When browsing the ukulele market have you ever seen the word "setup"? Often people are not sure what this means, or they don't understand why a new ukulele would need this.
Well believe it or not, most ukuleles do not "feel GOOD", or at least as good as they could, right out of the box. They feel "OK", but very rarely have ideal "action". Action is the height of the strings from the fretboard. Measuring from the top of the fret to the bottom of the string at the 12th fret, you should have( 6-8/64ths or 2.5-3mm) or you end up having to push harder to get a good sound. This can make you slightly out of tune and hinder your enjoyment and progress on the ukulele. How high your strings need to be without buzzing on the frets is determined by what your playing style or technique can handle.
Your goal to sound better on the ukulele is something you should work toward the easiest way possible. It is easier to learn songs and techniques, and get better, faster, on a quality instrument with a good setup.
The biggest factor in our setup is the string action. On a Pono ukulele there is a truss rod to adjust, but on most ukes you are only dealing with an adjustment from the two points that the strings rest on. The nut (at the beginning of the fretboard- it has slots that the strings sit in and go through) and the saddle (on the belly of the top is the bridge and inside that sits a saddle - the string rests on the saddle and is locked in at the bridge). The lower you go on those two points, the lower your action is, and the easier it becomes to play. However lowering the saddle and nut slots will create a disturbing problem at some point.
Fret Buzz! Most ukes need a "fret dress" or fret leveling to be blessed with "ideal action". When we lower the action to a comfortable height, the strings buzz because the neck or frets are not level enough. But Why? Don't these companies know what they are doing? Of course, but there are two factors here. One is that these are wooden handmade instruments. They are not iPads. No matter how cheap you got your ukulele, it was handmade. Asia seems to be making most and, as a whole, they are still hand shaping their necks and hammering in their frets. Their is some talent and devotion in those factories, but in the end, their is no way for the instrument to sell whole sale for $40 and it get as much attention and quality control as an instrument that sells for $140 and the same for that one to the one that sells for $400. And that leads into the second factor, reality. What quality level is even possible? I cant even buy the materials to start to build an ukulele for less than $100. So keep this in mind when judging the value of an inexpensive ukulele.
Every uke company we carry is doing good work and putting out a lot of value even before we set them up. Every single one does an amazing job for the price. That's why we buy them. But when we level the frets and lower the action it takes it to another level of appreciation. And that is our goal. So if you have already gotten an ukulele and it was not setup, can you do it yourself? Well, at your own risk. In this video we give step by step procedures. Joel Blechinger, Chris Murray, and Elijah Oguma do the majority of our setups right now. These guys have lots of experience. They have been doing ukulele setups full time for years. Get an ukulele from us and experience the best value on the market. We are not usually the cheapest option. But we all sincerely believe we give you best bang for your buck. Aloha from us here at The Ukulele Site.
This is a recent podcast we did about setup -