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View Full Version : How's your Action and Intonation?



Kent Chasson
01-16-2014, 08:10 AM
I'm relatively new to the uke world but it's obvious that poor action and bad intonation are very common complaints. Obviously this tends to be worse with cheaper instruments but I'm wondering about instruments in the $1,000 and up category.

In the guitar world, once you get an instrument set up well, the intonation typically stays pretty good but the action can change quite a bit with swings in humidity. I'm wondering how typical this is with ukes.

So question 1: Once you get a decent uke set up well, does it stay or do you have to keep adjusting action and/or intonation?

2. Once you settle on a brand and gauge of strings, do you tend to stay with it? I'm wondering about this because I've seen some massive differences in intonation between brands of strings.

Thanks.

hucklelele
01-16-2014, 08:22 AM
Ha Ha

cheap ukes rule!
Power to the People!

Kent Chasson
01-16-2014, 08:38 AM
Ha Ha

cheap ukes rule!
Power to the People!

Power to the people? What about the cheap labor and poor working conditions involved in cranking out those $100 ukes? :)

Newportlocal
01-16-2014, 08:44 AM
1. My flea didn't need any set up from when I bought it. Some of my others could probably use a good set up, but don't get played enough to justify one. My custom uke did, but it is great now. I haven't noticed changes from humidity, but I wasn't checking for intonation,etc. at different levels of humidity. I do know I prefer the tone better when the humidity is good. When humidity gets too low it doesn't sound as good to me. This is opinion is very subjective of course.

2. I tend to settle with a brand/gauge of strings and stick with it.

rem50
01-16-2014, 12:37 PM
to answer your questions: I have found that the boat paddle uke I have sounds good all the time but then again I do not think there is a huge fluctuation in humidity given i live by water. As for strings I am finding it is just like my mandolin, I went through many brands till I settled on one type. The trouble I am finding with uke strings is I need to give them time to really settle in.

ScooterD35
01-16-2014, 12:48 PM
I own a tenor Koa Fluke, a concert Tie-Dye Flea, a soprano Firefly and a 60+ year old soprano Martin Style 1. The action and intonation on all of them are excellent. The only one I've made any adjustments to is the Firefly and that was just a minor bridge placement change.


Scooter

Guitar2ukulele
01-16-2014, 01:03 PM
The intonation will change from string brand to string brand. But sometimes using your preferred brands will have bad strings and throw off the intonation. When I first started I focused more on the tone I wanted and then took my uke to my luthier to have it setup for those strings which he adjusted the setup for that particular string brand. The adjustments in my opinion are essential as different string materials have different diameters which you want the string to seat properly in the nut.

kohanmike
01-16-2014, 01:07 PM
To me the intonation would be more sensative to fluctuations in the humidity than the action. Just to be sure you understand the difference, intonation is how well a string holds tune up the neck from fret to fret. Action is the distance of the string from the fret board based on the height of the nut at the top of the neck, and the height of the saddle in the bridge on which the strings are sitting.

Moore Bettah Ukuleles
01-16-2014, 01:29 PM
To me the intonation would be more sensative to fluctuations in the humidity than the action. Just to be sure you understand the difference, intonation is how well a string holds tune up the neck from fret to fret. Action is the distance of the string from the fret board based on the height of the nut at the top of the neck, and the height of the saddle in the bridge on which the strings are sitting.

In extreme cases of either too much or too little humidity the body of the uke can change shape (swell or shrink) thereby raising or lowering the bridge and affecting the action.

kohanmike
01-16-2014, 01:40 PM
Ah, I'm no expert, the expert doth speak. Chuck, I bow to you.

ukemunga
01-16-2014, 01:57 PM
I don't get around as effortlessly as I used to and I never could sing. :(

Jim Hanks
01-16-2014, 03:13 PM
I don't get around as effortlessly as I used to and I never could sing. :(
:biglaugh: I was wondering who would be the punster on this one! :biglaugh:

70sSanO
01-16-2014, 04:22 PM
Unfortunately I am pretty obsessed with intonation and I will compensate a saddle. I've gone to the extent where I've made the saddle wider at the top than the saddle slot to dial it in as close as I can. If you are willing to spend the time filing, it has worked well. I have even experimented with individual saddle pieces for each string so I could easily tweak each one. However, I did notice that the tone was thinner sounding so I have moved on from that. Once I get it dialed in it is usually good unless there is a significant change in string thickness or tension. The bigger problem is that the same strings can sometimes vary quite a bit from set to set to where I will flip them around if the intonation is off by 20c on a particular string after a string change. Oddly enough that works more times than not.

When I first started playing the uke, I liked super low action, but I have raised it considerably since then. I think I get a better sound from the higher strings and it eliminates string buzz on hard strums. Higher tension strings on higher action does help to eliminate the string from wanting to slide around. I use automotive feeler gauges and set the string height at the nut (1st Fret) and saddle (12th fret). Once I have that set I don't have to worry unless I get really low tension strings.

John

Brian W
01-16-2014, 07:18 PM
Hi Kent. Let me first start by saying welcome to the club. I have been playing regularly for about a year, and actually love playing the ukulele more than my guitars. I currently own an Ohana sk35 soprano and have spent a good amount of time tweaking it to get the action and intonation to where I like. You don't need to spend $1000 to get a great playing instrument, though. I would invest a couple hundred dollars on a solid wood instrument and either spend some time setting the action and intonation to where you comfortable, or take it to someone you trust and have them do that for you. Almost every off-the-wall uke in your local music store will need to have at least a minor setup done. Mine plays and sounds great, but only after leveling and polishing the frets, compensating the saddle, and lowering the action at the nut and the saddle; and I only spent $180, including a gig bag.
To answer your first question, once I finished setting it up, I have not had to tweak it at all. But that usually goes for my guitars as well, with the exception of periodic truss rod adjustments to the neck. A uke doesn't need a truss rod, since the string tension is about 1/5 that of a steel string guitar. But the neck can and will bow (either forward or back) slightly under extreme temperature and humidity changes, just like any other stringed instrument. I keep my uke in the case when it's not being played, and I try to maintain a humidity range of between 40 to 55 percent. I have not had any issues with neck back or forward bow as of yet.
To answer your second question, once I find a set of strings that works with my instrument, I don't usually change them. I have found that changing to different types of strings, such as nylon, nyl-gut, and fluorocarbon will affect the intonation, but usually only slightly. However some brands of strings will have more fret buzz with my current setup, but this is because I did the original setup with a set of Worth clear mediums on the uke.

iamesperambient
01-16-2014, 08:21 PM
I'm relatively new to the uke world but it's obvious that poor action and bad intonation are very common complaints. Obviously this tends to be worse with cheaper instruments but I'm wondering about instruments in the $1,000 and up category.

In the guitar world, once you get an instrument set up well, the intonation typically stays pretty good but the action can change quite a bit with swings in humidity. I'm wondering how typical this is with ukes.

So question 1: Once you get a decent uke set up well, does it stay or do you have to keep adjusting action and/or intonation?

2. Once you settle on a brand and gauge of strings, do you tend to stay with it? I'm wondering about this because I've seen some massive differences in intonation between brands of strings.

Thanks.

expensive to me is 300 bucks.
My konablaster is the most expensive instrument i own.
I don't make a lot of money so to me, i have no experience
in the area of 'high end' prob never will.

Dan Uke
01-16-2014, 09:20 PM
Call it a hunch but I have a feeling he's making his own instrument and throwing $1,000 as an example. Check out his website

http://www.chassonguitars.com/

l'etranger
01-17-2014, 03:55 AM
Both my tenors were fine when purchased. The Kaala action is a bit higher than the action on my Kamaka but then again Dean at Ukulele Mania may have tweaked it before he sent it out to me.

Patrick Madsen
01-17-2014, 05:14 AM
Call it a hunch but I have a feeling he's making his own instrument and throwing $1,000 as an example. Check out his website

http://www.chassonguitars.com/

Yep, this is the same guy. I had the pleasure of visiting Kent to see if my Favilla Baritone was worth working on. He has a wonderful shop filled with guitars in the making and also had two concert ukes he built. Incredible luthier and very knowledgable about all things lutherie.

He played my Moore Bettah and was taken by its quality build and sound. First time I got to hear it from someone other than myself. Sounded pretty good if I do say so.

For myself, I buy higher end ukes because after 55 years of playing guitar I knew what I wanted in an instrument and have the disposable income to afford them. I don't drink, too much, quit smoking years ago and don't chase wild, wild women anymore so what else am I going to do with my money lol.

My Griffins and Moore Bettah don't change intonation that I can hear or see on the tuners. I live in the Pacific Northwest so humidity is not that much too consider with no forced heat or anything like that in my house. I have found the perfect string, so far for my tenors and will stick with them; Southcoast HML-RW's. For my concert Griffin Pinecone and Webber Baritone the search is still on for a proper string. I have the Diaddario J68's on the Webber and they sound good so far but not good enough to warrant them as the ones to keep.

I'm looking forward to when Kent starts making a tenor or baritone uke as I want to be one of the first in line. His guitars are on par with Devine or Chuck's ukuleles and wished I could still play one as I'd sure buy one of Kents. With balance issues while sitting down the extended neck makes it fairly hard to play comfortably.

If I remember right, Kent sells a few of his guitars thru the Mandolin Bros. store. Check him out, it's worth it.

Kent Chasson
01-17-2014, 06:45 AM
Thanks for the replies and thanks for the kind words, Patrick.

Yes, I should have been clearer. I just built my first batch of ukes and I'm trying to get more of a feel for player's perspectives. As for action, I was wondering if there was any reason to incorporate the adjustable neck I use in my guitars in a uke. I didn't do it on the concerts I made but I thought it may be useful on larger instruments. In many climates, guitars have enough seasonal movement that it's helpful to be able to adjust the action without messing with the saddle. I didn't think that would be the case with smaller ukes but wanted to ask.

As for intonation, I've been really surprised by the fluctuation between sets of strings. And John's comment about 20c variations within the same set doesn't surprise me either. I've been trying to figure out how best to deal with that.

Thanks again.

Moore Bettah Ukuleles
01-17-2014, 07:19 AM
Thanks for the replies and thanks for the kind words, Patrick.

Yes, I should have been clearer. I just built my first batch of ukes and I'm trying to get more of a feel for player's perspectives. As for action, I was wondering if there was any reason to incorporate the adjustable neck I use in my guitars in a uke. I didn't do it on the concerts I made but I thought it may be useful on larger instruments. In many climates, guitars have enough seasonal movement that it's helpful to be able to adjust the action without messing with the saddle. I didn't think that would be the case with smaller ukes but wanted to ask.

As for intonation, I've been really surprised by the fluctuation between sets of strings. And John's comment about 20c variations within the same set doesn't surprise me either. I've been trying to figure out how best to deal with that.

Thanks again.

Build in a proper environment, use suitable neck wood, glue in a CF reinforcement rod and add some relief and you'll be fine. I'm sure you do all of these things anyway, but you'd be surprised how many ukes are built that don't do any of them.
Oh, and stick with fluorocarbon string for the best intonation.

70sSanO
01-17-2014, 09:15 AM
Chuck,

Actually I'd be surprised if many production ukuleles, including the K brands, had carbon fiber reinforcement in their necks. I apologize in advance if that is now common.

I do understand that extra touch with the high end customs, but the $1000 the OP stated initially doesn't buy much of those.

John

Dan Uke
01-17-2014, 10:01 AM
Build in a proper environment, use suitable neck wood, glue in a CF reinforcement rod and add some relief and you'll be fine. I'm sure you do all of these things anyway, but you'd be surprised how many ukes are built that don't do any of them.
Oh, and stick with fluorocarbon string for the best intonation.

From what I've seen or read, it seems like some ukes are made in the garage...can't imagine to much humidity and temperature control.

Brian W
01-17-2014, 10:02 AM
I agree with Chuck, stick with a good quality fluorocarbon string, and you will have less intonation problems. I have had good personal experience with Worth strings, but there are also other really good brands out there as well.

Kent Chasson
01-17-2014, 10:33 AM
Build in a proper environment, use suitable neck wood, glue in a CF reinforcement rod and add some relief and you'll be fine. I'm sure you do all of these things anyway, but you'd be surprised how many ukes are built that don't do any of them.
Oh, and stick with fluorocarbon string for the best intonation.

Thanks, Chuck. Yes, I keep my shop around 68 degrees and 45% RH year round.

I also use CF in my necks and use a seal coat of shellac on the inside to slow vapor exchange. But I have a lot of instruments in places like the Northeast US where indoor RH can range from low teens in winter to high 90's in summer. Even diligent people have a hard time keeping up with those swings. I know it's less of an issue on smaller instruments so I'm just trying to get a feel for it.

Do you build for a specific set of strings? From what I've seen, a 3/32" saddle perfectly placed still may not be wide enough to intonate for all string options.

And as Patrick said, I got to check out one of your ukes and it sounds and plays as nice as it looks.

Brian, of the 3 brands I've tried so far, the Worth's are my favorites. I started out with Pro-Arte's and the difference in saddle intonation was huge between the two. Not surprising since the Pro-Arte C was something like .040" and very stiff and the Worth C was closer to .028" and very soft.

hawaii 50
01-17-2014, 11:56 AM
Chuck,

Actually I'd be surprised if many production ukuleles, including the K brands, had carbon fiber reinforcement in their necks. I apologize in advance if that is now common.

I do understand that extra touch with the high end customs, but the $1000 the OP stated initially doesn't buy much of those.

John

Almost all Pono's are under $1000.00 and they come with a titanium adjustable trussrod....I do believe neck relief kind of important too..

and I constantly try different strings...but seems to me South Coast HML-RW's work nice if you have a top that can handle higher tension strings....and I like Oasis strings on the rest of my ukes....

I thought the OP was asking about ukes that are over the $1000.00 price...I must of misread it....

Kekani
01-17-2014, 05:41 PM
You've already experienced what some of have a long time ago. I got flamed for this statement a while ago. . . "When you change strings, you should have it setup again. . . " this was specifically targeted at going from say Worths to D'Addario (which I've done, by coincidence, you did the same). I've always come back to Savarez Alliance and D'Addario ProArtes (I now use T2's on the trebles). Both are about the same size so compensation at the saddle (I use 1/8" Tusq) are similar or same.

I also use a CF, switched a while ago to 1/8" x 3/8" from DragonPlate. Yes, I went through the .200" StewMac, etc. . .
I think Rick Turner has an adjustable neck (removable at least) on his Compass Roses. I may be wrong on that one, but he certainly does on his guitars. Not too many truss rods in `ukulele. Chuck said all you need to know about this.

hawaii 50
01-17-2014, 05:51 PM
You've already experienced what some of have a long time ago. I got flamed for this statement a while ago. . . "When you change strings, you should have it setup again. . . " this was specifically targeted at going from say Worths to D'Addario (which I've done, by coincidence, you did the same). I've always come back to Savarez Alliance and D'Addario ProArtes (I now use T2's on the trebles). Both are about the same size so compensation at the saddle (I use 1/8" Tusq) are similar or same.

I also use a CF, switched a while ago to 1/8" x 3/8" from DragonPlate. Yes, I went through the .200" StewMac, etc. . .
I think Rick Turner has an adjustable neck (removable at least) on his Compass Roses. I may be wrong on that one, but he certainly does on his guitars. Not too many truss rods in `ukulele. Chuck said all you need to know about this.

Yes Aaron..you are right...for some reason certain strings seem to go bad...usually just one of the strings in the set...I seen that happen many times on brand new ukes could be because if you use a electric string winder...it stretches the string way too fast(I hear this from people who work on ukes)..........change the bad string and intonation is good....

Yes Rick uses a bolt on neck, so does Chuck,Eric Devine and Noa..... seems like the way to go...IMO
take care Brother!!!

kohanmike
01-17-2014, 09:00 PM
Oh crap, and I just bought an electric winder.

cantsing
01-18-2014, 04:02 AM
As for intonation, I've been really surprised by the fluctuation between sets of strings. And John's comment about 20c variations within the same set doesn't surprise me either.

Hi Kent,

I have found this to be true with my Mainland--the intonation up the fretboard definitely changes with the strings I use.

When I started shopping for a uke in the $1000 range, one of my priorities was great intonation up the neck. Given my experience with my Mainland, I found myself shying away from brands where the owners frequently advised immediately changing the strings to another brand. I didn't want to spend $1000 on a uke, change the strings and then discover that the intonation wasn't as good without some tweaking. Maybe that wouldn't have happened, but I didn't want to take the chance after spending that kind of money.

I ended up ordering a uke that will come with Worth strings, which I like the sound and feel of. If I try out new strings and it doesn't work out, I can always go back to the Worths.

I might not be the type of buyer you are aiming for, but I thought I'd share my story in case it helps you.

Cindy