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View Full Version : Building for Fun or Building for Money?



sequoia
12-15-2014, 06:04 PM
I just shipped off my first (and last) contract built uke today. The uke turned out fine. Really good actually much to my immense relief. A real cannon. Simple players uke for $300. But here is the thing: I didn't enjoy building it that much. The stress was pretty intense at times. Building an uke just for fun can be pretty intense, but this took it to a whole nother level. Plus they wanted it as a Christmas present so there were deadlines I had to hit. I made it with 3 days to spare.

You professionals on this forum now have my total, total respect. I wonder how you do it frankly. Repetition helps I'm sure, but there are no guarantees how an uke is gonna turn out even with the best. (Well some can probably guarantee perfect ukes every time, but not that many I'll bet).

I would not build another contract uke for anything ever again even if the client got down on hands and knees with a thousand bucks in each hand begging me to build an uke for them. I would say... uh...never...ah... what kind of wood did you say you want on that uke? But seriously, I didn't make much money and it wasn't any fun at all so I'm sticking with being an happy amateur experimenting and hoping for the perfect uke.

Below is where I lost any chance of profit. Plays like a dream, but took a lot time. Frets... fingerboards... set up. So important. So time consuming.

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Allen
12-15-2014, 09:15 PM
That's funny. And no it's not meant to be sarcastic. But you just learnt is very short order what we go through every day. And when you get into really custom stuff, multiply that 10 fold.

BTW, to build a custom instrument at just a players model level, you would have needed to charge at a bare minimum 3 times what you did.

Michael N.
12-15-2014, 09:22 PM
That's the time to build 'off the shelf' instruments. Working to commission is a different ball game and there's always a certain amount of pressure that goes with it. But $300 is a real pittance, that wouldn't even cover my materials/workshop costs for that particular build. Practically paying the customer to take it off your hands. But that kind of thing happens in a limited market where there are a large number of enthusiastic amateurs, semi professionals, professionals and larger scale factory makers.

Pete Howlett
12-15-2014, 11:08 PM
I don't open the door for anything less than $1500 when it comes to my standard range. With this in mind I developed a boat paddle design that takes much less time to build and allows people who want to own one of my instruments a foot on that very tall ladder.


http://i1269.photobucket.com/albums/jj589/HowlettUkulele/TenorMarmiteii2_zps8ebbaf5a.jpg (http://s1269.photobucket.com/user/HowlettUkulele/media/TenorMarmiteii2_zps8ebbaf5a.jpg.html)

Taking about 8 hours to build, these represent great value for money and are real fun to build.

http://i1269.photobucket.com/albums/jj589/HowlettUkulele/TenorMarmiteii1_zpsb5e3db53.jpg (http://s1269.photobucket.com/user/HowlettUkulele/media/TenorMarmiteii1_zpsb5e3db53.jpg.html)

Something you will note - most small scale builders have a budget line, the hook to eventually getting clients on their custom list. I must have sold 60 of these since launch 2 years ago and I barely advertise availability!

greenscoe
12-16-2014, 02:30 AM
I'm watching this thread with interest. As my house starts to fill with instruments, my thoughts have turned to the possibilities of selling. I have been buying timber, secondhand equipment (eg bandsaw) and sundry supplies etc with the intention of continuing with this hobby which gives me a great sense of achievement and self worth. It would be good to offset some of these costs.

I won't sell anything that doesn't attain the standards I've set myself-I'm not there yet. I also am not going to sell anything for 100 when I've spent 40 or 50 hours making it.

I also know people can be picky and reject something for trivial reasons. I'd never consider custom builds-who needs the pressure.

Perhaps someone has some advice on small scale selling of one offs which achieve a reasonable return for the makers efforts.

mzuch
12-16-2014, 03:09 AM
You're singing my song, Littleriveruke. I build for fun and relaxation, and I don't want or need the pressure that comes with seeking a profit. I have enough of that in the day job. On the other hand, there are only so many instruments I can keep or give away. So I charge only the cost of materials. Labor, supplies and equipment are on me. I also make clear that I'm unable to build to a specific deadline. This approach has produced enough orders that I can build away happily, knowing my Zukuleles are likely to be played. Also, I don't build for just anyone -- my customers must possess the spirit of Aloha. See my website for details.

Dougf
12-16-2014, 07:04 AM
It seems like it could be fun AND money, but I wouldn't really know, since I've just been building for fun. I'm having an absolute blast, though, some of the most rewarding work I've done, and I can see that being able to make a living doing it would also be quite rewarding. However, I can certainly understand that there are pressures around running a business and making customers happy that might make it less fun.

For now, I'm content to just try to build instruments that I like to play, and also experience that pride of craftsmanship that can only come when you build something yourself.

And not having to worry about money also gives me some freedom to experiment with things that probably would not make sense from a business standpoint. For example, my whole manzanita schtick. It will probably never be a commercially viable wood, other than its current ornamental uses for bird perches and aquarium tchotchkes. It is almost always full of cracks, splits, holes, and twists, making it almost impossible to get anything usable. But I think it's really pretty wood, and even if takes a lot of effort to get those few usable pieces, to me it's worth it.

I suppose at some point I'll get tired of building ukuleles and move on to other interests, but as much fun as I'm having right now, it's hard to imagine.

Michael Smith
12-16-2014, 07:25 AM
Much of the pressure you felt sounds like it was a result of having a tight timeline. I try very hard never to get into that situation. I use the same method I used when building and remodeling million dollar plus homes if the client wanted to know exactly when we would be complete. Carefully figure exactly how long each step in the building process will take, add in any possible delays then take that number and multiply it by the license plate number on my truck.

Chris_H
12-16-2014, 11:21 AM
There are so many 'hidden' costs to building for $$$$. And the bottom end of the market is filled with people who are just figuring that out, as well as figuring out how to build. Add to that, that if one has aspirations of building for a long term profession, starting out at the bottom end makes it more challenging to 'move up' the line if there are any thoughts of one day building really nice instruments.

So many people undervalue their time.

Steveperrywriter
12-16-2014, 11:43 AM
You're singing my song, Littleriveruke. I build for fun and relaxation, and I don't want or need the pressure that comes with seeking a profit. I have enough of that in the day job. On the other hand, there are only so many instruments I can keep or give away. So I charge only the cost of materials. Labor, supplies and equipment are on me. I also make clear that I'm unable to build to a specific deadline. This approach has produced enough orders that I can build away happily, knowing my Zukuleles are likely to be played. Also, I don't build for just anyone -- my customers must possess the spirit of Aloha. See my website for details.

And you do a clean, professional, great-looking, great-sounding, build too, Michael. Still amazes me that you do this.

sequoia
12-16-2014, 11:52 AM
I have no aspirations to making ukes a profession, although I bet a lot of amateurs dream about it. If they do, I invite them to check out this commercial uke I own: A "Washburn" distributed by Oscar-Schmidt (OU-4) and built in Indonesia. Solid rosewood back and sides, all kinds of ablam bling, a nice speedy neck and well finished frets, perfect nitro finish, and sounds...not bad. Cost me $95 new. What do you bring to the table that this uke doesn't have? Competing with this for the low end would be very tough. That leaves the high end and do you have the chops?

Food for thought.

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L'Ukes Lutherie
12-16-2014, 02:24 PM
I find the fun(and the profit) in the mental and physical exercise, whether trying to meet the expectation of a specific client, or trying to meet my own. Then again, what I build is so far away from the orthodox that only certifiable kooks commission my work. (and that's the way I like it.) Using "one man's trash..." and only very basic hand tools (which is as much about making a point as it is about making an instrument) it takes me about 60 hours to build and finish a uke, so I know going in that I'll never make a living by it.

That said, even knowing that I'm taking a loss for my labor, it is still satisfying to come out the other side with "another man's treasure". If I were to find the magic market conditions that would put me in the rarefied air of those half-dozen craftsmen whose work is so valued and so in demand that they can decide their own schedule, prices, and clients... then I would need to also have become a much better luthier than I am now. It's a long life....

Trouble is: Shiny sells. You said it yourself of the Indonesian factory-built Washburn. "...and sounds...not bad." Faint praise if ever I heard it. Shiny is easy, tone is the Holy Grail. Remember too that it takes a lot less work to get rich than it does to do something meaningful, and worthy. After all, where's the market for meaningful and worthy nowadays, anyway?

I find no fun in deadlines, but then again, who does?

"Good. Fast. Cheap. Pick two..."

Wicked
12-16-2014, 02:59 PM
How do get someone to lose interest in their hobby? Pay them to do it.

Timbuck
12-17-2014, 12:42 AM
I haven't built or worked on a uke for 10 weeks, co's I didn't feel like it :) If I was doing it for money it would be like I was back at work again.:(

Moore Bettah Ukuleles
12-17-2014, 07:03 AM
I often long for the days when I was building ukes just for fun under the shade of a coconut tree. At the other extreme, at one point I had a wait list that was 6 or 7 years long. It'll take time to find the balance that works for you. These days I build for myself primarily, at my own rate. I even shy away from making firm promises or commitments. In the end, if the customer likes it, that's great. If not, it'll find another home. Do what you truly love at a rate that is comfortable to you and you'll never consider it to be work.

WAGWAD
12-17-2014, 07:45 AM
If you don't want to build instruments to sell and you can afford to do so, why not donate you builds to local charity auctions. I build eight to ten instruments a year and all are donated to worthy charities. Also I try to use only urban or recycled woods in my projects.

Also, thanks to everyone on this site for all the help and inspiration.

finkdaddy
12-17-2014, 07:48 AM
Also, thanks to everyone on this site for all the help and inspiration.

This! I can't believe how much I have learned since the time I joined this forum. :D

Habanera Hal
12-17-2014, 07:59 AM
A great discussion thread. Since my move to Texas, I acquired a bigger shop and intended to build custom ukes at a reasonable price point. I also was given an opportunity to have a permanant stall in a music-based museum/craft store in the blues capital of Texas. To make any kind of profit after rent and travel expenses (it's about an hour's drive each way from my home), I'd have to build and sell at least 1 uke a week (not to mention building a starting inventory of at least 10-12). Even my cigar-box ukes take me 2-3 weeks to build, because I won't build trash. In my retirement, I'm not looking to add that kind of pressure to my life. So the wife and I decided to pass on the storefront gig for now and hit the craftfair circuit with our hand-turned bottle stoppers and ice-cream scoops. For me, building instruments has to be fun, where I can take my time to refine my skills and build what I want.

L'Ukes Lutherie
12-17-2014, 05:44 PM
"Even my cigar-box ukes take me 2-3 weeks to build, because I won't build trash."

Ouch!

Ahh-Hem. Squeezing tone out of trash is soooooo much more work than doing it the normal way. I ain't sayin'... I'm just sayin'...

Seriously, though... I'm smelling what your stepping in. Pawpaw told me, "Nobody ever laid on their deathbed and said, 'I laughed too much.' Have as much fun as you possibly can." Wise advice from an old Appalachian-American (Hillbilly is such an ugly word). Or to reframe the original question:

While alive, Vincent Van Gogh never made a dime as a painter, excepting some charity from his brother Vincent. Was he a professional artist, or a guy who painted as a hobby?

On the other hand, Claude Monet died very rich, as did Thomas Kinkade (the 'Painter of Light'). Food for thought...

...just sayin' -Luke

Matt Clara
12-19-2014, 03:42 AM
I have no aspirations to making ukes a profession, although I bet a lot of amateurs dream about it. If they do, I invite them to check out this commercial uke I own: A "Washburn" distributed by Oscar-Schmidt (OU-4) and built in Indonesia. Solid rosewood back and sides, all kinds of ablam bling, a nice speedy neck and well finished frets, perfect nitro finish, and sounds...not bad. Cost me $95 new. What do you bring to the table that this uke doesn't have? Competing with this for the low end would be very tough. That leaves the high end and do you have the chops?

Food for thought.

There's a certain psychology at play there, though, too. If you sold the best bottle of wine in the world for $10, no one would say it's the best bottle of wine in the world. A really good bottle of wine at a great price, sure. The same is true of that Washburn uke. People might think it's a good value, but they're still going to desire the custom built instrument, particularly if it comes from a known builder.

ProfChris
12-19-2014, 07:59 AM
There's a certain psychology at play there, though, too. If you sold the best bottle of wine in the world for $10, no one would say it's the best bottle of wine in the world. A really good bottle of wine at a great price, sure. The same is true of that Washburn uke. People might think it's a good value, but they're still going to desire the custom built instrument, particularly if it comes from a known builder.

Up to a point Matt. People will rarely value you at less than your own estimation, which is your $10 bottle of wine example. The question is whether they will value as highly as you think you are worth.

I'd say the problem that any new, professional builder faces is that the minimum economic price for a small shop uke is around USD 1,000. Subtract premises and materials costs, plus other overheads, divide by total time invested (including marketing, research, record keeping, etc) and I'd be surprised if what's left is more than a living wage. Unless the builder lives in a low wage country.

At this price point buyers are scarce. One strategy is to entice the buyer of premium brands (Martin, the Ks, etc), but you're fighting against the brand history and manufacturer warranty. The other strategy is to convince the buyer that you offer something special in sound or playability, which I think requires word of mouth among the small community of those who are looking for something "off-brand". And you only get that from satisfied buyers, which you haven't yet got.

But if you enter the market at a lower price, which might persuade some to take the risk and buy from you, you're no longer making a living wage. Worse, if you are successful it will take years to put your prices up to where you think they should be, because you've published your own estimate of their value.

I suspect most new builders who aim to make this their profession don't do the sums, because the answers should deter any rational person. Those who do make it must be exceptional in one sense or another.

I won't sell the half dozen ukes I make for fun each year, but give away those I don't keep. Fortunately this makes each one priceless, and me happy.

mzuch
12-19-2014, 09:10 AM
Even the funny papers know that ukulele building is not a big money making career:
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Pete Howlett
12-19-2014, 10:15 AM
Do you have a link to that cartoon please?

mzuch
12-19-2014, 11:18 AM
Here you go, Pete: http://www.gocomics.com/luann/2014/12/17