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View Full Version : Mainland Red Cedar Soprano...will I be disappointed compared to my Favilla?



sbpark
10-11-2012, 01:22 PM
I recently got back into playing the ukulele after finding a really nice Favilla U3 soprano and absolutely love it. For a 70 year old instrument it is absolutely flawless in it's set up and plays like butter! Aside from the obvious and expected wear and tear on an instrument that age, it is great (especially since I paid under $200 for it, and had my repair guy look at it and after he played it he handed it back to be and said it needs nothing done to it. actually it was hard to get him to give it back he loved playing it so much!)

I'm looking for a second soprano (I used to really like concerts, but as of late I am in a soprano phase and have been playing more old-timey, ragtime, waltzes, etc. I love the way the Favilla sounds, being all solid mahogany, very pleasing, round and a tad mellow, but not tiny or small sounding. Very bell-like, pretty much the same as you would expect an old Martin to sound like. I am looking for something with just a tad more punch, but noting obnoxious and shrill. I have owned an Ohana CK-35g in the past and regret parting with that uke (after my repair guy did a very minor set up on it, it intonated perfectly all the way up the neck) and a Koaloha Concert, which was absolutely gorgeous and very loud, but I just seem to prefer the sound of mahogany over koa.

So what are your thoughts on the Mainland Red Cedar soprano? It's all solid wood, cedar top, rosewood sides and back. I'd get another mahogany soprano, but would like to mix it up a bit since I already have a nice mahogany soprano, but don't like the sound of koa, and still want to maintain somewhat of an old-timey sound. I am hoping the Red Cedar falls somewhere in between mellow and pleasing sound of mahogany and koa?

Thoughts and suggestions always welcomed and appreciated. Thanks!

RichM
10-11-2012, 02:24 PM
I think the Mainland red cedar soprano is the best sounding uke in its price range, and it competes very well with more expensive ukes. It is a big brash sound that I think is different from both mahogany and koa. The soft cedar topwood allows for a lot of resonance, which gives a very rich sound with a lot of overtones. Comine that with a very hard rosewood back, which allows that resonant sound to really project forward. The result is loud, rich tone that really stands out in the crowd. I'm a big fan of spruce and cedar tops; not everybody is. But I have to say, I love my red cedar Mainland!

sbpark
10-11-2012, 02:27 PM
Hmmmm, if it is 'brash' as you mention, it may not be what I am looking for then. It's a shame there aren't any available locally that I could try in person.

RichM
10-11-2012, 02:46 PM
I don't know where you are in the Bay Area, but the last time I was at Sylvan Music in Santa Cruz, they had a wide array of Mainlands, as did Ukulele Source in San Jose. Good luck!

Lola
10-11-2012, 03:08 PM
I play a lot of "old-timey" music and love my Mainland red cedar soprano. It suffered a little accident just a few months after I bought it, and then I was so sick over it I didn't get it fixed right away. It came back from the luthier last Saturday week and fell in love all over again. :love: I just recorded myself messing around with it (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YuDIUbNmoMo) the other night, if that helps. It's so hard to make determinations with mediocre recordings compressed further by YouTube, but that sort of illustrates the bark it has. The luthier re-strung it for me with the Aquilas that were in its case, but I'm probably going to switch it to Worth clear mediums.

RichM
10-11-2012, 03:14 PM
I play a lot of "old-timey" music and love my Mainland red cedar soprano. It suffered a little accident just a few months after I bought it, and then I was so sick over it I didn't get it fixed right away. It came back from the luthier last Saturday week and fell in love all over again. :love: I just recorded myself messing around with it (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YuDIUbNmoMo) the other night, if that helps. It's so hard to make determinations with mediocre recordings compressed further by YouTube, but that sort of illustrates the bark it has. The luthier re-strung it for me with the Aquilas that were in its case, but I'm probably going to switch it to Worth clear mediums.

Nice videos! Whatever Lola wants.... Lola gets...

ChrisRCovington
10-11-2012, 03:21 PM
I can't speak for the Mainland having never played one (they are on the list though). You might like a Bruko No. 6. It is mahogany but it has a great old time, slightly plinky sound about it. They are very reasonable, with shipping from Germany and an exchange fee on my card it was less than $190 from Thomann. It is also very striking to look at. Bruko also does custom work for a very fair price if you'd like another wood.

Skinny Money McGee
10-11-2012, 03:38 PM
I play a lot of "old-timey" music and love my Mainland red cedar soprano. It suffered a little accident just a few months after I bought it, and then I was so sick over it I didn't get it fixed right away. It came back from the luthier last Saturday week and fell in love all over again. :love: I just recorded myself messing around with it (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YuDIUbNmoMo) the other night, if that helps. It's so hard to make determinations with mediocre recordings compressed further by YouTube, but that sort of illustrates the bark it has. The luthier re-strung it for me with the Aquilas that were in its case, but I'm probably going to switch it to Worth clear mediums.

You have a great voice Lola !

hmgberg
10-11-2012, 04:00 PM
Cedar and rosewood are a great combination. The Favilla has a nice warm, mahogany sound - so if you want something different, you should get the Mainland.

Check out this video:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HKw93kNso6M

If you explore his Youtube channel, he plays both the Mainland and an Ohana all mahogany ukulele, you can compare the sounds.

sbpark
10-11-2012, 04:52 PM
I can't speak for the Mainland having never played one (they are on the list though). You might like a Bruko No. 6. It is mahogany but it has a great old time, slightly plinky sound about it. They are very reasonable, with shipping from Germany and an exchange fee on my card it was less than $190 from Thomann. It is also very striking to look at. Bruko also does custom work for a very fair price if you'd like another wood.

Funny you should mention the Bruko, because I was about to pull the trigger on one, then just happened to come across a Favilla U3 on Craigslist for a really great price instead (I scored it for less than what a new Bruko costs, believe it or not!) I would think the Bruko would be sort of the same vein as the Favilla, and want something a little different, which is why I am considering the Mainland cedar soprano. I still like the Brukos. Nice looking instruments that seem to get high praises.

sbpark
10-11-2012, 04:55 PM
I've watched that review several times in the past! Very thorough review for sure.

sbpark
10-11-2012, 05:02 PM
I play a lot of "old-timey" music and love my Mainland red cedar soprano. It suffered a little accident just a few months after I bought it, and then I was so sick over it I didn't get it fixed right away. It came back from the luthier last Saturday week and fell in love all over again. :love: I just recorded myself messing around with it (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YuDIUbNmoMo) the other night, if that helps. It's so hard to make determinations with mediocre recordings compressed further by YouTube, but that sort of illustrates the bark it has. The luthier re-strung it for me with the Aquilas that were in its case, but I'm probably going to switch it to Worth clear mediums.

I think that every demo I have heard for the red cedar soprano has Aquillas, and these strings make my skin crawl! I really detest Aquillas, and have never been able to make them work on any ukulele. On my old Ohana CK-35 they were horrible, and found that Worth browns worked the best. My Favilla had new Aquillas ion it, and although they made the uke very loud, I replaced them with Worth clears and they seem to suit the Favila much better.

Aquillas just sound to harsh to my ear, and I feel like the tone and balance between strings is always uneven. The way I have described them before is they almost seem to me like someone took four different strings from four different manufacturers/sets and put them together. They do not sound uniform to me at all. My gut is telling me that a set of Worth browns would be really nice on that cedar soprano. It would still retain that 'bark' that the uke seems to have with the cedar and rosewood combination but still give it a nice, 'old-timey plunk' that i sort of like. My Favilla is mellow and sweet, so it would be nice to have something with a tad more bark and plunk, but not brash or harsh.

Paul December
10-11-2012, 05:53 PM
I had one and didn't think it was a good match for the kind of music you want to play on it.
Mine came directly from Mainland and I found the setup lacking.
IMO you'll keep playing your Favilla, and the Mainland will be a wall-hanger.
Did you consider doing something completely different and get a banjo uke? The Firefly sounds great playing the kind of music you like, while being different enough not to compete/overlap with your existing uke.

sbpark
10-11-2012, 06:13 PM
I had one and didn't think it was a good match for the kind of music you want to play on it.
Mine came directly from Mainland and I found the setup lacking.
IMO you'll keep playing your Favilla, and the Mainland will be a wall-hanger.
Did you consider doing something completely different and get a banjo uke? The Firefly sounds great playing the kind of music you like, while being different enough not to compete/overlap with your existing uke.

Actually, I am a banjo player as well, and recent watched a George Formby documentary and tossed around the idea of picking up a banjo uke as well! The firefly seems like a nice choice, but think it is a bit overpriced for what it actually is (I would go with the hardwood fretboard over the molded plastic). It does sound pretty decent though, I have to admit.

Ben_H
10-11-2012, 08:17 PM
I was very pleased with my Mainland red cedar soprano. I think brash it too harsh but it does stand out. I find it's tone to be banjo uke- like, but it is sweet and not abrasive and to my untutored ukulele ears it sounded exactly what my brain was telling me a uke should sound like. I guess that's the diference of hearing a certain G Formby during my formative years rather than a Hawaiian maestro.

When I bought it I got a koa soprano at the same time and found they were both lovely for different things

garyg
10-12-2012, 12:46 AM
Scott, now would be a great time to pick up a vintage Martin, I've only been playing for less than 2 years but prices have dropped precipitously during that period and 0M models are going for less than $500. After all, this is the king of ukuleles. I've got some video up on my youtube channel of both a 40's Favilla and various vintage Martins. Sounds like you've got the bug again <g>. g2

ukemunga
10-12-2012, 01:35 AM
My gut is telling me that a set of Worth browns would be really nice on that cedar soprano. It would still retain that 'bark' that the uke seems to have with the cedar and rosewood combination but still give it a nice, 'old-timey plunk' that i sort of like. My Favilla is mellow and sweet, so it would be nice to have something with a tad more bark and plunk, but not brash or harsh.

Sound is so subjective but, I had a Mainland Red Cedar Soprano and it arrived with Fremont Blacklines on it. I loved the sound, but always looking for something better, I put Worth Browns on it. They sounded good, but to my ear, much more subdued with less ring than the Fremonts.

I see a Mainland Concert Neck Red Cedar Soprano in my near future and I've already got a set of brand new Fremonts waiting for it!

sbpark
10-12-2012, 02:29 AM
Scott, now would be a great time to pick up a vintage Martin, I've only been playing for less than 2 years but prices have dropped precipitously during that period and 0M models are going for less than $500. After all, this is the king of ukuleles. I've got some video up on my youtube channel of both a 40's Favilla and various vintage Martins. Sounds like you've got the bug again <g>. g2

I am trying to be (somewhat) responsible here and pick up another uke that is modestly priced, and you are not helping the situation. You are an enabler, sir!

garyg
10-12-2012, 03:02 AM
I am trying to be (somewhat) responsible here and pick up another uke that is modestly priced, and you are not helping the situation. You are an enabler, sir!

Well the truth is the truth <g>. But honestly, although I can see you buying a second uke to drag around, I am baffled by the tendency of some uke owners to buy lots of low to mid-range ukes rather than saving their money up and buying a great uke (e.g., two mainlands = 1 carefully stalked vintage Martin 0 purchase on ebay). Okay, I'm being very judgmental here I know, but quality sound is what most of us are after. A great uke won't make you a great player, but it will make your poor playing sound better <g>, at least in my case it does.

roxhum
10-12-2012, 03:15 AM
I too prefer mahogany ukes. If you are judging Koa by the KoAloha only you may find Koa mellower than the KoAloha's. I love my Kamaka Koa uke, and it is much mellower than the KoAloha I had. I think the Mainland red cedar will fit your need perfectly for something different. It is brighter and punchier (not brash, but punchy) but on the mellower side of what is considered bright. I bought my Mainland red cedar as a place holder while I waited for another uke I had ordered and now I can't part with it. The only high end uke I have is the Kamaka, if that is considered high end, and it is my best uke but the Mainland gives it a run for it's money. If you had a Ohana and liked that uke I know you will also like the Mainland, they are of equal quality and, again, the Mainland red cedar is bright and punchy without being too bright.

RevWill
10-12-2012, 03:29 AM
....the Mainland red cedar is bright and punchy without being too bright.

This is what I was going to say. I don't think brash is quite the right word, though it is punchy and somewhat bright.

There is a natural compression with the cedar/rosewood combination, by which I mean it is naturally loud and doesn't get much louder when you play harder. But its resposiveness brings quieter notes forward in a good way, which makes it a great formula for fingerpicking.

While I can't predict whether you'll be disappointed or thrilled (or anything in between), I doubt you'll find it "obnoxious or shrill." With Ko'olau Alohi strings my Mainland red cedar tenor has a great balanced tone - warmth, roundness and depth coupled with brightness, sparkle and punch.

roxhum
10-12-2012, 03:39 AM
Oh yeah and I recorded myself on my Red Cedar and it sounded really good in recordings. It has good note distinction, I think that is how you say it. I just offered mine for sale and I am having sellers remorse already, but I need the money really bad.

sbpark
10-12-2012, 06:21 AM
I just read about those KoAlana's that KoAloha is making in Thailand. Maybe one of those sopranos would fit the bill?

Lola
10-12-2012, 05:04 PM
Thanks for the appreciation. :)

My gut is telling me that a set of Worth browns would be really nice on that cedar soprano. It would still retain that 'bark' that the uke seems to have with the cedar and rosewood combination but still give it a nice, 'old-timey plunk' that i sort of like. My Favilla is mellow and sweet, so it would be nice to have something with a tad more bark and plunk, but not brash or harsh.

sbpark and ukemunga I'll have to keep the Worth browns under consideration. I had some on the Makai a while back but I'm worried the other half of that package got misplaced or thrown out. I know I have a few sets of clears on hand, though. (Elderly's not going to be open on Sunday when I'm in Lansing, natch.)


I am baffled by the tendency of some uke owners to buy lots of low to mid-range ukes rather than saving their money up and buying a great uke (e.g., two mainlands = 1 carefully stalked vintage Martin 0 purchase on ebay).

I can't speak for anybody else, but my sub-$200 sopranos came along as a gift, an intermediate "step-up" purchase a year later, a quick replacement when that one suffered damage, and a somewhat surprising charity auction victory. In an alternate universe where my Mainland had never gotten damaged, I'd have sniped one of those eBay Martins by now. :p

RichM
10-12-2012, 05:17 PM
Well the truth is the truth <g>. But honestly, although I can see you buying a second uke to drag around, I am baffled by the tendency of some uke owners to buy lots of low to mid-range ukes rather than saving their money up and buying a great uke (e.g., two mainlands = 1 carefully stalked vintage Martin 0 purchase on ebay). Okay, I'm being very judgmental here I know, but quality sound is what most of us are after. A great uke won't make you a great player, but it will make your poor playing sound better <g>, at least in my case it does.

People should buy what they want, as should you. Many reasonably priced instruments sound and play very good. Some people will prefer variety to "high end." And, of course, some people will prefer both.

Paul December
10-12-2012, 05:59 PM
IMO some "high end" ukes are over-rated...
...that makes even less sense to me.

sbpark
10-12-2012, 06:24 PM
People should buy what they want, as should you. Many reasonably priced instruments sound and play very good. Some people will prefer variety to "high end." And, of course, some people will prefer both.

I think there are two ways to look at it. You can go the high end route by saving up your dollars, but then you have a really expensive instrument that (at least I would) always be worried about taking it out of the house, having someone damage it, stolen, etc. I have had really expensive guitars and a fairly expensive banjo. Still have the banjo and love it, but nowadays I favor more middle of the road, or even lower end instruments. What I find works really well for me, since this is a hobby and not what I do for a living, and am not a professional, is sticking to mid-range and even some lower end instruments and just having my repair guy do a thorough set up on them. I have a beautiful Squire CVC Telecaster that I gutted and replaced the pups with Nocasters, top of the line pots and electronics and had the fretboard leveled, crowned and polished. Did all the work myself aside from the level crown and polish, and the thing sounds and plays better than many teles three or four times the cost I shelled out.

I just think that there is a large group of people who are into instruments who think they NEED to have a high end instrument because anything else in inferior, which is absolute bunk. Most of the people who think this way probably can't even do that amazing instrument justice as far as being able to really play it! We've all seen the guys who have a room full of gear, post endlessly on forums, and in reality probably can't even play! I know that's a very specific stereotype, but to some degree or another we all know 'that guy'. The question I ask myself, is a $800-$100 ukulele REALLY going to make me play that much better than a $200 ukulele? The answer to me is a resounding 'no'! THere is the psychological factor though. If you really love the instrument and think in your mind that a more expensive instrument means your a better player, it may result in you playing the instrument more and practicing more, but this is not the case for me.

Personally, I am more impressed when I see someone tearing it up on a 'low end' instrument, than someone who sucks on a very expensive instrument. It's like the old saying goes, "you can put pearls on a pig, but it's still a pig", or "you can polish a turd, but it's still a turd!" I'd rather have a really well set up middle of the road instrument that I don't have to worry about as much getting damaged, stolen, lost, etc. Plus these instruments are meant to be played, not collected and looked at and admired. They are supposed to have wear marks, scratches, nicks, etc.!

garyg
10-13-2012, 05:39 AM
Okay, well sorry to stir the pot, and get slightly off-topic and just to close it off: 1) I never said people *shouldn't* buy what they want, 2) you can get a Martin 0M with great sound right now for under $500 (and it will hold its value in comparison to those $200 ukes), 3) I wasn't talking about *collector* ukes that you're afraid to take out of the house, (of course this varies person by person and maybe you would be scared to take a $500 uke with surface scratches or repaired cracks out of the house) but instruments that show some wear and tear but still have great sound, and 4) I wasn't talking about people who *need* to have expensive toys, I was talking about active players who want to have a great sounding instrument. This probably sounds snarky but it's just meant to point out what I originally said. You i.e., Scott, said that you loved your Favilla and given that I have both Favilla and Martin ukes and can say that the Martin does have a punchier more bell-like sound than the Favilla I put forward that suggestion. Does it sound like a Mainland no, I think that it sounds much better (I've played them both) but that's a value judgement and after rereading your OP you may not be after the Martin sound at all. Do I still think that one great sounding $500 vintage Martin is a *better* buy for anyone who's serious about playing than two $250 ukes - you betcha. Hey as I indicated in my post, that's my own value judgement. Good strumming, g2

ProfChris
10-13-2012, 07:47 AM
Although you've said not koa, you might want at least to consider a Hawaiian koa uke of a similar vintage to your Favilla. I own a 20s/30s Kumalae which sounds to me rather like what you wrote:


something with just a tad more punch, but nothing obnoxious and shrill

Mine is feather-light and amazingly loud; quite a round sound but (with Aquilas, which are close to the original gut strings) has enough edge and overtones to make it work well for the 20s and 30s stuff I tend to play. And of course, a lot of that music was indeed played on Kumalaes. Very different from, say, a Koaloha - less refined, more "oomph".

A decent but plain one goes for the equivalent of US$300 in the UK, though they seem to command higher asking prices in the US.

You'd definitely want to play one before buying though, as the feel is quite different to the mainland (eg Favilla) style that Martin developed and most ukes now emulate. Thinner at the nut, higher action, frets direct in neck. Many have cracked because the humidity where they lived is far lower than Hawaii,which may be why the UK ones are often in better condition.

I wouldn't part with mine, though I'd like a Favilla as well.

sbpark
10-13-2012, 07:52 AM
Although you've said not koa, you might want at least to consider a Hawaiian koa uke of a similar vintage to your Favilla. I own a 20s/30s Kumalae which sounds to me rather like what you wrote:



Mine is feather-light and amazingly loud; quite a round sound but (with Aquilas, which are close to the original gut strings) has enough edge and overtones to make it work well for the 20s and 30s stuff I tend to play. And of course, a lot of that music was indeed played on Kumalaes. Very different from, say, a Koaloha - less refined, more "oomph".

A decent but plain one goes for the equivalent of US$300 in the UK, though they seem to command higher asking prices in the US.

You'd definitely want to play one before buying though, as the feel is quite different to the mainland (eg Favilla) style that Martin developed and most ukes now emulate. Thinner at the nut, higher action, frets direct in neck. Many have cracked because the humidity where they lived is far lower than Hawaii,which may be why the UK ones are often in better condition.

I wouldn't part with mine, though I'd like a Favilla as well.

awesome advice! thanks!

oldetymey
10-13-2012, 05:57 PM
Oh wow, what a great topic for my first official forum post....
When I got my Mainland red cedar I had no idea about Mainland as a brand, or ukes in general.
I like mine very much. One of the things I like most about it is the heft. Its weight is so much more substantial then other ukes Ive tried, and I just find that more comfortable. When I discovered it I just fell for the sound of it, and never looked back. 2 years later its still the only uke I have. I would agree with others here who have described it as "brash" or "Banjo-like". I like that about it. kind of like an old guitar that technically doesnt sound good, but has a great dirty cheap rock and roll sound thats just unbeatable....