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View Full Version : What's wrong with this Uke (other than the player)?



Arcy
10-07-2018, 09:49 AM
How do you identify if the problem with a specific Uke is:

The Uke itself
The setup
The player


Ok. Easy answer: it's the player. The long term goal is to upgrade the player without replacing him, but that will take a while and in the short term I'm trying to figure out if there's also a tools problem.

I've run into issues both when trying out Ukes in the store and at home. I have a cheap soprano and just got an inexpensive concert. I liked the soprano a lot more before I got the concert.

I'm trying to figure out if the difference is this specific soprano and I should swap it for a better one, if its something I can adjust, or if the soprano just doesn't sing for me and I should concentrate on larger sizes for now.

I suspect it's a mix of 1 & 2: the specific instrument was cheap and definitely has limits on its sound, but it sounds good enough to learn on if I hit the notes cleanly. After I dropped the action it's fairly playable up to the 8th or 9th fret.

The three big differences for me between playing it and the concert are:

the concert sounds a lot richer, which I expect is a combination of upgraded size and higher quality instrument.
the concert stays in tune much better than the soprano does, even though the soprano's strings have had longer to settle
I get caught up in the soprano's strings often when strumming, while I don't on the concert. This is my big problem right now.


What I haven't done yet is to swap out the soprano's strings, because I ditzed out when doing the setup and misplaced the new set.

My current theory is that the problem is either the strings (fixable by changing, I hope) or the string tension (which appears noticeably looser on the soprano than the concert - I think that's an expected difference), and that a better player would compensate.


Similarly, I was hoping to narrow down what I liked both in sizes and tone woods by trying everything available in the local mega-music store, but my results and variables were so inconsistent I couldn't draw any conclusions.

The instruments there are not set up well, have new and unsettled strings, are all in the category where I can't tell if they are cheap (low cost but bad) or inexpensive (low cost and worthy). I've never played a Uke there that called to me, nor gotten a quiet listen without a lot of conflicting sound from others. At some point I should give into snobbery and make the trek to the dangerously good music store ;)

Croaky Keith
10-07-2018, 10:56 PM
As a beginner, the concert scale is likely the best choice, once you become more proficient, you will better know what you personally want from a uke.

We all have doubts, until we find our right scale, size, woods, etc, that's what's called U.A.S. (Ukulele Aquisition Syndrome). :)

Rakelele
10-07-2018, 11:26 PM
Great summing up of possible problems! I think you are asking the right questions, and my answer would be that it is a combination of two factors:

1. You seem to prefer the smoother, fuller sound of the bigger size
2. You are experiencing the advantages of a well made instrument over a poor one

My own experience is that the bigger sizes are a bit more forgiving, or less "limited" in terms of playing styles etc. In your position, I'd go and try a Tenor as soon as possible. Or stick with the Concert that seems to please you well enough and, as Keith mentions, sits somewhere in the middle between the two "extremes".

As for my second point: I feel that a more costly instrument is well worth the extra money because it will usually play easier - or at least make you want to practice more (if only to justify the cost). In my experience, a real eye-opener is upgrading from the really cheap stuff to the $350 range.

DownUpDave
10-08-2018, 02:04 AM
Although this is in the beginners section you sound like you might have a music background. Doing set ups and playing up to the 8-9th fret indicates to me you might have come from guitar. I will assume that for the moment and speak about non-beginners things. A really cheap instrument will never sound great played up the neck espiecally a soprano. The scale length is so short the strings don't have enough length to oscillate much and all flaws in tone are very noticeable. I have a few sopranos and the cheap ones sound dull compared to my Loprinzi which is a custom build solid mahogany instrument.

The larger sizes, concert and tenor will resonant and sustain more, simple physics. As Rakelele stated once you get into the $350 or above range there is a marked improvement in sound, they are usually all solid woods. Even something around $200 with a solid top has an improved tone. If someone is strumming in first position with open chords it is not as noticable. Playing finger picking or chord melody pieces up the neck the difference in sound quality and purity of notes is obvious.

Lacole
10-08-2018, 04:56 AM
The concert will have a better sound because it has a bigger body, and longer scale length. You didn’t mention what type of tuners your soprano has. Friction pegs or geared tuners? Since you have adjusted the setup did you check the tuners to see if they are slipping. I had friction pegs on my older ukulele but had to replace them as I could no longer adjust them.

Arcy
10-08-2018, 12:39 PM
Thanks all!


We all have doubts, until we find our right scale, size, woods, etc, that's what's called U.A.S. (Ukulele Aquisition Syndrome). :)Working on the first. Definitely bit by the second ;)


1. You seem to prefer the smoother, fuller sound of the bigger size
2. You are experiencing the advantages of a well made instrument over a poor one
Definitely on #2. I'm not sure about #1 - that's part of what I'm trying to figure out.


I'd go and try a Tenor as soon as possible. Or stick with the Concert that seems to please you well enough and, as Keith mentions, sits somewhere in the middle between the two "extremes".
I have a tenor kit on my workbench. Unfortunately an accident knocked out my summer season plans to build it, and I'll probably get wintered out before I can finish it.


As for my second point: I feel that a more costly instrument is well worth the extra money because it will usually play easier - or at least make you want to practice more (if only to justify the cost). In my experience, a real eye-opener is upgrading from the really cheap stuff to the $350 range.At the moment I'd rather have a couple of serviceable ukes than one really expensive one, both so I can figure out what I like before spending and so I can scatter them around (upstairs, downstairs, work) and always have one at hand. The $100-$200 range seems to have a lot of reasonable quality ukes. I do really like the spruce-top Ohana concert, and I expect diminishing returns going more expensive before I've built up some skills.


Doing set ups and playing up to the 8-9th fret indicates to me you might have come from guitar.Guilty! Still pretty much a beginner on guitar too: 8 months there vs. about 2 on the uke. Several scattered previous attempts that didn't stick as well. My theory has large gaps, but it much better than my mechanics, and theory transfers pretty well: I can figure out what notes to play, bit it's tricky to get my fingers to the right place in time and right hand technique beyond simple strumming is still defeating me.


The [soprano] scale length is so short the strings don't have enough length to oscillate much and all flaws in tone are very noticeableAha. That makes sense, and suggests that I should hold off on soprano until I'm playing with fewer flaws.

Playing finger picking or chord melody pieces up the neck the difference in sound quality and purity of notes is obvious.This is definitely the direction I'd like to go, so it sounds like I should switch the soprano for a tenor and keep on practicing. I haven't played much up there yet, but I can definitely tell a difference in resonance around the 8-10th fret on my concert: a C-shaped F chord sounds noticeably better than an A-shaped one, both with the root on the 8th fret A string. On the soprano the C-shape is recognizable, but the A-shaped is completely dead.

If I can't wait to build my own, maybe I can get far enough to justify a better one before going to Hawaii ;) (of course, the trip is for my wife's birthday, so it may not be the best time to get a present for myself ;) )



Friction pegs or geared tuners? Since you have adjusted the setup did you check the tuners to see if they are slipping.It has geared tuners, and they aren't obviously slipping. I'm thinking the tuning issues are a combination of the strings, the size, and the playing: the soprano scale length has the strings a touch slack, so poor strumming technique catches on them and stretches them out of tune.


Thanks again, all!

Davoravo
10-14-2018, 12:34 PM
My own beginner experience is that a solid top instrument sounds much better than a cheap laminate top. No need to go all solid. Until you upgrade quality you are at risk of quitting through disillusionment as you will never be able to the make the instrument sound as it should.

I have same problem with my fingers as you with loose strings on a soprano. You are probably strumming too hard, I even gave myself a ligament strain that took months to heal. I find a tenor much easier to play as the strings are nice and taut. Concerts are good too.