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Thread: Unusually difficult to barre first fret?

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Dec 2017

    Question Unusually difficult to barre first fret?

    Hello! This is my first time on the UU forums, as I felt this would be the most appropriate place to post this. I apologise in advance if my inexperience/laymanship shows:

    Simply put, I am finding it unusually difficult to barre the first fret on my uke, and it’s preventing me from getting clean sounds out of chords I’m learning, like Bb, Bbm and F#. Somehow the strings feel a lot stiffer on the first fret than anywhere else on the fretboard, and I need to apply significantly more pressure with the barre to have the notes ring out (I can barre the second fret onwards without a problem). The problem seems to be improving with practice but it doesn’t seem at all normal that I have to apply way more pressure specifically at the first fret, and I don’t want to risk straining my wrist in the process.

    Is this the sort of issue caused by high action? Are there any other plausible explanations, and should I get my uke looked at by a professional luthier? Any help would be appreciated!

    (I did check the action myself though I’m not sure how common this test is - when I press the strings down at the third fret, there is about 0.75-1mm of daylight between the crown of the first fret and the strings... remember reading somewhere that this is a bit much but I could be mistaken...)

  2. #2


    This sounds like a case of the nut action being too high. I recommend taking it to a skilled music shop and have a setup done. You will be surprised how much easier the entire instrument will be to play!

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Feb 2012


    +1 what they said. I've lived it, had it done and loved it when I had it done on all 3 of my ukes. It makes a world of difference.
    Lanikai LU-21C concert - nato laminate (my starter uke!)
    Ohana CK-42R concert - solid sinker redwood top, solid rosewood back and sides, maple binding
    Kala KA-FMCG concert- solid spruce top, laminate spalted flame maple back and sides, mahogany binding

    Money can't buy happiness but it can buy a ukulele which is basically the same thing.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Aug 2017
    Pennsylvania, USA


    Ditto on the advice given above: the nut height can have a very large impact on the action at the first fret.

    You might also notice that notes go a little bit sharp when fretted at the first fret. This is because the high nut requires a string to be brought under additional tension just in order to fret the note, and this can be enough to negatively affect intonation.

    Get your instrument set up by a luthier or instrument technician and these issues should go away.

  5. #5


    I have a newly purchased Martin S1 on the way in transit and I already have plans to take it in for a pro setup.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Apr 2013
    just yonder...


    Agree with the nut slots being too high. This is very common in lower-cost ukes, guitars, mandos and banjos.

    Likely your intonation is quite sharp as well, and despite open strings being in tune, when you play, say an F Maj chord the fingers on the 4th and 2nd string have notes that are sharp (check with your tuner).

    Doing a 'full' setup should fix the action, as well as help with intonation which also requires the saddle to be compensated FOR THE STRINGS you have on there. WARNING - changing strings to a different brand/gauge/tension MAY fuss up your intonation a bit.

    The uke is not broken nor necessarily shoddily made, it just needs some TLC and fine tuning to get it to feel, sound, and play better and all of this is totally normal tweaking to have done on any instrument. Some need more tweaking than others and some don't need any at all.
    Just the FAQs __________less is more

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Apr 2017


    The problem described by the OP is sadly not at all unusual. When I started playing I struggled in a similar way, through places like this forum I realised that my Uke needed work doing to it. A friend sorted out my first Uke and I have done all my others myself - it’s not difficult once you know how but does require some care and patience - likewise I have reduced saddle heights to improve playability.

    Like others I recommend to the OP that he/she gets someone to help him/her sort out the nut (and then the saddle too), but it might be that an experienced person can perfectly adequately do the work rather than having to find a Luthier - worked for me, but YMMV.
    Last edited by Graham Greenbag; 12-05-2017 at 12:37 PM.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Mar 2014
    Pickering, ON, Canada


    Everyone has given good observations regarding slot depths in the nut. A high action make barr chords on the first fret very tough. What size of ukulele do you have. I find sopranos with a high action the hardest to barr at the first fret. It's pure physics, your finger is very close to the nut so the string length is short and will not "give" as easily.

    Here is a simple test to check action height at the nut. Take a strip of paper fold it over so it is double thickness. Place this between the top of the first fret wire and bottom of the string. Push down on the string at the third fret. Gentley pull on the paper and if there is resistance the action height is ok. No resistance and the nut slot needs to be cut deeper to lower the string height.
    Ukuleles.............yes please !!!!

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Jan 2016


    Before you invest money in lowering the nut, see if you can play some other ukes to see if it is any easier on them. The first fret is always the hardest to barre, but a high nut makes it a whole lot harder still. You'll need to work out whether your issue is just lack of practice, a high nut, or a combination of the two.

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Feb 2016
    The U.K.


    And if it turns out that the Nut IS high, a set of nut files
    is what I got, so no expense at shops, and I am able to
    fettle any stringed instrument that comes my way!
    With patience and a gentle touch, there is nothing to fear
    and if you go too deep, nuts are cheap enough,or often
    can be turned upside down to start again! Or built up again
    as per many posts on here!
    All power and respect to you Concert,Tenor and Baritone players, but Soprano is what does it for me every time!

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