Student of Guitar

Can You Put Steel Strings on a Guitalele? The Definitive Answer

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I’ve been playing the guitar since 2003 and the ukulele since 2011. 

In 2019, I finally purchased a guitalele, a hybrid guitar ukulele instrument. 

The guitalele has:

  •  the body of a concert or baritone size ukulele
  • six strings like a guitar instead of 4 strings like a ukulele
  • a tuning in the same intervals as a guitar except up a 4th (as if you were to capo the guitar on the 5th fret) to ADGCEa
  • and has nylon strings like a ukulele or the top four strings of a classical guitar instead of steel strings like a standard guitar. 

Guitaleles also go by the names guilele, guitarlele, and guitar ukulele. 

Guitaleles are unique in that you can play both ukulele and guitar tunes on the instrument. 

While the nylon strings on a standard guitalele give the instrument more of a ukulele sound, some guitalele players are interested in getting more of a guitar sound with steel strings. 

But can you put steel strings on a guitalele? 

Only if your guitalele has a truss rod in its neck. 

If your guitalele doesn’t have a truss rod, the increased tension of steel strings could snap or otherwise warp your instrument’s neck. 

Here’s a clip of me playing my guitalele with steel strings. My instrument could withstand the tension of the steel strings because its neck has a truss rod.

What a truss rod is and why it’s so important 

A truss rod is a steel rod that runs through the interior of the neck of a fretted stringed instrument. 

The truss rod prevents the natural bending of the wooden instrument neck in response to high tension strings. 

Without a truss rod, an instrument’s neck would either warp slowly over time or break entirely due to the tension of steel strings. 

However, nylon strings are much lower tension than steel strings, and thus nylon string instruments like the ukulele often don’t require a truss rod and don’t have one in the neck.

Guitaleles may or may not have truss rods. 

The best way to find out whether your guitalele has a truss rod is to check your instrument yourself or confirm by looking online and reviewing your instrument owner’s manual. 

If your guitalele doesn’t have a truss rod but you still want to string a guitalele with steel strings, don’t worry. 

There are plenty of inexpensive guitaleles with truss rods. 

Guitaleles for Purchase 

The instrument manufacturer Caramel provides several options for inexpensive guitaleles and ukuleles. 

As far as I know, all Caramel guitaleles contain truss rods, and thus you could string any of them with steel strings. 

However, always double-check to make sure the instrument you’re considering stringing with steel strings does, in fact, have a truss rod. 

Also, bear in mind that if stringing with steel strings deviates from manufacturer recommendations, you may still damage the instrument. 

However, I have strung my Caramel guitalele with steel strings successfully so far.

String and Tuning Options for the Steel String Guitalele 

If you’re planning on using your guitalele more like a travel/miniature guitar with a standard guitar tuning, you don’t need to make any special considerations for the strings you use. 

Simply string with your favorite guitar strings (these are mine). 

(As an aside, I always recommend lighter gauge strings, apart from special use cases like slide guitar, because they put less tension and thus less wear and tear on your instrument.)

If you want to use the standard guitalele tuning, ADGCEA, you’ll need to make sure the strings you choose can withstand the higher tension of this tuning. 

This means you should probably use extra light gauge strings for this tuning. 

I personally use extra light Elixirs on my Caramel guitalele. 

However, if you want to be extra cautious and use even lighter tension strings, you could use Elixir’s super light electric strings that have a slightly lighter string gauge than the acoustic strings. 

Electric strings won’t resonate quite as well as acoustic strings on an acoustic instrument. 

However, they do provide a brighter sound such that many acoustic guitarists opt for electric strings on their instruments specifically for that unique sound. 

I have actually strung my mando guitar with Elixir’s super light electric strings and really enjoy their sound. 

In short, make sure you use light gauge strings if you’re planning on tuning your guitalele higher than standard guitar tuning. 

Tuning Your Guitalele Closer to a Ukulele

Be sure to check out my complete guide to guitalele tuning here to see exactly which strings I recommend for each tuning.

But if you want to tune your guitalele even more similarly to a ukulele, you could use the guitalele tuning with the G string tuned up an octave. 

This would result in your top four strings having the exact same tuning as a ukulele enabling you to play uke tunes with steel strings. 

This tuning is fun and versatile. 

When playing guitar/guitalele songs on all six strings, the strings sound a bit like Nashville tuning. 

On the other hand, you can still play only the top four strings and get an interesting hybrid guitar ukulele sound given the steel strings and uke tuning. 

Although this tuning is unique, it’s also more complicated to get the right strings for the job. 

You’ll need to buy an extra light acoustic set (or super light electric set) like I mentioned above as well as a single string for that high G string like this set of G strings. 

If you decide to choose a your own single G string or get one from your local guitar shop, I recommend choosing one with a gauge lighter than or equal to .023. 

This string setup requiring a full set of strings plus one single can be a little cumbersome and is more expensive than simply buying one set. 

However, I think the benefits of this setup outweigh the minor additional expense. 

Plus, the G string set I recommended above comes with 10 G strings so you will be setup to change to this tuning for several string changes.

I recommend trying this setup at least once to see if you like it. 

Are Guitaleles with Truss Rods Made for Use with Steel Strings?

At this point, you might be wondering if guitaleles (and instruments in general) with a truss rod are only for use with steel strings, not nylon strings. 

In general, your instrument will perform best with whatever string type the manufacturer strung the instrument, whether or not it has a truss rod. 

In the case of guitaleles, they almost always come with nylon and nylon wound with wire strings just like the classical guitar (with the top four strings made of nylon only just like the ukulele’s four strings). 

So of course, if you prefer, you can keep the guitalele’s manufacturer setup of nylon strings, and the instrument should perform just fine, even if it has a truss rod.  

12 Responses

  1. Jim Follis says:

    How can i get some guitarlele cord progression and song books ?

    1. Harrison Alley says:

      Hi Jim,

      Thanks for writing in. Check out this book for Guitalele chords: https://www.amazon.com/Guitalele-Chord-Bible-Standard-Fretted/dp/1912087634/ref=sr_1_2?crid=1CTPB32M7AAMC&dchild=1&keywords=guitalele+chords&qid=1586799227&sprefix=vacuum%2Caps%2C211&sr=8-2

      Unfortunately, there aren’t a whole lot of song books for the guitalele. The good news is, you can play almost any guitar song on the guitalele since you can play the same chord shapes as those on the guitar.

      Best of luck!

  2. Hi,

    For the Caramel and other Guitalele wouldn’t you need to use 1/4 size strings or the tension and string thickness won’t sound correct. I see that you recommend extra light Elixirs, but those are just regular full length guitar strings. I’m just confused as I keep hearing if you want to use guitar strings and tune as guitar then you’d have to use a 1/4, such as on a child’s guitar string set or similar. Thanks or any help on this.

    – Joseph

    1. Harrison Alley says:

      Hi, Joseph! Good question. The only thing that really matters is string gauge (the diameter of the string or the string’s thickness). So whether you buy less than full size-guitar strings or full-size guitar strings, you want to know what gauge they are. Gauge is typically a matter of preference. However, tuning a string tighter (higher) puts more strain on the instrument. You can reduce this strain by using lighter gauge strings (full-size guitar strings are just fine). I’ve been putting full-size guitar strings on all my less than full-size instruments without any trouble.

      1. Super, good to know. I ordered the light strings you recommended as well as some
        Hannabach Kinder Guitar Strings 1/4 size (49-52cm) 890MT to see which will sound better. I’ll keep you updated. Thanks for the great article – very helpful!

        1. Harrison Alley says:

          Glad you liked the article! And yes, let me know which you prefer!

  3. I bought a Caramel Guitalele (E-tuning) and I would like to replace strings 1 -3 with steel guitar strings for a more guitar sound. I bought a pack of D’Addario XL 10/46. Will these strings work fine with the guitalele? Will I need to adjust anything else on the guitalele – the nut, the truss rod? The music store guy said I might run into pitch and buzz issues, I have replaced strings on a regular acoustic guitar only, and I don’t want to mess up. Any suggestion? Thanks.

    1. Harrison Alley says:

      Hi Daria,

      My guess is you won’t run into any issues replacing strings 1 – 3 with your D’Addario strings, particularly since these strings put less tension on the instrument than strings 4 – 6.

      Plus, there’s really not much risk in putting on these strings since I’m assuming your guitalele has a truss rod (because it’s a Caramel).

      If you do run into intonation issues, you can always replace them with nylon strings or take the guitalele to a luthier.

    1. Harrison Alley says:

      Because I don’t know how your guitalele is set up, I can’t say for sure. However, this video is helpful for knowing if you should adjust, and if so, how. Watch out for intonation issues (if the notes don’t sound right as you move up the neck). If this happens you may need to take it to a luthier.

  4. Hey guys I’m looking for a steel string on a guitalele solution. And I think I’m going for the caramel option with truss rod and this as strings.
    Ibanez IPCS6C Piccolo Strings
    For a A to A tuning.
    Steel strings made for a guitalele 😉

    1. Hey Clive,

      Thanks for the comment! You can probably do that, just remember that guitaleles aren’t made for steel strings, even if they have a truss rod.

      The truss rod will probably keep the instrument from warping or breaking completely.
      But instruments designed for steel strings (like the piccolo guitar) typically have extra internal bracing in addition to a truss rod to support steel strings.

      I tried steel strings on a guitalele, and they worked ok (as you can tell in the video above), but I wouldn’t leave them on long-term for fear of warping or breaking the instrument.

      Instead, I recommend just getting a piccolo guitar.

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