PDA

View Full Version : How good can a ukulele be?



Cwatsonj
04-06-2013, 10:10 PM
Hi
I have been playing for over a year and have already upgraded my ukulele. I bought a Kala tenor acacia for 300. I am wondering how this compares and do I have many more levels to go. I know tone is personal choice and certain wood are expensive due to availability but what I am wondering about is clarity of sound and playability. When you hit a note and it rings clear any long. This uku is a lot better than my last but can it get better? I don't have a local shop where I can experiment and when I have picked up an expensive uku in a shop I can't really tell.

NewKid
04-06-2013, 10:28 PM
Ken Timms makes a fabulous and affordable ukulele there in the UK. I would try one of his instruments next but I think he only sells on ebay.

http://www.ukuleleunderground.com/forum/showthread.php?76350-Ken-Timms-Soprano

Of course, Pete Howlett is also well-renowned but I've only seen and heard his wonderful instruments online. However, he has a shop you can visit or check him out here: http://petehowlettukulele.co.uk/

Good luck!

ickybaby
04-07-2013, 03:47 AM
To the OP. Granted I'm a relative newcomer to the uke but to answer your question....from a practical stance....atfter a certain point a uke will only be so good.

In other words I don't really think that a $3000 ukulele is musically better than MANY that can be had for $500-$900. After a while you are paying for a name and wood grain and whatever log it came from and bling and, and, and, etc....

If the tone is to your liking, the action works for you, and it's a solid build....that's what you need in a musical instrument.

Pondoro
04-07-2013, 03:53 AM
I thought they leveled out at about $400 - $500 but last summer I got to play a couple of very expensive K brand ukes (one was well over $1000 and a custom job that was over $4000). Not only did I notice the difference but my wife, who does not play the uke, noticed the difference as well. Still I'm a hobbyist and I cheerfully went back to my cheaper ukes with an intact bank account and very little regret.

austin1
04-07-2013, 04:04 AM
I've heard it said that the difference between a 500 dollar ukulele and a 100 dollars ukulele is much greater than the difference between a 1000 dollar uke and a 500 dollar uke, and from personal experience, I'd have to agree. That's not to say that there is no difference between a 1000 dollar uke and a 500 dollar uke, but only that the difference isn't necessarily as dramatic.

I have the same uke you do, and I like it better than many of the ukes I've played that retail for twice and even three times as much. I'm sure there's a degree of personal preference in there, but as a broke student, it's enough to keep me from buying more ukes. Maybe when I'm all grown up!

fumanshu
04-07-2013, 04:15 AM
I personnally think if you never own a ''high end'' custom uke, you just don't know how good a uke can be but the day that you play and own one, then you just realize that a high end uke can sound much much richer than average ukes....

Not only they can sound richer and fuller but if they are well set up, they can be a charm to play also.....

roxhum
04-07-2013, 04:16 AM
I will never be able to afford a $1,000 ukulele. My first year of playing I bought and sold many ukes in the $200 to $500 price range. I had several luthier made ukes. I learned what I liked and didn't like. I found them all to be pretty comparable. I found the Mainlands to be so very nice to play and the best bang for the buck and those are the ones I ended up keeping. I kept them because some $400 soprano's really weren't better than my $150 Mainland. Others I sold, and often regret, because I am not a collector and they duplicated another uke that I preferred, or liked equally so I sold the more expensive ukes. The best uke I personally had in sound and playability has been my Kamaka that I got second hand for $400. That was before Kamaka raised their prices and you can't find them for that price anymore. In my opinion if you can't afford the top dollar ukes the $200 to $500 ukes are more than good enough. Of course you can get lemons too. Of all the ukes I have bought and sold there was only one I didn't really like. All of them were good. I was lucky, most I have bought second hand and all of them came with good set-ups. Even my first laminate for $40 off ebay. I am actually afraid to even try a $1,000 super good uke, I might get it in my head that I must have one. I am happy with what I have.

GASguy
04-07-2013, 04:25 AM
One thing I have seen mentioned by others in these types of discussions about stringed / fretted musical instruments is "the law of diminishing returns". I understand that while the increase in quality from a $100 uke to a $1000 uke is large, the increase in quality from a $3000 uke to a $4000 is much smaller than the upgrade from $100 to $1000.

I don't think it is quite that simple as qualities like "tone" and even "playability" are somewhat to very subjective and influenced by personal preference.

A case in point, recently I recieved a new Compass Rose uke and a used Collings uke purchased here on UU.

They are extremely different but both are very high quality instruments.

I don't think I can honestly say that one is better than the other; I can only say brand x has these attributes that I really like but brand y has different attributes that I really like.

So I think a lot of what contributes to the impression of a good uke is controlled or at least influenced by personal preferance.
Just my 2 cents; your milage may vary.

Paul December
04-07-2013, 05:22 AM
Better ukes do get louder...
...and once you've played one, everything else sounds dull.

Pete Howlett
04-07-2013, 05:37 AM
Ford focus or Aston Martin - there is your analogy. No factory built instrument can compare with a bespoke built ukulele. It's the same with a hand made suit, or meat bought from a quality butcher. You simply and nearly always get what you pay for.

Cwatsonj
04-07-2013, 06:28 AM
Thank you
I have read my 300 Kala tenor acacia is a mid range ukulele.
Would you agree?
But....
It is a solid wood. I can't fault the workmanship and has been set up by the shop. Where would the xtra bucks go?
As fumanshu said, maybe I need to play one to find out?

I couple of days ago I bought a Risa tenor stick ukulele and through an iPhone and head phones it rings long and sweet like a harp. It is beautiful to listen to just playing a scale. I was wondering if I was missing out on this with the Kala only being a mid range ukulele or if this is just the advantage of an electric ukulele?

stevepetergal
04-07-2013, 06:30 AM
Ford focus or Aston Martin - there is your analogy. No factory built instrument can compare with a bespoke built ukulele. It's the same with a hand made suit, or meat bought from a quality butcher. You simply and nearly always get what you pay for.

This is perfectly stated. I like the automobile analogy best. Some of the things that make the Aston Martin more desirable are aesthetic, but many are technical and can be called "better".

I've played lots of ukuleles, and the reputable, luthier-built are by far better than manufactured. But, as you go up in price, at some point the money is just going to extras.

You can get an Aston Martin with a custom paint job, or fancier wheels... You can get a Moore Bettuh with magnificent inlays. But, is the blinged out model "better" than the plain? Probably not.

DaveVisi
04-07-2013, 07:42 AM
I couldn't imagine my $150 Kala ever sounding this good. Of course, I don't imagine I'll ever play this good either, so something like that would be wasted on me. I'm sticking to what I've got.


http://youtu.be/h0SJAIPEH7Y

fumanshu
04-07-2013, 08:07 AM
Better ukes do get louder...
...and once you've played one, everything else sounds dull.

I agree with this statement, I think it was what I was trying to explain in my reply earlier in the thread.....I would add, not only louder but fuller and richer in term of sound......general better tonal quality and not only louder I would say because loud doesn't necessary better in term of sound quality.....

OldePhart
04-07-2013, 08:37 AM
For some "casual" players a Mainland or well set up higher-end solid-wood Kala is all the uke they will every really need. Until you play often and long enough to develop a really good ear and appreciation of the difference in sustain and so on there is little save bling things like nice wood and what not to distinguish between one of these and a "K-brand" or high-end luthier uke (and not all luthier ukes are necessarily what I would call high-end).

Also, in the "factory" ukes category you sometimes get lucky and get a really stunning uke - the difference being you can't count on that happening the way you can from the "K-brands" and top luthiers. My best uke is a Mainland mahogany soprano - it really outperforms my KoAloha longneck. However, I don't expect that if I bought several more Mainlands they would necessarily be as amazingly good. I can say the latter with a fair degree of confidence because I own several Mainlands and, while I think that dollar for dollar they may be one of the best deals around, it would be pretty unrealistic to expect them to consistently perform like a K-brand.

Also, watch UOGB videos on YouTube some time. That can be very enlightening. Sometimes they play vintage Martins (especially George) or custom or other high-end ukes - but look closely at the headstocks and you'll see sometimes some of them play a Kala and Hester seems to favor what I am pretty sure is an Applause uke.

I think as you go up in price you first begin to see consistency of setup - either from the factory or because you are paying more to have a really reliable shop set the instrument up. Keep going up and you begin to see consistency of voice - one "x model" uke sounding as good as the other "x model" ukes. Keep going up from there and you begin to see that consistency of voice hold steady but the voicing across the line actually gets better - better sustain, more complex tone, greater volume. And, of course, at some point bling gets involved.

The bottom line is that there is a point where you begin to get into diminishing returns - you have to spend a significant amount of money for an insignificant increase in tone, volume, sustain, playability, and so on. The tricky part is that point is different for everyone because it depends on their ability to distinguish between good and better and on their ability to afford the next level. In fact, the point for an individual changes based on their circumstances.

For me, currently, that point seems to be right around the K-brand price point for uke sizes that I consider my "main instrument" and around the Mainland price point for uke sizes that I don't play as often. If I had deeper pockets, I suspect that the PoDR would fall more to the custom level for my main axe and the K-brand level for everything else.

John

TheOnlyUkeThatMatters
04-07-2013, 08:51 AM
It doesn't matter if your uke cost 300 or 1,000 or even 5,000 pounds. If your uke sounds good to you now, it will sound better and better to you as you continue to improve as a player. The biggest factor determining a ukulele's tone isn't the wood or the build (and it's certainly not the brand)---it's the player.

Have fun with your Kala, it's a nice uke!

TheCraftedCow
04-07-2013, 09:20 PM
The other day I played a ukulele by www.lesstansellguitars.com . I laugh at the price of quality built ukuleles when compared to quality built violin bows. Not the violin..just the bow. Violins for a concert grade easily runs $ XXX,000.00. I often thank God that we were blessed with a concert pianist rather than a violinist.
Some people cannot tell the difference between instruments That is comment about the hearer rather than the instrument. Les Stansell's ukuleles are not coated in bling. The feel of the fretboard is superb. The 16th fret is just as pure and in tune as the first or second. The body is without bling, and sanded to 400 grit inside to keep it from being a dust catcher. I am sufficiently skilled to say that a $2100 would improve my playing. Put a young person on a so-so piano or sewing machine, and they will not be sure if they are unskilled or if it's the machine which hinders success. The same thing holds true for musical instruments.

experimentjon
04-07-2013, 11:03 PM
As someone who has owned ukes across the spectrum and only moved upmarket since I started, here's what I think. I'll use Tenors so that we can compare apples to apples. And I'll use retail prices to be fair...because with only a few exceptions, I've bought my ukes on sale or used to get more bang for the buck.

$60 Leolani Laminate Mahogany Tenor: Incredible bang for the buck on this one. Got it as part of a $100 bundle at Sams Club: Uke Crazy style case, chromatic tuner/metronome that worked surprisingly well, Aquilas installed, and a spare set of Aquilas included. Seriously a good deal if I've ever seen one. It actually sounded very good for a budget uke because of the Aquilas and I used it throughout college. Lots of memories with this instrument.
$250 Koa Pili Koko Tenor: A big jump in price for a night and day difference. That KPK was an amazing instrument and were very popular here on UU for a while. Solid wood, and a great price. Sounded fantastic with low G Worth clears. When you make that upgrade to solid wood, you do get quite a bit of benefit.
$250 Fluke/Applause UAE148 Tenors:: These were in the same price range but different from the KPK. They did sound good for what they were, and I did love both. The UAE148 probably has the best pickup for the price. And the Fluke has been thrown around while traveling and took it without any complaint.
$450 Pono Koa Tenor Gloss: Back when Pono made instruments out of Koa (I think they discontinued them a while ago), this was a great entry-level instrument especially because it came with an excellent hard case. But to be honest, despite it's fat body, I thought the KPK sounded better. This one was quite a looker though. So this is proof that you can pay more and get a bit of "meh."
$500 Mele Koa Top Tenor: Also overseas produced, and I believe they are set up in HI. You got all the nice solid woods: koa, mahogany, ebony, with top and back bindings..and a subtle rosette. It played like a charm. LOVE this ukulele to death.
$1000: Kamaka/KoAloha/Kanilea Tenors: At this point, you make a BIG jump up in price from overseas-production to Hawaii-made. To be honest, I thought the KPK sounded just as good as any of these...and actually held its resale value just as well. Having owned all three, I think all three were great instruments. But I have no illusions that they were necessarily better sounding than the KPK. They all sure did look better though. And were all set up well from the factory. I had to do my own setup on the KPK.
$1500: KoAloha Pineapple Sunday: What a beautiful instrument. IMO, you're paying strictly for style with this one. It does sound good, but not necessarily better than KoAloha's own Tenor.
$3000: Custom Kanileas: I think when you play in the upper end of the market, I think you're paying a lot for aesthetics and exclusivity. Does a custom Kanilea tenor sound better than a K1-T? Yes. It sounds better, plays better, and looks better. I'd be lying if I said otherwise. But only marginally on the first two points. If I were to quantify it, I'd say the custom is a 10% improvement sound-wise over the base-model tenor. Is premium koa, bindings, a rosette, slotted headstock worth the differential? It's subjective. But you also get some functional benefits: upgraded tuners and a pickup.

So basically, diminishing marginal returns is true. Once you pay enough to get solid woods, tonally, you are probably most of the way to the best instruments available. And I see minimal benefit above about the $3k mark unless you have unlimited piles of money (not a bad problem to have) and want some incredible inlay work. But what do I know, I've never tried that range...but probably never will.

HeWhoTalksLoudSayinNothin
04-07-2013, 11:05 PM
I thought they leveled out at about $400 - $500 but last summer I got to play a couple of very expensive K brand ukes (one was well over $1000 and a custom job that was over $4000). Not only did I notice the difference but my wife, who does not play the uke, noticed the difference as well. Still I'm a hobbyist and I cheerfully went back to my cheaper ukes with an intact bank account and very little regret.

I would like to add that in your case you probably knew beforehand how much this expensive uke costs, right? There is a lot to subjective influence that you can only get out of the way by blind testing, which in the case of ukes is of course difficult, especially for beginners/intermediates. If you wanted to be 100% accurate in testing something like that, not only you need not to know what you are actually playing, but also the person handing the ukes to you should also not know which one it is (=double blind test). Of course not very practical to do ;)
So it may very well be it only sounded better to you and your wife, because you knew its a much more expensive uke and it just HAS to sound better because of that. Not saying its any of your fault or anything, just something to keep in mind for everyone when talking about what sounds better than what.

PereBourik
04-08-2013, 03:39 AM
Price and value are separate constructs. The market sets price. Tastes set value. My best ukuleles are $400-500 range. To my ear they sound great. I can't imagine that I would hear the difference that being a K-brand would make. But then, before these ukes I couldn't hear the intonation faults of my Lanikai Pineapple or the shorter sustain of my Luna Tattoo. Disclaimers: I've only been playing for a few months; a good player could probably make my low-end ukuleles sound mighty fine. So, just keep strummin', just keep strummin'. I'm pretty sure that I will oneday own a K-brand ukulele. It won't matter if I can hear the difference.

Price does not equal value.

roxhum
04-08-2013, 03:43 AM
. I'm pretty sure that I will oneday own a K-brand ukulele. It won't matter if I can hear the difference.

Price does not equal value.[/QUOTE]

Oh trust me, you will notice the difference of the K-brand ukulele. I think the expensive ukes do sound better, and play smoother. The question is are they worth the extra money. Are they twice or three times better? Particularly if you can't afford them.

roxhum
04-08-2013, 03:46 AM
I also would like to add in defense of the luthiers that I find value in a hand made instrument, or even an American made instrument, for us her in the US, and they are worth paying extra for.

NewKid
04-08-2013, 04:36 AM
My best ukuleles are $400-500 range.

I have four wonderful ukuleles in that range: '50s Harmony Baritone, '62 Favilla B2 Baritone, Ken Timms Style O soprano and vintage Kamaka Gold Label Pineapple.

They are just as good or better than my more expensive ukuleles but I love them just as much. I hope that my newer more expensive ukuleles mature as well as these high-value instruments.

azfireman
04-08-2013, 06:12 AM
Hi...just my 2 cents worth..I own 1 Kamaka, 1 Kanilea, 1 Koaloha, 2 Loprinzi's, 1 Breedlove and a host of less expensive uke's. Don't spend your hard earned money on an expensive uke until you develop your own style and playing preferences. It seems to be all about what your comfortable playing with and what fits you. So many variables such as neck length and width at nut, fret size and height, body size and what tone woods sound nice to you..I personally love the sound and action of my Breedlove but my Ovation tenor is the one that stays on the couch and I practice with most...and when plugged in its the bomb!...lol and all for a price in the 400-500 from HMS...I also own a Pono tenor which is a great value for the money and quality is superb...

Cooper Black
04-08-2013, 06:20 AM
Double-blind tests are flawed IMO because they are are tests and not musical performances. There is no test I can think of that would help me determine which uke will perform the best in a large acoustic jam circle (a fairly objective test for the qualities I require). Sound bites and video clips are helpful but the data is heavily biased towards "good recorded sound" and I often need something else.

The video clip earlier in the thread has great tone and great playing. Her instrument suits her style very well. Would that same instrument suit me? Maybe so, maybe not (but I would never hand it back either).

To the OP: Think about the style(s) you want to play, and the qualities you need in an uke that best support your musical efforts. SUstain seems to be one quality you like/want/need. Make a list of things you like about every uke you try. Eventually you'll find what works for you.

Good luck!

Stevelele
04-08-2013, 06:37 AM
Price absolutely doesn't equal the best quality, although you usually have to pay to get the best stuff. Sometimes you get lucky though. I would bring my cracked Ohana willow/cedar soprano to challenge against any soprano out there. I think the fact that I have played it so much and maybe even the cracks have made it sound incredible. When Kris Barnett came to my house and tried all of my expensive custom ukes, he was actually most surprised and impressed by the little cracked ohana that somehow produces a magnificent sound. In fact, I had a glyph soprano, and even though it was awesome, it didn't sound as good as the Ohana, so I sold it.

Gadzukes!
04-08-2013, 06:46 AM
The tonal return on investment tends to diminish after a certain point. When you get above $1,000 you're primarily paying for aesthetics and brand names.

Pondoro
04-08-2013, 07:12 AM
I would like to add that in your case you probably knew beforehand how much this expensive uke costs, right? There is a lot to subjective influence that you can only get out of the way by blind testing, which in the case of ukes is of course difficult, especially for beginners/intermediates. If you wanted to be 100% accurate in testing something like that, not only you need not to know what you are actually playing, but also the person handing the ukes to you should also not know which one it is (=double blind test). Of course not very practical to do ;)
So it may very well be it only sounded better to you and your wife, because you knew its a much more expensive uke and it just HAS to sound better because of that. Not saying its any of your fault or anything, just something to keep in mind for everyone when talking about what sounds better than what.

Interesting - I knew I was playing a very high price uke. All my wife knew was that it looked very pretty. Although my body language probably influenced her as well. I agree there are a lot of "non-musical" factors involved.

70sSanO
04-08-2013, 09:54 AM
To reply to the OPs original question. A lot depends on where you want to go with the uke.

For example, if you pick up a classical guitar and are strumming chords, you will notice a difference as you get more quality. Now if you are playing classical music with all of its nuances in tone and volume, you will know right away.

In other words, if you can't really tell you have the right uke for now. If in 6 months or a year, you begin to wish that your uke had a little more of this or that, then when you play a higher quality ukulele, you may be able to tell the difference. It is even more than just sound, how it feels, how easy it is to play, etc.

Just more dollars do not necessarily equate to a better sound, but a better made ukulele can give you a better chance of finding that better ukulele.

John

Rubio MHS
04-08-2013, 06:04 PM
A better ukulele won't make you a better ukulele player. Well, it will to a small extent, a very small one, at that. I know, when I stepped up to a solid-wood aNueNue, I enjoyed the ukulele more and practiced more.

ukeeku
04-09-2013, 01:40 AM
Play a Kanile'a (or another K brand) and you will understand how different ukes can sound and feel.

Mattyukaholic
04-09-2013, 01:51 AM
I've found that after around $600 - $800 plus it all gets very subjective and it really depends on actual ukuleles as opposed to models. E.g.yesterday I went to SUS in Bournemouth and played several ukes of the same model and some sounded so much better.

Also I think it can start being about the bling over sound after a point. Yesterday I played 3 Kiwayas - a KST-4 400, a KST-7 800, and a KSM-K 1100. I played all for some time and found the 400 KST-4 far outplayed the others and one of the guys in the shop admitted I was right. That's the Uke I bought and I'm very happy with it.

That's just my opinion though and I'm sure there are exceptions.

jangann
04-09-2013, 04:30 AM
Let me make a wine analogy, which in my opinion is always a good idea:

The difference between a $6 bottle of wine and a $20 bottle is quite obvious. The difference between a $20 bottle and a $50 bottle is noticable but not as quite as obvious. The difference between and $50 bottle and a $200 bottle is only something true wine experts can taste. And the difference between a $200 bottle and a $1000 bottle is very, very minimal, certainly not something a person like me would want to spend an extra $800 dollars on.

However, the status of having that $1000 bottle might be important, or the appreciation of it may not be based on it's taste. Having a truly fine instrument that can be played far beyond my ability might just be something important to me.

Usually I'm pretty much happy with the $6 bottle, of course . . . . And plenty merriment with my moderately priced uke.

Cwatsonj
04-09-2013, 08:12 AM
Thank you, it is great to hear so many opinions and valuable information.
I think the penny has dropped as far as when I have read that it is a mid range ukulele I think it is referring to the price bracket rather than any thing else.
It sounds like yes there is definitely improvements to be had but not improvements that at my present level would be worth considering.
I would love to try some of the ukuleles which have been talked about and it is definitely something to aspire to in the future.

icuker
04-09-2013, 09:35 AM
I think too that an understanding about the quality of a higher priced build can take time to appreciate. If you just walk into a store and stum a little bit on an expensive uke you might not appreciate the difference as you would once you've owned and played it awhile. I don't own any $1000 ukes but I do own a couple of guitars in that price range and there is a difference between them and $500 guitars. I do own one luthier made uke that I didn't pay much for because it was an early build. I do like it above all my factory made ukes.

I'd also like to add that take any product line and ask someone who deals with it everyday and they will tell there is a difference between cheaper and better made products. Whether it's clothing, cars, building materials etc, etc. Often there is no comparison.

We have a person in our uke club that buys high end stuff and when she lets me borrow them I can definitely tell the difference between what I have and what she has. And it's not always just the sound that stands out, it's the action, feel of the instrument, lightness and overall pretty looks too.

Cwatsonj
04-09-2013, 10:41 AM
Interesting I was just reading a thread "what is the best ukulele" from 2008 and read this from Pippin.

http://www.ukuleleunderground.com/forum/showthread.php?20912-what-is-truly-the-best-ukulele/page2

"I have a bunch of solid-wood, solid-topped, and laminated ukes sitting around. I am constantly "testing" ukes for Ukulele Player Magazine. What just happened this week is that I opened a package from Kala Ukes and pulled out the solid Acacia Slotted headstock tenor. When I started playing it, my wife piped up and said that it is the "best sounding ukulele I have ever heard". It did really sound wonderful."

Hippie Dribble
04-09-2013, 11:16 AM
Agreed. If it sounds good it is good.