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Thread: Open strings tuned fine, notes played on frets badly out of tune

  1. #1
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    Default Open strings tuned fine, notes played on frets badly out of tune

    Hi everyone!

    Bored by lockdown towards the end of last year, I bought myself an Ortega RFU10SE soprano ukulele for my birthday. It's certainly one of the best presents I ever received, and I really like the instrument's tone, but there's a serious problem with its tuning.

    I tune the open strings correctly, as verified by the uke's inbuilt tuner and the Cleartune iphone app, but depressed strings are noticeably sharp, and its worst on the 1st, 2nd and 3rd frets: notes played on these frets are furthest away from being in tune. I notice it most on the C string, where the C sharp is around 20% and the D is slightly sharper, even. The A7 and A7sus4 chords (which feature in one version of Neil Young's Harvest Moon I found on YouTube) sound dreadful. But it's the same on the E string, really. Funnily enough, the F on the 5th fret is only around 10% sharp.

    I read a thread here where someone suggested placing a matchstick next to the nut, but that didn't seem to help (being a novice, though, I'm not sure if I put the toothpick - didn't have a matchstick - in the right place).

    Could my problem simply be that the Ortega RFUSE10 is not a high-quality instrument? It's got a lovely tone, in my opinion, but the tuning problem is absolutely jarring, it's impossible not to notice.

    Sorry if this post was too long - no doubt a typical rookie error. I'll be really grateful for any advice/help you can give!

    Pete

  2. #2
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    I'm the guy who made the matchstick recommendation. The issue is called intonation. Yes, Soprano ukuleles have to be made to extraordinary levels of accuracy in order to avoid intonation problems.
    Currently I'm using appropriately sized Allen keys instead of matchsticks. I'm not sure that a toothpick would work as whatever you use must be a firm fit under the strings in order to shorten the distance to the nut which is a form of compensation.

    The error could be at both ends of the scale and often is.

    Are you good at measuring things with a rule?

  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by anthonyg View Post
    I'm the guy who made the matchstick recommendation. The issue is called intonation. Yes, Soprano ukuleles have to be made to extraordinary levels of accuracy in order to avoid intonation problems.
    Currently I'm using appropriately sized Allen keys instead of matchsticks. I'm not sure that a toothpick would work as whatever you use must be a firm fit under the strings in order to shorten the distance to the nut which is a form of compensation.

    The error could be at both ends of the scale and often is.

    Are you good at measuring things with a rule?
    Hi, anthonyg, and thanks for getting back to me so quickly. I really appreciate it.

    I can use a ruler as well as anyone, I would hope (maybe I've misunderstood your meaning?).

    The toothpick is a pretty firm fit, and I've just got some interesting results with my new tuner app: when I retune the uke so the open strings are in tune, the first fret of the C string is more out of tune than pre-toothpick, but the 2nd and 3rd frets are slightly less sharp and by the 6th fret the note is almost back in tune again! The same tuning progression occurs to all the strings, with the first fret of the E string over 25% sharp and reverting to nearer the right tuning by the 6th fret. The G and A strings are almost back in tune on the 4th fret.

    Does that tell you anything useful?

    (Above the 6th fret the tuning seems to jump around, but certainly at this early stage of my playing career I'm not too concerned by the upper frets.)

    I was thinking of writing to Ortega to complain - do you think there's any point complaining about a 150 euro ukulele? As I said, I'm completely new to the world of ukuleles, guitars etc., so I don't know what to expect.

    Thanks again for your help.

    Pete

  4. #4
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    Pete, the fact that the tuning is worse in the open position and is getting better up the neck definitely points to it being the nut placement that's the problem. Now nut height also could be a contributing factor to consider. Do you have to press down quite hard to fret notes in the open position?

    Try moving the toothpick away from the nut, leaving a small gap between it and the nut, which is effectively moving the nut even closer to the frets and see what happens. See how far you need to move it to get good intonation and see if you can get good intonation by just moving the pick around.

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by anthonyg View Post
    Pete, the fact that the tuning is worse in the open position and is getting better up the neck definitely points to it being the nut placement that's the problem. Now nut height also could be a contributing factor to consider. Do you have to press down quite hard to fret notes in the open position?

    Try moving the toothpick away from the nut, leaving a small gap between it and the nut, which is effectively moving the nut even closer to the frets and see what happens. See how far you need to move it to get good intonation and see if you can get good intonation by just moving the pick around.
    Thanks very much for the advice! I will experiment with various positions and I might try out some alternatives to the toothpick as well.

    As for how hard I have to press down: I find that hard to say, because I've never played a ukulele before. Not particularly hard, I'd say, especially after a month or so playing. If there wasn't a pandemic on, I'd go to a shop and test out other models and other ukes of the same model.

    I will spend some time experimenting in line with your advice and then post again, I hope in the next couple of days, depending on other commitments.

    Pete

  6. #6
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    I was thinking of writing to Ortega to complain - do you think there's any point complaining about a 150 euro ukulele? As I said, I'm completely new to the world of ukuleles, guitars etc., so I don't know what to expect.

    Thanks again for your help.

    Pete
    I would say that a 150 euro uke should certainly not have this level of intonation issues.

    Harvey

  7. #7
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    After some more experimentation with the toothpick, I found that the best result is having the toothpick about 6 mm lower than the bottom edge of the nut (i.e. 6 mm to the middle of the toothpick). The C string is still the most troublesome, but those chords, the A7 and A7sus4 are not so jarring. But the toothpick in this position makes the it harder to press down first and second frets.

    Leaving a toothpick there is hardly a practical solution, so I'm not sure what to do now. I contacted the shop I bought it from here in Prague. It's a music shop that sells a wide range of instruments, but they specialise in guitars. Someone there told me they could calibrate the ukulele or replace it, but I'm reluctant to part with it, having had it such a short time and really grown to like playing and knowing that I'm by nature a lazy sod who has a tendency to lose my practising discipline.

    Do you have any nifty solution that would mean I don't have to post the bloody thing back to the shop? (We're in full lockdown here, so I can't take it to the shop and drop it off.)

    Thanks again, anthonyg.

    Pete

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by eclipsme View Post
    I would say that a 150 euro uke should certainly not have this level of intonation issues.

    Harvey

    Oh, okay, thanks for that info.

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by PeteKreff View Post
    After some more experimentation with the toothpick, I found that the best result is having the toothpick about 6 mm lower than the bottom edge of the nut (i.e. 6 mm to the middle of the toothpick). The C string is still the most troublesome, but those chords, the A7 and A7sus4 are not so jarring. But the toothpick in this position makes the it harder to press down first and second frets.

    Leaving a toothpick there is hardly a practical solution, so I'm not sure what to do now. I contacted the shop I bought it from here in Prague. It's a music shop that sells a wide range of instruments, but they specialise in guitars. Someone there told me they could calibrate the ukulele or replace it, but I'm reluctant to part with it, having had it such a short time and really grown to like playing and knowing that I'm by nature a lazy sod who has a tendency to lose my practising discipline.

    Do you have any nifty solution that would mean I don't have to post the bloody thing back to the shop? (We're in full lockdown here, so I can't take it to the shop and drop it off.)

    Thanks again, anthonyg.

    Pete
    If the instrument is new, and the shop has offered to repair or replace, then sending it back is what I would recommend. This instrument I suspect is a can of worms that is only just starting to open up as I'm suspecting that the saddle placement could also be wrong. You have an offer so send it back.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by anthonyg View Post
    If the instrument is new, and the shop has offered to repair or replace, then sending it back is what I would recommend. This instrument I suspect is a can of worms that is only just starting to open up as I'm suspecting that the saddle placement could also be wrong. You have an offer so send it back.
    Okay, anthonyg, I will take your advice. Thanks very much for your patient help!

    Pete

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