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Thread: Moving up to a better uke?

  1. #1
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    Lightbulb Moving up to a better uke?

    Just a thought or two from my experience. I've been playing for about 8 months now and a month or two ago I decided that if I was going to work as hard as I was at it, I deserved a better uke.
    The one I was playing most, (I had 3 by then), was fine, but I figured that a really high quality instrument would be that much better.
    I went ahead and purchased a pretty decent uke, the kind that professionals often played. It is gorgeous and sounds great

    BUT... I don't enjoy playing it. it feels "tight"?? for want a of a better word. The action seems stiff, and my fingers get sore very quickly. I changed the strings, checked the action, played it more to see if I just needed to get used to it.
    It's OK, but I really enjoy playing my much less expensive Kala TEM more. To me, it sounds just as good, is louder, more resonant, certainly lighter, and my fingers don't hurt nearly as quickly when playing it, and that's weird, because the strings on both ukes are the same and they're both tenors

    The lesson? I guess it's obvious, PLAY before buying. My gorgeous pro level uke may be the best thing you can get for less than $1200, but I should have played one first. If your cheap entry level instrument feels good and sounds good...stick with it like a good friend.

    Did I mention, play any uke before buying it?

  2. #2
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    A string change is an easy test to see if it fixes the 'tight' problem.

    If your strings have too high tension (for your desired tone, or the build of THAT specific uke) they can actually inhibit proper vibration of the soundboard since they themselves cannot vibrate freely enough...

    I've observed the following after testing over 100 discrete sets of strings:

    • Thinner strings = more sustain = less tension = less volume = brighter tone
    • Thicker strings = less sustain = more tension = more volume = warmer tone

  3. #3

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    I didn't like my Kanile'a at first for the very same reason, it felt tight and twangy. Changed the strings and haven't looked back!

  4. #4
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    Try concert scale fluorocarbon strings on it, I use them on my tenor scale ukes, (Living Water in my case).
    Long Neck = Kala KA-SLNG - Ohana SK30M - Ohana SK30L - Ohana CK35L
    Electric = Mahalo 'Surfboard' concert - RISA Solid/Stick concert - RISA Uke Ellie tenor - RISA Solid/Stick tenor
    Concert = Baton Rouge Hotrod - Baton Rouge Sun thinline cutaway - Kala KA-CEME - Kala KA-ASAC
    Tenor = Kala KA-T (fitted with classical guitar strings DGBE)
    Baritone = Lani solid Spruce top - Kala solid Cedar top

  5. #5
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    If the "lesser" uke is more comfortable and you like it better, stick with it. In the first year of playing uke a little over four years ago, I went through 16 tenors under $200, then I decided to find a better one. I was very reluctant to spend over $1000 for one of the "K" brands, but I went to a couple of places and tested them, which all sounded and played very well. Then I came across a Kala tenor cutaway with solid cedar top, acacia koa body and padauk biding (KAATP-CTG-CE) for $380 that I thought sounded and felt so good that I couldn't understand why it was necessary to spend almost three times as much when this one was so close to the expensive ones. So I culled my pack to four, with the Kala being my go to. Since then I'm up to seven that are all under $500 and all sound and feel very good.
    Last edited by kohanmike; 10-08-2017 at 07:50 PM.


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  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by Booli View Post
    A string change is an easy test to see if it fixes the 'tight' problem.

    If your strings have too high tension (for your desired tone, or the build of THAT specific uke) they can actually inhibit proper vibration of the soundboard since they themselves cannot vibrate freely enough...

    I've observed the following after testing over 100 discrete sets of strings:

    • Thinner strings = more sustain = less tension = less volume = brighter tone
    • Thicker strings = less sustain = more tension = more volume = warmer tone
    That was the first thing I did. Now both have Living Water flourocarbon strings, same thickness, same scale...much different feel. Actually the Kala has a slightly higher action, yet feels "softer" Go figure.

  7. #7
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    I had been playing about 2 years last Christmas when I got UAS for a cedar topped solid rosewood Ohana and spent almost as much on it as I had for all my other (7) Ukes. My cheap Caramels have all been set up and provide me with very playable and good intoned instruments with strings that sound good.

    While "Rosy" the TK-50G is a very nice Uke it is not a strummer, the 3rd string booms if unfretted. As a consequence , I play my others much more.

    Some day I will learn to pick notes and it will get played more. The last few days I have been working with my concert to learn to play notes and read the Treble Cleft, so I hope soon to be worthy of playing Rosy. Then I 'll have to teach my right hand to pick notes and Rosy will get more play, but I'm not selling my Zebrawoods.

  8. #8
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    Strings can make a huge difference, as others have said. The same is true for the tuning: some ukes (and uke sizes) sound and feel better in alternative tunings. But, overall I agree. The price tag isn't necessarily a good indicator for compatibility or even sound quality. Price isn't solely determined by materials and quality, but also by prestige and reputation. Makers charge what the market is willing to pay. Professional musicians are frequently sponsored (it's excessive in the guitar world, but also common in the ukulele scene), which increases the prestige of a brand, and with that the price.

    It's the same for all instruments. More expensive instruments tend to be "better" (materials, playability), but sound is subjective and compatibility is something you can't predict unless you had an instrument for some time. I think this accounts for UAS (or other *AS afflictions). I had an expensive uke from a maker that everyone loves, that was more costly than any of my other ukes, the sound was good, and there was nothing objectively wrong with it, but I didn't like it. It didn't click with me, and so I returned it. That is probably a valuable lesson: If you buy something and within two weeks you don't love it, or you have thoughts like "This is nice, but what I already have is just as good or even better", return it. Hanging onto it and expecting to fall in love with it later on is a gamble, because chances are that you'll sell it a few months or years down the road, after it collected dust, and then you get maybe half of what you paid back.

    Playing any uke (or instrument) before you buy it isn't a viable option for high end instruments, unless you're one of the lucky few who live close to an extremely well-stocked store. This was a problem for me with ukes. In retrospect, I wish I had skipped the gradual upgrade process, but then again, I would never have been able to refine my preferences without trial and error. It was easier with the next stringed instrument I got into, because now I had a pretty good idea what works for me and what I want from an instrument. What I would do different with ukes now is to buy used, and sell quickly if something doesn't work for me. I would also go for a high end instrument right away, but that is difficult to do before someone knows what is important to them.

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by olphart View Post
    That was the first thing I did. Now both have Living Water flourocarbon strings, same thickness, same scale...much different feel. Actually the Kala has a slightly higher action, yet feels "softer" Go figure.
    I have found that each instrument has its own style. By that I mean that just because you have two ukes of the same size with the same set of strings, they can, and usually do, sound and play differently. That is much of the reason for UAS. People want differences. As Booli mentioned, try different strings. Just because Living Waters work on your Kala, doesn't mean they are the best on this new uke. Mivo also mentioned try a different tuning. I personally love Bb tuning on a tenor. That is when their sound comes alive!

    Quote Originally Posted by Bill1 View Post
    If you are content with the feel and sound of the uke you already own, why buy another one? If you want to try something new, buy another music book and learn to play some new music on the uke you already have. The challenge of learning new music can be more consuming and interesting than buying a new uke ever will be.
    This is probably one of the best questions/pieces of advice anyone can give. We often get caught up in UAS (myself included...) to find "The One." But if you are completely happy with what you have, there is a very real possibility that whatever comes next will be a disappointment. Kalas are rather good. So just because something costs 5x more, doesn't mean it will be 5x (or even 2x) better.

    Ukuleles and music is supposed to be fun and I know from personal experience that getting an instrument that doesn't live up to expectations can be disappointing. I hope this all works out for you.
    Main players:

    Soprano: Laughlin 2K | Maui Music Deluxe Mango

    Concert: Collings UC2 | Talsma Style 3 | 16" Ono | Ono Pineapple | Blackbird Clara

    Tenor: Collings UT3SMB

    Baritone: LoPrinzi

  10. #10
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    From my experience anyway, it has to do with unrealistic expectations. I often times convince myself that the new thing, be it different strings, a ukulele upgrade, a new book, or whatever, that it is going to magically change something. It never does. That leaves me feeling a little disappointed. I try not to do that anymore. I try to appreciate the more subtle differences. I'm willing to accept different as an alternative to better or worse. Perhaps that is what you are dealing with. Maybe your expectations got the better of you. Maybe instead of looking at the new ukulele from a comparative perspective, you need to step back and look at it from a "different" perspective and enjoy that aspect? I've also become more of a cynic when it comes to most things ukulele, and that has not been a bad thing.
    Last edited by Rllink; 10-09-2017 at 07:28 AM.
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