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View Full Version : Oscar Schmidt vs. Kala vs. Mainland vs. ?



Preacher
11-19-2013, 12:18 PM
Just joined UU and just started learning to play. And somehow I already have an uncontrollable desire to get another uke. This UAS thing moves fast! Anyway...

I looked at a Kala and an Oscar Schmidt at the local music store. Both tenors. And the OS was really heavy in top. That is, the neck wanted to fall toward the ground. It was very shiny (spalted maple perhaps?) while the Kala was more matte looking. (Sorry, I didn't note the exact models.) The Kala was light and felt good. Both were"on sale" in $250--$270 range.

I'm wondering if different models have different balance. I'm using the incentive of getting a new uke when I've learned how to play my soprano. But my local choices are limited (here in central Wisconsin). Many of you have spoken highly of Mainland, but now I'm kind of afraid of getting something without touching it first.

What to do? I currently have a Kamaka soprano from 1980ish.

haolejohn
11-19-2013, 01:24 PM
Just joined UU and just started learning to play. And somehow I already have an uncontrollable desire to get another uke. This UAS thing moves fast! Anyway...

I looked at a Kala and an Oscar Schmidt at the local music store. Both tenors. And the OS was really heavy in top. That is, the neck wanted to fall toward the ground. It was very shiny (spalted maple perhaps?) while the Kala was more matte looking. (Sorry, I didn't note the exact models.) The Kala was light and felt good. Both were"on sale" in $250--$270 range.

I'm wondering if different models have different balance. I'm using the incentive of getting a new uke when I've learned how to play my soprano. But my local choices are limited (here in central Wisconsin). Many of you have spoken highly of Mainland, but now I'm kind of afraid of getting something without touching it first.

What to do? I currently have a Kamaka soprano from 1980ish.

I understand your reluctance of buying without touching, however Mainland is a uke only company. The owner is a member here on UU. He sets each uke up and the mainland brand really might be the best bang for the buck. If you are buying from your local music store, you are probably getting a uke fresh out of the box. In all honesty if I had to choose between a Kala or Oscar Schmidt that I could touch or a Mainland...it would be a mainland each and every time.

Shastastan
11-19-2013, 01:25 PM
<< Many of you have spoken highly of Mainland, but now I'm kind of afraid of getting something without touching it first.>>

I think that you've answered your own question. Sounds like you want to try before you buy. Also you already are noting things that you like and don't like. If your local choices are limited (as mine are), you may have to buy on line. Of course you will be responsible for shipping charges. There are vendors that offer a trial period and some have a return policy. You will have to pay for shipping both ways though. If you buy on Amazon, you have to pay return shipping even with "free shipping". I have bought all of my ukes on line. Out of 7 ukes tried, I've only returned one. If you live within in driving distance of a larger city, you could go there and try quite a few. If not, you'll have to rely on ordering on line/phone. As to Mainland ukes, I'm very happy, I haven't tried a Kala. Finally, you may discover that ukes that you like/don't like can vary within a particular brand in addition to different brands. Speaking of instruments, in general, if I try too many, I just get frustrated and don't buy any. I have to decide which size and what I can afford before I start thinking of which brands to try. Since I know I can't afford the expensive ones, I don't even think about trying them. It all boils down to individual preferences--and what you an afford. :)

Radio Flyer
11-19-2013, 05:28 PM
if you can drive over to the madison or milwaukee area you'll find several dealers.

Tootler
11-19-2013, 07:54 PM
If you can't try yourself, try to find a video or sound clip of someone playing the make you're interested in. I did that with Bruko then bought one and am very pleased with it. So much so I then got another.

Another thought. Browse the reviews thread here on UU. They often link to video clips.

kohanmike
11-19-2013, 09:58 PM
I have an Oscar Schmidt matt finish spalted maple tenor cutaway and really like the sound of it. I bought it online for $169 US. It's lighter than my others, and slightly narrower side to side. I always use a strap so I don't notice any balance issues. I changed out the preamp to a larger one with a tuner and added a battery panel with 1/4" out , which might have balanced the tail end. (I'm using the existing strap button-1/4" out just for the strap.)

Mattyukaholic
11-19-2013, 10:32 PM
The one thing with Mainland is you know you'll get a decent ukulele every time. You can order direct from them and ask Mike to set it up how you want. The set up of an ukulele is so important. Ive got some great K brand ukuleles and I just ordered another Mainland. That says something.

Captain America
11-20-2013, 06:44 AM
The one thing with Mainland is you know you'll get a decent ukulele every time. You can order direct from them and ask Mike to set it up how you want. The set up of an ukulele is so important. Ive got some great K brand ukuleles and I just ordered another Mainland. That says something.

I think there's a lot to be said for this.

RichM
11-20-2013, 07:26 AM
Unfortunately, there aren't many places that have a wide variety of ukuleles ready to try. I have a whole bunch of ukes and I have bought very few of them in person. Yes, buying by mail is a crapshoot, but I've been very fortunate; I think I've only sent 1 or 2 back because it didn't meet my expectations.

I own both a Kala and two Mainlands and I would vouch for both brands. With that being said, Kala makes a wide range of models, and it would be hard to say universally that you'd like any Kala, as they are very different. My Cedar/Koa Kala continues to be one of my favorites, because I think Kala just really nailed it with this model (and I love a cedar soundboard). Mainland has a more limited product line; I have owned concerts in mango and mahogany, and preferred (and kept) the mango because I like the tone slightly more. I also have cedar/rosewood Mainland soprano, and I think these are really special; great tone, and unique.

If you choose to buy online, consider working with one of the vendors who participate in the forum (Mainland, Mim, Uke Republic, Hawaii Music Supply) who really know ukes and can take the time to understand what you're looking for. It's no guarantee of success, but it certainly increases the likelihood you'll get what you want. My Kala was the result of a long conversation with MusicGuyMic back when he was selling on ebay, who really took the time to understand what I wanted and helped point me to the Kala I ultimately bought. I have much more expensive ukes in my collection now, but that Kala still fits me well. I hope you find something that fits you well, too!

haole
11-20-2013, 07:45 AM
The one thing with Mainland is you know you'll get a decent ukulele every time. You can order direct from them and ask Mike to set it up how you want. The set up of an ukulele is so important. Ive got some great K brand ukuleles and I just ordered another Mainland. That says something.

This x 1000. Oscar Schmidts have gotten better in response to newer uke companies giving them serious competition, but they're still a gamble because a lot of music stores that sell them tend to take them out of the box and put them right up on the wall without checking to see if they're even playable. Kala is known for being pretty consistent, but the big box stores still sell a lot of them with glaring flaws that would probably be sent back by a retailer who cares a little more. The ones from the well-known online uke retailers tend to be a lot more playable as soon as you get them. At this price point, Mainland is probably your safest bet. Not too many companies that sell $200 ukes are nearly as accessible and responsive.

TG&Y
11-20-2013, 08:15 AM
I'm a fan of all three: Oscar Schmidt, Kala and Mainland. In fact, I'm ordering my fourth Mainland from Mike today, and can't recommend them enough. That said, my favorite, most comfortable go-to uke is a spalted mango Oscar Schmidt Concert - bought without 'set-up'. Also have a OS sm tenor that I love. 2nd most comfortable go-to is a Kala long-neck soprano- also bought without 'set-up'.
But it's a Mainland I'm ordering for a fourth time. Individual ukuleles all have different voices but you know you'll get a quality instrument from Mike. At least I have, and they're all treasures.

Good luck!

(and welcome to UU)


Just joined UU and just started learning to play. And somehow I already have an uncontrollable desire to get another uke. This UAS thing moves fast! Anyway...

I looked at a Kala and an Oscar Schmidt at the local music store. Both tenors. And the OS was really heavy in top. That is, the neck wanted to fall toward the ground. It was very shiny (spalted maple perhaps?) while the Kala was more matte looking. (Sorry, I didn't note the exact models.) The Kala was light and felt good. Both were"on sale" in $250--$270 range.

I'm wondering if different models have different balance. I'm using the incentive of getting a new uke when I've learned how to play my soprano. But my local choices are limited (here in central Wisconsin). Many of you have spoken highly of Mainland, but now I'm kind of afraid of getting something without touching it first.

What to do? I currently have a Kamaka soprano from 1980ish.

Nickie
11-20-2013, 09:37 AM
I've played a soprano, concert, and tenor OS....didn't like either one....I have two Kalas, one I really like....the other one is so-so. I've never played a Mainland, but I've heard nothing but good about them, and would love to try one...

Brian W
11-20-2013, 11:05 AM
From my experience, I have been very disappointed with the quality of the Oscar Schmidt and Kala ukuleles in local music stores; this goes above and beyond ordinary setup issues as well. Most big chain music stores do not make enough money on the sale of ukuleles to care if a defective instrument is on their showroom floor. I have played a Mainland soprano (cedar/rosewood) and loved its tone and playability. All three brands are made in China, however Mike at Mainland will set up and inspect EVERY ukulele prior to shipping, and he has a 2 week no questions asked money back guarantee if you aren't happy with it. As for your question about being top heavy, that has a lot to do with the type of tuners that are on the uke. Sealed geared tuners are the heaviest, which I am guessing is what was on the Oscar Schmidt, followed by open geared tuners, and finally friction. I hate top heavy ukes and only play sopranos that have friction tuners, as they are extremely lightweight. If you want a tenor, your only choice will be geared tuners. The Mainland tenors only come with sealed tuners, so you may not like the weight of that ukulele.

Pippin
11-20-2013, 12:15 PM
I play a lot of ukuleles and have reviewed some that people would trade body parts to own (lol). You won't go wrong with Mainland. Mike is a great guy and he'll treat you right.

Preacher
11-20-2013, 12:28 PM
Well, Mainland certainly has a lot of fans here! I did listen to some samples on YouTube and was impressed with one of the tenors reviewed. YouTube sound isn't the best and the reviews are all kind of old, but the Mainland tenor did have a much fuller, richer sound than the Kala it was being compared to. I'm heading to Milwaukee in a couple weeks so I'm hoping I can see a bigger variety in some of the stores there. I do like how the tenor size feels in my arms and enjoy the deeper sound too. But trying to pick just one....ugh.

And $300 is my limit. Probably...... ;)

OldePhart
11-20-2013, 04:16 PM
I wouldn't even include Mainland in the same category with the other two - maybe I'd let Kala in if you were considering only one of their solid-wood models - but even then in my experience they're a bit more overbuilt than the Mainlands. Honestly, all three of the brands you are mentioning are going to be somewhat variable. The difference is that Mainland ukes tend to range from good to very good while the Kala solid-wood ukes range from "meh" to okay with maybe an occasional exceptional sample and the Oscar Schmidt ukes are not even that good. If you already have a uke that is at all playable you don't need to waste money on the OS - sorry OS lovers, that's just the way I sees it. :)

Honestly, you can save a lot of money in the long run by holding off for quite a while and saving until you can afford something really nice. If you buy the Kala, or even the Mainland, there will probably come a day when you want to try something better (unless you get lucky and get a "pick of the litter", of course).

I've owned a KoAloha concert and currently own a KoAloha longneck soprano. I also own five or six Mainland ukes and have owned several other makes including a Kala solid acacia. You really do get much more consistently better instruments as you move up the money tree. The only uke that I value more than the KoAloha ukes I own/have owned is my Mainland mahogany soprano and I think that it's a case of being a "pick of the litter" as mentioned above.

That said, if you really have to have another uke now, go for the Mainland. At the very least it will be set up playable and sound decent, and most of them are better than decent. Of all the Mainlands I've bought, some from Mike directly and some second hand, I still own all but the red cedar/rosewood tenor. There was nothing at all wrong with it, and it was very loud, but I just never warmed to cedar as a ukulele wood (others love them, though). Anyway, I gave that one to one of my grandsons.

John

Tikiden
11-21-2013, 03:02 AM
I agree with OldePhart regarding his solid wood comment. Spend a little more on the wood (solid, not laminate) and you'll get a measurable difference of most laminates. Not to say Laminates are bad, they have their place and often times better for travel and such where conditions may be rough. Just be sure to buy a good humidifier like the Oasis to keep your solid-wood Ukes from drying out if you're in a dry climate, or your home is dry inside during any part of the year...

Captain America
11-21-2013, 03:57 AM
Life's too short for laminates.

kaizersoza
11-21-2013, 05:21 AM
Its Mainland all the way for me, although I have never played an OS, I own 3 Kala's and I love them all for their different sounds, they are great value for money, I also own 2 Mainland Red Cedars in a tenor size one which has been gigged for the last 2 years or so and bears the scars to prove it, the other I keep for best because in the UK they are as rare as Rocking Horse S@&t, the tone, the quality, the intonation and the projection on the Mainland is well above the price you pay for them excellent value for money

OldePhart
11-21-2013, 06:39 AM
...as rare as Rocking Horse S@&t, ...

Okay, I've just learned a new expression that I am going to have to endeavor to work into conversation from time to time!

icuker
11-21-2013, 06:46 AM
I would have to say that I've been to Spruce Tree music in Madison and they carried Ohana and Lo Prinzi and Kiwaya the last time I was there (2 years ago?). Ohana's would be similar to Kalas with the Lo Prinzi and Kiwaya being a good step up. Having said that I have played a couple of Mainland ukes in our uke club and I was impressed with them also.

savagehenry
11-22-2013, 12:19 AM
I like my Mainland now that I found the right strings, but I don't think that Kala is getting the respect it deserves. They make many different models at a lot of price points. Comparing all Kalas to Mainland is like apples to oranges. I've been really impressed by several Kalas, great value for the money: ie Lacewood, solid mahogany and solid acacia. The sound of a uke is so subjective, get what sounds best to you.

frukmana
11-22-2013, 01:52 AM
Im wondering about oscar schmidt too. My friend got some fresh from the factory, but unfortunately i never tried it. Someone bought em all immediately.
Sheesh, the next time i try it i'll tell you what i think.

Barbablanca
11-22-2013, 06:43 AM
If you glance at my signature you'll see that I own instruments by all three companies. You can hear all three by scrolling down the list of my youtube videos (https://www.youtube.com/user/TheBerniArmstrong/videos?shelf_id=1&view=0&sort=dd) and giving them a listen.

What I can say is that my Kala Tenor is a wonderful instrument (within your price range) and has the added attraction of a built in pick up (which I use a lot with the band I'm in). However, I have played cheap Kalas in shops that I wouldn't invite over my threshold. - So you can't really judge an instrument just by the name.

I owned a Mahogany Laminate OS Concert this summer that I gave to a friend in the states as a thank you for her hospitality. It was about $70 and while I was using it (in the fortnight before we arrived at the Mainland Store) I found it a really good value for money instrument. My OS Eight string is the best bang for bucks in my whole collection!!! It would also be worthwhile checking out the videos of Pabrizzer (an Australian guy who is a regular on the Seasons). He has a few OS instruments in various sizes and he gets some sweet bluesy sounds out of them). In short, I've never had a bad experience with an OS.

I got my Mainland directly off Mike on our US trip. I tried loads of instruments in his store, even those I wasn't interested in buying! (Hey, if you're in Disneyland, you try all the rides, even the kiddies' one's, huh?). I narrowed it down to the concert range and strummed, finger picked and thumb percussioned the options in that range. For what I was looking for, the Red Cedar had all the qualities I wanted, bright, but not strident, balanced across all four strings and loud without making my eardrums wobble. On top of that, it has a sustain which is delightful when fingerpicking. So, that was the one I opted for. I didn't play a Mainland in that store that I didn't like. But when you are looking for a life-partner, you can usually only afford to maintain one at a time, eh? ;)- So, I could only buy one!

Now the Mainland Concert is my favourite, but the Kala Tenor is a close second in my affections and the OS 8 String Tenor is unique in my UAS rewards.

Conclusion? If you have a low budget, OS is worth exploring (in terms of value for money). If you are exploring Kala there are some nice models for over $200. If your budget stretches to a Mainland, then get one!