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View Full Version : Souping up a Lanikai LU21T



bynapkinart
08-25-2011, 01:48 PM
Ever since I got my concert, all the little things about my LU21 have really been driving me nuts. My concert is absolutely perfect for me: great looks, great playability, amazing tone, and most importantly it feels and sounds like a professional's instrument.

I don't need the premium version of anything, but I'll be the first to admit that I don't do well with beginner instruments. This one is particularly mediocre:

1) Sterile. The thing seems dead. Oh, and quiet compared to my concert.
2) Awful, awful, horrible tuners. Doesn't stay in tune at all.
3) When it is in tune, intonation problems are off the scale.
4) Strings jump out of the nut slots at every opportunity.
5) Ugly and uninspiring.

I can't return the thing because I bought it for a really good price, I need a tenor, I need one that I don't care too much about, but I want to be able to play it. All of these issues can be fixed!

1) We'll see how sterile it is after the rest of these issues are addressed.
2) I'll be getting a good set of friction tuners, similar to the ones that come on KoAlohas (with the large adjustment screw). $30, and I'm sure I'll need to put them on another uke in the future if this one doesn't pan out too well. I know there's a debate about geared vs. friction tuners, but I prefer the look and they can hold great tune if they're tight enough.
3) and 4) I'm ordering a Tusq nut, and I will make sure it is slotted and installed properly so that these issues are resolved. The action is fine, so I think the intonation issue is mainly a string/nut issue, but I may also order a saddle.
5) I'm going to polish it. Hey, it's nato, I'm sure it won't look great when it's all dressed up. It will look a little classier though, hopefully...and maybe knocking some of the finish off will help open it up.

Any suggestions for me before I order all of this? Despite all of its faults it would be nice to have a tenor around, so I'm definitely keeping it (at least until I get a different tenor, then it'll be gifted to my nephew). Can anyone think of something I missed?

Pondoro
08-25-2011, 03:06 PM
I bought a Lanikai LU21 and the intonation was terrible. I didn't like the tuners either. I spent a few hours fixing the intonation - made a new bone saddle that lowered the action and increased the compensation. Moved the old nut (it was a few hundreths of an inch too far from the fretboard). It sounded a lot better. The tuners improved with age, though they are still not very good. I think you will be glad you fixed your LU21, mine is my beater uke and travels with me all over.

Uk3player78
08-25-2011, 04:23 PM
Stick it on eBay. I had the Lanikai LU21 concert and it sounded good BUT the intonation drove me insane! G chord unison notes argh! So i listed it on eBay and lost just 20 on the new price :P.

haole
08-25-2011, 05:34 PM
Honestly, I'd say sell it and get a better uke. Lanikais are generally pretty good for the price, but unless you're absolutely in love with that particular uke (and it doesn't seem like you are), it probably isn't worth sinking all the time/effort/money into making it tolerable. If you find this one dead-sounding and sterile, you might want to upgrade to something that's solid wood. There are plenty of offerings from Mainland, Kala, Ohana, Makai, and Lanikai that'll come stock with better tuners, better looks, and better sound.

kalmario
08-25-2011, 06:06 PM
check out the bracing, if you are brave (and double jointed) you could remove some of the bracing, which will allow the top to vibrate a lot more, and will improve the sound heaps. be aware though if you stuff it up you really stuff it up. check out the thread about the all solid uke that wasn't. he also shows how to add a sound port, which could fun too.

Cliff

buddhuu
08-25-2011, 10:47 PM
I actually think the LU21s are ok.

Personally, I spend a lot of my time tweaking cheap instruments (which are all I can afford). Ok, so it takes a while, but the results can be very good and it's an enjoyable and educational process. Never hurts to learn a few instrument maintenance skills.

Sounds like you have the tuner thing covered. Other than that I would suggest:

Try Aquila strings if you haven't already. They often bring out any hidden potential in a cheap or laminate-topped 'ukulele. If you've tried them and they didn't work for you, maybe try Worth clears.

As for the jumping strings and intonation issues: the most common cause of poor intonation I have seen on ukes is a badly set nut. Get yourself half a dozen bone nut blanks from a luthier supplier of from eBay. Get a few grades of abrasive paper and some nut files (or ersatz substitutes). Proper nut files are expensive, but a set of welding torch nozzle cleaners makes a pretty good and VERY cheap alternative which works for filing nut slots. Check it out:

http://www.ebay.co.uk/sch/i.html?_nkw=welding+nozzle+cleaner&_sacat=0&_odkw=needle+files&_osacat=0&_trksid=p3286.c0.m270.l1313

As for instructions for making and setting up a new nut, Frank Ford is the guru:

http://frets.com/FRETSPages/Luthier/Technique/Setup/NewNut/newnut1.html

http://frets.com/FRETSPages/Musician/GenSetup/NutAction/nutaction.html

http://frets.com/FRETSPages/Musician/GenSetup/Nuts/nuts1.html

A new nut done right should sort out your jumping strings, and has a very good chance of improving intonation.

Good luck.

PS: In one of the videos for 'Pencil Full of Lead', Paolo Nutini's uke player is using a Lanikai, so they can't be bad!

bynapkinart
08-26-2011, 03:47 AM
Thanks for the info! Especially the bit about the nozzle cleaners...didn't know about those.

I think the LU21 is close to an amazing value, it just needs a little help. It'll be fun to go through this process and hopefully have a great uke at the end of the day!

Pondoro
08-28-2011, 11:49 PM
You can learn how to set up a $70 uke so it intonates correctly with about 3 hours of searching the web and another 3 hours of actual work. You'll probably spend less than $20. So your $70 investment became $90 and you've learned the skills you need to adjust other ukes. I think it makes sense. I've gone on to buy more expensive ukes but my Lanikai LU-21 has good intonation and isn't dead sounding. It's not as alive as my more expensive ukes, but the bone saddle and Aquillas really help it. It is my travel uke, it has been around the world in my carry-on suitcase. If it got broken or lost I would buy another one ASAP.

dhoenisch
08-29-2011, 02:53 AM
Personally, I spend a lot of my time tweaking cheap instruments (which are all I can afford). Ok, so it takes a while, but the results can be very good and it's an enjoyable and educational process. Never hurts to learn a few instrument maintenance skills.

Sounds like you have the tuner thing covered. Other than that I would suggest:

Try Aquila strings if you haven't already. They often bring out any hidden potential in a cheap or laminate-topped 'ukulele. If you've tried them and they didn't work for you, maybe try Worth clears.

As for the jumping strings and intonation issues: the most common cause of poor intonation I have seen on ukes is a badly set nut. Get yourself half a dozen bone nut blanks from a luthier supplier of from eBay. Get a few grades of abrasive paper and some nut files (or ersatz substitutes). Proper nut files are expensive, but a set of welding torch nozzle cleaners makes a pretty good and VERY cheap alternative which works for filing nut slots. Check it out:

http://www.ebay.co.uk/sch/i.html?_nkw=welding+nozzle+cleaner&_sacat=0&_odkw=needle+files&_osacat=0&_trksid=p3286.c0.m270.l1313

As for instructions for making and setting up a new nut, Frank Ford is the guru:

http://frets.com/FRETSPages/Luthier/Technique/Setup/NewNut/newnut1.html

http://frets.com/FRETSPages/Musician/GenSetup/NutAction/nutaction.html

http://frets.com/FRETSPages/Musician/GenSetup/Nuts/nuts1.html

A new nut done right should sort out your jumping strings, and has a very good chance of improving intonation.

Good luck.

PS: In one of the videos for 'Pencil Full of Lead', Paolo Nutini's uke player is using a Lanikai, so they can't be bad!

Man, you pretty much said everything I was going to say.

If it helps at all, I have an Oscar Schmidt OU-2 concert that is all laminated and sounded just OK. The ONLY thing I did to that uke (with the exception of gluing a loose brace when I bought it cheap) is upgraded the strings to Aquilas, and it's like a totally different uke. It may not be the prettiest uke in the world, but it sounds and plays really nice now. I also put Aquilas on my mom's soprano which sounded terrible, especially when making the G chord, but now, it's a great little uke. Intonation issues were corrected just with the string change.

Give 'em a shot, but by all means, tinker. I'm a tinkerer at heart. Heck, when I purchased my brand new Martin guitar, it very quickly ended up on my work bench to tinker with it and get it the way I wanted it. My banjo is a different story. I can't even tell you how many times I've had it completely apart, and how many different parts it's seen until I got it exactly how I wanted it.

Good luck,
Dan

bynapkinart
11-26-2011, 04:32 AM
Just a quick update on this problem: I did string it low-G, and it fixed some of the issues, but intonation is still noticeably off. I carved the saddle up a bit and reversed it, so instead of sitting vertical ( | ), it sits a little crooked ( / ). It increases the length by about 1/8", and it is better intoned now than it was but that just goes to show how poorly the bridge was placed when it was manufactured.

I think I'm going to sell it and go tenor free for the time being. I play guitar, and I have guitars if I want something deep like tenor uke...not only that but between my sopranos and my concert I just don't even want to pick up the tenor anymore.