Have you a ukulele and feel like it’s not perfect? Well, then you should take a closer look at the instrument. A better setup of the ukulele will optimize playability and intonation.
This post is about Ukulele setup, Strap buttons, Pegs, and making a electric/acoustic ukulele with a tuner of your acoustic instrument.
Improve your instrument and make a Ukulele Setup.
When you buy a ukulele, it should be perfect from the dealer. Unfortunately, this is often not the case. If you find that your ukulele needs adjustments, you can either do it yourself or take it to a luthier to get it right. It’s always better to be safe and have a professional take care of it for you.
A setup can mean different things to different people, but for most people, it means making the ukulele as playable and tone-rich as possible. This includes adjusting the action, intonation, frets, nut, and saddle. We’ve added a little more.
Where to find information of Ukulele Setup?
If you’re looking for information about ukulele setup, we’ve got you covered! At Basic Ukulele, we always search the internet for the best sites that offer advice on the topic. We have found two sites that provide excellent advice and that we based some of the text on. You should visit their sites to read more before you start with the setup by yourself.
The sites are:
Anyway, we have tried to explain the process in detail further down. Read on!
You can see the entire process in the video at the bottom. Joel from Theukulelesite.com
(There are some ads from Amazone, AliExpress and Google in the post.)
What is Bridge, Sadle, Nut, Fretboard and Frets?
Firstly, let’s define some terms. The fretboard is the dark piece of wood that rests atop the neck and beneath the strings. (Some call this part the fingerboard and some call it frets.) It is usually made of maple, rosewood, mahogany, ebony, or other kinds of wood. The fretboard is divided into rectangles by pieces of metal called frets.
On top of the body sits the bridge, and on top of this sits the saddle. The saddle holds the strings in place and ensures the correct distance from the fretboard. The saddle is made of plastic or bone. When you pluck or strum the strings, the energy from this is transferred through the saddle and bridge to the body, creating sound in the instrument. Some people think that sound is made by the strings vibrating through the soundhole and to the body, but that is not correct. So don’t worry if your strumming is between the body and neck. Some ukuleles don’t even have a soundhole under the strings.
On the other side of the strings from the saddle between the fretboard and pegs on the head, you will find the nut. The nut holds the strings in place and ensures they are at the correct distance from the fretboard on that side of the strings. They are usually made of plastic with slots that fit the strings.
Checking the instrument for cosmetic defects and if the neck is stright.
Before setup, you should visually inspect the instrument for cosmetic defects. You may be able to fix them and make the ukulele look nicer.
If you’re in a shop, this can be done before you buy it. If there’s something wrong with the one you like, they may have another one that’s better. The most important thing to check is the neck. It should be in the center and not bowing to either side. If you already have the ukulele, there’s not much you can do about this.
Ukulele setup: Check the action and adjust it if nessesary.
When the strings are closer to the frets, it’s easier to press them down. This is called low action. But low action can cause buzzing and make the sound quieter.
When the strings are further from the fretboard, it’s harder to press them down. This is called high action. High action can be played louder before it buzzes and often has a fuller sound.
Normally, the height over the fretboard and the bottom of the string in the 12th fret should be between 0.093 inches (about 2.2mm) and 0.125 inches (about 3mm). Some say it should be between 2.5 and 3mm. If the strings are too high, it’s not comfortable to play on. Cheaper ukulele makers often set the action/strings high to avoid fret buzz, but you can adjust this.
If you want to lower the ukulele strings closer to the fretboard, be careful not to lower them too much and get a buzzing sound. On the other hand, if you experience buzzing, it may be due to low action. To correct this problem, you need to raise the saddle by placing a strip of paper/thin plastic under it or buy a new one. (If the frets are not level, you can also get a buzzing sound.)
Adjusting the height of the strings is an important part of Ukulele Setup, and you can and should do it if necessary!
How to lower the strings.
First of all, you need to mesure the hight in the 12th fret and find out how much you need to lower the saddle. For helping you out with the measuring, you can use a String Action Ruler Gauge, which is normally called just a String Action Ruler, but it’s not necessarily required. This is a multifunctional measuring tool for string-distance, bridge saddle height and depth, fret groove depth (and for string-distance of electric guitar pickup). It’s a directional guide for your repairing and setup.
The 12th fret is in the middle of the strings, so if you need to lower the strings by 1mm, you have to lower the saddle by double that amount (2mm). To do this, you have to loosen the strings so that you can slide the saddle out and adjust its height accordingly. You should mark the saddle and sand it down evenly. Put the sandpaper on the desk and sand the saddle down with circular movements while keeping the saddle as straight as possible. Sand it down to your mark on the saddle.
This is relatively easy to do, and you should not be afraid to do it.
Remember to sand the base of the saddle absolutely flat so that you get good contact. Do the work slowly and be careful; don’t rush. If you have a saddle made of simple plastic, now is your opportunity to change it with one that’s better or made of a harder material like bone. Ad Ukulele Saddle
When you’ve done that, you can put the saddle back in the exact same place, tighten the strings, check by measuring and for buzzing. If it’s time to change your strings, this is a perfect time. Take a look at our post about strings.
Some instruments don’t have removable saddles; they’re glued in place. In this case, you have to make a mark under the top of the saddle, and reduce the height with a file and/or sandpaper.
To check the right height of the nut, press down the strings in the third fret. The strings should just be over the first fret and almost touch it. If you really have to adjust the nut, you have to use a Nut File. This operation is not advised for beginners without taking the time to read about this adjustment. If you are going to do this remember that the angle of the file must be the same as it is on the head, and the file must be according to the gauge of the strings. The breaking point/friction point of the strings over the nut at the ukulele should be at the nut’s edge towards the fretboard.
If the frets are out of level, it might be the reason for buzzing. This means that if one of the frets is slightly higher than its neighbor, the string can touch the higher fret and make a noise. To fix this, you can file down the frets and make them level.
After leveling the frets, you have to crown them to add the rounded curvature back to the top of each fret or a pyramid shape because after leveling, they are flat. This is because you have to create a clear contact point for each string. A flat top on a fret can throw out your intonation because it changes the scale length ever so slightly, but this affects the intonation of the instrument.
After that you have to sand down and polish the frets and fingerboard to bring it back to new condition. (Take a look at the video below.)
If the reason that the frets aren’t level is that one or more are loose, then you have to attend to this problem first and fix them to the fretboard by gluing and pressing them down.
Sometimes the ends of the frets are sharp, which can be uncomfortable. In the worst case, you can cut yourself. You can have this problem with a new ukulele or it can appear later if the wood in the fretboard dries out and shrinks. This is because instruments react to different environments. In a dry climate, the wood shrinks. In a wet climate, the wood expands. As a rule, you should keep your ukulele in the same environment that you keep yourself in and avoid exposing it to extreme temperatures. Additionally, try to maintain the humidity as stable as possible.
To fix this problem, you can use a file and take the edges down.
Fixing the fretboard
After you have done the job described above, you have to restore the fretboard as shown in the video below, or if you just feel that the fretboard should be more comfortable to use, you can sand it with a 400 grit sandpaper to give it a nice finish. You can also use fine grit steel wool on the fretboard to get rid of any little abrasions.
It is not necessary to oil the fretboard of your ukulele, but if you want to oil it, it’s important to ensure that you’re using the correct solution. This depends on the tonewood that the fretboard is made from, whether it is rosewood, maple, or another material. Some people use bore oil or lemon oil for conditioning their fretboards. However, others recommend using 100% pure food grade mineral oil as it doesn’t dry or harden and doesn’t go off. You should only oil it when absolutely necessary, (maybe twice a year) but you should clean it once in a while.
If you use, for instance lemon oil or fretboard conditioner, it will keep your ukulele’s fretboard hydrated. Since the fretboard is unfinished wood it can dry out and crack. This can also cause problems with the frets. So, wipe on some fretboard conditioner and your fingerboard will be clean and shiny.
The entire process of Ukulele Setup.
When you are redy for the prossess you have to watch this video.
Joel from Theukulelesite.com:
When you have done the job you can take a dry microfiber cloth and brush off any dirt, dust, or fingerprints. If your ukulele has a glossy finish, you can spray a little guitar polish onto a cloth and lightly wipe down your ukulele’s top and sides. If your ukulele has a matte or open-pore finish, don’t use guitar polish, just wipe it with a dry cloth.
Now that you’re finished your Ukulele Setup, tune it, strum and enjoy your improved instrument!
Some more tips regarding Ukulele improvement:
Now that you’re improving your ukulele, you may want to install strap buttons on your ukulele as well. Many players find it easier to stand and play with a strap on the ukulele. We recommend that you watch the video first. (The best we have found so far.)
Before you install the strap button, check if there is some wood inside the body where you will put the strap button. This is because you want it to stay there and not fall out. Normally it is. You can use a mirror to check or try to look into the bottom of the body through the soundhole with a light.
Use a bit of tape where you want to drill so you don’t scratch the surface of the instrument, and measure well before you start the process. It is also advised that you put some wax from a candlelight on the screw so it goes in easily.
Here you have some ads from Amazone for Ukulele Straps.
The Ukulele Tuning Pegs
Your tuning pegs (Machine Heads) can cause problems for you because they don’t hold the tuning. Or maybe you just want some new and better ones.
If you want to upgrade your tuning pegs, we have found something that can help you out. Take a look at the links below.
- Installing Geared Tuning Pegs on a Ukulele:
Ads for tuning pegs:
Installation of a Ukulele pickup system
Have you ever dreamt of having an electric ukulele? Or better yet, an electric ukulele with a tuner inside? It is possible for you to buy one and install it yourself if you are a bit handy and daring enough to do it. The gear doesn’t cost much, and after correctly installing it, you will not regret that you did this.
If you have an expensive ukulele or one with a very good sound, you may want to skip this improvement because there is a small possibility that it can affect the sound of the instrument.
There are several types out there. Here is one from AliExpress that might be right for you. Below, you will also find a video on how to install it.
Basic Ukulele is an independent website that does not have any sponsors. Therefore, the only way we earn some money to keep the website running is by getting clicks on Google ads in our posts. We hope you don’t mind them and use them if you find them helpful. In addition, we appreciate every click you make on our ads and express our gratitude for your support. Thank you for your understanding and cooperation!
(We do not own the advertising in the videos.)
Finally, Basic Ukulele was founded in 2015 with the aim of making it easier for anyone who wants to learn or find out more about this wonderful instrument.