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View Full Version : Why do some ukes feel stiffer than others?



mschway
04-17-2012, 07:42 AM
OK, I'm confused. I've been a string player (frets and fiddle) for 45 years or so, but this issue has always boggled me. In this case I'll talk about my two tenors.

One is a 2005 KoAloha crown bridge, other is a 2010 Kamaka. Both are in low-G, same Aquila strings. Both have same scale length and string length between tuner and nut is similar. Both have tie-on bridges and the action is the same on both instruments (by measurement at the 12th fret).

One thing IS different, however: the Kamaka has a slightly higher bridge, by maybe 1/16-3/32" (height between face and top of saddle, not action height). I think this means the Kamaka's neck angle is a little steeper.

Yet the KoAloha plays much stiffer than the Kamaka. I would have thought that a steeper angle would yield a stiffer string feel.

Any ideas out there? Does a steeper neck angle REALLY mean looser strings? :confused:

Thanks in advance,
--Mike

PoiDog
04-17-2012, 08:41 AM
Give the KoAloha a couple of cocktails. That should loosen it up a bit

coolkayaker1
04-17-2012, 08:44 AM
Give the KoAloha a couple of cocktails. That should loosen it up a bit

And the Kamaka will look better through "beer goggles".

hibiscus
04-17-2012, 08:44 AM
I'm not quite sure what you mean, but I have noticed some of my strings "slide" more easily than others. And I like to slide on slack key and other songs.

benjoeuke
04-17-2012, 08:48 AM
do both headstocks have the same angle behind the nut? same distance from nut to tuner post? both paddle headstocks? or Kamaka slotted?

mschway
04-17-2012, 08:56 AM
@hibiscus: By stiff, I mean how hard it is to fret the strings. The KoAloha seems to need more finger pressure.
@Benjoeuke: I'll have to check on that when I get home. I seem to recall the KoAloha's peghead is more in line with the fretboard (shallower angle), but not 100% certain.

--Mike

Scott S.
04-17-2012, 10:09 AM
Have you measured the string height at the nut? A higher action at the nut could make the uke feel stiffer.

janeray1940
04-17-2012, 10:28 AM
Yet the KoAloha plays much stiffer than the Kamaka.

I don't have an answer to your question, but I'll add this: recently I played a friend's Koaloha longneck pineapple soprano for an afternoon instead of my usual Kamaka standard pineapple, and "stiffer" is *exactly* the way I would describe the Koaloha in comparison to the Kamaka. It seemed like I had to work a lot harder to fret the strings cleanly.

I figured this was due to the concert-scale neck as compared to the soprano neck that I'm used to playing, but now I'm wondering if it's a characteristic of Koaloha.

RichM
04-17-2012, 10:38 AM
Ukeviagra?

mschway
04-17-2012, 10:56 AM
Have you measured the string height at the nut? A higher action at the nut could make the uke feel stiffer.

Hi, Scott.

I don't think it's the nut. I had both ukes' setups tweaked by my favorite luthier, a couple weeks apart. Besides, the difference in stiffness is just as much on the 7th fret as it is on the first 3. (PLEASE, no more Viagra jokes!:rolleyes: ) If it was just a nut issue, I'd expect the difference between the two instruments would become less the higher up you go.

mm stan
04-17-2012, 11:15 AM
by stiffness you mean higher string tension?? by any chance..
Is playbability and comfort a factor?? is it like the neck is too wide or thicker??

OldePhart
04-17-2012, 11:37 AM
How about the frets? Does one have taller or wider frets than the other?

mschway
04-17-2012, 01:00 PM
@stan: in theory, the string tension SHOULD be the same (similar neck angle (if not more extreme on the Kamaka), same scale length, same strings, same string height, similar type of bridge, etc), but the KoAloha feels like the strings are under more tension. Neck widths are about the same, but I KoAloha may be a little bit thinner (hmmmm) I'll measure when I get home.

@OldePhart: You may be on to something. I think the frets may be a little lower on the Kamaka, but I'll check once I get home (I'm wasting time at work typing this). Maybe it's an issue of me continuing to press the string down all the way to the FB even after the string has contacted the fret. THAT'LL be a hard habit to break!!!!! :eek:

Bradford
04-17-2012, 01:45 PM
It is a physical constant that two identical strings, (same diameter and mass) at a given scale length, will have the same tension at the same note (frequency). In fact, you could accurately tune the strings by matching the tensions. There will be some variations in the strings because of the manufacturing process, but this is probably not what you are feeling. The variables that can cause the sensation of different tensions are fret size, fret shape, neck shape, the amount of neck relief, (they are seldom dead flat) and the flatness of the fretboard, which can be radiused or dished.

Brad

Jake Wildwood
04-17-2012, 02:20 PM
It is a physical constant that two identical strings, (same diameter and mass) at a given scale length, will have the same tension at the same note (frequency). In fact, you could accurately tune the strings by matching the tensions. There will be some variations in the strings because of the manufacturing process, but this is probably not what you are feeling. The variables that can cause the sensation of different tensions are fret size, fret shape, neck shape, the amount of neck relief, (they are seldom dead flat) and the flatness of the fretboard, which can be radiused or dished.

Brad

This is exactly what I was about to say.

That said, my guess would be fret size/shape and radius would change the feel the most after you've ruled out identical heights at the nut, 12th fret, and an identical scale length.

benjoeuke
04-17-2012, 03:10 PM
this is very interesting, it never occured to me that frets could affect the string tension feeling... I have heard, though never really put the theory to the test, that if a string extends past the nut farther to the tuning post it creates a longer string which needs a tiny bit more tension to achieve the desired pitch... I've also heard that the break angle over the nut, whether it be downwards or right or left, that this too can create a little more resistance to bending the strings... I would like to know if any of the experts out there have an opinion on these two theories that I heard so many years ago :)

mschway
04-17-2012, 03:56 PM
this is very interesting, it never occured to me that frets could affect the string tension feeling... I have heard, though never really put the theory to the test, that if a string extends past the nut farther to the tuning post it creates a longer string which needs a tiny bit more tension to achieve the desired pitch... I've also heard that the break angle over the nut, whether it be downwards or right or left, that this too can create a little more resistance to bending the strings... I would like to know if any of the experts out there have an opinion on these two theories that I heard so many years ago :)

From my experience with the fiddle (which has a suspended tailpiece), the distance between the bridge and where the string attaches on the tailpiece does indeed have an effect on string tension. This seemed counter-intuitive when I first heard it from my violinmaker friends, but the proof is in the puddin', so they say. The experiment is easy to do; move the tailpiece back and the instrument is louder and brighter. make the string shorter (or add four fine tuners, and volume decreases and the tone is more mellow...all with the same effective SCALE length. The string length isn't just the scale length; it's the entire length between attachment points. The analogy with the uke would be differences in the peghead, and perhaps whether it's a pin or tie-bar bridge.

benjoeuke
04-17-2012, 04:09 PM
I used to know some metalheads that played Jackson guitars with reversed headstocks (that's like the classic Fender Strat type but upside down and pointy) I used to always make fun of their "Hockey Stick Headstocks" as I called them and they would argue back that they had more tension on the bass strings for better sound as well as less tension on the treble strings for easier bending... they also said that's one reason Hendrix liked his that way... I would think about it for a minute, then... "Hockey Stick! HAHAHAH!!" :)

poppy
04-17-2012, 04:19 PM
I had a mainland tenor that had large frets that were considerably taller also. I had .019 taken off all frets and had them leveled and rounded helped a bunch , by the time I got rid of it it was a great uke sounded awsum and quit hurting my fingers.

Bradford
04-17-2012, 04:24 PM
You are mixing apples and oranges here a bit. You are absolutely correct that the length of the tailpiece can effect how an instrument with a floating bridge sounds, as well as the tuner position and bridge type can effect the sound of a ukulele. That however, has nothing to do with string tension. Again, for a given string (physical properties) at a given scale length, the tension will determine the frequency the string will vibrate. What you do on the other side of the nut or saddle will not alter that frequency. It may effect the sustain, but that is another conversation.

Brad

benjoeuke
04-17-2012, 04:31 PM
You are mixing apples and oranges here a bit. You are absolutely correct that the length of the tailpiece can effect how an instrument with a floating bridge sounds, as well as the tuner position and bridge type can effect the sound of a ukulele. That however, has nothing to do with string tension. Again, for a given string (physical properties) at a given scale length, the tension will determine the frequency the string will vibrate. What you do on the other side of the nut or saddle will not alter that frequency. It may effect the sustain, but that is another conversation.

Brad

Thanks for that info Brad, I have always wondered about those two things. So you are saying without a doubt, string length behind the nut and break angle have no effect whatsoever on string tension or ease of "bendability"... interesting, thanks :)

pakhan
04-17-2012, 05:25 PM
Does anyone find this a problem on vintage ukes with bar frets?

I prefer bar frets on guitars where it need a slightly different technique to fret (lighter!) but I think that the overall benefits in terms of improving technique and slight clarity are worth it... but not had the change on ukes yet.


Terence

mschway
04-17-2012, 05:44 PM
How about the frets? Does one have taller or wider frets than the other?

We have a winner! I compared the fret heights between my two ukes and the KoAloha has a taller crown height than the Kamaka (by nearly 30% according to my crude "feeler gauges"). I guess I'm just pressing those strings too danged far on the KoAloha.

Thanks all. This has been a very interesting discussion!

--Mike

OldePhart
04-18-2012, 06:56 AM
How about the frets? Does one have taller or wider frets than the other?


We have a winner! I compared the fret heights between my two ukes and the KoAloha has a taller crown height than the Kamaka (by nearly 30% according to my crude "feeler gauges"). I guess I'm just pressing those strings too danged far on the KoAloha.

Thanks all. This has been a very interesting discussion!

--Mike

Yay! I kind of suspected it was the frets. I have a KoAloha longneck soprano and a Kiwaya longneck soprano. Scale length, etc. on the two is as near identical as makes no difference but the same strings on the Kiwaya feel much softer - the Kiwaya has very short, narrow frets. If I every have a truly custom uke built it's going to have frets like those on the Kiwaya...

John

poppy
04-18-2012, 06:26 PM
My Honu by big island has nice small frets also, I was able to use a vernier to measure heigth and the width was visibly wider.

http://www.ukuleleunderground.com/forum/showthread.php?54622-Fret-wire-thickness

figured out how to link the orig thread on my problem, hmgberg helped me out a lot.

mschway
04-18-2012, 06:48 PM
Yay! I kind of suspected it was the frets. I have a KoAloha longneck soprano and a Kiwaya longneck soprano. Scale length, etc. on the two is as near identical as makes no difference but the same strings on the Kiwaya feel much softer - the Kiwaya has very short, narrow frets. If I every have a truly custom uke built it's going to have frets like those on the Kiwaya...

John

FWIW, I found a webpage devoted to choosing the right fret crown height. http://www.lutherie.net/fret.chart.html More than you'll want to know about fret crowns with a little bit of philosophy added.

The author claims that taller frets require less finger pressure. That may well be true; after all, for a while the fad amongst shredding rock guitar players was to have a scalloped fingerboard (DEEP engineered depressions between frets). The idea is that you don't need to press the string all the way to the bottom. OTOH, I need to feel the wood beneath my fingers. Maybe it's because I've been playing fiddle nearly as long as I've played with frets (40+ years).

Like I said before, this is gonna be a hard habit to break. With the KoAloha's higher fret crowns (what is it with KoAloha and crowns? ;)), not only does it feel stiff, but if I press the string all the way to the fretboard, it goes sharp. Just for laughs, I tried playing it with a MUCH lighter pressure, consciously avoiding pressing down to the FB. Not only was it suddenly MUCH easier to play, but it played better in-tune.

Time to seriously hit the woodshed!

--Mike

mm stan
04-19-2012, 10:56 AM
Yay! I kind of suspected it was the frets. I have a KoAloha longneck soprano and a Kiwaya longneck soprano. Scale length, etc. on the two is as near identical as makes no difference but the same strings on the Kiwaya feel much softer - the Kiwaya has very short, narrow frets. If I every have a truly custom uke built it's going to have frets like those on the Kiwaya...

John
Aloha John,
Seriously I don't think that is quite true....I have ukes with serious high frets that feels like speed bumps and the string tension is moderately low....but that is just my opinion....no disrespect to You or Rick... just saying...

OldePhart
04-19-2012, 01:15 PM
Aloha John,
Seriously I don't think that is quite true....I have ukes with serious high frets that feels like speed bumps and the string tension is moderately low....but that is just my opinion....no disrespect to You or Rick... just saying...

I'm talking about if you press down to the wood, though - which is a (probably bad) habit that both Rick and I seem to share.

Ukuleleblues
04-20-2012, 07:52 AM
Things that can vary the feel of the strings when fretting include:

Scale length
String tension
String composition
Action at the nut
Action at the 12th fret
Fret height
Fret thickness
Thickness of the neck (affects the grip)
Width of the neck and string spacing (affects the grip)