Lowering the action on a ukulele

The string height at the first fret has always been way too high on my cheap starter ukulele. It made playing chords such as Bb pretty difficult, needing quite a lot of pressure to produce a clean sound. This can be solved by either lowering the nut or filing the string slots deeper.

I’ve had my Bowley for a while now and the yellow Vintage hasn’t had a lot of love, so I decided to have a go at lowering the action myself by sanding down the nut. You can see here the measurement before any modification:

First up, if you’re planning on trying at home this I take to responsibility for any damage you may do to yourself or your instrument! Haha! But anyway, here’s some tools you may need for the job (you may need glue also):

First you need to loosen the strings back (or remove) so you can get at the nut to knock it off. Knocking it off is fairly straightforward. Just give it a gentle love tap with a length of wood and a hammer. Strength of your tap will depend on how hard it’s glued down:

I measured previously and knew how much plastic I had to grind away so then it was just a matter of sanding it down, putting it back to check, sanding it down again, etc. Oh yeah some uke’s use bone, ivory or wooden nuts, which may be more difficult to sand.

Once you’ve got it down to the height you’re after, sand all the edges smooth, fix it back in place and then re-string your instrument. Now sit back, strum a fancy tune and marvel at your clever handywork:

So there you have it, simple steps for lowered string height and improved playability on your cheap uke!

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Filed under General Uke, Ukulele Tips

4 responses to “Lowering the action on a ukulele

  1. No way! I am so impressed! I have a friend who makes guitars from scratch, and he was checking out my guitar recently. He was really disturbed by its condition. Within minutes, he took out his tools, and voila….magic! My guitar is playing like it never has. Of course a Uke needs maintenance,too, but I never thought of it. Great blog post, and the pictures are awesome. Seems tricky to me to try on my own, but kudos to you for trying and being successful!

    • I’d never try this on a good quality uke or if I only had one ukeulele. I only attempted it because it was my cheapo uke and if I’d totally messed it up, I could just cut my losses. But I am pretty proud of my efforts!

  2. John

    the proper way to adjust nut height is to file each string grove so that the bottom of the string is the proper distance from the top of the first fret, this is usually about .020″. Once each string is setting at its proper depth the the top of the nut is then filed away so that the string sets in the slot, usually about half the diameter of the string. The point is so that the string is not dragging on the sides of the nut groove, like a hot dog in a bun. This is the way a nut is adjusted on stringed instruments. If you file a bit too much away in a string slot, a tiny bit of backing soda packed at the bottom of the slot and a very tiny drop of superglue will allow you a 2nd chance to set it at the correct distance. Just let the superglue harden then refile, then insert the string.

  3. cantoryakov

    I just bit up the courage and did this! On my uke (Islander MS-4) the nut fell right out. I used a nail file to bring the nut down by 2 mm, which changed everything for me! Now it’s much easier to hit Bb, F#, etc…

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