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Thread: Pete Howlett Talks About Setup and Radiused Fingerboards

  1. #11
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    The third fret paper method is sort of what I use too. I start by just lowering each nut slot till there isn't much clearance between the string and the first fret with the string depressed at the third fret. Then to get really close, I like to put a capo on the third fret, and check the final clearance with two layers of "20 lb" print-copy paper, which comes to about 0.008" in thickness. I like there to be a drag on two sheets, but not much drag on one sheet.

    And note when doing this that the final adjustment at the nut should only be done when the action at the saddle is close to what you want. With a little geometry again you can show that the action at the first fret will be reduced by 5.6% of whatever change you make at the saddle. If you had high action at the 12th fret of say 0.120" (3 mm), and wanted to drop it to 0.085" (2.2 mm), you would have to lower the saddle by 0.070". That will have the effect of lowering the string height at the first fret by 0.004". If you first adjust the nut height so that one sheet of paper just cleared (0.004"), then lowered the saddle by 0.070", you could well be bottoming out on the first fret.
    Last edited by besley; 01-08-2020 at 04:24 PM.
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  2. #12
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    Similar, Bill. I love the Facebook videos as, thanks to the distinctive markings on the back and sides on mine, I can spot it at various stages of construction - either in the background or centre stage. It's really strange watching the set up being done, with final adjustments to the nut, or listening to two different back to back comparisons. Reminded me of the photographic record of construction that came with my Morgan.
    Pete Howlett 'Deacon' - low G (That One With The Amazing Back)
    Gold Tone small bodied Tenor resonator - high g
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    Also Mark Savoy G melodeon, Andy Norman DG Anglo, Alba & MK whistles, Dave Copley flutes and Jon Swayne bagpipes. Well, keeps me busy.

  3. #13
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    Not sure what y'all are trying to say. It's not about a rule of thumb - my 50 thou shim is a starting point and a good one at that. Obsession about action has in my opinion migrated into the ukulele world from the guitar playing world and is usually driven by reviewers of instruments who do a great job of helping us to understand what to look for. BUT if you are a 300lb, 7 foot giant with the grip of an arm wrestling champ is going to require a different action to a 120lb , 5 foot waif who like my wife does a great impression of Monty Burns! There are no rules - only starting points. My system makes it very easy to set a good action without ruining the nut and have to re-cut one. Be-spoking the action to the player is a luxury everyone should have but most cannot.

  4. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by Pete Howlett View Post
    Be-spoking the action to the player is a luxury everyone should have but most cannot.
    Nope, most ukulele dealers will do that for you now. Especially those selling instruments which cost a lot of money.
    Kamaka HF-3DC - Kamaka HF-2LD - Kanile'a Custom 5 string Super Tenor - KoAloha Special Issue Tenor - Pono MGTP5-PC

  5. #15
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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. 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.
    Just to be clear when I did that article referred to above - it's an old guitar tip - but only a guide. Yes, paper thickness differs, of course it does as do hands, hand strength and ukuleles themselves. But it's a quick and dirty way to check a uke in a store to see just how far out it is - aimed at beginners who may think a massively high nut action is normal. If you want to dial in the nut height to micron level, then no, this isn't the way, but then i've never wanted to do that, despite the inference. If you just want to know if if needs adjusting or not - it's a good check. I've always used it and not run into buzzes or intonation issues due to high nuts using it, but maybe that's just me. I don't then spend hours trying to dial it down to perfection. If it feels ok and doesn't play out of tune, i'm happy..
    Last edited by bazmaz; 01-10-2020 at 01:00 PM.
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  6. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by bazmaz View Post
    Just to be clear when I did that article referred to above - it's an old guitar tip - but only a guide. Yes, paper thickness differs, of course it does as do hands, hand strength and ukuleles themselves. But it's a quick and dirty way to check a uke in a store to see just how far out it is - aimed at beginners who may think a massively high nut action is normal. If you want to dial in the nut height to micron level, then no, this isn't the way, but then i've never wanted to do that, despite the inference. If you just want to know if if needs adjusting or not - it's a good check. I've always used it and not run into buzzes or intonation issues due to high nuts using it, but maybe that's just me. I don't then spend hours trying to dial it down to perfection. If it feels ok and doesn't play out of tune, i'm happy..
    Barry, I for one am indebted to you and your method of quickly setting up a ukulele.

  7. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by Pete Howlett View Post
    Not sure what y'all are trying to say. It's not about a rule of thumb - my 50 thou shim is a starting point and a good one at that. Obsession about action has in my opinion migrated into the ukulele world from the guitar playing world and is usually driven by reviewers of instruments who do a great job of helping us to understand what to look for. BUT if you are a 300lb, 7 foot giant with the grip of an arm wrestling champ is going to require a different action to a 120lb , 5 foot waif who like my wife does a great impression of Monty Burns! There are no rules - only starting points. My system makes it very easy to set a good action without ruining the nut and have to re-cut one. Be-spoking the action to the player is a luxury everyone should have but most cannot.
    Pete, you're right. It is an obsession. On the other hand, I've been recently been given feedback [SWMBO] about how poorly ukuleles are sent to customers from ebay and amazon. It has propelled me to purchase, at great expense [$30] several tools which will help me get my circle of ukulele users able to actually use their musical instruments as they were intended. Amen.

  8. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by ukeanixi View Post
    Barry, I for one am indebted to you and your method of quickly setting up a ukulele.
    Thanks for that - I'm not a tech, but my site is written for people of all levels of course. The setup bits I've done are guides to get you dialled in as best you can or at least KNOW there is an issue. I've seen club players with badly setup ukes thinking it was normal! I have to do it that way as not every reader I have is experienced. It's also the reason I don't really go into details on Got A Ukulele on nut adjustments. It's one of those 'if you know how to you know', but I really don't want to set hares running with loads of first timers taking files to nut slots then blaming me for mucking it up!

    Incidentally - I totally agree with Pete on this - the nut setup IS critical
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  9. #19
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    You're welcome, Barry.
    As far as the nut set-up, my wife has been having fun at my expense over that. Not very nice, if you ask me. I'm the only normal one in the whole household! Really, I am!

  10. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by bazmaz View Post
    Thanks for that - I'm not a tech, but my site is written for people of all levels of course. The setup bits I've done are guides to get you dialled in as best you can or at least KNOW there is an issue. I've seen club players with badly setup ukes thinking it was normal! I have to do it that way as not every reader I have is experienced. It's also the reason I don't really go into details on Got A Ukulele on nut adjustments. It's one of those 'if you know how to you know', but I really don't want to set hares running with loads of first timers taking files to nut slots then blaming me for mucking it up!

    Incidentally - I totally agree with Pete on this - the nut setup IS critical
    Barry, I too am indebted to you and your site. When I started, I ordered my first tenor from Amazon because I had some gift cards. I knew exactly nothing about ukuleles. Bought a Fender Nohea all-laminate koa tenor for the looks and because I thought "All-Koa" meant solid koa. It sounded OK, but it was a bear trying to barre the first two frets. I found out about setup from your website along with all of the things I did wrong buying my first. I did your test and realized it was way out. Took it to a shop and had it dialed in. World of difference. Thank you again for that.

    I use a low action because I'm getting arthritis in my hands. And it's difficult to barre 1st & second frets if I don't. I also use fluorocarbon strings because even though they have a higher tension, they are bendier. And for me, easier to play.
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