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Thread: baritone, intonation not great -tips?

  1. #1
    Join Date
    May 2015

    Default baritone, intonation not great -tips?

    I have bought an Ohana baritone ukulele in the last couple of weeks. It has a straight saddle slot, but very thin saddle, maybe 2mm and I think the slot or bridge is about 1.5mm further back than it ideally should have been. It is maybe 3/4 of an inch shorter than my other baritone, noticeably less tight-feeling, and with the supplied strings has low relief, almost none.

    The original saddle was a straight-topped one, i.e. there is no compensation. The older uke has the B back further, and a thicker saddle giving more intonation leeway of course.

    I've made two bone saddles for the new one myself, but see that when comparing the 12th fret harmonic and fretted notes, all points on the saddle need to be further forward.

    I don't want to return it for reasons I needn't go into, and want to make this ukulele work as best it can, even if in the end this might involve string experiments with different tension classical strings, and a higher than usual action. (If you haven't noticed or needed to see it, the action height to an extent does vary the difference between the harmonic and fretted notes, though in this case the action would have to be impractically high to make this intonation issue disappear.)

    Does anyone here have a good way of dealing with this? My next thing to try, which will involve a bit of application, is to make a saddle that is a bit thicker at the top than the portion of the saddle that is inside the slot, so that I have a bit more room to have the bearing point further forward. Obviously there is only so much I can do here. (One of Paul McCartney's Epiphone acoustic guitars, having been right-handed, has quite a bit of extra bone glued on to correct the intonation, so I'm kind of finding a slightly more graceful-looking way of copying that.)

    I'm left handed myself but as I say the saddle slot is not slanted and the intonation was similarly off when the uke was right-handed.

    I realise that the ukulele isn't the ideal instrument to hope for good intonation on, and that it's part of it's charm on the whole to be that way. However I'd like it to be optimised, and this is the worst intonation I've heard on any instrument I've owned for a long time. I would guess the shorter neck is relevant but I'll still give a few things a try.

    In better circumstances at a later date I would get the saddle slot filled and re-cut if that will be guaranteed to correct this, but I can't right now. I'd consider widening the slot myself - i.e. from the 'front' to extend how far forward the bearing point can be - but would be wary of making this uneven. I'm pretty good with many maintenance tasks but once it comes to woodwork I'm not comfortable. But maybe this is needless anxiety and commonly done?

    Thanks for any suggestions.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Mar 2013
    JoCo, NC (near Raleigh)


    A few questions:
    How far off are we talking and how are you measuring it?
    What is the 12th fret action? (Intonation generally gets worse with higher action.)
    What are the strings and how are they tuned? How old are they?
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  3. #3
    Join Date
    Oct 2012
    Queanbeyan, NSW Australia.


    First things first. Where is the error and how much of an error is it.

    See this thread on intonation,
    It's a bit of a read but that's where you need to start if you want to accurately understand and fix the problem yourself.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Sep 2009


    This is my 5 cents: If I tune the uke (open strings). I get everything "spot on" according to the electronic tuner. I then fret a string 3 frets up the neck, which on the open C string shud show the D accurately on the electronic tuner. The electronic tuner needle informs me the D is either flat or sharp (iow not spot on) This is the case with all 4 strings . It could be intonation, the string material etc. From this I have adapted, and tune the instrument slightly sharp, and this works for me, and playing along with an MP3, it sounds fine. Most factory built ukes are built using templates and molds, and mechanically adjustable bridges (as used on electric Guitars) are not used for ukes. The rabbit hole threads are good, and aptly named! !

  5. #5
    Join Date
    May 2015


    Hello and thanks.

    The factory supplied saddle gave 12th fret action of 3mm. My current saddle gives 3.5mm on the bass side and 3.25mm-ish on the treble. The intonation is noticeably better like this, but still need improving. I understand that we normally describe higher action making intonation worse, but if the saddle slot is further back than it should be, the action would need to be higher than usual to get to the point where it's making the intonation bad. It's a maths thing to do with the distance between the harmonic and the fretted note. Obviously though no one wants to make action unreasonably high to correct intonation in an instance of bad saddle slot placing.

    Using an electronic tuner the difference is about 5 cents for strings 1 and 3, i.e. the harmonic is higher, 8-10 cents for string 2 and 12 cents or so for string 4 (the D).

    I've used only DGBE tuning and strings for this - the set it came with, an Aquila nylgut set and four classical guitar strings of comparable gauge.

    I think I'm going to try and widen the saddle slot and fit a thicker saddle but I'll wait to see what response I get.

    i have a very good ear, unfortunately a better ear than playing ability. So just now was the first time I'd looked at an electronic tuner to see the intonation issue. I'd used my ear. My guitars all sound fine and my baritone ukulele with the slightly longer neck is fine.

    The 3.5mm action feels comfortable to play probably because of the lack of neck relief with this ukulele.

    Ideally no kludge would be necessary to correct things but I'm finding the slightly higher action fine, partly maybe because I and many others can settle for 4mm and thicker strings if we use a classical guitar. I don't think we should be overly trusting of factory technology making for precision as an idea necessarily. My ear's evidence was backed up by the tuner.

    It's certainly a rabbit hole but hopefully something I try soon will be the happy medium between being oblivious to a fault and being stuck in the rabbit hole. The saddle looked a bit worryingly submerged when I got this uke out of the box - not much being proud of the bridge. I suppose we would say that the relief suggests the neck is set wrong too. I can't remember if the phrase is underset or overset. I had an eight hundred quid guitar that is factory made but with some boutique tweaks (the Furch company in the Czech Republic) which had a similar issue. The factory norms did not prevent this problem.

    It is genuinely sounding better now than it did and the playability is not a compromise yet. So I think I'm nearly there. And the classical guitar strings are in practice either no worse or are better or more suitable with this ukulele. I think I'll get a hard tension B string next time as the E feels stiffer.

    Do you think it's a bad idea to widen the saddle slot (i.e. so that a 2.5mm or nearly 3mm saddle will fit)?
    Last edited by CGCE71; 01-22-2020 at 08:00 AM.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Feb 2019
    San Francisco Bay Area


    Hey CGCE71 -- A couple of months ago (maybe more), I started a very similar thread. My Ohana baritone has intonation problems. My post led to a rather detailed technical discussion of intonation, and produced a number of suggestions from UU members (what a great forum this is). In the end, I tried two things. First, I switched from uke strings to Savarez classical guitar strings, and that helped a bit. I also remember jamming something (I forget what it was) against the saddle, on the front side of the saddle, so I was moving the contact point farther forward (towards the fingerboard), and that also helped a bit. I didn't get a wider saddle, as you have suggested. I've settled for the slight improvement brought by the change in strings. If you do go to a wider saddle, please post back with the results. I'll be interested to see how it works out. FYI, my other baritone, a Kala, has much better intonation than the Ohana. Good luck!
    Kala KA-TE tenor uke (currently tuned F-Bb-D-G w/Worth Browns)
    Kala APB-CTG baritone uke (currently tuned D-G-B-E w/Martin 22 Baritone strings)
    Ohana BK-35CG baritone uke (tuned A-D-F#-B w/Savarez classical guitar strings)
    Various guitars, banjos, and basses

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