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Thread: Pete Howlett Talks About Setup and Radiused Fingerboards

  1. #1
    Join Date
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    Sparta, Wisconsin, USA
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    Default Pete Howlett Talks About Setup and Radiused Fingerboards

    Pete Howlett has commented several times on his blog about setup on ukuleles. In his most recent installment on FB, he comments about radiused fingerboards on ukuleles. (Spoiler: he doesn't offer them.)

    Then he talks about setup and the action on his ukuleles. It's quite informative. Pete has some strong opinions about setup.

    He believes the magic is at the nut, and is actually more important than the 12th fret.

    Oh, and he mentions that the industry standard for string spacing is 10mm (3/8") regardless of nut width. (I guess that explains the Ko'Aloha nut on their tenors.)

    Anyway, it's worth a listen. You don't have to belong to FaceBook to listen to it: https://www.facebook.com/no1petehowl...7935071551031/

    The original post took a day to appear, and it showed up in "Ukulele Marketplace". I guess posting late at night is problematic for me. Or, I took too many mushrooms. "One pill makes you larger and one pill makes you small..." Apologies that I couldn't repeat the comments made on the original post.
    Last edited by Kenn2018; 12-28-2019 at 12:30 PM.
    There is a subtle yet profound difference between the learning of something and the knowing of that thing.
    You can learn by reading, but you don’t begin to know until you begin to try to do.

    —Lou Churchill, Plane & Pilot Magazine

  2. #2
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    Twin Cities, Minnesota, USA
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    Very interesting, especially seeing the process he uses to gauge how high to set the saddle to get his desired action of 2.25 mm at the 12th fret. Unfortunately he was a bit less clear about the height at the nut, as he seemed to be saying it needed to be set at 0.050" at the nut, to clear a first fret that is 0.040" - but what does that give for a string height over the first fret? With some simple trig though and the measurements he gave us you can calculate that the string height at the first fret ought to be 0.0585", or 0.0185" over the fret. Which I find pretty satisfying, since I've always used 0.020" (~0.5 mm) as a target for string height over the first fret.
    Last edited by besley; 12-28-2019 at 01:48 PM.
    Blackbird Farallon Ekoa Tenor
    Beltona Songster Resonator Tenor
    Klos Carbon Fiber Tenor
    Magic Fluke Tenor Firefly Banjolele

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Nov 2019
    Location
    Brenchley, Kent, England
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    ... following watching the video, the Deacon shown at the end (Nº 927) is no longer available. There went my bonus...
    Pete Howlett 'Deacon' - low G (That One With The Amazing Back)
    Gold Tone small bodied Tenor resonator - high g
    Kala Tenor resonator - low G

    Also Mark Savoy G melodeon, Andy Norman DG Anglo, Alba & MK whistles, Dave Copley flutes and Jon Swayne bagpipes. Well, keeps me busy.

  4. #4
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    Were it all so simple eh?
    .050" = 1.2mm. The Stewmac fretwire I use is 0.040" or 1.02mm. All correct there because the shim and bar method is a 'guide' and a system I developed for my #UFS enabling a semi-skilled 'apprentice' luthier learn how to get the feel of setting the string height at the nut. It is also a 'standard' I use for my kits which contain a 0.050' shim, 3.2mm and 3.5mm bar and 500mm metric rule/straight edge.

    So that is the schtick. Reality is that most people learning how to cut string ramps either overcut or undercut the slot depth despite there being a hardened piece of steel limiting the ability to do so. What I don't show is how I go on to fine tune the action at the nut bringing it down to the more likely height of 0.046". Now for the most part, I often don't now the style of music my clients play, how hard or soft they play because I run an internet business, Therefore I can only go by what I feel is an acceptable height that will enable the playability to be 'easy' and clean. I have not had one person ask me to lower the action further and the comment most often given is that my instruments play better than their factory ones - hardly a fair comparison but you get the idea.

    Many aspects of building can best be described as part of the 'dark arts'. Making a smooth, slick and buzz free string set-up is not easily explained and like most of my demos I can only ever tell part o the story. I've built 940 instruments to date. I make that about 30,000+ hours. Do I make mistakes? Of course I do. Do I know what I am doing? Well, some days I think I may just be getting the hang of this.....

  5. #5
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    Dec 2019
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    Pete,
    I share your concern for the nut end of the set up.

    What I've been taught is that one should be able to press down between the 2nd and 3rd fret, hold a piece of standard computer paper at the 1st fret between fret and string.
    This is how I've been taught to set up a ukulele properly at the nut. Is this bad practice?

  6. #6
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    It's not my practice and since I have never tried it I just cannot comment. I'll try it tomorrow and return and report.

  7. #7
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    My source of the method:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BhzmbCzaoxs

    from the one and only Barry Maz!!!
    Last edited by ukeanixi; 01-08-2020 at 01:58 PM.

  8. #8
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    So. Oregon
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    Quote Originally Posted by ukeanixi View Post
    Pete,
    standard computer paper at the 1st fret between fret and string.
    Most copier paper is about .003" or a tad more. What I've heard and used as my standard for fretted clearance at the 1st fret is the thickness of a cigarette rolling paper. Since my exposure to rolling paper was in the Northern California of the 1960s, anything that I claim to remember is suspect but I know that what I'm looking for when doing setups is just daylight peeking through between the fret and the string. Another way of putting it is that when a string is fretted between the 2nd and 3rd frets and then touched over the first fret, it should deflect downward just a part of a smidgen, or less, before touching the fret. Assuming about .090" clearance over the 12th fret, you have a decent chance of buzz-free and comfortable playability.

    The only thickness I could find for rolling paper in a quick Google search was 51 to 53 microns, or about .002". Thus, if one follows the rolling paper rule, copier paper is too thick IF you have zeroed in on the exact strings you want to use on that instrument. If you're trying out different strings for tonal quality and tension on a particular instrument, you may not want to start out with bare minimum clearance with the first string set, as a setup that plays buzz-free with one string may not work so well with another string. It's easier and quicker to take a bit more bone out of the slot later than to take too much out at the beginning and wait for the bone to grow back.

    Of course, as is always true in luthiery, congenial disputation is never far away or out of order and Pete's 30,000+ hours certainly makes his approach very interesting and well worth listening to.
    Last edited by saltytri; 01-08-2020 at 03:46 PM.

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by saltytri View Post
    Most copier paper is about .003" or a tad more. What I've heard and used as my standard for fretted clearance at the 1st fret is the thickness of a cigarette rolling paper. Since my exposure to rolling paper was in the Northern California of the 1960s, anything that I claim to remember is suspect but I know that what I'm looking for when doing setups is just daylight peeking through between the fret and the string. The only thickness I could find for rolling paper in a quick Google search was 51 to 53 microns, or about .002". Thus, if one follows the rolling paper rule, copier paper is too thick. Of course, as is always true in luthiery, congenial disputation is never far away or out of order and Pete's 30,000+ hours certainly makes his method well worth listening to.
    Don't remember anyone disputing Pete's method...certainly not me!

    I'm curious though about Pete's opinion of the method. Hopefully tomorrow. I may just be looking for a 50mil shim tomorrow afternoon.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by ukeanixi View Post
    Don't remember anyone disputing Pete's method...certainly not me!
    Right! And I certainly don't want to be be disputatious since I can hardly spell it. Anyway, isn't there a saying about not be able to learn anything while you're talking?

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