Ukulele Saddle

Adjusting The Action On Your Ukulele

I’ve been watching loads of videos on setting up a ukulele recently and I thought I’d have a go at lowering the action on my Peavey concert ukulele. Here’s how I did it…

What’s the action?

The action on a ukulele is effectively the gap between the strings and the fretboard. Typically at the nut end the action will be quite low but the further you get up the neck it will be higher and this is where it really starts to affect your playing. If the strings are too high from the fretboard it will be difficult to play. If they’re too close then you may get some buzzing.

Step 1 – Measure the action

The first step I took was to measure the action on my ukulele. I did this by taking a metal ruler and measuring the gap between the top of the 12th fret and the strings above it. Actually this is more difficult than it sounds as all the rulers I own have a slight overlap before the measurements start of around 3mm or so. That said, I could tell the action was too high on my ukulele just by the feel of it (and also just by comparing it to my other ukuleles).

Step 2 – Remove the saddle

The next step I took was to take the saddle off the ukulele. The saddle is held in place by the strings, so simply by loosening the strings with the tuners the saddle will slide out nice and easy. And it did.

Slide Saddle Out

Step 3 – Put a marker on the saddle

With the saddle removed I then put a marker on it 1mm from the bottom. I used a fine line sharpie and the steel ruler that I’d measured the action with. I thought this would make a nice visible guide and stop me from sanding off too much and ending up with a buzzing ukulele.

Saddle Tools

Step 4 – Get sanding/filing

It’s time to get filing! I had a piece of fine sandpaper that I thought would do the job. I put the sandpaper on a flat surface and then tried to hold the saddle with even pressure whilst I sanded it down. This was actually tougher than I expected. There’s not a lot to grip on a saddle and even though I felt like I was keeping it pretty flat, that turned out to not be the case and I had to make some slight adjustments to even it out.

I found it worked much better using big long movements rather than a short back and forth motion to sand the saddle down.

Filing Ukulele Saddle

Step 5 – Slide the saddle back into place and tighten strings

With your newly adjusted saddle you can simply slide it back into place on your bridge and tighten your strings back up. Now it’s time to get your ukulele back in tune. The strings will take a lot of tightening to get back to the right pitch. This is the step that took me the longest which tells you just how fast and easy the whole process is.

So there it is, a much simpler process than I anticipated and I successfully managed to lower the action on my ukulele with losing a finger or breaking my uke. Who’d have thought? I actually think I could afford to go a little bit further with my saddle and will probably repeat the above steps at some point to lower the action a little more.

If anyone has any tips on keeping the saddle flat whilst sanding I’d love to hear them!

 

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12 thoughts on “Adjusting The Action On Your Ukulele

  1. Good description of lowering the action. I wonder though if this would have the effect of also lowering the strings in the strumming area and cause the strumming hand to brush against the body.

    1. Hi Richard, I think you’d have to be going pretty low (too low) with the saddle for that to happen and other problems like buzzing would probably arise before that became a problem anyway.

    1. I’ll be honest with you Bob, I’ve never heard of anyone doing that and I can sort of see why. I’m guessing it would be pretty tricky to match all the grooves up and there’s no real reason to do it. There are some ukuleles that do have slotted saddles but they’re pretty rare. The Lanikai Tuna Uke that I reviewed actually had individual saddles like an electric guitar although I don’t believe they were also slotted.

      1. I just thought it might be easier than filing or sanding the whole saddle down and it’s easier to see how much you’re dropping each string

        1. The main reason for not doing that Bob is that it makes it very hard to keep the break angle right on the top of the saddle. That point is essential for accurate scale length. Much easier to sand the base and leave the top alone.

          1. This an old comment (more than 6 months old) I didn’t sand the bottom of the action , I filed each groove on the top of the action equally and it’s been working great ! Much easier to get the barred chords with out buzzing. I don’t know why when building the uke they couldn’t be a little more precise! I did put a new set of better strings on while I had it apart.
            I could have gone more but didn’t want to take the chance of strings buzzing.

  2. I think it would be unwise to file individual slots in the saddle, unless you really know what you’re doing. You might well leave the action different for different strings, and there is a danger that you might be left with sharp edges that could damage the strings, causing them to snap. You might also get buzzing if the string moves even slightly in the groove you’ve cut. In the end, I think that it’s going to be easier to file the underneath of the saddle, as described above, even if it means having to do it two or three times until the desired action is achieved.

      1. I filed the bottom of the saddle and notched the top. I sanded the notches after filing. I dropped the action about 1/8″, and put on new strings. Working great ! Less power needed and no buzzing !

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