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View Full Version : Life expectancy of a ukulele



valde002
01-30-2017, 12:18 PM
I think I have a revelation! I think that I have UAS, because my concert ukes are so small that I feel they are delicate and could crush like a hollowed-out egg. That is why I want a bunch. (was just reading an Amish website about how to 'live with less' and thought why do I want so many ukes?). What is the lifespan in general of these things? I know supposedly they can last generations, but really...?

I guess it makes a difference if you play one daily, or alternate, they would probably last longer and not get worn down? Also if you travel with them, are they more likely to not last as long?

Any thoughts to my long-winded evelation?

Debussychopin
01-30-2017, 12:45 PM
There's not a shortage of ukes out in the market so if you ever need to buy a new one there will be one there for you. That's one case against having too many.

Also, I'm not Amish. So that's a case against having only one.



They should last a few generations of course if well maintained and just used normally.
If kept in a car on a hot blazing sunny afternoon, it shouldn't last too long.

PhilUSAFRet
01-30-2017, 01:18 PM
If well cared for, a uke has a longer lifespan than you do. Can still buy ukes from the late 1800's.

WCBarnes
01-30-2017, 03:50 PM
I have two sopranos nearing the 100 year old mark (both made in the 20's) and they both are in great shape! One has a re-glued bridge, but there are no cracks in either and they sound/play great! Additionally, they are two of the lightest built ukes I have.

Ukerz
01-30-2017, 05:43 PM
Ukes probably don't break, soo much as they have little issues here and there. From what I understand, laminates are much more durable. Issues that crop up, would really depend upon if you want to bother to fix it or not. Some things you can glue, some parts you might need to replace entirely, but I would guess the hardest thing to replace is the body itself. If that cracked badly enough, it could be hard to repair it to satisfaction, I'd assume you'd potentially get bad resonance, buzzing, or it just wouldn't be able to be repaired aesthetically. It is relatively thin wood after all, not much room to join things then sand down areas to smooth things out and hide cracks.

I'd say in the end, if it's more economical to fix it than buy a new one, most people would fix it. Of course, people do get bored with certain looks, so if you've had a Uke for years, and it costs $100 to fix a $150 uke, people would probably just buy a new one.

Wood is wood though, so a Uke can last a long time depending on its construction and its environment. But glue is glue too, and even though that can last a long time, it can fail too. That can also cause damage too because if glue fails only in certain areas, it can cause undue tension on random areas, creating weak points. It's amazing how much wood stretches/contracts with heat/moisture, so that's probably the number 1 factor that kills Ukes, because the glue is always under tension holding things together. I'm sure there's time lapse videos out there showing how much wood changes in environment conditions.

I wonder though, how practical it would be to perhaps institute japanese wood joint techniques, into instrument design, to do away with glue entirely. Would probably make a sturdy instrument, but would also probably take a lot of craftsmanship.

plastuku
01-30-2017, 06:19 PM
An Outdoor Ukulele can withstand conditions that would quickly kill its owner (drowning would be the quickest). Until it encounters those extremes, environment will have no effect on it. Physical punishment, too; I saw someone state that his got stepped on by a horse and the only damage was to the strings.

That should be pretty long-lasting.

igorthebarbarian
01-30-2017, 06:31 PM
Lots of cool old instruments over here. You can get very-used ukes that are 100 years old!
https://antebelluminstruments.blogspot.com/

spongeuke
01-30-2017, 08:44 PM
Check out the movie THE RED VIOLIN. A musical instrument can have life through many generations.

ukulelekarcsi
01-31-2017, 01:07 AM
Check out the movie THE RED VIOLIN. A musical instrument can have life through many generations.

A very nice film, but fiction. All string instruments are hard to preserve in the very long term, because they all rely on high tension. You can ask any music historian.

That one violin by Stradivarius (350 years ago) that hasn't got a new neck, new staple, new fingerboard... was called precisely the Messiah because 130 years after being made, no-one had ever seen one so pristine, mint, unrestored.

When it comes to durability, ukuleles do have the advantage of being low-tension instruments, but the disadvantage of being very light.

ukatee
01-31-2017, 01:55 AM
I have a violin from the late 18th century. It looks its age and has had a few repairs over the years, but it sounds great and I play it regularly.

Booli
01-31-2017, 02:19 AM
If well cared for, a uke has a longer lifespan than you do. Can still buy ukes from the late 1800's.

:agree:
Unless abused with intent to destroy it, or some mishap like sitting on it, or running it over with the car, most ukes will be here long after many of us are worm food.

What is the half-life of hide glue or Titebond?

Rllink
01-31-2017, 02:38 AM
I think that there are so many factors involved that no one can predict how long an individual instrument is going to last. Not every ukulele built is still in service. For every old uke from the twenties that you find still playable, how many others expired long ago for any number or reasons? Anyway, it just depends on circumstances.

Rllink
01-31-2017, 02:41 AM
:agree:
Unless abused with intent to destroy it, or some mishap like sitting on it, or running it over with the car, most ukes will be here long after many of us are worm food.

What is the half-life of hide glue or Titebond?

I don't know, but my grandfather's vilolin has not been abused for a hundred years. In fact, it has been sitting in a case on a shelf for the last eighty, and it is falling apart all by itself. Of course, I guess you could say that setting it on a shelf in a closet and not looking at it for decades constitutes abuse.

mm stan
01-31-2017, 02:46 AM
Any uke can be repaired or replaced, depends how much you want to fork out..

Rllink
01-31-2017, 02:54 AM
Any uke can be repaired or replaced, depends how much you want to fork out..

Exactly. The last quote I got on my grandfather's violin was five hundred dollars. That was a couple of years ago. It probably is going to continue falling apart. But for that, he was going to completely disassemble it and then put it all back together.

Booli
01-31-2017, 02:55 AM
I don't know, but my grandfather's vilolin has not been abused for a hundred years. In fact, it has been sitting in a case on a shelf for the last eighty, and it is falling apart all by itself. Of course, I guess you could say that setting it on a shelf in a closet and not looking at it for decades constitutes abuse.

Maybe this begs the question, 'is neglect a form of abuse?'

If proper care was not applied, i.e., humidification (again) et. al., then most wood instruments made before lamination became a common practice might be at risk for falling apart, so maybe my previous reply above was not so well thought out...

sorry if I misled anyone. :(

Rllink
01-31-2017, 03:11 AM
Maybe this begs the question, 'is neglect a form of abuse?'

If proper care was not applied, i.e., humidification (again) et. al., then most wood instruments made before lamination became a common practice might be at risk for falling apart, so maybe my previous reply above was not so well thought out...

sorry if I misled anyone. :(I think that it is. I think that most of us here believe that without proper care and maintenance bad things will happen to our ukuleles.

DownUpDave
01-31-2017, 03:19 AM
I think that it is. I think that most of us here believe that without proper care and maintenance bad things will happen to our ukuleles.

Winner winner.

Buy one or many, play them all equally hard and often. With some care and attention they will last decades. If you need an excuse for UAS, wearing them out is low on the list.........But whatever you need for rationalizing the purchase of just one more uke is good around these here parts;)

WestyShane
01-31-2017, 05:45 AM
I was pretty upset by what looks like the very beginning of a crack on one of my ukes. Then I read an article about Willy's guitar...

http://www.texasmonthly.com/articles/trigger/

I'm paying closer attention to my humidity levels but not so worried about "life expectancy" anymore.

ScooterD35
01-31-2017, 06:33 AM
I have a late 40's Martin style 1 soprano that's still going strong.


Scooter

ProfChris
01-31-2017, 02:40 PM
I have a 20s Kumalae which I play regularly. Ukes don't wear out unless their construction is defective (guitars try to swallow themselves through the soundhole but the string tension on a uke is low enough that this should take centuries).

But if you keep a uke in poor conditions it can split or pull apart. Humidity swings cause cracks, excessive heat melts glue.

That aside it should play as well in 2027 as it does today if you don't drop it, crush it, knock lumps out of it etc.

Wood doesn't wear out, and good glue joints stay glued. Don't worry about that, worry about their environment and mechanical damage.

Nickie
01-31-2017, 04:55 PM
I couldn't care less.
I'm so old I don't buy green bananas.

UkieOkie
02-01-2017, 03:06 AM
I couldn't care less.
I'm so old I don't buy green bananas.

Haha. I like that one Nickie.

Griffis
02-01-2017, 03:18 AM
I couldn't care less.
I'm so old I don't buy green bananas.

Bless your heart-- thanks for the sweet morning laugh!

I have owned several acoustic string instruments over the years that approached a century in age. Guitars, banjos, mandolins and fiddles. I've owned a few ukes that MAY have dated back to the 20s but they could have been from the 40s.

At any rate, if an instrument that old is still in playable shape, and you maintain it well, it's held together this long so it's probably not going to spontaneously fly apart.

I realize a lot of people collect older instruments for their investment value, to be wall art, or case queens that rarely see the light of day. There is nothing wrong with that at all, but I have only ever cared about instruments I planned on playing the heck out of.

A good luthier can repair some pretty egregious problems or damage.

I don't want to sound preachy, or like a broken record, but longevity/ease of maintenance issues (along with cost) are some reasons why I now vastly prefer laminate instruments or alternative materials like plastics, the formica-ish Martins, etc.

Not only are those instruments made from sustainable, replaceable materials (though of course their manufacture does still impact the environment) but they are typically less expensive and far more durable than their solid wood counterparts.

I've been a musician long enough to be able to appreciate and discern the quality of finely crafted, solid wood acoustic instruments. I would never argue that my mass produced Gretsch laminate soprano is as good-playing, or had the same resonance or subtle nuances of a solid wood uke, beautiful custom work of art, etc.

But for me personally, at this stage of my life, the trade off is just not worth it. I love seeing people's NUD posts and pics and am sincerely happy for people who do love and enjoy finer ukes. But I'll never go back to owning instruments I really have to worry about. "How's the humidity level?...Oh, I read that koa is more prone to developing cracks...I'm concerned with taking this uke because temperature changes might not be good for it...Dangit! I just spent $1500 on that uke and now it's got a ding!"...and so on. No thanks.

I do take care of the meager ukes I have, they bring me joy, they aren't precious or valuable or delicate, and I have every expectation they will be around long after I've departed this veil.