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janeray1940
03-14-2014, 05:13 PM
Aloha all! With my recent uke buying decision, and after reading some of the recent UAS threads, I did a bit of reflecting on on my past uke purchases and what I've learned from them. Hoping others may find this of interest... here's a summary in chronological order (minus my childhood mahogany soprano, the make of which is long forgotten and the whereabouts unknown):

Ohana SK20S mahogany soprano - my first uke, a $100 entry-level bought straight off the wall 5 minutes before my first uke class started. Liked it because it looked rather Martin-like. Within about 3 weeks of playing I realized how awful the stock black GHS strings were, put Aquilas on it, and it was like a whole new instrument. I ended up giving this one to a friend after deciding I was primarily a Kamaka girl.

Vintage Columbia mahogany soprano - restored by Jake Wildwood, bought via his site. Adorable and had a great tone, but the tuners slipped a lot and drove me a little nuts. At this point I gave up on vintage, discovered I liked koa A LOT, and narrowed my next purchase down to a Kamaka or Koaloha. The Columbia got re-homed via UU. Thanks UU!

Koaloha Pikake Soprano - I researched the heck out of this one, watching as many videos as I could find as my local shop did not have these in stock at the time. Ended up buying one at Folk Music Center (http://folkmusiccenter.com/) in Claremont, which happened to have the mother lode of Koaloha stock the day I went and was a fabulous shopping experience - highly recommended for those of you in SoCal. I tried no less than 10 different ukes, including 4 different Pikakes. I learned that less-glossy ones sounded better to my ear, and bought what I thought was the uke of my dreams... until about a month later when I realized I needed more than 12 frets! Also re-homed via UU.

Kamaka HF-1 Figure-8 Soprano - bought on eBay, came with a pickup installed that the seller had not mentioned in the listing. The tone of this uke always seemed a bit muffled to me, but I liked playing it, especially once I replaced the strings with Aquila Concert strings which gave it a bit more oomph. It wasn't awful, but it gave me the impression that maybe I didn't care for sopranos, and I began checking out concert ukes. Rehomed via UU after my second HF-2 Concert purchase.

Kamaka HF-2 Concert x 2 - one bought on eBay (and re-homed via UU), the other in person via Craigslist. Moral of this story: the one I kept was the one I bought in person, and was a good final lesson in buying online for me. In other words - if you can avoid it, don't do it. Always try before you buy. The one I kept has been my go-to Low G uke for several years now; having settled on a combination of Martin Fluoros (sometimes soprano/concert, sometimes tenor, which allows for more volume) I'm really pleased with it and tend to judge all low G ukes against it. Now that I have a low-G-specific uke though (the newly acquired Ohta-San, below) I'm looking forward to stringing this one reentrant and seeing what I think.

Kamaka HP-1 Pineapple Soprano - bought in person, had a choice between two, took my sweet time to think it over and got the right one. This remains, to this day, my One Perfect Uke. Strung reentrant with Martin M600 fluoros, this thing practically plays itself - it handles that easily, has near-perfect intonation, rings like a bell clear up the neck. If I didn't also play Low G, this would be all the uke I really need.

Custom mahogany soprano - While it is a fantastic uke and I have no complaints about it, this purchase was a bit of a learning experience - my first time working with a luthier and my first time giving serious thought to the qualities that mattered to me. I wanted a uke designed specifically for intonation and sustain, with as many frets as was possible to fit on a soprano. I opted for mahogany since I like the vintage mahogany sound but don't want the fuss of a vintage instrument - sound-wise it delivers, as it does for intonation (which was my primary concern - it's a 19-fret soprano and intonates near perfect all the way). But it's a uke designed for a specific purpose: single note solo playing. It's not the best multi-purpose, strum-in-a-group uke - where it really shines is when single notes are allowed to ring out. Playability leaves a bit to be desired when compared to my Kamaka Pineapple - not sure if it's the frets, the fretboard material, the action, or what, but for certain things such as hammer-ons and pulloffs, this one is slightly more challenging to handle. But it sounds absolutely amazing! I'm not sure though that I would ever buy a custom again, unless a specific need came up (19 frets, for example) - the whole custom experience is pretty contradictory to my "try before you buy" rule, and I've learned that I'm pretty hands-on when it comes to this.

Kamaka Ohta-San - this uke was designed specifically for low-G picking, which is my current focus and was one reason I used to justify this purchase (after much contemplation and telling myself that with three nice ukes already, I had no business buying a fourth!). Even before it was officially mine, the shop changed out the stock black Kamaka strings to Martin M600s for me, which was enough to convince me that it sounded different enough from my Kamaka HF-2 to not be redundant. I'll admit it, I was as attracted to this one for its looks as I was for its sound - something that has never really been important to me before. Like my Kamaka pineapple, it plays really easily, and the slightly longer scale length (between a concert and a tenor) is manageable with my little hands (although it pushes the limits - I can span 6 frets in first position on this but not a single millimeter more).

So - all of that to say that while I realize my UAS has been pretty minor compared to many, it certainly hasn't been without a purpose. I've learned what works for me/what is right for me, and hopefully in the process have re-homed a few ukes to owners who will appreciate them for what is right for *them*. What's right for me, right now: solid koa ukes with a lot of volume and sustain, as many frets as possible, and a shorter scale than a tenor. Subject to change at any moment, although looking at the ukes I've kept I'd say I'm pretty settled in my ways.

And now I have to come to terms with the fact that I own a whopping FOUR ukes now, with no intention of parting with any of them. We should all have such problems!

Hope some of my babbling has been useful, entertaining, or both :)

hmgberg
03-14-2014, 06:03 PM
Indeed it is both useful and entertaining. I'm wondering about your custom. In what way is fretting uncomfortable? Sometimes, when the frets are high, it can feel as though the action is bad. Lowering the frets is an easy job and can make a big difference in terms of increased playability. The first thing to do is to measure the action. I like mine set at around 3/32" at the 12th fret. I know some folks who think this is somewhat high, so if you find that the action on yours is 3/32" or lower, that's probably not contributing to your problem. I know it's hard to measure the fret height, but if you can compare it visually to that of your Kamakas and find that the frets are high, I'd talk to your luthier about it.

I've lowered and recrowned the frets on a few ukes; as I said, it's easy to do and makes a huge difference.

wickedwahine11
03-14-2014, 06:32 PM
Congrats on the Ohta-san. :)

janeray1940
03-14-2014, 06:34 PM
Indeed it is both useful and entertaining. I'm wondering about your custom. In what way is fretting uncomfortable? Sometimes, when the frets are high, it can feel as though the action is bad. Lowering the frets is an easy job and can make a big difference in terms of increased playability. The first thing to do is to measure the action. I like mine set at around 3/32" at the 12th fret. I know some folks who think this is somewhat high, so if you find that the action on yours is 3/32" or lower, that's probably not contributing to your problem. I know it's hard to measure the fret height, but if you can compare it visually to that of your Kamakas and find that the frets are high, I'd talk to your luthier about it.

I've lowered and recrowned the frets on a few ukes; as I said, it's easy to do and makes a huge difference.

Thanks for the advice! Coincidentally, I did talk about this with the luthier at the shop today. I have nothing to measure accurately with, and by eyeballing it doesn't look like the action or frets/fret wires are higher on the custom than on the others, but to my fretting hand it *feels* higher. I actually attributed this to being the only non-Kamaka experience I've had recently; the fret wires on Kamakas all seem pretty consistent so I figured it felt different on the custom because hey, it's not a Kamaka! I'll probably bring it to the shop soon so the luthier can look at it, he mentioned a couple of things about the frets but I can't recall exactly what. I am so not technical that way!

But this does lead me to further thoughts on the learning experience: with a custom, unless your builder is local or you are willing to travel (or ship the uke back and forth), making adjustments such as this is a bit of... an inconvenience. Not a dealbreaker by any means, but a good reason to buy from a local shop where they'll get it set up to your specifications the first go-round.

janeray1940
03-14-2014, 06:36 PM
Congrats on the Ohta-san. :)

Thanks!

And - we still miss you in Santa Monica. But believe it or not - the Low G section is up to SIX members now!

didgeridoo2
03-14-2014, 06:40 PM
Interesting post, Jane. What great insight on your journey these past 5 years. Did you get the pineapple from McCabes? I remember the two they had right around the time I think you purchased yours. They were both very nice and one was exceptional to me. It made me realize that if I were to get a pineapple, it would need to be like that one.

janeray1940
03-14-2014, 06:46 PM
Interesting post, Jane. What great insight on your journey these past 5 years. Did you get the pineapple from McCabes? I remember the two they had right around the time I think you purchased yours. They were both very nice and one was exceptional to me. It made me realize that if I were to get a pineapple, it would need to be like that one.

Yep, I got it from McCabe's. Of the two available pineapples, it was the plainer, but the sound was... definitely exceptional :)

They just had 2 in recently again, one of the women in my uke ensemble bought one and it's comparable to mine - pretty plain, but with a great sound.

coolkayaker1
03-14-2014, 07:15 PM
M, I have reached many similar conclusions to yours. I appreciate reading about the thoughtful process by with you have chosen and purchased and played ukuleles (my process has been rather tainted by lusty binges and impulsivity, making any such personal reminiscences not only inconclusive, but often downright tawdry).

I, too, prefer non-tenors and non-baritones (regardless of what those little Korean tykes can play). I think I like sopranos a bit more than you do, from the read of it; I am getting better at the rasping, percussive old-timey thing, best served on a soprano (cold, with a side of chianti and fava beans).

Although I, too, like koa (I mean, who doesn't--it's koa, for God's sakes!), I equally enjoy mahogany. Mahogany is sort of the raspy (there's that word again), belligerent playmate of the more mature sound of cousin koa. I think that you do not have a vintage 'hog Martin instrument yet (and no, the frictions tuners are not overly fiddly, I swear on a drawerful of my grandfather's vintage flathead screwdrivers). So, my crystal ball tells me that, sometime, somewhere, somehow, our favorite Ms. JR40 will be such an owner (a 1940 model year has a nice ring to it, in fact).

I thank you for being thoughtful, kind, helpful, opinionated but funny--the best of Ukulele Underground.

(did I do it right? just slip the ten bucks under the door. Oh, and you're welcome)

--Steve

Your thread title reminded me of the title of writer Joyce Maynard's "An 18-year-old Looks Back On Life", published in The New York Times, in 1972. http://web.archive.org/web/20001214180000/www.nytimes.com/books/98/09/13/specials/maynard-mag.html

Sort of witty titles, hers and yours. Joyce is most famous for having a relationship with the much more mature Jerry Salinger, attracting his initial attention after the publication of the above piece. That is quite literate of you to title your thread as a sort of homage to Joyce's work. Nice, like a firefly in a jar, that I caught it). Great stuff, M.

PS Neither Joyce, nor J.D., could play a lick on a uke, to the best of my knowledge, and contrary to recluse-based folklore.

janeray1940
03-14-2014, 07:35 PM
M, I have reached many similar conclusions to yours. I appreciate reading about the thoughtful process by with you have chosen and purchased and played ukuleles (my process has been rather tainted by lusty binges and impulsivity, making any such personal reminiscences not only inconclusive, but often downright tawdry).

I, too, prefer non-tenors and non-baritones (regardless of what those little Korean tykes can play). I think I like sopranos a bit more than you do, from the read of it; I am getting better at the rasping, percussive old-timey thing, best served on a soprano (cold, with a side of chianti and fava beans).

Although I, too, like koa (I mean, who doesn't--it's koa, for God's sakes!), I equally enjoy mahogany. Mahogany is sort of the raspy (there's that word again), belligerent playmate of the more mature sound of cousin koa. I think that you do not have a vintage 'hog Martin instrument yet (and no, the frictions tuners are not overly fiddly, I swear on a drawerful of my grandfather's vintage flathead screwdrivers). So, my crystal ball tells me that, sometime, somewhere, somehow, our favorite Ms. JR40 will be such an owner (a 1940 model year has a nice ring to it, in fact).

I thank you for being thoughtful, kind, helpful, opinionated but funny--the best of Ukulele Underground.

(did I do it right? just slip the ten bucks under the door. Oh, and you're welcome)

--Steve

The percussive, old-timey thing still eludes me - I love it, and love when other people do it, but I don't think I've got enough "entertainer" in me to make it seem... honest? Sincere perhaps? I'm much more at home as the nerdy girl who plays classical and jazz. Well, who tries to, anyway... I like sopranos, a lot, but get frustrated with the lack of sustain higher up the neck.

I haven't ruled out a vintage Martin in my future - after all, that was the sound I based my custom on - but the right one just never seems to come my way at the right time. If anything, I think I'd get a Martin tenor though - those are the only tenors I've played that are comfortable due to their slim necks. The bridge pins kinda scare me though, certainly more than the old friction tuners do!

So, I'm keeping an open mind about what, if anything, is next. Space limitations will restrict me to no more than 6 ukes, ever - I've got room for two more :)

Lori
03-14-2014, 08:18 PM
Can't wait to see your Ohta San! I was interested in them when doing my first ukulele calendar, and looking for interesting ukes to feature. It make the January pin-up.

–Lori

janeray1940
03-14-2014, 08:46 PM
Can't wait to see your Ohta San! I was interested in them when doing my first ukulele calendar, and looking for interesting ukes to feature. It make the January pin-up.

–Lori

Oh cool, I'd love to see it if you still have a copy around. And you'll see the new uke at the shop on Monday. It's pin-up worthy! :)

mm stan
03-14-2014, 08:46 PM
When buying customs, do your homework and try one if you can....there are lots of reasons for comfort and playability...could be design, strings, neck thickness, etc. I do agree on the try before you buy senerio, and get a good set up like from HMS and higher end strings...I like oasis on my kamakas...congrats on your Ohta san...happy strummings

janeray1940
03-14-2014, 08:52 PM
When buying customs, do your homework and try one if you can....there are lots of reasons for comfort and playability...could be design, strings, neck thickness, etc. I do agree on the try before you buy senerio, and get a good set up like from HMS and higher end strings...I like oasis on my kamakas...congrats on your Ohta san...happy strummings

Thanks Stan! I'm planning to place an order with HMS for some Gotoh planetary tuners soon so I'd better remember to order some of the strings you've recommended as well :)

dkcrown
03-15-2014, 01:48 AM
Very interesting retrospective thread, janeray. If I were to do one like it on my five year journey of uke purchases and sales, it would be as long as Tolstoy's "War And Peace." :)

mm stan
03-15-2014, 02:24 AM
Thanks Stan! I'm planning to place an order with HMS for some Gotoh planetary tuners soon so I'd better remember to order some of the strings you've recommended as well :)
Aloha Miss M,
I realize on some kamakas with martin strings the C string is too thick and produces a thuddy sound...get a set with a thinner C string.. I switched a brown worth C string to the martin set

janeray1940
03-15-2014, 06:24 AM
Very interesting retrospective thread, janeray. If I were to do one like it on my five year journey of uke purchases and sales, it would be as long as Tolstoy's "War And Peace." :)

Hmmm, I thought this was almost as long as War and Peace! :) I actually was shocked to see how long it was. Thanks for reading it!


Aloha Miss M,
I realize on some kamakas with martin strings the C string is too thick and produces a thuddy sound...get a set with a thinner C string.. I switched a brown worth C string to the martin set

I wonder if that's more true of vintage Kamakas perhaps? I've never had a problem with the C string being thuddy on any of mine. But before I switched to wound low G strings, unwound fluoro low G strings ALWAYS were - I haven't tried Worth Browns, just Clears, which I really didn't care for.

Right now I've got Martin M600s on the 1st-3rd string, and I just swapped out the wound low G it came with for a Fremont Soloist. I'm really happy with that combination, but I'm sure I'll try a few others in the future, I always do :)

Ukejenny
03-15-2014, 07:05 AM
I greatly enjoyed reading your journey. Very informative and insightful.

janeray1940
03-15-2014, 11:58 AM
I greatly enjoyed reading your journey. Very informative and insightful.

Thanks Jenny!

dsummers
03-15-2014, 02:50 PM
Janeray- I have Ohta San with the cedar top and if your's is anything like mine, I know you will love it. I love the tone, look, scale and the factory strings sound decent (which I usually change when I get a Kamaka) as I really like martins or worths.

guitharsis
03-17-2014, 08:09 AM
My almost 5 year of uke buying took a little different course. Started out with lower end ukes to test for size, type of wood etc. that I would prefer or feel comfortable with. After 6 months got my first K brand from MGM. The next part of the journety resulted in: 8 Kamaka ukes 3 of which were custom, 3 KoAloha ukes, 2 Kanile'a, 3 luthier-made. Still have: 3 Kamaka ukes (1 custom) 1 KoAloha, 1 Kanile'a and 1 luthier-made (G-String). It's been fun.

Edit: janeray, this was a very interesting thread and got me thinking.
I'm sure others have done the same. Thanks for sharing.

Added a couple of ukes purchased from UU marketplace I had almost forgotten about.

janeray1940
03-17-2014, 09:06 AM
Janeray- I have Ohta San with the cedar top and if your's is anything like mine, I know you will love it. I love the tone, look, scale and the factory strings sound decent (which I usually change when I get a Kamaka) as I really like martins or worths.

I change the factory strings right away when I get a Kamaka! This time I was able to do it even before I bought the Ohta-San. But I always think if the uke sounds great with the factory strings, it can only get better with Martins :) I haven't cared for Worths on my Kamakas but I've only tried the Clears - I should give the Browns a try sometime.


My almost 5 year of uke buying took a little different course. Started out with lower end ukes to test for size, type of wood etc. that I would prefer or feel comfortable with. After 6 months got my first K brand from MGM. The next part of the journey resulted in: 7 Kamaka ukes 3 of which were custom, 3 KoAloha ukes, 1 Kanile'a, 3 luthier-made. Still have: 3 Kamaka ukes (1 custom) 1 KoAloha, 1 Kanile'a and 1 luthier-made (G-String). It's been fun.

Definitely fun! When I first started playing, I was so sure I wanted mahogany (because of the Martin thing, and my childhood uke was mahogany, and I just thought it was right for me). But I heard my first koa uke in my beginning uke class (a vintage Kamaka) and I went koa-crazy pretty early on and keep coming back to it.

Dulcilo
03-23-2014, 07:07 AM
<<<<janeray, this was a very interesting thread and got me thinking. I'm sure others have done the same. Thanks for sharing.>>>

Yes, very interesting posts, especially for someone like me who is new to the ukulele world. I play mountain dulcimer and there are also cheap, production made ones, well made production builds, and high end custom builders in that world. But the most expensive custom mountain dulcimer is still only around $2000. So while I experimented with different mountain dulcimers, doing so in the ukulele world could quickly get to be a much more expensive proposition.

janeray1940
03-23-2014, 07:55 AM
<<<<janeray, this was a very interesting thread and got me thinking. I'm sure others have done the same. Thanks for sharing.>>>

Yes, very interesting posts, especially for someone like me who is new to the ukulele world. I play mountain dulcimer and there are also cheap, production made ones, well made production builds, and high end custom builders in that world. But the most expensive custom mountain dulcimer is still only around $2000. So while I experimented with different mountain dulcimers, doing so in the ukulele world could quickly get to be a much more expensive proposition.

Not sure how it is in the world of mountain dulcimers, but in the ukulele world (at least in my experience with nonelectric ukes) one doesn't need to go beyond $2000 to get amazing sound and playability; price beyond that limit generally is for custom inlay work and other artistry that goes beyond build quality, or other really unique customization. Somebody correct me if I'm wrong here.

Heck, I still haven't gone beyond $2000 and I honestly can't imagine how paying a single cent more could buy a better uke that those that I've kept. I've played a few over-$2000 ukes and haven't been tempted yet.