View Full Version : Uke having tuning issues?

02-16-2009, 05:35 PM
Hey, I'm new here, so I apologize if I'm not posting this in the appropriate part of the forum.

I have a brand new Mahalo soprano uke. Recently, even when it's freshly tuned and perfectly in key, certain chords sound off, the F and D in particular, but strumming open sounds fine. This is so bizarre to me I'm not even sure how to explain it. There's nothing visibly wrong with the uke (other than it only costing me 25 bucks...) so I can't figure it out.

Anyone ever heard of something like that?


02-16-2009, 05:50 PM
i kno wat you mean... my frends mom won a cheapo uke like yours and when tuned certain chords sounded completely off.

02-16-2009, 07:04 PM
The reality is, you most likely will not be able to make this instrument sound much better than it does. I recommend giving it to a child as a gift and upgrading to a better quality instrument.

02-16-2009, 08:59 PM
What you are experiencing is what's called an intonation problem. It means that the frets are not properly placed in the neck or the neck itself can be warped or off. Other causes of intonation ills exist, but the frets being off is probably the most common on inexpensive instruments.

My wife once bought me a baritone uke from "Hilo" and the neck was warped. Not good.

I replaced it with a Lanikai that was perfect.

A replacement would be good, but since it is new, try to return it to where you bought it and put the money toward a better uke. If that is not possible, exchange it for another of the same and perhaps there will be no issues with the replacement.

02-17-2009, 07:08 AM
Thanks, guys. I guess you're right, a cheap uke is a cheap uke. Until I can afford something better I'll just try to atone for the problems by tweaking the tuning.

Thanks again!

02-17-2009, 09:09 PM
hey bud, i started with a cheap uke like yours long ago. if you can grab some new strings, cheap ones will do. anything 7 and under will do. also, do u have a tuner? i fiddled with the pitch pipe forever and finally got a chromatic tuner. wow. day and night. hope that helped.

02-18-2009, 01:53 AM
I have owned and tweaked many cheap ukes (mostly Mahalos) and found that poorly placed frets/nuts/saddles are a rarity. It is not difficult for a mass manufacturer to get these things right with acceptable consistency. Where cheap ukes are lacking is in the way they are set up. The string height at the nut is the main problem. If there is too much of a gap between the bottom of the strings and the top of the first fret (ie. more than 1mm), then when you press the strings down to form a chord, the distance you have to press them causes the strings to stretch, making them play sharp. Often the saddles are also way too high, which compounds the problem.

The current Mahalos are very poor in this respect. If you feel confident enough to do it yourself, just deepen the slots in the nuts, very carefully, making sure you keep the width of the slots about right, and ensuring that the bottoms of the slots slope down slightly, towards the tuning pegs. While you are at it, slip the saddle out of its slot, and file or sand about 3/32" to 1/8" from the bottom suface, so that it will sit lower in the slot. Be sure to replace the saddle facing the same way (mark it with a pencil before you take it out).

If you do the above, accurately, and then fit a set of Aquila Nylgut strings, your little Mahalo should play and sound much, much better.

Best of luck,


02-18-2009, 10:41 PM
Agreed. You don't always have to write off a cheap uke as a POS. One of mine is a Makala dolphin. With a bit of a tweak to the nut and saddle action and a set of Aquila concerts it's a pretty good, playable instrument and the tone isn't bad. Best of all, if it gets trashed I just buy another one for 15 and tweak again. I've even played it in public for a laugh and it didn't let me down.

Disclaimer: not recommended as a performer's main stage uke.:D

it's a soprano uke, but on those heavily built cheapies the concert strings give the sound a bit more substance, and the construction is easily equal to the extra tension.

Disclaimer 2: I really wouldn't recommend putting heavier strings on a valuable, delicate or lightly built uke without consulting a luthier first.

I think the cheap Makalas may be a little better than current cheap Mahalos, but at those prices where's the harm in trying to make a silk purse out of your Mahalo anyways?

03-03-2009, 09:03 PM
Cheap Uke=Cheap Sound. If this is all you can afford, accept it as it is. you may be able to get it to sound better with new strings, but it will still sound bad. Personally I would save the $7.00 that you would spend on strings and the $28 you would spend on a good tuner, and apply it to the purchase of a better instrument.