Improve tuners on cheap ukulele?


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May 15, 2024
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In addition to my main instrument, I have a very cheap (basically toy-level) soprano ukulele that a relative brought back as a souvenir from Hawaii. It has just been sitting on a shelf, but I thought it might be fun to play around with and see if I can improve it somewhat. I thought I'd start by changing out its strings... but I realized that its friction tuners do not seem to have enough friction and it goes out of tune very quickly. The G string is the worst. Is there a way of increasing the amount of friction in the existing tuning pegs?
Some of those $15 ukuleles from Waikiki souvenir stores are surprisingly tunable and playable if you want to impress your buddies at the local ukulele jam. They will still sound like toys, but at least you may be able to fingerpick a recognizable melody. First test to see if the ukulele is usable is do the 4 strings have different diameters and/or tensions? The worst toy ukuleles use same gauge for all 4 strings, which is never going to sound any good. Second test is can you tune the strings and will the tuners hold for long enough to play a song? Replacement tuners or even replacement strings will cost more than the ukulele is worth, so you really should try to work with what you have. Intonation and tone on these cheap ukuleles ranges from mediocre to terrible, so they are more of a gag than a musical instrument.
If the intonation isn't any good, don't waste money on tuners.
Thanks, I'll give it a try!
Aurora, as EDW indicated, assuming each tuning peg has a tension screw on its button, you can very likely improve the "hold" by tightening those screws. The trick is to get them tight enough to grip effectively, but not so tight that the pegs become super hard to turn.

P.S. I've improved many an inexpensive uke by installing Grover 9NB geared tuners in place of the stock frictions. Yes, they do give you the "dog-eared" look, but they work great and have never let me down. Not real expensive, maybe $20.00 or so...
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I tightened the tuners and they do seem a bit better now... and I put some Aquila strings on it that I had sitting in a drawer (better than the very plasticky strings that it came with.) But now it's back in its box... after playing around with it, my husband decided he wanted a less-toy-like soprano ukulele, and we found a used Harmony one in good condition from someone on Craigslist. So now there is a better soprano in the house for that kind of strumming. At least, if I end up re-gifting the cheap one to a kid at some point, it will be a nicer-sounding musical toy than it was before!
I bought some no name tuners on Amazon for 8 bucks to replace Enya branded tuners, and they're about the same quality if not better. Replacing tuners is not the easiest thing in the world though. Make sure all your measurements are taken and accurate before buying any replacement tuners. Many brands will use proprietary dimensions for their tuners and then not tell anyone what the dimensions are.
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