View Full Version : setting up string action

Barry Sholder
12-03-2013, 03:44 AM
OK I'm using the hit or miss method of setting up action on my ukes. File the slots in the nut a little, make a bridge( this is a banjo BTW) file a little, and then slowly take off a little here a little there till I get it....sometimes. I have tried the StewMac guage which seems worthless what is the sequence to setting the string action?

12-03-2013, 08:10 AM
That's how its done....a little off here, a little off there.
My basic steps to do it:
I have a 0.010" shim (my nut file) for action at the first fret, and a 0.090" shim (made from a scrap of wood) for the 12th fret.
1. I use a straight edge on top of the shims to get a rough idea of the saddle height. Mark the saddle and trim almost down to the line.
2. Lay the 0.01" shim on top of the frets and butt it up against the nut. Mark the nut.
3. Cut the nut slots almost down to the line
4. Put some strings on and start adjusting. I usually set the saddle height so I have 0.085" at the 12th fret. Then fix the action at the 1st fret to 0.01". The 1st fret is the important one for playability. 12th fret action can vary per your preference.
5. Sand down the top of the nut if the strings are too deep. Just a cosmetic detail here. I like the top of the string even or just above the top of the nut

12-03-2013, 04:04 PM
My two cents. I assume we are talking about ukuleles, not guitars. The last thing you want to mess with is the nut. First tune up and put a capo on the first fret and depress the last fret with your finger. Now tap around the 10th fret and you should hear a very faint ping. This tells you you have a slight inward bow to the neck and that's what you want. If you don't hear the ping then you are beyond this discussion and we need to start a new one. So assuming you hear the faint ping we know we are starting with the proper bow on the neck. Next measure the distance from the bottom of the G string to the top of the 12th fret. It should be between 2.2 mm for absolute low to 3.2mm for a high. I set up low actions at 2.6mm this is a good setting since it will accommodate an aggressive player with no buzzing. Cut the saddle to bring it to 2.6mm and you are done. This is my way of setting up a ukulele; its not necessarily the right way and if you do things differently your way is the right way for you. The end objective is to be able to play comfortably without buzzing.

12-03-2013, 04:56 PM
Warning! There are many ways to skin a cat and I don't pretend that our way is "better than anyone else!"

Hey Barry- I do the same process for ukes and banjos, so I hope I can be helpful for you here:
1) put the nut in the slot and run a half pencil flat side down over the first two frets, with the lead tracing onto the front edge of nut. then, I flip the neck up so I can trace the edge of the width from the back side with a different pencil. Now I have basic markings for the height and width of the nut. I take it over to the disc sander and first knock the ends off so it is the right width. Then, I sand the top of the nut down so that it has just a sliver of white above the pencil line.

2) I put the nut back in the nut slot and mark where each slot should go using this: http://www.stewmac.com/shop/Tools/Straightedges/String_Spacing_Rule.html?actn=100101&xst=3&xsr=433
I then start the slots with this: http://www.ebay.com/itm/NOS-6-1-4-Grobet-Swiss-Vallorbe-Half-Round-4-Fine-Cut-Needle-File-USA-Swiss-/301023844567?pt=LH_DefaultDomain_0&hash=item46166b58d7
Then I pull out a feeler gauge that is our preferred nut string height (I would have to check what the number is) and place it under the slot I start with. I then slot with a nut file at the same angle of the headstock till the file touches the feeler gauge. Move on to other three strings. I set the nut aside for a moment.

3) Our saddle blanks are too tall on purpose and we use a radiused fret board. (fyi, the flat pencil above traced the radius on to the nut, so we are all set with that) So first, I just trace the radius on the saddle blank with this: http://www.lmii.com/products/tools-services/radiusing/concave-radius-gauge
and hit it on the disc sander. I then take the slotted nut and radiused saddle to my vice and shape them with small files. To finish them off I sand them with 220 and 320 grit by hand so they are smooth and show no file marks.

4) I then install pickup, tuners and tweak fret work. When that is done, I take them back to the uke and put them in place. I string up the first and fourth strings and check the action height at 12th fret with this: http://www.stewmac.com/shop/Tools/Straightedges/String_Action_Gauge.html?actn=100101&xst=3&xsr=1602

Note that you have to still be able to see the line a small bit under the string. We wan't .080-.090 for ukes at 12th fret. 5 string banjos I prefer more like .110-.120. If it measures at .120 on a uke, then I want to take off a bit more than .030. I place the saddle in one of these:

I then trace the depth I want on the saddle, measuring up from the bottom. first slot in this jig is .015 off, second is .030 off, etc...Now I take it to the disc sander and remove to the line. Note, this is taking off the bottom, so the radiused, sanded and shaped top edge stays looking good.

5) I take the saddle back to the uke and install. I recheck the action to make sure it is .090 or lower. I add the other strings and tune up to pitch.

6) I go to the nut area and fret the string at the fifth fret. I then tap the string down at the first fret and see how far it has to travel to touch the fret. You have to develop a touch for how much is too much and too little. Note: using the half pencil and feeler gauge from before has gotten us very close. If anything, I may need to file a few strokes in a nut slot to get it down to where I want.

7) I recheck all four strings with the action gauge and lower the saddle if need be. I then tune it up and check for buzzing, muted notes or any other issues. I play for ten minutes or so and tweak anything else as needed.

Yes, I know that all of these gauges and tools and files seem expensive and redundant, but when you have done this 500+ times it all adds up and makes sense. I start every shop day with a setup like this and it usually takes 1-2 hours for fret work, nut, saddle, tuners, pickup, strap buttons and tweaking. Nut and saddle take me about 20 min total.

Warning! There are many ways to skin a cat and I don't pretend that our way is "better than anyone else!"

Moore Bettah Ukuleles
12-03-2013, 07:32 PM
Good stuff above. As a final step I'll run some 400 grit sandpaper through the nut slots to smoothen them further and prevent strong abrasion.

Beau Hannam Ukuleles
12-04-2013, 06:09 AM
Another tip for getting a perfect nut width that cant be felt.

Fit and sand one end to its final 400 grit before working on the 2nd side. Doing this prevents fitting both ends at 80 grit, then having to further remove those scratches which ruins a perfect fit .

Nothing like closing your eyes and not being able to feel the nut headstock transition.