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Thread: why tune a uke using open strings?

  1. #1
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    Default why tune a uke using open strings?

    Every uke player I know tunes their uke, using an electronic tuner, using open strings. Before I made the acquaintence of other uke placers, I got in the habit of tuning each string with it fretted at 5th fret. Ergo, I tune strings at 5th fret to Cfad instead of tuning open strings to Gcea.

    To my ear, tuning this way gives me cleaner-sounding closed chords but with no discernible bad impact on open chords. On the other hand, if I tune the *conventional* way (Gcea on open strings), the closed chords above 4th fret sound a teeny bit dissonant.

    QUESTIONS: Why tune on open strings instead of fretted strings? Is my ear tricking me or what?

  2. #2
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    I would tend to agree with you in that Ukes, in my own experience, donít have consistent intonation between the fretted and open positions (though they are obviously intended to). There have been threads recently on compensation at the nut and saddle, and string hieght, etc. Compensation ensures, or near enough so, that intonation is good at every position.

    So, in maybe a better answer to your question, the expectation of a properly set up Uke is that itís in tune along the whole of its fretboard hence tuning other than with open Strings is an unneeded complication. That said I sometimes tune off of the second fret; Iíve done some work to set up my Ukes well, they are much improved but nut and saddle compensation isnít completely straight forward and an art Iíve yet to master. As ever in these things YMMV.

  3. #3
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    Convenience, speed, & it's just the way it seems to be done.
    Trying to do justice to various musical instruments.
    Formerly known as uke1950.

  4. #4
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    I tune open strings then check and retune if required by fretting up the neck.

  5. #5

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    Ukulele players, not everyone but most, know how their uke is, and it is a compromise. Myself I tune my uke to open strings because almost all chords I play have at least one open string. And they can be in all strings. And we love open strings.
    The 5th fret has to be put just right to be a reference. Yours may be that, but not everyones.

    I know to tune a bit flat, because my uke's a bit high nut. Better flat than have over sharp notes. Mine is for singing accompaniment, regards

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by ubulele View Post
    I tune my ukes primarily at the 5th fret, as this gives me a better compromise over the entire neck than tuning to the open strings.
    I do too. I have one string that is off just a hair above the fifth fret if I tune it open, but if I tune it on the fifth fret, it still lights up green when it is open, and all the way up the neck from there. Honestly, I think that I'm being obsessed with the insignificant by doing it that way, but I just like the face of the tuner to turn green on every fret I guess, and that is the way I can get it to do that. Why not?
    Last edited by Rllink; 11-12-2017 at 05:56 AM.
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  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by ubulele View Post
    I tune my ukes primarily at the 5th fret, as this gives me a better compromise over the entire neck than tuning to the open strings.
    I support the use of this method completely.

    That's not to say I think such an idea can possibly "give[s] me a better compromise...".This is unsupportable. There are a couple of factors to consider. First, the instrument and its scale are designed and built with the open strings tuned to specific frequencies in mind. Once we usurp this fundamental precept, the intonation built into the instrument is thrown entirely out. Done this way, even if the results could be as described, the "better balance[d]",fretted strings would be out of tune with any open string you might play. Second, even if that wasn't the case, when tuning while fretting the strings, it is utterly impossible to fret each with precisely the same pressure. Press harder on string #1 while tuning and that string will be flat. (unfortunately I cannot italicize the period) Intonation is far too precise, and even delicate, a balance to allow for this kind of unreliability.

    The reason I say I support anyone wanting to tune at the 5th fret, or the twelfth for that matter, is also twofold. First of all, there is no such thing as perfect intonation on any ukulele. The very best builders are trying to achieve an equal temperment, but know they will always fall short. Intonation on an ukulele will never be close enough for most anyone to tell the difference. So, what the heck. Second, if tuning this way gives you the impression that your result is better, then it is better. Perception is everything. So, whether or not an old piano tuner claims the science is against you, do it. Your playing experience is the only thing that matters.
    Last edited by stevepetergal; 11-12-2017 at 10:10 AM.
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  8. #8
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    On guitar, for most of my life, unless I was playing with others, when tuning I'd use the 5th-7th fret harmonics and listen to the 'beats' and then confirm with the fully-fretted 5th fret string-to-string tuning...

    However, on most ukes I've played getting these harmonics can be an issue, which seems mostly to be due to the shorter scale length somehow, and for me, once I've confirmed/fixed the setup so that the instrument intonates well enough, I find that tuning with the open strings to a tuner is faster and more accurate than the 5th fret FOR ME.

    If your instrument has issues with open strings vs 5th fret vs 12th fret being in tune, I suggest that your intonation is off, but most folks lack the hearing perception or the desire to develop more accurate hearing perception and will tune in the simplest way.

    Also, lots of folks here on UU are 50+ yrs old, and hearing loss increases with age, as well as pride interfering with folks admitting the hearing loss and getting help (hearing aids) - which I've encountered often enough with others in my own life to realize that some folks are obstinate and just going to argue that they do not have hearing deficits, so I keep to myself when that happens.

    Being 48 now, my hearing perception is better than ever, however if there is a 'white noise'. 'pink noise' or 'brown noise' present at sufficient volume it tends to mask my ability to perceive intelligible speech, but there are lots of times this is actually desired and often the reason for those 'sleep machines' that play digitized sounds of ocean waves or a torrential rain storm, as these also have a similar masking effect for most people.

    So for the best way to tune your own instruments, do whatever works for you, as it is all based upon your own hearing perception.

    The 'Holy Tuner-Use Magisterium' can be fully ignored if you wish.

    However if you are in a group, and playing with others you all need to be tuned to a common pitch reference, be it A-440hz or just someone else's arbitrary pitch reference. For as they say, everything is RELATIVE.
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  9. #9
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    I hardly noticed my way of tuning a guitar evolve over the space of 28 years, but even though I have had intermittent but currently growing interest in my ukuleles I think I can see myself adapting my method to them. It seems a good idea to have more than one point of tuning reference and probably a bit of compromise depending on the quality of the ukulele. I'm starting by tuning the third fret of the 2nd string to the open 4th string, then the fourth fret of the third string to the open 2nd string, then the open 1st string to the 5th fret of the 2nd string. If things sound a bit off I'll listen to the open 3rd string against the 3rd fret of the 1st string. Most ukuleles' saddles seem too thin to get much use out of compensation. A particular guitar repairer in London doesn't seem to think much of them even on a guitar with a 3mm saddle, and if the nut, fret-work and neck relief are healthy I pretty much agree.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by CGCE71 View Post
    I hardly noticed my way of tuning a guitar evolve over the space of 28 years, but even though I have had intermittent but currently growing interest in my ukuleles I think I can see myself adapting my method to them. It seems a good idea to have more than one point of tuning reference and probably a bit of compromise depending on the quality of the ukulele. I'm starting by tuning the third fret of the 2nd string to the open 4th string, then the fourth fret of the third string to the open 2nd string, then the open 1st string to the 5th fret of the 2nd string. If things sound a bit off I'll listen to the open 3rd string against the 3rd fret of the 1st string.
    This is a tuning method that shows thoughtful consideration. To get the best tuning from an ukulele, the open strings must be used when tuning, the strings must be tuned to one-another, and once one tunes a string in relation to another, it cannot be assumed it is right. Test, adjust, and retest your octaves and unisons.
    Or tune your open strings, using your electronic tuner and start playing. For most, this is best. After all, getting to the music is the most important part of this endeavor.
    If everybody wanted peace instead of another TV, then there would be peace.
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