Ukulele Truss Rods (Everything You Need to Know)

Today I’m going to cover all of the basics about truss rods that you might need to know as a ukulele player.

More specifically, I’m going to cover the below topics.

Let’s jump straight into it!

What Truss Rods Are

A truss rod is a support rod that runs through the middle of the neck of a stringed instrument, like a ukulele or guitar.

Truss rods are usually made of steel, but in some rare cases they may also be made of carbon fiber.

The truss rod can be accessed from a few different places depending on the design of the instrument, including these locations:

  • Inside the sound hole of the instrument
  • At the base of the neck on the outside of the instrument
  • On the head of the instrument

The typical access point for a truss rod is inside the sound hole, and this is what that looks like:

Note: this picture was taken on an acoustic guitar, but ukulele truss rods look basically the same.

What Truss Rods Do

The purpose of a truss rod is to support the weight of the neck and the tension of the strings, without allowing the neck to bend too much.

Truss rods also allow you to straighten the neck of the instrument when it bends or swells due to changes in temperature and humidity.

Truss rods were first used in guitars, which have much larger and heavier necks compared to ukuleles.

Guitars also use steel strings which put WAY more tension on the instrument than the plastic strings that are typically used on a ukulele.

As a result…

Most Ukuleles Don’t Have Truss Rods

Most ukuleles don’t have truss rods because the plastic strings and smaller neck of the instrument don’t need as much support as other instruments, like the guitar. The vast majority of ukulele players use a soprano or concert ukulele, which are the smallest versions of the instrument.

Plus, truss rods are usually made from steel, and steel is heavy.

So, adding a truss rod to such a small instrument could mess up the balance of the ukulele, by making the neck weirdly heavy (compared to the body of the uke).

With that said, there are SOME ukuleles that do have truss rods…

Large Ukuleles Do Have Truss Rods

Large-bodied ukuleles, like a baritone ukulele or U-bass (ukulele bass), do sometimes have truss rods for the same reasons that a guitar would have a truss rod.

Specifically, the largest ukulele “types” have larger and heavier necks and they may also use strings with higher tension. In fact, you can even get metal strings for some ukes (though this is rare).

To illustrate this point further, the ukulele brand Lanikai manufacturers all of their ukuleles without truss rods EXCEPT for their baritone ukulele and their guitalele (which is a cross between a uke and a guitar).

In some cases, tenor ukuleles (which are smaller than a baritone, but still larger than a soprano) also come with built-in truss rods.

To summarize, here is a list of all of the ukulele “types” that sometimes come with truss rods:

  • Baritone
  • U-bass
  • Guitalele
  • Tenor

That covers if/when ukuleles have truss rods, now let’s talk about whether they are actually needed.

Do Ukuleles Need Truss Rods? (Are They Necessary?)

Ukuleles typically don’t need truss rods, especially small soprano and concert ukuleles, which are the most popular sizes. The tension of the plastic strings and the size of these ukulele’s necks, simply don’t require the reinforcement and adjustability a truss rod provides.

On the other hand, you might need a truss rod in your instrument if you have a guitalele or a baritone, tenor, or bass ukulele.

These instruments are much larger, have heavier necks, and can take strings with higher tension.

As a result, whether or not your ukulele needs a truss rod is entirely dependent on the type of ukulele you have.

If you’re having trouble figuring this out, because you don’t know what “type” of ukulele you have, don’t worry.

If you’re a beginner and just bought your first uke, or if you were given a ukulele, then you almost definitely have a soprano or a concert ukulele.

If you’re not satisfied with that answer, then pick up your ukulele and compare it with the ukulele size comparison in this video:

How to Adjust a Truss Rod on Your Ukulele

Now, if you’ve determined that your ukulele does have a truss rod installed, then you may also want to know how to adjust it.

The process for adjusting the truss rod on a ukulele is exactly the same as it is on an acoustic guitar, assuming you have an acoustic uke with an open sound hole.

Here’s a straightforward video demonstration of how to adjust a guitar’s truss rod:

And here, I’ll summarize the steps from the video above, and “translate” them for ukulele:

1. Tune the Ukulele

It’s important to get your ukulele tuned up before completing this process, as the tuning does affect the string tension.

2. Check the Current Neck Bend (Also Called the “Action”)

Put a finger on the first fret and on the last fret.

With your fingers still in place, look at the middle of the neck, and eye-ball the distance between the strings and the fret.

If there seems to be a big gap, then the truss rod needs to be tightened.

3. Tighten the Truss Rod

Get an allen wrench of the appropriate size.

Insert it into the end of the truss rod (inside the ukulele’s sound hole), and tighten.

Remember, right = tight!

4. Check the Neck Bend (Again)

Put a finger on the first and last fret again, and look at the distance between the fret and the string around the middle of the ukulele’s neck.

If it looks closer this time, then you can go ahead and get more accurate by measuring the distance between the string and the fret with a ruler.

The preferred “action” distance for a ukulele is about the same as on an acoustic guitar, which is around 2-2.5mm between the fret and the strings.

However, I have also heard that some people go as high as 3mm on baritone ukuleles. This mostly comes down to your personal preference.

5. Adjust further as needed.

If it’s not tight enough. Tighten it more.

If it’s too tight, loosen it back up a little bit.

And that’s all there is to it!

Do Kala Ukuleles Have Truss Rods?

I thought I’d wrap-up this post, by addressing whether Kala (one of the most popular ukulele brands), use truss rods.

I have a Kala ukulele, and it does NOT have a truss rod, but that doesn’t mean the same is true for every other Kala ukulele.

Similar to the general rules we’ve covered above:

Most Kala ukuleles don’t have truss rods, especially their soprano and concert size ukuleles. However, Kala does make baritone ukuleles that come with built-in truss rods.

This is typically how it works for other ukulele brands as well, with only the larger sizes of ukuleles being manufactured with truss rods.

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