View Full Version : What a difference a tuner makes!

05-26-2009, 09:34 AM
I'm new to the ukulele, but I've been a working musician for many years and thought I had pretty good ears, so I didn't buy a tuner when I ordered my ukulele. I figured I could just use my pitch pipe or the keyboards I have scattered around my house. But after about a week of plinking away happily on my trusty 50-dollar Lanikai, it seemed like my chords were sounding worse and worse. Each string would seem to be in tune when I checked them individually, but when I played chords, they were increasingly dissonant. I feared that my uke was a lemon.

Hoping for the best, I shopped around and ordered an Intelli IMT500 clip-on tuner (http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000P97ZL8/?tag2=httpwwwkeit0d-20) from Amazon - wow, what a difference it has made! While my little soprano is definitely not a world-class instrument, it sounds a zillion percent better, because of the level of precision this tuner gives me. My own ears were only getting me in the ballpark of being in tune, and as I'm sure some of you know, that can be an awful big ballpark if you're not careful... :rolleyes:

The tuner will also make you aware of any intonation problems your instrument has; for instance, I'm finding the frets on my Lanikai are pretty well in tune, but they tend to be a wee bit sharp. I've got a bark cloth concert Flea on order (yes, I'm already infected with the highly contagious UAS), and I'm looking forward to its more precisely tuned fretboard.

Anyhoo - back to the tuner. You can pick these things up from between 15 to 20 bucks, and the way they clip on to the headstock is super handy (although they can rattle a bit if you start rocking out, so you may want to remove it for performing). All I can tell you is it's probably the best 20 bucks you can spend towards improving your sound. Two thumbs up!

05-26-2009, 10:12 AM
I'm new to the ukulele. I feared that my uke was a lemon.

I think this is essential peace of kit for the new player, so many put down there new instruments and give up, just because they can't tune it.
Welcome to UU.

05-26-2009, 12:50 PM
Hi Thumper,

As you probably know, with string intruments, the shorter the scale length is, the more critical is the tuning. A double bass is very forgiving, but if a soprano uke is only slightly off, it will be much more noticeable. Accurate tuning is essential, and while some folk seem able to tune very accurately by ear, I can't, so for me an electronic tuner is a must.

Don't assume it is the fret placing that makes your Lanikai go slightly sharp. It is more likely that the frets are accurate, but the strings are a little high - "high action". When you press down to the fret board, it is stretching the strings, and that is what makes it go sharp. Can you get an experienced player to check it out?

It might simply be that you are pressing harder than necessary. Check with your tuner how increased pressure on the string can make it go slightly sharp.

Enjoy your uking!


05-26-2009, 01:35 PM
Yup. What Ukantor said.

Always check for high action. It can really mess up the tuning and intonation. It can be the difference between a playable uke and a piece of firewood that sounds awful.

Disclaimer: There are those who claim that I can make even a low action uke sound like firewood! :D

05-26-2009, 08:37 PM
Hey thats the tuner I have! I love it too!

05-26-2009, 09:04 PM
Yeah.. I know.

05-27-2009, 01:33 AM
Digital tuners have changed jam sessions incredibly. They make it so much easier for everyone to be in the same pitch. Or a lot closer, anyway. Assuming, of course, everyone remembered to set their A frequency to 440 or whatever they agreed to use.

But don't depend solely on a digital tuner for your own uke's pitch. They are great to get you to the starting gate, but the rest of the race is up to you.

Check the tuning using the standard methods for a guitar: 5-4-5-x frets, x-7-8-7, harmonics on the 12th, 0-x-3-x and x-0-x-3 - each uke is slightly different, and digital tuners still leave room for some pitch range. You still need to depend on your ear to make it perfect.

Two PS notes:
1. A new uke's strings slip a lot. That can cause endless grief for newcomers until the strings stop stretching. All I can say is: retune, retune, retune. Eventually they'll settle in.
2. Friction tuners have a greater tendency to slip than geared tuners. I don't know what yours has, but if they are friction tuners, check to see if they can be slightly tightened. Could save you some earache.

Ukulele JJ
05-27-2009, 01:40 AM
Digital tuners have changed jam sessions incredibly

In particular, the clip-on kind. I've used an "old-fashioned" digital tuner for ages. It's the kind that you either plug into (assuming you have a pickup... which I don't) or just play into a built-in mic.

Works great in a quiet room. But in a room full of plinking ukers? Not so much. :p And your own ears aren't much help in that situation either. So I picked up a clip-on (Planet Waves) a while back and it makes a huge difference.


05-27-2009, 05:42 AM
I love my clip-on tuners! We have several, so we always have one within reach.

05-27-2009, 05:53 AM
Digital tuners can be off too!

I have two different model Korg digital tuners about 10 years apart in age. The older one is more accurate than the newer one.

Now tuning with a tuning fork... that's fun, and the batteries never need replacing.

05-27-2009, 05:57 AM
Yep - I never go anywhere without my tuner. I have a terrible ear - period.

I keep one in the car, one at the office, and several in my cases.

For decades I was not a fan of small, cheap tuners - opting instead for the "pro" caliber because of the better accuracy and more sensitive mics.

That all changed with my first "clip-on" - now I only keep one "real" tuner around for recording and to calibrate the little guys. I must have six of the little clip on dudes.

The best use so far is at the music shop. Nothing worse than being surrounded by hundreds of awesome instruments and every one of them is out of tune in a noisy room. Pop a little clip on out of my pocket, and then I can play anything in the shop, perfectly tuned in just seconds.

05-27-2009, 08:07 AM
Great input - thanks, folks!

05-29-2009, 07:19 PM
I relied on the ukulele tuner off youtube for the longest time until my friend got a second tuner and sold it to me for $10. I feel stupid for waiting almost 5 months before getting one :(

05-29-2009, 11:22 PM
My own ears were only getting me in the ballpark of being in tune, and as I'm sure some of you know, that can be an awful big ballpark if you're not careful... :rolleyes:


Oh yeah it can :p

05-30-2009, 02:48 AM
If I had to rely on my ear or a tuning pipe, my ukes would never be in tune! I have a couple of the same ones you have Thumper and would be lost without them. :music:

05-30-2009, 05:20 AM
My ear is just good enough to know when the tuning is off while I'm playing but not good enough to get it in tune without the aid of a tuner.

A clip on is very much in my future though, if not a pair so the lovely wife and I can each have one.

05-30-2009, 11:36 AM
I'm a big fan of clip-on tuners, alot better than the old korgs that were always lost under my sheet music.

05-30-2009, 12:31 PM
i just ordered one today. because i spent a day trying to tune this thing and it still sounded off. cant wait for it to come.

05-31-2009, 06:14 AM
About 8 years ago I bought a Martin-O ukulele. Was very very hard to tune because of the friction type tuners so I put on geared Grover tuners. Now with the digital tuner and the geared turners it is easy and it stays in tune longer. Now if I decide to get a vintage Martin AI might think before I change the tuners.