View Full Version : Taking the plunge on a custom built soprano

Brian W
11-11-2013, 12:00 PM
Hey everyone. As some of you may know from my recent threads, I am in the market for a custom made soprano ukulele. At first I was considering a K brand, such as Koaloha or Kamaka, however I have budgeted myself between $750 and $850 for my new uke, and that price point, it puts me into the range of some of the custom builders out there; though that will exclude any fancy binding and inlays, which is OK by me. I have already contacted 8 different custom builders, and I have narrowed my search down to 4. They are Jerry Hoffmann at Boat Paddle, Raymond Rapozo at Island Ukulele, Al McWhorter at Sprucehouse Ukulele, and David Talsma at Talsma String Instruments. Each of the above mentioned builders can offer something unique to the whole process. The problem is that I have zero personal experience with any of their creations, though I have heard good things about Boat Paddle and Talsma, and it isn't like I am picking out a Fender or Gibson guitar that I can play at any chain music store. So before I send my deposit to whomever I end up picking, I was hoping for some feedback from the UU community. You all should know that I have gotten burned on more than one occasion purchasing an instrument site-unseen, which has made me a little apprehensive to do this again. But I really love playing the ukulele and would like, for the first time in my life, to have a say in the creation of an instrument that was made specially for me. Any thoughts on the above mentioned builders would be appreciated. If you wish to send me a PM instead, then please do so.

11-11-2013, 12:27 PM
I don't have any experience with those builders (my custom is from Michael DaSilva, who I would recommend in a heartbeat, but he's a bit more than your budget allows for) - but, as someone who was really nervous about buying sight-unseen myself, I thought I'd pass this on: choose a builder who offers a money-back 100% satisfaction guarantee. That was one of my main motivators when I chose Mike to build my custom - I figured I had nothing to lose.

11-11-2013, 01:11 PM
I second the vote for Mike, he is a stickler for perfection.
Gerald Ross has a few Talsma's and I know Gerald is a good judge.
All the builders you mentioned have good reputations, so you need to go with one you are comfortable with.

hawaii 50
11-11-2013, 01:19 PM
whenever you order a custom ukulele...be ready for a long wait..
how long can you wait? and will it be a problem if up to a year?

11-11-2013, 04:46 PM
yeah ask how long the wait is and there return policy. buying a custom is like buying a ukulele site unseen like you mentioned.
with a custom you will probably get a one off with the wood of your choosing. but you paid for something you have no clue on what it sounds like before you buy.

11-11-2013, 05:27 PM
Boat paddle and Talsma are both solid bets. You can ask RyRod about Talsma.

Gerald Ross
11-12-2013, 06:39 AM
My new Talsma tenor - got it in June 2013 - five months ago. Sounded good then. Sounds better now.

The Redwood in the back I got in 2006. The solid body maple top in 2008 or 2009 can't remember.

All superb instruments. Sound great. Play like butter.


Brian W
11-12-2013, 07:17 AM
Thanks Gerald for your feedback, and for the attached video demonstration. You and that ukulele sounded great! Dave is obviously a master builder. My only gripe, and it is minor one, is he can be a little hard to get a hold of, compared to the other builders that I have talked to. He has always responded to my e-mails, usually within a day or 2, but I haven't had a chance to talk to him over the phone, yet. However, I do understand why: He is a graphic designer by trade, and building instruments is something he does in his free time; it's probably why his prices are so reasonable.

hawaii 50
11-12-2013, 07:29 AM
have you seen the Tommy Rodriguez's soprano ukes on the HMS facebook page...wow i played both of them and they are the best sounding Soprano's I played(but I am not a soprano fan)

Tommy is in your part of the country...Jake Maclay and J. Litchy too..it is the best when you can visit the builders and pick put your own woods for the build....

here is Tommy's website...no picture of ukes but he does build them


Gerald Ross
11-12-2013, 10:35 AM
It's hard to get ahold of Dave Talsma during the warm weather months.

Dave is an avid bycyclist. When the weather is nice he's out riding.

He mostly builds during the cold weather months - which are a lot in Michigan - and right now. Call him in the early evening. I think he has his phone number on his website.

11-12-2013, 10:40 AM
I played RyRod's Talsma. It sounded beautiful. Can't go wrong there.