View Full Version : The magic and mystery of the great "set up"

07-25-2014, 01:52 PM
I can't always tell why a certain uke is difficult for me to play. The action looks low enough and looks like the action on one of my ukes that plays like a dream. On one barring is difficult on the other relatively easy. So I'm sure there is a whole lot of things that go into a great set up but I don't know for sure what they all are and maybe that's not even possible to know them all.

I get the idea of high and low action but that's about where it ends.

So..... I was hoping you could all educate me on what you think makes a great playing uke and what inhibits that in ukes. I'd like to learn how to evaluate my ukes more realistically so I know what I can do to make them easier to play and when it's time to see the luthier.

I'll start off with one observation. I think that the fret wires might have something to do with how easy or hard it is for some of my ukes to play easily. Too low possibly or maybe uneven?

07-25-2014, 02:11 PM
The uke I ordered (last one in stock anywhere at that time) wasn't setup and played horribly. I paid for the setup and new strings and it became a different instrument. I like the frets to be well finished so they don't grab my fingers. I like a nice, low, "buttery" action. I think string choice can make a huge difference in the way a ukulele feels.

07-25-2014, 09:04 PM
A proper setup should include all of the following IMO:

Check for problems eg twisted neck
Check intonation
Check/correct action at both the bridge and the nut (people
often forget the action at the nut is incredibly important.)
Level frets
Smooth fret ends
Recrown frets
Polish frets
Check all again
Oil fretboard and add conditioner
Clean ukulele

That's what I do when I setup an ukulele. The fret levelling and dressing can make more of a difference than the action. I also think people often go for a too low action, but that's a whole other can of worms.


07-25-2014, 09:57 PM
Nice. I think I have that too low of an action problem on a moku but don't know enough to tell if that's an issue in how hard that one is for me to play well. These days it just hangs there sneering at me and laughing when I go into the uke closet. It's getting so bad I'm afraid to look it right in the eye and I just grab something else. It has a decent sound so it's a shame.

07-25-2014, 11:02 PM
Other than my Opio (came set up from HMS) I have had all my ukes set up properly by a luthier that knows and works on a lot of ukuleles. As ukejeeny said it literally transformed them into instruments that were a pleasure to place. I am now becoming accustomed to looking at string height at the nut, third and 12th fret when playing ukes in a store.

I think the answers eugene and matty gave were as complete as you will find. A straight neck with leveled smooth frets a lowish action with string tension that suites you and a neck profile the does the same all add up to winner, winner.

07-26-2014, 04:52 AM
None of my factory ukes (mainly Kamaka, with a Koaloha and Kiwaya every now and then) have been set up beyond how they arrived at the shop from the factory. All have played just fine off the shelf.

However, a couple years back when I was shopping for a Dolphin for a friend's kid, I must have tried about 50 of them before I found one that was playable off the shelf - and it was perfect, but the 49 others I tried were pretty bad and would have needed some attention before I even considered giving one to a beginner.

So I wonder if all the talk of setup is (a) a matter of personal preference, combined with (b) lower end ukes *generally* tend to need a hands-on setup while higher-end ones leave the factory more or less "set up"? I dunno.

Kayak Jim
07-26-2014, 06:19 AM
So I wonder if all the talk of setup is (a) a matter of personal preference, combined with (b) lower end ukes *generally* tend to need a hands-on setup while higher-end ones leave the factory more or less "set up"? I dunno.

This makes a lot of sense to me. If I'm paying more than say $500 for a uke I expect all the things Matt listed above to be pretty much spot on from the builder, except for any that could be considered personal preference.

Rick Turner
07-26-2014, 06:39 AM
The only "absolute" on a setup is proper action at the nut...and, of course, decent fret leveling, crowning, and polishing. The action at the bridge end should certainly be playable, but then it's personal preference.

Given how much "down time" there really is in music stores; there's no excuse for instruments not being in tune and playing at least half-way decently, and rudimentary action setting just isn't that big a deal.

Dan Uke
07-26-2014, 07:09 AM
After a setup, I couldn't blame the uke for my bad playing abilities!!