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 your instrument’s neck.
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.
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.