Ukulele intonation – compensating the saddle

I bought a cheap Makala pineapple ukulele secondhand on eBay – I couldn’t justify anything expensive. Overall I’m very happy with it – the tone is fine & it holds its tune. However the intonation (tuning) of the fretted notes was poorer than I’d like particularly on the C (lowest and thickest) string.

There are a number of reasons why this can happen:

  • The nut and/or the saddle is too high, so the string gets stretched when you press your finger down. This raises the pitch.
  • The saddle needs to compensate for the thickness of the string. Thicker strings don’t bend and vibrate in exactly the same way as thinner strings so the length needs to be slightly different.

Adjustable compensated saddles are a standard feature of electric guitars and basses providing screw adjustment of the length of the string. However for some reason they are not standard on acoustic instruments – maybe just because of the weight. Expensive ukuleles have fixed compensated saddles but cheaper ones (and mine is very cheap) don’t.

I checked the action (distance from string to fret) at the first fret and the 12th fret and these appeared to be ok – well within the figures given on the websites I found.

So what I needed to do was move the saddle away from the fretboard for the thickest (C) string. This involved cutting back the saddle until the intonation was correct at the 12th fret. Even on a cheap instrument this is a bit daunting.

To make the process reversible I bought a new saddle. I rubbed it on fine sandpaper until it was the right size to fit into the slot. The old saddle could be slid out once the strings were slackened.

Checking the tuning at the 12th fret
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