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View Full Version : NEED Your Advice - which of these Ukes would you buy ???



coconutmango
10-22-2010, 09:53 AM
Aloha....
I am buying my first ukulele and can't believe how many hours I have spent researching this !! I could use some advice from all of you. I am first unsure to go with the concert or tenor size. I like the sound of the soprano, concert and tenor - but can only afford one now, think the two larger might be more practical / easier to play (not so squashed ?) and maybe more diversity with what you can play on the larger two ? From some sound clips on youtube I personally like the soprano and tenor sound best (not sure why the concert didn't sound as appealing, maybe it was just the model) but I am open to any one at this point - wish I knew which to start out with, any suggestions ? I am female (normal size fingers).

Next I am thoroughly confused by the models/makes out there. I know its a personal thing - yet I want to get a good quality, great sounding, nice looking ukulele. I can't afford the Kamaka or Kanilea - so for now will try to keep the price below $ 350.00
I know its important to find a solid top -- yet hard to know which route to go on this. I don't have a uke shop around so am going by what I can find on the internet. I have never played a stringed instrument (total beginner) and lost when I hear about the changing of strings (how do you know if it doesn't sound right ? and which strings are best ?), what does 'sounding too bright mean' ? (too loud ?). Here are a few I have narrowed it down to - let me know what you think (and if there is a different one you know of, please recommend that). I appreciate your help !! Mahalo.

Here are a few, need your advice on the pros/cons, and differences between:

http://cgi.ebay.com/Kala-KA-KCG-CT-Koa-Cedartop-Concert-Ukulele-gloss-/370447072818?pt=LH_DefaultDomain_0&hash=item56405dbe32#ht_1925wt_1141

http://cgi.ebay.com/KALA-SOLID-lacewood-spruce-TENOR-UKULELE-SALE-see-video-/370444615737?pt=LH_DefaultDomain_0&hash=item5640384039#ht_2208wt_1141

http://cgi.ebay.com/JUST-OUT-KALA-BUTTERFLY-BOCOTE-WOOD-TENOR-UKULELE-/250713438814?pt=LH_DefaultDomain_0&hash=item3a5faf7a5e#ht_2942wt_1227

http://cgi.ebay.com/KALA-SPALTED-MAPLE-w-SPRUCETOP-TENOR-UKULELE-FMT-3-/330487396729?pt=LH_DefaultDomain_0&hash=item4cf2957979#ht_3073wt_1227

http://shop.mainlandukuleles.com/product.sc?productId=61&categoryId=3

http://shop.mainlandukuleles.com/product.sc?productId=12&categoryId=3

http://shop.mainlandukuleles.com/product.sc?productId=10&categoryId=3

http://www.ceciliasmusic.com/product_p/tk-35g.htm

http://www.ukuleleworld.com/ohana-ck-35g-solid-mahogany-concert-ukulele.html

http://www.ukuleleworld.com/product.php?productid=20013&cat=30

http://www.americanmusical.com/Item--i-LAI-NKT-LIST?SRC=D0407FG0HAMS0000&utm_source=froogle&utm_medium=feed&

cletus
10-22-2010, 10:13 AM
Easy choice for me.
In retrospect, I would consider a Mainland uke, as well. They are lovely and get (mostly) great reviews from UU members.

I went with the Kala through MGM because of his good reputation, and was not disappointed.

The Ohanas that I have played in stores have not impressed me.

Happy shopping and good luck.

Lori
10-22-2010, 10:20 AM
Hi coconutmango! Welcome to UU!

You have some good choices on this list, and I don't have experience with these exact models, but I will try and give a little input from my limited experience. For your first stringed instrument, get something that you are really excited about, both visually and sound-wise. The Kalas, Mainland, and Ohanas are all good instruments, and are probably from the same factory. I don't have much experience with Lanikai, but it should be OK too. Size, wood type, and construction all influence the sound, so listen to the audio clips when available. You will need a case of some kind, and an electronic tuner. If it doesn't already come with Aquila strings or Worth strings, you might want to get new strings right away.

I think when they say "too bright" it means too much treble or high end frequency. Sometimes it can sound a little shrill, or too glittery or sparkly. It is really hard to describe sounds with text. Worth Brown strings can tame down the higher frequencies. You will find that geared tuners will be easier to use when tuning.

In general, smaller sizes will sound more like a typical ukulele, and the larger sizes will lean more toward a guitar in tone. Spruce, maple emphasize treble, while the others will be less bright and have more bass or low end frequencies.

Have fun shopping.

–Lori

coconutmango
10-22-2010, 10:37 AM
Hi, thanks for the responses thusfar... I appreciate the knowledge of all of you experts !! I also came across a type of ukulele just now (its not in my list above) I never heard of - and wondered what anyone thinks of it (good/bad) Cordoba made in Portugual....It says it is solid Koa for $ 349.00 ?

http://www.ukuleleworld.com/cordoba-25-tk-tenor-ukulele.html?manufacturerid=195

Back to the size issue - this is the hardest part. I guess you are right Lori, I should look for something that I am excited by visually and sound wise. The only problem is trying to find sound clips for all of them !! As far as the Ohanas, personally they don't do anything for me visually - I actually don't like the look of them, so plain for my taste...I do like the one with the spalted maple (I like something unique) but am not sure on Maple if that wood produces a good sound. I have read a lot about Cedar wood being excellent and the first one on my list is that (I like the 'abalone' trim etc.). Just need to figure this out SOON because my kids have decided to buy this for my birthday on November 2nd and I need to pick one quick !!! So any help would be appreciated !!!

Also, to the women players - are tenor ukulele's that big ? I have read that women tend to go for the soprano, or concert size due to the larger tenor (that men seem to veer towards)?

Ukulele Dude
10-22-2010, 10:52 AM
I'd go with a Mainland. I've never had one, but I've heard/seen alot of good things about the ukes and the customer service.

My first uke was a Cordoba concert. It was a decent uke, once I fixed the setup issues. Also, I played a number of them before picking the one I got and they were very hit or miss. Some were OK and some were terrible. Also, I don't think they're made of solid koa, at least not the Hawaiian kind. Without being able to inspect it and play it before buying it, I would be hesitant on that one.

molokinirum
10-22-2010, 11:06 AM
Welcome to the UU, you have found the right place. Here you will get tons of info and advice. As far as my 2 cents goes, you have, as Lori stated, made some pretty good choices! I would lean towards the Kala ukes and maybe stay with the concert size. The tenor might be too big for a first uke. Also check out MGM (Musicguymic on ebay) he is in Hawaii, sells tons of ukes. He will do a complete set up, put on aquila strings (better quality than stock strings) polish it up and send it right out. He is a member here at UU so he is easy to get in touch with. You can call him or pm him with questions. I do not have any experience with Mainland, but there are a lot here who have. Yes, I see that your first uke, a Kala, is losted by MGM. That would be an excellent choice, it's a concert size too.
Best of luck!!!

PS....let us know which uke you buy!!!!

GX9901
10-22-2010, 11:14 AM
I would recommend two things. Get the best ukulele you can afford and start with a concert size unless you have huge hands. I think any of the solid wood concerts, from Kala, Lanikai, Pono, Mainland, or Ohana, should all be pretty decent, so I would say go with one that you like the most visually. I recommend the concert size to start because I think it's the best compromise between being too cramped (soprano) and not being able to reach some chords (tenor). Also, I have never played a concert that had string tension that felt too high, but many tenors can feel a little more difficult to play due to string tension. When I started out the tenor size was definitely harder for me to play.

Out of your list I'd probably go with the Kala Lacewood, but in the concert size, because it looks good and very unique, and should provide good sound. Another one that I personally like a lot is the Lanikai Zebrawood concert. I like how zebrawood looks and it has a slotted headstock, which is my favorite type of headstock.

Have fun picking out your first ukulele!

Coconut Willie
10-22-2010, 11:14 AM
Aloha and welcome!! You picked some pretty good ukes!! I would say to look at a concert uke. I liked the first Kala you selected and even better is that MGM is selling it. You will have no problems dealing with him!!!

BadLands Bart
10-22-2010, 11:21 AM
Welcome to UU! Go with the Kala Koa Cedar Top. That is a nice uke and I see that MGM is selling it. Like Coconut Willie said, getting a uke from MGM....no problems!! Got mine from him and it is perfect, came ready to play!!

Lori
10-22-2010, 11:22 AM
Hi, thanks for the responses thusfar... I appreciate the knowledge of all of you experts !! I also came across a type of ukulele just now (its not in my list above) I never heard of - and wondered what anyone thinks of it (good/bad) Cordoba made in Portugual....It says it is solid Koa for $ 349.00 ?

http://www.ukuleleworld.com/cordoba-25-tk-tenor-ukulele.html?manufacturerid=195

Back to the size issue - this is the hardest part. I guess you are right Lori, I should look for something that I am excited by visually and sound wise. The only problem is trying to find sound clips for all of them !! As far as the Ohanas, personally they don't do anything for me visually - I actually don't like the look of them, so plain for my taste...I do like the one with the spalted maple (I like something unique) but am not sure on Maple if that wood produces a good sound. I have read a lot about Cedar wood being excellent and the first one on my list is that (I like the 'abalone' trim etc.). Just need to figure this out SOON because my kids have decided to buy this for my birthday on November 2nd and I need to pick one quick !!! So any help would be appreciated !!!

Also, to the women players - are tenor ukulele's that big ? I have read that women tend to go for the soprano, or concert size due to the larger tenor (that men seem to veer towards)?
I would stay away from the Codoba, from what I have heard.
I am kind of a taller-than-average female, and I have played guitar and banjo. Since I have long fingers, the soprano size can be a problem when playing around the 5th fret and higher. Many sopranos are only 12 frets, and I have songs I like to play that need 15 frets. That said, I still love the soprano size, and I never thought I would be able to play them, but I eventually got accustomed to it. The tenor can be a bit of a stretch for some chords, so a concert size might be a good place for you to start, or get a long neck soprano (concert neck on soprano body). I have the Kala Spalted Maple in the Long neck version, so I get a very plucky uke-like soundbox, with the fret room of a concert. I love the look of the spalted maple too. Very beautiful. That particular ukulele doesn't have a lot of bass/ lower end sound to it... so it's character is different from mahogany, mango and koa. I have been very happy with my Mainlands, and although not as exciting in appearance, the ones I have are very nice sound wise. So, if you like the look of the Mainland, get one of those. Mike at Mainland will give you good customer service too. If you want a more exotic looking uke, or want a long neck size, I would say go with a Kala.
–Lori

gruke
10-22-2010, 11:29 AM
Hello. I'm kind of in the same boat as you--looking for my first uke. One really good thing about Mr. Music Guy Mic is that you can talk to him. I know. I just called him up a little bit ago. Very good guy with some very good advice, and I could tell by talking to him that he was more interested in getting a good fit in the instrument for me than he was in making a profit for himself. I found him through another forum, and he got the same kind of rave reviews there that he is getting here. 20 minutes on the phone, and I can tell you, he deserves the praise. Call him up. He'll give you good advice.

NatalieS
10-22-2010, 11:40 AM
You're really doing your research! For your first uke, I'd probably recommend a concert as well. I got a tenor as one of my first ukes and it felt much less like a ukulele and was leaning more towards a guitar type feel and sound.

I'd recommend a concert that isn't on your list: the Kala acacia. I've played a few of these in person and have been really impressed. It's a solid wood instrument, and acacia is very closely related to koa so it has a similar tone. Some guys don't like the scroll-pattern fret markers, but I think they're really cool (well, I'm a girl so I really can't speak for guys at all).

MusicGuyMike has concerts and tenors available. Concert is $281. http://cgi.ebay.com/SALE-SOLID-ACACIA-KALA-CONCERT-Ukulele-w-case-/330487378694?pt=LH_DefaultDomain_0&hash=item4cf2953306 Tenor is $310. http://cgi.ebay.com/BLOWOUT-KALA-ACACIA-OPEN-HEADSTOCK-TENOR-UKULELE-asac-t-/330487381513?pt=LH_DefaultDomain_0&hash=item4cf2953e09

Both models come with a free tuner, chordbook, and case.

mds725
10-22-2010, 11:43 AM
My criteria when I bought my first two ukuleles:

- Material: There's nothing wrong with laminates, but I decided that I wanted a solid wood body, and not just a solid wood soundboard (top). I had read that solid wood ukes tended to sound better and that the sound would "mature" as the wood did.

- Size and feel: I couldn't decide between a concert and tenor size, and I played both for hours. I liked the concert because it was bigger than a soprano, which was too small for me, but it retained some of that traditional soprano sound. I liked the tenor size because it felt more comfortable in my hands. I ended up buying one of each, although I play the tenor a lot more and only play the concert when I want more of a traditional "plinky" sound.

The two ukuleles I bought were a Kala solid mahogany concert (from the shop that let me play its ukes all afternoon) and a Kala solid acacia tenor from MGM. I'm happy with them both, although I recently bought a solid koa Honu traditional tenor that I play the most at the moment. Over time, I've gravitated more to the tenor size, but I would not have necessarily guessed that would happen when I bought that first concert uke.

All that being said, I agree with Lori that the most important thing is getting an ukulele that you really, really want to play. (For example, I was worried that if I got a real cheap ukulele, it would be less fun to play and I'd simply stop.) As Lori said, the factors that make an ukulele really, really fun to play include how it sounds (so it would help to actually try some out, or at least listen to sound samples) and what it looks like. For me, it also included what size feels most comfortable in my hands (again, it was helpful to try some out before buying).

Good luck with your decision!

ProfChris
10-22-2010, 11:43 AM
I'd say, none of those (yet).

This is your first uke, so you don't really have any idea what you want.

Buy a $20 soprano and find a club where someone will fix the action for you so it plays OK (this can be done very quickly if your cheap uke has reasonable intonation, i.e. the 12th fret note is the same as the unfretted note on each string - if not, don't buy it). Then play the hell out of it for 3 or 4 months. After that you will have some idea what kind of music you like playing, and this will help you decide what to buy for your first Good Uke.

You'll still make mistakes - I started with a cheap soprano given to me, and after 3 months bought a tenor (big man hands), but actually I never play it. All the music I like works best on sopranos. And if I can play them, you can much more easily. 12 frets is plenty to begin with (bet you never use more than the first 5 on your starter uke) and if you're mainly strumming, it's probably as many as you'll ever need.

Once you know what you like to play you can post again - "I have a cheap uke and it's too small/plinky/bright/quiet/whatever". Then people can really give you good advice. At the moment they are just telling you what they like, which is no help to you at all.

For what it's worth, all the brands you list are (generally) good ukes. I'd be wary of Cordoba - all those I've seen are heavily built and make almost no noise when played.

GreatGazukes
10-22-2010, 12:38 PM
I have to admit I'd second going for a cheap (ish) soprano to start out with. The fretboard is narrower than the others and when starting out is easier for your freting hand to get into position for the fingers to do their work :) Also the smaller size uke is easier to have hanging around the house for just grabbing and having a strum. I started out on a concert with average size men's hands and I dont play it at all now, I really like the soprano size. Check out the Ohana Zebrawoods, the one I got played straight out of the box. (i have 3 ohanas and cant fault any of them) The Zebrawoods look great and have nice tone and are solid, not laminate, great tone.

RawrGazzawrs
10-22-2010, 01:03 PM
Hey, buy a cheaper brand uke first, I really recommend Luna brand ukuleles. Their tattoo series is just as cheap as Makalas and they come stringed with aquilas giving them a nice sound. The reason I suggest buying a cheap one first, is because that you may for some reason stop playing or not be able to play a lot, or maybe even not a lot of natural talent if that can discourage you. Just try buying a Luna first because they really have a nice sound. I'm not sure how the more expensive ukes sound but tattoo series really sound nice and are very playable for their price(or so I think...)

coconutmango
10-22-2010, 01:31 PM
WOW You guys are Awesome !!! Thank you all for the warm welcome, you are such a friendly bunch, I appreciate all the hospitality and help in this decision !! I think there is quite a consensus here to go with the Concert size (and a few soprano), both which make sense, so I will pick one of those smaller sizes. And I also see a lot of positive feedback with MGM on ebay, so I will buy from him as well. I will let you know which one as soon as I pick, but think that Kala koa/cedartop one (I think the first one on the list) would be a nice one, but I also like that spalted maple look one too by Kala is appealing. Tough decision !! So would you say the cedartop vs. maple would sound pretty similar ? What exactly is zebrawood, is it comparable to the others I just mentioned ? I believe I was reading in this forum that the Acacia wood didn't sound as well as the cedar or mahogany ? I know this was another I had looked at (but as it is acacia, not sure the consensus on that wood type):

http://cgi.ebay.com/SALE-SOLID-ACACIA-KALA-CONCERT-Ukulele-w-case-/250713444227?pt=LH_DefaultDomain_0&hash=item3a5faf8f83#ht_2978wt_1227

I know one or two of you said I should get a $ 20.00 uke, yet I don't want 'a toy' I want a real instrument, one that can age well, have a nice sound - if its one of those you buy at the ABC store in Waikiki that has plastic strings and sounds like garbage that won't keep me motivated or interested in playing. Of course, I can't spend a ton either now, so that's why I selected the ones in the range I did - not super high-end, yet quality real instruments...

I also wondered if any of you have any recommendations on How I can learn to play, a dvd course, book or any ideas on the best way you learned to play ?? I appreciate all the input - you all have been EXTREMELY helpful !!!!! :)

Mahalo !!!

TCK
10-22-2010, 03:05 PM
I have medium sized hands, short and stumpy, and I have a bit of a hard time with e chords on my tenors. If you have not played tenor or guitar before, I would go for a concert as stated before. I chose that size because I like the tension in the strings for the most part- I am a hard strummer (beginner) and tend to have an easier time making clean sounds on a tenor than a soprano. My wife has the hands of a pianist (and is 6' tall..so her fingers are not short) and plays Soprano, not because the fretboard is easy for her, but because she likes her Uke really plucky.
I have two of the Ukes listed, and I got them for entirely different reasons- I will try to describe them the best I can.
I have a Flame Spalted Maple tenor that I LOVE more than life itself. As far as tone goes, I have decided I love spruce tops. I get a nice bright sound from mine and tons of volume...it is LOUD. The notes are clean and crisp, and there is not a lot of lower end (which I like about it). It is the prettiest Ukulele I could imagine, especially in it's price range. My one problem with it is the gloss finish, which makes it rather slippery. Also fairly certain it is not solid Maple on the sides, but I could be wrong- in any event, it is a WIN for me, but has a very distinctive sound. I am terrible, but here is a video of it

http://www.youtube.com/user/boweewowee?feature=mhum#p/a/u/0/9waxtHoBQ_E
I also have a newly acquired Lacewood/Spruce top soprano. My wife gets this one when she gets home today, and these are of course first impressions as it got here today. It was set up by MGM for a previous owner and it is BEAUTIFUL. There is no way I could ever get the action as low as this one is without buzzes, and while I am a newbie, I have done four fretboards...Mike has done a lot more apparently and is really good at it. It is totally different from the maple side tenor in the fact that is has a much "warmer" sound. It is still punchy and has decent volume, but there is a quality to the sound on it that reminds me of an OLD mahogany uke.
I have an old Mahogany Uke (40's Martin 3M) and it is golden...greatest sound ever in my estimation, but the newer ones I have played just don't seem to have what it has. There is something to be said for really old and beautiful wood that is given time to season...and then spends 70 years as an instrument I suppose.
OK- where was I? Cedar- played that too, and I like it as well spruce- bright sound and I figure a bit prettier to look at. If my wife does not kill me, a cedar Mainland pineapple is in our future. Mostly on looks, charm and sound files, but also from the reviews Mainland gets here...people love them and Hoosierhiver for a reason-and solid wood at that price? Forget it.
Haven't played the Butterfly...love it in terms of pretty though. I did play the Kala Mango and it was amazing...that is what my wife really wanted, but the Lacewood was a total steal and it sounds way better with what I play. the Mango reminds me of the few Koa wood ukes I have played- warm warm warm in tone. Beautiful and well rounded, but buried out by my Maple tenor.

I have managed to avoid getting bit by an Ohana or Lanakai so far (but I love the Zebrawood Ohana and the Spalted Mango Lanakai...sigh, no more room), so I can't throw in any cents there. In any event- as said, get the best you can afford (or you will buy another soon- hard lesson learned), and follow the reccomendations here...MusicGuyMic and Mainland are going to send you whatever you choose in really nice playable form, which is most important (unless you want to learn how to set them up yourself...and you do not)
Cheers
Dave

Lori
10-22-2010, 03:36 PM
What exactly is zebrawood, is it comparable to the others I just mentioned ?


I know one or two of you said I should get a $ 20.00 uke, yet I don't want 'a toy' I want a real instrument, one that can age well, have a nice sound - if its one of those you buy at the ABC store in Waikiki that has plastic strings and sounds like garbage that won't keep me motivated or interested in playing. Of course, I can't spend a ton either now, so that's why I selected the ones in the range I did - not super high-end, yet quality real instruments...


Mahalo !!!

To answer your Zebra wood question... that Ohana Zebra wood soprano charmed me into getting into soprano ukuleles more. It's tone is bright and crisp, with a tendency to have a bit of "bark" to it. I tamed it with the Worth Browns, and it's tone has improved with age. As far as getting an inexpensive ukulele, I would suggest the Makala Dolphin bridge, which comes in cheerful colors (around $40ish). Nice thing about it is that it is one dandy little uke, with good intonation and tone, and you can use it as your picnic/ beach/ camping/ playing in the car uke later, as your collection grows. You would need to upgrade to Aquila strings. You will hear the praises by many here about the Dolphin. I would stay away from the cheap Mahalo models, and tourist trap wall hangers.

–Lori

Chap
10-22-2010, 03:52 PM
Just to point out...you can have a nice uke *and* cheap banging-about uke. No need to limit yourself to just one! :)

mm stan
10-22-2010, 05:28 PM
Since it's your first uke, I'd say get an entry level uke.....to see if you'll keep up with playing it, and save up for a better one when you get better....Oscar Schmidts OU2...
Good Luck and Have fun! "Keep Strumming them strings" BTW..they're(OU2) pretty good for their price and I still play mine daily among my way more expensive
ukes... many many years later... it's My favorite..among my Rogue soprano..entry levels..MM Stan..

molokinirum
10-22-2010, 06:03 PM
One more thing, since some people are mentioning "cheap" ukes......MGM sell Makala ukes which are the lower priced ukes by Kala. MGM sets them up, aquila strings and you can get a concert for around $50. It plays great and sounds great, I have one and play it regularly!! With this uke, you can play it, it sounds good and you'll have fun with little money invested!

ytmr
10-22-2010, 06:08 PM
I have the concert sized spalted maple with spruce top from Kala, and I really love it, got it a couple days ago and it's beautiful. Not sure how different the tenor would be, but if you wanted to go with that, I think it'll be pretty good. The Mainlands are great, but this one sang to me.

iDavid
10-22-2010, 08:44 PM
I have a Mainland Hog tenor, Ohana Zebra Concert, and an Ohana Zebra soprano. Any would make a great first uke. If you want a more traditional sound go with soprano, if ya want more fret spaces... go with the tenor. If you are not sure go for the concert.

The Zebra are less expensive, due to the lack of binding. However, I think they are some of the most stunning ukes around.

coconutmango
10-23-2010, 05:35 PM
I have a Mainland Hog tenor, Ohana Zebra Concert, and an Ohana Zebra soprano. Any would make a great first uke. If you want a more traditional sound go with soprano, if ya want more fret spaces... go with the tenor. If you are not sure go for the concert.

The Zebra are less expensive, due to the lack of binding. However, I think they are some of the most stunning ukes around.

Hi -- what is the lack of binding ? What exactly is that ? Not clear on that - is that only an issue with zebrawood, or other woods too (spalted maple) ? If someone could explain that would be great. I have been reading all the great ideas pouring in - and appreciate all the help - its been so helpful....

Lori
10-23-2010, 06:32 PM
Check out Ian Chadwick's site
http://www.ianchadwick.com/ukuleles/anatomy.htm
The binding is an added strip of bended wood or plastic that goes along the edges of the soundbox to strengthen it.
Ian has a really great site, so take your time and explore it.

Spalted wood has been weakened by fungus, which gives it it's interesting graining. Because of that, it is hard to work on, and is usually a laminate. Zebra wood is not spalted, so it can be used as a solid wood for instruments.
–Lori

musiccityuker
10-24-2010, 01:39 PM
Coconutmango,

Congrats! This is a great time in your life. I, too, succumed to UAS ovwer time. Have eight of these little ukes around the house now... and play every one of them. You're going to get a ton of advice. Let me add mine. With a $350 budget... I'd god for a Mele concert. If you want a lot of punch go for the pineapple Mahogony. I have three Meles and love eery one of them... GREAT little ukes for the money. AND... I love the owners of Mele.... they are VERY customer oriented and very timely in getting your order to you ASAP! They get it. Good luck with your search.