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View Full Version : Fixing the action on a relatively cheap uke?



ukela
11-10-2010, 10:56 AM
I have two ukuleles: a Lanikai LU-21C and a Mainland Mahogany Classic Soprano (matte finish, friction tuners, if you're interested). I was happy with the Lanikai...until the Mainland arrived and I realized what a properly set-up ukulele is supposed to feel like. The Mainland action is really nice - it feels like the strings are part of the fretboard (almost) and there is no buzz.

The Lanikai is a great uke for the money (about $80), with a nice sound, good construction, etc. But, I now realize the action is way too high, and playing chords up by the nut can be a real pain. I like the uke, though, just not the action. So, I thought I would see about fixing the action.

I have been quoted a rough estimate of $40 by one repair shop. That seems reasonable, but I was wondering if anyone thought otherwise. Obviously it seems a little silly to pay 50% of the cost of a ukulele to fix its action, but not that silly if it means enjoying playing it vs. not enjoying playing it.

So, bottom line: what should it cost, and is it worth it?

P.S. I wish I were one of those people that would take the time to learn how to fix the action myself, but that is not going to happen. And, anyway, I am sure I would mess it up the first time and I don't want to kill my ukulele.

bazmaz
11-10-2010, 11:10 AM
before you consider spending money, you might like to try some checks yourself. In my view (and I am no luthier), action at the bridge is easily sorted at home without spending. Many try the nut themselves too but admittedly this gets riskier.

I did prepare a step by step guide based on buzzes, but also dealing with action here http://gotaukulele.blogspot.com/2010/09/buzzes-and-rattles-on-ukulele.html

olgoat52
11-10-2010, 11:10 AM
Did that price include a fresh set of strings? For Aquilas that;s about $7. Worths are more.

Depends on what they mean by setup. For me a setup is knocking down the high frets, recrown and sand and polish all frets. Reduce the saddle height it necessary and recrown and polish that as well. Last step is setting up the nut including reducing the height of the nut so the top 1/3 of the string is exposed.

ukela
11-10-2010, 11:19 AM
Thanks for the link pauljmuk! I hesitate to work on it, because I really don't know what I'm doing.

Olgoat52, I don't think that includes strings, but I got this uke less than a month ago, so I don't think it needs new strings (but, I realize that if the price doesn't include strings, it is obviously higher for the set-up itself). I don't know what is involved exactly - I think I would pay $40 to get the problem fixed, via nut or bridge or both.

olgoat52
11-10-2010, 11:26 AM
Thanks for the link pauljmuk! I hesitate to work on it, because I really don't know what I'm doing.

Olgoat52, I don't think that includes strings, but I got this uke less than a month ago, so I don't think it needs new strings (but, I realize that if the price doesn't include strings, it is obviously higher for the set-up itself). I don't know what is involved exactly - I think I would pay $40 to get the problem fixed, via nut or bridge or both.

Without messing with the frets and just adjusting the saddle and nut, I would think that is a bit high. With existing strings I would expect that to take less than half an hour. $40 would be $80/shop hour.

ukela
11-10-2010, 12:05 PM
Without messing with the frets and just adjusting the saddle and nut, I would think that is a bit high. With existing strings I would expect that to take less than half an hour. $40 would be $80/shop hour.

Thanks! That is good to know.

bazmaz
11-10-2010, 12:19 PM
I appreciate that - my blog is aimed at beginners - if you are unsure, would def suggest you stop before messing with the nut, but dropping the bridge saddle a touch is really just a 10 min job and some sandpaper.

I encourage all to get to know how their instruments work. If you sand your bridge saddle too low, worst case is you buy a new one for a couple of bucks.

ichadwick
11-10-2010, 12:23 PM
Most saddles are pieces of bone or plastic that are held in place by friction. Loosen the strings, pull it out, sand a little from the bottom, then replace and re-tighten. Not enough? Repeat. If it's a plastic saddle, here's a chance to replace it with bone, which will likely provide better tone. Just do a very small amount at a time and it will be easy.

Brewerpaul
11-10-2010, 12:55 PM
If you have it done, you'll have a pretty darned nice $120 uke. The actual repair may or may not be a bit expensive, but you'll end up with something you like a lot more. Take your Mainland into the luthier and tell him that this is the type of action you're looking for.

BobN
11-10-2010, 01:34 PM
Proper setup is a good reason to buy from shops that do the setup.

Elderly tests, tweaks, and sets up just about everything they sell. Some of the very low-end instruments that they sell, they state that they will not be setup by Elderly.

I haven't yet made a purchase from MGM, but from all the feedback on the forums, it sounds like he does a great job in making sure everything is setup properly.

In contrast, I bought a uke at a Sam Ash store. I had been in the store for 55 minutes playing and tuning ukes without seeing a salesman and I had to find a salesperson in another part of the store to make a purchase. No setup there.

The small local music stores in my area do great setup on everything they sell. Bring it back in a couple months for tweaking is usually gratis.

Raising and lowering the action is not difficult. I also have a lu-21c. The saddle is easily removed from the bridge.

ukela
11-10-2010, 02:07 PM
Most saddles are pieces of bone or plastic that are held in place by friction. Loosen the strings, pull it out, sand a little from the bottom, then replace and re-tighten. Not enough? Repeat. If it's a plastic saddle, here's a chance to replace it with bone, which will likely provide better tone. Just do a very small amount at a time and it will be easy.

Thanks for the specifics. Isn't the saddle glued into the bridge, though? Would I have to heat it up to remove it? Also, I have heard that lowering the saddle can be a delicate procedure, since taking too much off can result in the angle of the break in the strings not being sharp enough, with a negative effect on transfer of sound to through the bridge to the soundboard.

ukela
11-10-2010, 02:10 PM
If you have it done, you'll have a pretty darned nice $120 uke. The actual repair may or may not be a bit expensive, but you'll end up with something you like a lot more. Take your Mainland into the luthier and tell him that this is the type of action you're looking for.

My thoughts exactly, Brewerpaul. I just didn't want to pay $40 for something that equated to putting air in the tires. But, it seems like it is a more involved procedure than that. (For the record, I can and do put air in my tires myself!)

ukela
11-10-2010, 02:20 PM
Proper setup is a good reason to buy from shops that do the setup.

Elderly tests, tweaks, and sets up just about everything they sell. Some of the very low-end instruments that they sell, they state that they will not be setup by Elderly.

I haven't yet made a purchase from MGM, but from all the feedback on the forums, it sounds like he does a great job in making sure everything is setup properly.

In contrast, I bought a uke at a Sam Ash store. I had been in the store for 55 minutes playing and tuning ukes without seeing a salesman and I had to find a salesperson in another part of the store to make a purchase. No setup there.

The small local music stores in my area do great setup on everything they sell. Bring it back in a couple months for tweaking is usually gratis.

Raising and lowering the action is not difficult. I also have a lu-21c. The saddle is easily removed from the bridge.

Thanks Bob. I learned my lesson, having bought the lu-21c through amazon, and then the mainland straight from mike at mainland. It really makes a difference. I actually just bought a cheap makala dolphin bridge uke from MGM (which he will set up with acquila strings and proper action). Yes, no more amazon or guitar center for me.

mm stan
11-10-2010, 03:36 PM
Aloha Ukela,
Doing a set up may be costly in comparision to the value of the uke...However if you treasure and really like that uke and it's your first and it has great sentimental value..., get it done....and you'll appriciate it and play it much more throughout the years ahead...who knows, it may well be your favorite uke....I play my first daily, because I like it so much for the sound, playability, and comfort...it's always the first one I grab if that doesn't say something..I don't know what will.. on yeah, I started playing after 40 years again, and currently playing 3 1/2 years....Have Fun and Enjoy!! Happy strummings!!! MM Stan..

Ukuleleblues
11-10-2010, 06:08 PM
Last I checked in SC the cost of a good setup was $35 plus strings. I do it myself on all my ukes and guitars. It take time and patience, you just don't want to take too much off. A little bit goes a long way.

lambchop
11-10-2010, 06:23 PM
I am fortunate to live near Dave Talsma and he did a wonderful job on setting up the action on my cheap Cordoba - and only charged me $30, including putting in my old undersaddle bridge for me. Like I said, I'm lucky to live near a talented and reasonable craftsperson. Mike

ProfChris
11-11-2010, 12:14 AM
It's clear from the original post that the first problem is at the nut - difficulty playing chords at that end of the fretboard.

Don't touch the saddle until the nut is sorted out - messing with the saddle won't change your current problem. On the other hand, once the nut is right, you might find you like the saddle height where it is - depends on your playing style.

Although the proper way to set up the nut is so that the strings don't sit deep in it, I've not found any problems with simply deepening the slots on a cheap(er) uke. I'd take a junior hacksaw blade, wrap some tape round one end as a handle, and ideally run a file down either side to take off the 'set' of the teeth ('cause they stick out either side of the blade). Then put a piece of card that's about as high as a fret on the fingerboard to protect it and cut down each slot until it's half way between its current height and the card, makng sure the slot slants back towards the tuning pegs, in line with the peg head surface. Re-string and see if you're there yet. If not repeat, going half way from your current depth, and so-on until you have it comfortable.

A new pre-cut nut is pennies, so this is not that risky. If you can't keep a blade level, put some card over the peghead as well.

70sSanO
11-11-2010, 04:53 AM
I have done a lot of setup and tweaks on guitars and ukuleles.

Since you only have $80 invested into the ukulele, it is probably a good one to learn to do a setup. If you are just working the nut and saddle you can make those adjustments yourself.

Before you do anything, get an automotive feeler gauge set. They are a buch of little blades that usually go from around .010 to .035 inch in .001 or .002 increments. I haven't bought a set recently but they are pretty cheap... $5 to $10.

Business cards, sheets of papaer, cardboard, etc. can work, but if you really want to know the action you have to get real measurements. Just slide the blade between the top of the fret and the bottom of the string. I usually do 1st fret and 12th fret for each string. Take measurements off your Mainland and compare. If nothing else you will be able to explain the diferences and where you want to end up.

There are a number of threads that explain and give ideas on adjusting string height and I imagine there are a bunch of youtubes also.

One thing I have learned over the years that for a lot of things, I can do a better job than a shop can because I have a vested interest and I don't have employees to pay or overhead so I can spend hours to get it just right. And it is not just the $40 now, it is the $40 everytime you need to tweak something.

John

ukela
11-11-2010, 07:26 AM
It's clear from the original post that the first problem is at the nut - difficulty playing chords at that end of the fretboard.

Don't touch the saddle until the nut is sorted out - messing with the saddle won't change your current problem. On the other hand, once the nut is right, you might find you like the saddle height where it is - depends on your playing style.

Although the proper way to set up the nut is so that the strings don't sit deep in it, I've not found any problems with simply deepening the slots on a cheap(er) uke. I'd take a junior hacksaw blade, wrap some tape round one end as a handle, and ideally run a file down either side to take off the 'set' of the teeth ('cause they stick out either side of the blade). Then put a piece of card that's about as high as a fret on the fingerboard to protect it and cut down each slot until it's half way between its current height and the card, makng sure the slot slants back towards the tuning pegs, in line with the peg head surface. Re-string and see if you're there yet. If not repeat, going half way from your current depth, and so-on until you have it comfortable.

A new pre-cut nut is pennies, so this is not that risky. If you can't keep a blade level, put some card over the peghead as well.

Thanks Prof. Chris. I agree that it the problem is (at least) at the nut, and I appreciate the step-by-step on how to correct it. Useful info!

ukela
11-11-2010, 07:28 AM
I have done a lot of setup and tweaks on guitars and ukuleles.

Since you only have $80 invested into the ukulele, it is probably a good one to learn to do a setup. If you are just working the nut and saddle you can make those adjustments yourself.

Before you do anything, get an automotive feeler gauge set. They are a buch of little blades that usually go from around .010 to .035 inch in .001 or .002 increments. I haven't bought a set recently but they are pretty cheap... $5 to $10.

Business cards, sheets of papaer, cardboard, etc. can work, but if you really want to know the action you have to get real measurements. Just slide the blade between the top of the fret and the bottom of the string. I usually do 1st fret and 12th fret for each string. Take measurements off your Mainland and compare. If nothing else you will be able to explain the diferences and where you want to end up.

There are a number of threads that explain and give ideas on adjusting string height and I imagine there are a bunch of youtubes also.

One thing I have learned over the years that for a lot of things, I can do a better job than a shop can because I have a vested interest and I don't have employees to pay or overhead so I can spend hours to get it just right. And it is not just the $40 now, it is the $40 everytime you need to tweak something.

John

Thanks for the thoughtful reply John. Your final point is a very good one.

ukela
11-11-2010, 07:30 AM
Last I checked in SC the cost of a good setup was $35 plus strings. I do it myself on all my ukes and guitars. It take time and patience, you just don't want to take too much off. A little bit goes a long way.

Thanks for the price info. I'm still on the fence about whether to do it myself, but the replies on this thread have been encouraging.

bazmaz
11-15-2010, 04:47 AM
Without wishing to sound pompous, I personally think an important part of learning your instrument, is learning how to look after it and set it up.

Learning set up is a great boost for understanding how your uke works, tuning etc.


I would much rather practice on a cheapie than anything pricey.