View Full Version : String Height - Big Deal?

04-14-2018, 01:16 AM
I see a lot of talk about the action of ukuleles - string height at the twelfth fret. It seems that 2.5 mm is ideal. I don't understand this. Most of my ukes are in that range, but some are quite a bit higher. I'm certainly no Superman, but I don't have any trouble at all pushing the string down an extra millimeter or two.

Why is low action so important?

04-14-2018, 02:11 AM
If you are using the whole neck like those who finger pick do, then a high action changes the intonation as you fret down the board.
Consider how much you have to stretch that sting to fret it. It goes out out tune, by a lot.
I like a low action, but for me its less important as I almost always play first or second position chords.

04-14-2018, 03:17 AM
When the strings are too high the action at the nut and top frets gets pretty stiff and makes it difficult to barre the strings or press them down to get a clean sound.

04-14-2018, 03:17 AM
It matters quite a lot.
It's not a matter of a few mm of string height being hard to press down.
It affects the overall ease of fluidly playing, especially if you're trying more challenging instrumental solos.
It probably matters a bit less if you're just strumming a few chords, and not playing many barred chords.

There is no single unified height that is considered "ideal" as it differs from person to person and different heights come with different characteristics.
Broadly speaking, lower action (string height = "action") makes it easier to press down the strings, meaning you can be more fluid and accurate with the fretting hand (left hand). Higher action generally enables with louder tone, as the strings have more clearance to vibrate freely and also makes a bit easier to partially mute the strings while holding down chords. It also allows you to strike the strings with more force.

For ukulele, I'd say 1.5mm to 2.00mm is what most would consider "low" action.
2.0mm to 2.5mm would be "medium" and anything above 2.5mm would be a bit on the "high" side.
There's no official agreement on the matter, but this is just from my experience.

Going to the extremes of either low or high comes with problems - action being too low would make the strings susceptible to buzzing, poor tone and being difficult to fingerpick or strum at all due to how close the strings are hitting the soundboard and neck. Too high action makes it rather unplayable and gives you poor intonation, etc.

Also, the action itself isn't everything, as there are other factors at play too. Such as action at the nut. Your action measured at the 12th fret might be one reading, but if your nut slots are high, it would affect playability. Furthermore, there is also the curvature of the neck. If your neck has too much forward or back-bow, it will affect playability. Overall setup of an ukulele would depend on playing around with these factors:

-Nut action
-Action at the saddle (measured at 12th fret string height)
-Neck bend (relief)

and the type/tension of strings and also the state of your frets.

That being said, I personally prefer LOWER action of around 1.5mm to 2mm, with the 4th string a tad higher than the 1st string.
For example, 1.5mm at the A string and 1.75mm at the G string.

Some would say this is quite low, but it's what suits my play style.
More "typical" actions of 2.5mm and up feel uncomfortably high for me, and I end up sanding the saddle down and/or filing the nut a bit.

Jim Hanks
04-14-2018, 03:18 AM
"ideal" is subjective but I do go by the 2.5mm number. I have had some 3mm or a little higher and I can definitely feel the difference - just easier to play if it is lower.

04-14-2018, 03:37 AM
2.5mm makes me cringe, while my preferred 1.5mm makes some other people cringe :)

So there goes that supposed "ideal" action out the window!

04-14-2018, 04:10 AM
I've always run the action on my ukuleles, or even guitars, a little more on the low side and do my own setups. Generally speaking, about 2mm to 2-1/4mm (.080" to .090").

While this makes playing up the neck easier, it is probably not ideal from a purely volume/tone perspective. There is a slight loss of volume due to a shallower break angle at the saddle. Unfortunately it can be somewhat of a boon or bane for playing fingerstyle if the action gets a bit too low. The fingering is easier but the picking, or even hammering, slides, etc., requires more effort, particularly the A string, at least for me.


04-14-2018, 05:15 AM
I guess that I go a bit against the flow. Not as big of a deal to me as it is to some. I'm not a low as you can go person. 2.5 to 3mm is fine. I can play just about anything, unless it is just ridiculously high. I am very particular about it being too low though. I don't like my action to be too touchy. I actually raised one of mine after it was set up by the seller. I'm very particular when it comes to what I'm trying to do and I don't like strings that go off on their own. I bar and play up the neck by the way, and I have not found it to get any more difficult up the neck than anywhere else. I will also add though that I have very strong hands, so that might be part of it.

04-15-2018, 04:35 AM
Thanks, everyone. I understand.