View Full Version : abalone fret marker inlay question

10-05-2015, 06:34 PM
I recently purchased a tenor from a well-known supplier. As I don't plan to ship it back over my issue I will leave their name out of it as they will not have a chance to correct it. Suffice to say they are one that offers set-up and inspection prior to shipping.

I have a situation that I don't know if it is normal or not. The description says "custom abalone fret marker inlays". When I got it I noticed that the inlays range from very dull to bright, even within the same inlay. It really detracts from the appearance. The difference from dull/dirty to bright is big. As this was inspected and sent out I have two questions...

Is it normal for inlay to be dull? I have never seen it in any of my stringed instruments but I haven't had that many.

Is there something I can do to restore the inlay short of sending it back?

10-06-2015, 02:01 AM
I have several ukes with abalone inlay fret markers. On my Fender, there are a couple that are unusually dark compared to the rest. The abalone in general on the Fender is darker compared to my other ukes. But, those two fret marker are almost as dark as the rosewood on the fret board and do blend in making them difficult to see.

It was my first uke and I didn't know they were dark when I got it because I had nothing to compare it to. However, it is a great sounding uke and I use the side fret markers for reference much more than those on the fret board so it has never bothered me.

That said, most of the online sites that offer an inspection and setup have a return policy. For example, HMS offers a 7 day return if you are not happy with your purchase.

I don't know of any way to "fix" them or make them brighter. If you don't like it, I would say return it if possible.

10-06-2015, 03:17 AM
Abalone shell is a natural substance that can vary in appearance and color. It also can refract the light differently which affects the shimmer or sheen. I had a KoAloha tenor that had a "dull" looking marker, but it never bothered me. If yours is "bad" enough that you can't live with it, call the seller and see what they say about it. Oh and by the way, I think that you have named the seller by your description.

10-06-2015, 04:52 AM
As mentioned above, abalone is a natural substance. I have replace the original markers on one uke with abalone. I took the time to orient (rotate) the markers so that they were the most visible from my perspective and not from the opposite direction. If I rotate the ukulele and look at the markers they get darker and lighter. But on a production ukulele no one is going to spend the time to get the perfect orientation.

The only issue would be if they are so dark that they blend into the fretboard and you need to be able to see them to play; not use the side markers.


Ukulele Eddie
10-06-2015, 05:00 AM
As mentioned, they can vary a lot and would not be fail QC based on color variation. It's an easy and relatively inexpensive fix for a local luthier.

10-06-2015, 05:21 AM
After I built my first ukulele, the abalone fret markers gleamed. But after some playing the fretboard rosewood dried a bit and a few of the markers seemed dull and less obvious. With a application of mineral oil to the fretboard, as my uke building instructor had recommended, everything was rejuvenated and the fret markers all back to their glamorous selves.

10-06-2015, 06:15 AM
So what oil did you use?

I have recently started using 3-In-One oil on my fretboards and bridges. I think that is what was used on old Martin guitars, but is no longer recommended. For years I used lemon oil, but the 3-In-One seems to be a better way to go.


10-06-2015, 06:47 AM
So what oil did you use?

I have recently started using 3-In-One oil on my fretboards and bridges. I think that is what was used on old Martin guitars, but is no longer recommended. For years I used lemon oil, but the 3-In-One seems to be a better way to go.


John, I just use plain mineral oil. The same oil that I use in the kitchen on my solid wood cutting boards, koa rice paddle and olive wood salad servers.

Beau Hannam Ukuleles
10-06-2015, 12:34 PM
shell is like wood- it has figure and bright parts and dull parts.

10-06-2015, 01:02 PM
This is a non-issue topic. You ordered abalone, that's what you got.

Personally, I don't care for abalone markers for exactly the reasons mentioned.

Besides, the side markers are more important for performers, potentially making the fretboard markers irrelevant.

10-06-2015, 02:00 PM
I will jump in here and :deadhorse: by agreeing with everything that was said before. It is normal for abolone and a non-issue. I have a $1700.00 Mya Moe with a fretboard marker that is dark and cannot be seen, you get use to it. It is what it is and not a QC issue for either of us.

10-06-2015, 03:25 PM
The only time I ever use my fretboard markers is when I am showing a newbie a chord, or trying to learn a chord I've never seen before. Side markers are way more important, to me.
When I had a new uke built a few years ago, there were no fretboard markers, only side markers.....just sayin'.

10-06-2015, 05:50 PM
Thank you all for your thoughts. As this is normal variation all is well. I didn't know what was normal and what wasn't. I will also keep the mineral oil idea in mind for when I change strings next time.

10-06-2015, 05:52 PM
I rarely look for markers when I play. I think the feel of the frets and muscle memory of the position plays a bigger part for me, even shredding up the fretboard. I often play with my eyes closed, and I rarely miss. In fact, the markers sometimes screw me up, particularly when jumping between the uke and the guitar. Does anyone else have this issue?