ukestuff

Ukulele in secondary music education

Aquila Sugar Strings

If you play the ukulele, you know the name Aquila. Aquila is likely the largest manufacturer of ukulele strings in the world, and most ukulele manufacturers (particularly those in music stores) ship Aquila “Super Nylgut” strings with new instruments. If you have bought a ukulele, you know these strings—they are white in color. There was a point in time where many ukuleles were sold with low quality strings, and the “standard” for ukulele strings has become the Aquila Super Nylgut strings. In fact, there are a number of counterfeit Aquila strings out there.

Aquila also makes a number of other strings for ukulele and other instruments, including the KIDS ukulele strings (colored for instruction) that I use on our school ukuleles.

I love the company, I love what it does…but quickly learned that I preferred fluorocarbon strings. Aquila does not make fluorocarbon strings, so I have generally turned to Martin, Worth, or Living Waters for my personal instruments (usually the Martins as they are inexpensive and available everywhere).

Last year, the owner of Aquila announced Sugar strings for ukulele, clear strings that would be made partly of sugar cane. The product is described on the Aquila website:

The  Aquila Sugar Ukulele strings are made using a blend with a recently discovered  plastic material derived from sugar-cane. With a transparent look, the sound of these strings is clearly brilliant, clean and prompt. Unlike the Fluorocarbon strings, these strings have an excellent vibrato and a significant timbre variation when playing very close to the bridge and then up on the sound hole. In other words, they contain in their extremes the sweetness and sing ability of Nylon and the clearness and promptness typical of Fluorocarbon. Another important property is the characteristic sustain, which by scientific measurements is superior to any type of string currently available in the market. Another feature checked is the sound projection: our scientific tests have shown that it is superior to that of the Fluorocarbon strings. Although the surface is extremely smooth, the grip on the fingers is remarkable. The material is very clear and transparent similar to a crystal-glass.

It has taken a while for these strings to come into stock in the United States, and a continuing thread on the Ukulele Underground forum shows that Aquila is still willing to experiment with the string set. In fact, the owner of Aquila mentioned that the Super Nylgut strings took a number of years to finalize production, even while in production!

I was recently able to buy some Aquila Sugar strings from Strings By Mail, and with nothing to do this afternoon, I decided to place them on my Outdoor Ukulele tenor. At first glance, you would not know they are not fluorocarbon strings. Installation went as expected–and changing strings is very easy on an Outdoor Ukulele. Closer inspection shows a much thicker string (we’re talking fractions of a millimeter) by about 0.15 to .020 mm on each string (I measured with my digital caliper). As some users have mentioned, there is a squeak while playing, but this apparently disappears after some playing–and in no way are the strings stretched out enough to be stable in intonation (this takes a while with all ukulele strings).

With limited playing on the strings, I cannot say that they are better than fluorocarbon. I don’t like the “feel” of the Super Nylgut strings (100% admitted that this is a personal issue), but I play on Nylgut material a lot at school (The KIDS strings are basically colored Nylgut strings). I don’t dislike the Sugar strings so far, and as it stands, I have no reason to buy fluorocarbon over the Aquila Sugar strings from this point forward. The only difference is price. From Strings By Mail (pricing 3/17/18) Martin M620 strings can be purchased for $6.00, and the Aquila Sugar Strings are about $7.00 a pack. Unless you play a lot more than me, you will change your ukulele strings once or twice a year (some people don’t change them that often) meaning that at most you’ll save $2.00 a year using Martin strings. That isn’t a reason to avoid the strings. All that said, if you need a set of strings and your local dealer doesn’t carry the Sugar strings, you can still buy the Martin brand–or any other brand that makes you happy.

I will follow through with a follow-up on these strings over time…but I was pretty sure that I would like the strings…and I like to be able to support Aquila, which does a lot for the stringed instrument community–as well as making their KIDS strings even more affordable for schools.

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