View Full Version : My daughter's elementary school is starting a Ukulele program!

10-03-2017, 04:16 PM
We're fortunate to have a great elementary school which my daughter attends. The music teacher is an absolute gem, and she's just started fundraising for a ukulele program. Of course I'm thrilled that the instrument that's absorbing so much of my interest will be gaining ground locally. I'm no better than an intermediate player, but I'm hoping I can help out in the classroom a bit.

She's aiming for a purchase of 10 Mitchell MU40 Soprano Ukuleles. The price works out to $37 each, so dirt cheap, but given how good some of the Makala and other inexpensive instruments are, I'm not writing these off as junk. By any chance has anyone played one of these? I think she's ordering from a distributor that focuses on school music programs, so hopefully these are suitably rugged AND musically sound.

I'm confident she'll reach her fundraising goal, so in posting the link I'm not expecting UU members to contribute. As anyone with school age kids or grandkids knows, there's a non-stop bombardment of fundraisers these days. But if anyone wants to help out, it'd be cool to see support from the broader uke community.


Hopefully I'll be able to report back next semester with some video footage!

10-03-2017, 04:37 PM
Is the teacher open to different instruments? There are a number of other instruments that I would recommend over the Mitchell.

10-03-2017, 05:31 PM
Is the teacher open to different instruments? There are a number of other instruments that I would recommend over the Mitchell.

I'm not sure. I've only had a chance to talk with her briefly about it, but it looks like the Donor's Choose platform requires detailed, itemized descriptions of exactly where the money will go, so it may be hard to change what she's going to spend the donated funds on. If the Mitchells are close in quality/durability to the dolphin/shark instruments, I think they'd be fine for elementary school room use. But I'd never heard of them until now.

Have you seen them up close? Though no luthier, I'd be willing to sand down saddles (if they're removable) to lower the action, but that's about the limit of my setup skills.

10-03-2017, 06:31 PM
Mitchell is sort of the house brand of Guitar Center. They are not regarded well by folks that have actually PLAYED a Makala or the lower end ukes from Kala, Ohana, Gretsch, Cordoba and other brands.

... If the Mitchells are close in quality/durability to the dolphin/shark instruments, I think they'd be fine for elementary school room use. But I'd never heard of them until now.

Have you seen them up close?...

I have played several different display models of Mitchell ukes in various different Guitar Center locations in NJ.

IMHO, I would say that they are overbuilt, lack sustain, and had a very lifeless sound, just a hair above rubber-bands stretched over an open shoebox (when even compared to the tone of a Waterman, and a lowly Makala Dolphin or Shark), so I would not worry about build quality, but I think that expecting any kind of pleasing tone out of them is a really big stretch.

Some had rough fret edges, and some were ok.

As to the playability, all of the ones I handled had high action and the intonation needed adjustment at both the nut and saddle, but if the sound is bad enough (it is :)) I doubt anyone will play it long enough to care about the poor intonation.

I would hope that the school has budgeted for a local luthier to do the setup work necessary on each of the ukes, because they are gonna need it to be comfortable to play.

If they are uncomfortable to play, the participation of the ukulele program is going to drop like flies when the kids tell each other that the ukes are painful and sound bad.

I would hope that the priority of the music program is to engage the students in music and inspire them as much as possible, (and I know there are Mitchell fans out there) and sorry but the Mitchell ukes I tried only inspired me to think about getting a bottle of lighter fluid and matches so I could rid them from the selection list of some hapless newbie who was buying on looks without any knowledge about just how bad they are compared to ukes for a few dollars more....

10-04-2017, 12:47 AM
Anything I would have added was taken by Booli. His IMHO statement pretty much sums it up. I’ll add that the non-starter Mitchell instruments are pretty...still overbuilt.

We have Caramels—and after Barry Maz’s Review, I hesitate recommending them, although they still take a beating. Depending on funds—I might steer them to Aklot concerts at the moment (Barry will review one soon), the Makala brand (set up can still be an issue), or even the Dolphin/Sharks (with again set up awareness). I would also contact Mainland Mike and see if he has visual seconds that he would sell to a school at an affordable price. Oh...and Outdoor Ukulele offers 50% off in sets of 12 or more to schools, lowering the cost immensely for a super durable

Those are some options beyond Guitar Center—but the plan may already be underway. I’d also encourage the teacher to join here as well as the ukecandoit Ning and Facebook groups.

10-04-2017, 02:52 AM
I should also add that on the fund-raising campaign page in the first post, the chosen vendor 'Woodwind and Brasswind' is owned by the same parent company that ALSO owns Guitar Center, Musician's Friend, Music123 and a few others, and across all of their web sites, the sell the same inventory with WIDELY varying prices, shipping policies, and return policies.

In the ukulele community, from my own observations and experiences, and hearing the opinions of others this parent company and it's subsidiaries (listed above) are somewhat hostile to ukulele buyers, and in the retail stores I've been to and asked about having a setup done on an ukulele, I've been told either 'ukuleles don't need any setup' or 'we don't do that here' or met with blank stares or even laughed at to my face.

Guitar Center and it's parent company are pure evil as far as I'm concerned and my experience in the stores has always made me regret the time wasted in there.

Sam Ash was around long before this effluvium of a company, and has far better customer service, and quite frankly much better pricing on average as well.

I hope everything works out for this music program, (and I hate to rain on this parade) but experience has taught me that the reality is likely to be very much something less than a success using this brand of instruments, and for what it's worth, yes you CAN do worse than Mitchell.

Most manufacturers and MOST uke makers have special purchase programs for schools, and there are over 100 different brands that are made better than the Mitchel or Rogue ukuleles at just a few dollars more, and a vendor like Uke Republic, or Mim's Ukes that does a full setup on each uke they sell FOR FREE, or a vendor such as Mainland, also does a full setup on each uke.

Also, as Choirguy said, the Outdoor Ukulele company offers a great discount, and is in a whole other league in terms of build quality, ruggedness and tone compared to a Waterman, Dolphin or Shark.

and PLEASE avoid Mahalo...Choirguy has lots of great info and videos on his blog regarding HIS OWN work with the ukulele program in his school, for which he is responsible...

see here --> http://www.ukestuff.info

10-04-2017, 04:28 AM
My ukulele choir director is the music teacher for the local elementary schools. They use Luna brand in the schools with very good results. Many in the choir also have Luna's of varying sizes - some are from Amazon and others are from a local mom and pop music store. I also have a Luna bought from HMS back in 2014. Mine has dressed frets etc.and a full setup for comparison, but the off-the-shelf Luna's are nice, and no one has stopped using a uke because of build issues.

10-04-2017, 07:02 AM
Thanks for all this great info. I'm going to send a link to this thread to the teacher.

10-04-2017, 04:22 PM
Reading the thread and the project page, I am amazed that $477 is an issue for a school. It does not seem right that such a relatively small amount of money would be enough to derail a ukulele school program.

Up until last year, my budget was $0. All of our ukuleles had to come from fundraising. Last year, they added a budget line of about $1000 for sheet music that runs about $2.25 per copy. I have about 350 students which translates into just over 1 new piece per year for every student.

I would say that my scenario is worse than average...but still very common. Schools are budgeted to the penny with very little room for other projects.

10-05-2017, 04:27 AM
That's cool, good luck with the program! The school my grandson was attending has a music teacher that used ukulele for her 4th grade classes. Unfortunately, my grandson moved out of town...:( The school was in NE Colorado.

10-05-2017, 07:05 AM
The project is now fully funded! The last donor was not someone local, so I can't help but wonder if it was someone who saw it here, in which case: Thank you so much for your generosity!

To answer a few of the questions that have come up: This is a very small public school--just 140 students, grades kindergarten to 5th. A significant number are in low income households. While it is a very good school thanks to its outstanding faculty and principal, it is woefully underfunded, as is the case for most of the public school systems I'm familiar with. I completely agree that a $477 expenditure for musical instruments shouldn't need a crowd-funded campaign. (And I suspect if it was a request for sports equipment, it would have been funded internally in the blink of an eye, but that's a separate issue.) Without getting too political, our priorities in my country are whacked at the moment. Public education is perhaps the most important investment we can make in our future, but we squander vast resources elsewhere, and our underappreciated teachers thus have to scrape for basic classroom supplies.

I'm also in agreement that it will probably be too disruptive for me to suggest another brand/model of instrument at this point. The Donors Choose platform that's been used here has protocols to ensure that the money raised will be used in as specified in the campaign, and they verify the specific costs prior to launch. That of course makes sense as a mechanism to address potential fraud. But it means switching to another vendor/instrument would be problematic.

Since anything at this pricepoint is going to need some setup work, I think I'm going to offer to look them over once they arrive and see what it will take to get them setup properly, maybe trying to work out an arrangement with a local luthier for any that are beyond my abilities.