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View Full Version : Bad intonation on the C-string (Lanikai LU-11)



f314
05-06-2012, 12:16 AM
Hi guys! I just bought my first uke a few days ago on a whim, and I'm really happy with it! Now I'm not exactly a pro as you might've guessed (I haven't touched a string instrument in years), but I've played and listened to enough music in my life to be able to tell a clean chord from a sour one, and something is sour on my uke…

At first I just wrote it down to the strings settling in, but after a while I noticed that only some chords seemed to be off. So after playing around a bit, and downloading a tuner app for my phone, I found the problem: My C-string is sharp all the way up the fretboard :( It sounds great when played open, but once I fret it, it ends up being between 10 and 30(!) cents sharp. The other strings also go a bit sharp, but only up to 10 cents and mostly below which I can live with, but the C-string just kills me.

Bear in mind that this is a cheap uke (a Lanikai LU-11), so I wasn't expecting too much, but it's no fun to have every other chord sound out of tune… So does anyone have any tips on a quick fix? Could it be the string (the uke came with Aquila Nylgut)? Could I file down the slot for the C-string on the nut just a little bit? I don't really want to put too much time and effort into this so I'm crossing my fingers for a simple solution!

Cheers,
Pio

EDIT: Sorry if this has been answered by the way, but I couldn't find quite the right answers when I searched. Also: I have tried stretching the C-string to see if it was just slower to settle, but still getting the same problem…

kkmm
05-09-2012, 03:05 PM
This is very typical problem with a new uke. Mine got exactly the same problem (different root cause)
Here are what you need to do to ensure proper intonation, especially the C string:
1) make sure the nut action is about 0.015, and fret#12 action about 0.090 to 0.100. If the actions are too high, it will cause bad intonationi on fretted notes
2) make sure the saddle is compensated properly. If the saddle is just plain straight and flat, it will cause bad intonation too. The point where the C string contact the saddle usually need more compensation.
3) most importantly, measure the distance from the nut to fret#12, then the distace from fret#12 to the center of the saddle slot. The later should be 1.5mm to 2mm longer than the first one. If is is shorter, you will have bad intonation no matter what (this is what mine got). I fixed it by making up a "weird saddle". You can search for this subject, in this forum, "weird saddle" to see how I did it. It does fix the intonation issue after I check (1) and (2) above.

buddhuu
05-23-2012, 01:19 AM
Another thing to check is your fretting technique. Uke requires a different touch than guitar or mandolin. It is very easy to fret notes sharp because the string tension is low and the strings are very bendy. You really need to fret very lightly - only just enough pressure to get the string firm against the fret. Try the tuner again while paying attention to maintaining light technique.

Poor/worse intonation on one string is not usually a sign of a serious build problem in my experience; misaligned frets or saddles usually either throw all strings out or make the problem progressively worse as one moves across the strings. If that's not the case then I'd guess that it's most likely one of the following: 1) poor nut set-up, 2) dud strings, 3) technique requires adjustment or 4) saddle issues.

I have to say that I don't think saddle compensation is necessarily required. I've played many ukes with non-compensated saddles that intonated fine (including my current soprano). That said, it may help in some cases.

If you are happy that the nut slots are cut to the correct depth then I'd try checking your technique as described, and a new set of strings.

f314
06-15-2012, 06:14 AM
Thanks for the replies, guys!

Even though I'm sure my fretting technique when I'm actually playing is horrible, the string is still sharp when pressing just hard enough for it to stop buzzing. If I press hard, It can easily go a quarter note sharp at 1st and 2nd :S

So, I'll have to look into the other (great) tips from both of you :) I've bought a new set of strings, so I'll start there. I have a feeling that I'm going to upgrade to a tenor soon, so I won't put too much effort into this, though :P

Cheers,
Pio

hoosierhiver
06-15-2012, 06:25 AM
Sometimes you just get a bad string, from what I've heard if they are spun out too fast or if they are too wet, the intonation can be off.
Here is a good video of how they are made, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2_Cwe_pz0Uo
Daniela mentions this at about 3:20

f314
06-16-2012, 04:51 AM
Sometimes you just get a bad string, from what I've heard if they are spun out too fast or if they are too wet, the intonation can be off.
Here is a good video of how they are made, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2_Cwe_pz0Uo
Daniela mentions this at about 3:20

Great video! I have a set of D'Addarios. I'll try with those, and if that doesn't solve it I'll just find a measuring tape, a nailfile and some patience :p

Pondoro
06-16-2012, 05:55 AM
Don't confuse a straight saddle with "no compensation". Measure the distance from the nut to the 12th fret. Very accurately. Now measure the distance from the 12th fret to the point where the strings break over the saddle. Are they identical? You have no compensation. But the 12th-saddle difference should be 2-4 millimeters greater than nut to 12th. This difference is compensation. Some ukes have a different amount of compensation for each string, thus the saddle is not straight. But even a straight saddled uke can have some compensation.

My Lanikai LU-21 had negative compensation - the distance from the 12th to the saddle was less than the distance from the nut-12th!! Sounded like crap unless you played barre chords. I had to widen the saddle slot (away from the nut!) and install a new saddle that was wedge shaped so that the break point was all the way at the back of the slot (farther away from the 12th fret). The saddle is still straight but it is compensated.

Aquillas are usually the most tolerant of cheap ukes and many people install them as a first attempt to fix the bad intonation of their cheap uke. But Mike is right, you may have a bad string.

If it was my uke I would first adjust the action height, as stated before, I agree with the distances suggested. Then I'd make a new saddle that moves the break point as far back as possible. Use a Popsicle stick thickened with masking tape as a trial and see if it helps the intonation, you can buy a bone saddle blank if your test saddle helps. As I said my Lanikai was so far off I had to extend the slot farther away from the 12th fret to make it work, but now it has a custom bone saddle and it sounds fine.

If you are patient and willing to ask questions the people here will walk you through the entire process. It is worth spending the effort on a cheap uke because you are learning to fix your uke. This is probably not the last one you buy.

f314
06-16-2012, 09:03 AM
My Lanikai LU-21 had negative compensation - the distance from the 12th to the saddle was less than the distance from the nut-12th!! Sounded like crap unless you played barre chords.
Well, there we have it! It's about 1-2 mm shorter to the saddle. However, that goes for all strings, so I don't really see why it should be a problem on just the one string? I've tested with another set of strings now, so I know it's not the string itself…


If it was my uke I would first adjust the action height, as stated before, I agree with the distances suggested. Then I'd make a new saddle that moves the break point as far back as possible. Use a Popsicle stick thickened with masking tape as a trial and see if it helps the intonation, you can buy a bone saddle blank if your test saddle helps. As I said my Lanikai was so far off I had to extend the slot farther away from the 12th fret to make it work, but now it has a custom bone saddle and it sounds fine.

If you are patient and willing to ask questions the people here will walk you through the entire process. It is worth spending the effort on a cheap uke because you are learning to fix your uke. This is probably not the last one you buy.
This all sounds a bit daunting, but as you say this is definitely not my last uke :) I'm already drooling over this beautiful Kala at my local dealer, hehe.

So first off: adjusting the action height should be as simple as some careful filing at the nut, right? Fixing the saddle sounds like a bigger project, so I'll have to set aside some time for that one :p

Anyways, thanks for alle the good tips and useful knowledge! Loads of helpful and friendly people on this forum, it seems.

Pondoro
06-16-2012, 10:42 AM
How high is the action at the 1st fret and at the 12th fret? You can measure the 12th fret height with a precise ruler, measure to the bottom of the string. At the first fret most people put a tiny scrap of paper under the string, fret at the third fret, and if the string captures the scrap of paper then the string is "low enough". I like to measure with automotive feeler gauges. Have you ever used them?

If high at the nut you carefully cut the slots lower, high at the 12th fret requires you to remove the saddle (it is not glued down) and carefully sand the bottom. Neither is difficult but measure first.

In any event your negative compensation must be fixed. I am not sure why it affects one string more than others but I'll bet they all get a bit sharp as you play up the neck. I''ll send a picture of what I would do to the saddle.

Pondoro
06-16-2012, 10:59 AM
Here is what I did to my Lanikai - first I made a saddle that moved the break point as far as possible in the existing slot. It was not enough so I widened the slot and made a thicker saddle (bought a thicker saddle blank at a guitar store). If you want to lower the action at the 12th fret you make the new saddle lower, if you like the action height you make the new saddle the same height as the old one.

http://i176.photobucket.com/albums/w163/pondoro_bucket/Slide1.jpg
http://i176.photobucket.com/albums/w163/pondoro_bucket/Slide2.jpg

f314
06-17-2012, 05:58 AM
Wow, that is really helpful! I don't have access to a very precise ruler, but the paper scrap trick shows that the C string has much higher action than the rest at the nut at least, so that should explain some of the difference. I'll try adjusting the nut a bit first, an then try to find a saddle blank somewhere and try to adjust the compensation. Should hopefully be enough of an improvement to last me until I find something to measure the action at the 12th fret more precisely :)

Thanks again!

-Pio

Pondoro
06-17-2012, 09:54 AM
Wow, that is really helpful! I don't have access to a very precise ruler, but the paper scrap trick shows that the C string has much higher action than the rest at the nut at least, so that should explain some of the difference. I'll try adjusting the nut a bit first, an then try to find a saddle blank somewhere and try to adjust the compensation. Should hopefully be enough of an improvement to last me until I find something to measure the action at the 12th fret more precisely :)

-Pio

I agree completely, get the C string as low as the others. You can buy a set of welder's tip cleaning files for about $5 and choose the right diameter, or grind a hacksaw blade until it is as thin as the original slot. A stock hacksaw blade is too thick. Or buy hobbyists files for $3-$6 at Harbor Freight or Hobby Lobby.

Go slow, or you'll lower it too much!! I rub three-five strokes then restring and try again. Goes slowly but is safe.

Once the C string is as low as the others you can rethink the rest.