Convert a ukulele to play in G

One year after I started learning the ukulele, I have learned to accompany many songs by strumming. But I still divide them into “easy” (key of C), and “all others” (any other key). This is because the basic chords involved in a song written in the key of C (C, F, G7, Am, Dm) are especially easy on the standard-tuned (gCEA) ukulele. But it turns out that the “easy” songs are only about half the songs in most books. One solution is to use a capo, but then the sound goes from tinny to tinnier, especially if the difference is large (say, a song in the key of G, which would mean a capo on the 7th fret; try that on a soprano!).

But I’ve found a better solution, and this is to get a second uke and turn it into a “cuatrolele” by simply swapping the order of the strings. As a demo, I have sound samples for a soprano uke originally tuned in C6 (gCEA), which has become a G6 (DGBe) g-ukulele, or “gukulele” for short.

Observe that two of the pitches (G and E) are held in common between the two tunings. This means that we can just move the uke’s fourth string to third position and the uke’s second string to first position, yielding -G-e so far (the E is lower than the G).

How do we get the D and the B? Well, we already have a fat C string, which can be tuned a little higher without any damage to itself (or your ears) to get a D sound, and a skinny A string, which can also be tightened up a bit to get a B. In fact, the C and A strings are the ones that originally had the lowest tension, so a little increase might be welcome, especially on a soprano.

This is the way the converted soprano ukulele sounds, when playing twice the following chords: C-E7-A7-D7-G7-C7-F-Bb-G-C:

Since I converted this ukulele before I thought of recording the original tuning, here’s how these chords sound on a standard-tuned (gCEA) tenor uke, for some sort of comparison:

This is not the only solution, though. Rich Davis explains in this YouTube video that he’s got two baritone ukes, one tuned to the standard DGBE, the other with special GCEA strings, in order to get G6 and C6 tunings, respectively. But this has two problems. One is that ukes smaller than a tenor size don’t usually have alternative string sets available. The other is that you’d need to get new strings, which you don’t with the trick I just described.

To summarize, what we have done is swap the 1st and 2nd strings, and then the 3rd and 4th strings. We left the resulting 1st and 3rd strings with their original tunings and raised the tuning of the other two strings by two half steps. If instead of tuning up the 1st and 3rd strings we tune down the 2nd and 4th strings by two half steps, we get an F6 tuning, which works best with the key of F (and makes the dreaded Bb chord real easy).

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