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Thread: Talk to Me about Dead Notes

  1. #1
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    Default Talk to Me about Dead Notes

    A while after buying my Kala concert, I noticed a dead note on the C string. If I tune up a step, it moves to the 5th fret, and when I tune down a step, it moves to the 9th. I didn't know what this phenomenon is until I read about dead notes. Why do they occur, and are they not considered a flaw? I ask, because even though I rarely notice the dead note when playing unless I hold that note, I'm less likely to pick up that uke because of it.

    I recently played an Opio acacia tenor, and it has several dead notes: D# on the C string, and the deadest dead note of all, A at the 12th fret on the A string plus a couple frets above and below it. I play mostly fingerstyle, and I play all the way up the neck, so this is unacceptable to me. Why isn't this instrument considered a second?

    I've played guitar most of my life and don't recall ever encountering dead notes, but the guitar is a longer scale instrument. Am I expecting too much of ukuleles?

    Edit: I'm not knocking Opio instruments. I've been meaning to post this question for a while, but I just happened to notice dead notes on the one Opio I played, and that sparked my interest.
    Last edited by twokatmew; 05-12-2018 at 06:07 AM. Reason: add comment
    Margaret, classical guitarist gone uke crazy

  2. #2
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    Dead notes? You maybe mean notes that a clip-on turner interprets as other notes than they should be. And perhaps they are also weak to your ear.

    I have also a Kala concert scale ukulele and with the nylgut strings it came with from a local store and who knows how long it had been there, the C string especially sounded somewhat a dissapointment. I changed new aquila nylgut strings to it and was so happy. Maybe what you say of a shorter scale has some truth also?

    I think even baritone uke has a shorter scale than classical guitar. And any acoustic instrument have some fundamental frequences and their overtones, which might explain that the "bad " note shifts when you change tension in strings. Because it will also make those those shift somewhat.

  3. #3
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    There is a pretty long thread about “dead” notes (also called “wolf” notes, I believe) on KoAloha tenors (Opio, too).

    The thread is interesting and almost ruined my love of my Opio. The instrument was the same instrument that I had loved and played...but suddenly it had this “flaw.”

    I decided to move on and I never even think about it while playing.

    On my Opio, like the other tenors, there is a note (usually D# or E-flat if memory serves) on the C string which just doesn’t ring like the other notes on the instrument. It sounds, but sustain is greatly and noticeably reduced.

    Andrew at HMS/The Ukulele Site checked his inventory and all of the KoAloha tenors exhibited this note.

    Upon further research, a number of my tenors from other manufacturers had similar issues at that spot, leaving me to theorize that the tenor body of a ukulele has a less resonant frequency at that frequency range—highlighted by the otherwise booming nature of a KoAloha.

    People have tried other strings and other tunings to defeat the issue—and some brands will have no issue whatsoever due to their construction.

    I decided to just keep playing my Opio and to stop worrying about it...after all, no instrument is fully in tune all the time—either considering equal or just temperament. I still hear the note, it just sustains less—and I can deal with that.
    Playing ukulele since January 2016.

    Have you participated in the thread, "How the Ukulele Found You?" If not, please consider adding your story--they are just fun to read.

    http://forum.ukuleleunderground.com/...lele-found-you

  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jarmo_S View Post
    Dead notes? You maybe mean notes that a clip-on turner interprets as other notes than they should be. And perhaps they are also weak to your ear.

    I have also a Kala concert scale ukulele and with the nylgut strings it came with from a local store and who knows how long it had been there, the C string especially sounded somewhat a dissapointment. I changed new aquila nylgut strings to it and was so happy. Maybe what you say of a shorter scale has some truth also?

    I think even baritone uke has a shorter scale than classical guitar. And any acoustic instrument have some fundamental frequences and their overtones, which might explain that the "bad " note shifts when you change tension in strings. Because it will also make those those shift somewhat.
    No. I mean notes that sound (barely) with an instant decay while playing.

    I've restrung the Kala several times with different types/brands of strings, and it doesn't change the issue. I just work around it, as I typically don't hold that note too much.

    Yes, a classical guitar typically has a scale of 650mm (~25.5"), though there are instruments with longer and shorter scales. My baritone Kala has a scale length of 20.25" if I remember correctly.

    Thx!
    Last edited by twokatmew; 05-12-2018 at 05:59 AM. Reason: add comment
    Margaret, classical guitarist gone uke crazy

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by Choirguy View Post
    There is a pretty long thread about “dead” notes (also called “wolf” notes, I believe) on KoAloha tenors (Opio, too).

    The thread is interesting and almost ruined my love of my Opio. The instrument was the same instrument that I had loved and played...but suddenly it had this “flaw.”

    I decided to move on and I never even think about it while playing.

    On my Opio, like the other tenors, there is a note (usually D# or E-flat if memory serves) on the C string which just doesn’t ring like the other notes on the instrument. It sounds, but sustain is greatly and noticeably reduced.

    Andrew at HMS/The Ukulele Site checked his inventory and all of the KoAloha tenors exhibited this note.

    Upon further research, a number of my tenors from other manufacturers had similar issues at that spot, leaving me to theorize that the tenor body of a ukulele has a less resonant frequency at that frequency range—highlighted by the otherwise booming nature of a KoAloha.

    People have tried other strings and other tunings to defeat the issue—and some brands will have no issue whatsoever due to their construction.

    I decided to just keep playing my Opio and to stop worrying about it...after all, no instrument is fully in tune all the time—either considering equal or just temperament. I still hear the note, it just sustains less—and I can deal with that.
    Thanks, I'll look for that thread.

    The D# on the C string I could live with. But the A at the 12th fret is the absolute worst. It barely sounds at all, while the other 12th fret notes sound and sustain. Two frets directly above and below that A are also dead though not quite as bad. That's five frets in a row, and as I play up there and hold those notes at times, I couldn't use that uke for certain pieces I play. I was just wondering how much of an issue this is with ukes in general.

    Thanks.
    Last edited by twokatmew; 05-12-2018 at 05:53 AM.
    Margaret, classical guitarist gone uke crazy

  6. #6
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    Dead notes........a real can of worms. Just as reference I have had a large sampling of high end ukes, so has a number of friends that I play with. We also talked to Doc J about this who has owned mores high end custom build ukes then anyone we know. Bottom line it can happen whether it is a $40 Dolphin a $4000 Ko'olau or anything in between. Ukulele strings can be finicky on certain instruments, regardless of string brand or type. Changeing strings to another brand or type sometimes helps.

    Example, a dead note on the 3rd string 2nd fret. We have changed the florocarbon for a wound. Sometimes have to change brands of wound string from South Coast to Thomastik to D'Addario. The different materials they use have different tension, mass or frequencies which might do the trick. Ask Andrew from HMS about intonation on a uke, even a bigger can of worm. They can have it perfect with the strings delivered on the uke, we change them and get mad because the intonation "sucks" on this insrrument. I think it all comes down to the short scale length and relatively high tension of GCEA compared to guitars.

    There is a whole art/science behind a luthier fixing this. Basically they are changing the frequency of the top by adding a small blob of silly putty to the top, changing spots until the dead note is eliminated. They mark the spot then glue a piece of ebony the same weight as the putty on the inside of the top
    Last edited by DownUpDave; 05-12-2018 at 06:42 AM.
    Ukuleles.............yes please !!!!

  7. #7
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    It happens with guitars. There are plenty of threads out there that talk about it. A universal fix attempt is to attach weight to the headstock, although that may or may not help. There is an old post by Rick Turner on AGF that talks about bracing and or adding neck reinforcement, but that is fine for a $10K guitar.

    I have had some thud notes that I have had to work around, usually on the C string at the 3rd/4th fret. I have tried going with a lighter C string that seemed to help some. The A at the 12th is a real killer. People will laugh when I say I had a problem with the C at the 15th fret being dead, but if you play up the neck and occasionally what that note as a transitional ring, it can be frustrating. I swapped out the A string to a thinner one, which helped marginally but then all the A string notes sounding too thin/bright.

    After 2 years I finally eliminated the 15th fret issue it by tuning down a half a step, which you did without success, and trying to balance out the string tension overall. There is something to the effect that string tension has on other strings. Southcoast may be able to help in that respect.

    John

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by DownUpDave View Post
    There is a whole art/science behind a luthier fixing this. Basically they are changing the frequency of the top by adding a small blob of silly putty to the top, changing spots until the dead note is eliminated. They mark the spot then glue a piece of ebony the same weight as the putty on the inside of the top
    I had never heard of that. That is a great approach to resolving the issue. Probably would result in slightly less sustain overall, same as adding bracing, but it would balance things out. Excellent!

    John

  9. #9
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    Wolf notes - resonant frequency - welcome to wood and strings....

    Originally Posted by ukemunga:
    "Best is a very personal thing. You gotta play it to love it. And you'll always think there's one better. And there is."

  10. #10
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    As a builder, one of the things I strive to avoid is having the resonant frequency of the body matching that of a note. The frequency of my sopranos tend to be close to middle C, but I make sure when all is assembled, and I tap the body, the note produced is at least 10 cents sharp or flat from C. Rarely an instrument will be within a few cents; enlarging the sound hole, thinning the top or back, or shaving the braces will adjust things.
    Bradford

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