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View Full Version : Custom Ukes: Hawaiian Luthiers vs. Mainland Luthiers



Dan Uke
11-19-2011, 08:13 PM
I was just curious if there are any main difference that people can summarize. If koa was used, would the ukes sound similar? One thing I did notice was looking at Pua Pua website, they have lot more expensive custom ukes than those from the mainland. To be fair, I don't know too many mainland luthiers but on UU, they tend to be reasonable or less pricey than Hawaiian counterparts.

Just wanted to get people's feedback.

consitter
11-19-2011, 08:46 PM
Don't know how much difference it would make, but cost of living on the islands is much higher than the mainland for the most part. Therefore skilled labor would be much higher wages. Plus the law of supply and demand figures in. Most luthiers in Hawaii have a backlog of 2 years or more. The longest mainland side wait I've seen is Mya-Moe, who is about 5 months behind, and they are as fine of a set of luthiers as there are.

Also, there is a kind of mystique with having an Hawaiian instrument made by an Hawaiian luthier IMHO.

Ken Middleton
11-19-2011, 10:24 PM
I was just curious if there are any main difference that people can summarize. If koa was used, would the ukes sound similar? One thing I did notice was looking at Pua Pua website, they have lot more expensive custom ukes than those from the mainland. To be fair, I don't know too many mainland luthiers but on UU, they tend to be reasonable or less pricey than Hawaiian counterparts.

Just wanted to get people's feedback.

When you are looking at the differences between experienced, well-respected luthiers, the thing to understand is that they are all different. Top luthiers have ways of working that make their ukes very individual in sound. A Moore Bettah, a Howlett or a Da Silva all sound very different. Less experienced luthiers may try to emulate the work of someone who has taught them or had an influence on their approach to work.

If you are actually talking about workshops not individual luthiers, there is still a big difference between them. A Kanile'a sounds nothing like a Kamaka, a Koaloha sounds nothing like a Koolau and a Mya Moe sounds nothing like a new US made Martin.

I have had the privilege of talking with many of these excellent makers. Even the way they talk about their way of working is very different. They get excellent results because of their individuality, their attention to detail and their commitment to quality. It is not really about woods.

consitter
11-19-2011, 10:48 PM
When you are looking at the differences between experienced, well-respected luthiers, the thing to understand is that they are all different. Top luthiers have ways of working that make their ukes very individual in sound. Less experienced luthiers may try to emulate the work of someone who has taught them or had an influence on their approach to work.

If you are actually talking about workshops not individual luthiers, there is still a big difference between them. A Kanile'a sounds nothing like a Kamaka, a Koaloha sounds nothing like a Moore Bettah and a May Moe sounds nothing like a new US made Martin.

I have had the privilege of talking with many of these excellent makers. Even the way they talk about their way of working is very different. They get excellent results because of their individuality, their attention to detail and their commitment to quality. It is not really about woods.

Ken,

You are absolutely right in the aspect of individuality. Wood is what the uke is made of, but true luthiers build each one with the individual that wanted it built in mind. This was especially true of Paul Okami when he built mine. There was well over a hundred emails/phone calls that flew back and forth during the process. Not to mention the exchanges we had on texts. He also put his own mana (life force) into that uke, as I'm sure many other luthiers do. I've noticed with Paul and his crew, building ukuleles is much more than a job, it is a passion and love.

Scott

hmgberg
11-20-2011, 02:10 AM
Ken is right on. At a certain level what makes one ukulele "better" than another becomes a very personal matter. In terms of appearance, I think the Hawaiian builds tend to emanate from an overarching island sensibility, at least that is what they may have in common. However, having had the good fortune to play a bunch of them including Kamakas, Koalohas, Kanileas, G Strings, Kelliis, and so on, I can say they all sound a little different. There are innumerable threads on UU, for example, comparing Kamaka and Koaloha. There is no definitive answer as to which is "better," but everyone seems to be able to make an individual choice. The same can be said about the mainland luthier builds in terms of tone and playability issues are concerned; I think, however, the designs run the gamut.

Koa is expensive, but not so expensive that it would in and of itself add a thousand dollars, say, to a builder's cost. Also, while there may be differences in the tone among an individual luthier's instruments resulting from the kind of wood used, particularly when comparing a soft wood top to a hardwood top, in my experience, these differences are not as great as those between luthiers if when comparing ukuleles made of the same woods.

I think there may be a "Hawaiian" sound. I cannot say for certain because I may be projecting a good bit of that. In any event, I cannot attribute it to the koa since most of the mainland koa ukuleles I have played sound more like their mahogany counterparts than they sound like Hawaiian koas.

It is true that the cost of living is generally higher on the islands. I believe it is also true that at least some folks will pay a little premium for a Hawaiian ukulele.

Dan Uke
11-20-2011, 06:15 AM
I was thinking the main "K" Brands were production ukes except for their customs of course. The "K" brands appear reasonably priced compared to the individual luthiers. Maybe the aura of being made in Hawaii and cost of living raises the prices. It could also be the fact individual luthiers don't get the "bulk" discount since they buy so little wood.