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13 August 2012

How to tune an electric ukulele

I thought I might have at least one more post in this electric ukulele build and indeed I was right! This time I'm going to talk about tweaking everything to make it sound sweet!

The Kingcaster taking a much-earned rest...

The last time we spoke, I was blasting a little bit of Johnny B Goode having fitted everything together. Things weren’t quite right, but I was simply too excited about getting a tune out of it to hold back.

That video hides a couple of problems that I’ve since dealt with. Let me explain...

My main problem was that although I could get my uke in tune, the frets weren’t true. Everything was a little sharp. Doing the typical open versus 12th fret test confirmed that I had a problem. There were a number of pretty major things I had to address to solve this problem:

First: The action on the nut was too high. It was difficult to hold the note on
the first fret. This on it’s own was causing problems. I already mentioned
that I wanted to experiment with a slightly different spacing for the grooves.
I tackled both at the same time. Here you can see that I’ve fashioned
another bone nut. I may even try to get a bit lower with it!

Second: The bridge wasn’t quite right for the strings. Although
the scale of the instrument was exactly as I planned it, I
discovered that the bridge needed to be further back than I
was expecting. This proved to be a problem as I could
only adjust the bridge so much. I knew at the outset that I
would need to tinker, but I didn’t realise that I would
need to to tinker as much as I ended up doing.
I think that the issue here is that I have put steel strings
on the uke. Perhaps I should have made allowances for
this when placing the bridge? I’m still not sure. I had been
very stupid and simply strung the uke with the top four strings
from a guitar set of 10s. No matter how I tried, I couldn’t 

adjust the bridge to accommodate this size of strings.
(As a reminder: I've tuned the uke low-g c e a)

Third: Even having done the previous two, I had
improved but not fixed the problem. Some strings were
okay, but others were out. My next step then was
to fit thicker strings. The logic here is that a denser
string will naturally need a shorter scale to hit
the same note. I jumped in the deep end with
a set of 12s. This is far thicker than I’m used to
playing with, but it fixed the problem. It does
make playing a little harder than I would have
liked for things like bending the strings, but on the
upside, the funk is slinky! See here that I'm using

Elixir anti-rust. I won't use any other strings.
I've told you this before! Interestingly, the 3rd and
4th strings are wound.

Having done the major work mentioned above I finessed by 
tweaking the height of the strings at the bridge to get the action as
 low as possible. The final step was to plug it in and adjust the
 pickup itself to ensure that I had an equalised sound across each
 string. With my hot-rails, it meant lowering the bass end a little, 
but nothing extreme.

And there you have it! I can't express how much fun I'm having playing my Kingcaster! Stick around and I'll put together some sort of sound check for you and maybe a couple of songs!

2 comments:

  1. you mentioned in your last post that you also wanted to play around with the distance of strings to pick up, what was the problem and how did you fix it?

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  2. Hello there. I think you're asking about the bit just above?

    "Having done the major work mentioned above I finessed by tweaking the height of the strings at the bridge to get the action as low as possible. The final step was to plug it in and adjust the pickup itself to ensure that I had an equalised sound across each string. With my hot-rails, it meant lowering the bass end a little, but nothing extreme."

    I'm simply referring to the sound that the pickup is making with the strings. See the screws in the above picture. You can adjust these and the pickup will move up or down. The closer it is, the louder is sounds. I adjusted each side until I got an even sound across all the strings. i.e. I wanted to get them all with the same volume. That's all... no magic ;-)

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