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Mattyukaholic
09-19-2014, 10:12 AM
It's that time of year when I start another term of teaching ukulele lessons at the local adult education centre. At the end of the lessons I always stay behind to give advice or clear things up and students often come to me with their ukes to see if they are good for them or need setting up.

And I have to get it off my chest: shoddy fretwork!! Aaaaggggghhh!! Why is it you can get production ukuleles where a lot of attention has been paid elsewhere (pretty bindings, good finishes, solid woods and good construction) and then you get frets that are crudely cut and uncomfortable to play?

I know that often changes in humidity etc are to blame for sharp or unseated frets but I'm referring to crudely cut and filed frets. Some of these ukes are like cheese graters. It's like the fretwire has been cut but hardly any filing has been done. Often all they need is a file and steel wool passing over them to smooth off.

I know this is why many of us go to excellent suppliers that do set-up work and I am so thankful for these. It just amazes me that so much care and attention is paid elsewhere on these ukes but it always seems like fretwork let's them down.

Rant over!

Matt
Ps. Purposely not mentioning any brands so please don't either. This is a common problem I've seen on student's ukes across many makes. Just wondering if others get frustrated by the same thing?

PhilUSAFRet
09-19-2014, 11:18 AM
I think many of the "low end" ukes are made by people on production schedules who just want to fill their quota, get paid, and go home. They don't really take pride in the finished product. That's why the same ukes are finished to a much higher standard when they are being made for a well known uke company with high quality assurance standards and some kind of guarantee.

Jon Moody
09-19-2014, 11:29 AM
Well, for production ukuleles, one of the biggest things to cut down on (in terms of time and thus, labor costs) is fretwork and setups, so this isn't that uncommon at all.

Ukejenny
09-19-2014, 12:25 PM
I feel like producers who don't do a real finish to the instrument are just trying to push the merchandise and are hoping that the bling and looks will catch the customers, especially customers who don't know enough to look for a real setup.

VegasGeorge
09-19-2014, 01:18 PM
I recently bought a Banjolele and a wood resonator Uke. The fret ends were atrocious. So, I went on eBay and bought a luthier's fret file, for small frets, and very quickly and easily dressed the fret ends myself. Now, both instruments are a joy to play. Yes, I think it's stupid and unnecessary for makers to ship instruments with sharp, scratchy undressed frets. But, the solution is readily available. If anyone has any question about it, there are several good videos on youtube that show you exactly what to do.

Rick Turner
09-19-2014, 01:24 PM
May I respectfully suggest that you get what you pay for? I have a feeling that more than 90% of ukes are bought based on looks, not playability nor sound. So where do you think the manufacturers are putting their efforts? Yes, in seducing your eyeballs, not hands and ears.

SteveZ
09-19-2014, 01:38 PM
Unfortunately, that's one of the problems with purchasing a low-end instrument from vendors who don't do quality inspection and set-up of the instrument prior to delivery to the buyer. Mass-production of items made of thin woods, laminates, glue, bindings and precision fittings, coupled with bulk boxing and shipment worldwide, followed by diverse distribution is a formula for disappointment.

This situation is not unique to ukuleles. The same complaint is posted on mandolin and guitar forums. VegasGeorge called it correctly regarding the value of having a couple basic (and inexpensive) luthier tools and learning how to use them.

Going to reputable vendors who provide good service and well-prepared instruments can be the difference between fun and frustration. Buying from folk who sell a "box containing a ukulele-like thing" and simply ship the purchased item sight-unseen or inspected may save a couple bucks, but the result is all-too-often disappointing.

hollisdwyer
09-19-2014, 02:30 PM
May I respectfully suggest that you get what you pay for? I have a feeling that more than 90% of ukes are bought based on looks, not playability nor sound. So where do you think the manufacturers are putting their efforts? Yes, in seducing your eyeballs, not hands and ears.

Totally agree with Mr. Turners' comments. For me, the crossing of the border from mass produced instruments to instruments that are built with craftmanship and love was an amazing revelation. The difference in sound, playability and the fine detailing that delivers a truly beautiful object is like the difference between chalk and cheese.

Nickie
09-19-2014, 02:51 PM
Well, maybe I've been lucky so far....the cheapest concert uke I got had one sharp fret end on it, so I filed it down with my nail file. It's fine now.
I must be different, cause even though I only buy low/mid end ukes, I don't buy for looks, I buy for sound and how that neck feels to my hand. Very important!
The first thing I do is gently run my hand up and down the sides of the fretbaord, when checking out a new uke. I say gently, so I don't spear my hand, in case something was left sticking out. If it's rough, it goes back on the rack....it just doesn't make any sense that somone spend a lot of time making the body of the uke all pretty, even sound good, then do a shoddy fretboard and frets.....geez.

CeeJay
09-19-2014, 03:09 PM
It's that time of year when I start another term of teaching ukulele lessons at the local adult education centre. At the end of the lessons I always stay behind to give advice or clear things up and students often come to me with their ukes to see if they are good for them or need setting up.

And I have to get it off my chest: shoddy fretwork!! Aaaaggggghhh!! Why is it you can get production ukuleles where a lot of attention has been paid elsewhere (pretty bindings, good finishes, solid woods and good construction) and then you get frets that are crudely cut and uncomfortable to play?

I know that often changes in humidity etc are to blame for sharp or unseated frets but I'm referring to crudely cut and filed frets. Some of these ukes are like cheese graters. It's like the fretwire has been cut but hardly any filing has been done. Often all they need is a file and steel wool passing over them to smooth off.

I know this is why many of us go to excellent suppliers that do set-up work and I am so thankful for these. It just amazes me that so much care and attention is paid elsewhere on these ukes but it always seems like fretwork let's them down.

Rant over!

Matt
Ps. Purposely not mentioning any brands so please don't either. This is a common problem I've seen on student's ukes across many makes. Just wondering if others get frustrated by the same thing?

Right .

Okay , whose fault is this ? It is our bloody fault, because we keep on buying the bloody tat that is hawked to us by music shops who buy the crap that is churned out by the factories ...most of which are in a far flung foreign land.......this is not just Ukes , but other instruments ...Accordions ,Mandolins ,Banjos , Guitars ...I could go on ...........Hohner (Germany)for instance badge a range of instruments as such and the impression given is ..ah Hohner , Vorsprung Durch Techno Musik und so weiter ...but they are not the same quality as the price you are paying for.

There is a point, my friends where budget does not have to mean "crap" ,but the tipping point these days seems to be ...screw the customer ...we're corporate.....we can sell any old shit ...well no...if it is faulty,duff,crap,unplayable ..then take it back under the warranty and say ...Oi ...this is pants... I want a better one ...money back ...etc.....and if it is unplayable ,then it is not fit for the purpose for which it was sold .(UK Law) No arguement......I vibrate with fury when I read of these scams by so called instrument manufacturers.

Rant. Over. Finished with Engines.

CJ

CeeJay
09-19-2014, 03:17 PM
May I respectfully suggest that you get what you pay for? I have a feeling that more than 90% of ukes are bought based on looks, not playability nor sound. So where do you think the manufacturers are putting their efforts? Yes, in seducing your eyeballs, not hands and ears.

Aye Mr Turner ..you do get what you pay for ...and then again sometimes you don't and then again sometimes you pay over the odds .....

If a factory cannot churn out decent , playable instruments .no frills no frippery at a fair price ...then they have no business doing business...if they WILL not turn out decent , playable instruments etc then they are nobbut crooks...(and that will not lead the potential punter/learner player on to such gents as your good self as they will become disillusioned)......a factory such as this ,and it seems there are some , should be razed to the ground..... alright a bit extreme ....perhaps a restraining order put upon it....

CeeJay
09-19-2014, 03:50 PM
Manhours are a major cost in manufacturing. Dressing the frets on a production uke and setting up might add 1 or 2 manhours to the production cost. Expensive skilled manhours.
Maybe that could actually double the production cost in some factories.
As a teacher, maybe a different view would be that the factories are providing some bread and butter set up work for your students?

So a 15 pound (sterling) ukelele becomes a 30 pound ukelele? Seems fair to me ........no point in buying something that is total rubbish ...nor is there any point in buying top of the range until you are competent to go there..

CeeJay
09-19-2014, 04:16 PM
We've become incredibly spoiled by what we can get for our money. If the same instruments were still being made in the US or UK, paying workers a decent wage and benefits, how much more would even the cheapest uke (that's actually worth buying as an instrument) cost.

I come at it from the other side: I'm continually amazed at how fine most instruments are for what we're paying. Intonation is seldom a serious problem. Tone is often surprisingly good, considering you're paying as much as you would, say, on one trip to the grocery store. Since the factory can't consult you about what action you prefer, and action is easier to lower than to raise, it just makes sense that factory ukes almost always come with high action. I factor in the price of a setup when I compare instrument and vendor pricing, just like I factor in shipping and whether the uke comes with a gig bag, case or strap.

It's also no fault on the part of the manufacturers to tailor instruments to what the market actually demands. Most people (particularly those buying the cheaper ukes) don't do adequate research: they hardly ever inquire about setup or how smooth the edges of the frets are, and if setup is mentioned in ads, it doesn't register as being the big deal it ought to be. (Similarly, how many ads focus on the quality or gear ratio of the tuners, or show pics of the internal bracing, while they tout that the instrument comes with Aquila strings, the most temporary and inconsequential feature?) Folks just look at the brand, the price, the wood, the bling, maybe a few reviews and sound clips, and make their decision based on that. If a uke costs even $10 or $15 more because it's been professionally adjusted—something that actually makes it more of a bargain—, the vendor generally loses the sale—ask Mim.

Manufacturers sell what sells best. That these instruments are still as good as they are is a credit to the manufacturers, who, I believe, still strive to provide the best instruments they can despite largely clueless buyers with strange, unrealistic expectations. I think they do an amazingly good job.

Wow, so on one hand we have a condemnation of (some...to be fair) factory built instruments ...and now we have an equally heartfelt supportive post for (some) factory built instruments....

To be honest I still believe that it all goes down to the individual purchaser/seller conundrum.....some purveyors of merchandise are rotters ...and some vendors have not got a clue....and that is where the mayhem abounds.

As Ubulele states the factory cannot consult you on the set up ...therefore I as a punter must accept certain generic qualities that should be within the parameters of "at least playable" .

If not , then the merchant is selling goods of the quality "Not Fit For Purpose " etc...Actually Ubulubbly I am going to stop here ...I have read and re-read your post and I disagree.....You are on the side of the manufacturer.Aha You Kapitan Of Industry..(lol)I am sorry but the punter does not "demand" dross , but does get given it because that is what the manufacturer supplies...oh and the punter is at fault because as a beginner he/she is a bit clueless about what they actually need...and at this point as someone who has actually bought a Russian motorbike (twice) and whom has consumed a copious amount of Vino Collapso I am going to sod off to bed....LOL

GoodNight

Doc_J
09-19-2014, 04:50 PM
If I have sharp frets or extended fret ends, these two tools (bevel file and Stew-Mac fret file) work well.
I wouldn't recommend them on highly polished fret ends, but only on simple bevel-filed fret ends.

http://i1298.photobucket.com/albums/ag56/Doc_Jenkins/P1060781_zpsc7420ec6.jpg

Rick Turner
09-19-2014, 05:18 PM
The better retailers ALL do "bench tests" on ALL the ukes (and guitars, mandos, banjos, etc.) they sell and will either take care of any minor setup issues or return the instrument to the manufacturer. These stores are not likely to be selling sub-$100.00 ukes, though. You are going to pay more for that service in slightly higher prices, but in the end, you will save...save frustration, save luthier money, save by not having to do the work yourself.

The cause of sharp fret ends is always an issue of the fingerboard shrinking as it goes from just glued up (most fretboard glue jobs are done with water based glues...not in my shop!) to drying out, or from incompletely cured wood (a common problem with ebony even on some expensive instruments), or from the instrument being built at a considerable higher humidity than it goes to. Filing the ends of the frets is no big deal, though if you don't know how to do it properly, you can really bugger up the sides of the fingerboard.

Loose frets, high frets, low frets, frets that have not been properly seated, frets that have not been leveled, crowned, and polished...these are manufacturing defects, but as has been pointed out, these are issues that take well trained human hands. Are you willing to pay for those hands?

Mattyukaholic
09-19-2014, 09:58 PM
I guess it just goes to show what pressure the people on these production lines must be under. It normally only takes me a few minutes to file and polish the fret ends. I suppose when you're a big operation those few minutes all add up.

It's right you get what you pay for but it seems such a shame when the rest of an instrument is fairly well put together in other regards (speaking relatively of course.)