Each ukulele that leaves our warehouse will undergo a strict QC and setup process by our experienced staff. We would like to show you exactly what we do. The setup process is fairly similar for all instruments but we will spend more time on the more expensive models. The budget models will receive all of the crucial basic checks but we won’t spend as much time on things such as fretboard lemon oil.
Before starting the setup, we check for anything cosmetic that is going to make the uke defective. We check for wood inconsistencies, chips, cracks or dents.
A neck which is slightly off centre is a bad instrument. This is one of the most important things to check. We look to see if there is any bowing of the neck or inconsistencies there.
A quick check of the bridge to make sure there is no issues there.
Depending on the ukulele, we like to set the action at 2.5mm to 3.0mm in height. This is the distance between the strings and the 12th fret. If the strings are too high, the instrument becomes uncomfortable to play, if the strings are too low, it can cause fret buzz. Typically, the cheaper ukulele makers like to set the action really high, so they avoid fret buzz. This solves one problem, but causes an even bigger one. This is why we set the action in the 2.5 to 3.0mm range.
If the action needs adjusting it will always need to be lowered. We loosen the strings, so that we can slide the saddle out and adjust it’s height accordingly. We mark the saddle and then sand it down evenly. Once that’s done, we put the saddle back in and bring the uke back up to pitch. A quick measure and we are done with the saddle.
We use feeler gauges to check that the strings are low enough to play comfortably but no fret buzz is occurring. These adjustments are very fine but often they make a big difference to the playability. We use a special nut file and then low grit sandpaper.
We will check every string and every fret and identify any fret buzzing and then address those issues.
Often the cause of fret buzzing will be that the frets aren’t level. For example, the 2nd fret might be slightly higher than the 3rd, this cause issues because the string will be slightly touching the higher fret when it shouldn’t be. This is a fairly simple fix, we use a fret levelling file to even out the frets. 90% of the time, this fixes any fret buzzing issues.
The fret file will typically flatten out the top of the frets and they will require a fret recrown. A flat top on a fret can certainly throw out your intonation because it changes the scale length ever so slightly but this certainly affects the intonation of the instrument. You end up with an instrument that isn’t too bad, but not great either. A fret recrown means we reshape the tops of the frets so they are a pyramid shape. We will sand down the frets also to give them a nice shiny finish.
Sometimes we find sharp edges on the fret ends, so we files those off. A sharp edge can be uncomfortable for the player, so this step is quite important and fairly easy to do.
Depending on the amount of work that’s been done on the fretboard, the frets may require a quick sand with a 400 grit sandpaper to give it a nice finish. This improves the comfort of the instrument when playing
We take a really low grit steelwool and get any of the little abrasions out of the fretboard. Again this will depend on the individual instruments. Most come in really good shape but occasionally a ukulele will need this treatment applied.
If a fret redress is required, we will typically need to clean the fretboard. We will do this with a microfiber cloth. For the more expensive models, we like to add some Dunlop lemon oil to the fretboard to give it a really crisp finish The oil also helps to get moisture into the fretboard which improves the comfort of sliding your hands up and down the fretboard when playing.
So that covers our setup process. Each instrument is a little different, so the work will vary on each instrument. This gives you a good idea of what your ukulele undergoes.