Note: we have written a new article address this topic much more thoroughly: Ukulele Low G vs. High G – The Tuning Tango. We’re leaving this older one up just in case it is helpful to someone, but the new one is much better.
When it comes to the ukulele there’s an important decision to be made: should you use low-G or high-G tuning? (Alternatively low-A or high-A for D tuning). Each has its own advantages and works well in certain situations.
Advantages of High-G Ukulele
The high-G ukulele creates the close harmony chords that give the ukulele its distinctive sound. Making it perfect for chordal accompaniment.
It’s also great for single note runs. The close tuning lets you move down a scale across the strings rather than down them. This means you can let the notes ring into each other. A style of playing that John King refers to as ‘campanella’. I love this style of playing; it creates a very pleasing, harp-like effect.
Advantages of Low-G Ukulele
Having the low-G string widens the ukulele’s range considerably. You have a lot more bass notes to play with. If you are playing solo, instrumental pieces this can be a big advantage. You can accompany your melodies with bass notes. It also gives chords a fuller sound.
There’s no real consensus on tuning among the pros either. Both tunings are used. And not necessarily in the way you’d expect. Israel Kamakawiwo’ole used low-G tuning (you can hear his low bass note followed by strums of the higher strings on his version of Over the Rainbow). On the other hand, Jake Shimabukuro uses high-G tuning for his solo flights. Whereas James Hill most often uses the low-A tuning.
If I had to choose one of the tunings, I’d go with the high-G. The low-G tuning feels almost like a completely different instrument to me. You have to change your style of playing quite significantly to take full advantage of the low-G tuning. And I just love the re-entrant sound too much.