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View Full Version : What's the difference between a good uke and a great uke?



addicted2myuke
04-13-2012, 09:13 AM
Obviously the price, but I am looking to round out my collection with a soprano. I currently have a concert Ibanez (my first uke) and a tenor Kala. The Kala is clearly the better sounding uke, but I do enjoy the Ibanez too. My budget is around $200-$250 right now. There are so many brands out there, that it is a little overwhelming. What should I be looking for? I want that typical uke sound that you would expect from a sorpano ,but not tinny sounding. I have no problem ordering online if the shop will do a set up for me. Any and all advice will be greatly appreciated.

Patrick Madsen
04-13-2012, 09:35 AM
For me, it's all about the action of the fretboard.

TheUkulelePanda
04-13-2012, 09:37 AM
A good point with action is that is should be best suited to you as a player. If you can test a uke that you like you should check the intonation, and fret buzz.

chris667
04-13-2012, 09:41 AM
I have recently acquired a Brüko no.5.

Really, really beautifully made by a family factory in Germany. And cheap!

http://brueko.de/en/index.html

The action is a bit higher than some ukes I've played. But it plays beautifully. It really sings!

Shazzbot
04-13-2012, 10:41 AM
I will answer your question with a question:
Can you get a "great" ukulele for $250?
But I'm no expert, so maybe someone else can answer that question.

ichadwick
04-13-2012, 10:57 AM
... about $1,000....

roxhum
04-13-2012, 10:57 AM
So what is your question: The difference between a good and a great uke or the best uke you can purchase for $200 to $250? I personally favor the mellow woods with Mahagony being my favorite. I think safe brand names are Kala, Ohana, Mainland. My preference is Mainland. And purchase from a reputable dealer who does a professional set up. That is my two cents, for what it is worth.

SailQwest
04-13-2012, 11:06 AM
I will answer your question with a question:
Can you get a "great" ukulele for $250?
But I'm no expert, so maybe someone else can answer that question.

As someone who has been fortunate enough to do that, yes, you can.

I have also acquired (and returned) a very mediocre $800 K brand (this was 3-4 years ago).

There can be a huge variation between instruments, even of the same make and model. Some are exceptionally sweet sounding. Others, not so much, regardless of brand. I think the higher end instruments have less variation, but it's still there.

hibiscus
04-13-2012, 12:11 PM
For your particular situation, I would recommend a Mainland set up with a low action (if you prefer) by Mike. One of the best set-up guys and beautiful sounding ukes. I have a Mango, but I have had a Mahogany Soprano, too. Your question is a little unclear, and this may not be the answer you were looking for.

benjoeuke
04-13-2012, 12:35 PM
...soprano... around $200-$250... What should I be looking for? ... not tinny sounding...
Here, let me make this easier for you folks ;)
I'll go first:
mahogany, mango or Koa (which one looks good to you in a picture)
You like your Kala, right? probably consider the solid mahogany
Mainland Ukes
Mele Ukulele
Pono
Islander
That's all I got right now, hope it helps :)

OldePhart
04-13-2012, 01:24 PM
First...let's be honest. In the $200 to $250 range you quoted a truly great uke will be a pretty rare find even in a soprano. That's if we're saying that a really great uke is so good that everybody who plays it goes "wow," which is my threshhold for great. You're not even assured of that with the "k brand" Hawiian ukes - though it's far more likely there. I love Mainlands, have my fifth on the way right now, but I would never say that you are always going to get a "great" uke going that route (very high probability of getting a very good one, though).

That said, you can choose from several very good ukes in your price range. So, in this price range, what's the difference between a good uke and a very good uke? Typically, attention to detail. You're pretty much looking at "factory" ukes in this price range but the extra attention given after a uke comes off the assembly line can make the difference between good and very good.

First, to be "very good" a uke must properly intonate on every string at the first few frets. It's the nature of fixed bridges that you probably won't get perfect intonation well up the neck (12th fret territory) but the intonation at the first couple of frets simply has to be perfect. It almost never is on a factory uke and that's why folks like Mim, HMS, Mike, Mike, and Mike :) set them up when they sell them.

Second, to be "very good" a uke must have a reasonable action. Not necessarily "super low" - some people don't even like "super low" - but it has to be low enough that it doesn't adversely affect intonation at the high end of the fretboard or make barre chords around the fifth fret difficult (most high-fret intonation is not setup related, unless the action is outrageously high).

Third, a "very good" uke must not buzz on any string for any fretting when strummed properly but fairly vigorously.

Finally, a "very good" uke must have pleasant tone balanced well across the range of the instrument with no wierd resonances at particular frequencies.

Note two things that don't appear on my list above - I've said nothing about volume and nothing about appearance. An instrument that has a pleasant but quiet voice can be amplified...I find pleasant but quiet far more desireable than unpleasant and loud! (think about it) Appearance is purely subjective and one man's beauty is another's...well...not beauty. :) I still am not crazy about the Mainland rope binding but that doesn't stop me from buying them! Even dents, dings, wear, and finish flaws are nothing if the instrument is otherwise "very good" (not that you should expect those things on a new instrument but they shouldn't stop you from buying a used instrument that is otherwise "very good"). In fact, in your price range you might be able to find a rather rough but good Hawaiian or Martin.

hibiscus
04-13-2012, 02:34 PM
Great answer, Olde P. :)

TheOnlyUkeThatMatters
04-13-2012, 03:09 PM
Good ukes are sitting in cases or closets. Great ukes are making music.

You want a ukulele that you'll play. In that price range, there are many good ukes that you could make great.

mm stan
04-13-2012, 03:10 PM
Great ukes are very very rare or I have been truely unlucky...ha ha not every uke or bunch of ukes will aquire that status....
maybe one out of ten or twenty....and it isn't a money thing either..well maybe you get a more consistant build from higher
end ukes,,but certainly NOT garanteed for sure...there is too much in the building variables...they certainly are not common
"A great uke is one that impresses everyone who hears or plays it"
" A Great Uke is one that get alot of enjoyment and gets played alot"
" A Great Uke has the looks and sound perfect" way above almost all others..
Some never find one.....that is why we keep buying ukes to find one........ It is almost impossible to find a great uke for the price
you stated....however you might find what is called to me is a ...Gem in the rough.....which is a good ukulele:)

Uke Whisperer
04-14-2012, 12:21 AM
The person who plays it.

connor013
04-14-2012, 01:24 AM
Obviously the price, but I am looking to round out my collection with a soprano. I currently have a concert Ibanez (my first uke) and a tenor Kala. The Kala is clearly the better sounding uke, but I do enjoy the Ibanez too. My budget is around $200-$250 right now. There are so many brands out there, that it is a little overwhelming. What should I be looking for? I want that typical uke sound that you would expect from a sorpano ,but not tinny sounding. I have no problem ordering online if the shop will do a set up for me. Any and all advice will be greatly appreciated.

Short answer for me: the sounds I can get out of it. That is, at my level of playing, I have a feeling a $1000 uke will sound pretty darn close to a $400 one.

PM sent, by the way.

ksiegel
04-14-2012, 01:57 AM
Try the Ohana Vita Uke. Soprano neck, concert body, great sound. Should be able to get one with a hard shell case for around $250-300.

Is it a great uke? Or just a very good uke?

That's for you to decide. But for me, while not my number one ukulele, it is tied for #2 with my fluke.



-Kurt

OldePhart
04-14-2012, 05:17 AM
The person who plays it.

Heh, heh. Yeah, lotta truth in that.

pakhan
04-14-2012, 05:20 AM
Just my 2 cents, I think a great uke does what you want it to do, when you want to do it and sounds just like how you want it to.

I think it's a fit between player and instrument.

ukuleleleluku
04-14-2012, 01:30 PM
The person who plays it.

+1 Aww... I was gonna say that! :D

stevepetergal
04-14-2012, 04:04 PM
What's the difference between a good uke and a great uke?
How much you like it.

philrab66
04-15-2012, 04:54 AM
What's the difference between a good uke and a great uke?
How much you like it.

I agree much to do with the player. When I look at demos on HMS they make an average Uke sound really good. I think a bigger price tag just makes it sound more appealing. There must be a cut of point (price) where a luthier could make a very good instrument for very little money.
I am getting one made at the moment for very little money. I have read great reviews about the maker and I am expecting a very good instrument. I just think it is part of the UAS you do not really find it much in the guitaring community. Dont get me wrong I do want a really good Uke as mine has a few dead spots on it. But how much does it really cost for a very good instrument without all the hyped up sales ?

PoiDog
04-15-2012, 05:36 AM
The person who plays it.

Yup.

And, I'll add that a great uke is any uke you personally love, while good ukes are all the others.

Shazzbot
04-15-2012, 06:43 AM
"There must be a cut of point (price) where a luthier could make a very good instrument for very little money."

Speaking as a professional wood turner, the only way to do that is to devalue your labor and your skills.
Having said that, any luthier's (or artist's in my case) hourly wage is already obscenely low.

If you are getting a quality hand made anything for a very low price, thank the maker, it was a labor of love.

imabuddha
04-15-2012, 07:17 AM
Having said that, any luthier's (or artist's in my case) hourly wage is already obscenely low.

If you are getting a quality hand made anything for a very low price, thank the maker, it was a labor of love.

:agree:

There's a big difference between mass-produced commodity goods and those made by individual (or small teams of) craftsmen. If the difference is unimportant to you then buy the commodity version & enjoy the savings. If you are fortunate enough to be able to afford an artisan's creation then you will not only get a superior product, but also something that transcends mere commerce.

philrab66
04-15-2012, 09:23 AM
"There must be a cut of point (price) where a luthier could make a very good instrument for very little money."

Speaking as a professional wood turner, the only way to do that is to devalue your labor and your skills.
Having said that, any luthier's (or artist's in my case) hourly wage is already obscenely low.

If you are getting a quality hand made anything for a very low price, thank the maker, it was a labor of love.

That is why you do turning I would imagine because you get enjoyment from it, if it was for money you would do something else. I would imagine the maker of my Uke does it more on a hobby basis. I do agree with you though about people with skill on such a low rate compared to say footballers which I think is ridiculous.

philrab66
04-15-2012, 09:25 AM
:agree:

There's a big difference between mass-produced commodity goods and those made by individual (or small teams of) craftsmen. If the difference is unimportant to you then buy the commodity version & enjoy the savings. If you are fortunate enough to be able to afford an artisan's creation then you will not only get a superior product, but also something that transcends mere commerce.

I already have a mass produced one. The custom one is only going to cost a little more.

imabuddha
04-15-2012, 10:20 AM
I already have a mass produced one. The custom one is only going to cost a little more.

As with most things, the costs of mass-produced products, custom-made products, and the skill of those who make them, vary widely. ;)

TheOnlyUkeThatMatters
04-15-2012, 12:27 PM
a great uke is any uke you personally love, while good ukes are all the others.

Very well put, Dog.

Laouik
04-15-2012, 12:36 PM
Here are my two cents.

A great uke is one that makes you smile, one that you care for. You wash your hands before picking it up, make sure it's clean before you put it away. The action on the fretboard lets you play without thinking about it. Once in a while, you stop and play some random notes just 'cause it sounds so good. It's an ukulele you're hoping you'll get a chance to show to other people.

So this means that the definition of a great uke will change over time. Every uke I've had has been a great uke. The first one was great as I had so much fun with it and it was my first experience with an ukulele. I decided to upgrade when I realized that things would be better wish something that was better built. This meant going from the $100 range to the $500 range. When I looked, I found that for the most part, anything between $100 and $500 were slight incremental and often aesthetic improvements. At around $500 however, there was a marked improvement in build quality, materials, details and action. The difference was sufficiently noticeable to make the expense seem natural.

My second one was great because it blew the first one out of the water. Holding it, playing it, interacting with it was precious. I would have kept it except that after a year of finger pain trying to manoeuvre the soprano fretboard with my massive hands, I had to aim for a tenor.

My current and third uke is a great uke because... well. I can't think of something better I could obtain. I could obtain similar instruments. But I honestly can't think of something that would top it, save for aesthetic sophistications.

Just depends on whether you're trying to define what a great uke for you is, or what others understand a uke to be.

Shastastan
04-18-2012, 10:26 AM
... about $1,000....
I have never played an "expensive" uke, but Mainlands really sound nice. For me the low action does make a difference,too. As to which/what is a "really great uke", I have no idea or even how to find out.

RevWill
04-18-2012, 10:59 AM
There really is something to the idea that the difference between a good uke and a great one is how much you love it. I've heard of people playing, for example, Roy Buchanan's Telecaster ("Nancy") and walking away saying, "There's nothing extra special about it." Brian Setzer once played Stevie Ray Vaughan's #1 Strat through Stevie's rig and was disappointed that he still sounded like himself and not like Stevie. The uke that's "the one" for you may be nothing special to the next player - and you may fall in love with one a hundred others would pass over.

I got to play a Kamaka at Ukin' in the Woods last year, and while it was fabulous I wasn't ready to sell my Mainland and start saving up.

campbell88
04-21-2012, 10:44 PM
So what is your question: The difference between a good and a great uke or the best uke you can purchase for $200 to $250? I personally favor the mellow woods with Mahagony being my favorite. I think safe brand names are Kala, Ohana, Mainland. My preference is Mainland. And purchase from a reputable dealer who does a professional set up. That is my two cents, for what it is worth.

When you say reputable dealer who does a pro set up what does the set up involve? Is it just quality check? Doesn't the company run set up and quality check themselves? (Don't have a uke yet so just wondering) I have no uke providers anywhere close to where I live that I can access so I'm going to have to go with an online dealer. Any idea of reputable ones? I've been reading around and came across "the ukulele site" by Hawaiin Music Supply - Any idea about them?

Also Just to add to the topic, so far from my research it seems the cheap ukes get out of tune more rapidly, their sound harsher and brighter I feel, and they have a slight offtune sound at time and experience more "buzz" / dead spots. I've been trying to find a few videos of ukes I've been interested in and for the most part they seem to sound good with warmer, fuller sounds, but their prices have been quite variable. I was wondering instead of saying whats the dif between good and best - what's the diff between say a $200+ (ish) uke that already seem to look and sound fairly good and one that goes for $300ish. I know its hard to say exactly due to variations in brand but what I'm trying to see is, is the difference big enough to be worth getting one at that higher price? I'm guessing often times quality is the main divide but I'm interested in getting a uke that has a decently warm and nice sound (not too bright) that I can take outdoors too. If lasting quality and sound is a big step then its worth it but if its fairly similar then perhaps not.

Thanks

1931jim
04-22-2012, 02:28 AM
Obviously the price, but I am looking to round out my collection with a soprano. I currently have a concert Ibanez (my first uke) and a tenor Kala. The Kala is clearly the better sounding uke, but I do enjoy the Ibanez too. My budget is around $200-$250 right now. There are so many brands out there, that it is a little overwhelming. What should I be looking for? I want that typical uke sound that you would expect from a sorpano ,but not tinny sounding. I have no problem ordering online if the shop will do a set up for me. Any and all advice will be greatly appreciated.
Where is "addicted2myuke" ?? A question has been asked. There are many answers. No acknowledgement. I guess I am old fashioned. I trust you are in good health and spirits and are still saving your money in preparation for the big decision.

cantsing
04-22-2012, 04:49 AM
When you say reputable dealer who does a pro set up what does the set up involve? Is it just quality check? Doesn't the company run set up and quality check themselves? (Don't have a uke yet so just wondering) Any idea of reputable ones? I've been reading around and came across "the ukulele site" by Hawaiin Music Supply - Any idea about them?

The home page of the site you mentioned, HMS, contains a video that shows what their set up involves. HMS has a good reputation and an active presence on this board, as does Mim's Ukes, Uke Republic, and Mainland Ukes.

OldePhart
04-22-2012, 08:17 AM
When you say reputable dealer who does a pro set up what does the set up involve? Is it just quality check? Doesn't the company run set up and quality check themselves? (Don't have a uke yet so just wondering) I have no uke providers anywhere close to where I live that I can access so I'm going to have to go with an online dealer. Any idea of reputable ones? I've been reading around and came across "the ukulele site" by Hawaiin Music Supply - Any idea about them?

Already answered by cantsing so I won't repeat it. :)



Also Just to add to the topic, so far from my research it seems the cheap ukes get out of tune more rapidly, their sound harsher and brighter I feel, and they have a slight offtune sound at time and experience more "buzz" / dead spots. I've been trying to find a few videos of ukes I've been interested in and for the most part they seem to sound good with warmer, fuller sounds, but their prices have been quite variable. I was wondering instead of saying whats the dif between good and best - what's the diff between say a $200+ (ish) uke that already seem to look and sound fairly good and one that goes for $300ish. I know its hard to say exactly due to variations in brand but what I'm trying to see is, is the difference big enough to be worth getting one at that higher price? I'm guessing often times quality is the main divide but I'm interested in getting a uke that has a decently warm and nice sound (not too bright) that I can take outdoors too. If lasting quality and sound is a big step then its worth it but if its fairly similar then perhaps not.

Thanks

It's not an absolute that an inexpensive uke will always be "off" or sound harsh. Its just that the quality varies far more in the lower price ranges. If you need a uke that is fairly tolerant of somewhat harsh environmental conditions you may actually be happier with a less expensive laminated uke. Just try to find one that's got decent volume and then, if it doesn't sound sweet, get it set up so the intonation is better. Often the difference between a uke that sounds harsh and or kind of "off" and one that sounds really sweet is nothing more than a change of strings and a bit of adjustment at the nut. I've heard $50 ukes that sounded quite good though nobody would ever mistake them for a Hawaiian or custom uke.

A lot of people think they don't have a "good enough ear" to detect poor intonation and it may be true that their ear may not have developed to the point of identifying exactly what is wrong - but they'll compare two ukes and call one "sweet" and the other not so sweet. Often, what makes the "sweet" uke sweet is just that the intonation is perfect so the chords sound really pleasant.

Also, don't rely too heavily on video reviews of ukes. There are just too many variables introduced in the recording process. Even if the same person is recording two different ukes with the same setup during the same session, if they are using the typical video camera audio or a "field recorder" to capture the audio there is usually automatic level control and compression going on that makes it impossible to really tell which is the louder uke, etc.


John