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U-Bass strings and intonation

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by FlySig, Jan 12, 2014.

  1. FlySig


    Jan 10, 2014
    Good morning, new Kala U-Bass owner. I've played guitar for 40 years, never really tried bass until Christmas when Santa left an acoustic U-Bass. I love this little U-Bass. It is fun to play, and I'm looking forward to recording with it and playing out. I'm strictly a hobbiest and amateur musician.

    My only complaint other than a lack of talent is intonation. Especially on the D and G strings. It runs 1/4 step flat at each fretted note. Pressing harder or even bending a bit seems to have no affect at all. These strings just seem to keep on stretching when fretted. They're the black standard strings, which I presume are Road Toad Pahoehoe.

    The E and A strings are much closer for intonation.

    I'm ready to try some different strings. How are the Aquila Thundergut and the Pyramid Silver Plated Copper Wound for intonation?
  2. Gorn

    Gorn Supporting Member

    Dec 15, 2011
    Queens, NY
    Intonation is never perfect but shouldn't be flat at every fret. It's normally off at the octave. Are you fretting directly in between the frets as opposed to just before them as you would on a regular bass? The fretting hand also requires a light touch. It takes getting used to. If you're doing everything right, it may be the bass. Quality control can often be shoddy at best with ubasses.

    If you work things out with the ubass or get a new one, you've jumped into the ubass game at a great time. There's the much anticipated thunder reds on the way, as well as white nylon tapewounds from labella.
  3. FlySig


    Jan 10, 2014
    I've tried fretting in different places and also with varying pressure. From the 5th fret on up it is pretty terrible on the D and G strings. The notes are nearly 1/4 step flat, meaning they are as far off pitch as is possible. I've tried bending the strings into pitch and the pitch doesn't even change much, indicating the string is stretching a lot.

    I'd hate to have to return this thing if it is just the strings are too rubbery.

    Which brand of strings are sticky and require talc when playing?
  4. Gorn

    Gorn Supporting Member

    Dec 15, 2011
    Queens, NY
    The thunderguts and silver rumblers are sticky. It sounds like you got a bad ubass. I'd return or exchange it if i were you.

    What model is it exactly?
  5. davewave

    davewave Old and in the way...

    Jun 23, 2012
    Lincoln, NE
    Welcome to the club.
    These little basses can be fun, and frustrating.
    With no intonation adjustment, they will never be perfect, but most of us find them plenty good enough for amateur hobbyist use.

    As mentioned above, a ridiculously light touch, beyond what 40 years of guitar would condition you for, is the key to playing them to best effect.
    If you're having fun and want to stick with it, I'd recommend you try some other strings. Some guys love the factory strings, but enough of us don't to have created a market for alternatives.

    Your intonation and tuning stability would be much improved by a set of Pyramids. As a guitar player, you might be more comfortable with them, they're smaller diameter and more traditional feel.
    I've used them on my fretted acoustic since they became available from Kala. The intonation on it is very good.
    To get the best from them, I removed the shims from under the pickup saddle and had a new nut made, but you could try a set out without needing to go that far.

    Many of us also use Thunderguts and Silver Rumblers to good effect. Less stretchy, more stable tuning, reasonably accurate intonation.
    Any perceived "stickiness" can be minimized by a light application of pool cue talc from a small cotton dusting bag.


    Good luck with your bass, check out the Kala U-Bass Megathreads for more experiences and opinions.
  6. macmanlou

    macmanlou Don't push it. Just let it fall. Supporting Member

    Feb 14, 2007
    Washington, DC Area
    Try a fretless, then the intonation is as good as you make it.

    The fretted ones (especially the newer models) are usually OK down to the seventh fret or so.

    Make sure you "unload" the string tension at the nut and bridge while tuning up those Pahoehoe strings. I don't think that should affect intonation, but it's worth a try.
  7. Gorn

    Gorn Supporting Member

    Dec 15, 2011
    Queens, NY
    The other, more stable string options would certainly improve intonation, but a quarter step off across the board on the d and g? Of the 4 ubasses I've owned, none were ever that bad even with pahoehoes.

    Is exchanging it an option?
  8. FlySig


    Jan 10, 2014
    Exchange looks like a possibility. I don't have the original boxes but otherwise it should be returnable (online) for 2 more weeks.

    I measured it out just now and it seems a bit better. Maybe the strings are starting to settle?? The scale length isn't identical from nut -> 12th fret -> saddle, though. For those who like numbers:

    (Open string tuned using an excellent chromatic tuner)
    String 5th Fret 9th Fret 12th Fret
    G -25cents -45cents -45cents
    D -25cents -35cents -35cents
    A -5cents -15cents +10 cents
    E -5cents -15cents 0cents

    The scale from nut to 12th fret = 25.6 cm all strings
    G string 12th fret to saddle = 26.1 cm
    E string 12th fret to saddle = 26.3 cm
  9. FlySig


    Jan 10, 2014
    I did not know there were shims under the saddle. Lowering it might reduce the flat intonation a little bit. I can try that to see if it helps.

    If I keep this instrument I would be willing to experiment with the nut, too. Though my files are all guitar string sized, so I'd have to acquire some more. Perhaps doing a shelf nut type of mod, a la Buzz Feiten, to lengthen the distance from the nut to the 12th fret.
  10. When I got my fretless mahogany, the intonation was off quite a bit. When I switched to the silver rumblers for a bit, the intonation was almost perfect and the strings hardly had to settle in at all.I didn’t like the squeaking and stickiness of the SR’s so I put the paehoehoes back on. After a few weeks of stretching and restringing, the strings settled in and the intonation was close to perfect. Now almost a year later the intonation is right on and the strings stay in tune for several songs for the most part. Oddly enough when the strings do go out of tune they tend to go sharp! Iput some graphite in the nut hoping it would help but it didn’t, but it stays in tune so well I don’t worry about it much.
  11. FlySig


    Jan 10, 2014
    Since I have a few more weeks before having to return it, I'll just play it a bunch to see if the strings settle into better intonation. I may put some Pyramids on it too.
  12. macmanlou

    macmanlou Don't push it. Just let it fall. Supporting Member

    Feb 14, 2007
    Washington, DC Area
    LaBella is developing a set of "white" (actually clear) tapewounds for the U-Bass as well. If they work as well as they do on my 30" scale fretless, they'll be a great alternative.
  13. davewave

    davewave Old and in the way...

    Jun 23, 2012
    Lincoln, NE
    This is very interesting.
    Obviously, you understand the physics of music and what it takes to get a stringed instrument in tune and intonation.

    My two-year-old fretted spruce top, which plays in good intonation with Pyramids, is the same measurements within a millimeter.
    If anything, both my acoustic and solidbody tend to play slightly sharp up the neck, rather than flat.

    I doesn't appear there's a manufacturing defect in where your bridge was placed. It may well be down to strings, action, and touch.

    In my experience, plus or minus ten cents up and down the neck is good enough.
    But in your case, 45 cents is no good at all.
    The factory strings are so doggone elastic that I think some guys have found variations in diameter along the length of the string to mess up their intonation, which was cured by new strings.

    Some of us have had luck tuning at the fifth fret, and letting the open strings be slightly flat to get the best overall intonation up and down the neck.

    Is your saddle pickup white, with four separate sections for each string, each a different length?
    That's the original style. I understand the newer models use a wood saddle.
  14. FlySig


    Jan 10, 2014
    Dave, thanks for the comments.

    The saddle is dark and appears to be one piece of wood. I'll have it out later to remove a shim. There is no obvious differences in string diameter along the length when stretched to pitch. I've done the re-stringing and don't recall noticing anything obvious.

    I think I'll order some pyramids today to see how I like those.

    Tuning at the 5th fret is certainly a viable idea, at least for the D and G strings. Those don't seem to be played open very often. I agree that +- 10 cents is plenty close enough for most anything.
  15. I wish someone would come up with an adjustable bridge design for these (or acoustic basses in general). Electric basses have the pleasure of fully adjustable saddles, get an acoustic and you have to file the bridge down to lower the action, and you are stuck with whatever intonation is given to you out of the box.
  16. davewave

    davewave Old and in the way...

    Jun 23, 2012
    Lincoln, NE
    That's the new style, not the original like mine.

    Be freaking careful, I don't want to steer you wrong.
    There are likely no shims in yours.
    The transducer is probably sitting under the wooden saddle in a narrow slot in the bridge.
    It's delicate and touchy.
  17. Seamus Dunne

    Seamus Dunne

    Sep 23, 2014
    Fix U-Bass intonation: how to move the saddle

    I've owned an acoustic spruce-top Ubass for a few years. From the first day intonation was flat, very similar to other complaints here... whether very new strings or 6-months old, lubricated-nut, etc...despite careful tuning....I love it but my Ubass ALWAYS played flat. I understand the physics very well .... the problem is not my touch, not the strings, not the age of strings nor the weather. The problem is the location of the saddle & bridge. FYI y Ubass has the plastic one of the stepped or staggered type saddle not a straight type.

    The store where i bought it sent me new Pahoehoe strings ....no improvement. Later I returned the Ubass to Kala factory in California; they tested it with yet another set of new Pahoehoe strings. Kala concluded that my Ubass was perfect; I could get a refund or get the same instrument back. I chose to get it back, which cost me $55 in shipping. But after receiving it intonation was not any better. Several excellent tuners + my ears told me it still played flat. I installed white Thundergut strings....I really liked the better tone but intonation problem was still present, same as before.

    Then I had an idea: shorten the strings. I tried shortening the D & G strings by machining the slot in the bridge so the saddle would make the D & G strings approx 3-4mm shorter, while leaving E string almost unchanged. It was a tricky operation but I was very confident in my abilities. YES! this helped quite a bit: now all open strings were in-tune & upper notes on each string were also in tune, especially D & G—all the way up to 14th fret.... very close to perfect. The pickup still worked perfectly too. My ears were happy.

    So try this mod if you dare. Pix attached. I can provide more details if anyone wants.

    Attached Files:

    okcrum likes this.
  18. FlySig


    Jan 10, 2014
    I'm not nearly brave enough to do that kind of modification!

    A set of Pyramids has solved the problem for me and I actually prefer the feel and tone of the Pyramids.