PDA

View Full Version : What kind of quality do you expect in a Ukulele?



hammer40
05-21-2012, 08:04 PM
I am new to music and instruments, only recently (2 months ago) deciding to learn to play the Ukulele. I currently own a Pono AT and as far as I can see it is flawless. The first uke I went with was unacceptably flawed and returned, which led to the Pono, in hindsight it worked out since I love the Pono.

What does everyone expect in a uke? What can be expected from a $300 Mainland or Ohana? What should be expected from $500 to $800 Pono or equivelant uke? When you enter into the $1,000 range of a custom or the "K" brands, do you still see minor finish flaws?

I'm not overly "picky" and can certainly live with some minor finish flaws, but just wondering what to really expect in instruments.

Jcollazo
05-21-2012, 08:29 PM
I've been a musician for over 40 years (primarily bass, but also guitar) and find that now, with the ukuleles, I'm not looking for the perfect tone or sustain. How my hands fit and am I comfortable with it have taken over the "wow" factor of my youth. I doubt that I'll ever spend more than $250 on a uke because I'll end up giving it away to someone. I won't do that with my Martin D-18 or Gretsch Countdy Gentleman!

So... I guess to answer your question, intonation, playability and fit are the three most important factors at a low cost.

Thats my story and I'm sticking to it!

hammer40
05-21-2012, 09:33 PM
I guess I should clarify that I'm asking more about cosmetics. I recently have had to again return a somewhat expensive quality uke with some cosmetic issues. I guess I just don't know what is to be expected in the condition of a new instrument.

Hippie Dribble
05-21-2012, 09:57 PM
I think a custom built instrument shouldn't have any finish flaws, and if there are, they should be made known to a customer before the exchange of money. This has happened to me several times and the builder generously - and perhaps rightly - offered a discount. I think with factory line ukes, flaws and cosmetic defects occur with more frequency. Generally they don't effect tone or playability but you get what you pay for. Awhile ago I ordered a uke from HMS but was told a week after purchase about some cosmetic defects...they offered to drop the price considerably or instead give me a full refund. Surely this is good business acumen and a way to maintain a good relationship with a potential customer. (I took the full refund as I was already suffering buyer's regret) . Mainland Mike is another great example...he won't let an instrument through his hands unless it is flawless. If it isn't he makes it very clear from the outset and offers considerable discounts. Certainly with custom built instruments I think we need to set the bar higher and finish flaws are less acceptable unless both buyer and builder can live with them on negotiated terms. Just my 2cents...

chris667
05-21-2012, 10:01 PM
I went to a ukulele festival the other week, at one point Ken Middleton was there selling factory second Ohanas.

I have to say that with most of them I would not have been able to spot which one was a second. I bought a soprano for my nephew; the only damage is a scratch about the size of a fingernail near the soundhole, and a tiny paint run.

So Ohana's (or possibly Ken Middleton's) standards are higher than mine.

Personally, I think expecting absolute perfection in anything is a recipe for unhappiness.

1931jim
05-22-2012, 02:30 AM
I bought a solid spruce top Lanikai Tenor with a few dings in the local music store. I always play before I pay. I like the tone very much. The cosmetics do not amount to a hill of beans if you don't like the tone. It is my first spruce top. The others are mahogany. The education of the ears never ends. Try before you buy.

ChrisRCovington
05-22-2012, 03:03 AM
I think the more you pay for an instrument the more you should expect from them in general. I know this isn't a perfect rule but it is just what I expect. For example I paid (well my girlfriend did really) about $130 for a U-900 aNueNue pineapple. I paid about $70 for a Luna pineapple. They were both likely made in the same plant in China. The U-900 had rough frets on the side sticking out I had to file down and the nut was a little off to the side (not a big deal but enough I can feel it when I run my hand over it). No such problems on the cheaper, nearly identical Luna. I don't play the U-900 as much because of the flaws. I feel a little soured by it. I won't sell it or give it away because it was a gift but it hangs on the wall a lot more than my other ukuleles even after I fixed the issues. Two instruments that were flawless to my eyes were my Martin S1 and my Bruko No. 6. Both were factory made ukuleles but both were very well made. The only flaw with the Martin was a nick on the back that happened in the store (and they gave my a hefty discount for it too!). I played it a few times before I bought it and the first few times I played it the nick wasn't there. The last time I saw it in the store I saw someone nicked it up and asked if they'd cut me a deal and they did. I was glad they did honestly because I got it really cheap and I really loved playing it when I went into the store. Anyway the more I pay the more I expect and if there is a flaw I think a discount is fair.

bynapkinart
05-22-2012, 03:46 AM
Personally the most important thing to me is that the instrument "wow" me sonically. I want any instrument (guitar or ukulele) to have a tone that blows me away. I don't particularly care about how it looks (my 1928 Johnny Marvin has been through a lot over the years) and I don't really care what other people think about its looks, I just want it to sound perfect for me.

My Johnny Marvin sounds so mellow and vintage, it's incredible...it has the perfect classic ukulele sound. My Pono is my idea of the perfect tenor, warmer and crisp. I dunno, I expect every ukulele I buy to first sound good, second play well, and third look okay!

Skottoman
05-22-2012, 04:47 AM
2 of my high end ukes have finish flaws.

- KoAloha Pineapple Sunday is not symmetrical, and you can lightly see swirl sanding marks.
- G-String Sun C-1 Concert actually has a small part of the abalone missing and it was filled in with resin.

Would I return these? No. The G-String is the sweetest concert I've ever played, and it's perfectly balanced in sound and weight. I love it. It's my fav concert.
The Pineapple Sunday was a gift from my wife, and I love it for it's imperfections, as it also plays perfectly, and has a wonderful sound. It is a hand made instrument!

I'm not a perfectionist, I prefer my ukes to play well, sound great, look nice, and be used. I expect quality in all these things, but will not complain if there is a scratch or chip. They're musical instruments meant to be used. And no other uke out there has the same "imperfections" as mine. :) All that said, I just picked up a Kanilea Tenor, and the finish is FLAWLESS...

Cheers,
Skottoman

frankiefirefox
05-22-2012, 05:39 AM
I have noticed one or two minor imperfections in my lesser ukes. However, I recently received my KoAloha concert and can find no imperfections. Based on my experience and research on KoAloha, even the slightest imperfection is usually cause for "factory second" status. Sounds like Skottomon's uke, while slightly flawed, plays great. I share his view that these are instruments and (very) minor consmetic imperfections should pale when compared with any imperfection in the playability or sound quality.
Hammer, have you looked around on the marketplace for a used K brand? I was extremely close to pulling the trigger on one, and the seller gave me some great advice that led me to my KoAloha. It would be a place to start...

OldePhart
05-22-2012, 06:32 AM
In my limited experience I've found many $300 "factory" ukes actually look nicer than either of my KoAlohas that cost two or three times as much. However, "looking nice" can have quite a price in tone if the looking nice was achieved by pouring on a heavy poly finish which is sometimes the case on the factory ukes.

Sometimes you get both even in the $300 and below range. I've got a Mainland mango soprano in matte finish that has a finish superior to my KoAloha, playability equal to the KoAloha, and the volume and tone only give up a small edge to the KoAloha (and the KoAloha is a longneck). That's not necessarily the case for all Mainland ukes, of course. All of my Mainlands have been good players but this soprano is the pick of the litter so far.

Personally, I don't care all that much about appearance, anyway. I'm careful with my instruments but still, if I am using it then it's going to pick up nicks and dings and fingernail marks anyway. I'm more concerned with playability and sound quality and in my opinion that is where the high-end Hawaiian ukes earn their premium price. The best word to describe the Hawaiian uke is consistency - you might have the occasional finish flaw but you're extremely unlikely to get any of the "big three" (or four) that doesn't play well and sound superb.

That said, if I was going to plunk down a couple of grand for a custom-built instrument I'd expect it to be flawless in appearance and performance. That's what you're spending the big bucks for and if you aren't going to get it you might as well spend half as much on a nice Hawaiian production uke.

John

kameeley
05-22-2012, 07:08 AM
I'm pretty new to buying fancy ukes too but I just bought a returned tenor from Bradford Donaldson for $600 and I absolutely love it. I haven't checked for imperfections because I am enamored with the sound (and look) of it. If there are imperfections I'll be adding more to that shortly and that'll just add to its character. =D

He might have an uke in the returned pile. His ukes sound fantastic and he is so nice.

hammer40
05-22-2012, 08:08 AM
Hammer, have you looked around on the marketplace for a used K brand? I was extremely close to pulling the trigger on one, and the seller gave me some great advice that led me to my KoAloha. It would be a place to start...

If I continue to progress, yes, I would definitely consider going used to get into a K brand level instrument.

hammer40
05-22-2012, 08:18 AM
Great feedback so far, thanks everyone. I certainly don't mind a cosmetic blemish or two and I hope to be making my own as I continue to learn and play.

ProfChris
05-22-2012, 10:17 AM
If you make your own you'll get a whole new perspective on cosmetic blemishes! But funnily enough, most people don't see them, they're just so impressed that you made it and it actually plays!.

Even for ukes made by professionals, factory or custom, I rate appearance a low third after sound and playability (equal first).

bearbike137
05-22-2012, 10:23 AM
1. Tone
2. How good of a player I am on it
3. How well it sets up
4. Brand Name
5. Looks
6. Condition

In that order - but 2 through 6 don't matter if I don't have number 1.

PedalFreak
05-22-2012, 10:24 AM
Even for ukes made by professionals, factory or custom, I rate appearance a low third after sound and playability (equal first).

Yep, even very high end customs, if they are built and finished by hand they will have some type of finish "flaw". If it's a nitrocellulose finish you are guaranteed to have some type of "flaw". I've never seen a guitar that hasn't had something that someone would consider a "flaw". I use "flaw" because they aren't that, they just show an instrument is made by hand. And the high end customs that I mentioned, they do have these, you just have to really look for them ;)

Moore Bettah Ukuleles
05-22-2012, 11:47 AM
if they are built and finished by hand they will have some type of finish "flaw". If it's a nitrocellulose finish you are guaranteed to have some type of "flaw".

While many of the nitro finishes you've seen may have flaws, you're statement isn't necessarily true. I pride myself in flawless finishes and most of the time I'm successful. That said, many high end custom instruments do seem to have flaws in the finish but that only shows individual lack of skill and attention. Finishing is by far the most difficult part of the entire building process.

consitter
05-22-2012, 11:54 AM
While many of the nitro finishes you've seen may have flaws, you're statement isn't necessarily true. I pride myself in flawless finishes and most of the time I'm successful. That said, many high end custom instruments do seem to have flaws in the finish but that only shows individual lack of skill and attention. Finishing is by far the most difficult part of the entire building process.

He's completely right. My custom KoAloha had a flawless finish.

Moore Bettah Ukuleles
05-22-2012, 11:58 AM
He's completely right. My custom KoAloha had a flawless finish.

By flawless I mean pore free, scratch free, swirl free and blemish free. (Satin finishes don't count. They hide every flaw.)
Given those standards I've never seen a big K uke with a flawless finish. I've only seen one Big K brand that comes close.

consitter
05-22-2012, 12:02 PM
By flawless I mean pore free, scratch free, swirl free and blemish free. (Satin finishes don't count. They hide every flaw.)
Given those standards I've never seen a big K uke with a flawless finish. I've only seen one Big K brand that comes close.
Not even a custom?

OldePhart
05-22-2012, 12:09 PM
While many of the nitro finishes you've seen may have flaws, you're statement isn't necessarily true. I pride myself in flawless finishes and most of the time I'm successful. That said, many high end custom instruments do seem to have flaws in the finish but that only shows individual lack of skill and attention.

I have to agree with you on this for sure. There are an awful lot of people "hanging out their shingle" who just haven't the skill and experience yet to consistently produce flawless work. I'm not saying that their ukes might not be a good value - but to say that because those folks can't produce flawless work that no one can really denigrates those who do produce flawless work.

There is a local guitar shop here that was taken over by the sons when the father died or retired after many years. I guess the shop once had a great reputation because the old man was a good businessman. The brothers, on the other hand, well, not so much; from what I've seen they make your average Guitar Center employee look like a rocket scientist. A friend of mine and I had gone to the Dallas guitar show and we stopped in this place on the way home because he wanted to get some pickups for his Strat.

One of the brothers is stringing up an electric guitar and he's going on and on about how they "just got the patent on their headstock design for their new line of custom guitars." The thing he was stringing was perhaps the most butt-ugly "custom" I've ever seen. I guess he mistook my boredom for interest because he offered me the prototype he was stringing for "only $2000." He called the finish a "french polish" but it looked more like somebody had just dunked the body in a vat of motor oil and then wiped it off. As I'm idly watching him string it I couldn't help but notice that the nut was very crooked. It was so bad that I couldn't stop myself from saying, "hey, that nut looks a little crooked." His reply, "well, that sort of thing happens when you're making high-end instruments by hand - it's part of the character." I'm very proud of myself because I managed to wander away without falling on the floor laughing.

John

PedalFreak
05-22-2012, 12:37 PM
I agree with Chuck, never seen a flawless K brand. One comes close.

I hope to one day buy a uke from Chuck. Didn't mean him or anyone else disrespect, just in my years in this business I've never seen a truly flawless nitro finish, seen some very close, but maybe i'm too picky.

Moore Bettah Ukuleles
05-22-2012, 01:40 PM
Perfection is over rated. So is a flawless finish. My point is that flawless finishes can be achieved and those who can pull it off are in the minority. But what's the point really? A week in the new customer's hands and it's suddenly full of tiny flaws.

consitter
05-22-2012, 02:44 PM
But what's the point really? A week in the new customer's hands and it's suddenly full of tiny flaws.

Ain't that the truth.

mo9090x
05-22-2012, 03:02 PM
For me a "flawless" instrument is close to a miracle. I have to admit, though, that the more I pay for the instrument, the more my expectation that the builder/luthier/company gets it closer to "flawless" than the cheaper instruments. My level of expectation is much lower on a $300 uke than it is on a $1500 or $2500 uke. On higher end builds I want to put my own "tiny flaws" on the finish, not get it delivered with such. I wouldn't want my car delivered with dings, nicks or scratches, neither do I want my ukes delivered with flaws from the get go. I think the production tolerances should be proportional to the price paid. I'm not saying that inexpensive ukes should be horrible, but I am saying that expensive ukes should be meticulously built/handled and delivered. I don't expect perfection by any means. The most I can hope for is care/dedication and love put into the instrument. For me the best custom build (sound/intonation aside, I'm only talking about cosmetics here) is one where the details are important to the luthier. Production = sometimes the details get lost. Custom build = details shouldn't get lost.

Moore Bettah Ukuleles
05-22-2012, 03:23 PM
Agreed on all points. The more you pay for an instrument, the higher your expectations should in in all aspects. Attention to detail is what you are really paying for in a high end instrument. If detail isn't important to you then there's no need in paying for that premium. I point this out because some people are oblivious to detailed work. I see it all the time with people who come to my shop and show me this or that brand of uke and I can spot the flaws before they even walk in the door. They either can't see the flaws or choose not to. Other people will inspect their ukes with a magna-tron microscope and a halogen spot light and freak out over a tiny pin hole in the finish. The original question really depends what your threshold and tolerance to detail is.
In many art cultures, perfection in art is discouraged as being something less than real and certainly less than ideal. Kekani once suggested that we should dig up the guy who invented the glossy, mirror finish and shoot him. I agree.

mo9090x
05-22-2012, 03:36 PM
Kekani once suggested that we should dig up the guy who invented the glossy, mirror finish and shoot him. I agree.

Chuck that is a good laugh!

Your pieces of art are definitely the epitome of "attention to detail." I aspire to have one of your art pieces someday. You create truly beautiful pieces.

Nice to see you around in the forums. I'm new here.

Regards,
Monica

OldePhart
05-23-2012, 06:58 AM
...But what's the point really? A week in the new customer's hands and it's suddenly full of tiny flaws.

Heh, heh. It might take more than a week but you're definitely right - it's eventually going to aquire some "character" unless the new owner intends to stick it in a display case forever. That's why I'm just not a bling guy. I had a custom SG type guitar built for me a few years ago by a guy whose work I couldn't afford now (I was one of those lucky ones that got in before his reputation took off). He was a bit flummoxed when I told him I wanted a solid opaque "aged white" finish when I could have had a translucent finish over a nicely figured maple (one of the things I spec'd was a chambered mahogany body with a maple cap) for not much difference in price. Most of his customers to that point had been looking for bling - I was going to him because I saw how he obsessed over every detail on the Les Paul style he made for a friend of mine.

Now it's years later and that guitar definitely has a few dings but they aren't really noticeable with that finish whereas they'd have been very noticeable and nearly impossible to repair if I'd gone for the bling.

John