), nothing broke yet ;O).

    I don't remember why, but I decided to try all plain steel with gauges that still meet the total tension of the D'Addario baritone EJ87B string set. I think one of my reasons was I found it easier to find choices with scaled tensions in the range I wanted, and I also think I was hoping strings of the same composition would make the timbre more similar across the full range of the instrument. I also wanted to try it and see if it toned down the booming low end...at least it seemed like it to me...0.008 plain steel vs 0.032 phosphor bronze wound sound very different, but closer in tone than the original silvered-copper wound on nylon vs. the top two 'titanium polymer'. I also think I was able to get the individual string tensions closer to each other with all 4 plain steel. I was rather surprised that there exists such a wide range of sizes in plain steel.

    All of the above reasoning is based on totally ignorant logic and rationalization...no clue if it's counter-productive to what a knowledgeable luthier's decisions would be ;O).

    Re: Hearing it...I now need to work on the setup. It currently has a homemade saddle, filed with a curved bottom to rest on the polymer coaxial cable piezo pickup I installed...if you can visualize a shielded (coaxial) cable's round shape, the saddle bottom is rounded to conform better to the cable shape. Originally I was going to use one of those '6-bump' ceramic piezos. It had 6 rectangular ceramic piezo elements on a metal strip, with another (insulated) metal strip enclosing them. I cut the end off, removed two elements, trimmed and re-soldered the metal strip construction and concluded I didn't like the spacing relative to the strings...and abandoned the ceramic piezo....I like polymer piezos for several reasons anyway.

    Re; Hearing it...the intonation is horrible right now...which is what I set out to try and improve! That, I believe, and anticipated, is due to changing string gauges and my too-tall saddle.

    I'm pretty confident in my tension math now. No one has given me a reason to believe that same tension but different materials will make the stress on the top higher. It may be different under 'dynamic' vs. 'static' conditions, like string bending, but I don't think it's as drastic a difference as expecting a flat top to endure forces intended for an archtop. I also recall reading comments from notedbuilders/restorers of 30's-50's Selmers (Leo Eimers and others whose names I don't recall) that the original instruments could not withstand the tension and needed serious overhaul...some of the instruments he was referring to had been in the possession of Sinti gypsy families for generations and were in such poor condition it was questionable if they would sound similar after major repairs (in the end, he was very happy with the results). This is an example of an instrument designed for the strings used...but apparently not designed well enough for the known tension. It's the other side of the coin of my situation...I am not changing the physical construction, just the strings, and using conventional (?brass eyelet?) string ends instead of the looped & tied method for nylon. I feel confident on the basis of 'armchair education' alone, absent experience, that the problem with steel strings on 'built-for-nylon' instruments is doing it without regard for the actual tensions present.

    All that math practice gave me the confidence to look at the D'Addario light gypsy strings but I couldn't figure out why the same gauge in plain steel had higher tension, per the chart, in the gypsy set. According to all the footnotes and observable patterns in their tension data, the published tensions for acoustic guitars in their product line are all for the same scale length. I think I noted a difference of something like 10 vs. 11.5# in one comparison...I don't remember the details... I concluded that it was either due to the Macaferri/Selmer-style tailpiece and floating bridge producing different tension, the unlikelihood that there were gypsy guitars with the same scale length as the acoustic 'standard' in the tension tables, or an error. I questioned whether a different guitar construction would give 15% higher tension for identical strings at the same scale length...maybe the floating bridge, and string 'afterlengths' between the bridge and tailpiece giving an overall longer string length despite the 'assured' same scale length makes the difference. This was where my confidence ended, so I shelved the gypsy style string investigation. As someone previously posted, simply adding a floating bridge and end-pin tailpiece throws too many monkeys and wrenches into what was wishfully a gradual, step-by-step, transformation...too many risky changes with likely problems to solve. Maybe later...

    I made my own Macaferri-style moustache pieces from another piece of rosewood. The bridge pieces originally photographed were from a Saga bridge set for 6-string...wrong proportions and no reason to waste it on this project.Click image for larger version. 

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    Default Re: Baritone Uke steel string conversion results

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    I've gotta get the intonation tolerable before letting it be heard! BTW, it's in tune open and 12th fret harmonic, as I did not change the scale length or position of the saddle or nut...it's fretted where it sounds...unsatisfactory...to me.

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    Default Re: Baritone Uke steel string conversion results

    I'm just reviving this thread to link it to my new one in which I do replace the bridge with a floating one. And it basically works.

    http://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/sh...ave-a-45-tenor
    Cary Fagan

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    Default Re: Baritone Uke steel string conversion results

    I just put steel strings on a cheap electric baritone that I didn’t particularly like the sound of. For e, b, g, d respectfully, I used light electric guitar strings 10, 13, 18, and 26, because I had those on hand. Using all the info above, my total tension is 45.08 vice 51.33 with EJ65B’s at 19” scale. I calculated on a 20.3” scale so as you can see, I have room to go with heavier strings which I probably will in the future. The way it is now the tension is almost too light. Sound good and it certainly can be done safely.

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    Default Re: Baritone Uke steel string conversion results

    Interesting.

    Re: the bridge coming off - a solution might be to drill four very, very small holes then string through the body, with the ends of the strings fastened off with little beads. I've done that to a couple of my ukes, and in fact my nicest uke was built for that!.

    Of course, if you wanted to try a floating bridge, just keep it as it is, and maybe you'll get your wish!

    Also, for cheap baritones, I really recommend a Kmise, available on eBay and Aliexpress for £40ish. A far better instrument than it ought to be.

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    Default Re: Baritone Uke steel string conversion results

    Excuse my ignorance but can someone suggest the strings I would need to get a bari uke tuned to traditional tenor tuning? (CGDA)

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    Default Re: Baritone Uke steel string conversion results

    Are you asking how to string CGDA on a 20" scale baritone ukulele with steel strings or nylon strings?

    There are hundreds of post on this forum about tuning ukuleles in 5ths using 'nylon strings', try using Google as a search engine but adding Mandolin café to your search wording... i.e. ... Baritone ukulele mandolin café.

  25. #23

    Default Re: Baritone Uke steel string conversion results

    Quote Originally Posted by fox View Post
    Are you asking how to string CGDA on a 20" scale baritone ukulele with steel strings or nylon strings?

    There are hundreds of post on this forum about tuning ukuleles in 5ths using 'nylon strings', try using Google as a search engine but adding Mandolin café to your search wording... i.e. ... Baritone ukulele mandolin café.
    Not nylon strings, steel strings. I didn't see any recommended tunings here. Just chicago and octave tunings.

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    Default Re: Baritone Uke steel string conversion results

    Well I am not going to recommend steel strings but... 09 14 20w 32w will give you approx 15lb per string = 60lb total

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