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View Full Version : why do ukes often have such wide string spacing?



patmegowan
05-11-2015, 03:14 PM
Hi gang,

Let me start by saying I know the uke is not a guitar. With that disclaimer in place...

My (admittedly limited) research of about 15 different makes of tenor uke shows string spacing at the saddle to be significantly wider than, for example, my experience with classical guitars, which are themselves wider than most of the other instruments I play. Center to center spacings of 14mm or more have been common, whereas an elite concert classical guitar would typically be at 11.5 to 12mm in my experience.

Any idea why?

I don't see how it benefits the right hand, whether for strumming or note work--flamenco and classical players do plenty of both and are not clamoring for more space in the right hand.

I thought perhaps it had to do with left hand fingering the shorter scale/closer frets (roughly equivalent to starting at the 7th fret of a typical classical guitar), but the mandolin (which I also play) is shorter yet and has strings far closer together. The scale and chord forms are different on mandolin of course, but I'm still not seeing the benefit.

Going beyond thought experiments and comparisons, my experience so far suggests that 11-12mm (center to center at the saddle) gives more economical right hand movement for note work, smoother strumming (less tendency to "fall" between strings), and more distance to the fingerboard edge and hence less gutterball tendency on the A string.

But...I'm coming from the guitar/mandolin/bass world. Am I missing critical perspective? Are there uke specific techniques where this spacing benefits the player for instance?

Thanks in advance for your help!

Pat

CeeJay
05-11-2015, 04:33 PM
Concerts and Sopranos strings are closer together, but I don't know is the short and honest answer ....and the slightly (sorry) facetious sounding but not meant to be okay really ,really ,really ,but honest question is ....does it matter?

I speak as some prat who 40 odd years ago first started playing the ukelele.....and then after a while moved on to other arcane instruments like piano and banjo uke and acoustic guitar and electric guitar and piano again then mandolin and balalaika and then hey the uke popped up again and there were a piano accordion and a single row accordion ..you in the US call em Cajun Accordion, I call it a button box cos I am moronic.....and harmonicas .

I think each instrument has it's own quirks, similarities (tunings for example) and differences . And I don't want to sound snarky or tetchy .....honest ....I just get on with each one instrument individually..........I mean , here ...you play a Mandolin ...ass backwards guitar tuning (to put it in Chav/Redneck) Steel strung and absolutely no wiggle room on the fretboard.....but sounds like an Angel trilling it's heart out when played.

The Balalalaika ...I have had this sod 30 years ....it is impossible...EEA tuning ...you fret with your thumb on the two E strings and fret melody with your 1234 fingers on the A and sometimes the middle or both Es ........that's not the hard part ...the hard part is holding the sod still....its a triangle ..two pointy and sharp !!!! corners and three flat and straight edges ......grrrrrrrrr...you cannot grip the neck because you are fretting with your thumb ....

Anyway . I am straying from what I am leading up to . Which is this . Sometimes . In Music ,it just is . No reason ,no explanation .

Gb is F# ... ask me why? Cos it is . Okay ? And you know , sometimes that answer has to suffice , annoying as it is.


Now if this answer has annoyed , then I am sorry ,not meant to. Written word and all that ,had we been sat with a beverage or a tincture or two then it might have been slightly more civil sounding.;)

BlackBearUkes
05-11-2015, 04:36 PM
The standard for nut width is 1 3/8", with a string spacing of 3/8" or 10mm. I think what has happen over the last 10-15 years since the uke has gotten popular with sales increasing, is that beginners have wanted and gotten some builders to make the nut width 1 1/2"or wider to accommodate their lack of dexterity and practice. The thinking is that it will make them a better player from the get go when actually it hinders their playing ability over time. It is actually harder to play four strings with a wider string spacing of more than 10mm. The industry has bent to the needs thinking it will increase sales, which in fact is has since you see a lot of imports and factory uks with a wide nut width. That is basically how I see it. I personally won't build to anything other than the standard of 1 3/8" at the nut and that is for all ukes sizes from a sopranino (11 1/2" scale to the baritone with a 20" scale). Some may not agree with me, but when I started playing guitar and uke in the 60's, I never thought the instrument was at fault for my lack of ability.


Hi gang,

Let me start by saying I know the uke is not a guitar. With that disclaimer in place...

My (admittedly limited) research of about 15 different makes of tenor uke shows string spacing at the saddle to be significantly wider than, for example, my experience with classical guitars, which are themselves wider than most of the other instruments I play. Center to center spacings of 14mm or more have been common, whereas an elite concert classical guitar would typically be at 11.5 to 12mm in my experience.

Any idea why?

I don't see how it benefits the right hand, whether for strumming or note work--flamenco and classical players do plenty of both and are not clamoring for more space in the right hand.

I thought perhaps it had to do with left hand fingering the shorter scale/closer frets (roughly equivalent to starting at the 7th fret of a typical classical guitar), but the mandolin (which I also play) is shorter yet and has strings far closer together. The scale and chord forms are different on mandolin of course, but I'm still not seeing the benefit.

Going beyond thought experiments and comparisons, my experience so far suggests that 11-12mm (center to center at the saddle) gives more economical right hand movement for note work, smoother strumming (less tendency to "fall" between strings), and more distance to the fingerboard edge and hence less gutterball tendency on the A string.

But...I'm coming from the guitar/mandolin/bass world. Am I missing critical perspective? Are there uke specific techniques where this spacing benefits the player for instance?

Thanks in advance for your help!

Pat

CeeJay
05-11-2015, 05:07 PM
"Some may not agree with me, but when I started playing guitar and uke in the 60's, I never thought the instrument was at fault for my lack of ability."
BBUkes



Could not have put it better.

Play what you got . If you can't ,find something you can .:rock::music::cheers:

patmegowan
05-11-2015, 05:52 PM
CeeJay: no offense taken, and barring experience (whether other's or from my own customers) shedding more light I will continue to build to my own sensibility with an 11.5mm string spacing. However, given the time it takes to build an instrument and the long music-making life we hope for when we build, I think every detail is worth careful consideration, and the collective experience on this forum is a magnificent resource.

Blackbearukes: I share your preference that "wider ain't easier" in the long run. For a short time it may for instance make the stack of fingers on the open D major chord form seem easier, but that challenge would soon pass, and further down the road the closer spacing can ease fretting two strings with one finger, freeing up an additional finger for other options.

However, the variations I've seen at the nut are fairly small compared to the variations at the saddle, which have ranged from barely over 11mm to over 14mm between each string, with a median nearer the higher number than the lower. Just makes me wonder if I'm missing something, and I'm particularly curious about the preferences of players who have a demanding repertoire, whatever the style.

DennisK
05-11-2015, 06:44 PM
The standard for nut width is 1 3/8", with a string spacing of 3/8" or 10mm. I think what has happen over the last 10-15 years since the uke has gotten popular with sales increasing, is that beginners have wanted and gotten some builders to make the nut width 1 1/2"or wider to accommodate their lack of dexterity and practice. The thinking is that it will make them a better player from the get go when actually it hinders their playing ability over time. It is actually harder to play four strings with a wider string spacing of more than 10mm. The industry has bent to the needs thinking it will increase sales, which in fact is has since you see a lot of imports and factory uks with a wide nut width. That is basically how I see it. I personally won't build to anything other than the standard of 1 3/8" at the nut and that is for all ukes sizes from a sopranino (11 1/2" scale to the baritone with a 20" scale). Some may not agree with me, but when I started playing guitar and uke in the 60's, I never thought the instrument was at fault for my lack of ability.

Is there a standard string spacing at the bridge as well? I've been using 1 1/2" nut width, 1 3/4" 12th fret width, and 1 1/2" bridge spacing, just 'cause I don't know any better and the numbers are pretty. Feels good to my monster hands, but certainly wider than it really needs to be.

I did and still do blame my first electric guitar for my difficulties... my fingertips really are too big to play 1 11/16" nut width without muting neighboring strings at the first few frets, unless I cut the slots myself and really put them close to the edge.

Inksplosive AL
05-12-2015, 11:03 PM
I used to know a guy who shopped at the big and tall store. I once saw him put a 2 liter of soda in his front pocket he was quite the shoplifter. The whole bottle fit in his pocket so you could just see the cap. I asked and his reply was hey I guess fat guys need really big pockets.

More likely a normal sized pattern was just enlarged.

Made me chuckle.

mvinsel
05-13-2015, 08:31 AM
I have a couple of songs with chord changes where I prefer the 1.5" nut width over 1-3/8". For the time being I just pick up one of the ukes with a wider neck to play them. I think that many years of finger work left mine more blunt at the ends than most. In most of these situations I could have an easier fingering if I used my pinky for the C and G chords. I don't blame ukes for my lack of technique, it's just a matter of time allocation.

Since this is the luthiers forum, it's worth mentioning that even the novices among us can reduce the width of a neck pretty easily, while increasing it is quite a bit more tricky.

-Vinnie in Juneau