Why Are Ukulele Strings Plastic?

Jan 11 · 4 min read

As a music teacher I am asked a lot of strange questions. Recently a student asked me, why are ukulele strings plastic? I thought this was a really interesting question. So I did some research and this is what I learned.

Ukulele strings are plastic because traditional steel strings would place too much pressure on the neck. Specifically the way the neck is glued to the body of the ukulele. Also, plastic strings have the nice warm/round tradition ukulele sound.

A Brief History of the Ukulele

The ukulele is a small, four-stringed musical instrument that is believed to have originated in Portugal in the 19th century. The instrument was brought to the Hawaiian Islands by Portuguese immigrants, where it quickly became popular among the local population. The word "ukulele" translates to "jumping flea" in Hawaiian, a reference to the quick, nimble fingerwork required to play the instrument.

The ukulele's popularity in Hawaii began to grow in the late 19th century, and by the early 20th century, it had become a central part of Hawaiian music and culture. Many famous Hawaiian musicians, such as Israel Kamakawiwo'ole, Taimane Gardner, and Jake Shimabukuro became known for their virtuosity on the ukulele and helped to popularize the instrument internationally.

The ukulele was first introduced to the mainland United States in the early 20th century, where it was initially marketed as a cheaper and more portable alternative to the guitar. It quickly became a popular instrument among American musicians, particularly during the 1920s and 1930s. During this time, the instrument was often used in vaudeville and minstrel shows, and it was also a popular choice for accompaniment in jazz and pop music.

However, despite its initial popularity, the ukulele fell out of favor in the United States during the 1940s and 1950s. It was not until the 1960s and 1970s, when a renewed interest in traditional American folk music and the music of Hawaii led to a resurgence of popularity for the ukulele.

Today, the ukulele is enjoyed by people of all ages and backgrounds around the world. It is used in a variety of musical styles, including folk, jazz, pop, and classical music. In recent years, there has been a significant increase in the number of ukulele festivals and events being held all over the world. This has helped to further popularize the instrument and support a growing community of ukulele enthusiasts. If you are interested in learning more about playing an instrument check out our music lessons in Ann Arbor.

The ukulele is relatively easy to learn to play and its small size makes it portable and convenient for traveling. It's also relatively inexpensive, making it an accessible instrument for people of all ages and skill levels. Today, it's played by amateur musicians and professional musicians alike, with various ukulele groups forming around the world to share their passion and skills with others.

Here are some of my favorite ukulele performances:

  1. Taimane: Tiny Desk Concert

Taimane Gardner is a ukulele player, composer and performer from Hawaii. She is known for her virtuosity and versatility on the instrument, as well as her unique blend of classical, rock, and traditional Hawaiian music styles.

Taimane began playing the ukulele at the age of five and started performing publicly at the age of eight. She has since become one of the most recognizable and respected ukulele players in the world, earning critical acclaim for her live performances, and recorded music.

Throughout her career, Taimane has taken the ukulele beyond its traditional boundaries, developing a style that incorporates elements of classical music, rock, and traditional Hawaiian music. She has an impressive technique, and her performances often feature rapid-fire fingerpicking, intricate chord progressions and powerful percussive hits on the body of the instrument.

Taimane's performances are also known for their theatricality and stage presence, she often incorporating elements of dance and visual art into her shows. This has helped to make her shows a one-of-a-kind experience that is a perfect combination of her technical skill, creativity and entertainment.

In addition to her solo performances, Taimane also leads her own band, and she has toured extensively throughout the United States, Europe, and Asia, playing at festivals, concert halls, and other venues. She also performs regularly in Hawaii, where she has become a beloved figure in the local music community.

Taimane has released several albums, the most recent one "Elemental" showcases her vast range of style and skills. The album features original compositions and covers, that showcases her as a accomplished composer and arranger. The album received positive reviews and praised for its originality and virtuosity.

If you liked Taimane, you will probably love this next musician:

  1. Jake Shimabukuro: Over The Rainbow

Jake Shimabukuro is a ukulele player, composer, and performer from Hawaii. He is widely considered one of the most accomplished and influential ukulele players in the world, known for his virtuosity and versatility on the instrument, as well as his unique blend of traditional Hawaiian music, classical, jazz, and rock.

Shimabukuro began playing the ukulele at a young age and by his teens, he was already performing publicly. He began to develop his own unique style and technique, incorporating elements of traditional Hawaiian music, jazz, and rock into his playing. He also demonstrated a strong ability to improvise, often incorporating complex chord progressions, syncopated rhythms, and intricate fingerwork into his performances.

In 2001, Shimabukuro released his first solo album "Sunday Morning" which featured original compositions and covers of popular songs. The album helped establish Shimabukuro as a leading voice in the contemporary ukulele scene and it was praised for its originality and virtuosity.

Shimabukuro has released several albums throughout his career, each one showcasing his skill, versatility and innovation. His albums have been praised by critics and audiences alike, and have helped to bring the ukulele to new audiences around the world. He also performed and collaborated with various artist like Bette Midler, Cyndi Lauper, Jimmy Buffett, Ziggy Marley and many more.

In addition to his solo performances, Shimabukuro also tours extensively, playing at festivals, concert halls, and other venues around the world. He is also a sought-after collaborator and has worked with a wide range of artists from different genres.


Well I hope you have learned a little bit about the ukulele and some of my favorite ukulele players. Thank you so much for reading to the end!

Karen Flores
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