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ryanvt
12-14-2011, 04:51 AM
In honor of my mya moe uke's birthday today! As well as a thread I read yesterday about the cost of certain custom uke's...

I am hoping to start a discussion about the costs of building uke's. Specifically customs but if some of you know about production uke's that would be interesting as well. Sort of a Freakonomics of uke's.

This summer I visited the mya moe shop. Before I arrived I was under the impression that four figures was alot for a uke. After seeing the shop, equipment, wood, supplies, and most importantly specialized artistic labor, I was convinced their uke's are a bargain.

I think it would be great if people just starting to think about a custom could look here to better understand the economics of luthierie.

PhilUSAFRet
12-14-2011, 05:37 AM
I know what you mean. I thought $1200 - $1300 was a bit much for a banjo uke until I picked up and played one of Aaron's beansprouts. Holy crap....what a beautiful, quality, incredible sounding banjo uke. Big, big sound for it's size.

PoiDog
12-14-2011, 05:59 AM
I don't know that most people would argue that $1,000 - $1,300 for a custom uke isn't fair. As you said, taking into consideration factors like the time to build, the luthier's skill, the materials, etc, it seems that a thousand dollars is quite reasonable.

However, I think that some of the significantly higher prices for customs may reflect more of an elitism (for lack of a better word) than true representation of actual labor/materials/etc. In a separate thread I used autos as an example of the difficulty of "buying American", and they also work well to illustrate this point as well. I think it's safe to say that the level of quality, materials, and craftsmanship in a Honda and a Bentley are different, but that difference isn't the same as the one reflected in the cost. The reason one pays 10X (or more) for a Bugatti or a Maybach isn't because it is 10X the car, but because it is 10X the status.

Keep in mind, I'm not knocking the upper-stratosphere products. If they charge that much and people want to pay it, then it's all fair and good. But the belief that the extra high cost is somehow justified purely by materials, quality, construction etc is just not true. That extra high price is basically a luxury tax.

Getting back to your point, though, the cost of a Mya Moe, or a Moore Bettah, or a Pohaku, or a Pete Howlett uke is definitely fair when considering what you are getting. And, all credit to Eric DeVine who even somewhat admitted that the recent $8K asking price of his uke on ebay was a bit excessive.

coolkayaker1
12-14-2011, 05:59 AM
Speaking about custom ukulele prices is voodoo economics.

joejeweler
12-14-2011, 08:17 AM
Speaking about custom ukulele prices is voodoo economics.

Who do voodoo? You do??? :D

Drew Bear
12-14-2011, 08:46 AM
I'm one of those "just starting to think about a custom". One distinction I've made is between a "true" custom instrument and one that is built-to-order. The latter allows you to pick and choose a number of options on a spec list, while the former I think involves much more personalization. The level of communication required to tailor the sound and appearance of an instrument to someone's personal requirements takes considerably more time and effort on the luthier's part.

I'm not knocking the build-to-order route. There are many outstanding instruments built this way. I'm just pointing out that the more personalized customizations affect the economics. This is why custom luthiers occasionally offer "stock" (non-personalized) ukes at lower prices. Specs, build quality and overall tone are on the same level as a personalized uke, but there won't be any of those details that distinguish it as "mine".

ryanvt
12-14-2011, 02:28 PM
I'm curious how many hours on average it takes a luthier to produce a high quality uke. I am willing to bet if you add all of the building hours to hours spent marketing, equipment maintenance, customer service, etc. most American uke builders hourly rate is pretty low. I'm hoping some of the luthiers on this forum will chime in and shine some light on the subject. I don't think they need to justify their prices since demand is also a huge force, but help us get a better understanding of the economics of the profession.

ChrisRCovington
12-14-2011, 03:46 PM
I just started working on fixing an old Regal that had a few cracks and resetting the bridge. Some of the guys in the luthier section are helping to talk me through it. Even the most basic fixes require a ton of skill. Mixing hide glue is another skill all on it's own... It is an old world skill to make a ukulele or guitar or whatever. I know they don't work on the guild system or apprentice system but it is a skill set that requires many hours of training. If you think of a plumber (a job that requires an apprenticeship) they get paid around $100 per hours (maybe more depending on where you live). I have a feeling many luthiers make far less than that per hour on one ukulele.

Just my thoughts,

mr moonlight
12-14-2011, 04:38 PM
I don't know that most people would argue that $1,000 - $1,300 for a custom uke isn't fair. As you said, taking into consideration factors like the time to build, the luthier's skill, the materials, etc, it seems that a thousand dollars is quite reasonable.

However, I think that some of the significantly higher prices for customs may reflect more of an elitism (for lack of a better word) than true representation of actual labor/materials/etc. In a separate thread I used autos as an example of the difficulty of "buying American", and they also work well to illustrate this point as well. I think it's safe to say that the level of quality, materials, and craftsmanship in a Honda and a Bentley are different, but that difference isn't the same as the one reflected in the cost. The reason one pays 10X (or more) for a Bugatti or a Maybach isn't because it is 10X the car, but because it is 10X the status.

Keep in mind, I'm not knocking the upper-stratosphere products. If they charge that much and people want to pay it, then it's all fair and good. But the belief that the extra high cost is somehow justified purely by materials, quality, construction etc is just not true. That extra high price is basically a luxury tax.

Getting back to your point, though, the cost of a Mya Moe, or a Moore Bettah, or a Pohaku, or a Pete Howlett uke is definitely fair when considering what you are getting. And, all credit to Eric DeVine who even somewhat admitted that the recent $8K asking price of his uke on ebay was a bit excessive.

But a Bentley or a Bugatti is 10X the car your average Honda is and this is seen in the level of quality, attention to detail, materials and design. Prices go up exponentially as you raise the level of design, quality, materials, customization, etc... People often forget about how much time and effort goes into the design, vision and production. Plus the fewer you make, the higher the cost to produce. That's why higher quality costs so much more. As for status, a Veyron is waaaaaay more than 10X more likely to get you laid than a Civic.