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View Full Version : To 'set up' or not to 'set up'...that is the question...



Komichido
03-19-2017, 09:01 AM
I ordered a Kala Soprano travel Uke so that I had an Ukulele with me where ever I go. It arrived with Aquila strings and an awesome bag. It sounds great right out of the box and properly tuned, but should I go get it set Up?

I'm new to music and I don't know the value in this service. It's 49 dollars at Guitar Center here in Las Vegas. Will it make the instrument even better? Will they really set it up? Like shave the nut or saddle if necessary, really set it up? Thoughts?

janeray1940
03-19-2017, 09:11 AM
I've been playing for 8+ years now and have never felt the need to get a uke "set up." My thinking is that if you like how it plays and there are no issues with intonation, don't worry about it - just play!

jollyboy
03-19-2017, 09:14 AM
I don't think that you are going to get many people telling you that set up is a waste of time :) Mostly everyone here appreciates the value of a decent set up. A lot of people buy ukes exclusively from specialist suppliers who include it as part of the service.

On the other hand... if your uke plays okay 'out of the box' then it's clearly not essential. Will you notice any difference? Maybe. As far as paying a particular vendor to set the instrument up for you - I would check with them as to what exactly is included. Find out what you are paying for. Ask lots of questions :)

Rllink
03-19-2017, 09:18 AM
I've been playing for 8+ years now and have never felt the need to get a uke "set up." My thinking is that if you like how it plays and there are no issues with intonation, don't worry about it - just play!I agree. I also think that if one does get a setup, it should be individualized, not just set up to some other arbitrary standard.

jollyboy
03-19-2017, 09:39 AM
I agree. I also think that if one does get a setup, it should be individualized, not just set up to some other arbitrary standard.

I don't feel that it's accurate to describe the process as arbitrary. Typically, a set up is about optimizing the playability of the instrument. While this is rarely tailored to the needs of the individual player it's hardly random.

SteveZ
03-19-2017, 09:39 AM
If the instrument feels comfortable to play, then that's all that matters. If and when the instrument feels sore to the fingers and you look at it with the "pleasure requires pain" feeling, then consider messing with the action.

There are plenty of videos, instruction sheets and all on how to do a set-up. Learning how to do your own is even better, because then you have really customized the instrument to you - somethibg most techs will never do for you. The tools to do a set-up can cost as little as $5, so the investment isn't brutal.

Bottom line - there is no rush as long as you are pleased with the instrument's current performance.

Choirguy
03-19-2017, 09:45 AM
I am not sure $49 plus tax to Guitar Center--which is by no means a ukulele centric store or well known for luthier work--is a good expense.

For a setup, I would suggest contacting a local ukulele group and asking for recommendations. Chances are that if you live in a population center large enough for a Guitar Center, there will be a ukulele group somewhere in your area.

bikemech
03-19-2017, 09:53 AM
If you like the way it sounds and plays then leave it be.

The only reason I would see for setting it up is if an experienced player has noticed something out of whack with the uke. Perhaps, in the future, you will be that experienced player and notice that there is something awry with your Kala. On the other hand, with further experience, you might appreciate the factory set-up even more; maybe the Kala technicians did a great job.

hendulele
03-19-2017, 10:35 AM
If you like the way it sounds and plays then leave it be.

The only reason I would see for setting it up is if an experienced player has noticed something out of whack with the uke. Perhaps, in the future, you will be that experienced player and notice that there is something awry with your Kala. On the other hand, with further experience, you might appreciate the factory set-up even more; maybe the Kala technicians did a great job.

If you bought it from a vendor, it's possible the vendor set it up for you. As others have said, if it feels good and intonation is OK, I would not sweat it right now.

Camsuke
03-19-2017, 10:36 AM
I would highly recommend that you learn to do your own setups, that way it will be made to measure.

Komichido
03-19-2017, 11:01 AM
Thank you all very much for the feedback. The concensus is that it's not necessary if the Uke sounds and plays well, which it does. Saved me 49 bucks that could go toward a Tenor I'm looking at ..lol..:shaka:

Debussychopin
03-19-2017, 11:04 AM
You'll know by playing a bit if it needs it. Usually if intonation is a bit off where it may bother you, sure, try getting it set up by a professional.
If there are any other aspects that bother your play, like sharp frets or too high of a string height then get that adjusted as well.

However, I'm one not to agree on having string height adjusted absolutely. Like that is the automatic thing to do. Getting it down to electric guitar sting height.
I don't get it. I guess I can, it allows one for more leniency in fingering improperly and still get a sound out , I believe this is more an American thing than anywhere else.
I play classical guitar and string height is a large issue in that group as well but learning to play properly with a range of string heights is beneficial for learning fingerings properly and gives you a better range of dynamics and expression.

1931jim
03-20-2017, 02:44 PM
I would highly recommend that you learn to do your own setups, that way it will be made to measure.
Plus Plus. I agree. Learn to change your own strings, adjust the action at the nut to your own standards, have a 2.5 mm plus or minus clearance at the 12th fret by adjusting the saddle height. It is all a part of being a ukulele or guitar player.
Komichido you wrote....."""It sounds great right out of the box and properly tuned, but should I go get it set Up? """
Always remember that old saying......if it ain't broke don't fix it.

PhilUSAFRet
03-20-2017, 02:55 PM
With just a little research, you will understand what a "setup" actually is and what's involved in doing one. If you have even a little "craft type" skills, smoothing fret ends, carefully sanding nuts and saddles to lower or deepen nut slots ever so slightly is not rocket science. Care is needed to keep from putting new nicks and scratches and overdoing any one of several setup tasks, thereby requiring more work. Most of my ukes have not required any "major" setup work. Checking for level frets and intonation is easy. A good overview of a setup is on theukesite and many tutorials are on youtube. Good luck.

maffy
03-21-2017, 12:25 AM
...hello all, well a setup - except for intonation issues - is something that really depends on how you feel the instrument under your hands and how you play because the action is something personal. Not all of my instruments had a setup when i bought them.
If your soprano "sounds great right out of the box and properly tuned" just play it. If over time you will realize that you want to adjust something of it you'll take it to an acoustic luthier (if you doesn't feel confident doing the setup on your own). :)

DownUpDave
03-21-2017, 12:52 AM
I ordered a Kala Soprano travel Uke so that I had an Ukulele with me where ever I go. It arrived with Aquila strings and an awesome bag. It sounds great right out of the box and properly tuned, but should I go get it set Up?

I'm new to music and I don't know the value in this service. It's 49 dollars at Guitar Center here in Las Vegas. Will it make the instrument even better? Will they really set it up? Like shave the nut or saddle if necessary, really set it up? Thoughts?


As you say you are new to music and don't know the value of this service........well I can relate. I bought a Gretsch laminate tenor as my first uke 3 years ago, I was new to music as well. I learned on that instrument and a couple months in an experienced player and luthier was playing it and commented on how high the action was, height of the strings above the frets. He did a set up for me and lowered the action. I could not believe how much easier barr chords were to make, it was painful before, now it was butter. Just some food for thought.

Mivo
03-21-2017, 02:36 AM
Learn to change your own strings, adjust the action at the nut to your own standards, have a 2.5 mm plus or minus clearance at the 12th fret by adjusting the saddle height. It is all a part of being a ukulele or guitar player.

I think I disagree here. People who like to tinker, they do stuff like this, but I'd wager most guitarists go to a luthier to get their instrument set up. I'm admittedly not a DYI person (except with computers, but I got into those over three decades ago when assembling and upgrading your own machine made a lot of sense if you were a broke teenager/young adult, and when computers weren't yet household devices like toasters), but I'd rather spend fifty bucks to have a professional work on a musical instrument that may well cost ten, twenty or more times that. Most normal people (i.e. not us) probably only have one or two ukes/guitars, so buying tools, materials and spending possibly a lot of time for a result that may be inferior to what a luthier can do, doesn't seem all that necessary.

It's a good skill to have, though. I side step it by trying to buy ukes (and did so with my guitar too) only from places that include setup. I only look for good intonation and manageable action (does not need to be super low), nothing very individualized. With guitars it's more common that music stores (not large online retailers) include setup. For ukes it's less common.

Rllink
03-21-2017, 03:25 AM
I don't feel that it's accurate to describe the process as arbitrary. Typically, a set up is about optimizing the playability of the instrument. While this is rarely tailored to the needs of the individual player it's hardly random.


I think I disagree here. People who like to tinker, they do stuff like this, but I'd wager most guitarists go to a luthier to get their instrument set up. I'm admittedly not a DYI person (except with computers, but I got into those over three decades ago when assembling and upgrading your own machine made a lot of sense if you were a broke teenager/young adult, and when computers weren't yet household devices like toasters), but I'd rather spend fifty bucks to have a professional work on a musical instrument that may well cost ten, twenty or more times that. Most normal people (i.e. not us) probably only have one or two ukes/guitars, so buying tools, materials and spending possibly a lot of time for a result that may be inferior to what a luthier can do, doesn't seem all that necessary.

It's a good skill to have, though. I side step it by trying to buy ukes (and did so with my guitar too) only from places that include setup. I only look for good intonation and manageable action (does not need to be super low), nothing very individualized. With guitars it's more common that music stores (not large online retailers) include setup. For ukes it's less common.

Maybe arbitrary is not a good word to use. Like Mivo, some people don't want to make the investment in time and money to do their own. That's okay, but what I mean is that if one is going to take their ukulele to someone to do a setup, then the person should be ready to tell them how they want it set up. That takes a little knowledge and experience on the owner's side. I know from my experience that being "set up" does not always mean being set up for me. I had to redo a setup that I'm sure was perfect for the fellow who set it up, just not perfect for me.

spookelele
03-21-2017, 04:18 AM
I think arbitrary is actually correct.

There is no "right" action height, so the "ballpark" ones used, are just that.

Sure, there's fret ends, and fret leveling, but tbh, those are defects, and shouldn't be part of a new instrument.
Setup could also be compensating the saddle, but that's not typical,
So, aside from correcting any fret defects, it's mostly adjusting string height, if they're doing it right.

Kala's tend to be fairly good from the factory, where they 'setup' the instrument before sending it out.

But the height.. that's a thing that makes alot of difference.

Factory tends to send ukes out with high string height, because it cheats a bit on the leveling.. meaning you can be farther off level, and still not buzz if the height is higher. The lower the action, the more picky the leveling becomes in avoiding buzz.

But low action is alot easier to play on finger style, barres, etc.

I think... they get away with more slop in ukes, because mostly people strum in first position, which is the most forgiving.

But running high action.. makes intonation bad farther up the neck because you are deflecting the string farther in the middle of the fretboard than near the nut, and stretching the string farther, makes notes go sharp.

The same can be said by making the nut high. It helps prevent buzz, but you have to use alot more pressure near the nut.

This is really hard to describe because if you're new, you don't have anything for comparision.

But a well setup uke.. is soooo much easier and pleasant to play. A GOOD setup is definnitely worth the $50.
The question I would have, is what the setup you are buying is going to get you.

I think alot of the big boxes, will just check if you buzz, and maybe do a little leveling, and fret end grinding.
That I'm not sure is worth the $50.

But if they're leveling, adjusting the nut, and saddle height.. that's probably worth it. And if they're compensating the saddle too... you're probably going to pay more than that.

"Setup" is too generic. You need to know exactly what you're getting for your money.

Doc_J
03-21-2017, 06:30 AM
I would highly recommend that you learn to do your own setups, that way it will be made to measure.

I agree. A good setup makes a uke easier to play. If a uke feels and sounds good to you, it's setup enough for you.

HMS does a great setup and so do most builders.

spookelele
03-21-2017, 09:53 AM
If a uke feels and sounds good to you, it's setup enough for you.

This.

Just play it for a while. If it's not bothering you, what do you hope to gain?

Rob Uker
03-22-2017, 05:08 AM
I'm usually a big proponent of setting up instruments but if it ain't broke don't fix it.

UkuleleSprinter
03-22-2017, 06:44 AM
It depends mostly on how much you play this particular instrument. If it's just a travel ukulele to play at down times, it may not be worth it to you. However if you like to play for hours on end, it may just be worth it.

A properly setup ukulele is easier to play, therefore makes you want to play more. However most new ukuleles today have good playability right out of the box. Heck, too bad my first ukulele had very high bar frets, bad friction tuners, wooden nut, and a one piece wooden bridge & saddle.

SoloRule
03-22-2017, 10:01 AM
Very simple :
If your fingers hurt after playing for an hour. You need a proper set-up.
If your fingers are fine . You don't need set-up.

Kayak Jim
03-22-2017, 10:14 AM
Here's the video I used to adjust the action on my first uke, also a Kala soprano, back in the day. I sanded down the bottom of the nut a couple of mm and was going to do the same with the saddle but discovered it has a plastic shim under it, which I simply removed.

https://reyalpeleluku.wordpress.com/2011/04/09/ukulele-diy-video-how-i-adjust-the-action-on-a-cheap-uke/

bikemech
03-22-2017, 04:09 PM
Very simple :
If your fingers hurt after playing for an hour. You need a proper set-up.
If your fingers are fine . You don't need set-up.

Haha. I hope you are being sarcastic. A beginning ukulele player's fingers will hurt after about 3 minutes of playing, regardless of whether the instrument was set up properly.

dhbailey
03-23-2017, 12:22 AM
Very true bikemech! I have played guitar for over 40 years, played mandolin for 5 years, dabbled with violin off and on for nearly 40 years (playing much more in recent years) and still with all that string experience in my hands, when I got my tenor uke a month ago, my fingers hurt after a few minutes of playing. Now they don't hurt at all, and I have done nothing to the uke except play it. It seems to be set up just fine. I did put new strings on it a couple of days ago, but my fingers had stopped hurting a couple of weeks ago so it isn't the strings which have changed things. But I am still baffled by why, with all my string instrument playing, the ukulele gave me finger pain at first. I guess the different material of the strings was a factor.

Ukuleleblues
03-23-2017, 06:30 AM
I bought a uke that was pre-set up. It played great but did not fit my style. I had to raise the saddle. Unless you have an issue, intonation, buzzing, excessive action you may want to pass on the setup. Also, changing string brand or type can require a new set up.

Choirguy
03-23-2017, 06:45 AM
A good thing to do, once you get past the initial challenges of basic chords, is to start learning things about the ukulele. One of those things is action. At some point, the purchase of an $8 string gauge is worth it, so you can see if your ukulele falls into standard action (2.65mm at the 12th fret) or lower/higher--and then to consider trying other action settings if you would like.

Many ukuleles come with high settings, which makes sense--it is always easier to take away than to add. But this means that many beginners buy from dealers who don't set up ukuleles to a standard starting point, and the resulting challenges of playing can cause pain or the eventual abandonment of the instrument. Therefore, the advice to have a ukulele set-up properly is truly meant with the right "heart."