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BigD
06-28-2014, 03:09 PM
Im in the process of buying an inexpensive bari (makala) to try out and im thinkin of simple things i can do to try and improve on the sound for a small amount of cash. So my question is does putting in a bone or ebony nut and or saddle really make a difference? Like REALLY make a difference? Its been discussed how the way a uke is built has a much much bigger role in the sound it will produce compared to the wood used, so does this apply to the nut/saddle as well? Is there such thing as a well made plastic nut?

Ukulele Eddie
06-28-2014, 03:43 PM
There are some who swear bone nuts are superior. I met a guy who works for one of the major guitar companies and his job is to set up and maintain all the sponsored musician's instruments (the people whose records we buy). He prefers the synthetic material bones. In his experience, they almost always sound better and are more consistent from nut-to-nut.

iamesperambient
06-28-2014, 03:45 PM
Im in the process of buying an inexpensive bari (makala) to try out and im thinkin of simple things i can do to try and improve on the sound for a small amount of cash. So my question is does putting in a bone or ebony nut and or saddle really make a difference? Like REALLY make a difference? Its been discussed how the way a uke is built has a much much bigger role in the sound it will produce compared to the wood used, so does this apply to the nut/saddle as well? Is there such thing as a well made plastic nut?


I don't use animal by products
so for me I wouldn't use them personally
but I hear bone sounds better. I have a
cheap rogue baritone and what really
improved the sound for me was switching
out the cheap stock strings for living water
strings and it transformed the 40 dollar
uke into sounding like a 150 dollar uke.
is start with strings and replacing the but
and saddle and adjusting the action def
will not hurt.

kypfer
06-28-2014, 10:04 PM
From the "pure physics" angle, there's likely to be very little measurable (let alone audible) difference beween any hard plastic or bone saddle, assuming them to be mechanically identical in every dimension. If you play "up the neck", a compensated saddle will possibly prove advantageous, for intonation purposes. As for the nut, any hard material should be perfectly adequate. Just bear in mind, if a saddle or nut is being marketed as being superior, it may well be, but more likely because of quality manufacture rather than material. Making a superior saddle from some obscure (read over-priced) material may simply be an excuse to increase the mark-up ... ymmv ;)

Phluffy the Destroyer
06-28-2014, 11:09 PM
It probably isn't that important on low end or medium quality ukes. What follows is pure theory based on some science classes I had a solid C+ in 30some years ago... So, it could be absolute b.s.

Your nut keeps the strings off the fret board. That's really all it does... so a bone nut isn't going to net any real bonus. Vibrations produced from that end have to travel the length of the neck to create sound in the ukes body. Since the neck is a solid chunk of wood, this is not a very efficient way to create sound, which makes the material of the nut more or less irrelevant.

The saddle transmits vibrations through the bridge and into the body of the uke. That block of wood probably retards the vibration enough that it really wouldn't matter, unless the wooden part of the bridge were of a high quality, dense wood. If it's true that the harder the saddle is the more effectively vibration would be transmitted through the wooden bridge, then brass would probably be an even better material for a saddle than bone. Most hardware stores sell brass bar stock small enough to make a bridge out of with a little sanding and polishing. Unfortunately, even going through brass, the vibration of the strings would still be retarded by the block of wood underneath the saddle...

Transmitting the vibrations more directly from the strings to the body of the uke would probably net higher gains. A banjolele style bridge would probably be much more efficient. Unfortunately though, a ukulele bridge is designed to secure the strings as well as transmit vibration to the body of the uke, and you can't do that with a banjolele bridge without factoring in a new and exciting way to fasten the strings.

At that point you wouldn't have a ukulele anymore, lol, you'd gave a 4 string mandolin...

armchair_spaceman
06-28-2014, 11:52 PM
I can probably offer a dissenting view. I had a Cole Clark Jack Tenor for a time, the soundboard on those is solid Tas Blackwood and heavily built to accommodate the CC faceblend electronics. I had the TUSQ nut and saddle replaced with bone and it made a noticeable difference to tone, projection and separation. Not a quantum leap, but noticeable. Whether it was the material or the new nut was a better fit in the bridge I can't be sure, but the improvement was noticeable.

I also replaced the cheapo plastic saddle in my son's low-medium spec acoustic guitar with bone. Improvement to my ears was noticeable...a bit brighter tone, a bit more sustain. Again, not dramatic but noticeable.

Ukuleleblues
06-29-2014, 02:25 AM
Biggest difference I've heard is when you swap out a cheap plastic nut/saddle. Some are actually soft plastic! I bought a friend a rogue baritone and the bottom of the saddle looked like it was cut with a steak knife. It was real flexible and soft. If your nut and saddle are of a soft material you should notice a difference if you swap it out with a tusq or corian material.

Here is a guy comparing fossilized walrus ivory with fossilized mastodon ivory guitar nuts.

http://www.maurysmusic.com/fossilized_mammoth_ivory_saddle___todd_s_review

bobinde
06-29-2014, 02:44 AM
A few years ago (like 30 or more?) Brass bridge saddles and nuts were popular for guitars. I added a brass nut and bridge to my 1967 Yamaha 6 string and it was SO much louder, way more sustain everyone was amazed. On the other hand, intonation was way off starting about the 5th fret . . .

Maybe the improvement was due to the density of the brass??

bobinde

Luke El U
06-29-2014, 02:51 AM
Interesting topic. The only things I read here and on various web sites are opinions. It would be better to read actual independent scientific studies of the acoustical properties of such nuts and settles. Comparative graphics would also be a big help. Otherwise, it's all just very subjective opinions.

armchair_spaceman
06-29-2014, 03:05 AM
. Otherwise, it's all just very subjective opinions.

Yep...and how your uke sounds to you, whatever the setup, will ultimately be subjective.

The TUSQ people have a (promotional) graph or two on their site

http://www.graphtech.com/products/brands/tusq

http://www.graphtech.com/products/brands/nubone

...but I don't know what they mean. :confused:

Luke El U
06-29-2014, 03:54 AM
Yes, "(promotional) graph" says it all!:p

kypfer
06-29-2014, 06:47 AM
The TUSQ people have a (promotional) graph or two on their site ... but I don't know what they mean. ... understandably! The Tusq graph purports to show volume diminishing to about 3.5 seconds and then, by some "magic", it's 10dB louder again at 4.75 seconds ... and that's just for the Tusq saddle, their sample bone saddle has even more stunning properties!! As for the mystical "projection" and the like ... smoke and mirrors ... fancy marketing-speak for properties that can't somehow be defined in mathematical terms!

BigD
06-29-2014, 11:16 AM
Ok so it can make a difference, especially in budget, factory produced ukes? But only maybe? lol i know its all subjective but is there a specific material that is best or more prefered? Bone,ebony. whatever other kinda crazy stuff ppl stick on there?

kypfer
06-29-2014, 01:05 PM
so it can make a difference, especially in budget, factory produced ukes? Only in cheaply-made budget factory produced ukes. Well-made budget factory produced ukes will probably have a sufficiently decent saddle to get a decent sound out of the instrument ... even my "Vintage"-brand economically-priced instrument with it's all-wood bridge/saddle assembly sounds perfectly fine with a set of Aquila strings on it!


lol i know its all subjective but is there a specific material that is best or more prefered? ... more preferred by the manufacturer, probably the most expensive-sounding material you could think of ... fossilised mastadon tusk, perhaps ;) Anything that the punter that doesn't know any better will pay for. In the real world, any reasonably hard material of the correct dimensions will be fine!

FrankB
06-29-2014, 01:33 PM
Manufacturers must love injection molded saddles and nuts. It's way more easy to reach into the ready made box of parts, than it is to make one. Slap on a hang tag promoting that your instruments are equipped with the latest acoustic material, and you're rolling.

All of my guitars and ukes have bone nuts and saddles and I know it makes a difference for me. ;)

Rick Turner
06-29-2014, 03:29 PM
An experienced luthier can make a bone uke string nut from a raw blank to slotted, polished, and ready to go in about 20 minutes. Of course that after making hundreds of them.

There are CNC carved pre-slotted bone string nuts available that are fairly nicely shaped, and check out Zero-glide nuts...a string nut/guide with a built in zero fret. Very cool.

armchair_spaceman
06-29-2014, 04:14 PM
Yes, "(promotional) graph" says it all!:p

Indeed, indeed ;)

FrankB
06-29-2014, 05:00 PM
Hi Rick,
I've noticed a lot of Chinese built ukuleles and guitars with CNC cut nuts and saddles lately, and some of the compensated saddles are dead on. Cordoba uses a CNC'd nut on its classical guitars, and it looks a bit like a Lego piece, but they can be sanded to look nice.

Rick Turner
06-29-2014, 05:29 PM
Yep, it's a mistake to think that using a CNC machine is cheating or doing things on the cheap. In the right hands, they are fantastic tools for exactly cutting and carving what one as a designer intends. We're right in the middle of tooling up our machine to make the uke necks, fingerboards, bridges, and even neck and tail blocks (to get the radius just right). Yes, it will save on labor, but the luthier-hours can then go into more creative projects.

Nobody who is serious about production of more than a few ukes a month...or a year...will be able to make a go of it without CNC help in the future. We're now using CNC laser cut parts and 3D printed parts in the pickups I make, and I'm not looking back. These tools are making US production possible and practical.

hollisdwyer
06-29-2014, 06:18 PM
It probably isn't that important on low end or medium quality ukes. What follows is pure theory based on some science classes I had a solid C+ in 30some years ago... So, it could be absolute b.s.

Your nut keeps the strings off the fret board. That's really all it does... so a bone nut isn't going to net any real bonus. Vibrations produced from that end have to travel the length of the neck to create sound in the ukes body. Since the neck is a solid chunk of wood, this is not a very efficient way to create sound, which makes the material of the nut more or less irrelevant.

The saddle transmits vibrations through the bridge and into the body of the uke. That block of wood probably retards the vibration enough that it really wouldn't matter, unless the wooden part of the bridge were of a high quality, dense wood. If it's true that the harder the saddle is the more effectively vibration would be transmitted through the wooden bridge, then brass would probably be an even better material for a saddle than bone. Most hardware stores sell brass bar stock small enough to make a bridge out of with a little sanding and polishing. Unfortunately, even going through brass, the vibration of the strings would still be retarded by the block of wood underneath the saddle...

That is what I always believed when relating this question to guitars that I have owned. Saddle and Pins in either bone or ivory (either fossil or pre-ban, of course) make the most difference, the nut has very little effect. The premise here though is that the body of the instrument is made out of a well crafted and good tone wood and not a lump of plywood with a pretty coating. If the later is the case I guess any improvement would be marginal.

FrankB
06-29-2014, 11:43 PM
Yep, it's a mistake to think that using a CNC machine is cheating or doing things on the cheap. In the right hands, they are fantastic tools for exactly cutting and carving what one as a designer intends. We're right in the middle of tooling up our machine to make the uke necks, fingerboards, bridges, and even neck and tail blocks (to get the radius just right). Yes, it will save on labor, but the luthier-hours can then go into more creative projects.

Nobody who is serious about production of more than a few ukes a month...or a year...will be able to make a go of it without CNC help in the future. We're now using CNC laser cut parts and 3D printed parts in the pickups I make, and I'm not looking back. These tools are making US production possible and practical.

Hi Rick,
That's great! My first experience with a CNC machined part was in the early 1990's. Our sailboat's masthead was cracked, and I tried to find a machine shop/welder to fix it. The best offer I was able to get was, "Uh, Joe could try to weld something together that will look sort of like that." I found a machine shop deep in an industrial area of Trenton, NJ, and the guy told me he could reproduce the cast part exactly, and to come back in a couple of days. The old part was a cast magnesium alloy thing, but the new part was a beautifully CNC machine reproduction, and made of an aerospace aluminum they were using on a satellite project. I left it on my coffee table for two weeks, just to admire it!

Woodcutterron
08-10-2014, 08:35 PM
Wow, I have to wonder if some of ya'll have actually changed a saddle or a nut. I've done it a number of times now over the last few years. On the cheaper ukes, it actually makes the most difference, and the difference can actually be downright huge. And I mean every time. Going to at least a quality saddle won't be a mistake, on ANY uke. I've found that the Tusq nuts and saddles deliver as promised. At worse, it won't change much. Haven't had a Tusq saddle make any uke I've resaddled/renutted sound worse.

I mean really, a quality uke saddle is what . . . 8 -10 bucks? It won't break the bank to give it a shot, and dang, if ya don't like it, it takes all of ten minutes to put the old one back in. If you wonder about putting a 10 dollar saddle on a 40 dollar uke . . . . do it. I mean dang, ya only have forty bucks into it anyway. You will be pleasantly surprised, that's pretty much a guarantee.

kypfer
08-10-2014, 09:55 PM
I mean really, a quality uke saddle is what . . . 8 -10 bucks? It won't break the bank to give it a shot, and dang, if ya don't like it, it takes all of ten minutes to put the old one back in. If you wonder about putting a 10 dollar saddle on a 40 dollar uke . . . . do it. I mean dang, ya only have forty bucks into it anyway. ... well, it must be nice to have all this spare cash!!

If my instrument was a "40 dollar uke" that's probably because that's all I could afford (or justify spending). To increase the expense by 20-25% on an accessory that At worse, it won't change much, to me, seems just a little pointless. Why not buy a better instrument to start with?

I don't doubt that "tusq", "nubone" etc. have good acoustic properties. The manufacturers would be breaking the advertising laws by suggesting such if it were not true. What I do doubt is whether or not, on a blind side-by-side test, (which may be difficult in itself to set up), that the vast majority of people could tell the difference between identical instruments (or even the same instrument) equipped with variously manufactured saddles in hard wood, bone, horn, metal, hard plastic, etc. etc. assuming all the saddles to be dimensionally identical.

I'd be interested to be proven wrong. My experiences suggest I won't be ;)

M.Badger
08-11-2014, 02:07 AM
... well, it must be nice to have all this spare cash!!

If my instrument was a "40 dollar uke" that's probably because that's all I could afford (or justify spending). To increase the expense by 20-25% on an accessory that At worse, it won't change much, to me, seems just a little pointless. Why not buy a better instrument to start with?

I don't doubt that "tusq", "nubone" etc. have good acoustic properties. The manufacturers would be breaking the advertising laws by suggesting such if it were not true. What I do doubt is whether or not, on a blind side-by-side test, (which may be difficult in itself to set up), that the vast majority of people could tell the difference between identical instruments (or even the same instrument) equipped with variously manufactured saddles in hard wood, bone, horn, metal, hard plastic, etc. etc. assuming all the saddles to be dimensionally identical.

I'd be interested to be proven wrong. My experiences suggest I won't be ;)

I've recently replaced the oxbone nut and saddle on one of mine with ebony. The main reason was not to get any improvement in the sound, but cosmetic. It's a rosewood uke. Very dark indeed and I wanted to rid it of the two white things either end. First, loosened the strings right off, then popped the nut out. Small amount of fiddling later and I now had a rosewood uke with an ebony nut. Woo and yay. Cosmetically, I think it works. Sonically, I could detect no difference. I did before and after recordings of open chords and as the previous nut was set up well too, I could hear no difference.
On to the saddle. Again, oxbone. Again, slacken the strings and remove the original. Bit of filing work and one set up ebony saddle. Looks a whole lot better in my opinion. Again, the before and after revealed no difference on strumming, but I would say I could detect a change when playing single notes or drones over sequences. There seemed to be an improvement in separation with the single note chiming out more. Or I imagined it. Couldn't say which. Family heard no difference at all but think it looks better too.

SteveZ
08-11-2014, 03:28 AM
The materials and their ability to transfer sound is a factor, but also is the fit. The more flush the fit of the materials, the better the sound transfer. With flat surface materials this isn't too hard, but if there's any curvature (arch-top) the fitting is a time consuming process.

Have seen all sort of stringed instruments with visible gaps between bridge/saddle-and-top, and messy and excessive glueing. Cleaning up these sloppy manufacturing actions while using the original (or exact replacement) parts often does wonders for the instrument's play-ability.

VegasGeorge
08-11-2014, 01:10 PM
I think the plastic vs. bone issue is only valid where it's soft plastic that's being replaced. I had a luthier set up a couple of Kamakas for me, and he replaced the factory plastic with bone. I couldn't hear any difference at all. None. So that tells me the plastic being used by Kamaka is good enough.

ubulele
08-11-2014, 03:13 PM
Unless you're already experienced with setting up instruments and have all the specialized tools (particularly nut files, a finely graded measuring caliper and fine-grade sanding blocks), I would not recommend changing the nut and saddle. Any pieces you get will have to be custom setup somehow, and if you can't do it, that'll run you $30 or so, not including the new pieces. If you don't set up the instrument properly, I can virtually guarantee your action will be unacceptably high and you intonation may even be thrown. Proper setup is necessary for every uke and especially the cheap ones (which no one at the factory will have bothered to adjust).

With the relatively low cost of quality ukes, bypass the cheap ukes you'd need to upgrade for more than you paid in order for them to sound less like toys, and instead shell out for a uke that already has the improvements you seek as well as better tonewoods and construction. You'll still probably have to have it set up, unless you buy from one of the vendors that includes this service (like Mim's Ukes, Hawaiian Music Supply, Uke Republic and Mainland). But you can spend your time enjoying your uke instead of cursing it, and aren't your time and satisfaction worth good money?