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View Full Version : How many bum vintage ukes have you heard/bought?



garyg
10-26-2011, 02:45 AM
So my uke tastes tend to be bi, I like contemporary koa ukes like my aNue Nue 1879, and my Ko'Aloha Pikake, and vintage mahogany ukes like my Martin 1M, Gretsch and Gretsch American, Gibson uke-1 and Favilla, all from the 50's or earlier. I haven't tried a really old vintage koa uke yet, maybe I'll become tri. But my question refers to the fact that after having been on this board for a number of months and reading lots of comments about bad sounding ukes, I'm wondering how common this actually is. I buy most of my vintage ukes off ebay and although I always ask how the uke sounds, frankly the best buys are frequently from folks who don't know much about ukes and likely couldn't even tune one properly. So, although I recognize that there is always the possibility of getting a uke that doesn't play well, I wonder how many bad sounding ukes people have actually played or heard, when we're talking about major brands like the ones mentioned above? Oh and lets throw in some other vintage brands like Nunes, Kumalae, Regal, Harmony (name or manufacturer), or any other bad sounding ukes that you've played and come from a prominent if not top of the line manufacturer. TIA, g2

Pukulele Pete
10-26-2011, 03:06 AM
I don't think I've played a uke I didnt like. I like traditional looking sopranos. If I don't like the way a uke looks ,I don't have any desire to play it. I have a couple $7.50 sopranos from Christmas tree shop that sound OK. I had to tweak them a little but they sound like ukes. I like vintage my Martins best but I'll play the cheap ones and they sound OK to me. To me a bum uke is one I dont like the looks of.I dont like the classical guitar type bridges , extended fingboards , or non traditional shapes ( although I like Fleas ) . I think all ukes sound good , the thing that makes a "bum" uke for me is the way it looks. Weird , huh ? Oh ya , I don't like pineapple shapes or geared tuners.

hmgberg
10-26-2011, 04:05 AM
I also like vintage Martins. In regard to the specific matter you introduced with this thread, I like them because I've never played a bum one. True, some have been astonishingly good, but they all have been very good. I have two older Hawaiian ukuleles that I restored. I love the way they look most of all. The koa is just beautiful. They sound pretty good too. But, they don't play all that well. Some of the other makers you mention are hit and miss, in my experience. I find that the solid wood Harmony ukuleles have a distinctive sound that I like. A little "tubby," I like to say. But, the better ones, like the Vita Uke, have more of that sound and play so much better. I've thought about Gretsch, Favilla, and Gibson. Unfortunately, I haven't had the opportunity to play any of these. When I hear them on Youtube, it isn't that I don't like them, but I find that I am comparing them to Martins and I always like the Martins better.

Paul December
10-26-2011, 04:18 AM
I like the Idea of getting a Vintage Uke...
...but never go through with it.
I've played several that looked way-cool, but didn't sound good. They were either set up poorly and/or had (very) old strings on them. In the end I wasn't willing to blow the money on an experiment.
I should state that they were all in music shops with music shop prices...
...if I were to find one dirt cheap in a garage sale, I'd take the plunge.

philpot
10-26-2011, 04:23 AM
The only vintage uke I've ever played for long was a Gibson style 3, and that thing was pure magic. To my ears it sounded better than my Kamaka, but then again the price tag is also a lot heftier. It played like butter, smooth as could be. Beautiful sound, had the whole music store looking at me when I was having a go at Weeps ;) amazing little instrument, if only I could afford it. So no, I've never had a BAD experience with vintage ukes.

Gmoney
10-26-2011, 04:51 AM
I've bought 6 vintage ukes & still have 5 of them.


No-Name - probably '30's to '40's - possibly birch(?) - GREAT plinky sound
Martin "0" - '50's - bought from Strumsilly, sold to another UU'er - GREAT condition & tone, just wanted an older one
Kamaka Keiki - mahogany - needed single small crack repair, fixed by local luthier & it is a GREAT player
Martin "0" - 20's - in great overall shape, no visible cracks, but needs bridge replacement as in its life, someone put steel strings on it & wallowed out the string slots. I will get this repaired by same luthier & it will be a great player.
Kamaka "gold label" Koa Pineapple - had multiple cracks so sent for refurb by Kamaka - it is a GREAT player now & I will pass it on to kids/grandkids when I expire!
Harmony "Roy Smeck" - '50's - plastic fretboard, mahogany in GREAT shape - one cracked tuner but bought a set of replacements for it for $20 though I haven't swapped it out yet. - Love this little uke - plays great & is in astounding shape!



That first one was "bundled" with a set of actual 1918(!) uke lessons & a pitch pipe for "D" tuning. It was missing one tuner & the 12th fret. I put some Pings on it, haven't replaced the fret, though I bought some from StewMac & still have it hanging on the wall w/an Oasis humidifier hanging in the soundhole. When I want to hear some really PLINKY uke sounds, thats the go-to. I've thought of selling it several times, but probably won't.

The Martins were both reasonably priced - I traded a Mainland Pineapple for the 20's "0".

Both Kamaka's were round $250 - $300 w/the Pineapple refurb adding another $300 to that one, but as I said, I won't likely let that one go.

I regularly watch Gibson, Martin, Favilla, & even Harmony ukes for good prices & though I haven't bought another uke since my Pineapple Sunday, if the price/model/bank-balance all align right, I'd jump at any of those.

All in all, the descriptions on eBay are usually fairly accurate, but prices fluctuate all over the map, so I use AuctionSniper.com to bid on any that I'm actually interested in. I've had good "luck" in general & as another said, whats a bad vintage uke?! They just need the right level of TLC (including being sent to the Kamaka hospital if necessary!).

PhilUSAFRet
10-26-2011, 05:19 AM
Bought a nice little Mele Braddah solid mahogany soprano. I should like it, but we just aren't connecting. Maybe I shouldn't compare it to my pre-war Martin

garyg
10-26-2011, 08:50 AM
@gmoney - yeah that price thing is really amazing, especially in comparison to music shop prices. It really pays to be patient (and use a sniping program, I use esnipe.com). It is amazing how even for the same type of uke prices vary substantially and not based on quality necessary. I watched Favilla sopranos for awhile, the decent ones all were ~ $325+ range with some almost $400, then I managed to get a late 30's-40's Favilla uke-2 (I didn't know it was that old) in very good condition for $225. cheers, g2

garyg
10-26-2011, 08:55 AM
@hmgberg - well you and I have had this conversation via PM (;-). My Martin does have a very bell-like tone that my other vintage ukes do not, my Gibson has a plinkier, more tin-pan alley sound than any of the other ukes. The Gretsch and Favilla ukes have that vintage mahogany sound that differs from either the Martin or Gibson but still is very nice. I find it to be slightly warmer and rounder but everyone seems to hear things slightly differently. I would put my Favilla up against my Martin any day for quality sound but it is a slightly different sound and the Gretsch ukes are incredibly good for the price. I think they're highly undervalued. cheers, g2

strumsilly
10-26-2011, 09:12 AM
. I've never bought a vintage uke that I thought sounded bad. The only thing to watch out for are bowed necks, especially on Harmony baritones. I still have one with a badly bowed neck, but it sounds fine and is playable if I capo it. I think all the vintage American made ukes sound awesome. The Martins are great but not for the price. I really like the Gretsch soprano I just got, looks and sounds similar to the Martin 0 at a fraction of the price. The only Favilla I've bought came broken due to poor packing. A nice looking Favilla just went for $103 on ebay. never played one but I hear they are sweet, and that's a great price. Would have bid it if I didn't just get the Gretsch. I was lucky enough to get a few Gibsons at good prices. They are awesome, really quality builds. I stupidly sold the tenor and almost sold the baritone, and I'm glad I didn't. The baritone sounds amazing, such a pure, resonant tone. It is a '63. So I think the vintage ones are good buys, especially if you ask the right questions.

Markr1
10-26-2011, 01:45 PM
The only vintage uke I have heard is the one I bought off eBay about 4 months ago a Favilla baritone which I really like has nice tone and is loud. It's easy to chord easy to play and sounds fantastic and I might add it's built like a tank. I like the cool old fabric case that came with it too. I'll buy a Favilla soprano as soon as the right one comes along with an old fabric case. I guess it's more of a canvas rather then fabric like the old tent we had when I was a kid back in the 60s.

haole
10-26-2011, 05:39 PM
Played a vintage Martin 5K sopranos a few years ago at Mandolin Bros. It had a five-figure price tag and was just there hanging on the wall for anyone to grab. Sounded really dead to me and didn't feel great either. Any of the new Kamakas in the other room could blow it away in terms of playability or sound. But I've played some far less expensive vintage Martins that sounded a LOT better.

hmgberg
10-27-2011, 02:38 PM
@hmgberg - well you and I have had this conversation via PM (;-). My Martin does have a very bell-like tone that my other vintage ukes do not, my Gibson has a plinkier, more tin-pan alley sound than any of the other ukes. The Gretsch and Favilla ukes have that vintage mahogany sound that differs from either the Martin or Gibson but still is very nice. I find it to be slightly warmer and rounder but everyone seems to hear things slightly differently. I would put my Favilla up against my Martin any day for quality sound but it is a slightly different sound and the Gretsch ukes are incredibly good for the price. I think they're highly undervalued. cheers, g2

I'm tempted by all of the Gibsons, Gretsches, and Favillas. Unfortunately, I don't get to play many ukuleles where I live. I have a Lyon & Healy soprano that, from what I can hear on youtube, sounds more like a Gibson than a Martin. I like it. But, I love the Martins. I appreciate your descriptions. They're helpful. I'm sure I'll pick one of them up eventually.

Kem
10-27-2011, 03:09 PM
I've had two vintage-uke experiences, one good, one bad. I own a Harmony baritone that has a lovely old-fashioned tone. The previous owner did replace the original tuners with geared ones (SHOCK! HORROR!), but other than that, it doesn't seem to have been altered in any way. However, I also got a bit cocky at one point and picked up a Dixie metal banjo uke for what was, in hindsight, rather too much money. As it turned out, one of the tuners was shot, and even if it hadn't been, there was absolutely no way to make that thing play anywhere near in tune. The intonation was beyond bad. The thing seemed to have been put together by someone who had decided to stick the frets any old where. That Dixie LOOKED like an instrument but did not play like one. It's on its way to Tudorp now; perhaps he will eventually be able to reveal whether there's any hope for it.