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Thread: Uke setup question

  1. #1

    Default Uke setup question

    I read these forums daily but don't post much. I've hesitated to post this because I don't want to seem as if I'm speaking negatively towards any of our beloved uke dealers, and the only name that I mention below is in the positive.

    As the subject line indicates, I have a uke setup question. I have 2 ukes - a concert Ohana CK-10 and a tenor Ohana TK-50G. I bought the concert from Mim and the tenor from a different reputable online uke dealer, and I have Living Water strings on both ukes. I love both of them, but I've had different experiences with each. The tone of the TK-50G (to my ears) is warmer, fuller, and clearer. This is understandable as it's a solid wood instrument as opposed to the laminate CK-10. However, I enjoy playing the CK-10 more because of the setup. To my untrained eye, I believe that the relief at the 12th fret on the concert is about 2mm while the relief at the 12th fret on the tenor appears to be about 4mm. Also, Baz at gotaukulele.com recommends that when you push down on the 3rd fret that there should be just a slight amount of clearance at the 1st fret or the string should barely touch the 1st fret. On my concert, this is exactly how I would describe what I am seeing. On my tenor, I see a significant amount of space. So therefore, the tenor "feels" a lot harder to play.

    But this is what I don't know. Does the tension feel a lot higher because of the setup or because tenor strings are going to generally be higher tension than concert strings? I ask because I'm wondering if maybe I'm just a concert uke kind of guy. Or perhaps the setup on the tenor is just less pleasing to me. If it is just the difference between playing a concert vs. a tenor scale length then I'll likely sell the TK-50G and replace it with a solid-wood concert. If it's just the setup, then I'll likely try to have the tenor setup by Mim when I get a chance.

    I am an American working in the humanitarian aid field in Central Asia, and I purchased the tenor a year and a half ago while in the States. At the time, I didn't think too much about the setup as I was mainly just strumming and singing. Now, in trying to do some more delicate and intricate fingerstyle playing, I greatly notice the setup on the tenor as being less pleasing to me. The other problem is that I won't be near a reliable setup person for probably another year. So I'm probably just stuck wondering about it until I get back to the States.

    That being said, I wanted to get your opinions on whether or not it sounds like the issue is 1) setup or 2) concert vs. tenor. Thanks.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Apr 2017
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    the height of the tenor at the 12th fret is very high (4 mm?). It should be similar to the other. It also appears that the nut height is also too high. And, on top of that, yes, tenors do have higher tensions (as far as I know), some people put concert strings on them to get a lower tension. Still, properly set up, a tenor should still be nice to play. So, get the sand papers out and fix, at least, the saddle of the tenor, before deciding on the string tension.

    Good luck

    Eugenio

  3. #3
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    I would say it's the setup, 4mm is really high.
    Just Play

    Sopranos: 1st uke, Lanikai soprano LU-11 - Aquilas | 30's Martin style 0 - Martins
    Concerts: Kanile'a K-2 CP - Living Water | Islander AC-4 - Living Water | Waverly Street banjolele - Worth Browns
    Tenor: Martin Iz - Living Water low G
    UBass: Kala FS2 (fretless) - Pahoehoe | Kala Acacia - Pahoehoe

  4. #4
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    Yes, tenor strings are generally somewhat higher tension but I haven't found it noticeable myself. A high action is definitely a more major factor in that, in my opinion. Another factor I've noticed myself is the actual frets. I have a few ukes with larger frets so the space between the top of the fret and the fretboard is larger than on most of my ukes that have fairly small frets. That felt uncomfortable for me at first and took a while to get used to but of course it doesn't affect the tension on the strings or anything like that. Since you're comparing two Ohanas I'm guessing they have similar kinds of frets so that is probably not the issue. It's most likely the action.

    If the action at the 12th fret is 4mm then that sounds it's way too high. Obviously there's always some personal preference but for me anything above 3mm is too high with around 2.5mm being the sweet spot. I would definitely bring the uke to a reputable music shop or luthier for a setup as, I believe, it's not the cheapest uke either. It does sound like the action at the nut might also be a tad high. 0.5mm is my preferred sweet spot for that. However, do note that if you're planning on doing more fingerpicking on the uke, a slightly higher action (at the 12th) than the ones I mentioned might be beneficial for you. You can of course try and do fingerpicking on your concert to see if the action around 2mm is comfortable for you. If it is then you can request the action lowered down to that.

  5. #5
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    Everyone likes a good setup, and that is why I prefer to buy from Mim. Just because a dealer says he does a setup that does not mean he actually does a setup. I bought a uke form one of the "setup" dealers, and I know for a fact he did little more than take it from storage and pack it for shipping. No, I'm not going to mention the dealer because I'll hear from all the happy satisfied customers. Then someone will "tell on me," and the dealer will contact me about ruining his good reputation.

    Just be aware that saying a setup is done doesn't make it so. When you receive a new uke, check it over and make sure the setup is the way you want it. It's not difficult to make slight changes to make the uke perfect for you.
    Too many ukes, but I can't stop buying!
    https://www.catskillukulelegroup.com/

  6. #6

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    There are many factors at play.

    As others have stated, the tenor's action is really high at 4mm.

    My preferred zone is around 2mm. Generally 2-3mm is the norm of a good setup.

    Like you mentioned, tenors often have higher tension.
    This is attributed by 2 factors - longer scale length and string companies making higher tension strings for tenors.

    This aspect could be moderated with choice of strings. Some brands are lower tension, or you could do what I do and use "regular tension" classical guitar strings on a tenor ukulele (use the dgbe strings to tune up gcea. If you want high g, use the same string as for the A string).

    Some other factors are;

    -neck relief/bow
    This is unique from instrument to instrument.
    Generally with higher tensions like tenor, there is more forward bow on the neck. This can be adjusted (with some skill needed) if the tenor has a truss rod. Many ukes don't, and its not absolutely necessary.

    -different ukes just feel different.
    Different dimensions, string spacing variations, nut width, different thickness neck, frets, distance of strings to edge of nut etc etc. All these factors play a part in how it feels to play. The saddles even come in different shapes. Is the saddle straight? An arch? Does it slant high to low?


    And yes, you could be a 'concert' ukulele kind of person.

    I prefer the kind of tension on soprano and concert ukes.
    I dont like the high tension feel on tenors.

    When I setup a tenor, it would typically have an action of 2-2.5mm at the 12th fret and relatively low tension strings (D'addario pro arte concert; or D'addario pro arte regular classical guitar strings. Theyre the same thing).


    Lastly, I have found that it could be rather difficult for a seller or a luthier whom you order online from to match the setup you specifically want as an individual. Ideal action for you may differ from what someone else's is. Furthermore, even when you define a measurement like "2mm at the 12th fret", how that feels on one uke may differ from how it feels on another.

    Hence, I do my own setups on ukes and guitars because only I can know exactly how I want my instrument to feel.
    Last edited by kissing; 07-31-2020 at 05:18 AM.

  7. #7
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    Some ukes are set up high from the factory to accommodate players who like this, as it is much easier to lower the action than raise it. If you want to lower the action from 4mm to 2.5mm then you will have to sand off 3mm from the saddle. If the nut slots are too high then you can also carefully sand down the slots, but that is a delicate process.

  8. #8

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    Good stuff, everyone. So it seems that I should either learn to do a setup or have Mim work on it for me next time I'm in the States. Only then can I determine if it's tenor thing or a bad setup thing.

    Also, I've been thinking of buying a set of Craig and Sarah's strings as they advertise them as low tension.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    May 2020
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    Are the frets level on the tenor? That may prevent it from having a lower setup. I remember that are other reasons too from a video I watched.

    Also, I think posting measurements like the setup, fret levelness, neck bowing, intonations along with dealer info can be a service to everybody. Measurements are measurements; there's not much to argue about them.

    I just couldn't find that video (I think it is a video, or maybe it was a document online, can't remember exactly, but likely a video). In mentioned that setup is a a balance where you try to make the best playable guitar (the video was about guitar setup) given what you have. For example, the frets can be leveled but some neck issues can't be fixed so there's some limits. It also mentioned using some paper to check string clearance. It also had diagrams showing how lowering the saddle/nut affects the strings that form a triangle (the3 sides are string, frets, and saddle) where when fretting, you get a smaller triangle. It was very informative; I'll try to look for it some more.
    Last edited by clear; 07-31-2020 at 07:14 AM.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by mikhou View Post
    Good stuff, everyone. So it seems that I should either learn to do a setup or have Mim work on it for me next time I'm in the States. Only then can I determine if it's tenor thing or a bad setup thing.

    Also, I've been thinking of buying a set of Craig and Sarah's strings as they advertise them as low tension.
    I think Living Water are pretty low tension...
    Just Play

    Sopranos: 1st uke, Lanikai soprano LU-11 - Aquilas | 30's Martin style 0 - Martins
    Concerts: Kanile'a K-2 CP - Living Water | Islander AC-4 - Living Water | Waverly Street banjolele - Worth Browns
    Tenor: Martin Iz - Living Water low G
    UBass: Kala FS2 (fretless) - Pahoehoe | Kala Acacia - Pahoehoe

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