View Full Version : The Grail of the Uke

10-27-2008, 01:03 PM
So what/when/why did the Vintage Martins become all that is Ukulele???

I showed a guy my new Pono this weekend and he said "Well it's nice but it's not a Martin"
I was like "uhhh gee thanks"(thinkin you jacka##).

Yes, I have seen/heard in person Martins 20's and 30's models and even played a 1928(The guy said, I don't know the difference)that was in a local shop for sale.

To me they sound nice, look good and I understand they are built well, but.... is it just cuz they are old/rare or in my newness to the world of Ukulele am I missing something?????
Why is it not a Vintage Kamaka that is all that is good in Ukedom?????

10-27-2008, 01:21 PM
imo, its mostly the name. you'll get that with all instraments.

Also i think some one posted a link to the science of of aged wood which should more favorable sound characteristics for aged wood.

10-30-2008, 08:46 AM
I've learned in almost all wood instruments that many people just puppet what they have heard and cannot for themselves tell the difference. And our local music store put that theory to the test last month. They invited people to test their "sound value" in a night of fun. The first act was artists getting up with their instruments some custom and vintage Martins, and a ton of special violins, guitars, etc that were all custom, antique, etc and came with price tags to match. But mixed in were also artists using inexpensive instruments or base models of certain lines, like laminate Taylors etc.

Then for act 2, A performer had to sit down behind a lace panel so people couldn't tell what type of instrument brand they held. Then they would play a piece on the instrument, then pick up a second instrument and play the same piece. Each artist played with the first instrument they played in act one, and then a distinctly higher or lower priced instrument for the second piece.

Guests had a sheet to fill out picking which one they thought was the more "valuable" "sound". and at the end, they revealed the answers. Other than the guys who had been around the block when it came to spending time with very high end instruments on a day to day basis, nearly everyone else couldn't tell a Godin from a 7K$ Martin, or vintage martin from a new one. It was even more error gauged when it came to violins what people thought sounded like the more "valuable" instument.

Sure nearly everyone could tell a 99$ cheapie from the $1000 instruments, but once you got to a certain range in price many were picking "wrong" over half the time. It was a fantastic event, and I learned alot about sound and the human experience that night. But it also taught me that for many people sound is easily influenced by their knowledge what what they are told "should" be better, not what their ears hear as "better". Percieved labels seemed to play in with folks.

It doesn't matter what instrument you get, listen to it, close your eyes and open your ears and really listen. Your ears will tell you which instrument to get that appeals to you. And that is what is most important, finding an instrument that fits you and your style, not the label inside the body.

OK, as a new member I shouldn't be this opinionated so I'll get off my soapbox. :D

Pete Howlett
10-30-2008, 09:10 AM
Most buyers want the name on the headstock I can build sopranos just as good as any Martin but my name is Pete :nana:

10-30-2008, 09:17 AM
Boy I wouldn't mind having a "Pete" Uke especialy a Wood Reso....

10-30-2008, 09:31 AM
Different people like different uke sounds - it can depend on your ears, your playing style, what music you like to play, and what sounds good to you when you're playing (not what just sounds good to the audience... there can be quite a difference between the two!). Aesthetics are also real important to a lot of people - the wood, the bling or lack thereof, satin or gloss finish, the shape of the instrument...

For re-entrant tuning, I tend to like vintage Martin's, especailly the 1920"s vintage. That's what sounds good to me when I'm playing. But I have recently gotten a LoPrinzi maple and spruce soprano that I love strung re-entrant - the first modern uke I've actually liked with a high G. So I sold my Martin because the LoPrinzi had the edge for me, though it was a slight edge...

I mostly play with low G and I mostly like modern built ukes. I often love a uke when I hear someone else play it, but dislike it when I play it - porbably shows what a lousy player I am and that different techniques can evoke wonders from different instruments, and it also probably says something about how different a uke can sound depending on whether you're in front of it or not (i.e., whether you're the audience or the player).

My favorite uke of all time is a Larrivee mahogany with spruce top soprano - it is my holy grail and the third uke I've ever owned (I still have it and my very first uke that I got in 1961). It makes me sound a much better player than I am, to me. It just feels, handles, and sounds right for me. I have tried and owned many many ukes, and some costing much more than the Larrivee, and many of them hand built as opposed to the factory built Larrivee, but I have not found another uke I like better. My Larrivee spruce top is my epitome of ukeness... too bad it has only 12 frets total though...

I like my other ukes a lot too and they offer a differant tonality or sound color which I enjoy. But I play the Larrivee 75% of the time.

Pretty darn personal, these likes and dislikes, preferences and non-preferences... So what's a holy grail???? Something that is different for each individual.
Someone else might think my Larrivee and LoPrinzi are total stinkers, and that's okay. They're not any better than other ukes, they're just the right ones for me. And I am very lucky I found them.

I've also played a cheapo Ohana soprano and it was a great little instrument! It ain't my Larrivee, but I sure wouldn't put that Ohana down! And I've played some other Larrivee's that didn't compare with my spruce top! (I've also played some other truly great Larrivee's.)

Oh wait a minute, I think Nirvana is just around the corner... Yeah! I gotta try that new uke!

10-30-2008, 09:42 AM
I admit to being on a vintage Martin kick lately, but I can tell when I hear one that it's an old Martin. - Not the koa models, mind you, but the Style 0mahogany ones. They have a delightful "crunch" to them as you strum them.

I tried a 1920's or 30's 5K and didn't like the sound. But the cheaper ($500) Style O's I love!

I have a modern Martin S-O and it pales in comparison. Not the same construction methods at all. The vintage Martins are simple yet elegant. They're very lightweight but their sound fills the room.

FWIW, I think the Style-0s are worth the money, but the others I couldn't say...

10-30-2008, 03:21 PM
...OK, as a new member I shouldn't be this opinionated so I'll get off my soapbox. :D

great post. if all your posts are like this i say stay on your soapbox. I would love to participate in something like that.

10-30-2008, 07:36 PM
I have a 30's Martin and love it. It just has that ukulele bark more than any of my others. i think saying the only reason people like them is that they are rare in particular doesn't make much sense since style 0's (like the one i have) are not at all rare. They cranked out about a zillion of them and you can find them for not much money (cheaper than some new sopranos of far inferior quality).

Plus they are unassuming little critters and just beg to be played. Nothing about a vintage Martin says "Stick me in a display cabinet". They are so fun to play and so sturdy that they scream "Play me play me!". And the fact that mine was built about 50 years before i was born is also pretty neat.

Anyway that's why i like vintage Martin ukes. The brand Martin doesn't really mean much to me as uke is the only instrument i've ever really played. But they really are very well built and sound just awesome. I would challenge any uke lover to pick one up and not fall in love a little. ;)


10-31-2008, 01:24 AM
Me, I can admire vintage instruments in the same manner I admire the paintings of the Great Masters. But I wouldn't want to own one. I personally like more practical instruments, something I can play, knock about a bit, leave on the dining room table overnight and not worry about it.

When I rode motorcycles, I met dozens, even hundreds, of Harley owners who boasted that their bikes had never seen rain. They spent a lot of time polishing and not nearly as much time riding as I did. I rode in all weather, from the end of winter to the first snowfall, rain included. Their bikes were in the garage until late spring/early summer and returned there in mid-fall. They didn't like to park them in the bright sun of summer, wouldn't ride on unpaved roads. To me, that's not fun: it's work. Beautiful, well-kept bikes, mind you.

It's a bit like vintage instruments. If you have to spend too much time in caring for them, it's less time for playing. And then it's not as much fun.

10-31-2008, 04:49 AM
allinfun, you may be a new member, but I'm really glad you posted that. I always felt the same; most of the mystique surrounding "Holy Grail" instruments is usually little more than hype from people who don't know as much as they want you to think they know. If it's historically significant (pre-war Martin guitars, '54 Strats, Loar mandolins, etc.) and has a remotely good sound, people will ditch their common sense and jump all over it. But hey, if someone would rather collect than enjoy the simple pleasure of playing a uke, that's their choice. ;)

I played a 20's Martin 5K a few months ago and I was not blown away. Sure, it sounded nice, but it didn't sound ten times better than a new Kamaka that's one-tenth the price. Some snobby elitist might tell me that my ears aren't trained enough, but the ukulele is a humble instrument and I'm not letting snobby elitism ruin it for me. :D

10-31-2008, 05:29 PM
I think you guys are completely missing what's cool about vintage Martins. Maybe old 5k's are super expensive and the kinda thing you would want to baby. But I've seen vintage style 0's go for $350 on ebay. That's hardy more than a Flea. A 5k is just the exact same instrument with more crap glued all over it. Vintage style 0's are playing ukes not some elite collectors instrument or whatever you seem to be envisioning. They're meant to be played. They made tons of them and that's why they're so easy to find. They're not even pretty in the sense of curly koa instruments and all the kinda stuff you see now. Just plain old unassuming mahogany...they were just made to sound good.

I own three ukes (Flea, Martin, Koaloha concert) and i'm racking my brain to figure out what everyone is talking about when they say vintage Martin's are all hype. What soprano uke can you get in the 4-$500 range that is so much more economical and sounds so much better? Get rid of this collector's mentality, vintage style 0's should be in the hands of people who are going to play them.


11-01-2008, 02:33 AM
Well said MKF...

I have a few different ukes but my old Martin style 0 is best, it has the biggest sound with the best tone and is easy to play. I play English style, so part of it is that the uke suits my playing, however it is also the best all round uke and does a good job of most styles. It was not an expensive instrument and I play it a lot. I have recorded two CDs with it and am about to embark on a third.

As MKF said the old style 0 is a players uke...

The issue is that people should play the instrument that suits their style and circumstance. I don't gig with my Martin because it is such a good recording instrument and so remains safely in the studio. However I gig with instruments that are vintage or high end modern ukes, whatever is best suited to a live sound. Several of my gigging instruments cost much more than the Martin, others less, I also have an inexpensive Mele concert that I use for live performance because it sounds great and plays well.

It is not the cost or name on the headstock but how the instrument plays or sounds. Having said that, I have played a lot of old Martins and they are consistently good. Interestingly all the ones I have really liked have been style 0,1 or 2 and the weaker instruments have been 3s and 5s.

Howlin Hobbit
11-01-2008, 11:36 AM
I play English style...

You mean with the smaller saddle, the funny helmet that looks like a cap, the jhodpurs and the red jacket?

(Tally Ho!) ;)

11-02-2008, 12:16 AM
You mean with the smaller saddle, the funny helmet that looks like a cap, the jhodpurs and the red jacket?

(Tally Ho!) ;)

Basically I have a tweed ukulele with leather elbow patches!

Actually, I stole the phrase 'English style' from Ukulelezaza who used it to describe the fast strumming solo technique so beloved of Formby. I kind of see it as better than saying 'Formby style' as this implies frying pans and a limited set of cheeky northern songs. I see 'English style' as using the split, triplet, triple strums of Formby, but on a wider repertoire of songs and played on wood uke. The best and most well known exponent of the 'English Style' would be Steven Sproat, but others like Peter Moss, Chris Waitman, Ukulelezaza and Winin Boy are all great players of this style.

11-03-2008, 01:47 PM
LOL! I read this thread about a day ago, right before I went to bed, and I just remembered that I dreamt about playing a soprano ukulele that was really light weight and it had a delicious sound.lol i just thought it seem funny