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View Full Version : Choosing a Uke-Help!



andblue7
08-26-2015, 11:52 AM
Hey everyone,
So after two weeks of extensive research, I've managed to narrow it down a little bit. I'm definitely purchasing a laminate soprano. Additionally, I will be buying from a nearby music store called Elderly Instruments which does a nice set-up on all their instruments. My maximum budget is $100, though I'd like to spend less. I've never seriously played a string instrument, but I do have a musical background in French Horn. Now the important question-Which one to purchase?
The contestants (and my current thoughts on them):

Kohala AK-SL ($64.99)- Doesn't seem to the best brand. Low price, though.
Kala KA-S ($73.99)- Really like the sound of mahogany Kala ukes. Plus a nice starter one for a low price. However, on of the only ukes that Elderly Instruments doesn't do a full-set up on; only an inspection.
Fender Piha'ea ($79.99)- Seems to be a safe brand. Not sure if I like the sound.
Makai MK-70 ($85.00)- Another safe brand, especially for beginners. Like the idea of a solid top. Spruce though, not mahogany.
Kala KA-SEM ($96.99)- Another Kala (which does receive Expert Setup). However, unclear on the difference between Mahogany and Exotic Mahogany. Is it worth the price jump?
Gretsch G9100 ($99.00)- Very top of my price range. However, comes with a padded gig bag, which I very much like. Seems like a solid brand. Can't find much on this particular Ukulele, though. The couple demos I found sounded nice.

Particularly interested in the two Kala's and the Gretsch, along with any other tips or things to consider.

Sorry about the long post; thanks in advance to anyone who can help me out!

ohmless
08-26-2015, 12:20 PM
I love Elderly Instruments and go there about once a month even though I live an hour away. They will do a top notch job on the set up if you need it. I would also tell the salesperson what your budget is and they can help you figure out what one sounds best in that price range. I was looking for a sub 200 dollar uke with a pickup and they recommended a commendable product that was 30 dollars more but they said they could price it to move for me, so it doesn't hurt to build a relationship with them as they are kind folks. I would have the salesperson also check real quick for buzzing frets. If you don't have any I would consider forgoing the set up even if the strings are comfortable for you when you press them down.

As for the sound of the Fender, did you tune the uke before playing with it? You can expect the strings to not be stretched and be out of tune upon picking it up off the hooks.

MARKbOC
08-26-2015, 12:25 PM
I'm no expert but my experience with a Kala uke was good. Mine was a solid spruce top. My two cents: its probably worth $20 to get an "expert set-up." Good luck and have fun!

andblue7
08-26-2015, 12:37 PM
ohmless- I'm definitely going to talk to a salesman when I go. As for the Fender, the only ukulele I've had the chance to actually play in person was a Kohala at another music store. The rest I've heard from various Youtube demos. I'll give it another chance in person, though. I didn't think about ukuleles on the shelf being out of tune, though, that's a good point.
Question: Probably a stupid question, but what exactly are buzzing frets? I seem them mentioned all the times in reviews.

andblue7
08-26-2015, 12:40 PM
MARKbOC- Good point about spending the extra for an "expert set-up". And thanks for the Kala recommendation. I think I have it narrowed down to either one of the Kala's (probably the KA-SEM) or the Gretsch.

ohmless
08-26-2015, 01:01 PM
I agree, twenty bucks for a set up is a deal. There are multiple causes for buzzing. Here is an article to spread some knowledge. http://www.gotaukulele.com/2010/09/buzzes-and-rattles-on-ukulele.html

I test for them by fully depressing in each fret space for each string. You will get a feel for how it should sound pretty quick. A buzz sounds like a metallic buzzing, but you be mindful that you might cause buzzing by not pressing hard enough(so try multiple times in the same spot if you think you hear something off). I would look up fret buzzing on youtube to get an idea for it.

DownUpDave
08-26-2015, 01:02 PM
MARKbOC- Good point about spending the extra for an "expert set-up". And thanks for the Kala recommendation. I think I have it narrowed down to either one of the Kala's (probably the KA-SEM) or the Gretsch.

Kala KA SEM is a very good uke for the money. The concert size seems to be very popular with a number of uke jam members. Because of that I have a had a chance to play them and they are very nice. The set up and whom you buy from is really important.

Personal story. The first uke I bought was an off the shelf Gretsch laminate tenor.......I was green and knew nothing. Fortunately it is a good instrument but unknow to me the action was quite high. The uke jam I started attending has a luthier whom lowered the action and did a proper set up on it. This was after me playing it for a couple months and when I got it back that uke almost played itself. It was so easy to fret, huge, huge, huge difference.

Get a proper set up, spend to your upper limit. You will not regret it.t

andblue7
08-26-2015, 01:07 PM
ohmless-Thanks for the link to the article. I understand now. :) Good technique, also, for checking for buzzing; I will be sure to do that.

andblue7
08-26-2015, 01:14 PM
DownUpDave- Appreciate your opinions on both ukes. The place I'm buying from does a nice set-up on all of their new instruments (except for a few specific ones). So both the Gretsch and the Kala KA SEM have a set-up included in the price.

I'm starting to feel comfortable with the idea of spending the whole $100. (In the end, what am I really gonna do with that extra 20 bucks, anyway.)

In your opinion, do you like the Kala or your Gretsch better?

DownUpDave
08-26-2015, 01:31 PM
DownUpDave- Appreciate your opinions on both ukes. The place I'm buying from does a nice set-up on all of their new instruments (except for a few specific ones). So both the Gretsch and the Kala KA SEM have a set-up included in the price.

I'm starting to feel comfortable with the idea of spending the whole $100. (In the end, what am I really gonna do with that extra 20 bucks, anyway.)

In your opinion, do you like the Kala or your Gretsch better?


Here is where it gets personal. The Gretsch has a very deep and chunky neck. It is much bigger than any other brand of uke I have played. The problem with that is you are getting use to a non-standard neck and then moving to another uke might feel weird and difficult. Although I really like the Gretsch based on that I would go Kala KA SEM.

That being said it is a personal decision and which ever one "calls" to you is the one you should get

andblue7
08-26-2015, 01:49 PM
Here is where it gets personal. The Gretsch has a very deep and chunky neck. It is much bigger than any other brand of uke I have played. The problem with that is you are getting use to a non-standard neck and then moving to another uke might feel weird and difficult. Although I really like the Gretsch based on that I would go Kala KA SEM.

I didn't realize it a chunkier neck, that's certainly something to consider. I guess I'll just have to try them both at and see which feels more comfortable.

WCBarnes
08-26-2015, 03:03 PM
You have a great list started of potential ukes. I would leave it at that for now and try them. As Ohmless said, talk to the salesman, tell him/her your budget and the ukes you thought you might be interested in trying and see if he/she has any additional suggestions. Then play them all and get the one that feels and sounds best to you. You are going to be the one playing it, so all that matters is if you like it! If you turn out like most uke players, this won't be your last!!!

I too came from horn playing (trumpet & cornet). Playing chords vs just single notes was an adjustment, but a fun one!! Happy strumming!

insula
08-27-2015, 05:20 AM
Just saw this thread - I'm a happy owner of two Makai ukuleles, one purchased from Elderly over the phone. That's right, the kind young man played a Kala that I had almost made up my mind to buy and the Makai to me over the phone, noted that the less-expensive Makai had better tone & workmanship, and that instrument became the (musical) joy of my life. There aren't too many Makai owners out there, that I've met, anyway, but these production instruments are known to be a great buy for the $, with thin (meaning resonant) builds, good action, comfortable necks, and attractive looks. Pardon the wave of enthusiasm, but I thought that $85 spruce-top should get a plug. You'll have $15 left over for a gig bag & tuner. Lucky you-you'll get to actually go to Elderly and see/play all your choices! Enjoy!

Nickie
08-27-2015, 05:24 AM
You probably can't go wrong with a Kala. I'd be sure to check with MIM'S UKES. She includes a setup in the price. You won't be disappointed. My fave is a Kala from Mim....

pbagley
08-27-2015, 05:34 AM
Another endorsement for the Kala. I bought a Kala KA-C (concert) for my cousin in July from a local shop. Great set up (not sure if the shop adjusted it or not, but the owner is a luthier and checks every instrument they stock) and best sounding concert uke I could find in my budget.

That said, I'd love to try a Makai. I've been thinking about adding another concert to the collection...

terrgy
08-27-2015, 08:40 AM
Up to today, I already owned a Baritone, concert, and two tenors. I decided today I wanted a Soprano, and a low cost one.

After having such great success with a MIM Ukes tenor recently, I decided to buy from her again. Just ordered a Ohana Soprano SK10BL Blue Mahogany, setup with Aquilas strings. She sets up all her ukes before shipping, making sure everything is set up properly from the factory. All for $69.00 plus$10.00 shipping. I have a feeling I won't be sorry. Andblue7, you might consider giving Mims a call, she is as Good as it gets.

Good luck!