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thingsabove
01-07-2011, 11:19 AM
Long Post follows:

I started playing a Kamaka HF-3 I bought from a friend Dec 27. I had not played any Ukes prior to buying this from my friend so it was my first Uke experience. It was rather an impulse buy as I'd called him up to ask his advice on harmonicas. One thing led to another and I ended up with this fine tenor figured-Koa uke.

Anyway, since I'm a long time stringed instrument player I was able to take it up very quickly and the chords are wonderfully simple for the most part so I was playing songs right away. Almost immediately my two boys, who have never shown much interest in playing instruments, seemed very taken with my Uke. I think it is the small size. It doesn't intimidate them like my guitars and basses do. They had shown some interest in playing one of my mandolins in the past but the string tension on mandolin was too high for them to start with and they gave up after 30 minutes.

But with the Ukulele they kept picking it up and strumming it and playing some simple chords I showed them. Almost immediately they began asking for their own Ukes.

They are 7 and 9 years old and I realized that the extra string tension of the Tenor or less so Concert scale would probably make it more difficult for them to learn so I wanted to get them Sopranos. Given that they are boys and are a bit rough on everything they own I didn't want to spend much money on something likely to be sat upon or used as a club within the month so I went to the store looking for two cheap Ukuleles.

I went to my local Guitar Center and Sam Ash and, surprisingly, they had a plethora of different ukes but most were over $200. The ones under $100 seemed fairly shoddy. The cheapest they had was a Mahalo and they seemed like absolute junk. Up from there were Lanikai models. There was the LU-11 and one step above it a bound version (LU-21). The LU-21 samples they showed me were worse than the LU-11s. So I went with the Lanikai LU-11. He brought out a few boxes from the back of the store for me to look at and I chose a couple that had what appeared to be the tightest construction.

When I got them home I tuned them up and immediately noticed that while the action was decently low overall the action at the nut was so high that any first position chord or fingering would be immediately out of tune due to bending the strings down from the nut to the first fret. I spent 10 minutes filing the nut slots of both instruments and overall I'm satisfied with the action. They are both very playable and intonation is reasonably good up to the 12th fret.

Alright here's the interesting bit... The instruments have had a few days to settle in and the difference in tone between the two is significant, to my ear. Keep in mind these two instruments are the same model, with the same strings setup the same way but one sounds like a plinky toy and the other has a mellow, warm tone. Very musical.

I've re-checked the setup and everything appears correct. I haven't stuck a mirror inside them yet to check the bracing but it's amazing to me how different two otherwise identical instruments can sound.

It's no wonder that these inexpensive Lanikais get such varied reviews. It's definitely luck of the draw. My boy who has the plinky uke doesn't know any better and he's happy as a clam with what he has and I don't want him to think any different so I won't be taking it back. But if they keep playing I'll buy them better instruments

The reason I wanted to share this is that if you buy and inexpensive Uke for yourself and you aren't happy with the sound, take it back and exchange it for the exact same make of instrument and you may be pleasantly surprised.

strumsilly
01-07-2011, 12:46 PM
Yea, tha'ts why it's nice to be able to play b4 you buy.

I don't think the size of the uke has any relation to string tension.a soprano doesn't necessarily have higher tension. from what I understand, as you move up in fretboard length the string diameter increases. If you used the same string diameter on longer length necks , you would have to increase tensions, or tune lower. I have my Baritone tuned GCEA, but because of the srtings I'm using, the tension doesn't seem different from my soprano, but the strings are thicker. I'm no expert, but this is what I've found to be true. Hope this makes sense.

mm stan
01-07-2011, 03:38 PM
Aloha Thingsabove,
Ukuleles in every level are suseptable to variations because the building process has so many variables..even the same brand and model from the same maker made the same time will sound different...no matter if
they are entry level to customs....like you said, try them all out and pick the best one from a side to side test comparison...it's the only way to know what you're getting...if you play them seprately at different times, most times you will not know the difference. It is that way with most instruments...Good Luck, Happy Strummings....MM Stan

thingsabove
01-08-2011, 06:37 AM
Yea, tha'ts why it's nice to be able to play b4 you buy.

I don't think the size of the uke has any relation to string tension.a soprano doesn't necessarily have higher tension. from what I understand, as you move up in fretboard length the string diameter increases. If you used the same string diameter on longer length necks , you would have to increase tensions, or tune lower. I have my Baritone tuned GCEA, but because of the srtings I'm using, the tension doesn't seem different from my soprano, but the strings are thicker. I'm no expert, but this is what I've found to be true. Hope this makes sense.

Hmmm the string tension on my Tenor with Aquila Tenor Nylgut strings is much higher than my son's Sopranos that also came preinstalled with Aquila strings when they are both tuned to GCEA. From my experience with bass guitar the longer scale 35" and 36" basses also have higher string tension which is intentional to make their low B string more taught than it would be on a normal 34" scale bass.

This article about string tension (http://liutaiomottola.com/formulae/tension.htm) is a technical look at the issue but in general as the scale length increases (pitch remains constant while strength length increases) it requires greater tension on the longer string to achieve the same pitch. I don't understand how Ukes that are pitched the same but vary scale length significantly couldn't also be affected by this.

I'm just trying to understand how others keep string tension equal across their Soprano, Concert and Tenor Ukes when it appears so different between my tenor and the sopranos I recently bought.

OldePhart
01-08-2011, 09:56 AM
thingsabove, you would have to change string gages to achieve that kind of balance. Some manufacturers use the same gages from soprano through tenor (Worth, for example) while others may vary the gages for each size. Given strings of the same gage, tension will indeed be less on a shorter scale instrument. It's easy enough to prove to any doubters, just take the strings off a tenor and put them on a soprano! LOL

I use the same fluorocarbon strings (homebrewed set similar to Worths) on my tenor and concert. They're obviously under higher tension on the tenor.

John

thingsabove
01-08-2011, 01:27 PM
thingsabove, you would have to change string gages to achieve that kind of balance. Some manufacturers use the same gages from soprano through tenor (Worth, for example) while others may vary the gages for each size. Given strings of the same gage, tension will indeed be less on a shorter scale instrument. It's easy enough to prove to any doubters, just take the strings off a tenor and put them on a soprano! LOL

I use the same fluorocarbon strings (homebrewed set similar to Worths) on my tenor and concert. They're obviously under higher tension on the tenor.

John
That makes sense John. My son's new Soprano ukes feel downright floppy compared to my Tenor. My package of Aquila Nylgut have the "Tenor" dot colored in so I assumed they were the right gauge but they don't appear to be as fat as the black set of strings that came on it. The black set had a wound C string and I didn't like the way they sounded. The Aquila Nylguts sound better to my ear than the ones that were on it but they feel quite a bit stiffer to me than nylons on a classical guitar. My friend recommended the Nylguts. When I ordered from Elderly I ordered a set of bionylons at the same time but haven't tried them yet.

I'm just trying to learn about these dear little instruments.

I've been playing mine half the day and split the nail of my index finger (ouch) so I think that's a sign I need to take a break for today.

-Richard-