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View Full Version : I guess ukes ain't that cheap after all



Paul December
04-12-2010, 08:57 AM
I thought that one of the nice things about ukes was that you could get a nice instrument for a relatively low price. Over the weekend, I went to a guitar shop and was surprised how inexpensive guitars have become. I'm not just talking about crappy "student" ones.
Kind of along those lines, I've been toying with getting an solid body electric uke. Based on their construction & sophistication, I'm starting to think they are way-over-priced, with the few steel string versions being the most crazy.
BTW - I saw this guitar for just over $200, and it made me wish I didn't give up on guitar so long ago. (http://store.guitarfetish.com/nexvcamatose.html)
...other models in the line sell for as little as $150

Ukeffect
04-12-2010, 09:21 AM
I know what you mean...I too have strayed away from UAS for one special guitar (size huge!) http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=200385527986&ssPageName=STRK:MEBDIX:IT

It went for $299, but was a lot cheaper than the same model in a local music shop (even with shipping)! Sounds great though...*sigh*...more chords to learn.

GVlog
04-12-2010, 09:34 AM
No they're not. They're smaller and you have less material costs, but there's still a good amount of labor that's required to put them together. You can get some pretty good guitars for the amount of money you'd pay for an ukulele (unless you're buying stuff that's really at the bottom of the line).

And regardless of its current renaissance, ukulele sales still trail guitar sales by a very wide margin. You don't get the same economies of scale.

GrumpyCoyote
04-12-2010, 09:35 AM
Ok… LARGE rant ahead. It’s directed at the topic and not the original poster. Something I feel strongly about…

First let me rev up the old saw - you get what you pay for. Cheap ukes are just that. Cheap.


Next, and this is just my opinion, anything under $500 or so is very inexpensive for a decent acoustic instrument. The flood of mass produced imports (of all instruments, not just guitars and ukes) does a couple of things. One, it sets the quality bar low. The market begins to think of sub standard materials and tone as the expected. Two - and this is the diabolical part, it sets the expectation that ALL instruments should be similarly priced. It mis-calibrates the whole system.

Getting a bargain may seem like a good thing, and often it is for the individual. I’ve done it, and understand the appeal. But a hunger for discounts drives the market to the low end, hurts artisan luthiers and small music sellers, and in general distorts the value of the product. Local jobs are lost, local art suffers.

My advice on buying new, for what it’s worth:

1) Pay a premium for a quality instrument
2) Support small shops and luthiers – preferably locally, but any small retail or manufacturer will ship

Why, you may ask? What does it hurt to get what I want at a more affordable price? Walk into any Guitar Center or similar mega-chain and look around. You will not find any small brands. You will not find anything made locally. You won’t see anything unusual. You will see only the items that can be moved quickly. Items with mass appeal. If they can’t move them ASAP, they never buy them again. Most of the customers don’t even know there are other options. In effect, these chains determine the future of the way amateur music is made. Even today you’ll only see the low end ukes for example, and only a few.

You also will be very unlikely to find an independent store thriving nearby. The kind of small shops that used to take a risk on artisan luthiers. The kind of place not afraid to keep a few specialty items for months – waiting for the right customer. The kind of place that values community and teaching, art and quality. Losing these things is the real cost.

Bargain hunting costs more than it appears on the surface.

sukie
04-12-2010, 11:45 AM
Thank you for reminding people of those things, Grumpy.

I would add: If you really don't want to spend tons of money for ukes, buy a good one right away. You'll probably spend less in the long run as you'll get one you truly enjoy rather than spending twice as much for a lot ukuleles you don't really like. But, that's just me.

luvdat
04-12-2010, 12:05 PM
The guitar market has not been driven by "artisan luthiers" for the last how many years nor has the music industry. That changed esp. in the 1950's with the advent of mass-produced electric guitars (ex. Fender) and improvements over the years (CNC) which made the production of even name acoustics such as Martin essentially mass produced guitars. Having toured the Martin factory twice I can tell you first hand that it is essentially a production line with admitted hands on refinements.

With respect to ukuleles I do agree that even budget to modest lines are not well-represented in the chain music stores. The current ukulele wave inherited and capitalized on improvements in mass production of even acoustic instruments and yes cheaper foreign labor.

What makes matters worse and adds insult to injury (cliches required here) is the nature of solid wood hand made instruments themselves and one can say esp. the K brands: they are among the most inconsistent from instrument to instrument and not all are homeruns out of the park. They require side by side comparisons with at least 4-5 IMO. Yes, the bar does get lowered for most people and yes even working musicians. With that said , I do agree that for the same money or less Loprinzi or Boat Paddle offer other options for example and at a lower price point the Kiwaya and the Flea/Fluke. But in the midst of this for people who want to make music and despite my love/hate relationship with that company: thank God for Kala...with some of their stuff overpriced IMO (ex. Curly Mango series).

What I do agree with is buying the best one can afford and replace if necessary. Durability is also a factor. Martin guitars are often built like tanks. Ukuleles by their nature esp. solid wood are not. And that's just the way it is.

For $299 you can get a Cordoba classical that sounds amazing...with lam sides...

molokinirum
04-12-2010, 12:09 PM
Thank you for reminding people of those things, Grumpy.

I would add: If you really don't want to spend tons of money for ukes, buy a good one right away. You'll probably spend less in the long run as you'll get one you truly enjoy rather than spending twice as much for a lot ukuleles you don't really like. But, that's just me.

This is right on the money!!! I have only bought two ukes.....the Kamaka from a local shop on Maui and a Makala from MGM. I for one refuse to buy from the chain stores for the same reasons that grumpy outlined. Help out the local mom & pop operations, you will most likely get an honest answer and some great customer service. Plus you will be helping out an individual who is trying to make a living doing what they love!!!
Sorry....this is just my :2cents:

Tudorp
04-12-2010, 12:52 PM
Thats true. I am surely pro supporting your local crafts, and/or skills. I do that all the time, not only with instruments. I don't mind paying a bit more to buy a product from a local small mom and pop shop over a discount outlet. I NEVER walk into a WalMart. I don't care if they have something for a buck, and it cost me five bucks at a local small mom and pop place. I will go to the small local shop. But, with musical instruments. Cheap, no I will use the term "inexpensive" instruments have a place. It is where people, especially young kids get their start in loving music and art. Sure, many will drop it, or just tinker with it over the years, but never take it seriously, more a hobby. But there are a small percentage that will take it more serious, and make a skill, and art of it. Those are the ones that will eventually tire of the inexpensive instruments, and purchase the high end, "art". Those are the ones that are going to make the mark in the industry, and support the art and craft of instrument building. How many parents will spend $500 and up for an instrument for their child to play with, just to see if they have it in them to have a love of that instrument, and the music that they create with it? Maybe a few of the rich folk, but that is a very small percentage. They are gonna go buy the mass produced inexpensive instrument for their child to play with. As that child matures, and finds his love of it, then a parent, or the child himself will save up their baby sitting money, or lawn mowing money, and buy that dream instrument. I did. I was 15 years old in the mid 1970s when I drooled from the mouth every time I stopped by my local music shop. Staring at that Rickenbacker Bass hanging on the wall. It was 1974, and that base was $900. It might as well been a million dollars to a 15 year old kid in the 1970s. My dad would have had to work for a month to buy that bass for me. My parents bought me a cheap used bass for $25. That is what I learned on, till my fingers bled. It was like it had band saw blades as strings. But I dindn't care. I toted that bass all over the place, bothered mom and dad, and neighbors plunkin on it for over a year. During that year, I saved every penny I could scrounge. Every dime I found on the sidewalk. When I was 16, and could play a bass fair, I walked into that music store, and as always, the old guy there took it off the wall to let me play it, and dream. He was shocked when I dumped a big wad of 1s and 5s on the counter to count them. I was a couple hundred bucks short. But over that past year, that old guy saw it in my eyes. He asked me how much I had. I told him I only have about $730. I didn't have enough yet. He asked me where I got all that money, and when I told him I been saving up for over a year working my butt off shovering snow, and moving grass, he just smiled and shook his head. He rung that Ric up, and let me have that bass for almost $200 cheaper than he had on the price tag. But, at any rate. if it wasn't for that cheap $25 bass, I would have never had the money, or incentive and develop the love for it, and desire to take it any further. So, yes, as much as I agree with you fully. I still strongly believe that the low end stuff does have it's place in our community. It is those cheap "seeds" that create the patrons of the artisians later..

mailman
04-12-2010, 01:39 PM
Ok… LARGE rant ahead. It’s directed at the topic and not the original poster. Something I feel strongly about…

First let me rev up the old saw - you get what you pay for. Cheap ukes are just that. Cheap.


Next, and this is just my opinion, anything under $500 or so is very inexpensive for a decent acoustic instrument. The flood of mass produced imports (of all instruments, not just guitars and ukes) does a couple of things. One, it sets the quality bar low. The market begins to think of sub standard materials and tone as the expected. Two - and this is the diabolical part, it sets the expectation that ALL instruments should be similarly priced. It mis-calibrates the whole system.

Getting a bargain may seem like a good thing, and often it is for the individual. I’ve done it, and understand the appeal. But a hunger for discounts drives the market to the low end, hurts artisan luthiers and small music sellers, and in general distorts the value of the product. Local jobs are lost, local art suffers.

My advice on buying new, for what it’s worth:

1) Pay a premium for a quality instrument
2) Support small shops and luthiers – preferably locally, but any small retail or manufacturer will ship

Why, you may ask? What does it hurt to get what I want at a more affordable price? Walk into any Guitar Center or similar mega-chain and look around. You will not find any small brands. You will not find anything made locally. You won’t see anything unusual. You will see only the items that can be moved quickly. Items with mass appeal. If they can’t move them ASAP, they never buy them again. Most of the customers don’t even know there are other options. In effect, these chains determine the future of the way amateur music is made. Even today you’ll only see the low end ukes for example, and only a few.

You also will be very unlikely to find an independent store thriving nearby. The kind of small shops that used to take a risk on artisan luthiers. The kind of place not afraid to keep a few specialty items for months – waiting for the right customer. The kind of place that values community and teaching, art and quality. Losing these things is the real cost.

Bargain hunting costs more than it appears on the surface.

Grumpy, I agree. I recently read a book about this very topic; not specifically ukuleles, not even musical instruments. The book is about our society's insistance on inexpensive merchandise. Maybe it would interest you. The title is "CHEAP, (the high cost of discount culture)", by Ellen Ruppel Shell. I found it to be quite an eye-opener....

Waterguy
04-12-2010, 01:42 PM
There is truth to all sides here. I would not be playing Uke today had I not picked up a Mahalo at the local music store on a whim when picking up strings for my son's bass. I would also not be playing Uke today had I stuck with that Mahalo, but the Kanile'a K1T that's next to me gets played daily. On top of that, I have felt no urge to get anything else since I bought the K1T.

So cheap instrument planting a seed - check. Pay a premium for a quality instrument from a small shop and end up with an instrument I truly love - check. (not local but I do own a Flea so I've supported my home state shop) Save money in the long run by buying a GOOD instrument before going nuts with all the mid range stuff - check.

The buy the absolute best you can afford from a small quality shop advice is great advice, but only to someone who is absolutely sure they will stay on the Uke. So like I said, truth all around.

fumanshu
04-12-2010, 02:01 PM
It's true that uke is not cheap if you compare it with average guitars. But if you're buying a high end classical guitars or flamenco guitars, you then realize how uke is cheap compare to these!!

I do have some high end ukes and now I'm looking to buy a new flamenco guitars and I just realize how expensive it is to get a nice custom one compare to a nice custom uke.

I think it's much harder to get GAS when it comes to high end flamenco guitars or classical guitars.

So finally, I find that ukes are not that expensive even for a top brands or customs. But for sure if you compare money for money, for sure you can get some very nice production guitars for the price you would pay let's say for Koaloha tenor....

GVlog
04-12-2010, 02:17 PM
It's true that uke is not cheap if you compare it with average guitars. But if you're buying a high end classical guitars or flamenco guitars, you then realize how uke is cheap compare to these!!
This is true. A basic model from Somogyi costs about $26k. A Smallman is over $30k. A basic Devoe is $6.5k. Kenny Hill's signature guitar starts at $6.5. Then, there's the waiting period of a few months to several years. You can get some cheaper instruments of high quality from recognized luthiers in Mexico.

But those are luthier-built instruments and they're often done by one person with years of experience and a reputation to back them up. What's a KoAloha equivalent to? It's more of a high-end factory instrument isn't it? Does that make it closer to a Martin, a Taylor, a Collings, a Larrivee or a Goodall? I'd say the per-capita output of KoAloha could be notably higher than James Goodall's.

fumanshu
04-12-2010, 02:40 PM
GVlog:
This is true. A basic model from Somogyi costs about $26k. A Smallman is over $30k. A basic Devoe is $6.5k. Kenny Hill's signature guitar starts at $6.5. Then, there's the waiting period of a few months to several years. You can get some cheaper instruments of high quality from recognized luthiers in Mexico.

But those are luthier-built instruments and they're often done by one person with years of experience and a reputation to back them up. What's a KoAloha equivalent to? It's more of a high-end factory instrument isn't it? Does that make it closer to a Martin, a Taylor, a Collings, a Larrivee or a Goodall? I'd say the per-capita output of KoAloha could be notably higher than James Goodall's.

I think you're right, That's what I was thinking too. But can you just give me some reference for recognized luthiers in Mexico. I heard that there's good luthier there but the problem is that sometimes they can't get decent woods and finally, their instrument can crack or get dommage when it arrives outside of Mexico.

I'm looking for some affordable luthier there for a requinto or flamenco guitar, would be great if you can get me some references.

Thanks

GVlog
04-12-2010, 02:46 PM
I think you're right, That's what I was thinking too. But can you just give me some reference for recognized luthiers in Mexico.
Off-topic. Will send you a PM.

scottie
04-12-2010, 02:55 PM
The level of workmanship in my Collings uke is representative of Collings guitars in general, which start at about $3,500.00, so yes, at $1,000.00 the plain jane ukes are cheaper. Remember that when you're dealing with the quality of wood a shop like Collings has on hand it's much easier to find great pieces in smaller sizes. The mahogany used for those model 1's is really nice wood and the jointery is as close to perfect as it gets.

SparkyUkulele
04-12-2010, 03:35 PM
I can't say I really agree. I understand why ukes are cheap - but I'm perfectly fine with the way things are now - you get what you pay for. I have a confession to make here- my sig is a bit misleading, I actually have TWO ukuleles. My very, very, very first uke, Daisy, is a purple mahalo - yep, the absolute cheapest you could possibly get. It cost me 20, which you might think is cheap, but to me that was quite a gamble. I really hesitated over it. Relative to MY budget, I was buying something when I had absolutely no idea if I would really get into it or not, which was a non-essential item.

As it turned out, I really got into it. And nowadays I consider my uke to be an essential item ;) But I learnt quite a bit on Daisy- particularly the main chords, all the basics. Read up on a bit of theory, and then I got Bret, nowadays the only uke I play. He cost about 70. That's a LOT to me. After I got used to Bret, I couldn't really go back to Daisy (which is a shame, because Daisy is a soprano and I do like the soprano size, she's just so rubbish compared with Bret's lovely sound though! She has sentimental value ;) ). The point is, it will be YEARS (if ever...I live in hopes) before I can afford a proper hand-crafted uke. I say this as someone who has a real interest in arts and crafts. I love hand-crafted and unique things - but what I like and what I can afford don't match up. ;) I think that sentence applies to a fair proportion of people.

Basically, and this applies to more than just ukes: I don't prefer cheapo stuff...but honestly, I rely on it. I understand sukie's point about false economy, and I watch out for that. 70 was and is the ceiling of my budget. So as a fellow poster said a page ago - there definitely is a place for inexpensive ukes. And I think maybe (though I may be out of line here, I don't know) ... maybe it's easy for people who can afford more expensive ukes to say that people should only buy expensive ukes.

Sparky

kissing
04-12-2010, 06:24 PM
I've been toying with getting an solid body electric uke. Based on their construction & sophistication, I'm starting to think they are way-over-priced, with the few steel string versions being the most crazy.

As a player of a steel string ukulele (Risa), I'm going to have to disagree here.
There are cheap electric guitars - yes. But there are also expensive electric guitars.
These expensive electric guitars cost a lot for a reason. You're paying a premium for the parts, worksmanship and design.

The currently available steel-string electric uke makers (eg: Risa) just happen to make instruments that match the quality level of the higher-end electric guitars.
My Risa Les Paul with its ultra-low action and handmade humbuckers took a lot more engineering and work than a lot of my friends' electric guitars, and I see that quality difference day by day playing along with them.
They're a small German company that focuses on quality than quantity. Their ukes are very easily in a higher quality level than similarly priced electric guitars.

As of yet, there is no ukulele brand yet that has the sort of "standard" quality level of steel string electric ukes. Eleuke has started topics showing interest in steel strings, so I wish them all the best in filling that gap. A cheaper line of steel strings would certainly make it more accessible to more uke players. At the moment, investing in a steel string electric is a huge leap, since it costs a lot. I took that leap of faith, and could not be happier :D


As for guitars and ukes.
I'm not really seeing the dilemma here. There are cheap guitars that are good quality. There are cheap ukes that are good quality.
There are expensive ukes of exceptional quality. There are expensive guitars of exceptional quality.

Compared to older days, it seems that the standard of inexpensive instruments (such as from China) is increasing.
An affordable Kala or Ohana in the $100-500 range is a perfectly playable instrument. You can perform with it and sound brilliant.
I personally like the affordable ukes in that price range, as they let me be carefree with the maintenance and focus on the music. I don't think I'd be comfortable with a premium all-solid uke that's over $1000.

How are good quality ukes expensive compared to guitars?

clayton56
04-12-2010, 08:28 PM
I've gotten three ukes in the $400-700 range and they sound much better than the imports. Pro clarinets are $2500, bass clarinets $6,000. Mandolins 3k, banjos 2k. These are pro ukes that have the tone, I think they're a steal.

luvdat
04-13-2010, 01:25 AM
Prior to the early 1990's, how many ukulele manufacturers were there? When did even Loprinzi start making ukuleles?

Ukeffect
04-13-2010, 04:30 AM
Wow, did this thread explode! When I made my casual reference to the guitar I bought...I never meant to imply that I thought ukes were overpriced...on the contrary, I find quality ukuleles to be the best bang for the buck. I've gone from cheap Makalas to Oscar Schmidts to...well customs myself and each plays better than the last! I don't quit using the others I have (except to get others hooked on ukulele!)...and perhaps thats the best explanation of how they aren't cheap, LOL, this is the dimention of UAS that is our dirty little secret! I could have bought a nice little car for what I have in my collection at this point, including what I have on "loan" or have outright "Deached" ! But I think that is still probably the best use of our UAS...what do y'all think?:cool:

Huckleberry
04-13-2010, 04:54 AM
You just described the Walmart Syndrome. We want it cheap then we cry because all the jobs are going overseas. Well, we did want it cheap.

mattoh
04-13-2010, 05:06 AM
While I agree the idea of the "Big Bad Wal-Mart" is great in theory, in practice it's another story whatsoever. Without the "cheap" ukulele I would never have even taken another look at one. I am a husband with two kids, a car payment and a mortgage and would never have been able to shell out $500, $400, $300 or even $200 for a ukulele having never have played one before.

You see, I am one of those people who has always wanted to learn to play the guitar but got discouraged with how "complicated" playing one could be - especially considering I have to teach myself. Enter the ukulele. it's great fun to learn. It's simple enough to teach myself and it makes me happy to play. Beyond that, I am not afraid to take the inexpensive ukulele that I have down to my sailboat and plink around there.

As far as mom and pops go, there aren't any ukuleles in central Pennsylvania to speak of. None of the mom and pops sell more than a Makala. Turns out, I did buy a Makala but, as a beginner, I felt I could benefit by the additional services offered by MGM when I bought one. So, in my mind, I passed up on the local mom and pop for very good reason (let alone the mom and pop seems to not want to get out of his chair and speak with you if you don't have a master's degree in music).

These "cheap" ukes and larger retailers have a big hand in the growing interest in this instrument and should not be discounted so quickly.

Just my 2 cents...

csibona
04-13-2010, 05:13 AM
It's easy to say buy a nice hand made custom luthier instrument to those who have some money - but not so easy to those who don't. I don't know what the median income is for ukulele players so it is difficult to gauge what is inexpensive or expensive to the average player. I have a nice instrument that my wife told me to purchase at the Denver Ukefest. I just started playing in January 2010, so I am certainly a beginner. I tried out a bunch of instruments (it's one of the reasons I went to the festival) and selected a fine instrument (mya-moe classic). That said, I also appreciated the Fleas and Flukes that were much less expensive. I think the Fleas and Flukes really represent one of the best values. And, indeed, I realize they are not for everyone.

paraclete
04-13-2010, 05:53 AM
Well, from an entry-level standpoint, it's less money to get a playable uke than a playable guitar, or at least what I would consider "playable"...

My Kelii was just under $300 for a soprano model. The tenor is closer to the price of my Seagull guitar. But it's downright cheap compared to my classical guitar or my violin. Size really has very little to do with it... it has more to do with materials and craftsmanship.

Anyway, there is no replacement for good service at a locally owned music shop. That doesn't mean that every independent music shop is good. But I loved being able to walk in, buy strings off the rack, browse the latest guitars, chat with the guys that work there about the latest music whatever. And most of the time I could special order whatever they didn't stock. Some people browse music shops and then go online to try and save 15 bucks. I'd rather have that shop stay in business. The money that I laid down there stayed in my community, the taxes to pay for local services or whatever. Unfortunately, not enough people felt the same way, and that store is gone now. There are other stores nearby, but I don't like the owners that much.

What I'm trying to say is that it is worth every penny to patronize your favorite local businesses. Get to know the people that work there. Independent music stores are too easily taken for granted.

As for whether ukes are cheap or not... buy what appeals to you. If you like the Makala Dolphin bridge ukes a lot, then you need not shell out hundreds for something really expensive. I'm perfectly content with my $280 Kelii. Maybe someday I'll get that Moore Bettah. I still think ukes are a bargain. I have yet to find a playable guitar for anything less than $450-500.

Paul December
04-13-2010, 06:39 AM
Interesting discussion, and many good points ... but ...
not the point I was trying to make.
All I was saying is that the Ukulele isn't *as* cheap as I thought.
I hadn't been in a music shop for some time (since the late 80's) and didn't realize that nice, playable, guitars had come down in price too due to cheaper imports.
I didn't say there aren't good values available in ukes.... just that they aren't as good as I had originally thought (relatively speaking).

GrumpyCoyote
04-13-2010, 06:44 AM
As far as mom and pops go, there aren't any ukuleles in central Pennsylvania to speak of. None of the mom and pops sell more than a Makala. Turns out, I did buy a Makala but, as a beginner, I felt I could benefit by the additional services offered by MGM when I bought one. So, in my mind, I passed up on the local mom and pop for very good reason (let alone the mom and pop seems to not want to get out of his chair and speak with you if you don't have a master's degree in music).

These "cheap" ukes and larger retailers have a big hand in the growing interest in this instrument and should not be discounted so quickly.


MGM is a "mom and pop". He's an independent music seller. Exactly the kind of business that helps drive the industry. It just so happens that he's not local to you - nor was anyone else. The internet does not equal "large", although it can. Independent is the real key. They can take risks and are not beholden to corporate policy for profit above all else.

There is nothing wrong with entry level ukes - as long as they are not the only thing being sold and they are not being passed off as quality instruments. Most chains do just that - and they do it at the expense of the small manufacturer. Its the lack of diversity and choice that suffers in the long run.

Additionally - individuals can clearly benefit from discounts. I myself have done so, and you can read dozens of great "if it wasn't for the cheap discounted X, I would never have been able to get one" like yours. But that doesn't change the general damage done - nor does it offset the race to the bottom on quality that goes along with discounted price.

It's not all bad - someone can play who couldn't before... but the overall cost to the greater community is larger than it appears.