I’ve received quite a few questions in the last few months regarding the new “Tuna Uke” bridge system from Lanikai Ukuleles. For those not familiar with this recent innovation, it incorporates forward/backward adjustable bridge saddles into standard ukulele design, which provides a huge improvement in the instruments “intonation”, or ability to play in tune at all points on the fretboard. The movable bridge saddles can be nudged forward to shorten the string length or shifted back to lengthen it, which allows for correction of some of the common pitfalls that most ukes suffer from, especially in the under $100 price range.
Have you ever noticed that when you tune your ukulele up and play one chord it sound great, but then another chord will sound sour and out of tune? Have you found that different octaves of the same note played in different places on the fingerboard sound slightly “off”? Traditionally this has been something that you just have to accept, but now there is a solution: the Tuna Uke bridge from Lanikai!
Although it does take some experience to make these simple adjustments, it requires no tools other than a chromatic clip on tuner and a small “poking device” such as a screwdriver, pen, or drill bit. Here is a video I did on how you can easily make these compensations from the comfort of your own home!
Now back to the point of this article: How to lower the TunaUke string action. All Tuna Uke equipped ukes come with an extra set of slightly taller saddle inserts that allow you to easily raise the action on the instrument if you would like the string height to be a little higher, but many people have asked “that’s great, but how do you lower the existing saddles if you want lower string action?”. This can absolutely be done, and with nothing more than a small screwdriver and a piece of sandpaper. Here is a video I recently shot on this lowering the TunaUke saddles:
Here is a list of helpful things to remember as you go through this process.
1) Snap a Picture of the bridge BEFORE you begin working. I always try to have a reference picture to look at if I forget small details about a project I’m working on. Although this process is very straight forward, this is a good habit to develop. If you forget how something was, just check the picture! This will also help you get the saddle positions for correct intonation back with less effort.
2) Go slowly! Don’t rush, that is how mistakes happen. Definitely lower the saddles in small increments so you don’t go to far and end up with a buzzy mess when you go back to playing. Between each adjustment tune up that particular string and check the entire length of the fretboard for the buzzes or red flag behavior!
3) When removing the saddles for adjustment just push them out with a pen or screwdriver. They are a little bit tight, but don’t require much pressure. Don’t push so hard that you lose control and scrape the uke!
4) Be sure to keep a FLAT angle when filing the saddles and only remove material from the TOP of the piece! If you file from the bottom the saddle will become too loose in the bridge to work and you will have to start over with a new one. Don’t stress though, Lanikai can provide you with extras!
5) Don’t lose the string slot in the saddle. As you file the insert, you will naturally be removing material and grinding through the slot that guides the string. No big deal, just use a small needle file ($5 at Lowes) or the corner edge of a larger file to cut the slot deeper as you go. This can also be done with a razor blade, but be very careful, you will need your fingers to play once the uke is set up.
I guess that will just about do it! If you have any questions about the process, or the Lanikai TunaUke system in general feel free to give me a call (John Gonzalez) at Fan Guitar and Ukulele (804) 254-4600.
The Lanikai TunaUke bridge system provides a simple yet affordable solution to the age old problem of ukulele intonation. It is truly an innovation that will be heard around the world, quite literally!