17.9.10

Ukulele beginners tips - Nuts and Saddles

We've looked at strings, woods, tuners, so about time I moved on to some guidance on the other important parts of a ukulele.


The uke works by holding the strings in tension over a sound chamber to resonate the sound - as a child you may have done the same thing with rubber bands and a tissue box.  In order to make this play accurately, some maths comes in to play.  For the frets to accurately change the notes of the strings when held, it is important that the string length is uniform and set in relation to these frets.    The parts of the uke that hold the strings at the correct length are the nut (at the top end of the uke by the tuners) and the saddle held in the piece of wood glued on to the body of the uke below the sound hole.  The distance between these two is the scale length.

As with all stringed instruments, the quality of these parts and how they are shaped is critical to a well playing instrument.  To high at the saddle and you will have too high an action, too low and you will get buzzing as the strings touch the frets.

Likewise at the nut - if the slots are cut too low, you will get buzzing at the low frets, too high and you raise action, and worse can cause a sharpening of notes when pressed at the 1st and 2nd frets.

In both cases, if the string is not as parallel to the finger board as is possible without buzzing you can get into intonation problems (ie frets not giving you the exact note they should)

Adjusting action for tuneability and to remove buzzes is something I will cover in a subsequent post, but on a nicely set up instrument if you hold a string at both the 1st and (say) 12th fret, you should be able to just slip a thin business card between the string and fret at or around the 6th.

So what are these items made of?  Well in cheaper instruments, almost certainly plastic, or a composite material which is basically plastic, but is trying to big itself up by calling it something else (stand up please NuBone and Tusq).  In more expensive instruments, these parts may well be made of bone, or a hardwood like Ebony.

Some suggest that moving up in quality will impove sound, but I think this is subjective.  On a steel strung acoustic guitar a change from plastic to bone saddle will make a noticeable difference - Im just not sure that you will notice that difference (for the hassle) on a consumer level ukulele.  I am happy to be persuaded otherwise though!

As a final thought - if you are fiddling with your saddle and remove it to take it down in height - remember - this is the key point of the instrument that transfers sound into the body of the uke.  It is essential the base of the saddle is sanded totally flat and when re-seated makes a perfect fit into the bridge mount.  This is even more important if you have a piezo pick up fitted under the saddle, as you may find a badly seated saddle results in volume differences across strings (not good)

Word to the wise - if you are not sure what you are doing but want a change to your ukulele - take it to a reputable guitar tech!

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

What would be the problems if I filed down the frets flush with the fingerboard to make it fretless

Barry Maz said...

Theoretically it could work - but fingers would need to be precise for accuracy, and don't think you would get a lot of sustain or volume without the fret doing the work.

Barry Maz said...

Can honestly say though, I've never been asked that! You are not Marc G are you!? ;-)

Anonymous said...

Hi Barry
Love your website! I have a Kala KA-SMHT. The action is very uncomfortable whilst playing. I struggle with RSI in elbows and wrists and would like the nut lowered as well as lowering the saddle. There is room for adjustment I feel. Kala say 3mm at the 12th fret is normal, haven't measured, but looks higher. What would you recommend to do here? The strings fitted are the ones supplied with the Kala. Thanks for any advice you could give Regards Rob

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