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View Full Version : Reasons not to buy a cheap ukulele



Skrik
09-24-2012, 09:17 PM
We can help the newbies avoid grief by spending a bit more money on a better ukulele. Post your pics.

Here's the first reason: split, badly glued bridge that deadens the ukulele.

bazmaz
09-24-2012, 09:23 PM
Think I'd crash the UU sever if I posted a pic of every fault with the first Mahalo I ever bought...

robbocx
09-24-2012, 11:37 PM
Here is the rub!

I have a Wednesday Mahalo - it's red and I have restrung it with aquilas lowered the action and it has become a great beater uke, I keep it at work.

So there are some good cheap ukes out there, you just need to do the 'John West' test with each of them until you find the right one.

I have also played a very expensive, over built uke that would put people off.

buddhuu
09-25-2012, 12:23 AM
Some members are very happy with their inexpensive 'ukuleles. Please can we make sure that this thread doesn't make them feel bad about that?

Thanks.

Apart from that, good idea to give people pointers about issues to watch for. Some cheaper ukes are really very good value, but quality control can be inconsistent in budget land.

savagehenry
09-25-2012, 01:56 AM
I have a Ohana SK- 15 which was less than $100, I keep it at work and everyone who hears it comments on how nice it sounds. I bought it from Uke Republic and it came set up perfectly. I think it's a good idea to get an inexpensive uke that is set up properly, then later, when you are ready to spend more, you have a great uke that you are not afraid to take on trips and outings. I guess the point of the OP was share why you shouldn't buy a cheap ukulele, but I think you shouldn't buy something that's not set up unless you know how to set it up yourself.

Lalz
09-25-2012, 02:40 AM
I have a Ohana SK- 15 which was less than $100, I keep it at work and everyone who hears it comments on how nice it sounds. I bought it from Uke Republic and it came set up perfectly. I think it's a good idea to get an inexpensive uke that is set up properly, then later, when you are ready to spend more, you have a great uke that you are not afraid to take on trips and outings. I guess the point of the OP was share why you shouldn't buy a cheap ukulele, but I think you shouldn't buy something that's not set up unless you know how to set it up yourself.

I totally agree with you except for the part about 100 dollars being cheap. Cheap ukes generally cost less than 30 dollars. Around 100 you start to get very decent ones that I would defo recommend people to buy. But yes, a good set-up is the key.

SailingUke
09-25-2012, 04:28 AM
I totally agree with you except for the part about 100 dollars being cheap. Cheap ukes generally cost less than 30 dollars. Around 100 you start to get very decent ones that I would defo recommend people to buy. But yes, a good set-up is the key.

There is a BIG difference between cheap and inexpensive.
I don't believe they are always interchangeable. The $10 souvenir toys are cheap and mostly unplayable.
A $40 Dolphin is inexpensive and most are very playable.

Lalz
09-25-2012, 04:38 AM
There is a BIG difference between cheap and inexpensive.
I don't believe they are always interchangeable. The $10 souvenir toys are cheap and mostly unplayable.
A $40 Dolphin is inexpensive and most are very playable.

True :agree:

Uncle Rod Higuchi
09-25-2012, 05:06 AM
These are great points re: cheap and inexpensive, good 'beater' vs unplayable toy, $100 vs <$30, etc.

I think this is the kind of discussion that really helps newbies (and everyone) consider how they think
about their ukulele-buying criteria.

keep up the discussion. It's bringing out a lot of thoughtful things to consider.

keep uke'in',

Plainsong
09-25-2012, 05:13 AM
Remember those really cool, kinda expensive, Kala archtops? Yeah, mine has a bridge in worse shape than in the OP. :(

pootsie
09-25-2012, 05:16 AM
When I got my *inexpensive* Dolphin, the research and work that I had to do to improve its action was one of the best things to help me learn about the mechanics of the instrument I had just fallen in love with.

That said, I will not put money into an *inexpensive* uke again. :uhoh:
(Unless my daughter wants one before she turns 7)

RichM
09-25-2012, 05:26 AM
I agree "inexpensive" is a relative term. When I first travelled overseas, I didn't want to travel with a uke, so I bought a $30 cheapie when I got there and it became my trip uke. Not much in terms of tone, but intonation and playability were fine, so I was happy to have it. No telling how long it would have lasted, as I abandoned it there after my trip was over.

I purchased a $79 Makala for a friend's nephew, and I was pleasantly surprised; again, not a world-class instrument, but for the very reasonable price, it played well and sounded fine.

My two Mainlands retail for around $200 or so each, and I think they are great ukes. There are definitely higher-priced ukes that will give you more, but I feel like the Mainlands pretty much have everything the casual player needs in terms of construction, tone, looks, and playability. $200 may not be cheap to a lot of people, but its not much for an instrument that could meet your needs for years.

mm stan
09-25-2012, 06:47 AM
Hey...I like cheap ukes...when I first started I always blamed the uke for my failures.....get it set up and new strings....and check it before you by it...
Today I still play my first uke every day and it's by my computer side....24.95 rogue soprano... it has the tone and playability I like....even my OU2 second uke
is my second go to uke.....I try not to be a shallow person with ukes or anything else...I'll give everything a try. doesn't take much effort to have fun with any ukulele

ChrisRCovington
09-25-2012, 07:02 AM
I think vintage ukuleles have a lot of potential but maybe aren't great for a new player (too many land mines and pitfalls). I got a Harmony Roy Smeck for less than $50 shipped and it sounds really great. It had a few very tiny hairline cracks that needed some hot hide glue worked into them but it sounds so much better than most of the cheap or inexpensive stuff coming from Asia and it wasn't any more expensive really.

My first ukulele was a Hilo. It sounded pretty bad, it was way overbuilt and had horrible action and intonation. If my father hadn't bought me a Fluke for a present I may be sitting on a different forum right now instead of UU. The one thing I can say about it though was that it stayed in tune. I found it in my parent's house a few months ago after not seeing it for years and it was still in tune! Still didn't sound very good. :)

Sporin
09-25-2012, 07:23 AM
I agree that there is a big difference between cheap and inexpensive, and count me as someone who thinks a $100-$200 uke is expensive. That's a lot of bread for a discretionary item (for most folks).

My $40 Dolphin is still played VERY regularly.

gyosh
09-25-2012, 07:43 AM
A ukulele can be an affordable way into musical instruments because musical instruments for the most part, aren't very affordable.

bazmaz
09-25-2012, 07:44 AM
buddhuu - I regularly recommend beginners entry level ukes - particularly the Makala Dolphin. Played many of those (own some too), played many Mahalos - no contest IMHO.

ukeeku
09-25-2012, 07:58 AM
All I can say is buy from someone you trust. I always tell people when they ask what uke they should start with, and they also ask how much?
My answer is "I would spend no less than $75, and get it from someone like Mim, uke republic, or a friend/dealer you trust)
I know you can get $40 ukes, but I feel for the most part those are not great starter ukes.
If they start with a Cordoba UP-110, Oscar Schmidt OU-2, or maybe a kala base uke, they will be more likely to stick with it.
The dolphins are great ukes once you know what a uke is and want a beater.

Ukeval
09-25-2012, 08:07 AM
the cheaper uke I have is a Brko N6, and it is a great uke. Made in Germany, very good finish, solid woods, perfect intonation. Great uke to start with.

ChrisRCovington
09-25-2012, 08:18 AM
I'll agree with the Bruko no. 6! In Europe they are a little cheaper since shipping to the US cost about $60 (the ukulele itself is only $120).

RichM
09-25-2012, 08:37 AM
I agree that there is a big difference between cheap and inexpensive, and count me as someone who thinks a $100-$200 uke is expensive. That's a lot of bread for a discretionary item (for most folks).

My $40 Dolphin is still played VERY regularly.

Depends on your definition of discretionary, I suppose. Music comes immediately after shelter and food in RichM's Hierarchy of Needs (and I'd be happy to skip a few meals for good music). When I see how people spend their money, a couple hundred bucks on an instrument that, with care, will provide you with music and happiness for a lifetime seems a small investment.

Rick Turner
09-25-2012, 08:43 AM
My advice to uke and guitar players is "Don't buy an instrument that isn't worth repairing or maintaining." Would you pay to have your instrument refretted? Have a bridge glued back on? Have cracks repaired? Do you see instruments as being one step away from landfill? Do you buy lots of disposable items? Have you thought of leaving instruments to your kids?

pootsie
09-25-2012, 09:39 AM
My advice to uke and guitar players is "Don't buy an instrument that isn't worth repairing or maintaining." Would you pay to have your instrument refretted? Have a bridge glued back on? Have cracks repaired? Do you see instruments as being one step away from landfill? Do you buy lots of disposable items? Have you thought of leaving instruments to your kids?

Yes, but you are obviously biased in favor of well-constructed, high quality musical instruments that are made to last more than a lifetime. ;)

I didn't know I was a "uke player" until I bought a cheapo to give it a run. Now that I know, I hope eventually to afford (and earn the right to play) a well-constructed, high quality musical instrument made to last more than a lifetime.

I guess the problem with "cheap" instruments is that most new players wind up starting there, but the good thing about them is that they give new players a place to start.
:confused:

Dwjkerr
09-25-2012, 09:41 AM
I think there is a role for cheap ukuleles. The first Uke I bought is an Evergreen. The price tag on the box was 69.95. The store was selling them for 29.95. It wasn't until they knocked another ten bucks off of that before it suddenly became something that I could afford to buy, play around with, and discard if it turned out that I wasn't really all that interested in playing the Ukulele. Now, I have gone and purchased a slightly more expensive Ukulele (Okay a Mahalo but I like it) and, should the opportunity appear, I may be willing to give up a few meals for a quality uke. But if it wasn't for that twenty dollar uke....

Edited to add

I did do some set up work on the ukes, and wouldn't have had the nerve to try anything with the more expensive one if I hadn't had the cheaper one to try it out on.

Rick Turner
09-25-2012, 11:06 AM
When one's cell phone costs more than their uke...it's time for reconsideration!

bnolsen
09-25-2012, 12:01 PM
With dolphins and flakes around who needs a uke over 100USD :cool: :nana:

OldePhart
09-25-2012, 12:24 PM
When one's cell phone costs more than their uke...it's time for reconsideration!

Amen brother! For most folks affordability is really about choices, when you get right down to it. What's the average cable TV bill in the US now, probably $500 or more per year for basic cable? So, a lot of people who say they can't afford a good (and I'm not talking fancy custom, just good) uke really mean they value the 200 channels of drivel coming over the cable, more. I haven't had cable in years - which means I not only have more money to spend on music toys it also means I have more time to play them instead of vegging out in front of the boob-tube.

John

Hippie Dribble
09-25-2012, 12:28 PM
Cheap don't always = bad. Expensive don't always = good.
my first uke cost 20 bucks over six years ago and I still play it all the time, never had any probs with it. I love all ukes!!!

Dwjkerr
09-25-2012, 12:30 PM
When one's cell phone costs more than their uke...it's time for reconsideration!

I can play on a cheap uke, and do, and enjoy it. But if I need to call 911 ... well you can't do that on a Uke. No matter how expensive it is.

Tootler
09-25-2012, 12:34 PM
I started out with a cheap no name uke. It cost me 25, was painted bright red with a thick coating of lacquer, had dreadful intonation - was out at the 3rd fret, but I noticed that the problem was only with the C string, so I assumed that the strings were at fault so I changed them for Aquilas and the improvement was marked. It still had poor intonation but at least was playable and it made a reasonable noise. However, I did not keep it long, it had obviously been "thrown" together. The most obvious fault was the nut which was a poor fit in its recess and was glued on at an angle. This was clearly not going to be easily fixable, so when I bought a better uke, I gave the cheap one to a charity shop. It was playable and there is a chance that it will get someone else started. Since then the cheapest uke I have bought was an Ohana SK10 which cost me 50 and which I got from Southern Ukulele Store as it came advertised as set up, which it was. I am not keen on the tone, a little hard I think but I keep it as a loan instrument for the uke group as it's intonation is OK, as is my other 50 uke, a Lani.

All the rest of my ukes are in the 100 300 range, though one was bought for 80. I was at Whitby Folk Festival and had seen it the day before at 110 and though I liked it, I left it. When I came back the next day, the stall was packing up and going early and had reduced all their ukes (and other instruments) so there were some good bargains to be had that day.

I think the message with cheapo ukes is beware; you will probably have to do some work to make them playable. If you don't want or don't have the confidence to do that and are looking at a low end instrument, then spend a little more and go to a reputable dealer who will set it up for you and you will get a perfectly good playable instrument.

Dwjkerr
09-25-2012, 02:43 PM
I can play on a cheap uke, and do, and enjoy it. But if I need to call 911 ... well you can't do that on a Uke. No matter how expensive it is.

Then again a uke might have been handy, as a signalling device, a year ago when 911 was called and the ambulance got lost.

Pondoro
09-25-2012, 02:48 PM
When I got my *inexpensive* Dolphin, the research and work that I had to do to improve its action was one of the best things to help me learn about the mechanics of the instrument I had just fallen in love with.

That said, I will not put money into an *inexpensive* uke again. :uhoh:
(Unless my daughter wants one before she turns 7)

I agree completely with Pootsie, as long as you are willing to learn and tinker. I've bought three cheap ukes - $150, $100, $60. They needed nothing done (the $100 uke), one high fret lowered (the $100 uke) and a serious set-up job that took maybe 4 hours (the $60 uke). I enjoyed the fiddling with the $60 uke but someone who just wants to play needs to buy a better uke, or buy from a dealer who will set it up, or have a friend like Pootsie who will fix it for them if they get a bad one.

Nickie
09-25-2012, 04:25 PM
My first uke was only $40. It was a baritone, and I couldn't play what I wanted to on it, but it sure gave me the bug bite....

webby
09-25-2012, 04:29 PM
I think that cheap ukes are fine to start out with, by cheap i mean at least a dolphin, i wouldn't go cheaper than that.
However once you get the hang of it then a more expensive/better quality uke will help to lift your playing to the next level.

I guess it depends on how seriously you take making music, if you're happy to go plinky plonk in the privacy of your own home then that's fine and a dolphin is all you need.

BobbyM
09-25-2012, 05:43 PM
i have an ohana sk15, did a two week uke camp class...made me change the strings after the first week. about a month and a bit into learning, i got a 'better' uke. im broke but i enjoy strumming c f g7 c over and over. cheap vs inexpensive, really depends what makes you happy and the value you place on your instrument.

seeing and touching a curly premium koa concert and tenor kanilea :drool: during your first week of class can contribute to 'reasons not to buy a cheap uke'.

Dwjkerr
09-25-2012, 05:44 PM
I have to disagree with the thought that just because one may not be willing, or able, to lay out hundreds of dollars for an instrument, he is not serious about making music.

Edited to add...

It's what he does with the Uke that determines how serious he is about making music. Not how much he paid for it.

Dwjkerr
09-25-2012, 06:19 PM
I won't disagree that a better quality Uke makes better sounding music. But I don't think it has anything to do with the seriousness of the musician.

Just my 2 cents.

TheCraftedCow
09-25-2012, 07:36 PM
Sometimes, one cannot avoid politics in a subject. Until June I was able to buy Mahalo u-30s at 21.95. For a couple of months, no one in the USA had them. When the next boatload came over they had taken a $10.00 jump.

I prefer my uke to be strung through the body. I do it on a regular baisis for the little Mahalos. Decent strings make a world of difference.

Skrik
09-25-2012, 08:23 PM
Well, there aren't many pictures, but the discussion certainly is lively. I thought a pictorial catalogue of ills would help the beginner think before spending as little as possible on a ukulele. Better to spend a little more.

I have cheap ukuleles. I have bought four dolphins from MGM, choosing his business that is so far away simply because he screened and set up the cheap and cheerful ukuleles. Every time I have bought from shops that set up their stock, I have received playable (although not perfect) instruments. Cheap is OK.

What is not OK is the crap that gets sold sight unseen to unsuspecting music-curious people. Intolerable intonation, structural problems, etc., may serve to put off people from making music, and that is not good.

Freeda
09-25-2012, 08:39 PM
I can play on a cheap uke, and do, and enjoy it. But if I need to call 911 ... well you can't do that on a Uke. No matter how expensive it is.

Any charged cellphone, even if it has no minutes left on it, will call 911. It's a safety feature. So no monthly fee is needed to maintain that for safety's sake. http://picayuneitem.com/local/x1765863827/Cell-phones-given-to-young-children-still-can-call-911-without-minutes


As to the conversation, I think setup is king. So far I have bought everything from a 30 knockoff to a $600 luthier build and the only ones I consider "pieces of crap" are the ones where the action makes them unplayable for me. (Hence the wallhanger comment in my siggie.)

One of these days I'll learn to adjust it, but IF those were the ones I started with, I surely would have given up. Joining the UU forums and ordering my first uke already set up from a trusted dealer (HMS) made the difference between quitting and making music. And I am grateful!!

Rick Turner
09-25-2012, 08:43 PM
What we in the high end see is that many folks come "into the fold" via cheap-ass, pre-land fill ukes and eventually realize that the ukulele can be a "real" instrument. The folks who find themselves going past year two at uke club also find themselves wanting better instruments. The early ones will find their ways under the belted tread of the Caterpillar D-5's at the land fill sooner than later.

And in fact, you're probably better off NOT burning that cheap uke. The off-gassing of the finish as it burns is not going to be good for your lungs! OH, the glue in the laminates is probably not a wonderful thing burnt in your breathing space, either!

OK, I have a very primal and basic objection to disposable products in general. That's why I have 185,000 miles on my car. Use a 7 year old computer. Love a table saw that's 30 years old. Have had one of my drill presses for over 30 years. Cheap shit offends me...spiritually, politically, and personally. It's not the price...it's the longevity and the value.

willisoften
09-25-2012, 11:22 PM
When you buy cheap, you will buy twice.

Barbablanca
09-26-2012, 08:18 AM
Well, there aren't many pictures.....

You want pictures seor... I got pictures.

Here is my very first Uke - the one that put me off the instrument for years.

43415

And here are some of the things wrong with it. Action way too high to be useful, goes out of tune at first fret, the tuning pegs soon broke or broke off completely, the bridge threatens to separate from the soundboard, the neck threatens to come away from the body, the only way to stop the nut buzzing was to add wads of paper or cloth......er... the varnish is cracking all over the place.

However, judging by my lovely little Green Dolphin, I think the Chinese have really got their act together though since this was sold to me in about 1978. :rolleyes:

43416434174341843419

Barbablanca
09-26-2012, 08:21 AM
Last two photos:

The "Action" and the nut:4342043421

RichM
09-26-2012, 08:28 AM
Last two photos:

The "Action" and the nut:4342043421

Well, there's your problem.... that's not a ukulele, it's a cheese slicer!

Barbablanca
09-26-2012, 08:44 AM
Well, there's your problem.... that's not a ukulele, it's a cheese slicer!

:D - But it was sold to me as one back then.... and this thread is supposed to be warning of the dangers of cheapo ukes. If any of these photos inspires a newbie to look for any of these faults in a potential purchase, then my embarrassment at baring all here will be worthwhile ;)

OldePhart
09-26-2012, 11:27 AM
...One of these days I'll learn to adjust it, but IF those were the ones I started with, I surely would have given up...

And that's exactly what burns me the most about people recommending cheap instruments as "suitable for beginners" - all too often the cheapest instruments are good only for discouraging beginners. It doesn't matter whether you're talking about ukes or guitars or horns or...

The example of a Dolphin I purchased recently was absolutely horrid - maybe I got an exceptionally bad one but I suspect that they've just increased production by leaps and bounds and the consistency has gone to crap over what it perhaps once was. The thing had terrible fretwork, it is the only ukulele that I have ever had to actually level frets on to be able to bring the nut down low enough to intonate properly at the first few frets, even though I left the bridge saddle fairly high.

The problem is your typical beginner isn't going to know that it's the instrument that sounds like crap because the intonation is terrible - all too often they think it's them and they just give up.

John

Dwjkerr
09-26-2012, 01:34 PM
So where's the balance point between being able to afford some kind of Ukulele and standing on the outside looking in because you can't afford a quality instrument?

Pondoro
09-26-2012, 01:50 PM
So where's the balance point between being able to afford some kind of Ukulele and standing on the outside looking in because you can't afford a quality instrument?

If you buy from a seller who does decent set-up you should be good, but entry level is $70 or so and I'd recommend $120. If you are willing to adjust the uke yourself you can go as low as you want but you obviously have to be willing to put effort into the project.

I do not think it is fair to recommend a $60 or less uke to a complete beginner unless you are willing to help them pick the seller and are able to evaluate the setup (even the good sellers miss something sometimes). So if you have some skill you can save your friend some money.

Dwjkerr
09-26-2012, 03:02 PM
Before I would recommend the kind of research it would take to find a quality uke at a reliable dealer, let alone one that would do a proper setup, I would want to know if the guy was seriously contemplating taking up the Ukulele as a hobby and that it's going to do more than gather dust in a closet. Or be crushed under a cat's tread at a landfill.

If he just couldn't afford quality, I still thonk he would be better off with a cheap knock off than with no uke. As for assisting with set up yeah, I think I could assist now. But not if I didn't have a cheap uke to practice on. I can afford to screw up a 30 dollar uke. I can not afford to screw up a hundred dollar, or more, uke.

bodhran
09-26-2012, 09:00 PM
I only use 'cheap' ukuleles. Budget constraints mean that I could never hope to own an expensive ukulele and so......... I would rather play a cheaper ukulele than not play at all. I have three ukuleles: a dolphin that has had a setup that my grandson plays, a Hudson concert that has had a decent setup done and, my current favorite by far, a Makala Tenor that I bought secondhand on this forum. The tenor had been supplied and setup by HMS and actually is very nice to play. Sure they are not as good as an expensive ukulele but they are playable instruments and, I think represent very good value for money in terms of smiles per . A playable ukulele for not much more than a restaurant dinner for two or a couple of rounds of golf cannot be bad.

I am convinced the trick with buying a cheap ukulele is to carefully read reviews, if possible take an experienced player with you when you buy your first ukulele, if buying mail order buy from a reputable supplier, and have any cheap ukulele setup.