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View Full Version : Is it just me? Probably is, but, maybe...



optofonik
12-11-2012, 08:51 PM
... I'm not the only one whose gone through this.

Let me preface all this to say that I don't have a dedicate ukulele shop near me.

I have been involved in music for quite awhile; since I was a child. I was trained in voice but I've learned the rudiments of several different instruments over the years in order to "communicate" with collaborators in "their own language". I can play enough piano, bass, drums and blow a few notes on a cornet to get my point across. However, the guitar and other chording string instruments have always been a mystery to me due to a broken left wrist set incorrectly when I was a child. Bass guitar isn't that bad as long as it's a monophonic line. As a result, keyboard instruments or bass have always been where I start my writing. Chorded string instruments have always an unreachable goal.

I recently picked up a ukulele in what I thought would be another failed attempt at a chorded string instrument. I might have been wrong. I find myself collecting chords, practicing, and driving myself to learn, unlike anything else musical in a long while. In short, the ukulele is inspiring me to put my nose to the grindstone for hours at a time. My left wrist barely bothers me; it's certainly not painful enough to make me stop. I find myself actually wanting to learn "covers"; I've never had a desire for that. Never.

My dilemma is that because I have been involved with music for so long and been blessed to work with some really good musicians whose skills are at a particular level I have a problem with poor intonation. I can recognize when something is in tune "enough"; when an audience probably won't notice. But it really isn't "enough", is it. Not for me, anyway. I'm not claiming to have perfect pitch but I think I know when something is slightly out of tune; when harmonics and overtones just aren't where they should be.

I have a Makala soprano pineapple and a regular shaped concert ukuleles and they really are great for what they are. They certainly sound good enough for camping and practicing during down time at work. If either gets busted; whatever. The problem is, I can often hear what "could be". When either one is freshly tuned they sound great, they ring out and make me want to hear and practice more. Those moments are somewhat short lived, however. After I've practiced for awhile or get high on the neck it gets disappointing. As good as they are for beginner instruments they still are what they are and it's to be expected.

So, I ordered a solid top acacia, a tenor this time; got a good deal. I'm hoping the solid top will give me an idea of "what can be" all the time; staying in tune everywhere on the neck and well into an hour of practice. As for the other two, the pineapple will certainly be a keeper because of it fits in my motorcycle's saddlebags. The concert may even be a keeper (a spare for a friend when camping). Both are inexpensive enough to easily replace. Still, I have to have ONE ukulele like I've described. Maybe the solid top will be the one. If not...

I am beginning to believe that I won't have a problem with spending the same amount of money for a good ukulele as I might spend on a good laptop. See where I'm going with this...

Tigeralum2001
12-11-2012, 09:17 PM
On a uke there are several things that can cause bad intonation. Obviously build quality and setup come to mind first. How much is a "good laptop" to you, I mean a high-end MacBook Pro is $2000... You can get a real nice uke for that...

Assuming you're a PC guy, brands to consider are Mainland, KoAlana, Islander, or Ohana. Buy from a dedicated uke store to be sure of good setup. Alternatively, check out out UU marketplace for a good deal on a slightly used model. Better quality for the same price.

Oh, welcome to UU!

Plainsong
12-11-2012, 09:26 PM
Yeah I do. It's why when I started looking at uke, I though oh wow, I can get one for cheap! Then discovered not-so-much. I wanted to know what a real uke sounded like, and my research was taking me to solid koa. At the time, we didn't have Acacia or the great selection of mahogany that we do today. So, I got a Koaloha soprano. My left wrist was also broken as a kid, and when I air-uke, I always go lefty, while I play righty.. I'm ambidextrous but do favor my left slightly in most things. Weird that I play righty, but I just started that way. I played lots of instruments so-so as well, and yeah, strings kick my butt too.

And it's frustrating to not get up to the level that I'm used to, on the instrument I prefer to play. But I've had way more luck at uke than I had at guitar. My advice is, there are wonders to be had at that 300ish price range that weren't there when I started. But OTOH, a Koaloha will have complexity of tone that they won't. A Kanelea will have balls-on accurate intonation up the fretboard.. A Kamaka is a freaking Kamaka... You get the drift. If you can spend the money, you won't be sorry either.

Ben_H
12-11-2012, 09:28 PM
I had a very similar problem in that my musical ear and brain was way ahead of my Makala Dolphin and my ukulele skills due to 12 years of piano tuition from age 6 plus clarinet, drums and orchestral percussion. 7 months on it still is sadly, but I'm enjoying myself too much to worry overly :)

I also have the problem that my original dolphin was actualy quite a good one but it got broken and the one I bought to replace it is significantly less good. That came from a local shop whereas my original was from a good mail order deal so they can be found as Tigeralum says.

I have found Bazmaz and his reviews at www.gotaukulele.com helpful as many of his instruments are bought long distance. However we're all different in how we perceive sound and tone as I'm sure you know so what sounds wonderful to you will not always chime with me.

Have fun shopping.

Harold O.
12-12-2012, 06:49 AM
One of the problems ukuleles in general have is the sheer number of available instruments. Many people get involved because they've "always wanted to play music" and the ukulele offers an inexpensive way to do it. So the guy spends $50, learns a few chords, and has some fun.

A person with musical experience comes along, tries the same thing, and gets discouraged early because the $50 instrument does not produce a high quality sound. Campground, as you say, is fine for the campground. But if you want something more, you have to step up.

This is where the ukulele image at large fails. It's small, therefore it can't cost much. Wrong. It's simple to play, therefore it cannot be complex. Wrong. It's a gimmicky thing for kids. Well, OK...maybe.

It's a question of perception. No one expects a piano to be cheap just as no one expects a $100 guitar to sound great. But in part because of perception, a $100 ukulele is supposed to sound terrific. Well, it can sound good enough, but if you really want to be a "ukulele musician", you will have to step up to a different price range. As Plainsong said, there are now some pretty good sounding instruments available in the $300-$400 range. But I would consider that a low-to-mid range price.

optofonik
12-12-2012, 09:09 AM
Assuming you're a PC guy.. Oh, welcome to UU!

I am a PC guy but I don't like to cheap out because I want ones that don't have to be upgraded every two years; I can usually find a solid PC lappy for about $1400-$1800. Thanks for the welcome, I've been lurking around here like mad for a bit and just stated posting lot's of questions.


Yeah I do. It's why when I started looking at uke, I though oh wow, I can get one for cheap! Then discovered not-so-much. I wanted to know what a real uke sounded like, and my research was taking me to solid koa. At the time, we didn't have Acacia or the great selection of mahogany that we do today. So, I got a Koaloha soprano. My left wrist was also broken as a kid, and when I air-uke, I always go lefty, while I play righty.. I'm ambidextrous but do favor my left slightly in most things. Weird that I play righty, but I just started that way. I played lots of instruments so-so as well, and yeah, strings kick my butt too.

And it's frustrating to not get up to the level that I'm used to, on the instrument I prefer to play. But I've had way more luck at uke than I had at guitar. My advice is, there are wonders to be had at that 300ish price range that weren't there when I started. But OTOH, a Koaloha will have complexity of tone that they won't. A Kanelea will have balls-on accurate intonation up the fretboard.. A Kamaka is a freaking Kamaka... You get the drift. If you can spend the money, you won't be sorry either.

I wish I was ambidextrous, maybe could have been playing guitar for all these years. I just got a Solid Top Golden Acacia that retails for a little under $400 so I'm hoping to hear a difference. A Kamaka Pineapple would be awesome, though. If the Acacia doesn't work out I will probably bite the bullet and look for a Hawaiian built instrument, one of the "K" brands I read so much about. It will be more high maintenance but I'll deal with it.


I had a very similar problem in that my musical ear and brain was way ahead of my Makala Dolphin and my ukulele skills due to 12 years of piano tuition from age 6 plus clarinet, drums and orchestral percussion. 7 months on it still is sadly, but I'm enjoying myself too much to worry overly :)

I also have the problem that my original dolphin was actualy quite a good one but it got broken and the one I bought to replace it is significantly less good. That came from a local shop whereas my original was from a good mail order deal so they can be found as Tigeralum says.

I have found Bazmaz and his reviews at www.gotaukulele.com helpful as many of his instruments are bought long distance. However we're all different in how we perceive sound and tone as I'm sure you know so what sounds wonderful to you will not always chime with me.

Have fun shopping.

With prior experience on another instrument I think it's sometimes easy to underestimate one's musical ability when starting a new instrument. I'm having a blast with my Makalas as well and once I'm in the groove it's easy to overlook their shortcomings until I start to realize that one of the strings has gone a bit out of tune on "that one chord". Suddenly, the vibe is busted and the tuner has to comes out. I'll check out that link, thanks.


One of the problems ukuleles in general have is the sheer number of available instruments. Many people get involved because they've "always wanted to play music" and the ukulele offers an inexpensive way to do it. So the guy spends $50, learns a few chords, and has some fun.

A person with musical experience comes along, tries the same thing, and gets discouraged early because the $50 instrument does not produce a high quality sound. Campground, as you say, is fine for the campground. But if you want something more, you have to step up.

This is where the ukulele image at large fails. It's small, therefore it can't cost much. Wrong. It's simple to play, therefore it cannot be complex. Wrong. It's a gimmicky thing for kids. Well, OK...maybe.

It's a question of perception. No one expects a piano to be cheap just as no one expects a $100 guitar to sound great. But in part because of perception, a $100 ukulele is supposed to sound terrific. Well, it can sound good enough, but if you really want to be a "ukulele musician", you will have to step up to a different price range. As Plainsong said, there are now some pretty good sounding instruments available in the $300-$400 range. But I would consider that a low-to-mid range price.

Man, I'm totally beginning to see that. It really is a matter of perception. In researching the ukulele I've begun to get the impression there are craftsmen making ukuleles that are as high quality as any top tier Taylor or Martin guitar ever made.

As I stated above, I'm hoping the Solid Top Acacia I recently ordered will be the ticket. If not, it will be time to budget for a higher end Hawaiian made instrument.

Maybe I'll use buying a Hawaiian made ukulele as an excuse to visit Hawaii; it's one of the last states I haven't visited. ;) As much as I think of the cats at HMS though, I wish there was a dedicated ukulele shop in California as highly regarded as theirs.


Guys, thanks for the very insightful replies. Quit a nice forum you have here. Hopefully I can contribute something meaningful over time.

Mick

pootsie
12-12-2012, 09:28 AM
Man, I'm totally beginning to see that. It really is a matter of perception. In researching the ukulele I've begun to get the impression there are craftsmen making ukuleles that are as high quality as any top tier Taylor or Martin guitar ever made.


Have you been lurking in the Luthier's Lounge section of this forum. A lot of the people you speak of post in there and THEY. ARE. AMAZING.

katysax
12-12-2012, 09:43 AM
Ukulele, because of its short scale. will always have issues with intonation. However, you don't need to spend $$$ to get good intonation. Above a certain price range, around $500 or so, you are paying for a makes name and for appointments. Certain custom makers have a very perfectionist level of fit and finish - but that isn't necessary for very good intonation. Some mass makers like Kiwaya have a level of fit and finish on a par with custom makers and also offer excellent intonation.

Intonation will never be perfect on any fretted instrument, and ukuleles have more problems than most due to the small size, but around $200 on up you should expect pretty good intonation. However, you need to check it yourself. There will always be compromises. Keep in mind that ukulele is a folk instrument. Part of its charm is that it isn't going to be perfect. If you want absolute perfection study classical violin.

pootsie
12-12-2012, 10:18 AM
If you want absolute perfection study classical violin.

I heard an interview with a violin bow maker on NPR recently. I forgot his name, but he was one of the top-tier makers, making only a handful of bows every year on custom order for particular musicians. A perfectionist.

He said that for a long time he could not go to a concert and enjoy the music if one of his bows was in use because he was constantly afraid it was not good enough.

I wonder if the quest for perfection is compatible with joy in music.

But then, I'm only a noob and I suck so maybe I'm just making excuses for my lousy playing -- the lousy playing I do while smiling!

OldePhart
12-12-2012, 03:00 PM
No, it's not just you. Many ukuleles, even some moderately expensive solid wood models, come without ever having been set up properly. Very often the nut slots are too high making notes pull very sharp when fretted at the first couple of frets. Bridges are often kind of high, too, but that doesn't generally affect intonation much unless they are crazy high. Also, of course, bridge saddles are rarely compensated on ukuleles.

The good news is that it's not difficult to solve the nut problem, it just takes patience and a couple of hand tools (though much better to let a pro do it if you're not the handy sort). So, with patience and a couple of tools you can get almost any uke to have excellent intonation at the first fret. Intonation high up around the 12th fret can sometimes be improved with a different type of string, etc.

Most of my ukes are spot on at the first fret and within a few cents at the 12th fret. I achieve the first with tools and the second lots of experimentation to find just the right strings.

Generally speaking, for ukes right up through the $300 range you should buy from a dealer who knows what they are doing and will set them up. About the only exceptions are Mainland (because Mike and Tookta set them up) and Pono (set up in the Ko'Olau factory). Maybe Ohana, as they do have some setup here in the states but I've seen a few of those that were a bit iffy, not like Kala, Lanikai, etc., though.

Once you get into high end ukes (the big four Hawaiian brands, Martin, Collings, etc., etc.) they usually leave the factory in great shape. And, of course, the luthier built ukes from Rick Turner, Moore Bettah, etc., etc. are peerless.

John

Plainsong
12-12-2012, 04:23 PM
My Kanilea and Koaloha both had a higher-than-I-prefer action at the saddle. The nut of course was perfect on both. It felt like a deliberate choice, to cover more types of playing. After all, it's easier to lower than to raise. But both were playable, and both handled lowering like champs. The Koaloha bothered me so much, that it took nearly a year before I messed with the action.

ksiegel
12-12-2012, 04:25 PM
As much as I think of the cats at HMS though, I wish there was a dedicated ukulele shop in California as highly regarded as theirs.


But what part of California are you in? it is a damned big state.

In San Jose, there is Ukulele Source. It is a dedicated shop, and Smiley and Janet are wonderful folks!

There are other shops, like Gryphon in Palo Alto, and Sylvan in Santa Cruz which - while not dedicated Uke shops - are top shelf music shops, with people who know and love ukes working there.

These are three California shops I know of, and I have personal experience with 2 of them (Ukulele Source and Sylvan Music). That being said, yes Go to Hawaii! I only wish I was interested in Ukulele when I was there, many years back. I'd definitely be a different person now, If I'd started playing Uke 13 years ago..


-Kurt

optofonik
12-12-2012, 07:50 PM
I'm in La Crescenta, the foothills above LA. I'm always looking for a reason to visit the San Francisco area so perhaps I shall.

ksiegel
12-13-2012, 05:28 AM
I'm in La Crescenta, the foothills above LA. I'm always looking for a reason to visit the San Francisco area so perhaps I shall.

Check with WickedWahine11 or Janeray1940 - they are both down in the LA area (or at least, based on my limited knowledge of southern California geography not too far from LA). They can probably give you a host of leads on LA area ukulele shops, or general music stores that have knowledgeable ukulele employees.



-Kurt

Harold O.
12-13-2012, 05:59 AM
I'm in La Crescenta, the foothills above LA.

Island Bazaar in Huntington Beach has a lot of ukuleles, ukulele knowledge, and ukulele stuff. Much closer than San Francisco.

csibona
12-13-2012, 12:38 PM
Fleas and Flukes are very good in terms of intonation at their price range. They carry James Hill's endorsement...
http://jameshillmusic.com/faq
Other suitable instruments for beginners include the Flea and Fluke ukuleles made in the USA by the Magic Fluke Company. These are popular ukes that come in many colours, sound good and are very durable.