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Thread: Ghettofied Lutherie Part II: Intonation Fix

  1. #1
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    Default Ghettofied Lutherie Part II: Intonation Fix

    Update: Read this entire thread before trying this... as it turns out, much wiser men (women?) have chimed in and given a slew of reasons why this might or might not work, and it seems that some careful diagnosis of the problem would be in order before gluing anything to anything.

    I've been doing a lot of reading and watching videos on lutherie, and have found a way that greatly improved the intonation on my Mahalo soprano. It's kinda punk rock, but it works, and it's a cheap fix for a cheap uke.

    I wouldn't try this unless an accurate digital tuner tells you that your notes are consistently sharp on all strings all the way up the neck--Correct me if I'm wrong, and I'll fix it here, but this should only work if your bridge has been glued too close to the neck, making your notes sharp. In my case, most of the notes up to the fifth fret were about 20 cents sharp.

    I was inspired by this video and a paperclip.

    The long explanation can be found in this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fNKcdlWJu2I

    Before you start, unbend your paperclip and jam it up underneath the strings (like I do in that video) to make sure it helps your intonation before you waste your time, effort, and glue an ugly piece of wire to your uke.

    You will need:
    -Paperclip made of relatively heavy gauge wire
    -Superglue
    -Wire Cutters

    Here's what the nut on my Mahalo looked like before I started:


    First, I took the strings off the bridge. Do what's easiest, but get them completely off and away from the nut so you don't end up gluing your strings to anything. It would be best to get them out of the way.



    Unbend the paperclip and measure the straightest part against the width of your nut. I didn't have this issue, but I imagine the straightness of the wire is paramount to this working properly.

    Mark where you intend to cut with a Sharpie and cut the wire just short of the entire width of your nut - otherwise it might snag on your hands.



    Before you glue anything, set the wire up against the nut to make sure it works. Mine looked like this:

    Last edited by beeejums; 04-01-2009 at 04:12 AM.
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    Once you're absolutely sure everything is going to fit together well, glue it.

    Put your glue in between the slots in the nut--again, we want to avoid the glue touching your strings at all:



    After you've glued it in position, use some needle nose pliers (so you don't glue your fingers to the fretboard like I almost did) to hold it in place until the glue is dry (I waited about 10 minutes)



    After that, you're done! Restring it, and thank the Ukulele gods! Mine looks like this:



    Mine wasn't a perfect fix, but it was a huge improvement... Don't expect miracles.

    If people like this, I think I'll do another ghettofied lutheire tutorial on making a troublesome friction tuner work better... and all for under $1.50.
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    Beejums, the fix you describe will really only work to correct a situation where the distance from the nut to the first fret is too far. I can't affect the fretted notes. Once you press a string down behind a fret the relationship of that fret to the saddle is unchanged.

    If the bridge is too close to the frets, the only thing that will improve it would be to move the break point of the saddle.

    In most cases where intonation goes sharp on cheap ukes, it is because the strings are too high (high action). Pressing the strings down as you fret them stretches the string, making it play sharp. Make the action lower (at the nut, first) and you don't press the string so far = less stretching = less sharpening.

    It is easy to check if the bridge is too close to the frets. Just measure it. The point where the strings touch the crest of the saddle should be the same distance from crest of the twelfth fret as is the face of the nut (plus about 3mm for compensation.)

    Ukantor.

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    Quote Originally Posted by ukantor View Post
    Beejums, the fix you describe will really only work to correct a situation where the distance from the nut to the first fret is too far. I can't affect the fretted notes. Once you press a string down behind a fret the relationship of that fret to the saddle is unchanged.

    If the bridge is too close to the frets, the only thing that will improve it would be to move the break point of the saddle.

    In most cases where intonation goes sharp on cheap ukes, it is because the strings are too high (high action). Pressing the strings down as you fret them stretches the string, making it play sharp. Make the action lower (at the nut, first) and you don't press the string so far = less stretching = less sharpening.

    It is easy to check if the bridge is too close to the frets. Just measure it. The point where the strings touch the crest of the saddle should be the same distance from crest of the twelfth fret as is the face of the nut (plus about 3mm for compensation.)

    Ukantor.
    I see what you're saying, and I'm not claiming to be an expert, but wouldn't the wire (as Deach called it, a ghetto zero fret) make all of the open strings a little bit sharper, so that the shortened distance between the other frets on the fretboard and the bridge is compensated for? Does that make sense?

    Not trying to be a douche or anything, just trying to understand...
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    I had a really cheap guitar that I had to adjust like this, using a piece of a chopstick. If the nut to first fret spacing is off, but the rest of the frets are ok, relative to the first fret, the fretted notes would end up sharp, relative to the open string notes. In that case, the ghetto fret will correct the problem.

    If the problem is that the bridge placement does not match the scale, there won't be anything you can do from the nut end to help. The bridge would have to be moved.

    Anytime paperclips find their way into luthiery, I am a happy man. Whenever I tell the kids I am about to start a project, they run and hide their bikes and toys in fear that I will go searching for parts.

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    Yupp,

    What Yopp said.

    You need to establish exactly WHAT is causing the fretted notes to go sharp, then deal with the cause directly. Trying to compensate for something that is wrong by making something else wrong, is not the way to go.

    Ukantor.

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    It's a neat little job, but things aren't quite that simple, generally.

    I'm with Ukantor on this.

    If the action on a uke is low to medium-low, and intonation is still out, then the only time I could see this working is when the problem is too big a gap between the nut and the first fret - perhaps if the first slot were cut a couple of mm too far from the nut end of the fretboard. If that were the case then this might sort of work.

    If the action at the nut were too high so that the open strings were in tune and the fretted strings sharp due to stretching when fretted, then this could seem to fix it as it would move the break point up from the nut and sharpen the open string... but it would be an illusory fix, not real.

    So, as far as I can see, this might be used to try to address a situation where:
    1) the first fret slot, and perhaps others have not been cut in exactly the right places relative to the end of the fretboard, or
    2) high action is throwing intonation out

    In neither case is it really a fix, IMHO.

    Not trying to wee on your bonfire, mate. I just don't see any real alternatives to the proper fixes for those issues.

    I have a friend (a brilliant and very experienced guitarist) who attacked intonation problems on his uke at the other end. He cut away a chunk of bridge saddle under one string and glued a matchstick either in front or behind (don't remember which) the saddle to make some DIY compensation.

    He works in the same office as me. If he lets me I'll try to get a photo. It's an ingenious tweak - but not really effective. Oh, and nowhere near as tidy as yours!
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    Drat. Two posts added in the time it took me to write that long-winded piece of junk.

    I should learn brevity.
    And whether the blood be highland, lowland or no,
    And whether the skin be black or white as the snow,
    Of kith and of kin we are one, be it right, be it wrong,
    As long as our hearts beat true to the lilt of a song.

  9. #9
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    Beeejum, I just watched your vid and I think you did good. The first fret is correctly positioned but the nut is too far back. Closed chords sound fine, but chords with open strings were wonky.
    I think perhaps the test is to capo at the first fret, then tune up and see if its all in-tuney goodness. If it is, then the nut is probably too far from the first fret and you can ghettofy with confidence.

    This seems to be a fairly common problem, at least among cheap instruments. I have seen it on two of mine. I think the ghetto fix is often appropriate, especially on an instrument that was purchased for less than it would cost to have it done professionally.

  10. #10
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    Thanks for all the responses... I love trying to improve things... many of the things I own have similar examples of "sweat equity."

    I hope nobody thinks I'm trying to seem like a pro at fixing instruments... or fixing them on the cheap, anyway... I'm just experimenting and sharing with whoever wants to hear.

    I'll update my original post with a warning to read this entire thread, since people much more knowledgeable than myself have had a chance to chime in.
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