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SnakeOiler
01-14-2009, 05:04 AM
I think I'm goiong to be in the market for a custom Uke. There's so many makers. Any good suggestions for one for about $1000 or so? Or should I just get a Kamaka or a Pono? Too many choices, I hate shopping, even for the things I love. Thanks for the help.

Kanaka916
01-14-2009, 05:07 AM
MP Ukes (http://mpukuleles.com/wst_page3.html), give Mike a call. There are a couple of members who have ordered from him. Here's some threads . . .
http://www.ukuleleunderground.com/forum/showthread.php?t=5654
http://www.ukuleleunderground.com/forum/showthread.php?t=2022
http://www.ukuleleunderground.com/forum/showthread.php?t=3428
http://www.ukuleleunderground.com/forum/showthread.php?t=6896

freedive135
01-14-2009, 06:29 AM
This guy builds some awesome Ukulele's I went to his shop a couple of weeks ago and played a couple Concerts and WOW very impressed even with my limited ability I could hear his ability as a builder. Very light in weight and huge in sound.
He seems to sell most of his stuff to Japan, I wish he built Sopranos but only Concerts and Tenors.

www.palmtreeukuleles.com

GreyPoupon
01-14-2009, 06:37 AM
I know it must be a very touchy idea to ask people to step forward and vouch for one instrument maker over another… but perhaps we can get into a discussion of different ways master makers can excel?

I can see online how some makers excel at making their instruments look truly extraordinary with all sorts of different woods, and cuts and fancy decorations – but do the top line makers differ very much in terms of the quality and content of their sound?

Does MP have a certain special sound different from a Glyph that is very distinguishable from a DeSilva that everyone knows is shockingly different from a Loprinzi and don’t even get started on the super unique sound of a Peter?

Would a really trained ear (say MGM) be able to identify a maker in a blind sound test?

Or do the established top tier guys all pretty much just sound kind of generally awesome once you get past a certain price?

wearymicrobe
01-14-2009, 06:47 AM
Would a really trained ear (say MGM) be able to identify a maker in a blind sound test?

Or do the established top tier guys all pretty much just sound kind of generally awesome once you get past a certain price?

Actually they start to pull apart in sound and playing style, for example I can play and strum far faster on my glyph then any other ukulele that I have. If it was recorded before 1940 its the goto instrument. Say I have play with a guitar as backup something like hula girl. Kanile'a no question in a tenor.

And for some funny reason, if I need to use a pickup and play really hard distorted song Ogata similar.

hoosierhiver
01-14-2009, 06:47 AM
Ask Pete Howlett.

Kanaka916
01-14-2009, 07:00 AM
I think your question would be better answered in the Ukulele Builder/Luthier's Lounge section.

SnakeOiler
01-14-2009, 07:10 AM
I can see online how some makers excel at making their instruments look truly extraordinary with all sorts of different woods, and cuts and fancy decorations – but do the top line makers differ very much in terms of the quality and content of their sound?

Does MP have a certain special sound different from a Glyph that is very distinguishable from a DeSilva that everyone knows is shockingly different from a Loprinzi and don’t even get started on the super unique sound of a Peter?


That's the main problem I'm having. How do I know which builder makes the Uke with the sound I like and want? It's impossible to play them all, so how do I decide?

GX9901
01-14-2009, 07:30 AM
That's the main problem I'm having. How do I know which builder makes the Uke with the sound I like and want? It's impossible to play them all, so how do I decide?

When I commissioned William King to build me a tenor, he asked what type of music I like to play. I sent him links to some videos of me playing ukulele and he built me pretty much exactly what I wanted in terms of sound. You can work with your luthier on getting what kind of sound you are looking for, being much more detailed than what I did. I think a highly skilled luthier such as William King should be able to make you very happy once you discuss with him/her what you're looking for.

nikolo727
01-14-2009, 08:01 AM
Ask Pete Howlett.

ill second that choice.

SnakeOiler
01-14-2009, 08:11 AM
ill second that choice.


Does he make regular ones or just electric?

thejumpingflea
01-14-2009, 08:15 AM
ill second that choice.

I don't know his pricing, but I believe he charges more than 1K for a custom in most cases....

Go with MP. I have a soprano made by him that I feel connected to in the way I have never been to a musical instrument. For details on the construction, woods and such go HERE. (http://www.thejumpingflea.net/The_Jumping_Flea/UAS/Pages/The_Jumping_Flea.html)

I am actually talking with him now about a tenor. :D

dnewton2
01-14-2009, 08:39 AM
Depending on what you are looking for, you could also look into a bigger outfit. For example you could get a Kanile'a basic model then make some upgrades like inlays, radius fretboard, pickup, rosetta, binding or whatever. Depending on the size and upgrades you could probably get one for under a grand.

If you are looking to be very specific about everything probably go with a smaller outfit like MP. But I am guessing the more detail provided the more $$$. Also might check out Road Toad (http://www.roadtoadmusic.com/main.html). There is also a woman named Lori that sells her ukes on ebay and FMM, I have see her ad that says she will build what you want, and from what I have seen she sells at pretty reasonable prices.

SnakeOiler
01-14-2009, 08:46 AM
Also might check out Road Toad (http://www.roadtoadmusic.com/main.html).

Damn, that's some crazy ass shit there!

GX9901
01-14-2009, 08:52 AM
Chuck Moore (http://www.moorebettahukes.com/FORSALE.html) will build you a uke for $1000-1200 without options.

nikolo727
01-14-2009, 08:57 AM
Does he make regular ones or just electric?

he makes both. I would talk to him. It really depends on what you want done to the uke, that will decipher the pricing. as for quality and sound, he is dead on. he also has great wood available, and all of his ukes sound great.

thejumpingflea
01-14-2009, 09:32 AM
he makes both. I would talk to him. It really depends on what you want done to the uke, that will decipher the pricing. as for quality and sound, he is dead on. he also has great wood available, and all of his ukes sound great.

Do you own a Howlett uke?

wearymicrobe
01-14-2009, 09:37 AM
Depending on what you are looking for, you could also look into a bigger outfit. For example you could get a Kanile'a basic model then make some upgrades like inlays, radius fretboard, pickup, rosetta, binding or whatever. Depending on the size and upgrades you could probably get one for under a grand.



I would say that is a impossibility under 1K, once you go custom pricing really does start to change a lot with really any of the larger outfits.

SnakeOiler
01-14-2009, 09:40 AM
Depending on what you are looking for, you could also look into a bigger outfit. For example you could get a Kanile'a basic model then make some upgrades like inlays, radius fretboard, pickup, rosetta, binding or whatever. Depending on the size and upgrades you could probably get one for under a grand.
I have been looking at a basic Kamaka Tenor, which sounds great and is about a grand. But that's my dilemma. Do I go with that or since I'm spending what, to me anyway, is a ton of money, do I opt for the custom?

dnewton2
01-14-2009, 09:53 AM
I would say that is a impossibility under 1K, once you go custom pricing really does start to change a lot with really any of the larger outfits.

It would be tough but that why I said depending on what you want. Get a K-1 sop. ($500-$600) add a radius fretboard ($125) add a passive pickup ($185). Technically custom and under a grand. It wouldn't be all blinged out but still custom. I do agree it will be tough to get it under a grand.


I have been looking at a basic Kamaka Tenor, which sounds great and is about a grand. But that's my dilemma. Do I go with that or since I'm spending what, to me anyway, is a ton of money, do I opt for the custom?

I hear that buddy, I am also about to drop a nice amount of change on a uke and have been looking around for months to try and make sure I get something I really want.

upskydowncloud
01-14-2009, 09:55 AM
I have been looking at a basic Kamaka Tenor, which sounds great and is about a grand. But that's my dilemma. Do I go with that or since I'm spending what, to me anyway, is a ton of money, do I opt for the custom?

Hey you can get a Kamaka tenor direct from the factory for $882 (plus shipping). You can add options to that like better koa wood (3A for $320 or 4A for $450) ebony finger board and bridge with mother of pearl position dots ($80) and a range of other bindings. So you could get the tenor with one or two small upgrades for $1000 and it would be semi-custom or at least special.

There's something about the heritage and value of something like Kamaka that makes them pretty attractive, Aldrine does well with his! If you really want a custom uke I'd save up more personally and get one with everything you want. That takes time though!

I got a 'special' Kamaka for Christmas and value that more than any custom.

GX9901
01-14-2009, 10:08 AM
The real value in a custom instrument isn't the amount of bling and options you can put on the uke. It's the fact that you have one luthier working on your uke and personally building every part of the uke to provide the best sound to the best of his or her ability.
For instance, I don't think it's possible for a factory setup, however great the company might be, to outdo having the likes of Pete Howlett or William King tuning and graduating a ukulele top.

SnakeOiler
01-14-2009, 10:22 AM
For instance, I don't think it's possible for a factory setup, however great the company might be, to outdo having the likes of Pete Howlett or William King tuning and graduating a ukulele top.

But I would imagine one of the reasons that Kamakas or Ko'olaus are so expensive is that conceivably, every one they have working there is as good as Pete or William.

GreyPoupon
01-14-2009, 03:27 PM
The real value in a custom instrument isn't the amount of bling and options you can put on the uke. It's the fact that you have one luthier working on your uke and personally building every part of the uke to provide the best sound to the best of his or her ability.
For instance, I don't think it's possible for a factory setup, however great the company might be, to outdo having the likes of Pete Howlett or William King tuning and graduating a ukulele top.

Yeah. And that goes back to my earlier point. It is very easy for makers to differentiate themselves with bling and appearance - but if you are shopping around for sound it seems very difficult, especially over the internets, to decide which maker is a good match for you. It seems someone wanting to make an informed decision on sound can not get any information beyond "his work is great!"

Why are you sure a factory setup can not match a Howlett or King? Can you really hear the difference? I am reminded of a recent blind taste test of red wines in which people could not differentiate in taste between expensive and cheap wines - but when they were told some were more expensive at once decided the more expensive ones tasted better.

SnakeOiler
01-14-2009, 03:33 PM
I am reminded of a recent blind taste test of red wines in which people could not differentiate in taste between expensive and cheap wines - but when they were told some were more expensive at once decided the more expensive ones tasted better.

I believe there is also a famous case like this with violins. Where they gave blind listening tests and some cheap ones scored as high as priceless Stradivarius.

That could be an urban legend though.

The main thing I'm looking for is a good chest thumping sound.

GreyPoupon
01-14-2009, 03:38 PM
I believe there is also a famous case like this with violins. Where they gave blind listening tests and some cheap ones scored as high as priceless Stradivarius.

That could be an urban legend though.

The main thing I'm looking for is a good chest thumping sound.

The famous case is a modern violin maker who had developed a modern method to create new violins that sound just like a Stradivarius. In blind tests peope can not hear the difference and his instruments go for $10,000.

SuperSecretBETA
01-14-2009, 03:57 PM
Just remember that there are good cheap ukuleles and bad cheap ukuleles. Cheap is an ambiguous term. Pay closest attention to the construction quality.

Bad intonation will ruin everything no matter what materials, tuners, or action height.

Moore Bettah Ukuleles
01-14-2009, 03:57 PM
GX9901, I like how you stated that.

SnakeOiler
01-14-2009, 04:05 PM
SnakeOiler,
I really need to stay out of this discussion but you could be wrong. Very wrong.
GX9901, You've stated it like it is.

No, I value your opinion.
I assume you're talking about the care and attention you put into your instruments. How I'm sure that you obsess over every detail and measurement. Are you saying that high end production models from Kamaka and Ko'olau are priced more because of the name? Am I wrong in assuming that they have a staff full of highly qualified luthiers whose main difference from guys like you or MP is that they just aren't on their own?

GX9901
01-14-2009, 04:12 PM
Yeah. And that goes back to my earlier point. It is very easy for makers to differentiate themselves with bling and appearance - but if you are shopping around for sound it seems very difficult, especially over the internets, to decide which maker is a good match for you. It seems someone wanting to make an informed decision on sound can not get any information beyond "his work is great!"

Why are you sure a factory setup can not match a Howlett or King? Can you really hear the difference? I am reminded of a recent blind taste test of red wines in which people could not differentiate in taste between expensive and cheap wines - but when they were told some were more expensive at once decided the more expensive ones tasted better.

I guess it's certainly possible for a factory to turn out a few instruments that are equal or superior to a luthier built instrument, but in general, that should not be the case (providing that the luthier is indeed good at what he does, which is not always a given) because in a factory setup, the people working on the instruments must turn out a certain number of instruments per day/week/month and simply does not have the time and or perhaps the skills to optimize the instrument the way a good luthier could.

I ordered a custom tenor from William King and I believe it took him 3-4 months to build the instrument. He can draw from decades of instrument building experience to do things like top tuning, bracing, etc. Because he did not have a time constraint to build the instrument, it can be fine tuned until he's satisfied that it is as good as it can be. This is simply not feasable at a factory setup. Sure, all the workers at Kamaka could possibly be as skilled as William King, but if that was the case, guys like William King and Pete Howlett probably would be out of work by now. Check out William King's journal (http://www.chantus.com/journal/)for a ton of interesting stuff on fine lutherie.

From my personal experience, I've played KoAlohas, Kanile'as, Kamaka, Kelii, Ko'olau, and many other brands of ukuleles, mostly from a trip to Oahu (http://gx9901ukes.blogspot.com/2008/01/impressions.html)last year in addition to the ukes I own. In my opinion, there is a real difference in not only the sound but also the feel of the instrument when it comes to custom luthier built instruments. The three custom level ukes I own, a King tenor, a Koa Works tenor, and a Kepasa concert, are, to me, distinctly different from and are superior to the other ukes I own. In the case of the Koa Works tenor, I got to play a pile of custom ukes at Shawn's from ukulelefriend.com during that Oahu trip and it won out even over ukes costing twice as much.

Moore Bettah Ukuleles
01-14-2009, 05:05 PM
For obvious reasons I really need to stay out of a discussion about other ukulele builders work. I can only speak for myself. I am sure I am not unique amongst other luthiers who run a one man shop.
I enjoy and take pride in the fact that I am involved in absolutely every step of the ukulele building process. From selecting the right wood to cutting, shaping, sanding, gluing, fretting, spraying, buffing, setting up and on and on, I've had my hand involved in every step. I make my own bindings, purflings, kerfings, inlays, etc. I make my own molds, forms and all of the jigs necessary for the job. Heck, I even built my shop. I also do the book keeping, "run the store", maintain the web site and do all the general maintainace and repairs. That's a lot of hats to wear and at times I wish I had help. But I know that no one else could live up to the high standards I set for myself. It also helps that I absolutely love what I do. For me it's all about quality control and attention to detail. My name is going to be on these ukes for a long time.
And just for the record, I love my 25 year old Kamaka!

SnakeOiler
01-14-2009, 05:16 PM
Chuck, did you get my PM?

GreyPoupon
01-14-2009, 05:29 PM
In my opinion, there is a real difference in not only the sound but also the feel of the instrument when it comes to custom luthier built instruments.

Can you please go into a little more detail and try to describe the 'real difference' between a custom and a mass produced?

I am sure there are many of us who have never picked up a custom instrument who are very curious.

Chuck- Yes, I understand why you can't comment on other builders but I would love to hear more about the general topic of custom versus batch or mass production.

thanks!

drubin
01-14-2009, 05:50 PM
Just one more opinion to add to the pile here: I think GX's comments are very perceptive and insightful. And he speaks from pretty extensive experience. ;) FWIW, my experience has been very similar to his. As I've said before, once you go custom...;):music::D

GX9901
01-14-2009, 06:42 PM
Can you please go into a little more detail and try to describe the 'real difference' between a custom and a mass produced?

I am sure there are many of us who have never picked up a custom instrument who are very curious.


I'm not good at describing sound, but in the good custom ukes I've played, they all have more crisp and clear sounding notes as well as better clarity and sustain up and down the fretboard. This is more obvious when played back to back with a typical factory instrument. I also feel a much more distinct vibration from picking or strumming that is abscent from most, if not all, factory built ukes I've handled. This "feedback" combined with the note clarity when playing it gives a sensation that is rare to find in production instruments (I do have a Kanile'a super tenor that approaches this level of sound and feel). Also, the 3 custom ukes I own were setup with pretty much optimal action (i.e. very low but no buzzing) by the luthier who built them, whereas a factory instrument is usually setup a bit high in an effort to avoid buzzing.

A while back I made a video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HgmvpZncKn8&feature=channel_page)with the Koa Works tenor and 2 Pono tenors playing the same song. Not sure if anyone can tell the difference between the 3 ukes, but in person the Koa Works blows the other two away.

uluapoundr
01-14-2009, 07:44 PM
GX, I have similar expriences as you do but the last time there was a discussion here on custom vs. factory, well, it wasn't well accepted. I have a feeling that those who were so defensive never played a custom uke, or an uke long enough fo that that matter to tell the difference. Someone commented that the hype of custom ukes was just showing how much expendable money those who own customs have...not true. I think it's great that you share your experiences. I too heard the difference in note clarity especially, something people seem to overlook.

Fretboard material is also an upgrade that some overlook. You'll read about fretboard and how it affects playing in the guitar world, but mention it on an uke forum and you'll be accused of being too technical. There is so much variation in uke finishes. Some think there is only two or three types of finish, gloss, satin, and semi gloss. But there is so much more to it than that. In fact there is so much behind finishes that it's often a trade secret that is not often shared amongst luthiers. Finish is not only for looks, but it also plays a part in adjusting sound and protects the uke..durability. Some custom builders will tune their top and backs by adjusting bracing and top thickness to get the response they desire. Then there's other details like nut and saddle material, string angles, head angles, neck stiffness, and on, an on, and on.

Kekani
01-14-2009, 07:57 PM
Referring to the comments of GX9901 re: Factory v. custom, I believe the reference is to a Factory Rack instrument v. a Custom.

That, to me, is not a fair comparison, but I don't think that was the issue either.

The comparison would be if you had Casey, Paul, Derek et al build it themselves. These instruments will be decidedly different from a rack Kamaka, KoAloha or G-String. Dare I say, yes, a Casey Kamaka built custom will NOT be the same as a Kamaka Hawaii instrument. Only those with customs (or those that have played customs) will understand this concept, and pick up on the differences.

Personally, there are two things that a custom instrument NEEDS to have focused on to even make it worth it to consider - sound, and playability. Simply put? Yes. Simply accomplished? No.

As Chuck pointed out, he is in control of everything, from start to finish. Unless you really have a consultation with your builder, a statement like that may mean something, or it may mean nothing. As a client, a statement like that will mean everything, and you're sure to find this out once the instrument is in your hands.

From a sound standpoint, a custom builder will get you what you want, and use the woods to get there as well.

From a playability standpoint, outside of setup and fret dressing (which can be done after the fact), the neck is an area that I focus on the most, simply because that's what a player "feels" when the instrument is played. Simple statement, yes. However, issues such as (especially) neck profile can be suited to the player. Is it going to be rounded, oval, thicker, thinner, flatter, wider, etc? Where is the thumb position when playing in the first position, middle, top? Is it up, correct, incorrect, etc.

While no one may be able to tell the sound difference in GX9901's songs with different `ukulele, the playbility factor is something that cannot be deciphered either (except by GX).

There are so many more factors that come into play that Laron had touched on as well. All of the so called problems and issues that this board is so full of will be almost non-existent in a quality custom.
What strings should I change to?
How do I lower my action?
How do I change tuning machines?
What strings are best for my instrument?
Why do my frets stick out?
Why does my instrument buzz?
What strings do I use for a brighter sound?
I can't play in the first position?
I can't play past the 5th fret?
What strings do I use for a mellow sound?


Don't get me wrong, those are ALL valid questions and issues (okay, a little sarcastic on the string issue). Here is where your setup, and I mean true setup, will be done by your builder. A good friend of mine once told me that the more fine tuned your instrument is, the more it reacts to the simplest things (good or bad). Example: Kerfed linings vs. reversed kerfed linings can (will) have an impact on a quality instrument and how it produces sound. Geared tuners vs. friction can make a difference (which is why I like geared), etc etc etc.

My musician friend once told me (sorry, I've shared this before, but this seems appropo), "A good musician can play any instrument." My response, "A good musician shouldn't have to."

If you have an opportunity to get a custom, do it. Know what you want, be specific (usually better), ask questions of the builder, and have fun. Cost may be an issue, but the value you get will end up without a $ attached.

-Aaron

add: We haven't even brought inlay into the picture. Most will think this is just bling. It is not.

GreyPoupon
01-14-2009, 09:05 PM
add: We haven't even brought inlay into the picture. Most will think this is just bling. It is not.

OK. Please enlighten me. How on earth is inlay not just bling?

SuperSecretBETA
01-14-2009, 10:18 PM
OK. Please enlighten me. How on earth is inlay not just bling?

Maybe it's an emotion thing.

experimentjon
01-14-2009, 11:26 PM
I think it's time that I call up a rich friend and borrow a custom uke and get some good time clocked on it so that I can feel the difference. I really am curious to see how different it is from an off-the-rack or factory instrument, since there are a lot of really fine factory instruments out there.

Would we be talking about a difference similar to the difference in feel between a Kanilea UV finished and a Kanilea Soundmonster Oil finished uke? (if any of you have also been able to play them back to back.) Because, I could feel that difference, and it was quite substantial. And if upgrading to a custom uke could give that kind of improvement in feedback and tone, then it may be a worthwhile investment for me as well, one day in the future...when I stop sucking at this instrument. XD

upskydowncloud
01-14-2009, 11:32 PM
I ordered a custom tenor from William King and I believe it took him 3-4 months to build the instrument. He can draw from decades of instrument building experience to do things like top tuning, bracing, etc. Because he did not have a time constraint to build the instrument, it can be fine tuned until he's satisfied that it is as good as it can be. This is simply not feasable at a factory setup. Sure, all the workers at Kamaka could possibly be as skilled as William King, but if that was the case, guys like William King and Pete Howlett probably would be out of work by now. Check out William King's journal (http://www.chantus.com/journal/)for a ton of interesting stuff on fine lutherie.

From my personal experience, I've played KoAlohas, Kanile'as, Kamaka, Kelii, Ko'olau, and many other brands of ukuleles, mostly from a trip to Oahu (http://gx9901ukes.blogspot.com/2008/01/impressions.html)last year in addition to the ukes I own. In my opinion, there is a real difference in not only the sound but also the feel of the instrument when it comes to custom luthier built instruments. The three custom level ukes I own, a King tenor, a Koa Works tenor, and a Kepasa concert, are, to me, distinctly different from and are superior to the other ukes I own. In the case of the Koa Works tenor, I got to play a pile of custom ukes at Shawn's from ukulelefriend.com during that Oahu trip and it won out even over ukes costing twice as much.

Isn't the point that someone like Kamaka have been making ukes since 1919 so they've honed all those skills, they don't need to fart around for months because all the work has been done decades ago, they just stick to a pattern that works?

Plainsong
01-15-2009, 01:25 AM
I don't think anyone else would say William King was farting around because he took longer to build a uke than a standard manufacturer. I can't think of a more inaccurate uke statement, other than tenor ukes are the only serious uke.

GreyPoupon
01-15-2009, 02:28 AM
I don't think anyone else would say William King was farting around because he took longer to build a uke than a standard manufacturer. I can't think of a more inaccurate uke statement, other than tenor ukes are the only serious uke.

Agreed.

But a factory shop can produce far faster than an individual because there are many experienced hands working on large batches. I also imagine that they have a specialized assembly line system where one guy makes fret boards and only fret boards, someone else does body and only bodies and so on...

I am convinced from a the testimonies here that the custom makers do make ukes a few substantial and significant steps above the mass produced ukes.

But what is not clear to me is if we are talking about mass produced versus custom made or just cheap and sloppy versus well-made.

So, yeah, I am sure a King blows a $50 Hilo out of the water without even a sweat. But how does a King do against a very high end off the rack Kanilea or Kiwaya where the price difference is no longer as dramatic, and, hopefully, the amount of labor invested is not as different as well?

Does mass production by definition produce sub-standard instruments, or is everyone just saying the obvious: generally instruments made on the cheap sound cheap?

hellojodi
01-15-2009, 03:58 AM
Peterhurney!
http://www.pohakuukulele.com/

upskydowncloud
01-15-2009, 04:20 AM
I don't think anyone else would say William King was farting around because he took longer to build a uke than a standard manufacturer. I can't think of a more inaccurate uke statement, other than tenor ukes are the only serious uke.

Let me be more specific then. What I meant is that over the last 92 years Kamaka have built up a great deal of experience in creating their ukuleles: in the build techniques; the use of wood and the sound their ukes produce. Having gone through this long process it may now be possible for them to semi-automate a lot of their build techniques because they know that their formula works. Where one luthier might spend 2 weeks working on something to get the right sound or look, a company with over 90 years experience doesn't need to do this, they know what works and what doesn't work and so are able to produce a good uke quickly.

SnakeOiler
01-15-2009, 04:47 AM
Peterhurney!
http://www.pohakuukulele.com/

Is that the guy who made your funky "V" thingy. That thing sounds great.

SamWise
01-15-2009, 05:05 AM
Let me be more specific then. What I meant is that over the last 92 years Kamaka have built up a great deal of experience in creating their ukuleles: in the build techniques; the use of wood and the sound their ukes produce. Having gone through this long process it may now be possible for them to semi-automate a lot of their build techniques because they know that their formula works. Where one luthier might spend 2 weeks working on something to get the right sound or look, a company with over 90 years experience doesn't need to do this, they know what works and what doesn't work and so are able to produce a good uke quickly.

That's a nice theory, and it holds up to a point, but not all the way. Wood is not a completely uniform material, so the best controlled production process in the world will not produce the same soundboard every time, for instance. One of the skills of the handbuilding luthier is in voicing tops, listening, tapping, choosing the right wood, thinning it hear and there. These are things that just don't happen in a factory - they choose the best quality wood to start with, they get rid of any dodgy bits, but does their model give them time to adjust everything slightly to take into account the particular characteristic of the top they have in their hands today? No it doesn't.

On top of that, when you buy a uke from a luthier, you can tell him what you want, and he can build that. Better, you can sit down with him, play lots of ukes, tell him which characteristics you like, and get his advice on getting those characteristics in a uke that suits you and whose looks you like. It's a different world.

upskydowncloud
01-15-2009, 05:22 AM
On top of that, when you buy a uke from a luthier, you can tell him what you want, and he can build that. Better, you can sit down with him, play lots of ukes, tell him which characteristics you like, and get his advice on getting those characteristics in a uke that suits you and whose looks you like. It's a different world.


Yeah I can't disagree with that, it's not really possible to compare the two as they are so different.

SamWise
01-15-2009, 05:30 AM
A fair point to make though is that like with most things, the higher up the scale you get, the less extra sound you get for your extra money. Try a $20 uke, and then one which costs $800 more, and the difference will be night and day. Double that $800, and you'll get a better uke, but nowhere near as much better. Double that $1600, and your $3200 uke might well be noticeably better than your $1600 uke, but not dramatically so (unless the cheaper one was made by a very poor luthier).

Custom ukes should be better than factory ukes, but it's a personal decision whether they are enough better to justify the extra cash. (this is all stuff I know from guitars, but I'm extrapolating, and I'm sure it all applies to ukes too).

For me, I have a guitar that cost £600. I want a McIlroy, which would cost me £1600-£2500 for approximately what I want. It will absolutely not sound 3 times better than my Washburn, but when I have that money genuinely to spare, I'll treat myself, because it will be a wonderful instrument that's a joy to play, and will make me happy every time I look at it.

haole
01-15-2009, 05:34 AM
The whole point of a custom instrument is to make it the way you want it to look, feel, and sound. But like in genetics, there's still a little room for randomness to take place, because wood and human handiwork are both inconsistent by nature. To some, that's what makes a custom instrument so special; it shows that it was made by a human being who makes instruments because they enjoy it! To others, that's what makes the whole thing a crapshoot, so a factory instrument sounds more appealing.

There's no way to tell right now if you'll like a custom uke better than the stock Kamaka, because the custom hasn't been built yet. How will you know unless you try? ;) Luthiers want you to be satisfied, and most will take the instrument back for some tweaking if there's something about it that still isn't right. if you get an instrument off the rack, it's pretty much up to you to find someone to fix it up, at your expense.

Who knows? Maybe you could get a custom builder to make you something very similar to the Kamaka you had your eye on, only with some small features that you choose (like neck shape, body depth, headstock design, inlays, fretboard material) and you'll have your very own Snake Oiler signature model. Best of both worlds! :D Or take your chances on something completely different, when you know that the luthier will do his/her best to make it right for you.

Whether you pick the Kamaka or the custom instrument, be happy that your instrument will be awesome. The degree of awesome is subjective, but I don't think you'll be disappointed either way.

GX9901
01-15-2009, 05:35 AM
Agreed.

But a factory shop can produce far faster than an individual because there are many experienced hands working on large batches. I also imagine that they have a specialized assembly line system where one guy makes fret boards and only fret boards, someone else does body and only bodies and so on...

I am convinced from a the testimonies here that the custom makers do make ukes a few substantial and significant steps above the mass produced ukes.

But what is not clear to me is if we are talking about mass produced versus custom made or just cheap and sloppy versus well-made.

So, yeah, I am sure a King blows a $50 Hilo out of the water without even a sweat. But how does a King do against a very high end off the rack Kanilea or Kiwaya where the price difference is no longer as dramatic, and, hopefully, the amount of labor invested is not as different as well?

Does mass production by definition produce sub-standard instruments, or is everyone just saying the obvious: generally instruments made on the cheap sound cheap?

What I've been comparing with the custom instruments are high end Hawaiian factory made instruments such as Kanile'a and KoAloha. I'm not saying the off-the-rack instruments are bad at all. I own several of those and I think highly of them. But what I'm saying is that in my opinion a good custom is simply at another level. It's not a case of "good" vs. "bad". It's "good" vs. "better".

Keikani speaks of the factory customs made by Kamaka (Casey Kamaka), KoAloha (Paul Okami), G-String (Derek Shimizu), and Kanile'a (Joe Souza). There is a reason why their most high end custom instruments are built only by one guy in the company. When you order a custom Kamaka, you're not really dealing with Kamaka Hawaii the company, but with Casey Kamaka the head luthier. And that essentially turns Kamaka into a one man shop building your instrument, not unlike any number of custom builders out there.

I've found that for many things in life, the cost of getting something "better" goes up exponentially, not proportionally. Is a BMW twice as good as a Honda? Probably not. But is it a better? Absolutely. I think the same applies here as well. (now if you prefer a Honda over BMW regardless of cost, than I can't help you :D)

GX9901
01-15-2009, 05:42 AM
BTW, I've played unimpressive custom ukuleles before, so it's not like I think a custom is automatically superior. I refer to "good" customs from builders with good track records and recommendations.

As for the original question in this post, another builder that could be considered is Loprinzi. I think you can order a custom mahogany uke from them for under $1k.

SnakeOiler
01-15-2009, 05:56 AM
I think right now I'm leaning towords MP. Lots of good recomondations (even Seeso likes 'em), nice looking Ukes, in my price range (Koa/Mango, pick-up, slotted head stock, ebony bound fretboad for $1125) although those Loprinzi ones look pretty good too.
Oh if only I could try them all!!

Kekani
01-15-2009, 09:33 PM
Holy smokes, - lots of post since, what, yesterday? Any conversation about customs has got to be fun!

GX9901 hits it on the head again.

In reference to factories cranking out customs faster, there is obviously a HUGE perception shift on what really goes on. Casey, Paul, Derek and Joe all have waiting lists. How long? Mine is about a year - I think Joe can do one pretty quick, but I know Casey and Paul take a little (maybe a lot) longer. Time, in this case, has no bearing on the quality, and in my case, no bearing on how long the list is.

Here's a challenge to those thinking of customs (and I say this because I've seen and played a bunch) - how do you really know who to go to, if you've only heard so and so say its so? There is STILL a great following of "Aquila is the best" strings, all over the place. Heck, there's still a "go see XXXXXXX, he's a super nice guy, knowledgeable, et al, and no one really knows that the one guy in particular, is a cut throat step on your toes dick". Of course, this could be me, but I'm not admitting. . .kidding.

Note on inlay - for those that think inlay is only bling, you have never had a custom inlay done for you, probably. Its hard to explain, but if you ever have the opportunity, you'll remember this thread.

I'll share this one with you. If you look at it, it looks like nothing. To the owner, it means everything. The owner wanted something from his father, and his mother on the instrument. This represents his mother - it's her signature inside the Martin `Ukulele that he learned to play on as a child, which he still has. I won't get into more detail, but suffice to say that when his sister saw the `ukulele, her statement was "You have Mom's name on there from the `ukulele." His wife got chicken skin when the instrument was finished. This, you cannot put a price tag on.
If after this you cannot understand, then I am truly failing to explain.
http://i291.photobucket.com/albums/ll290/kekani427/IMG_0048.jpg

-Aaron

GreyPoupon
01-15-2009, 11:32 PM
I understand. To call such emotionally significant inlay ‘bling’ is to be completely dismissive of the personal significance people ascribe to these symbols.

But, nevertheless, inlay that possesses tremendous emotional and symbolic power still does not in anyway impact the sound of the instrument.

Yes?

UkuLeLesReggAe
01-15-2009, 11:42 PM
ask dom to make u an ukulele

seeso
01-16-2009, 12:51 AM
I understand. To call such emotionally significant inlay ‘bling’ is to be completely dismissive of the personal significance people ascribe to these symbols.

But, nevertheless, inlay that possesses tremendous emotional and symbolic power still does not in anyway impact the sound of the instrument.

Yes?

The more I love an instrument, the more love comes through that instrument when I play it.

So, yes. It impacts the sound.

Kekani
01-16-2009, 12:02 PM
But, nevertheless, inlay that possesses tremendous emotional and symbolic power still does not in anyway impact the sound of the instrument.

Yes?

Besides seeing Seeso's response, no. Its a spiritual, mana, internal extensions of the musician thing that I'll try to explain later. Gotta go.

JTY
01-18-2009, 07:46 PM
Think a reputable Co. like OCC (American chopper TV show)...for those who watch it. One of their famous custom one-off bikes vs. their production models. Both are very rideable, both will get you from point A to point B.. with the "OCC" name, but the custom is a cut (or two.. >three) above the production model and the amount of attention to detail involved in the custom reflects the price diff. The customer is prepared to pay for it. They put together the production bike from off the shelf parts in a couple of days, while most of the custom bikes components have to be fabbed up or custom ordered taking up many weeks to complete the bike. I'm pretty sure those who bought one of their production bikes deep down inside wish for the one-off custom bike even though nothings wrong with the production bike at all.

Kekani
01-18-2009, 10:12 PM
JTY - Nice analogy, nuff said.