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Thread: "Vintage" -- fancy name for old & low-tech?

  1. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by bellgamin View Post
    So... price almost always denotes intrinsic worth when it comes to old ukes? Hmm.
    Of course not. Price is a function of market forces. Generally speaking, instruments that are in high demand cost more. Demand often equates with quality, but there is not a direct correlation. For example: when I was a lad in the 1970's, just starting to play guitar, you could buy any of a dozen 1950's Les Pauls from the classifieds for around $350. They were old guitars, and people wanted the newer, better stuff. Those same guitar today sell for $10K. Did they really improve that much over the ensuing years? Nope, the demand just went up, either because of the vintage mythology, the acquisition of disposable income by buyers, or maybe an appreciation of how good those old guitars were. In any case, the guitars are the same; it's the demand that changed.

    In the early 20th century, mandolins were designed to be played in chamber groups and mandolin orchestras, where the goal was to blend in. Lloyd Loar designed the F5 mandolin for Gibson in 1923, giving it a punchy, urgent tone that really wasn't all that popular with player of the era. 20 years later, Bill Monroe purchased a Lloyd Loar F5 and made it the centerpiece of Bluegrass music. Suddenly, EVERYBODY loved the Lloyd Loar F5 sound, and it may be the most copied design in history. Original Lloyd Loar F5 mandolins sell in the six figure range, despite being factory-produced instruments. They are remarkable instruments, but their value is driven by their association with Bill Monroe and the remarkable fealty of bluegrass players.

    I could go on, but I think the point is made. High price doesn't mean good quality, but good quality often means high price. If I sell my Waterman for $10K, it's still a Waterman. Early instruments often sell for a premium because of their rarity, but that doesn't mean you'll like the way they sound. I was enamored of the old Gibson oval hole archtops, because I thought they had one of the most beautiful guitars design I'd ever seen. I payed fairly large bucks to acquire a 1915 L-4, then sold it within the year. It sure was pretty, but it had a dull, thuddy tone that didn't appeal to me at all. Perhaps worth the money as a collectible, not worth the money as a playable instrument.

    Several posters have provided the best advice: if you're interested in vintage instruments, get out and play as many as you can. Nobody can tell you what you like. I bought a 1920's Oscar Schmidt uke from Jake Wildwood for relatively small money that sounds awesome. Awesome doesn't have to be expensive. I also have a 1930 Martin Style 0 that cost a bunch more that also sounds awesome. Often awesome *is* expensive.

    But you're the one who has to love it. So why listen to a bunch of strangers?



  2. #12
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    The only thing about old wooden instruments is the fact that they were made from properly seasoned timber, a minimum of three years to dry out naturally, today wood comes from quickly grown trees & is kiln dried, this alone, I think, would make a difference in quality. Having said that, I would not pay big money for any old instrument, I'd buy new, always.
    Trying to do justice to various musical instruments.
    Formerly known as uke1950.

  3. #13
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    VERY useful comments, especially Rich's.

    My cousin is fairly well off & tends to think price = value. The grapevine tells me that she is (secretly) going to give me a uke for Christmas. If by some fluke the store she chooses had a KeAloha priced at $300 & a Caramel priced at $1700, I shudder at the question of which one she would buy.

  4. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by ProfChris View Post
    The Anuenue is unlikely to sound anything like the Kumalae. No modern manufacturer would dare to build that light. My own Kumalae weighs 220 grams/7 ounces, and I'd guess the Anuenue weighs at least 50% more. That makes a big difference.

    But the Anuenue will have better intonation, a less "agricultural" neck carve and a lower action. It will feel familiar to play, at first the Kumalae will feel odd.

    No idea which will sound best to you, but they are radically different instruments. I wouldn't be without my Kumalae but it's (by modern standards) a quirky thing which many uke players don't much enjoy playing. But those who do like working with its quirks, love it.
    Thanks ProfChris. The 'joy' of being in Australia is that due to lack of options I'm buying online having not played them. Your post was super helpful to at least give me more of an idea of what to expect.

  5. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by raffrox View Post
    Thanks ProfChris. The 'joy' of being in Australia is that due to lack of options I'm buying online having not played them. Your post was super helpful to at least give me more of an idea of what to expect.
    You're welcome. If you are tempted by the Kumalae, ask for the action at the 12th fret (top of fret to bottom of strings) to be measured. I'd expect it to be between 3 and 4 mm. This is high by modern standards, but perfectly playable on the lower 5 frets. Intonation will suffer, especially on the C string , higher up. The saddle is just a small lip on the bridge, so there's no real room to lower the action. This is the main playing quirk.

    And ideally I'd want to hear the 12th note and the open note on each string. The C will be sharp at the 12th, but the others should be pretty close. If not, again I'd reject, as there's too little saddle to adjust much.

    If the action is above 4mm I'd not buy it. Kumalaes in arid climates usually crack, and the body can distort. Cracks are ok if properly repaired. I'm lucky that mine lived in the UK all its life, so no cracks, but that's quite rare.

  6. #16
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    I would like to get a vintage soprano, not so much because I think they sound "better" than a more modern uke, but because it will have that old-timey soprano sound. It would be different from my other instruments, and it would be fun to play some Tin Pan Alley stuff on it.

    Vintage doesn't always mean "better"--I'm into fountain pens, for example, and "vintage" often just means "used" or "old". In some cases, however, that is absolutely not true. Nowadays, fountain pen nibs are typically not flexible, but many vintage fountain pen nibs are, so you can do some calligraphy style writing without the inconvenience of a dip pen. Modern fountain pens that are flexible can't hold a candle to the old ones. They just don't make them that way any more.
    Laura

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  7. #17
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    That's funny-- I also collect fountain pens and was going to use that exact example. Small world!


    Quote Originally Posted by wayfarer75 View Post
    I would like to get a vintage soprano, not so much because I think they sound "better" than a more modern uke, but because it will have that old-timey soprano sound. It would be different from my other instruments, and it would be fun to play some Tin Pan Alley stuff on it.

    Vintage doesn't always mean "better"--I'm into fountain pens, for example, and "vintage" often just means "used" or "old". In some cases, however, that is absolutely not true. Nowadays, fountain pen nibs are typically not flexible, but many vintage fountain pen nibs are, so you can do some calligraphy style writing without the inconvenience of a dip pen. Modern fountain pens that are flexible can't hold a candle to the old ones. They just don't make them that way any more.



  8. #18
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    I don't accept the proposition that stuff was made better in the old days. I'm old, and I have friends who like to get in their way-back-machine and talk about how good things were back in the day, and that can be everything from kids to cars, and if they played ukuleles they would say that they just don't make them like that anymore, but I don't buy that way of thinking.
    I don't want to live in a world that is linear.

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  9. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by Croaky Keith View Post
    The only thing about old wooden instruments is the fact that they were made from properly seasoned timber, a minimum of three years to dry out naturally, today wood comes from quickly grown trees & is kiln dried, this alone, I think, would make a difference in quality. Having said that, I would not pay big money for any old instrument, I'd buy new, always.
    Top quality luthiers making hand built instruments will use properly seasoned timber. It's the mass production instruments that will be using kiln dried wood.

    On the whole. There will always be exceptions.
    Geoff Walker

    I have several ukuleles in various sizes and am not planning on getting any more...

    at least, not yet.

    I also play some blowy things and a squeezy thing

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  10. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by ProfChris View Post
    You're welcome. If you are tempted by the Kumalae, ask for the action at the 12th fret (top of fret to bottom of strings) to be measured. I'd expect it to be between 3 and 4 mm. This is high by modern standards, but perfectly playable on the lower 5 frets. Intonation will suffer, especially on the C string , higher up. The saddle is just a small lip on the bridge, so there's no real room to lower the action. This is the main playing quirk.

    And ideally I'd want to hear the 12th note and the open note on each string. The C will be sharp at the 12th, but the others should be pretty close. If not, again I'd reject, as there's too little saddle to adjust much.

    If the action is above 4mm I'd not buy it. Kumalaes in arid climates usually crack, and the body can distort. Cracks are ok if properly repaired. I'm lucky that mine lived in the UK all its life, so no cracks, but that's quite rare.
    I bought the uke before seeing your post so I'll see how I go. It has no cracks and one small scratch apparently. It's a player according to the seller but see how we go. Thanks again!

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