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View Full Version : Snail 'Ukuleles: Heads up.



buddhuu
01-05-2018, 11:49 PM
Last few months I've played a couple of Snail ukes. They were great and I was beginning to think of them as a potential Kala-killer: inexpensive but good quality. So, I ordered a tenor with a solid koa top.

The instrument that arrived was not as depicted in many of the pics being posted by dealers. The model I ordered has usually been shown with gold hardware and a tie bar bridge. The one that arrived had chrome tuners and a through-strung bridge. Furthermore the bridge was lifting slightly and the A string intonation was out with no scope left in the compensated saddle to correct it.

The dealer, Nick at Cantabile Music, has been very responsive and helpful. He was told recently by the distributor that the Snails are now being made in a different factory. Maybe we're just seeing teething problems, but these unexpected changes in spec and quality don't impress me. The uke is going back and I'm probably going to go Pono or for one of the better Kalas for this current purchase.

Based on the two I played before, I had been recommending Snail. For the moment I withdraw that recommendation. I'm happy to sing the praises of Cantabile's customer service. The new generation of Snails though? Meh.

kvehe
01-06-2018, 01:04 AM
Thanks for the info. My Snail laminate concert sounds terrific, but I bought it three years ago. A local guitar shop has replaced much of their Kala inventory with Snails, so I hope they’re prepared for possible issues. :(

MopMan
01-06-2018, 02:49 AM
It's just like a Snail to leave a trail of slime behind them... while it is perhaps better than a trail of Kaka I suppose that is no consolation at all to those who get stuck eating it.

Ukecaster
01-06-2018, 04:19 AM
Sounds like that Snail was actually a slug

buddhuu
01-06-2018, 05:22 AM
Thanks for the info. My Snail laminate concert sounds terrific, but I bought it three years ago. A local guitar shop has replaced much of their Kala inventory with Snails, so I hope they’re prepared for possible issues. :(

One of the Snails I played was a stripy laminate one. It sounded great - a bit similar in character to a Kiwaya my mate has. The other one I tried was the one I ordered and just returned, but the older version as shown in most of the promo images in online listings. That was excellent too - quite a bit louder than the one I received.

Xtradust
01-06-2018, 06:15 AM
Any Snail, Ammoon, Ukboy, Caramel, Mu$ic, etc. that sounds like a Kiwaya, in my opinion, would be an exception.

I think that they are terrific for a beginner on a budget, but expecting much more, I feel, is unrealistic.

I’d be happy if I got a good one. :)

buddhuu
01-06-2018, 08:03 AM
Any Snail, Ammoon, Ukboy, Caramel, Mu$ic, etc. that sounds like a Kiwaya, in my opinion, would be an exception.

I think that they are terrific for a beginner on a budget, but expecting much more, I feel, is unrealistic.

I’d be happy if I got a good one. :)

LOL. I said "a bit", not "exactly"! Great tone for a laminate and loud as heck. I thought the very stripy "wood" looked a bit garish though. The ones I tried (before the lemon) were more than beginners' fare - although the prices are certainly in that ball park. It's like a lot of the low-intermediate brands: they come from the same factories as the industrial waste standard USOs, but quality control and attention to detail make all the difference.

I still have the cheap Stagg solid mahogany soprano we started out with a decade ago and it's one of the loudest, sweetest sopranos I ever played. Every other Stagg I tried has been junk. This one has a paper-thin top (**exaggeration alert**) and is really resonant. With worth browns it sounds huge. Almost like a concert. Surprisingly excellent things do come out of those mass production facilities sometimes.

Booli
01-06-2018, 09:45 AM
...Based on the two I played before, I had been recommending Snail. For the moment I withdraw that recommendation. I'm happy to sing the praises of Cantabile's customer service. The new generation of Snails though? Meh.

Kudos to you for sharing you experience here.

Good looking out brother. :)

buddhuu
01-06-2018, 09:57 AM
Kudos to you for sharing you experience here.

Good looking out brother. :)

To be honest, I probably wouldn't have said anything but, based on my experiences with the other two that I'd played a few times, I was impressed enough to actually recommend to several people that they try Snail over other similar level but more established brands. Now I have reason to think I spoke too soon it would be irresponsible not to set the record straight.

I expect the other mods get the same thing: I quite often get messages/emails from people asking my opinion on 'ukuleles. They seem surprised that my experience is as limited as it is. I've never owned a >500 'ukulele. Neither my bank account nor my ability would justify it. I do know the low-intermediates reasonably well though.

I survive on relatively cheap instruments: Chinese, Indonesian or Romanian guitars, mandolins, fiddles, bouzoukis and 'ukuleles. Just don't ever ask me about 'real' instruments: they're not my territory. :D

buddhuu
01-20-2018, 04:51 AM
Ok, I went shopping for a beater today. I went to one of the few remaining guitar shops in my immediate area, in Stevenage. This store seems to specialise in Snail ukes - it's the main brand they stock, along with a few basic, colourful entry level kids' ukes, a couple of Martins (on the website but not visible on display) and a couple of Sigmas.

The guy in the store was great. After a quick diversion during which we compared beards, he played the ukes I picked out for me so I could hear the projection etc from a listener's point of view. He also got a tuner so I could check intonation on each uke.

I had gone with the intention of picking up the solid M3 tenor as recently reviewed by Barry at Gotaukulele. I nearly did get it too. It sounded really nice played down the busy end but as the guy moved higher it didn't sound quite spot on. The tuner confirmed that the intonation became increasingly flat across the strings as one moved from G to A. I was disappointed that they only had the one M3.

Now a small tweak to intonation is no problem for me: I've been repairing and setting up fretted instruments for many years. The problem with this M3 was that the saddle is compensated and it is already set up with maximum compensation in the direction I'd need to extend it in order to sharpen the note at the 12th fret. Occasionally a change of strings will expose a false-flag intonation issue where the problem was down to a kinked or dented string. This had a smooth set of fluorocarbons that had no such flaws (if you pinch and slide along strings you can usually feel dents and kinks even if you can's see them).

I tried a few more Snails: solid ukes, solid top ukes and laminates. They're all basically decent but with one recurring problem: the majority of the ones with the through-strung, fancy-shape bridges seem to have intonation issues that are just a bit too bad for saddle compensation to fix. It's not drastic in most cases, but it is bad enough for me to hear and I don't have the best ears. On the other hand, the Snails I tried with the old-style tie bar bridges (and uncompensated saddles) all had acceptable intonation and, what's more, the minor tweaks needed to get them spot on would, by my estimation, be well within the compensation I could get out of their saddles armed with a file.

In the end I did buy a Snail but it was a pretty basic mahogany laminate model with a tie bar. It's as plain as they come but it sound good and is loud. Best of all, the intonation is good.

I can't believe all the new Snails from the new factory (the ones with the ebony bridge/fretboard "upgrades") have intonation problems. Surely if a misaligned jig was putting the bridges a fraction out of place they would have picked it up and fixed it. Maybe all the ones I've tried were from early runs?

I have no idea.

Anyway, they are great, inexpensive ukes so long as you pick one with good intonation. That seems to be the one recurring flaw. I've now seen it in all six or seven of the ebony though-strung bridge tenors I've tried.

Not down on Snail - as I say, I did just buy one - just kind of baffled.