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Icelander53
07-14-2014, 04:25 AM
As a beginner I read a lot about action and how important a low action is for a player. Now I'm starting to believe that there is a lot more to this than I thought. I started off asking for "as low as you can go without buzzing" and often got an instrument that for me was difficult to play and I couldn't say why.

In my early days I bought a low end Pono and got it and did not specify an action and it was higher with a high tension string and I hated it and sent it back saying the thing was unplayable for me. This is embarrassing to acknowledge now but if I tell it how it happened someone else might avoid my mistake. Andrew at HMS was very polite in taking the return and I think he knew where the problem was and knew he wasn't going to be able to educate me very much and so just made it a breeze to return it at the lowest possible cost to me. He never tried to make me feel it was my problem.

And down the road some months and several mid priced ukes all with that "very low action" (one of which does play superbly for me). The others I've struggled with and am not sure why.

Just recently I decided on a higher end Pono because I couldn't believe that all the good press they get was wrong. The instrument I received came with a lower action but maybe a tad higher than all my other ukes and what felt like high tension strings. At first I didn't like it at all and was about to take it to a luthier and then by sheer chance stumbled on to the comment I had missed. Actually it was in a Pono video on using the truss rod. This luthier for pono said that some players that press too hard will always get buzzing no matter what and the lower your action the lighter your touch needs to be when playing.

BINGO! I knew I pressed hard and was working on it but then I focused on it with intent with this Pono. I quickly realized the Pono has taller fret wires than all my other instruments and if I just lightly form the chord or whatever it plays beautifully and is not hard on my hands or fingers at all. After working on this I now find this action and tension perfectly fine and I'm playing it better and much easier than my very low action ukes. And btw this Pono sound wise is wonderfully amazing when played this way.

So... I'll bet there's more I don't know about this action issue and I'm thinking of taking some of my ukes back in to have the actions raised. But before I do that I'm hoping we can have a discussion with some of the more experienced players and maybe builders talking about action and playing styles and what you all think about this issue and what is your experience with the actions on your ukes.

ukulelekarcsi
07-14-2014, 04:42 AM
Gipsy jazz guitars are notorious for their high action - not all those guitars actually have a high action, but most do, and in any case they have that reputation. In general, higher action means more sustain, since your string can ring out more freely. Also it can add a bit of volume. But you need more strength and precision to work it precisely, pushing the strings juuuust right, and that slows your playing down. Unless of course when you wear a very fine moustache.

There is therefor low and high action, which are a matter of choice. Neither of them is to be confused with too low or too high. The former buzzes, the latter is always sharp. The point of gipsy jazz is to look sharp, not to sound sharp.

coolkayaker1
07-14-2014, 04:53 AM
One thing that is oft neglected but I try to keep in mind with all ukes, especially the ones with higher frets like a Pono (but, truly, all ukes): fretting finger must be at the fret wire. As close to it as one can get it. Makes quite a difference in feel, ease of fretting, losing buzzes, etc., as opposed to simple sloppy put-the-finger-anywhere-in-the-fret-square as I used to do.

Here's Danielle Ate The Sandwich playing "Indiana". Notice her fingers are always immediately behind the fretbar when barre chording or single finger noting.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BfHTvRnF0iI

I think guitar players, which I am not, have this drilled into their heads because guitar frets are so wide. Ukulele players seldom mention it, but it's important, I have found.

Fun to see your progression, Ice. Reminds me of myself.

PhilUSAFRet
07-14-2014, 04:56 AM
Good point by the kayak man. Also, always good to make sure all of your frets are level. With a "low action," it's easier for even a slightly high fret to cause a buzz.

Rllink
07-14-2014, 04:57 AM
Interesting subject, because I am not very knowledgeable in that regard. So I have a rather low end uke. A luthier and a professional uke player were looking at it last week. The luthier said that the uke looked pretty good to him, everything considered, but that the action was a little high. The professional uke player said that it looked just right to him. Then he left, and the luthier said off hand, "he likes his action high". So I'm coming to the conclusion that it is relative. Anyway, that said, I played some ukulele's this weekend that play a lot easier than mine, but I don't know if it was the action, the strings, both, or something else.

hoosierhiver
07-14-2014, 05:27 AM
"Low action" has become quite the buzz word on the forums leading many new people to think the lower the better. While you want your uke comfortable to play, very low action has it's drawbacks, you lose a little volume, you can't bend notes as well and if you strum hard you will likely hear some buzzing. New players sometimes complain that their fingers hurt, my advice is toughen up those fingers and get your ukulele set up for optimum play not "low as possible action".

RichM
07-14-2014, 05:30 AM
"Low action" has become quite the buzz word

I saw what you did there.

katysax
07-14-2014, 05:40 AM
If your other ukes work with the action where it is - don't mess with it.

The action should be low enough that you can play without string buzzing and no lower. It can be higher, but not so high that your hand gets tired or you struggle on the higher frets. Don't worry too much about the action.

Icelander53
07-14-2014, 07:27 AM
One thing that is oft neglected but I try to keep in mind with all ukes, especially the ones with higher frets like a Pono (but, truly, all ukes): fretting finger must be at the fret wire. As close to it as one can get it. Makes quite a difference in feel, ease of fretting, losing buzzes, etc., as opposed to simple sloppy put-the-finger-anywhere-in-the-fret-square as I used to do.

Here's Danielle Ate The Sandwich playing "Indiana". Notice her fingers are always immediately behind the fretbar when barre chording or single finger noting.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BfHTvRnF0iI

I think guitar players, which I am not, have this drilled into their heads because guitar frets are so wide. Ukulele players seldom mention it, but it's important, I have found.

Fun to see your progression, Ice. Reminds me of myself.

OK thanks so much, I'll put more focus there starting ..... NOW!

Icelander53
07-14-2014, 07:42 AM
Interesting subject, because I am not very knowledgeable in that regard. So I have a rather low end uke. A luthier and a professional uke player were looking at it last week. The luthier said that the uke looked pretty good to him, everything considered, but that the action was a little high. The professional uke player said that it looked just right to him. Then he left, and the luthier said off hand, "he likes his action high". So I'm coming to the conclusion that it is relative. Anyway, that said, I played some ukulele's this weekend that play a lot easier than mine, but I don't know if it was the action, the strings, both, or something else.

I'm glad you mentioned this because I suspect there is more at work than just high or low action. You've obviously picked up on that. I mentioned I have one uke, my Gretsch that has the "very low action" but plays very easily for me. It has a pretty fat neck and a slightly wider distance between strings I'm guessing but I really love playing it. Unfortunately it's not my favorite sounding uke. I have a Moku spruce top with a very sweet sound but I really do have trouble playing it. Very thin fast neck, very very low action at both ends. Very hard to barre, very hard to play without buzzing. The problem could well be completely in how I play at this point but some just play a lot easier than others and I'm not sure why. Hence this thread. Lots to understand here and I'm not there yet.

hawaii 50
07-14-2014, 07:55 AM
Just to keep things real...The Luthier in the video is Andrew's dad...John Kitakis...he is the owner of Pono Ukulele and Guitars.....he was a authorized repair person for Martin Guitars for over 30 years...

and he is the designer of the Pono ukes and guitars.....
as you can see he knows his stuff and always makes a great connection with his customers and his instruments....:)

Icelander53
07-14-2014, 08:08 AM
Is there any vids with Andrew? I've had many email conversations with him but have never seen him.

SailingUke
07-14-2014, 08:08 AM
For this post I am referring to a professional who plays 8 + hours a day as this is there job.
I find most professionals have higher action. With all their playing they have stronger hands and fingers.
Some of them play harder too, so buzzing can be an issue.
I personally like my action dangerously low, right before the buzz.
I have always had my guitars and ukuleles set up on the low side.

hawaii 50
07-14-2014, 08:10 AM
Is there any vids with Andrew? I've had many email conversations with him but have never seen him.

go to Hawaii Music Supply facebook page
or Andrew's facebook page

Icelander53
07-14-2014, 08:11 AM
Thanks. I hope this doesn't mean I have to open an account there. :uhoh:

ericchico
07-14-2014, 12:06 PM
Reading this makes me glad I learnd to play the cheapest POS guitar before anything else. Me and her have a love hate relationship, I love playing music but hate playing her. The cheapo did makes my hands strong and my fingertips tough. When I moved up to a low end Martin it was like night and day. Took me a while to get the feel for not having to press so hard on the fret. The action was lower and the neck was straight so making music became more enjoyable. Now that Im playing the Uke I like the action a little higher. So play that cheapo high action mo-fo until your hands cramp up. When you switch to one that has been set up right it will be like cutting butter.

SailingUke
07-14-2014, 12:42 PM
Reading this makes me glad I learnd to play the cheapest POS guitar before anything else. Me and her have a love hate relationship, I love playing music but hate playing her. The cheapo did makes my hands strong and my fingertips tough. When I moved up to a low end Martin it was like night and day. Took me a while to get the feel for not having to press so hard on the fret. The action was lower and the neck was straight so making music became more enjoyable. Now that Im playing the Uke I like the action a little higher. So play that cheapo high action mo-fo until your hands cramp up. When you switch to one that has been set up right it will be like cutting butter.

I admire your tenacity, you are an unusual case, as most beginners with a crappy instrument give up because it is too hard.
I believe you a beginner needs a reasonable playing instrument that encourages playing not making harder.

Rllink
07-14-2014, 01:09 PM
Reading this makes me glad I learnd to play the cheapest POS guitar before anything else. Me and her have a love hate relationship, I love playing music but hate playing her. The cheapo did makes my hands strong and my fingertips tough. When I moved up to a low end Martin it was like night and day. Took me a while to get the feel for not having to press so hard on the fret. The action was lower and the neck was straight so making music became more enjoyable. Now that Im playing the Uke I like the action a little higher. So play that cheapo high action mo-fo until your hands cramp up. When you switch to one that has been set up right it will be like cutting butter.Ditto. I came home from my first ukulele festival feeling the same way. I think beginners need to quit worrying about what they are playing, and play the uke they're with.

Icelander53
07-14-2014, 01:26 PM
I'm not totally going to agree but I take your point. I'm glad I moved up fairly quickly even though I made errors in judgment aplenty. I was inspired to be worthy of each uke I got and I practiced pretty consistently if not always well. I still do and most day see two hours of play and sometimes twice that. I'm very inspired by my latest uke and think about it all the time and it draws me in for just a little more play. I've been a music lover for a long long time and have thousands of CDs and am a bit of an audiophile and listening to them on the best system I can afford makes it just better for me. It's the same with a uke. When I hold a solid wood with a beautiful ring to it when I pluck even a single note sometimes I'm just a little bit in awe and humbled to be holding it and being the one plucking that note. A dream come true for me. It's not the same for everyone, for some going for a sound is really part of what drew them and when I play my original starter uke I'm totally grateful to have a much much better sounding one now.

But you know if it really does distract you from putting some real time in with practice then you were likely not going to with either a junker or a top of the line. But I think it's important to play what you have currently at least long enough to know what that instrument is capable of before moving on.

Take the above with a grain of salt cause it only cost me 2 cents to post all that. .

Nickie
07-14-2014, 01:33 PM
Geez, Ice, I only WISH I had 2 hours a day to play! Hell, I'd be happy with 30 minutes these days! I think my ukes action tends on the high side, thas what other players tell me when they pick mine up. I absolutley abhor buzzing, and will do anyting, short of ruining the intonation, to keep the little b----ds away!
All I know is, the latest concert I got plays better than anyting I've ever held....it seems so light and so tight, that I'm afriad if I dropped it, it would shatter....it's less than a $500 uke, and I think it's perfect, but what do I, a rank amatuer, know?

Icelander53
07-14-2014, 01:46 PM
You know what works well for you. That's a lot to know right there. I'm glad you've found one that works and that's no small thing for sure. At the stage I'm at I'm sure many of the issues are with my technique rather than the instrument but even then some help to minimize the weak technique and just feel easier to play. That can keep beginner discouragement at bay. I'm not calling you a beginner btw. I don't know what your skill level is. It does sound like you're having fun.

As to my play time, I'm retired. I got lucky and was able to retire in my 50s due to some lucky/wise choices in investing. There were a lot of days before I found the uke when I wasn't sure what to do with myself. Now my days are too short and I neglect things that need doing to play and play and play.:shaka:

AndrewKuker
07-14-2014, 08:29 PM
There are different ways to enjoy the ukulele. One is just the act of playing and the rhythm, melody, harmonies, etc, this is something most ukes are capable of. The joy is physical and goes beyond frequency ranges and all that is tone. Another form of enjoyment though is the tones and subtle beauties in a fine instrument. Sometimes strumming one chord is a satisfying experience. Maybe only one note when the instrument is that special.
Of course most experience all these aspects but some lean more toward the note and others toward the tone. Some get all of it. I know I can experience and judge an instrument in both ways.

Is there any vids with Andrew? I've had many email conversations with him but have never seen him.
I am on a number of videos but this was the last one a few months ago. There’s a reason why they use beautiful people to model what average people buy. So I usually only demo what’s not for sale. But anyway… me. More comfortable behind a bench where I have spent much more time...I still love to play and have many more ukes than I would ever need in my personal collection

http://vimeo.com/90526619

ukulelekarcsi
07-14-2014, 08:58 PM
About too low an action: here's an anecdote about a resonator.

A few months ago I had the chance to try out Kevin's Beltona resonator. I tried a few tunes, and every few seconds it buzzed like a bee, very distracting. Half an hour later he goes on stage with the very same and gorgeous instrument, and does a terrific show without any buzz at all. When I teach I often use an old Montgomery Wards resonator, which plays fine in my hands and has a very high action by any standards, above 3mm at the 12th. But it goes off like a buzzing car alarm once a student takes over. It seems it's a matter of how much your touch has adapted, that dictates when a string sits too low above the frets.

Icelander53
07-14-2014, 09:09 PM
Thanks for sharing that little story. I'll keep working on this, I just need a clue on what's wrong and I think you just gave another piece of the puzzle for me.

I think I'm just going to wait on doing anything and just work on the leads in playing technique some have provided here. I'm going to assume the issue is in my technique rather than any weakness of the instruments. For now.

What ever modest gains I've been making in playing I owe a large percentage of it to the help I've gotten on this forum. Thanks guys.

armchair_spaceman
07-14-2014, 09:44 PM
Can also be a bit about finding the right combination of string tension and action - I recently acquired a very nice uke, it came with thicker, lower-tension strings than I am used to and the action a little higher than I am used to. I was at first thinking of lowering the action, tried some different strings and it's perfectly comfortable to play now (fair to say that I've probably started to adapted to the instrument as well)

Rllink
07-15-2014, 03:58 AM
I was messing with the tuner, checking intonation, and found out that if I push hard enough I can change the pitch on the string. If I want the intonation to be perfect, which I do not especially care about that much, perfect I mean, I have to just push the string down on the fret, not all the way to the fret board. Is that usual?

Dan Uke
07-15-2014, 01:06 PM
As long as the uke is "loud" enough, I prefer the lowest action possible. I've been spoiled in that I have one uke that's around 2.1mm to 2.2mm at the 12th fret and it's so easy to play.