View Full Version : Kala Pocket Ukulele, Tuning(s)

09-21-2011, 12:35 PM
Hi guys, I recieved my Kala pocket uke (mahogany) today and have spent a great deal of the day trying to tune it. I have read a few threads on this forum about possible tunings for this uke. I had no idea that it could (and should?) be tuned like a baritone uke (DGBE or some higher variation of that). So firstly, what should I tune it to? I only have one other uke (a soprano) which has always worked and stayed in tune nicely. This brings me to my next point. My other uke has geared tuners. The pocket uke has friction tuners. For the life of me, I CANNOT GET THIS THING TO STAY IN TUNE!:mad: The 'c' string (the fat one) is the worst. The others are bad and de-tune within a matter of seconds. The tuning head that belongs to the fat string is actually turning when I let go. It does a full turn like the the girl from the exorcist and detunes quickly and dramatically. I'm sorry if all this sounds stupid but I am really at the end of my wits now. Thanks in advance.

09-21-2011, 01:44 PM
maybe those strings are new and need to settle.
strech them a little with your fingers.
they should be more stable in 3-5 days (depend on how much you play)

check if the winding is correct.

09-21-2011, 01:59 PM
Friction tuners frustrated me a lot when I got my first uke that had them (after 3 with geared tuners). Many people advised me to just switch out the friction tuners for geared tuners. I resolved to stick with the friction tuners for a month. In addition I did the following (none were my idea, I learned them all in forums):

1) Let the strings settle down, it will take a week or so.

2) After the initial stretching period is over make sure that the strings are not so bunched up on the tuner that you have two or three layers of string. The string that is coming from the nut should be wrapping on to the metal peg, not on top of previous layers of string. This is very important.

3) You will probably have to shorten the string a bit to make number 2 work. Leave about 3/8" to 1/2 " of string sticking straight out of the tuner. When you tune watch that short piece of string like the needle on a gauge. It will help you tune more precisely, by helping you learn to turn the tuner in smaller increments.

4) Lubricate the slots in the nut with some graphite from a pencil lead. This will prevent the strings from sticking.

Be patient! Thousands of ukers use friction pegs and like them. You are at least as smart as us. Do not be dismayed by the others who tell you, "Friction pegs will never work!" Geared tuners work well and I like them on my ukes that have them, but small ukes look better with friction tuners and balance better as well. Give it a month and you will see progress, after three months you will probably be completely ambidextrous (in the tuner sense).

I guess this turned into a bit of a manifesto. But it is painful to see so many people say, "Just get rid of the friction tuners." It is your uke and it is your right to change the tuners if you wish. But I want you to hear the other side. Equally frustrating are people who just chime in and say, "Friction pegs are better", leaving you with the idea that they are easy and that you must be clueless because they do not work for you. Friction tuners are a pain, at first, but they can be mastered. The next step is wooden pegs! They are a lot of fun but also require a learning period.

09-21-2011, 02:33 PM
Most friction tuners have a screw on the tuning key (the part you turn with your fingers). Try tightening that screw... that is what it is there for. Too tight, and you won't be able to adjust the tuning, too loose and it won't hold the position. A change in humidity may change the fit of the tuners, but generally, once you get them set properly, they should be fine.


Hippie Dribble
09-21-2011, 03:18 PM
Hi Shakespeare. Push the C tuner in a little with some pressure. That should help the peg stay in tune better. As for tunings for the pocket uke, try tuning it up to Eb; so the G string tunes up to Bb, the C goes up to Eb, the E goes up to G and the A goes up to C. This will give it a richer, sweeter and louder sound, and increase the sustain. If you're feeling game you could also try tuning it up a little further to F.

09-21-2011, 03:32 PM
I would reccomment E or F tuning...I usually keep mine at G tuning, just be cause i know what the chords are then without thinking...its truely sounds better a step down...from that... any lower than Eb and the strings are far to floppy to play in tune and sound clean....MY GUESS IS you've got alot of string stretch going on, especially noticable with the tension on that little thing...BUT when you tune up, watch the tuning pegs, do they rotate back? if so, there is a philips screw in the tuning peg that tightens it up....be very gentle to not over tighten it, but an 1/8th of a turn at a time until it stays put COULD be your problem....keep in mind as we change seasons here, you might need to do it again (if where you are the humidity drops forexample, it might be loose) BUT odds are its those nylon strings, as everyone else pointed out...so give it a week or two (or lots of playing and tuning over a day or so) and you'll see that go away...good luck

09-22-2011, 08:26 AM
Thankyou everyone for replying so quickly and generously. I will try everything you have said and report back. Fingers crossed...

Ambient Doughnut
09-22-2011, 10:43 AM
Yeah give it a chance it'll settle down in a bit. I tune mine anywhere from 2 semitones up (A, D, F#, B) right up to DBGE (7 semitones up).

CFAD is a good generally (+5)

09-24-2011, 12:38 PM
Thanks guys. I tried all the things you said and the instrument is now beginning to stay in tune, though not for very long. The instrument sounded great in all the videos I watched before buying this uke but mine doesn't seem to sound as good. I suppose I will just have to persevere with it.

Sorry if this sounds incredibly stupid. Until a few weeks ago I thought there were four sizes: soprano, concert, tenor and baritone. I also believed that the first three were tuned gCEA and only the baritone was tuned DGBE (like the four higher strings of a guitar in standard tuning). I now know that neither of these things is true. My only other uke has been kept in gCEA since the day I got it. I currently have the pocket uke tuned the same but can hear that it doesn't sound quite right. I don't want to have to learn a load of new chords for an alternate tuning, not at this stage anyway. So how should I tune it if I want to be able to play the same chord shapes and preserve the sound of gCEA on the pocket uke? Thanks again.

Ambient Doughnut
09-24-2011, 12:48 PM
No, you're essentially right there - gCEA is normal although it's not unusual to tune up or down a little to suit song/voice.
(Baritones are usually DBGE but it's not unknown for them to be tuned to C as well)

The Pocket uke really struggles at normal tuning as the strings are just too slack.
Best to tune up at least one tone as I describe above.
Use the shapes you already know and don't worry about it too much. It only really matters if you're trying to play along with other people.
If you're singing along you may find some songs work better in the new key!

You have a good electronic tuner do you? If not - get one, it'll make life a lot easier. :)

09-25-2011, 12:16 PM
Thanks for the reply. I do have a good electronic tuner which has kept me sane. I will experiment with other tunings and come back to nag some more. I am disappointed that I won't be able to play with others but then I suppose the volume of the instrument isn't loud enough for that anyway.

Ambient Doughnut
09-25-2011, 10:48 PM
Here you go - all the possible tunings:

a a# b c c# d d# e f f# g g# a
e f f# g g# a a# b c c# d d# e
c c# d d# e f f# g g# a a# b c
g g# a a# b c c# d d# e f f# g

First column is 'normal' C tuning
3rd column is 'A tuning'

Anything from column 3 onwards is suitable for the pocket uke - I usually stick to 4 - 6.
Column 9 (G# tuning) is the highest I've dared to go - I wouldn't recommend it!

Have fun!

09-26-2011, 03:07 AM
I have the Kala Poket uke from OldeFart and he did work on it so that it plays and sounds very nice and stays n tune perfectly and I use the gCEA soprano tuning on it. of the modifications he did was to lower the action. I know this is important on any stringed instrument if the action is too high as you press the string down it is going to also tighten it and cause the pitch to raise. the farther you have to press down the greater different and it can be quite noticeable. You instrument might be in tune with the open strings but as soon as you start andding closed notes to though, ouch. of the other mods he compensated the bridge saddle. He also put florocarbon strings on it, I dont know if that makes them less 'floppy' as Ive not tryed any others on it. what others have said about tightening the screws on the friction tuners is very important.

as far as tunings, In the future I plan to try the D6 tuning - aDF#B on it, there seems to be a lot of vintage material for that tuning.

09-26-2011, 07:17 AM
Nice one guys. I have it tuned to gCEA still but it does sound a bit like I'm strumming a wet fish. I will keep what you said in mind wolfybau but do not feel confident enough to do any of those things, especially considering how much I paid for such a tiny instrument.

09-26-2011, 12:55 PM
I tuned up to A#D#GC (the 3rd tuning on Ambient's chart) and was amazed at how much better it sounds and how much easier it is to play. So, all in all I'm a bit gutted that I won't be able to play it with other people playing different ukes but chuffed at how beautiful it sounds. Now I just need an acacia one and a spalted maple one and I'll be satisfied, until a buy a tenor, and...

Strummin simon
09-27-2011, 02:13 AM
hey Shaky,

i've got one of these too.. i tuned mine down to GCEA too, just so i could play with others. and mine is the same, doesnt sound great!
i was recommended to put tenor strings on it, then tune it GCEA.
i havent tried that yet, maybe someone else has?
persevere with the uke, its a quality little thing.

Ambient Doughnut
09-27-2011, 02:47 AM
If you want to play along with others then you're going to have to transpose!

Easiest way to do this is to tune to CFAD and then use the http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Circle_of_fifths.

If you want to play an F for example this will now be a Bflat shape.

Bflat is one step anti-clockwise on the wheel. Use this rule for all your chords and then play along.

eg - Five Foot Two:

C E7 A7 D7 G7 C

F A7 D7 G7 C7 F

Hope that helps!

09-27-2011, 03:05 AM
Nice one guys. I have it tuned to gCEA still but it does sound a bit like I'm strumming a wet fish. I will keep what you said in mind wolfybau but do not feel confident enough to do any of those things, especially considering how much I paid for such a tiny instrument.

:eek: I guess I like the sound of wet fish. :o I think the next song I will learn will be 'Under the Sea" :D mabee I should make a whole collection of fishy songs ;)

09-27-2011, 01:08 PM
Transpositions make my head hurt. I am way too stupid to attempt any kind of mental juggling whilst playing. I will keep trying though. Thanks for the tip about tenor strings Simon.

Under the seaaa, under the seaaaaa....

Ambient Doughnut
09-28-2011, 12:30 AM
I guess what you would want is heavier strings - are tenor heavier?

These guys offer heavier set allowing for lower tunings on a soprano scale. I would think therefore that they would help a pocket uke sound ok in C tuning.


Not tried it myself though...

/edit - I've just emailed them as I think it's quite an interesting thought.

09-28-2011, 12:51 PM
Once again, nice one:)

10-10-2011, 01:30 AM
great thread and thanks for recommending it to me, yeah the transposing things is a little tough but practice and patience will get us there, do love the little fellow thought, i have the acacia one, well time to try some tunings, thanks from em to for all the great advice :)

10-10-2011, 03:30 AM
I guess what you would want is heavier strings - are tenor heavier?

These guys offer heavier set allowing for lower tunings on a soprano scale. I would think therefore that they would help a pocket uke sound ok in C tuning.


Not tried it myself though...

/edit - I've just emailed them as I think it's quite an interesting thought.

Did these guys ever email you back? It is a very interesting thought and I now have a sopranino and a pocket uke headed my way so Id love to know what came of this.

Ambient Doughnut
10-10-2011, 04:17 AM
Hi, yes I had a quick email exchange with Dirk at SCU - He thought it might work but was unsure how good it would sound due to the small body of the pocket uke. Worth a try though so I've ordered some. They're not here yet but I'll report back once I've given it a try!

10-10-2011, 09:27 AM
I tried a lot of the higher tunings with my Kala Pocket Ukulele, but the friction tuners just made it impossible.. so I backed off a bit, and when tuned in dGBE (i.e. as a guitar, just one octave higher), the friction tuners give me no problems at all (except for what you get without gearing, i.e. tiny adjustments). It stays in tune, and the string tension is good, almost too good because the ukulele is deafeningly loud!
One reason I settled for dGBE when it could possibly be tuned half a tone or one tone up and still work is because I can just play it like a guitar and not worry too much about transposing. Well, to be more accurate - transposing as such doesn't worry me, but with guitar tuning I don't transpose.. I just think guitar chord shapes.


Ambient Doughnut
10-10-2011, 11:36 AM
I think you might have misunderstood Tor - dGBE would be extremely high - about the maximum for a pocket uke. All the tunings I discuss above are lower than this. cFAD for example is a one tone lower than your tuning.

If you look back at my table above where I recommend anyhting between columns 4 and 6 - well, you're on column 8.

I've tried that tuning but it sound very 'plinky' to me.

Not saying it's wrong but it's at the upper end of sensible tunings.


10-11-2011, 12:36 AM
Hm, no, it's not extremely high. It's one octave above a guitar, which is not a problem when considering the very short scale of the instrument.

Before I bought it several people had already made Youtube videos where they demonstrated playing the Kala pocket ukulele in gCEA, that would be your #13. And indeed it's possible, the ukulele can take it - and the Youtube demos sound good, but I couldn't keep it in tune. At the time several tunings varying from (low) gCEA (unusable - strings are too slack) to cFAD and all the way to high gCEA were recommended. To me dGBE works very well. The strings have a tension that feels right, and the sound is good (although quite loud..)


Ambient Doughnut
10-11-2011, 12:51 AM
Ah I see what you mean then. Yes dGBE is fine in that case - I just find it a bit 'tinkly'. :)

10-11-2011, 01:23 PM
When I tune my pocket uke to dGBE it feels like it is going to snap in half. I do like the sound though. I have not seen any videos on youtube of this instrument tuned to gCEA (one octave up from a soprano). That really does seem crazy. I can see and feel that this is a very well-made instrument but still...there has to be limits.

Ambient Doughnut
10-13-2011, 09:16 AM
So, I've got the strings but I'm having second thoughts as:

The pocket uke sounds great at the moment and I have a number of other ukes already in C tuning.
It might be more useful to put them on a soprano and keep that in a lower tuning - B flat for example.

Hmm... /strokes beard

Ambient Doughnut
10-24-2011, 10:06 AM
Ok then - I've done it!


It works pretty well and holds C tuning easily enough. I'm not sure it really suits the pocket uke though but it proves the theory at least.