PDA

View Full Version : What am I missing with a $99 Uke?



MdBoy
07-11-2017, 06:50 AM
I've been playing with a Cordoba CM15 that was an impulse buy when I was waiting for store staff to find the guitar I ordered. I was impressed how easy it is to make interesting music with the uke (and starting right there in the store not even knowing how to play it!). I've enjoyed playing it since.

For $99, the Cordoba seems like a very nice deal, it sounds pleasent, has very pretty wood, and appears to have good craftsmanship - definitely seems above the grade of the cheapo uke class of < $50 ukes that are more like toys. But I am curious what I am missing with a more expensive uke. I'm planning to go back in to the music store and try some other models. For a budget < $500, would I find a uke that sounds substantially better?

hendulele
07-11-2017, 07:07 AM
You should be able to find one that has more resonance. You may also be perfectly happy with the Cordoba. If it's comfortable to hold and play, it may be fine. Even some very costly instruments are no better than less-expensive ones. It's all very subjective.

Example: I recently ordered a uke case from an Amazon seller. By mistake, they sent me a solid koa Lanakai tenor uke! Street price of about $400. We got everything returned, exchanged, etc. But I couldn't help but pick up the uke and mess with it a bit. It weighed a ton, and apparently that's because Lanakai used lacquer to provide a glossy finish. It was pretty but extremely overpriced for me. And it hadn't been set up, so the action was weird. I own a half-dozen ukes that go for half the price of that instrument that play, sound, and feel better.

So your mileage will vary. Since you're fortunate enough to have a 1st uke you really like, I'd suggest always playing before buying when you can.

Dooke
07-11-2017, 07:13 AM
Doesn't sound like you are missing anything! Enjoy your uke! I always say you will get more tone with practice than you will with cash.

RichM
07-11-2017, 07:19 AM
First of all, there's nothing wrong with a $99 uke. As long as it's playable and intonated properly, enjoy and have at it. Whether or not you find value in a more expensive uke is something you'll learn over time. I have both very expensive and very inexpensive ukes in my collection, and I like them all, for different reasons. My $40 Waterman gets played a lot because I can leave it lying around. As a wise man once said, "If you can't hear the difference between a $100 instrument and a $1000 instrument, congratulations; you just saved $900." Play and be well!

Croaky Keith
07-11-2017, 07:34 AM
If it does what you want, & you like it, then there is no need to buy another, but we are all familiar with UAS. :)

Basically a good laminate is a workhorse, a solid top is more refined, and a solid wood uke is better still, possibly, as with all things, there is variance.

After trying a fair few ukes, I have found what suits me, but they may not be for you. ;)

MdBoy
07-11-2017, 08:18 AM
I always say you will get more tone with practice than you will with cash.

Great point!

Graham Greenbag
07-11-2017, 08:43 AM
I've been playing with a Cordoba CM15 that was an impulse buy when I was waiting for store staff to find the guitar I ordered. I was impressed how easy it is to make interesting music with the uke (and starting right there in the store not even knowing how to play it!). I've enjoyed playing it since.

For $99, the Cordoba seems like a very nice deal, it sounds pleasent, has very pretty wood, and appears to have good craftsmanship - definitely seems above the grade of the cheapo uke class of < $50 ukes that are more like toys. But I am curious what I am missing with a more expensive uke. I'm planning to go back in to the music store and try some other models. For a budget < $500, would I find a uke that sounds substantially better?

I don't play expensive Ukes and the other instruments that I play are, relative to what I could spend, not expensive. My experience is that so long as the instrument isn't toy-like then the sound that it does produce is mostly (but not completely) down to the user. A Pro will always sound better on a student (cheap) instrument than a student will sound on a pro's (expensive) instrument.

$99 can get you better than a toy Uke by quite some margin and how it sounds is down to how you set it up and play it. A more expensive Uke has the ability to sound better but broadly that ability is only transferred into reality by the more expert player - or to put it another way, only a racing driver needs a racing car. If you have $500 to spend then maybe consider spending some of that on lessons, improving your skills to enable you to make the Uke you have sound better has a merit.

I buy all my Ukes by mail order, it's worked for me but I do do a lot of on-line research first and talk to players in the clubs that I play in about their Ukes too. If you have access to a store with a wide selection of Ukes that you can try then play before you buy is a very good way to go - maybe don't buy on the first visit though.

SteveZ
07-11-2017, 08:53 AM
I've had ukes up and down the price points. A lot depends on the workmanship of the particular unit. Even among production units there are stars and slugs. So, there's some luck involved in purchase of any mass-produced instrument. As the price goes up, the luck factor tends to be reduced. Tone is more consistent and vibrant and playing comfort is often better.

Now, there are a few tricks to take any stringed instrument and make it play and sound better. Most of these can be accomplished by anyone willing to spend a little time learning how to do their own set-ups and maintenance.

As far as a $99 uke, a couple of mine fall around that number. They have been customized by me to fit my playing comfort level. New and better strings, a feather-touch set-up and even pickups/preamps have made a whale of a difference, keeping me from spending more and getting possibly no more and maybe less

If the budget allows adding instrumenys in the $300-500 range, there are several decent ones on the new market in that range. I'm partial to the Martin "1" series, but there are others. Even better is the used instrument market where the savvy buyer can do very well.

Rllink
07-11-2017, 09:09 AM
Probably gonna have to show people what a good ukulele player you are instead of showing them what a good ukulele you have. Okay, seriously, most people are not going to know what price point your ukulele is, unless they are into that kind of thing.

Debussychopin
07-11-2017, 09:30 AM
I've been playing with a Cordoba CM15 that was an impulse buy when I was waiting for store staff to find the guitar I ordered. I was impressed how easy it is to make interesting music with the uke (and starting right there in the store not even knowing how to play it!). I've enjoyed playing it since.

For $99, the Cordoba seems like a very nice deal, it sounds pleasent, has very pretty wood, and appears to have good craftsmanship - definitely seems above the grade of the cheapo uke class of < $50 ukes that are more like toys. But I am curious what I am missing with a more expensive uke. I'm planning to go back in to the music store and try some other models. For a budget < $500, would I find a uke that sounds substantially better?

Not missing anything. Save your money, sit down, and practice hard.

Barrytone
07-11-2017, 10:15 AM
I just took delivery of a spruce topped Chinese made Kmise concert. The postage doubled the price to 30. The workmanship cannot be faulted, better than some 300 models. It is loud, very resonant and the intonation almost perfect up the neck. I do not know if this is down to luck or they are all like this but it shows you can buy an inexpensive instrument and not regret it.

Chopped Liver
07-11-2017, 10:28 AM
I've been playing with a Cordoba CM15 that was an impulse buy when I was waiting for store staff to find the guitar I ordered. I was impressed how easy it is to make interesting music with the uke (and starting right there in the store not even knowing how to play it!). I've enjoyed playing it since.

For $99, the Cordoba seems like a very nice deal, it sounds pleasent, has very pretty wood, and appears to have good craftsmanship - definitely seems above the grade of the cheapo uke class of < $50 ukes that are more like toys. But I am curious what I am missing with a more expensive uke. I'm planning to go back in to the music store and try some other models. For a budget < $500, would I find a uke that sounds substantially better?

Why look for something else if you are happy with what you have? I agree that you should play it and enjoy it. Later on down the road, if you decide to, then maybe check out a more expensive one. Right now, just enjoy the one you have.

sculptor
07-11-2017, 10:58 AM
Cordoba is a respected maker and not some random junk brand that has a poor sound and will likely warp in the future. However, you might want to get it setup by somebody that is skilled at setting up ukuleles or you can acquire the skill yourself. This is because Cordobas are often too high at the nut and this should be adjusted to improve playability.

-- Gary

Debussychopin
07-11-2017, 12:05 PM
Unless the Cordoba could actually be sold at a useful profit for $50 and you are paying an extra $50 for the name on the headstock and a fancy webpage. Then of course you would have bought a uke for twice what it was actually worth if you paid $100. I think you could buy direct from China and buy a similar uke for a lower price, and it would sound just as good.
The obvious differences between a $1000 production uke made in the USA and a $50 uke made in China lie in the respect paid to the workers and the environment as reflected in wages and compliance with CITES processes. The specs say that the CM15 has a rosewood fretboard, in other posts I have read that in the USA and other serious CITES countries, CITES certification for rosewood can cost around $200, so it is hard to see how Cordoba could be making a profit with a selling price of $100, unless I am missing something. How can a uke with a rosewood fretboard even get over a border now without the certification documentation? Was there a certificate in the box when you bought it?
So perhaps the uke does sound as good as a production uke made in a country where workers get paid properly and the government respects CITES, and at the low price it may be all many people can afford. However, there is an emotional element to owning a musical instrument, and you may have to suspend concern for workers and the environment if you want to avoid the emotional sadness that goes with owning a uke made by underpaid workers in a place where the environment is not respected.

This Is the kind of fallacious advice that is harmful to any new person who can be impressionable w such info.
There's all kinds of wrong in this quote above i don't know where to start.
First of all, you're not just paying 50 for a fancy headstock and name if you can't sell it more than 50 for example. There's so much that goes into the value of what was spent including the joy and entitlement of owning such things you can't discount that.
Also I don't believe cites works simply like that. You have a merchant who has a license for a bundle of wood, not for every single cut and slice of rosewood. And there are other things too.
Emotional sadness for owning something made in China? Maybe for you, but these aren't made in child labor sweatshops. These are made by skilled employees in the Chinese factories and they choose to work there. You can get into all kinds of grey area business strategies all over the world and in the states and that's for another topic but don't be stating these blanket statements that'll just confuse the op and others more than clarify for a simple practical question.

kohanmike
07-11-2017, 07:39 PM
When I stated playing uke four years ago, I quickly got UAS (uke acquisition syndrome), but I consciously kept them under the $200 mark. I got up to 16 in the first year. I then decided to to spend a little more money so I compared the $1000+ K brand ukes to a Kala KAATP-CTG-CE solid cedar top, acacia koa body and came to the conclusion that those K brand $1000+ ones were not up to three times better than the Kala, in fact, I thought the Kala came very close, if not equal to some of them, so I bought it for $379, a tenor cutaway with preamp. It's my best playing and sounding uke and that's what I would recommend to you.

http://www.kohanmike.com/uploads/Kala Cedar.jpg

Graham Greenbag
07-11-2017, 09:55 PM
When I stated playing uke four years ago, I quickly got UAS (uke acquisition syndrome), but I consciously kept them under the $200 mark. I got up to 16 in the first year. I then decided to to spend a little more money so I compared the $1000+ K ukes to a Kala Kala KAATP-CTG-CE solid cedar top, acacia koa body and came to the conclusion that those K brand $1000+ ones were not up to three times better than the Kala, in fact, I thought the Kala came very close, if not equal to some of them, so I bought it for $379, a tenor cutaway with preamp. It's my best playing and sounding uke and that's what I would recommend to you.


Out of the above I pick:
1) you can buy a lot of Ukes before you find what's right for you just now.
2) it takes a while to understand what it is that you're looking for.
3) an item's sale price is but a loose indication of quality and functionality.
4) when rigorously comparing your prospective purchase against other Ukes doing that, side by side, in a shop can work well.

The last point was more implied rather than stated, hope I got that right.

PhilUSAFRet
07-11-2017, 11:01 PM
Many feel that Cordoba 15CM is the best sounding $100, all laminate uke out there, so don't expect very many other sub-$100 ukes to sound as good.

Graham Greenbag
07-12-2017, 12:26 AM
Some intereresting ethical points above but when when Mdboy made the original post his interest appeared to be in musical experience rather than any other. If I am incorrect in that then the OP is more than welcome to tell me so. It wouldn't, IMHO, be fair to divert Mdboy's thread anway from musical issues to ethical ones instead. That's not at all to say anything negative or challenge anything but rather to encourage the start of a separate ethical thread where the ethical points made above could be more fully discussed and advertised in its tittle. I hope that that is a reasonable suggestion and doesn't offend.

DownUpDave
07-12-2017, 01:32 AM
As a guitar player you probabaly know the difference between an inexpensive guitar and a mid priced instrument, same applies to a ukulele. Usually you move from a laminate to an all solid wood instrument which has the potenial to sound better. Most times it does but not always. Only you can judge if the price difference is worth it to you.

ripock
07-12-2017, 03:24 AM
Since you're going ukulele shopping in person and your vendor has Cordobas, let me suggest you try out one of instruments in the 30 series. To (mis)quote Protagoras, you are the measure of all things. If, by your own measurement, the 30 feels better in your hands, is more dulcet, appears built better...then consider it

SailingUke
07-12-2017, 03:33 AM
I would not say you are missing anything. In fact you may have some cash I am missing from my purchases.

Rllink
07-12-2017, 05:31 AM
I read Bill's verbosity, both the original and his revised post, and I am still not sure what the point is. Anyway, it is always interesting the comments that come out of these threads.

bunnyf
07-12-2017, 07:48 AM
Not missing much. If you have a uke you like, all good. I went through maybe a half dozen or so ukes in search of the right size, feel and sound. I learned a bit about my preferences. Funny though, in retrospect, my first basic laminate uke (under $100) still sounds good to me and is comfortable to play. I don't sound significantly better on my "good" ukes...could have saved a ton of dough and concentrated more on playing and less on acquiring.

Chopped Liver
07-12-2017, 08:48 AM
I would not say you are missing anything. In fact you may have some cash I am missing from my purchases.

This! We need a like button!

Chopped Liver
07-12-2017, 08:48 AM
Not missing much. If you have a uke you like, all good. I went through maybe a half dozen or so ukes in search of the right size, feel and sound. I learned a bit about my preferences. Funny though, in retrospect, my first basic laminate uke (under $100) still sounds good to me and is comfortable to play. I don't sound significantly better on my "good" ukes...could have saved a ton of dough and concentrated more on playing and less on acquiring.

I could have written that! Yes, concentrate on playing!

MdBoy
07-12-2017, 08:49 AM
Got some great advice on here! Sounds like I would notice subtle differences but nothing substantial. What a wonderful instrument that for $99 you can get reasonable quality (not to mention the portability).

After reading quite a bit it seems like solids are very very generally better than laminates (or perhaps usually better made as laminates are typically the econo models), but that there are plenty of examples of poor sounding and great sounding solids, poor sounding and great sounding laminates, and in all price ranges.

I'm still planning to go to Guitar Center to try some just to fully satisfy my curiosity. I can see buying another Cordoba CM15 just to string it differently, like with the lower G metal string. Might also be interesting to get a tenor. I guess UAS is taking hold!

Appreciate all the advice!

PTOEguy
07-12-2017, 08:54 AM
My take is that if you're looking at the difference between a $100 laminate and a $500 laminate, you would see a definite difference. I'm less certain about a modest laminate vs. a low-cost solid wood uke. I suspect the lower cost solid wood ukes tend to have a much wider variance. On average you'd probably see a difference. However, you could be at the low end of the bell curve and get a solid wood uke that compares unfavorably with the mid-range laminates. It happened to me.

Graham Greenbag
07-13-2017, 02:59 AM
For $99, the Cordoba seems like a very nice deal, it sounds pleasent, has very pretty wood, and appears to have good craftsmanship - definitely seems above the grade of the cheapo uke class of < $50 ukes that are more like toys. But I am curious what I am missing with a more expensive uke. I'm planning to go back in to the music store and try some other models. For a budget < $500, would I find a uke that sounds substantially better?

Others have hinted at it but you are missing some pain.

There's the pain that you feel when you buy say a $200 tenor and then realise that you don't like that size, that you will never play the expensive Uke that sounded so good in the reviews and store. Similarly there are various shapes, configurations and tone woods that will all be ideal for someone but could very easily combine to produce a Uke that you thought you'd like but, in practice, never use 'cause your love for it didn't last. All money effectively down the drain and to many people that's painful.

I've been lucky so far but I can imagine that I'd be quite pained if I accidentally left a $200 Uke on pulblic transport, drove-off with it on the roof of my car, had someone accidentally sit on it or had grandchildren and the like seize upon it as a toy. YMMV.

Ziret
07-16-2017, 11:46 AM
Don't have anything to add other than if you do in fact buy another one just like the other one, you'll miss the chance to find out more about what you like, not just in brands, but sound, playability, and size. Even if you don't like the new one as well, you'll learn that.

Steveperrywriter
07-17-2017, 12:27 PM
Play a bunch of different instruments and see how they feel and sound. Inexpensive doesn't mean intrinsically bad. Nor do expensive ukes guarantee superiority. That said, you are more likely to find quality as the care in building and selection of materials go up, and that costs more. Do the tests blind and see how that goes.

Steveperrywriter
07-17-2017, 01:26 PM
A real blind test? Just that. Put on a blindfold (or sit in a dark room), and have somebody bring you an instrument.

Strum a few chords, fingerpick a little, try the intonation up the neck, see how if feels and sounds.

Then try a second ukulele, the same size and style.

Let one of them be a $99 laminate, the other, a high-end solid wood production model, or a handmade one from a respected luthier.

If one doesn’t feel and sound better than the other, go with the laminate. If one does seem much better than the other? I'd bet that will be the more expensive one …

Be interesting to see this done with all levels of players. If I had to guess, I would expect that the better and more experienced a player is, the more likely s/he will pick the more expensive uke.

Nickie
07-27-2017, 08:39 AM
This is an interesting and informational thread.
I'm glad you found love with your $99 Cordoba. That was my 1st serious uke. I immediately fell in love, the Cordobas have great necks. I agree that they are probably the best deal in laminates for $100 or less. I would have kept mine if it hadn't gotten an annoying C and E string buzz that I couldn't get rid of. The buyer easily took care of that, and I wanted it back but he said no.
You can succumb to UAS, but I don't recommend if unless you're rich. After 15 ukuleles, I finally wound up with the right one, yes, it was a fun search, albeit a bit frustrating, but I feel cured of UAS. Dumb luck has it that we nave no more room for any more ukes.
Were I you, I'd focus less on the hunt for the next uke, and hunker down with a good cup of coffee, some sheet music or good You Tube tutorials and focus keenly on just how great you can become on that wonderful little CM15 you already have.
That's the best advice I can possibly give.
"The more we appreciate what we have, the more we are given."

JohnDFrank
07-27-2017, 09:32 AM
Hello MdBoy!

I began playing ukulele this summer after I purchased one for my daughter and ended up playing it more often than she does. I also bought a Cordoba CM15 after reading online reviews and I've purchased a few others (for myself and her) since that time that were made by Kala and by Islander. The Cordoba is probably my least favorite ukulele of the bunch but it's still more than decent and fun to play.

I live in Los Angeles and I shopped first at Guitar Center but later found two other places (Kaye's and U-Space) where ukuleles are the featured instrument. The difference between those stores and GC (or Sam Ash) is night and day. If you have a music store where you live that features ukuleles and has knowledgeable staff I'd highly recommend that you just skip GC, I have not found that there's much to be learned there. The ukuleles that my local GC and Sam Ash carry are all similar in quality to the Cordoba that you already have.


There are many sites online where you can learn about ukes, but since you're already on here I bet you've already seen many of them!

Prattism@gmail.com
07-27-2017, 03:11 PM
As many have said, the Cordoba 15C is a superior <$100 laminate. It was one of my first before I got the dreaded UAS. My daughter inherited and it gets a lot more playing time than I would give it. The action was a little high but that was a simple enough fix. I liked the Cordoba enough to eventually buy the 35TS-CE at 5x the cost. Is it better? Yeah. 5X better? No way.

If you like the sound and the playability, you're lucky enough to have found a great deal on a good instrument. Extra money could be spent in replacing strings or having it professionaly set up.

Before you buy another one and try to discover the difference in higher price, make some local ukulele friends, go to a uke festival, find a great store (they are hard to find), and try on a few for size. Play, play, play until you need an upgrade to keep getting better. Then thank your lucky stars it's a Uke, and not a piano. 12 years of piano for my daughter was VERY costly when it came time to upgrade her instrument. Twice. Ouch.