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View Full Version : Will a high-end Uke help me play and/or sound better? How do I know when to upgrade?



rreffner
12-27-2012, 01:54 PM
The title pretty much says it all. What should one expect from upgrading to a custom Uke ($2,000) - realistic expectations of course.

The upgrade would be from a factory set-up Uke in the $300-500 range.

Mahalo everyone.

Dwjkerr
12-27-2012, 02:05 PM
Upgrade when you feel you are ready. Will it sound better? It should if only because it is better made, better matereals, and better set up. will it make you play better? Some will say yes in that a better uke would make you want top practise/play better. But INMHO that is up to you and how much practice /playing you put in, not the Uke itself.

strumsilly
12-27-2012, 02:09 PM
maybe go up to the 1k range, I think at that point it's the law of diminishing returns. you can get some mighty fine ukes at the 1k price point.

OldePhart
12-27-2012, 02:20 PM
If by "factory setup in the $300-$500" range you mean a Kala, Lanikai, etc. not set up by a retailer who specializes in ukes then you could see significant improvement in playablility (and thus progress as a player) just by getting a good setup on your present uke.

Improvement as a player mostly comes with playability and intonation of the uke rather than from the "bling factor" of a custom or a "k-brand" - if the action and intonation are both very good it really doesn't much matter what logo is on the headstock or how much the uke cost. The more expensive uke may be louder with better tone and sustain, but action and intonation are the really important factors for player improvement. Sure...there is typically a correlation in that the more you spend the more the action and intonation are likely to be good...but it's not a 1:1 kind of thing and, as someone mentioned, you run into that law of diminishing returns.

Frankly, if you are not progressing on a $300 uke that is set up properly with a decently low action and has the right strings chosen for decent intonation all the way up the neck then you are unlikely to progress any faster on a $2k custom. On the other hand, if your $300 uke is a typical example of a Kala or Lanikai straight from the factory you are likely to progress much faster on a better uke, be it the one you have after it being set up properly or a $2k custom.

Mandarb
12-27-2012, 02:40 PM
What should one expect from upgrading to a custom Uke ($2,000) - realistic expectations of course.

The upgrade would be from a factory set-up Uke in the $300-500 range.

What do you expect?

If you are getting a custom - well, it is custom....so you should be talking with the luthier and letting them know your expectations and he/she can let you know if they are realistic or not.

Newportlocal
12-27-2012, 02:50 PM
For me I wanted a specific tone. I picked the woods and the Luthier based on that. I read about,looked at,an listened to a lot of ukuleles. Mine won't have any bling. I don't have any MOP etcetera.

sukie
12-27-2012, 03:07 PM
You should upgrade whenever you want. It is your ukulele. I did. I don't care what anyone else thinks. It was for me. Did I play better when I got it? No. But I did sound a bit better because it is a nicer ukulele. I now play better because I practice. Hopefully through time I will have better tone qualities. More practice.

Get what YOU want. Not what WE want you to get.

pdxuke
12-27-2012, 03:13 PM
If upgrading to better ukes improved my playing, by now I would be the Jedhi Master of Ukuleles.

What upgrading did was improve my level of joy. It's fun to play well made ukes.

Take a $1000. Buy a Kamaka, or a Martin, or a vintage Martin, or a Collings, etc. Go to a big shop and play them all. Enjoy. Then buy the uke that makes you happy.

My advice ;-)

J-Peg
12-27-2012, 03:30 PM
If by "factory setup in the $300-$500" range you mean a Kala, Lanikai, etc. not set up by a retailer who specializes in ukes then you could see significant improvement in playablility (and thus progress as a player) just by getting a good setup on your present uke.

Improvement as a player mostly comes with playability and intonation of the uke rather than from the "bling factor" of a custom or a "k-brand" - if the action and intonation are both very good it really doesn't much matter what logo is on the headstock or how much the uke cost. The more expensive uke may be louder with better tone and sustain, but action and intonation are the really important factors for player improvement. Sure...there is typically a correlation in that the more you spend the more the action and intonation are likely to be good...but it's not a 1:1 kind of thing and, as someone mentioned, you run into that law of diminishing returns.

Frankly, if you are not progressing on a $300 uke that is set up properly with a decently low action and has the right strings chosen for decent intonation all the way up the neck then you are unlikely to progress any faster on a $2k custom. On the other hand, if your $300 uke is a typical example of a Kala or Lanikai straight from the factory you are likely to progress much faster on a better uke, be it the one you have after it being set up properly or a $2k custom.

:agree:

Of course, there are other reasons to by a really nice uke, but you asked about improving your playing. If that's your only concern, then get your uke set up by a professional and it should be all you need to progress.
But if you want a pricey uke and can afford it, go for it. Just don't expect it to suddenly turn you into Jake Shimabukuro.

salukulady
12-27-2012, 03:32 PM
Buy what you want.

Practice is what makes you a better player, not the uke.

Don't chase sound. Just practice.

This is why when Costco is selling crappy ukes or guitars they always have a really good musician demonstrating them.

haolejohn
12-27-2012, 03:41 PM
a nice uke in a crappy players hands still sounds like crap. A crappy uke in a nice players hands sounds nicer.

The player makes the player better. Not the uke. If you can afford the nice uke, get it. If not, wait. A nice uke isn't a magic uke playing pill.

rreffner
12-27-2012, 03:51 PM
Thanks for all the suggestions. I play a white label Kamaka tenor that has never been set up. I bought it new decades ago in Ala Monana. Maybe I should take it to the local luthier.

Harold O.
12-27-2012, 04:00 PM
And don't forget that getting a new "upgrade" uke doesn't mean you have to get rid of the old one.

connor013
12-27-2012, 04:03 PM
Thanks for all the suggestions. I play a white label Kamaka tenor that has never been set up. I bought it new decades ago in Ala Monana. Maybe I should take it to the local luthier.

All good advice so far, and I would take that Kamaka to a luthier, just to get a professional opinion (I can't imagine there's much wrong with it in terms of set-up, but who knows.)

In my case, I started with budget ukes, worked my way up the ladder to K brands/customs, and have since scaled back. What I eventually found is a small stable of ukes that fit my ear and my abilities as a player. I don't feel bad that I've sold nicer ukes than I currently own, because the ukes I own are the right ukes for me.

I wouldn't feel bad about chasing a custom or selling that custom if it turns out not to suit you; the hunt is part of the fun.

pdxuke
12-27-2012, 04:08 PM
Also, be careful of the "I'm not good enough to deserve a good uke" meme.

I don't care if you can only play two chords: if you can afford the uke and it will make you want to play your uke, then you will improve as a player. There is joy in having well crafted instruments, no matter what the level of your playing.

mm stan
12-27-2012, 04:09 PM
Aloha,
A high end uke or better uke does not make you instantly a better player...however what if does is makes you a better player through motivation and practice... you see if you play a bad uke,
with bad intonation you will never know how it should really sound like at a baseline in your hands until you get a properly set up uke that sounds nice...and then the process begins, You figure out things because the uke sounds good and has proprer intonation and good playability.. you are more creative, thus the right learning process begins and you have the right tool for inspiration...
Good Luck and Happy Strummings..:) Only time and practice you will improve greatly unless you are musically gifted.. play more ukes and in time you will figure more things out.. I call them aha
moments....My three most favorite learning words to anything....Practice, Patience and Perserverence....
To answer you question, all you need is a properly tuned good sounding uke that inspires you to play...hell I got a 24.95 rogue soprano and at first it did not sound good or play nice...I did a set up and it became my favorite uke to play to this day...many years later...face it a bad sounding uke makes you lose intrest and give up and failure...

jglover
12-27-2012, 04:22 PM
:agree:

Of course, there are other reasons to by a really nice uke, but you asked about improving your playing. If that's your only concern, then get your uke set up by a professional and it should be all you need to progress.
But if you want a pricey uke and can afford it, go for it. Just don't expect it to suddenly turn you into Jake Shimabukuro.

Unless of course, you have $8k to drop on a Jake signature Kamaka......... :)

Newportlocal
12-27-2012, 06:01 PM
Unless of course, you have $8k to drop on a Jake signature Kamaka......... :)

A few years back when they did those I didn't get picked in the lottery they had for who could have the privilege of buying one. Now,I would rather get a Moore Bettah,Devine,or Compass Rose.

molokinirum
12-28-2012, 05:17 AM
You should upgrade whenever you want. It is your ukulele. I did. I don't care what anyone else thinks. It was for me. Did I play better when I got it? No. But I did sound a bit better because it is a nicer ukulele. I now play better because I practice. Hopefully through time I will have better tone qualities. More practice.

Get what YOU want. Not what WE want you to get.

Amen!!! I agree 100%!!! Get what you like and can afford.

bazmaz
12-28-2012, 05:31 AM
All good advice.

No uke, no matter the price, will make you a better player. But - I am with some others on here. I despise the "if you are a beginner you somehow don't deserve a good uke" nonsense. If you can afford it, buy what you like.

But with a high end uke you get a better chance of good setup, better tone, sustain, volume, playability. And yes, I also agree that a high end uke will likely make you want to play more, and that is no bad thing.

When I first moved from a far eastern factory uke of decent quality (a Mainland) to a K brand (entry level Kanile'a) I personally found the difference night and day, both in tone and playability.

That isn't to say there is anything wrong with Mainland - I love it, it's a great instrument, but there IS a difference when you step up despite what some (who seem to object to high end generally) will tell you.

I saw on a forum the other day some guy saying, repeatedly, that there was zero point anyone spending more than $150 on a uke. Naturally I think he is wrong!

OldePhart
12-28-2012, 05:32 AM
Thanks for all the suggestions. I play a white label Kamaka tenor that has never been set up. I bought it new decades ago in Ala Monana. Maybe I should take it to the local luthier.

:choke: - ahh, a $300 - $500 uke decades ago! Those are good ukes; buying one now will set you back somewhere in the neighborhood of a grand and Kamaka ukes are well set up at the factory. All that should be required of a new Kamaka is adjustment of the saddle height if your "druthers" are far off from those of the factory techs (for example, I always lower the saddles on KoAlohas because I mostly strum and I like a little lower action than the factory delivers).

Of course, if your uke is decades old it is possible that the action may be high due to a bowed top or a neck that needs to be reset, etc. I would have a good luthier look at it and see what he or she recommends. However, assuming that age hasn't damaged that Kamaka I would guess that it is probably a pretty sweet playing uke and buying a $2k custom is not going to "make you a better player." (Though, as others have pointed out, if having a "holy grail" uke in your hands makes you want to practice more then the additional practice will make you a better player.)

John

OldePhart
12-28-2012, 05:35 AM
Unless of course, you have $8k to drop on a Jake signature Kamaka......... :)

Still not going to turn a mere mortal into Jake...just going to turn a mere mortal into a slightly poorer mere mortal with a uke that looks like Jake's. :)

kirbo
12-28-2012, 05:57 AM
Go for it. A high end uke will sound great and may be easier to play which in turn will make you want to play more because you sound better. And at the very least you'll look good playing it!

mm stan
12-28-2012, 06:15 AM
Now you have been playing so long, you have the experience to pick and choose a good sounding uke.....give a try to all brands
when I was back in the early 70's.... a six string kamaka was like 80 bucks... I'd say it's time for an upgrade give your ols kamaka a good clean and
polish and then take it in for a good set up and look over by a good luthier...and buy a good set of strings you like before you see him and take
it to him....good luck..

coolkayaker1
12-28-2012, 07:13 AM
"Will a high-end Uke help me play and/or sound better?" It won't sound as much better as everyone would have you believe unless you're playing a piece of junk now. It won't help you play better at all.

"How do I know when to upgrade?" When you have enough money, or a clean line of credit, like the rest of us. lol

Hippie Dribble
12-28-2012, 08:02 AM
hey Reff, I pretty much agree with everyone else on this one. For starters, DON'T do what I do...buy the uke you can comfortably afford!!!! :o Buy the uke that brings you joy and inspires and motivates you to practice more base on it's tone, it's action and aesthetics. Yes, I would definitely have your Kamaka looked over and assessed as to whether the action needs tweaking as a 1st step.

But hey, the number of custom luthiers has grown exponentially over the past 5 years and that isn't because we can all play at a professional level, but because we simply love this instrument and it brings pleasure into our lives. Of course you won't sound better but a custom instrument, with it's superior playability, may quicken your learning curve, with the wonderful bonus that it will be something unique to you. You don't have to deserve one of these babies, you just have to have the desire and the available funds.

I'm an ugly b#st#rd but I still can covet beautiful things can't I? :)

Enjoy the process mate, whatever direction you turn...

katysax
12-28-2012, 09:15 AM
Just because an instrument is "custom" doesn't mean it's better. It might be worse. I had a chance recently to play a number of custom ukuleles owned by a collector with ukes from many well-known builders. Some of them were awfully pretty but terrible players. Others were fine but not as good as a nice K brand uke. Others were more or less the same as a K brand uke. A couple of them were breathtaking, the sound was so pure, that they almost made me cry to play them. They also had a number of oddities in construction - you might call them bugs or features depending on your point of view. For the most part you really don't know what you'll be getting until it is built if you go custom. There are lots of reasons to get a custom - there is something special about holding and playing a work of art, and fit and finish from the best custom makers is as good as it gets. But for the most part custom will not sound better and in no event will it make you a better player.

aperseghin
12-28-2012, 09:33 AM
Ok to answer the original question i would like to say this..

A high end anything will not make you anything..

That being said, a better tool will allow you to progress your abilities to perform a more skilled craft. This is the nature of humanity and the reason why there are "high end" tools for every craft.

If you are a mechanic, MAC and SNAPON are the high end tools. They are stronger and well suited to the tasks needed to be performed by the mechanic.

If you are a driver, a BMW 3 series will allow you to perform much better then a Chevy Cavalier.

If you are an artist (of any kind) the tools of your craft (in this case music) do not define your skills. But a better tool (in this case a Ukulele) will not stop you from growing your skills to a level above where a lesser tool my peak.

Youkalaylee
12-28-2012, 11:27 AM
I have been progressing and practicing much more since I got a decent uke. Everything sounds much better, which reassures me that I am "doing it right" if you know what I mean, and I'm getting a lot more enjoyment out of it. When I was using a cheap uke I just felt like I was struggling to get anywhere, and it was hard to motivate myself.

Since I've got my 'decent uke' I haven't picked up my cheap soprano once.

hawaii 50
12-28-2012, 12:02 PM
If you have the money and the time and plan on playing forever(i mean forever) a high priced uke will motivate you to practice and play more!

a good uke will for sure sound better than a very cheap one..

mm stan
12-28-2012, 02:15 PM
Figure out if you want a traditional sound of vintages or eastern ukes or the modern high end tech custom sound....I guess it depends what your budget and preference is....
Most important it sounds nice to you and it has good intonation.... I'd choose with my ears first and fingers second....lastly asthetics...

PeteyHoudini
12-31-2012, 06:56 AM
People have made a lot of good points in this thread and I agree with most.

If you can afford to start with a better uke, then do it. I wasted three years on a series of different crummy ukes and intonation and tuning were always the main issues. When I started back in 2006, it seemed hard to find a good uke unless you went to Hawaii. Now, there are tons out there to order.

Petey

Pukulele Pete
12-31-2012, 07:09 AM
I think practice is the key but I've found everytime I got a new (to me)
guitar or uke I practiced alot more because of this fantanstic instrument I had. It renewed my ambition and I played more and it sounded better and it was easier to play. Hey Mystery Man , I am just the opposite in that number one , it has to look good to me before I will play it.

mm stan
12-31-2012, 01:14 PM
I think practice is the key but I've found everytime I got a new (to me)
guitar or uke I practiced alot more because of this fantanstic instrument I had. It renewed my ambition and I played more and it sounded better and it was easier to play. Hey Mystery Man , I am just the opposite in that number one , it has to look good to me before I will play it.

Aloha Petey,
Ha Ha you talking about cars or intimate others??? hee hee oh oh my short term memory and losing my focus..Ukes, okay LOL maybe I had some bad experiences in the past, in all stuff
mentioned before...all show and no go...besides searching for the holy grail in whatever it is, it's not easy man getting the complete package...Geez you may have better luck than me:o:)

Shastastan
01-03-2013, 05:40 AM
Figure out if you want a traditional sound of vintages or eastern ukes or the modern high end tech custom sound....I guess it depends what your budget and preference is....
Most important it sounds nice to you and it has good intonation.... I'd choose with my ears first and fingers second....lastly asthetics...

Ditto. I've bought a number of instruments over the years and ukes are just 1 type. I've always chosen using sound and intonation as the #1 criteria. However, it also has to feel "right" for you and "right" means different things to different people. The most expensive may not always feel like the "right" one either.