Compensated saddles: High g vs Low G


Dec 12, 2011
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Far North Central Illinois
If a saddle is compensated for a high g string, what happens to intonation when it is fitted with a thicker/heavier low G?
This is a great question…..and I’m along for the ride to find out too 🤣 Now that all new Kamaka’s have compensated saddles, this is something I need to know.
A low G string will be sharp on a saddle compensated for high g. And a high g string will be flat on a saddle compensated for low G.
Yeah, it goes all kinds of wonky. You can recompensate the saddle for the Low G, but you might also need to comp the nut (in addition to widening the slot) to get it right.

Of course, what is "right"? I've never found a definitive answer to that question. How good is your ear? Do you need it to be within 5 cents? 10 cents? 15-20 cents? I try for within 5, but I'm happy with it somewhere around 10.

I usually find my Low G's when tuned to an open G to be progressively sharper on the first 3 frets, and then stay mostly the same up the neck. So, what I normally do is tune all of my strings on the 3rd fret. This will put the Low G maybe a dime low at the nut, but MUCH better everywhere else.

How close do you need it to be? How much do you want to tinker with the intonation? It's satisfying to get it set up pretty close to perfect, it just takes time. Is it worth it? Only you can say.

I've got one uke that's dialed in pretty tight. Unfortunately, I've not taken the time to set the one that I play all the time up to the same level of tolerance. I think all I ever did with it was lower the action. Someday...
Well it sorted out 12th fret octaves on the thinner strings on my Blackwater Tenor. Without compensation the C & E strings were right but G & A were flat.
Besides improving intonation, compensated saddles are made so that you do not switch high to low or vice versa. It is an unwritten rule that you should buy another ukulele with a compensated saddle for that string choice.
Timbuck made a bridge where you can use either tuning. There's an extra groove in front of the 4th string section of the saddle so you can put a small, one string saddle section of wood or bone...or whatever material you like. I've made a few like these and they work great. Here is Timbuck's bridge.
In my opinion, I think all compensated saddles do for ukulele is limit your options.
I've frankly never really noticed much difference between uncompensated and compensated saddles, and it is almost physically impossible to get perfect intonation anyway.

My Kamaka Tenor came with a compensated bridge for high-G. Guess how I have it tuned?
DGBE like a baritone ukulele. And it plays fine. Nobody's going to stop me mid-performance and go "your high notes are out of tune by 2 cents"

To get near-perfect intonation, you need a steel string electric guitar with a bridge that allows full compensation string by string.
On acoustic instruments where the bridge/saddle are fixed, you're just going to have to accept that your intonation will be off by a certain margin.
From what I've read, there are two schools of thought:
• The ukulele is too small of a scale to compensate the saddle. The difference is so tiny that it isn't worth the effort. And intonation is always a compromise. A straight rounded saddle is fine.
• Fingerstyle demands near perfect intonation and compensated saddles are necessary to get it as close as possible.

My ear usually isn't sensitive enough to tell the difference.
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