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Tamkim
10-03-2018, 08:10 AM
Hi

I have now purchased and returned two different, highly recommended ukuleles because of pitch issues. When the strings are perfectly in tune, fretted notes are not. Fretted A on the G string doesnt match open A, fretted G on E doesnt match open G, etc. And the pitchiness gets worse the higher the fret.

As someone with perfect pitch, this bothers me a lot. These are decent ukes.. Kala concert and Luna Tattoo concert. So I went to Sam Ash, the only nearby store I know of that sells ukes, and tried every one of theirs. Mostly Kalas and Cordonas with a few others. All selling for between $100 and $300. And they all have the same issue!

This is so discouraging to me. Chords sound bad when notes are out of tune and I have trouble believing this is an issue across the board, but I dont know what to try next. I dont want to order on amazon again because even the ones rated 5 out of 5 stars seem to have this problem.

Suggestions?? Thanks so much!

Joe King
10-03-2018, 08:23 AM
Hi

I have now purchased and returned two different, highly recommended ukuleles because of pitch issues. When the strings are perfectly in tune, fretted notes are not. Fretted A on the G string doesnt match open A, fretted G on E doesnt match open G, etc. And the pitchiness gets worse the higher the fret.

As someone with perfect pitch, this bothers me a lot. These are decent ukes.. Kala concert and Luna Tattoo concert. So I went to Sam Ash, the only nearby store I know of that sells ukes, and tried every one of theirs. Mostly Kalas and Cordonas with a few others. All selling for between $100 and $300. And they all have the same issue!

This is so discouraging to me. Chords sound bad when notes are out of tune and I have trouble believing this is an issue across the board, but I dont know what to try next. I dont want to order on amazon again because even the ones rated 5 out of 5 stars seem to have this problem.

Suggestions?? Thanks so much!

Sounds like the intonation is off due to the nut slot being too high over the frets.

Most factory Chinese-made instruments (both Kala and Luna are among many brands made in China with no thought to the setup nor playability when it leave the sweatshop factory) will require a setup to fix such issues. This is well-ducmented here on UU if you search for setup or intonation and you will learn how and why it is necessary.

The only ukes I know of that do not usually require a setup in that ~$200-300 price range are Mainland. Mike from Mainland sets up all the ukes by hand before they are shipped out.

Also MIMs Ukes (Mim) and Uke Republic (Mike McQueen) will do a full setup on any instrument you buy from them, for free, and all they sell are ukuleles. They are both specialists.

Sam Ash, Guitar Center are not ukulele vendors per se, but guitar vendors, and sell ukuleles like an afterthought and treat them like a red-headed stepchild.

http://www.mainlandukuleles.com/

https://www.mimsukes.com/

http://www.ukerepublic.com/

Also, you do not need to make a duplicate post in two different forum sections, one place is enough.

Good luck!

Rllink
10-03-2018, 08:24 AM
Is it possible that one or more of the strings are being tuned in a different octave? That happens sometimes. Your tuner tells you that your open string is and A, and it is, just an octave up or down. When that happens everything gets wonky. Check the link and make sure that your strings are the same as where it says Tune Your Ukulele By Ear. Just play each string and compare them to your uke. You will easily see if you are off an octave on any of them.

https://ukuleletricks.com/ukulele-tuner/

ScooterD35
10-03-2018, 03:05 PM
Many mass produced Ukes have issues with action and intonation right out of the box. That can often be resolved with a good setup by a competent luthier. If you want something with great action and intonation up front, I would suggest any instruments purchased from The Magic Fluke Company, Mainland Ukes, or Mimís Ukes.

https://www.magicfluke.com/Default.asp

http://www.mainlandukuleles.com

https://www.mimsukes.com


You are pretty much guaranteed to get a well set up instrument from any of these folks.


Scooter

Strumdaddy
10-03-2018, 04:14 PM
String choice also effects intonation - to a lesser degree than set-up.
Different materials, thicknesses and density cause variation in intonation.

Wukulele
10-03-2018, 06:02 PM
I dont want to order on amazon again because even the ones rated 5 out of 5 stars seem ...

Can’t imagine ordering ANYTHING I didn’t absolutely have to from Amzn, let alone a musical instrument that really requires a decent idea of what’s involved w/ set up.

Size will, generally speaking, have an influence on how true intonation is up a fingerboard, on just about all stringed instruments. The smaller the less “true”.

It’s a good thing my sopranissimo is so damned cute because the intonation is not so cute. It’s cuteness is mildly increasing my tolerance of off-intonation by a hair... & making me try to be very precise on the fingerboard while being reallllly gentle w/ picking/strumming.
I still find myself always having to play a better-intonation uke after playing around on the teeny tiny pineapple.

RafterGirl
10-04-2018, 01:20 AM
+1 on buying from Mim. She sells modestly priced Kala & Ohana ukuleles in all sizes. You'll be guaranteed a well set-up ukulele.

Jerryc41
10-04-2018, 01:42 AM
Do you have any ukes that have perfect pitch? You might be asking too much of a stringed instrument, especially in that price range. Order a KoAloha from Mim or HMS (The Ukulele Site), explaining your concerns ahead of time. Expect to pay in the $1,000 range. Mim is very fast, while HMS will take a week or more.

https://www.mimsukes.com/
https://www.theukulelesite.com/

SteveZ
10-04-2018, 02:34 AM
It's strange that so many ukes have fretted-tuning issues. I can understand a string being a few hertz high-low further down the fretboard, but usually not so bad as to destroy chording.

One thought. When a new nylon-type string is initially tuned (e.g., tension-stretched), it only remains in tune for a few seconds. The string tries to compensate for being stretched and tries to return to its original state. Strings eventually stabilize to their newly-stretched state and retain (for the most part) the desired tune. That stabilizing process often takes at least a couple days and requires retuning several times over the stabilizing period as the string "fights" the tensioning process. It does not matter which brand of synthetic string is involved - they all fight the process and make the initial tuning process a couple-day event.

If one is taking a new instrument out of the box, letting it get temperature-adjusted for a couple hours and then tuning it, it's a fair bet that the strings (after initially registering okay on a tuner or a sharp ear) will almost immediately start to detune on the low side. So, one can think s/he has initially tuned the instrument GCEA (or whatever one's preferred tuning is), but in a few seconds the supposedly-GCEA-tuned instrument has tune-slid downward to something closer to FBDG as the strings fight to return to their untuned tension. Also, each string will fight this process at a different rate, further screwing up the initial tuning.

I don't know how long the OP tried to get the instrument in proper tune before shipping it back. Considering that it may take a few days for strings to stabilize to their tuning tension, perhaps expectations did not allow the time this "laws of physics" phenomenum takes.

hendulele
10-04-2018, 03:27 AM
Can’t imagine ordering ANYTHING I didn’t absolutely have to from Amzn, let alone a musical instrument that really requires a decent idea of what’s involved w/ set up.

Size will, generally speaking, have an influence on how true intonation is up a fingerboard, on just about all stringed instruments. The smaller the less “true”.

It’s a good thing my sopranissimo is so damned cute because the intonation is not so cute. It’s cuteness is mildly increasing my tolerance of off-intonation by a hair... & making me try to be very precise on the fingerboard while being reallllly gentle w/ picking/strumming.
I still find myself always having to play a better-intonation uke after playing around on the teeny tiny pineapple.

After a couple of bad experiences with Amazon, I’ve decided the only uke I’d trust from there would be a Flea or Fluke (zero fret makes intonation problems nearly impossible) or a Famous/Kiwaya (since there are so few US dealers and they have a terrific reputation for doing setup in the factory). Otherwise, I’m buying from the Marketplace or a shop that promises setup.

Bill Sheehan
10-04-2018, 03:37 AM
Steve, your observations are consistent with my own experience. When I put a new set of strings on a uke, I find that I need to crank them up to pitch little by little, very deliberately, letting the instrument get used to its new "threads", over the course of a couple of hours as I come back to it every ten minutes or so and continue to do a few more upward cranks, in small increments, until finally it's approaching full pitch. Then, I like to leave it alone until the next morning so that it has time to adjust and settle in; and even then, after I bring the strings back up to pitch (they will have slipped during the night), I can expect that each time I pick the uke up during the course of the next several days, I'm going to need to correct that downward drift, until one day-- usually a week or two later-- bingo, the strings have finally stopped fighting the tensioning process, and the uke is once again at home with itself and ready to sing without the need for constant adjustment. As a practical matter, I re-check my tuning regularly just to keep things consistent and precise. So, even though this may not necessarily be dispositive of the OP's specific concerns, I think it's important to remember that, unlike the typical experience with a steel-stringed instrument, we can expect a string-change on a ukulele to involve a lot more "process", but an enjoyable process if we anticipate it and resolve to work through it. Probably don't want to change strings the night before a performance, though! (P.S.: Sorry to have gone a little off-topic here!)

ukantor
10-04-2018, 04:31 AM
I, too, suspect that Tamkin's acute sense of pitch may be causing unrealistic expectations. My advice would be to seek out a gathering of ukulele players and get a feel for the level of pitch accuracy that is achieved (tolerated?) by those of us who are not blessed with perfect pitch.

It is not unreasonable to expect a cheap, or mid-range ukulele, once properly set up, with good quality strings, to give acceptable results. Modern mass production methods should give correct placement of the frets, nut and saddle. I have set up many a cheap uke to play satisfactorily.

However, my definition of "satisfactory" might be very different from that of someone with perfect pitch.

John Colter

Wukulele
10-04-2018, 08:20 AM
After a couple of bad experiences with Amazon, Iíve decided the only uke Iíd trust from there would be a Flea or Fluke (zero fret makes intonation problems nearly impossible) or a Famous/Kiwaya (since there are so few US dealers and they have a terrific reputation for doing setup in the factory). Otherwise, Iím buying from the Marketplace or a shop that promises setup.

I detest supporting Amzn *but* there's someone selling a Kala Waterman Concert size via Amzn that I'm tempted to bite on for less than on eBay. My clear plastic soprano Waterman probably gets more playtime than all my others right now, including a few "K" brand ones... The intonation on the Soprano is good enough for me to dink around w/ 2-octave scales & various intervals/argepggio on, even past the fretboard (which then caused me to get a cutaway, but that's a whole 'nother story).

The Magic flukes I've played in the last 2 weeks at a really reputable shop always have great intonation off the hanger.... Sopranos, concerts AND tenors.
If intonation is THE make-it-or-break-it criteria, & I had no other ukes, I would likely get one of those. AND they are almost zero maintenance/worry.

RafterGirl
10-04-2018, 08:33 AM
It's strange that so many ukes have fretted-tuning issues. I can understand a string being a few hertz high-low further down the fretboard, but usually not so bad as to destroy chording.

One thought. When a new nylon-type string is initially tuned (e.g., tension-stretched), it only remains in tune for a few seconds. The string tries to compensate for being stretched and tries to return to its original state. Strings eventually stabilize to their newly-stretched state and retain (for the most part) the desired tune. That stabilizing process often takes at least a couple days and requires retuning several times over the stabilizing period as the string "fights" the tensioning process. It does not matter which brand of synthetic string is involved - they all fight the process and make the initial tuning process a couple-day event.

If one is taking a new instrument out of the box, letting it get temperature-adjusted for a couple hours and then tuning it, it's a fair bet that the strings (after initially registering okay on a tuner or a sharp ear) will almost immediately start to detune on the low side. So, one can think s/he has initially tuned the instrument GCEA (or whatever one's preferred tuning is), but in a few seconds the supposedly-GCEA-tuned instrument has tune-slid downward to something closer to FBDG as the strings fight to return to their untuned tension. Also, each string will fight this process at a different rate, further screwing up the initial tuning.

I don't know how long the OP tried to get the instrument in proper tune before shipping it back. Considering that it may take a few days for strings to stabilize to their tuning tension, perhaps expectations did not allow the time this "laws of physics" phenomenum takes.
As you read the reviews of various mainstream ukuleles on Amazon, youíll see a lot of poor reviews based on what SteveZ has described above. ďThis ukulele sucks. It doesnít stay in tune,Ē is a frequent comment. Iíd bet that first time ukulele buyers from Amazon donít know about the new string settling in process. Iíd wager that most Amazon reviews, good or bad, are posted by people just starting out who may not have much ukulele experience.

Michael N.
10-04-2018, 08:36 AM
There's not a lot you can do. Every plucked fretted instrument is out of tune. Add on the factor of equal temperament and things will sound off. Fortunately for the vast majority of people it doesn't matter. For some it jars against their sense of pitch/harmony. The best that you can do is to have the nut compensated and the saddle compensated for a particular set of strings (assuming the frets and saddle are in the correct place). Change string type and everything changes again. Don't expect a service like that to be cheap. You can only make things a touch more in tune, never perfect. Equal temperament is a compromise anyway.

Tamkim
10-04-2018, 03:23 PM
Thanks so much everyone, great advice. Wish I had checked this forum before purchasing initially.

As for the tuning of the strings, I am a string player (bass, cello, violin) and am very familiar with tuning issues with new strings. This wasn't the issue with the ukes I tried, though, as they didn't have a long adjustment staying basically in tune, and I always made sure open strings were perfectly pitched before trying the fretted notes immediately after.

Thanks again! Hoping I can get a uke from one of the recommended companies that will serve me better. I realize tuning may not be perfect, but I have listened to many uke recordings and tutorials and don't detect the tuning issues that I experienced on many of them, so I know it's possible.