Am Luthier now

No, not Luther. I’m not wrestling my inner darkness to solve crimes. I’m wrestling nuts and saddles to make my ukulele sound nice.

One of the most important lessons that I’ve learned about fixing stuff is that Sometimes It Didn’t Come Right from the Factory.

It’s really easy to assume that the source of the problem isn’t the Thing Itself, it’s you.


I’ve had my rather posh ukulele for a few years now, and I’ve never been able to get a nice sounding G chord out of it. I assumed it was my bad technique, because it’s a good brand and cost me quite a lot.

Then last week (ish) I bought the banjolele and a book of technical exercises, because Lockdown. And everything on the banjolele sounded great. Scales were in tune, G chord didn’t sound horrible.

It wasn’t me. Which always comes as something of a surprise.

To the Internet, Batman. Apparently it’s a common issue with plastic fun ukes that the strings go sharp as you head up the frets. I’m a tad tetchy that it’s also an issue with a mahogany concert uke. But once you know what’s gone wrong you can start finding out how to fix it.

How do you fix it? You take the saddle and the nut out and file them down, really really carefully. And then you cut an Anchor plastic butter tub into little bits and shim them back up again because it’s surprisingly easy to overshoot. Don’t ask me how I know.

Relaxing into the idea that actually, it is broke and you should try and fix it has been a big challenge for me but it’s also a total liberation. “What a man can do,” remember?

You’d think that a musical instrument would come set up correctly out of the box, but I suppose when you work in a factory chucking them together on a production line the niceties get lost. So have a go yourself. Fine tune it. Get it a bit wrong and rescue it. And revel in the beauty of your G chord once it’s done.


Filed under Riding

3 responses to “Am Luthier now

  1. This is Really Good Stuff. I use a luthier in Leicester for my new instruments; he does a set-up which sits comfortably with my playing style (if you can call it that). From then on I do my own fettling and tweaking. I wouldn’t have the nerve to strip down something from scratch – the guy I use asked me to play a bunch of closed/open chords and the intro to my favourite song. From that five minutes he diagnosed my strengths (few), weaknesses (many) and restructured the fretboard and bridge, so that the action fitted my minimalist style 🙂 Doing it yourself, as you have done, is brilliant work. Congrats

  2. It’s been a long time since I tugged at a G-string. 😦

  3. I’m back to fiddling, with my guitar thanks to the pandemic and finishing a lot of projects over the last almost year. I have to admit to scanning the web for electric guitar information. I know next to nothing of them. Being a Saxophone player since I was a grade-schooler. But, I quit that thanks to an injury to my hearing and lack of time. I’ve had an acoustic guitar almost as long as the sax, and only managed to teach myself a bit. Now, with a grandson who likes to pull at the strings, I’m back to wandering around the fingerboard again. I need to get into a routine. I found a good blues video source on YouTube. Exercises there will be my start. I figure it is good exercise for arthritic hands as well.

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