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Thread: What's considered decent intonation?

  1. #1
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    May 2020
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    Default What's considered decent intonation?

    I decided to check the intonation of my ukuleles yesterday. Here's what I got, tuned at open and tested at 12th fret:

    1. standard soprano, +35 cents
    2. long neck soprano, +8 cents
    3. concert, +5 cents

    The above is the worst string; the tuner I used had < 1 cent error. Things probably change based on weather and room color, but I was surprised to find such a range.

    So, what is generally considered good?
    Is the soprano, being short, usually this bad?

  2. #2
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    I think it's decent if your can't hear it when you play or if you can hear it it's so slight that it does not bother you.

  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by merlin666 View Post
    I think it's decent if your can't hear it when you play or if you can hear it it's so slight that it does not bother you.
    I agree, in my opinion the acceptability of intonation that's not spot on (and it never is) is fairly personal.

    Sopranos are indeed often the worst offenders in this regard, simply because of the scale length. I find that a compensated saddle is much more important on a soprano. The intonation on all of my sopranos (and I mostly play sopranos) that have a compensated saddle is very good, whereas those that don't usually go more sharp at the 12th fret. Obviously the saddle isn't the only factor. The overall build of the instrument is the most important thing, but compensation at the saddle is probably one of the easiest methods to remedy bad intonation.

    Personally, I'd be pretty miffed if my uke was 35 cents off at the 12th. I could probably be able to hear that pretty easily. I'm usually content with intonation if it's off 20 cents or so at most. If you're looking to improve the intonation I always recommend trying new strings. Certain types of strings can have better intonation on certain ukes. Even the way you wind the string around the tuning post can have a difference. I've been able to improve intonation on a uke just by stringing it better with the exact same type of strings that had bad intonation before.

  4. #4
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    The +35 cents actually doesn't sound noticeable when playing chords because the intonation errors between the strings at the chord shapes isn't that much, and if the chords ranges from near open to the 12th, it is usually ascending through in a few steps, so it is even less noticeable. However, it is noticeable when playing an octave when choosing the furthest frets. And maybe noticeable when playing with another instrument.


    Anyway, I'm wondering if there's some generally accepted intonation error range?


    Maybe it can be a useful thing where manufacturers provide an intonation test report on each ukulele? Like target guns' test target group sizes. It can be an indication of quality. Here, the strings matter; just like in guns where ammo matter, so manufacturers should specify the strings used. Like in guns, you might find better ammo so you can get even tighter groups (or better suited to your style of shooting), but you can always go back and use the manufacturer tested ammo. So the ukulele player can always have a reference error with the manufacturer's tested string set.

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by merlin666 View Post
    I think it's decent if your can't hear it when you play or if you can hear it it's so slight that it does not bother you.
    Quote Originally Posted by Dohle View Post
    I agree, in my opinion the acceptability of intonation that's not spot on (and it never is) is fairly personal.
    Plus one for this. There doesn't seem to be an agreed upon range. There's clearly good and clearly bad, but what's decent would largely depend on what you can hear or accept.

  6. #6
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    Plus 5 or 8 is probably within the acceptable range but if your soprano is going 35 notches sharp at the twelfth, I'd say it needs the string heights setting up properly. That may be all it needs to rein it in.

    John Colter

  7. #7
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    I probably care about this more than I should, since I don't spend much time up at the 12th, but if this were a piano, at 35 cents you're almost playing in the cracks. My three sopranos I play regularly are all less then 10 at their worst string and the Kamaka is less then 5 at it's worst. My approach is first, the harmonics at the 12th need to be correct (according to a tuner), then I need to be able to not hear (or think I can't hear) the difference between the 12th harmonic and pressing the 12th. If it bothers me too much, I'd talk to a repair/set-up person to get a more knowledgeable opinion.

  8. #8
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    What's decent intonation?
    Well not 35% out. That's ridiculous.
    8%? Meh, you can do better.
    5%? Well, sometimes, but not all the time. If every fret was out 5% ALL the time then that's an error that I would expect to be fixed. Most frets being spot on yet the odd fret being out by no more than 5% is acceptable, but everything being out is not acceptable.

  9. #9
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    Sounds like the saddle would need some lowering on that soprano. Single digit deviation is inevitable, even on the most expensive stringed instruments. Last but not least, the player also plays a part by the pressure he or she applies to the strings. Good players will automatically adjust to the intonation they hear.
    Enjoying instruments by - Beau Hannam - Jay Lichty - Jerry Hoffmann - Luis Feu de Mesquita - Kala - Kamaka - Kanile'a - KoAloha - Ko'olau - Moore Bettah - Pono - Romero Creations - and others

  10. #10
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    A uke always sounds better tuned to itself than it does tuned with a tuner. There is such a thing as spurious precision with tuners.

    It could also be an issue with strings. I once strung a uke (my second Brueko) with a brand new set of Aquilas. The A string kept going sharp on the first fret. I took it off, restrung it the other way fine and it was fine for years.
    Last edited by chris667; 07-10-2020 at 11:16 AM.

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