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View Full Version : Talk me out of getting a harp ukulele from Emerald Guitars



MatthewVanitas
05-03-2017, 05:37 AM
Long/short, I sold my house and am planning to invest most of the money for now, but am setting aside a small percentage of my gains to indulge in some fine hobby gear.

My main uke up to this point has been a Mele 8-string tenor, which is about 85% as good as the gorgeous Kamaka 8-strings but cost 1/3 of the price. I'm overall really happy with it, but then this new offering from Emerald Guitars (Donegal, Ireland) has seized my attention:

http://i.imgur.com/sZIPkWz.jpg?1

It's US$1,295 for the standard Tenor Harp model, $1,695 gets you choice of colors and a pickup (p/u is an add-on on the basic model). I love harp instruments but have never had one, and it would look really attention-getting for performance.

I listened to some clips, half-hoping it would sound "meh" and I could move on to other temptations, but it sound pretty boss: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dNW_8xz9Vqo

I like harp instruments, and since I travel a lot, and often have to keep my instruments in storage or at a friend's, having carbon fiber where I don't have to sweat humidity and temp changes would be a relief. I've owned a *lot* of instruments over the course of 30-some years, and have only had two develop soundboard cracks, but I do worry about it regardless. Plus CF just looks slick.

So given that I have a budget of play-money set aside, and most of it will go to music hobbies, would this be a good option for someone who really enjoys tenor uke and likes the idea of having some cool bass notes to add in? Or am I getting too excited by the novelty and should just, I dunno, get a guitar and not fret the lower strings if I want pluckable bass? Please help talk me out of this purchase!

Rllink
05-03-2017, 06:14 AM
Well, since you asked my opinion, and you want me to talk you out of it, to me it looks like something that would be fun for a day or two, then never get played again.

strumsilly
05-03-2017, 06:38 AM
ok. I don't think you should buy it.
Wow, that's really cool, and purty. I bet it sounds awesome. Love the green. It would be great to have those bass notes. It would probably be a better investment than some paper thet could go south in a NY minute. how am I doing?

mkatz
05-03-2017, 07:02 AM
It's a novelty but it sure is cool looking! I have an Emerald X7 guitar that I use for travel and it's a very good sounding, well made instrument.

Mitch

kohanmike
05-03-2017, 07:29 AM
When I first started playing uke 4 years ago, I was all hot on having a steel string archtop jazz style uke. I spearheaded a group buy here on UU for 20 of us to bring the price of each from $400 to $165. Took 5 months to receive them, and when I did, I played it twice and realized I would rarely if ever have an occasion to play it, so within a couple of months I sold it. But, still not learning my lesson, about a year later I saw a Vorzon steel string uke designed after a Fender Telecaster guitar, I have one, so I bought it and again, found I had no occasion to use it and sold it.

After saying all that, I just bought another 3/4 electric guitar to convert to a mini bass, and as my signature shows, I have more than enough (15), so even though I say don't buy it, my actions speak louder than my words.

Croaky Keith
05-03-2017, 07:37 AM
Well, if I had money to spare, I'd likely buy a RISA steel string electric tenor, but this might go nicely with a RISA. :)

MatthewVanitas
05-03-2017, 07:50 AM
Well, since you asked my opinion, and you want me to talk you out of it, to me it looks like something that would be fun for a day or two, then never get played again.

Definitely a valid point, though my rebuttal would be that I owned for a while a 10-string classical guitar, and really enjoyed the plunking basses backing my riffs (what's the technical musical term for those plodding bass notes?). I sold the 10-string because it was huge and I was going overseas for a few years (and it was a cheap one that wouldn't be hard to replace).

But in all seriouness I'm open to arguments why I shouldn't buy this, I'm not just being funny, but at the moment I am pretty inclined. I'll see if I still feel that way after I move back to the US from Montreal at the end of the summer.

If I for some reason end up not getting a harp-uke, the fallback would instead to sell my 8-string Mele tenor and buy a carbon fibre or polymer 8-string from a good maker, just in the interest of durability since I fret about someday getting cracks in my Mele. At this point almost all my wind instruments are synthetic since I felt so bad when I developed a crack in a wooden bagpipe stock from breath humidity, so I can rest easier with synthetic gear and it fits my lifestyle well.

RichM
05-03-2017, 08:16 AM
Definitely a valid point, though my rebuttal would be that I owned for a while a 10-string classical guitar, and really enjoyed the plunking basses backing my riffs (what's the technical musical term for those plodding bass notes?). I sold the 10-string because it was huge and I was going overseas for a few years (and it was a cheap one that wouldn't be hard to replace).

But in all seriouness I'm open to arguments why I shouldn't buy this, I'm not just being funny, but at the moment I am pretty inclined. I'll see if I still feel that way after I move back to the US from Montreal at the end of the summer.

If I for some reason end up not getting a harp-uke, the fallback would instead to sell my 8-string Mele tenor and buy a carbon fibre or polymer 8-string from a good maker, just in the interest of durability since I fret about someday getting cracks in my Mele. At this point almost all my wind instruments are synthetic since I felt so bad when I developed a crack in a wooden bagpipe stock from breath humidity, so I can rest easier with synthetic gear and it fits my lifestyle well.

Good points, but I would separate out these issues. I, too, appreciate the convenience of non-wood instruments; I have been using a Rainsong guitar as my playing out guitar, as it is absolutely reliable in any venue, and hold tune incredibly well. I just added a Blackbird Farallon to my collection as well, and love the cool, clean sound it has. So if you're committed to having a harp uke, I see your argument towards having one that is presumably carbon fiber.

With that being said, a harp uke is a unique instrument. It may look shiny and cool, but are you certain a harp uke is what you want? If the answer is yes, than I would consider:

- It isn't cheap. Is this a reasonable level of investment for you?
- As an unusual instrument, it may be difficult to resell if you decide it isn't for you
- If you weren't taking full advantage of the bass strings, it would be a bit unwieldy to play

I think it's a go if:

- The price isn't a barrier for you
- You feel the extra bass strings will really make a difference to your playing style
- You get joy from possessing cool instruments
- You are certain you will keep it forever, or can readily absorb any loss resulting from resale

At the end of the day, the only thing stopping you is cost and space to keep it in. If you have the money and the room, the only thing to consider is whether you'll play the thing. Will you?

MatthewVanitas
05-03-2017, 05:33 PM
Again good points, Rich.


- The price isn't a barrier for you

No worries, I sold a house and a motorcycle last month, and though I'm being responsible with most of the money, I carved out a fun-budget for celebratory purchases, and I have no remaining debts, and no spouses or kids in the way (for better or worse).

- You feel the extra bass strings will really make a difference to your playing style

Based on my experience using the basses on my 10-string classical for a year, I would say it would.

- You get joy from possessing cool instruments

Boy howdy, yes, I've been buying weird instruments since I was a kid saving up pocket-change. I've played gigs with concertina, udu drums, all that weird stuff that adds variety to music.

- You are certain you will keep it forever, or can readily absorb any loss resulting from resale

More the latter, I do tend to move gear around, and I've taken big hits a few times on custom instruments (sold a very unique custom uke for $100 that cost me $400 just because it was so weird that everyone thought it was cool but nobody wanted to buy it). But I'm willing to take the risk, and I vaguely think that this item is desirable enough that the hit would be more like 25% loss than 75% loss.


Minor side question since this is driving me crazy: what's the technical term for the kind of plodding bass used in baroque music? Like what's the Bach-equivalent of walking bass? I need that term to describe what I would do with the harp strings and I'm going nuts trying to remember the word!

HubbaBubba
05-03-2017, 05:41 PM
There is a nice looking Bruce Wei Harp/Ukulele in the marketplace. It's half what you were going to spend on the Emerald. Just a thought.

ukulelekarcsi
05-03-2017, 09:20 PM
The Baroque bass parts are usually improvised and called 'basso continuo', which explains itself in English. These 'Continuo musicians' could use a range of instruments, but mainly lute players, piano, organ or harpsichord players. The most spectacular was the theorbo, which is the granddaddy of the harp ukulele: re-entrant tuning and long, unfretted bass strings.

For this improvisation the musicians used a system called figured bass, thoroughbass, basse chiffrée ('numbered bass') or bassus figuratus, which indicated with numbers which notes from a scale could be used (f.e. C#-3-7 "here you play a C#, or its 3rd degree, or it's 7th degree, or octaves of that, but nothing else")

ukatee
05-03-2017, 11:25 PM
Minor side question since this is driving me crazy: what's the technical term for the kind of plodding bass used in baroque music? Like what's the Bach-equivalent of walking bass? I need that term to describe what I would do with the harp strings and I'm going nuts trying to remember the word!
"Basso continuo" as ukulelekarcsi explains is the composer's bass line with added figures to indicate the intended harmony - it was left to the player to improvise within these guidelines. Many of these basses are anything but plodding and can be quite virtuosic.

I wonder if you are thinking of a "ground bass", a usually short melodic, slow-moving pattern that is repeated many times while the rest of the music varies. That harp uke would be perfect, though you would need more than 4 bass strings for, e.g., the Pachelbel Canon.

Go on, get it - you know you want to, and you only live once!

Luke El U
05-04-2017, 02:03 AM
I've always regretted not buying the Anuenue harp uke designed by Pete Howlett. I played it a loved it, but at the time I couldn't think of what kind of music I would play on it, so I waited and lost my chance. Later I came to realize that some lute and 18th century English guittar music could sound beautiful on it. I love all the talk here about baroque "figured" or "ground" bass, but I wonder if by "plodding" you might mean something like a "drone"? IMHO, Rob MacKillop's arrangments of early Scottish lute music for guitar, with open tunings and droning bass would work well on a harp uke. Also playable would be the music for 18th-century wire-strung English guittar (cittern) by composers Oswald and Bremner.

Oh wait, forget that, it's all terrible music and a harp uke is a complete waist of time and money! ;p

Flibble
05-04-2017, 02:05 AM
It looks like someone riding a camel/seahorse!

Rllink
05-04-2017, 03:32 AM
Definitely a valid point, though my rebuttal would be that I owned for a while a 10-string classical guitar, and really enjoyed the plunking basses backing my riffs.

But in all seriouness I'm open to arguments why I shouldn't buy this, I'm not just being funny, but at the moment I am pretty inclined. I'll see if I still feel that way after I move back to the US from Montreal at the end of the summer.

.I'll not argue point for point with you, because I don't care what you buy. So no need to rebut. But I do appreciate the opportunity to speak candidly and not have to tip toe around the subject and in my opinion it is butt ugly as well. On the other hand, I've seen a lot of butt ugly ukuleles that people pay a butt load of money for, just because they are different, and I get the feeling that you like things that a different. So my advise is to just go ahead and buy it and wear it proudly.

1931jim
05-04-2017, 03:41 AM
Matthew,
It looks and sounds very nice, especially the clip you gave in your first posting. I like very much the artistry and playing of Martin Blaynes. There is no need for a pickup to be installed as I think Martin's placement of the microphones improves the sound. Yes I would not hesitate to buy if I was blessed with unlimited funds and spare cash. The craftsmanship of the luthier is apparent. Regards.

Doc_J
05-04-2017, 03:57 AM
Good points, but I would separate out these issues. I, too, appreciate the convenience of non-wood instruments; I have been using a Rainsong guitar as my playing out guitar, as it is absolutely reliable in any venue, and hold tune incredibly well. I just added a Blackbird Farallon to my collection as well, and love the cool, clean sound it has. So if you're committed to having a harp uke, I see your argument towards having one that is presumably carbon fiber.

With that being said, a harp uke is a unique instrument. It may look shiny and cool, but are you certain a harp uke is what you want? If the answer is yes, than I would consider:

- It isn't cheap. Is this a reasonable level of investment for you?
- As an unusual instrument, it may be difficult to resell if you decide it isn't for you
- If you weren't taking full advantage of the bass strings, it would be a bit unwieldy to play

I think it's a go if:

- The price isn't a barrier for you
- You feel the extra bass strings will really make a difference to your playing style
- You get joy from possessing cool instruments
- You are certain you will keep it forever, or can readily absorb any loss resulting from resale

At the end of the day, the only thing stopping you is cost and space to keep it in. If you have the money and the room, the only thing to consider is whether you'll play the thing. Will you?

I agree with Rich.

If you can afford it, believe you would enjoy it, and could live with selling it later for half what you paid, then get it.

MatthewVanitas
05-04-2017, 04:17 AM
Re the Bruce Wei in Marketplace: if the Emerald didn't exist I'd be buying it right now, but I love carbon fiber.

Re "basso continuo": that is indeed the term I was looking for, though I probably described it inelegantly. I need to go read up more on the topic and watch YouTube examples to get a feel for it. Here's the Wikipedia article that covers it: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Figured_bass


I'll not argue point for point with you, because I don't care what you buy. So no need to rebut. But I do appreciate the opportunity to speak candidly and not have to tip toe around the subject and in my opinion it is butt ugly as well. On the other hand, I've seen a lot of butt ugly ukuleles that people pay a butt load of money for, just because they are different, and I get the feeling that you like things that a different. So my advise is to just go ahead and buy it and wear it proudly.

No worries, I appreciate candor! I just chose the first cool pic I found, but personally I'm going for the black model since I find the color options garish. Other than color, I find it quite attractive in a funky way.

http://i.imgur.com/CEekRba.jpg?1


The only way I could like it more if it were 8-string (which would also allow me to immediately sell my Mele, much as I like it) but I imagine it would be no simple matter for them to make an 8-string variant? I assume an 8-string would require a larger peghead, and do 8-strings have notably wider fingerboards? I don't know much about CF construction but I assume they're using molds that can't simply be tweaked, yes? I emailed Emerald to ask, just in case. But if 4 is the only option that's fine, but that means I need to hang onto my wooden Mele for now.

jer
05-04-2017, 03:42 PM
Emerald is an awesome company. I've owned some of their guitars over the years. Alistair will build you about anything you can dream up, but of course it would cost you more if it's not a model already offered as part of their line. You could always get a quote for exactly what you want. I don't know of any other carbon fiber builder who will do the amount of custom work they do. Also, their standard lines are generally less expensive than the other carbon fiber builders even though the quality is high. I think they do offer a trial period too. I have no idea what it'd cost to ship back to Ireland from wherever you are though, and I'm sure you'd be responsible for return shipping.
Also, if you kept it too long to return but then decided to sell it, I don't think there is much of a market there. You'd take a big loss I'm guessing...maybe I'm wrong though..
That's all I've got.

Martinlover
05-04-2017, 04:19 PM
Never understood what the harp ukulele was all about. So great, now I need want one. :rolleyes:

MatthewVanitas
05-08-2017, 06:10 AM
Talked to Emerald, and their Tenor nut is 38mm (Kala 8-string is 37mm) so there's space on the nut. He's talking to the tech to see about the headstock.

Even if it costs a fair bit more to make this 8-string, it'd be worth it since I can cover the cost by selling my Mele 8-string since this will replace it!

1931jim
05-08-2017, 07:24 AM
Matthew I sent you an email. Jim.

dinghy
05-08-2017, 08:01 AM
It looks like someone riding a camel/seahorse!

ahoy

its your money
you want it
get it
but
since you asked
this fool
thinks it is about the most
plug ugly thing I've seen in a long time

enjoy
mac

EDW
05-08-2017, 08:37 AM
You know, I saw this thread and thought that I could easily tell you don't need or want this. Then I clicked on the link and was so taken with the lovely playing that I am not sure what to say. Certainly not many could play it that beautifully.

In reality, I would say enjoy life. If this will enhance yours, then you know what to do. Sorry I can't be of more help.

MatthewVanitas
05-08-2017, 08:46 AM
ahoy

its your money
you want it
get it
but
since you asked
this fool
thinks it is about the most
plug ugly thing I've seen in a long time

enjoy
mac

Good candor, shipmate! Horses for courses though, I also like girls with short hair and hairy armpits, and that's not everyone's cup of tea either. :cool:

I've made the harp-uke my avatar to inspire me, and I think I'll give myself the rest of May to ponder the idea before placing an order. I think I'll sell off my remaining wooden ukes and go all-synthetic. Also considering either an Outdoor Ukulele (all plastic, made in Oregon) or else the gent in Thailand who makes affordable carbon-fiber ukes. If I have a nice big 8-string harp uke in CF, I think the only other thing I'd need now is a soprano or concert 4-string in CF. If I were to have just one more uke, since I'm not into banjo ukes I think my goal would be to have a resonator uke with a synth body.

Overall, my collection has drifted into synthetic instruments since I travel so much. I love my Swedish bagpipes made from gorgeous mesquite wood, but I spend more time playing my polymer set made in Texas with synthetic reeds (check out Seth Hamon's website (http://swedishbagpipes.com/) if that intrigues you, at $385 they're a steal) and I've taken it to four continents so far since it's durable and tiny.

http://i62.tinypic.com/fxtgkk.jpg

(Sackpipa guru Olle Gallmo (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Olle_G%C3%A4llmo), here's him playing and singing my favorite sackpipa tune, "Lordagsvisa" (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ew0Sb2C4PjY))
http://i53.tinypic.com/2dm6za0.jpg

I think a CF uke will fit in just fine...

Ziret
05-09-2017, 06:30 AM
If you're going to get it, I think the garish green is perfect, and far more attractive than the morbid black. The green makes you think of Irish harps, which helps explain it to your listening audience. Go green!

Can you rent one for a month?

Mivo
05-09-2017, 08:15 AM
If I were to buy one, the Emerald is the only one I'd consider. They make great carbon fiber guitars, so this harp uke is likely to sound phenomenal. To me, it looks original and different, not ugly. I actually find it rather stylish, and I too would get the black model.

My concern would be the music I could play on it (readily available music) and technique. There's something gimmicky about harp ukuleles, but I understand the fascination and if money isn't an issue, I'd rather drop $1500 on this than on yet another regular uke. :)

MatthewVanitas
05-10-2017, 04:07 AM
Refining the issue: both Emerland and Blackbird say it's quite doable to do a custom variant of their tenor with 8 strings vice 4. However (and I was asked not to share price-specifics) it is notably pricier, though not unreasonable.

In that case, I think I'm inclined to the basic black Emerald Synergy Opus Tenor Harp Ukulele (I just find the colors garish, tbh), and just get the standard one as it is now. I'll still sell my Mele to help fund it, and after a while while figure out whether I need to get an 8-string harp, or just a separate 8-string CF, or what. I'm moving hard towards synthetic instruments, no soundboard cracks in this man's future!

I'm giving myself to the end of May to make a decision. Also, though this seems crazy, since I'm on sabbatical this summer, I'm tempted to set up a "fare alert" on Kayak and see if there are any great deals from Montreal or Toronto to Belfast or Dublin. I've been meaning to go to Ireland *forever* so if I can find a cheap flight, I can "save" on shipping and get a neat little vacation out of it. Glancing at Kayak, NYC to Dublin round-trip could be as low as US$450 with the right dates; I assume shipping would be at least US$100 for the instrument, so maybe the vacation-and-pickup idea isn't absurd?

1931jim
05-10-2017, 04:18 AM
I will help carry your luggage, I am 110 lbs and skinny and don't eat much. I am low maintenance. I know most pretty spots in Donegal, having lived there for 18 years.

MatthewVanitas
05-10-2017, 04:23 AM
I'm more of a solo traveler ;)

But I could take any recommendations, and if you want to nip up to Montreal this summer to try the harp uke if/when I get it (and try my Swedish bagpipe and whatnot) you're welcome to.

brUKEman
05-10-2017, 04:42 AM
Forget about the harp and buy the 8 string uke of your dreams...

MatthewVanitas
05-10-2017, 07:11 AM
Forget about the harp and buy the 8 string uke of your dreams...

To be honest, I'd rather have an 8-string baritone synthetic.

For a full collection, I think I'd eventually want:

- 4-string tenor harp-uke
- small plastic soprano (like an Outdoor) as a knockaround
- baritone 8-string in CF
- resonator concert uke, probably a Beltona

Pete Howlett
05-11-2017, 07:31 PM
Harp ukulele are not 'gimmicks' and you don't need the crutch of ready tabbed out music to inspire you to create your own. I prefer this style headstock - it's what I used on my first prototype before I got into bed with aNueNue and developed the Dyer Symphony Harp Guitar inspired design. As for CF - I think it's very clever and visionary but it ain't solid wood and despite what people say does not have the tonal qualities of wood. There is always a certain 'thinness' to the sound. But if you are going to amplify or play in the rain (look at Rainsong guitars early publicity back in the 90s) plastic cannot be beat - and before you flame I am using the word 'plastic' meaning synthetic materials we all identify as belonging to the plastic descriptor :)

MatthewVanitas
05-12-2017, 05:32 PM
Thanks for the expert perspective, Pete! I decided to drop the hammer, so in the next few weeks a Synergy Opus will come off the line with my name on it!

Can't wait to try it in open tunings, get the harp strings to resonate sympathetically along...



Oh, and for better or for worse, I don't get this as an excuse for a week-vacation to Ireland, since they offer free shipping and are Customs fees are already included. So I can just keep chilling in Montreal, but sadly don't get to visit Donegal. :(

1931jim
05-13-2017, 02:43 AM
Congratulations Matthew. I was so looking forward to that wee trip to the Finn valley and Ballybofey and Stranorlar.

ukatee
05-13-2017, 05:53 AM
Great news - I can't wait to hear how you get on with it.