View Full Version : Bias against "production" vs small shop ukes - who has it?

05-10-2013, 07:13 AM
Just curious:

1. Who has a genuine bias against production higher end ukes in the vein of Collings, Santa Cruz, Taylor, etc as compared to smaller shop or even one luthier operations, and if so, why?

2. What technically defines a production uke vs a "hand crafted" individually made uke.

A. Is it the number of folks who have a hand in making the uke,
B the total number of workers in a shop,
C whether it is made and completed from scratch all in one place as opposed to having components made elsewhere and then final assembly somewhere else?

05-10-2013, 07:36 AM
The worst outcome coming out of a uke purchase is having had your uke go through the hands of a person whose attention to detail was lacking for one or more of the construction steps. That scenario is not limited to one person or production shops.

It might be argued that smaller operations that operate on a thin margin might be tempted to allow minor flaws or mismatched joints to pass on rather than correct, but that outcome is probably more a function of the character of the builder as opposed to his or her skill level.

If there is a constant distinction between one person operations and "production" shops as you have described them, it probably comes down to the number of eyes available on the build as it progresses. Any shop is only as good as its final QC inspection.

I had to go through three carved jazz box guitars from a smaller production operation costing $1,400 before settling on one that I considered to be fault free. OTOH, I have a Taylor Mini GS ($499) that came from one of the obviously larger production operations that is flawless, as was every other Mini I inspected prior to purchase.

05-10-2013, 07:48 AM
There's a very good article on the differences between handmade and factory-made guitars:

I believe the same applies to ukuleles too.

05-10-2013, 07:52 AM
I've heard it argued that all ukuleles are "hand-made", some are just hand-made in factories.

05-10-2013, 08:43 AM
I try not to be biased at all, but to the extent that I have a bias it is probably the opposite of what you suggest. Given ukes in approximately the same price range I am more likely to purchase a "production" KoAloha, Kanilea, Ko'Olau, maybe US Martin, etc. simply because these companies have a long-standing tradition of consistently producing very good instruments with superb attention to detail. For the most part they made, and learned from, their mistakes years ago. Are they perfect? No, but they're darned close and the percentage of their ukes that are so superb that I cannot find fault with playability, tone, volume, or attention to simple details is much higher than with many small operations that are competing in the same price range. I've not seen that kind of consistency in attention to detail from any but the very cream of the crop in small operations - and that cream usually comes with a price tag and a waiting list that I just can't do. :) Honestly, I suspect that one could count on the fingers of one hand - with a couple of fingers left over - the number of small operations that sell in the same price range as a "K-brand" that match the K-brand for consistent quality.

You specifically mentioned Taylor and Collings, though, (price wise a hefty step up from "K-brand") and I am very unlikely to buy either simply because I believe that, while they are very good instruments, their ukes are very overpriced and those companies are probably looking at them as a fad market to be capitalized on and then forgotten. I love Taylor guitars but if they were serious about the ukulele market they would be producing a line of ukes, not a gimmicky uke and guitar set obviously aimed at the "put it in a glass display case to make all your buddies jealous but for heavens sake don't play it and damage its value" collector crowd.


05-10-2013, 10:22 AM
A good instrument is a good instrument, period.