View Full Version : Weird tuning problem...

01-13-2010, 08:13 AM
Hiya!! First time poster here but already loving the forum!

I got a ukulele for Christmas, its only a cheap one (Ashton) but I am already loving playing it! The only problem is, getting the blooming thing in tune! Ill try and keep this a short description!

I have spent a bit of time checking out this problem, sitting with the chromatic tuner I treated myself to....

The G, E & A strings are not to bad (well, close enough considering im just starting out!) but its the C string that is giving me problems. I tune the open string to a C, and can get it spot on (with the tuner, not by ear!) but then everything seems to be one fret out?!

IE fret 2 should be a D, but its a Eb, D is found at fret 1 instead? Fret 4 should be E but instead its an F. Do i just need a new string, or is it something more sinister?

As this is the first stringed instrument I have played and its not an expensive model, I don't expect it to be spot on, but would like it to be closer than it is!

Many thanks for any input!


01-13-2010, 12:13 PM
Steve, Are you sure you haven't tuned your "C" string to C sharp by mistake? Please don't feel insulted by the suggestion, but your problem really IS a weird one. At first I thought the slot in the nut might be too deep, and was allowing the open string to rest on the first fret. This would mean that when you tuned the "C" string, thinking it was open, it would actually be tuned to "C" at the first fret - but that would not account for it's playing "D" at fret one.

Since the other strings are OK, we can assume that the nut, the frets, and the saddle (bridge), are all in their correct places. It beats me!

The only thing I can suggest is that you treat your uke to a new set of Aquila strings, and see if that makes any difference. I had one bad string recently. All I did was take it off, and refit it the other way round - that fixed it!

For sure, a rogue string can cause very strange problems.

All the best,


01-13-2010, 01:02 PM
Hi Steve,

I agree that the first thing you should do is upgrade the strings so that will eliminate them from the equation.

I would try Aquila or Worths on the ashton.



01-13-2010, 01:15 PM
Hey Steve,
First off, Welcome to UU. It's a great place to be, and in your case, a great place to ask questions about your ukulele. Steve's post above is right on. Change your strings. You probably have fishing wire on your uke. Joke. But seriously, probably so. You may want to look into a Digital tuner instead of the chromatic. These new ones clip to the head of your uke for easy access. New technology, much easier to tune. Here's a link for the tuner on ebay. MGM is a member here and deals on ebay:

http://cgi.ebay.com/NEW-ITEM-KALA-BRAND-KC-02-CLIP-ON-TUNER-Ukulele_W0QQitemZ370318160652QQcmdZViewItemQQptZLH _DefaultDomain_0?hash=item5638aeb30c

In the mean time, try this online tuner to help you out:


01-13-2010, 11:09 PM
A chromatic tuner is fine. In fact the Kala one that Dino linked to is a chromatic tuner.

I do agree with Dino that it's a good idea to check out the online tuner. At least that way you should be able to hear if your open strings really are in tune.

The thing you describe where fretted notes are sharp sounds to me like the action (string height) could be too high. When that occurs, as the notes are fretted the string has to bend too far to reach the fret, and the notes are bent out of tune. It is very common on new ukes - especially lower priced ukes. It is not a big problem and is easily fixed.

First thing to do is check to see if it is the action that's causing the problem.

If you hold your strings down at the third fret and look side-on, how much space is there between the strings and the first fret?

01-13-2010, 11:57 PM
It's most likely an action thing.
I tried the Ashton cheap ukes in a music store. Action (string height) was ridiculously high.
The fat clear strings they came with were also awful.

I suppose you could try messing around with the action by sanding the saddle and filing the nut.
But IMO, it's a save of time and money to just buy another uke and make sure it's a decent one. It doesn't even have to cost much - even a Makala Dolphin set up by Musicguymic ebay store would feel like a huge upgrade at not-too-bad of a cost :)

If you want to keep costs down to even less, see if your local music store can order in the Legacy brand cheap uke (circa $20~30).
They're a bit better than the other cheap ukes I've tried in Australia (I've tried Mahalo, Ashton, Legacy, some girly brand with pink strings and star-shaped tuners, a ridiculous toy uke that came with metal wires for strings, the Reject Shop one, the one at Cash Converters...).

01-14-2010, 12:40 AM
If the action does turn out to be too high at the nut, I'd simply tweak that first. Carefully file the slots down lower

Costs nothing and who knows... the uke may be perfectly playable afterwards. Nothing to lose if it's already unplayably out of tune.

With new strings and a decent action, even the cheapest ukes are usually playable.

01-14-2010, 12:56 AM
Hello all and thanks very much for all your input.

To start with, I appreciate that this is a cheap instrument, and maybe an upgrade would be the best bet, but at the moment as I am only just starting out, I would like to see how I get on with it, before spending to much money on a nicer instrument.

The suggestion of a new set of strings is something I have been considering anyway, so I am going to order some. Being such a newbie at these things though, I would like to double check I am ordering correctly... After looking on ebay, i found the following...

http://cgi.ebay.co.uk/AQUILA-SOPRANO-REGULAR-UKULELE-UKELELE-UKE-STRINGS-saus_W0QQitemZ230417355821QQcmdZViewItemQQptZUK_Mu sical_Instruments_Sting_Instruments?hash=item35a5f 1d42d#ht_2865wt_1165

Are they what I am looking for?

I have checked with the on-line tuner and am certain that the open strings are in tune. When I say the other strings are OK, they are by no means perfect, but my digital tuner says they are playing the correct note, just rather sharp.

When pressing down the third fret, the distance between strings and 1st fret is just less than the thickness of a credit card... is this good, bad or ugly? :P Is this something that is easily fixed?

Thanks again for all your advice, and sorry to bombard with such a long post!!


01-14-2010, 09:06 AM
Thats them,

Although if you are using the net to buy strings

http://cgi.ebay.com.au/AQUILA-SOPRANO-Nylgut-ukulele-strings_W0QQitemZ330395339649QQcmdZViewItemQQptZLH _DefaultDomain_0?hash=item4ced18cb81

is cheaper that the UK supplier, are you in AUS if so there are a number of local music shops who sell aquila although they charge around $20.

01-14-2010, 10:06 AM
Hey Steve,

That action at the nut is a tad higher than I'd have but it doesn't sound so bad. You could lower it a fraction by filling the slots, but you'd want to go very carefully so as not to overdo it. What works for me is just the tiniest gap at the first fret when holding the string down at the third. Like a sheet of 80 gsm printer paper/copier paper thickness.

A couple of other things that could be contributing to the sharp notes...

Firstly, make sure you don't mash down too hard with your fretting hand when you play. Uke strings easily bend sharp when fretted hard. You don't need to press against the wood of the board, just press hard enough to make the string break firmly over the fret.

Secondly, if the action is way high at the bridge end it can also screw things up a little. What is the height of your strings at the 12th fret?

Before doing a lot of tweaking to the instrument itself it certainly could be worth just trying a new set of decent strings.

01-15-2010, 07:45 AM
robbocx - Thanks for the suggestion, but im in the UK, and that ebay seller doesn't seem to ship to UK :( Thanks anyway, Ill get some ordered this evening!

BUDDHUU... You are my tuning god! :worship: :P

I didnt realise you're not supposed to mash the string right down :uhoh: I tried pressing the string just so it touches the fret, and its ALOT better, Im now playing the correct notes! :P Its still rather sharp, so I think I will still order some new strings, give them ago and then maybe play around with the action.

As far as your question about action at 12th fret... distance from 12th fret to string is about 5credit cards... is that bad? I am sorry thats not a very accurate measurement, but I dont think a tape measure would be very accurate, and at least everyone has a credit card to compare to! :P

Thanks again for all your help so far, my playing sounds soo much better now that I am almost in tune!! :)

01-15-2010, 08:01 AM
distance from 12th fret to string is about 5credit cards... is that bad?

5 credit cards, really? You probably want about half of that, if not less. Are you measuring from the fretboard (wood) or the fret wire (metal)? You should be measuring between the fret wire and the string.

Most likely though, you'll want to lower your saddle a little.

01-15-2010, 09:33 AM
5 credit cards, really? You probably want about half of that, if not less. Are you measuring from the fretboard (wood) or the fret wire (metal)? You should be measuring between the fret wire and the string.

Most likely though, you'll want to lower your saddle a little.

lol yea really! This is a cheap uku :( buts its really fun to play and as its my first and an xmas pressie i want to try and make the bets of it if you know what i mean!

Yes I am measuring from the top of the fret wire to the bottom of the string, with 5 credit cards there is just a little bit of drag on the string. So if I take the saddle out and sand the bottom down, and aim for say, three credit cards, maybe a little less, that should help?

Thanks for all your advice!

01-15-2010, 09:38 AM
LOLz! Glad you've got some progress there, Steve.

Yeh, try the new strings first - preferably a widely respected brand such as Aquila or Worth - and see if that improves things further.

I agree with Ukeatan that you should take your measurement from the top of the fret wire to the bottom of the string. If that clearance at the 12th is still 5 credit cards (I love that unit of measurement!) then I'd also agree that it's a little high, but before tackling that I'd try the string change. I'd also be sure of the nut action before touching the saddle. Action really should be adjusted at the nut first. The fact that things are nearly at pitch when you fret lightly is a good sign, and I'd say there's a good chance that your uke will play perfectly in tune once you've got decent strings on it and adjusted the action a wee bit.

Here's a thought: why not splash out about a fiver and buy a couple of spare nuts, either slotted plastic (http://cgi.ebay.co.uk/Ukulele-Nut-Ivory-Coloured-35mm-x-5-x-6-5mm_W0QQitemZ380136315231QQcmdZViewItemQQptZUK_Mus ical_Instruments_Sting_Instruments?hash=item5881e3 d95f#ht_2079wt_814) or plain bone (http://cgi.ebay.co.uk/Banjo-Ukulele-Uke-Bone-Nut_W0QQitemZ290384675939QQcmdZViewItemQQptZUK_Mus ical_Instruments_Sting_Instruments?hash=item439c46 8463#ht_500wt_1047), and a couple of spare saddles (http://cgi.ebay.co.uk/Ukulele-Saddle-Ivory-Colour-60mm-x-3-x-8-to-7-8mm_W0QQitemZ230354393947QQcmdZViewItemQQptZUK_Mus ical_Instruments_Sting_Instruments?hash=item35a231 1b5b#ht_1982wt_814).

Grab some needle files and some sandpaper, and/or a welding torch nozzle cleaner (http://cgi.ebay.co.uk/GAS-WELDING-GAS-CUTTING-NOZZLE-CLEANER-SET_W0QQitemZ230396584143QQcmdZViewItemQQptZLH_Def aultDomain_3?hash=item35a4b4e0cf#ht_500wt_1047) (honestly, they work pretty well as makeshift nut files!). Take off the original nut and saddle and then experiment to your heart's content in the knowledge that if you screw up you can put the old ones back and be no worse off.

It's easy enough if you're careful.

If you do decide to try a bit of DIY set-up, just yell if you need any tips.

01-15-2010, 09:45 AM
Thanks again for taking the time to reply buddhuu.

I have literally just ordered some aquilla strings from ebay, so hopefully be here middle of next week.

I was playing around and the saddle seems to just slide out, but the nut seems stuck in there good and proper?! SHOULD it just slide out, or is it probably glued in? If so... how do i get it out?

Again, sorry for question after question, but until the new strings come, i think this will be it :)

Thanks again,


01-15-2010, 10:03 AM
The nut is usually glued lightly in place. The best way to take it off (with the strings out of the way - either removed or lifted out of their slots and hooked over the side out of the way) is to put a block of some kind against the face of the nut on the side that's up against the fretboard and give a light. but firm, tap on the block with a small hammer or similar. The nut will usually pop right off.

If the nut is set into a groove, like the nuts on fender electric guitars, then you have to be a little more careful, but most just sit there butted up against the fretboard end.

When fixing a nut back on, clean any glue residue away, then put the tiniest spot of superglue or Titebond on the face of the nut that goes against the end of the fretboard end, then push into place. Don't glue the bottom of the nut or it can be harder to take off in future. Just glue the side that goes up against the fretboard. That'll mean you're glueing very lightly against end grain of wood. Much less chance of pulling splinters of wood off than if you glue the bottom of the nut to grain running longways underneath it.

I've done loads of these and never had a problem, but if you're in any way doubtful or worried, then take it into a guitar shop or a pro repair guy and ask for help.

01-20-2010, 09:40 AM
Hiya! Just a quick update! My aquila strings strings arrived today, just finished re-stringing. OMG! What a difference! Not only do they feel a hell of alot nicer, they SOUND a hell of a lot nicer, and the new strings along with the whole "not mashing the strings down" thing, the intonation is near as dammit spot on! About 20cents sharp all the way up (according to my tuner)... considering I'm no musical expert that is fine by me!

I may try and mess around with the action in time, but right now, Im well chuffed!

Just want to say a HUGE thank you to everyone who has given their time to give me advice


11-29-2010, 01:58 AM
Hey Steve,
Firstly, make sure you don't mash down too hard with your fretting hand when you play. Uke strings easily bend sharp when fretted hard. You don't need to press against the wood of the board, just press hard enough to make the string break firmly over the fret.

That advice is Golden. Thanks very much, my ukulele chords now sound like I'd expect them too.


11-29-2010, 12:52 PM
Congratulations. I spent a few hours fixing the action on a cheap uke, but I had played for a few months. I was hoping you wouldn't have to get out the saws and files and hammers just yet. It is great fun to get a cheap uke as perfect as possible. But I think you should play a while and get use to tunings and correctly fretting. Good luck and have fun. In a couple of months you may find you want to modify the uke or just buy a more expensive one.