Fluke headApplause headLanikai headPono neckkala bodyMahalo bodyCigar box componentsBoat Paddle side holeSoprano and tenor bodies8-string and 4-string tenorsNumerous tenor ukesApplause bodyMainland mangoLyra baritone

Anatomy of a ukulele

Know your anatomy! That way you can converse sagely about a ukulele and discuss the finer points of construction, as well as know what to buy and where to put it.

The uke has three main segments: head, neck and body. The head holds the tuning pegs and these anchor one end of the strings. The neck holds the fretboard. The body generates the sound, and holds the bridge, which anchors the other end of the strings.

The body has two areas called bouts - upper (closer to the neck) and lower, separated by the waist.

Uke anatomyUke head

Lyra head, tunersThe tuning heads shown above and in the left column of photos are geared. They may also be friction tuners like those shown at the left. While traditional friction tuners have their heads at the back of the headstock, Fluke and Flea ukuleles have them on the side of the headstock (see top left column).

A third kind of tuner is a rotary or planetary tuner, common on banjos but starting to show up on some ukuleles (e.g. as an option for the new solid body Fluke). While it looks like a friction tuner, it actually has its gears inside the shaft, making it a geared tuner. Planetary tuners are also heavier than either geared or friction tuners.

Uke neck

The neck is joined to the body anywhere from the 12th to the 15th fret usually with a taller section called the heel. Cigar box heelSee picture of Cigar Box uke, left. Note that the Cigar Box also sports a strap pin at the heel.

Depending on the manufacturer, fret markers will be before (head side) of the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th (or 10th), 12th and 15th frets. The 12th fret traditionally has a double dot marker. For unknown reasons, many uke makers do not put markers at the third fret (but they should!). There may also be fret markers inlaid along the upper side of the fretboard (the left side when facing you). These are also visible in the photograph on the left.

Old, vintage frets are usually brass. Newer frets are called nickel-silver but they're really a nickel-brass-zinc alloy (no silver in them at all - the name refers to the colour). Some are even a gold alloy or stainless steel. None of these materials should rust, but the copper in brass is susceptible to oxidation.

In places with high humidity (especially cities with poor air quality), or if you're close to the ocean where you get salt in the breeze, the brass may show a greenish discolouring (called verdigris). A bit of gentle metal polish (a low-abrasion paste is best), carefully applied, can remove this. I've also read people use a product called NEVR-DULL (I've used this on metals with great effect, not on frets).

I suggest you put painter's tape or a similar low-glue tape on each side of the fret when you work, because the polish can discolour the wood. To prevent it from getting into the pores, oil the fretboard first. And remove the strings, of course. You can also make or buy a guide that exposes the fret wire, and covers the fretboard while you work (like this one]. You can make one out of an old credit card or a piece of an old plastic jug with a fairly flat side.

If the discolouration proves stubborn, some luthiers suggest using an extra-fine steel wool (grade 0000) to help remove the material, but I'd recommend you try a plastic pot scrubber first because it won't mar the fret board.

Oiling the fretboard will help prevent this in future, but not forever.

Uke body

Applause bridge and saddleBinding is standard, but decorative binding like the rope binding shown above on this Mainland red cedar, is optional.

Saddles may be straight, slightly angled or compensated like the Applause (see closeup picture on left - each string has its own mini-saddle with its peak moved slightly forwards or backwards to ensure the proper intonation for that string alone).

Like many ukuleles, the strings on the Applause are tied to the bridge. Some ukes, however, have holes in the bridge through which the strings are fed. Some of those with holes may also use guitar-style bridge pins to hold the ends in place. Tail pieces are uncommon on ukuleles, but may still be seen on banjo ukes.

Note the decorative "epaulets" on the Applause at left, surrounding the smaller sound holes. Also note the side sound hole on the Boat Paddle, pictured above. Sound holes do not need to be central, or large, although this is the traditional placement and size. See the

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Mainland Ukuleles