• Layne D

Ukulele care and maintenance tips.

Does your uke need a service? How would you even know if it did? We all love our instruments, but we may not always know what is best for them, or how to best take care of them. Sometimes there might even be something wrong with our instrument and we don't even know it! So today we are going to give you some tips on how you can keep your uke in the best condition possible, and how to tell when it needs a bit of a service.

Set yourself up for success! Firstly you want to try and set yourself up for success by getting a good quality instrument from the very start. This doesn't mean you have to break the bank, but you should try to get the best instrument you can afford. As far as quality ukes go anything from $200 upwards should be appropriate, anything under $50 just isn't going to sound good. For more on this topic read our last blog post ' Things to know before you buy a Uke'.

Now that you've got that great uke that you really love you need to try to keep it in good condition. Obviously we're not talking 'mint' condition here, but we do have some tips to keep it going strong so you can enjoy your instrument at its best for longer.

A great place to live. Remember, timber is quite a sensitive resource, being the porous and vibrant asset it is, it can be incredibly reactive to it's environment. That is one of the reasons we love to use it so much, it sounds so alive and natural. It sings and has it's own uniqueness to it. So the environment that the instrument is kept in needs to be considered. Timber reacts most to moisture, and over time if these periods of moisture or high humidity are quite extreme this can cause damage to a timber stringed instrument. Generally this kind of damage is most severe on instruments with poor glue joints to begin with i.e. joints that were relying too heavily on glue instead of a good timber joint. But no instrument is 100% immune to this. That is just the nature of wood, especially in our harsh Australian climate with its extremes of wet and dry periods, or times of high humidity, moisture and steam, all of which can make these timbers move. For example, if an instrument is kept in a house constantly that can be fine most of the time, but if it is in a room that is overly moist that moisture could be causing damage that you don't know about, and the instrument can even get this kind of damage while in a case.

How to best prevent damage to your instruments. If your stringed instrument is well looked after it's timbers may not move much over time, but if it is travelling around a lot, maybe in a caravan or being taken to lots of gigs these sorts of things can expose the instrument to more of the elements, so it will need more attention more often.

Weather shifts can be unknown so that adds another variable that needs to be considered. To reduce this problem you can keep it in a case. Storing an instrument in a case is an easier way to keep a micro climate and control that micro climate than it is to control a whole room/ car or house. There are humidifiers and dehumidifiers that you can put in there with them, and they can be very helpful. If you do have an instrument that you keep in the case all the time and never use then it keep in mind that it can get damaged just from lack of use. If it is locked away untouched in the case and changes through all these different weather conditions throughout the season and you are unaware of it, the instrument could get mildew, splits, the timber may move, weevils can move in and start to destroy the instrument and case, and moths can get in and lay eggs, so playing it often will to help keep it in a playable condition. Instruments can also sometimes get a bit of shock if they are kept in a micro climate like a case or a climate controlled room constantly, and then used at something like a humid bar or a festival where conditions are extreme. So be careful to give it time to adjust to the new environment before playing to assist the situation as much as possible. Protect them from the heat! After humidity, heat is the number one cause of damage to musical instruments here in Queensland. Leaving the instrument in a hot car, hot room or hot caravan is the most common cause of this heat related damage, because most of the time people just aren't aware that the instrument is getting hot. If it is in a hot car they generally aren't in the car with it. It may even be in a hot music room that gets sun during a time of the day when they aren't home to realize it. It doesn't take much heat to start to do damage, it starts to happen at around 40 degrees Celsius. At 40 degrees Celsius you will start to soften glue and 70 degrees Celsius the glue will liquefy. Paired with the tension in the strings things can start to break apart fairly quickly. These issues can all be repaired, and they are problems we commonly deal with. One of our recommendations would be that if you have a very sensitive instrument that you only use that instrument for at home use and recording, and a slightly more affordable one for gigging or touring to avoid damaging a cherished or valuable instrument.

How can you tell when your instrument needs a service? Playability is going to be the most noticeable thing. You may get some buzzing too, but you would need a relatively trained ear to notice the subtle sound difference. Even just changing from inside to outside can change the way the instrument sounds, it just depends on whether you can notice it. Whereas going from inside to outside doesn't change the playability of an instrument, however, time and neglect can affect playability. The action on a guitar is the distance between the strings and the fretboard. There are two types of guitar action. If there is low action then the strings are closer to the fretboard, and a high action means the strings are further away from the fretboard. If over time an action becomes too high it can be difficult to press the strings down and it can make the instrument play sharp. i.e. the notes won't be in tune with each other any more, and generally the higher up the neck you go the worse your instrument will get. If the action gets too low from movement then you will get buzzes or strings that just won't ring out any more. The strings are going to stretch and go up in pitch, so if the instrument is playing out of tune that is one sign that it might need to be looked at. If the instrument is uncomfortable to play that is another sign.

Diagram of the main parts on a uke. Starting with the tuners, followed by the nut. At the bottom we have the bridge and saddle.

One spot to keep an eye on is where the bridge glues down onto the body of the instrument, if the seam doesn't look like it is joined chances are your bridge is coming off and needs to be adhered by a professional.

Some of these issues are just age related, and can't really be avoided. Some can be prevented with better car of the instrument in the first place, and other times these things can happen due to the instrument being poorly made initially.

Everything else tends to be more obvious damage, although when I say that I mean more obvious to me. We have had people bring in instruments where they haven't really realized that the bridge is coming off the instrument, but they get a bit of a feeling that it needs to be looked at. When this happens the maintenance required can be assessed based on the personal value of the instrument.

What does it cost to get an instrument repaired? As far as my own prices go, setups etc are generally around $85* for a uke setup, but guitars would be a bit more. For heavier damage that would be more expensive, of course any of this damage would have to be assessed first, but my rough prices for things like bridges coming off is around $100-$150* depending on severity. Crack repairs are around $75* if the crack needs to be glued and braced. Necks that have been cracked in half, or cracked head stocks would be on the more expensive end, around $300-$400* worth, so at this point the instrument would really have to be worth more than that to the customer. Ninety percent of the time when we are doing work on an instrument we will do a string change. You can either bring in replacement strings yourself or we can provide them at around $17 for the ukulele strings on top of the cost of the repair. It is easier to do any repairs this way and it means your instrument comes back feeling nice and new all over again. We hope these handy tips have helped you to know how to best maintain your instrument, and remember we are always here to help if you need it. It always feels great to get an instrument up and running again for a client., so if you have any questions please get in touch!

*These prices are based on our 2021 repair pricelist.