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kissing
02-25-2018, 04:16 AM
I have heard Caramel ukulele's being somewhat well-regarded as a low-price but decent quality option from our friends in China :)

I was on the prowl for a new, affordable Baritone, and this one ticked all the boxes:
https://www.ebay.com/itm/Caramel-CB203-All-Solid-Acacia-Baritone-Acoustic-Electric-Ukulele-With-Truss-Rod/263296625857?

-All Solid Acacia
-Acoustic Electric*
-Soft case included
-AND a TRUSS ROD!

All of this for a measly $150?
I was sold and bought it on an impulse (though I will have to wait a bit).


How have peoples' experience been ordering Caramel ukes from overseas? Does it arrive well packaged and in mint condition?

I guess the main worry is solid-wood being shipped and exposed to temperature/humidity fluctuations. Hopefully the truss rod makes the neck resilient against those changes.




*- Will replace the stock undersaddle piezo with a better Artec one myself ;)
This inexpensive, simple modification makes these cheap acoustic-electrics pickup systems really perform
http://www.ebay.com/itm/ARTEC-Piezo-Pickup-for-UKULELE-PP404U-MADOLIN-PP407M-ARTEC-ORIGINAL/112510228690?

Choirguy
02-25-2018, 07:05 AM
You might want to read through much of the Rubin/Caramel ukulele thread.

I have access to 51 Caramel Ukuleles. 50 of those are at my school (40 concerts, 10 tenors) and one of those is a sopranino that I might sell soon. All are the entry level zebrawood models.

There used to be a lot of discussion about Caramel until Barry Max (gotaukulele.com) reviewed one and gave his honest opinion...he didn’t like it. Ultimately, he thought you could pay a little bit more and get a much better ukulele. He’s right. But you can’t always pay a little bit more. You should watch his full review.

I have had the Caramels in service, some for just about 2 years...others are past their first year (I had to buy them in waves). What I noticed was that set-up improved (I know I offered feedback with each batch), and every order arrived safely. One order disappeared; the company re-sent six ukuleles, and with a day of the re-shipment, the missing batch showed up (never having shown up on USPS tracking).

It can take a month for a ukulele to arrive. I took the time to adjust action on the ukuleles and to change the strings to KIDS ukulele strings. It is important to note that my school (other than temperature) is not climate controlled in any way, and it would be impossible to regulate humidity in the school. Therefore, the humidity at this time of year is less than 20%, sometimes as low as 10%. This is unfair to any wood instrument (and the human beings living in the school for 8 hours or more each day). As the winter sets in, the fretboards dry out and the necks move slightly. If I were to buy Caramels again, I would not “set them up” other than to address any initial sharp fret ends until the instruments had dried out in our lack of humidity.

Sharp fret ends keep appearing and there is buzzing on some instruments...I attempt to file/sand away the sharp fret ends, and we need to wait until humidity begins again in March for some buzzing to self correct. Caramel was very kind and sent me some spare saddles, and I have swapped some “adjusted” saddles for new saddles during this time of year.

Our ukuleles don’t have the truss rod (and I’m not sure if all Caramels do), and ours are tie-bridge (some of the newer models have a pin bridge). For a while, Caramel was using a sticker for their logo, which could be removed (some of my students have removed them)...but I think they are back to laser engraving again.

You aren’t going to get a KoAloha sound from a Caramel of any type...but you certainly can get an inexpensive ukulele that—with some attention to set-up if necessary—can be a great starter ukulele or a “beater” ukulele. And that’s for the $37 Concert or $42 Tenor.

So...for your $150, you should get a pretty decent ukulele. There’s a guy on YouTube named Davis that bought a couple of Caramels and you can get an insight to what they have done lately.

As for me...I’m trying to see if I can work to get Outdoor Ukuleles for our next batch of ukuleles. I’m just sick of dealing with weather conditions in a school.

kissing
02-25-2018, 11:18 AM
Thanks, that's really helpful information.

Indeed it's no Koaloha, but if the quality and sound is comparable to even a Kala or low end Pono (might be a bit of a stretch), then I would consider it a win at $150.

Not entirely sure what would get "better" for a bit more, as ukes in the price bracket under $300ish are similar and from the same factories in China.

Choirguy
02-25-2018, 02:15 PM
Not entirely sure what would get "better" for a bit more, as ukes in the price bracket under $300ish are similar and from the same factories in China.

If you jump to the “recognized” brands (not the seemingly hundreds of Chinese factories selling direct or via Amazon), I think you do get a much better ukulele from Ohana or Kala, and for a few bucks more you can get into a Mainland. And you could get into a Bonanza custom ukulele, HPL or Wood for $370. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend a Enya Baritone for $165 plus shipping made of HPL laminate.

But here’s the deal...if you’re happy with the Caramel that you buy...that’s awesome. As I said, that fellow Davis on YouTube likes his Caramel baritones...and I’m pretty happy with them in my classroom (and my struggles would occur with any wood ukulele hanging in the classroom—even laminates as they share wood necks and fretboards).

Let us know what you think of it when it arrives!

kissing
02-25-2018, 04:06 PM
Just my personal opinion, but I don't necessarily see Ohana or Kala's ukuleles being better than something like a Caramel.
Sure, there are some iffy quality generic brands from China, but the ones that have established themselves as quality appear to be equivalent quality.

That's why I said I don't really see how paying more for the Kala or Ohana brand name yields better quality in any shape or form.

The next level up from this under $300-ish range are Pono's, and then other high end makers including Hawaiian K brands.

I don't see why a well made "Caramel" all-solid wood instrument would be inferior to a similar solid wood instrument with a Kala or Ohana tag on it.

dasuol
02-25-2018, 04:49 PM
How have peoples' experience been ordering Caramel ukes from overseas? Does it arrive well packaged and in mint condition?

I have one of their rosewood baritones as well as zebrawood tenor, soprano and sopranino. I enjoy playing all of them and haven't had any issues with them. I particularly like the sound of the baritone (but it's also the only baritone I've ever played, so I guess I don't really have much to compare to). All of them arrived well packaged and in good condition.

Choirguy
02-25-2018, 04:59 PM
I don't see why a well made "Caramel" all-solid wood instrument would be inferior to a similar solid wood instrument with a Kala or Ohana tag on it.

I’m not trying to rain on your parade or make you mad. My heart sank when Barry Maz reviewed the Caramel and hated it.

But I will say that Ohana and Kala have a strong say in the design, build, and final receipt of ukuleles, and that both Kala’s and Ohana’s quality has improved over the years—the companies themselves talk about this. That said, nearly every ukulele can benefit from a proper set-up...The Ukulele Site talks about having to reject K-brand ukuleles.

Having played every one of the 51 Caramel Ukuleles I have access to, there is a discenable difference in quality and sound versus the other “known” brands. I don’t think that our Caramels are bad at all (My opinion doesn’t wholly match Got A Ukulele), but if I tell you that my Caramel Sopranino ($29) looks, feels, sounds better than my Ohana Sopranissimo Pineapple, I’d be lying.

I am sure that your Baritone will arrive safely, and I would be willing to bet that it arrives decently set-up and sounds good. That said, later find a lower priced Kala or Ohana, and I think you’ll see where that second-layer of accountability and market knowledge/research/experience could validate the added investment (without having to jump to the next level instrument like a Pono). Again, when it arrives and settles in, please post some videos and share your thoughts. I would recommend having new strings on hand if you like a certain type of string. I have Living Waters on my only Baritone (a $30 Lanikai “gambler’s special” I found on eBay) and as I don’t like wound strings, I’m very happy with them!

kissing
02-25-2018, 05:57 PM
Thanks for all the brilliant info. I wasnt offended or anything - just in my uke shopping experience, I didn't really see anything in the design and build of Kala or Ohana that distinguished itself from one like Caramel. To me, they seem to be similar quality, but Kala and Ohana appear to charge more due to brand name.

Just my opinion. I could very much be wrong :)

JackLuis
02-26-2018, 03:01 AM
I have seven Caramel/Rubins from Pockets to Baritone and two Ohanas. I like my Caramel Zebrawood Ukes (I'm a sucker for Zebrawood) some of them needed adjusting, the early ones, but that last few I bought needed no setup. I play my Caramels everyday and my Ohanas once a week, the Ohana 3rd strings boom a bit and are better as note pickers than strummers. For the twice the price it would be hard to find an equal Uke, IMHO.

Baz reviewed the cheapest Caramel Tenor, and is quite picky. Though I agree that the $45 tenors do leave a bit to be desired.

I've compared my CB-103 ($85 w/o truss rod) to several Baritones upwards of $500-700 and found it stood up very well in comparison. Much better than the Oscar Schmidts. Check the You tubes of CB-103 reviews. Try the Worth Brown Tenor Fats for High d or the Baritone strings for low D if you don't care for wound strings.

My CC-100 Concert ($55) is better than my ($165) CK-22 Ohana and I get complements on it when I play it out and about.

Plus Caramel has good customer service. I'm 99% sure you will love the Acacia Bari.

Iulia
02-28-2018, 04:22 AM
I bought a Caramel soprano and a Kmise concert about 18 months ago, and liked them both.

This is just my opinion so no offense to anyone intended - but doing the math (I live in UK)

If I order a Caramel for 30 - 40 off aliexpress, or an ohana or kala from a UK retailer (for example 60 - 70 entry level). My guess would be considering retailer markup and name markup they must be around the same quality.

I'm also personally curious - I know a lot of the lower end stuff is made in China, some obviously under license. Is there a factory making Ohana, and one for Kala, or large factories making a whole bunch of stuff to whatever specs they have been asked?

I'm not dissing Ohana etc - I've got a willow/cedar soprano which I LOVE, but it was four times the price.

Both my Caramel and Kmise were a heck of a lot better than the waterman I got ...

Got to be room for trying new and unknown makes :D

Kmise seem to have some interesting (looking) new models I think I might have to try one ...

kissing
02-28-2018, 03:45 PM
It's my understanding that companies like Kala and Ohana would commission factories in China that they have relations with, and have standards and procedures to adhere by to keep up the standards for their brandnames.

The same factories very well may be producing for other companies, or perhaps even making ukuleles under their own brand name (eg: Caramel?)
They would not be bound by the standards set by a company like Kala or Ohana commissioning them.

However, lately I think the Chinese own-brands have gotten quite high in quality standards that it has become harder to distinguish their quality levels from the recognised Western owned brands like Ohana and Kala.


Furthermore, I am seeing that most ukuleles that come from China appear to share the same characteristics.
There is a certain generic feel to them that makes me feel you're getting more or less and equivalent instrument whether you order from Kala, Ohana or Lanikai.




Hence it is why I said in an earlier post that ukuleles from China in that $300 and under price range all feel the "same".

You don't really get to an "upgrade" until you hit the pricepoint of Pono ukuleles.
Pono's factories are in Indonesia, and their craftsmen are personally trained and monitored by Ko'olau of Hawaii.
I don't see unbranded Pono's coming out of factories in Indonesia, nor do I see an apparent shared use of their factories by other companies.
Hence, Pono have protected their designs and quality level to be unique - only offered by their company - distinguished from companies like Kala, Ohana and Lanikai who all churn out similar ukes.


Just my opinion.

Iulia
03-01-2018, 12:10 AM
I don't know anything about Pono so can't comment on that. But it would be fascinating (to me at least) to know what is made where.

If the same factories do produce for more than one brand (generic or named) it would be logical I think that the increase in the popularity of the uke and the big increase in the variety of models and continuous improvement would have a positive knock on effect through the whole system.

And less incentive for anyone to make real cheap junk. Which is happening I think to a lot of stuff coming out of China, not just ukuleles.

bigsciota
03-01-2018, 08:10 AM
I think the Got A Ukulele reviews can be very helpful, and they are a great service. However, they are a snapshot of a certain instrument at a certain point in time. Especially with the direct-from-China brands, I'm not sure how well the review of one model actually correlates to another one. Plus, most brands are constantly updating, and I know that certain ukes that he reviewed a few years ago have gone through changes that can sometimes address the problems he had with them.

So, in other words, I wouldn't let a not=so-stellar review on Got a Ukulele necessarily impact your purchasing. On the flip side, a good review there might also not be relevant if it's older or of a different model than you're looking at.

Nickie
03-06-2018, 07:54 AM
I own a Kala and an Ohana. I like the Kala, the Ohana not as much. I have absolutely no desire to own a cheaper Chinese uke.

Kala has donated a LOT of ukes to our free Beginner workshop program, and Ohana has chipped in as well. Luna has donated a few to our raffles.

I will never understand anyone buying a uke from Amazon. I just don't get it. Maybe I'm missing a few dollars....

I think I'll ask Caramel if they will donate ukes to our causes. I'm curious. And I'm loyal to those who have helped us. (TBUSCares)

Iulia
03-06-2018, 09:52 AM
In fairness, if Caramel do donate anywhere, wouldn't you expect it to be Chinese projects?

kissing
03-06-2018, 02:02 PM
I own a Kala and an Ohana. I like the Kala, the Ohana not as much. I have absolutely no desire to own a cheaper Chinese uke.

Kala has donated a LOT of ukes to our free Beginner workshop program, and Ohana has chipped in as well. Luna has donated a few to our raffles.

I will never understand anyone buying a uke from Amazon. I just don't get it. Maybe I'm missing a few dollars....

I think I'll ask Caramel if they will donate ukes to our causes. I'm curious. And I'm loyal to those who have helped us. (TBUSCares)

It's because I do my own setups.
With a good setup, a Chinese uke can be a gem performer as long as the starting foundation is decent.

In the case of this Caramel, it's all solid acacia and has a truss rod. A perfect base for a well setup ukulele.
Furthermore, I'll be upgrading the electronics myself.

For the little money I spend, and a little bit of effort I put in, I end up with an instrument that delivers way more than I paid for ;)

Me Big Kahuna
03-14-2018, 01:26 PM
An old friend owns a large music shop and carries half a dozen entry brands made in China or Indonesia. He tells me that around busy times like Christmas one brand or another will be delivered that looks a bit different to their standard line but very much like one of the other brands. He thinks when production orders cannot be filled the owner of the brand simply orders from another Chinese factory. Essentially in the entry level laminated ukes, all ukes are much the same, even from the same factories.

Iulia
03-15-2018, 03:08 AM
That's really interesting.

When I was a kid we had an ancient primary school that had three separate doors, marked BOYS, GIRLS and INFANTS. On entering, they went to the same classrooms of course. Bizarre. I kinda imagine there is somewhere a HUGE factory in China with all these separate doors marked CARAMEL, KMISE, KALA etc :smileybounce:

Choirguy
04-14-2018, 04:11 AM
I haven’t seen your follow-up on your Caramel experience. It should have arrived by now...and you have posted about your new Shima ukulele...so how did it turn out?

kissing
04-14-2018, 04:27 AM
Sorry I haven't updated this topic.
Unfortunately, I recently found out that something went wrong in shipping the Caramel uke, and it got returned to sender -_-
So I ended up just asking for a refund and cancelled the purchase, because I couldn't be bothered waiting again. The arrival of the Shima uke quenched my ukulele thirst.

Griole
02-20-2019, 03:13 AM
I have had Pono, Kala, Ohana, Caramel, Kanilea, Martin, Favilla, Clearwater, and Mainland baritones. Everyone's needs and tastes are different. The solid Acacia Caramel is a pretty good deal, IMHO. Any time you can get a solid wood baritone with built-in electronics and a truss rod for about a hundred bucks (I think I paid $95), what's not to like? Mine plays, sounds, and looks fine. The only downside is that some Caramel models don't have side marker dots, which is annoying to me. I put stick-on dots on mine, which works, but I was initially a bit miffed by their absence.

Caramel ukes are NOT the same quality as a Pono, but they can hang with Ohana, Ortega, or Cordoba (all of which I've bought, then sold) in the same relative low-end price range. I would recommend them if you are looking for an entry level uke. Unless you feel the name on the headstock matters, I believe they are comparable in quality with the "better-known" brands. Of course, this is only my subjective opinion, but it's based on hands-on experience. Would I trade my Pono for one? Heck no! But you're not going to find many Ponos for a hundred bucks. The latest generation of Chinese ukes are surprisingly well-made, with a few exceptions.

Jerryc41
02-20-2019, 07:19 AM
I have heard Caramel ukulele's being somewhat well-regarded as a low-price but decent quality option from our friends in China :)

If you lived near one of the many towns named Carmel, you could buy a Carmel Caramel. :D

ralphk
02-20-2019, 08:18 AM
I got a solid acadia baritone and it was extremely heavy. Sounded fair, but I dumped it quickly. i've seen a lot of good reports on the laminates, but I did not like thia one.

Swamp Yankee
02-20-2019, 09:20 AM
Dunno about Caramel but I picked up a solid hog slot head concert from Cahaya that sells for less than $90. I had to do some setup work but I love the dang thing.

Choirguy
02-20-2019, 09:31 AM
You can read more on the whole Caramel/Rubin thread. I used to be a big supporter of Caramel, and to be honest, their ukuleles were great for my school application. They were tanks. I had to do some set-up work, and sharp fret ends (in a very dry school) were something I battled.

That said, the company hasn't seem to have done anything new in some time (they used to be active on Social Media), and you really should see Barry Maz's review on Got a Ukulele. (Summary, he didn't like it, and even mentioned them again in his most recent review). I couldn't argue with any of Barry's statements, either. So I have stopped recommending them, and actually have moved to the idea that school and library ukuleles would benefit by not having a wooden fretboard. Sharp fret ends are the norm in schools, and this isn't good. And that comes with any unbound wooden fretboard ukulele.

That raises the price significantly, and leaves just a handful of models...but I have come to believe that durability and low maintenance are needed in schools.

Captain America
02-21-2019, 08:15 AM
Thanks, that's really helpful information.

Indeed it's no Koaloha, but if the quality and sound is comparable to even a Kala or low end Pono (might be a bit of a stretch), then I would consider it a win at $150.

Not entirely sure what would get "better" for a bit more, as ukes in the price bracket under $300ish are similar and from the same factories in China.

You also get a second and perhaps somewhat more objective Set of Eyes doing Quality Control/Inspection of the instrument before it goes out in the marketplace.