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View Full Version : New Ukulele Purchase Advice Needed (No STARTER models)



JMSetzler
05-21-2014, 06:18 PM
I read through a LOT of threads here where people were asking for advice on 'starter' ukuleles. My request is a bit different. I'm looking for my FIRST ukulele but I don't want a 'starter' model. I have never played a uke before but I have about 35 years of guitar experience under my belt.

My experience in the world of guitars tells me that I want to start out with something that is much better than an average quality model. I want a concert size model and I'm willing to spend somewhere between $350-$450 to buy one. I have looked around online at various shops that sell ukuleles and I have seen a few that look decent but I can't actually put my hands on one. I live in North Carolina in a rather rural area and the closest shops to me that sell ukuleles are well over an hour drive in each direction and they don't carry very many models. I'd rather rely on the experience of folks from a forum such as this one to steer me in the right direction.

I have solid experience with C.F. Martin & Co. guitars and I have never been disappointed with their higher end products. I noticed that they also make ukuleles and some of them look pretty decent from the photos and descriptions.

I'm also not really interested in a model with electronics installed but I would not object to buying one if that's the route I need to take.

Your advice would be greatly appreciated :)

PereBourik
05-21-2014, 06:35 PM
The Martin C1 can be pretty good, especially from a reputable dealer who will not only inspect but set up the uke. Maybe the best concert out there at your price is the KoAloha Opio. Buy it from HMS, The Ukulele Site and you will get a good one with a legendary setup.

I have the Opio's predecessor, the KoAlana, from HMS. It's a lifetime keeper.

Jim Hanks
05-21-2014, 06:43 PM
If you have never played a uke at all, I would recommend you first try to play some different sizes and make sure what size you want to start with. I was also convinced I wanted a concert scale but really didn't get on with it. I quickly sold it on and moved to tenor and baritone. Especially coming from guitar, you may find the concert really cramped. Or not. It's a very personal decision. If you really can't get to any ukes, you may want to consider getting the cheapest thing off eBay you can find or something like this (http://www.amazon.com/Kohala-KO-C-Concert-Ukulele/dp/B009ATIYHI/ref=sr_1_2?s=musical-instruments&ie=UTF8&qid=1400733415&sr=1-2&keywords=concert+ukulele)
Kind of a "waste" of $50 but better than wasting $400 on something that isn't you.

Bill Mc
05-21-2014, 07:09 PM
JMSeltzer, spending a given amount of money on a ukulele is a guarantee of nothing. You might get a great one in your price range, you might get an average one, or you might get a lemon. To illustrate, PereBourik had excellent results with his purchase of a Koalana for a reasonable price. My results were quite different. Although my Koalana is a sweet sounding instrument the top comes apart at the seams as do the Koalanas of other owners. Maybe the Opios will be better, maybe not. The jury is out on that one as far as I know. If you can get out and play different ukuleles as Jim Hanks suggested you can make up your mind for yourself. I had over 40 years of classical guitar playing before I discovered the ukulele and although that experience has informed my appreciation of the unique sound of the ukulele it did so in a manner other than a direct path. You might be very surprised at what you like once you get out and try different ukuleles. And if that is not possible then buying unseen and untested is pretty much a crap shoot.

pondweed
05-22-2014, 12:08 AM
Whatever happens, you will want a cheap one for the car/holiday! Get that first.. A good playing makala or similar - and play it for a couple of weeks to make sure the size is right. If not, give it to someone.

DownUpDave
05-22-2014, 12:52 AM
Jim Hanks statement above is spot on, do you really know that concert is your size. If you do then your price range can get you a very good quality solid wood instrument. Hawaii Music Supply is a great site if you had not discovered it yet, high quality sound samples of everything they sell. Other top sellers that are memebers here Mims and Uke Republic, they will all that the time to give you good advice and your uke will be set up professionally

Manufactures that fit your range are : Pono, KoAloha Opio, I own one and love it, Cordoba 35 series, Kala solid mahogany or solid Acacia, Martin, Ohana and lots of others. Smart move on your part about sarting with a quality instrument, most that have come from guitar understand that.

RichM
05-22-2014, 02:25 AM
I agree and respectfully disagree with some of the advice given on this thread:

1. Playing before you buy is always preferable, but not always possible. However, if the OP is near a music shop of any caliber, they are bound to have at least a few ukes, so it is possible to evaluate size. I'm guessing given the OP's predilection for a concert, he may have already done that. I also don't think one can know for certain which size he will prefer until he's played one for a while. I started on a concert, became convinced I needed a tenor, and now that I've been playing a few years, I find I prefer the concert again.

2. Assuming someone has the means to buy a quality instrument, I find it hard to recommend they buy a cheapie cheapie just to get used to the uke. First of all, the new player is more likely to have a good experience with a quality instrument and grow his commitment to playing. And should it prove not to be the exact right instrument for him, something like a Pono, Opio, or Martin should have a decent resale and allow the player to move on to something else. That's not "wasting" $400.

3. I absolutely agree that price <> quality, but that's not what I hear the OP asking. He's saying he wants a quality instrument, and his acceptable budget is around $400. The good news is that there are several good choices in that price range.

pixiepurls
05-22-2014, 03:20 AM
I read through a LOT of threads here where people were asking for advice on 'starter' ukuleles. My request is a bit different. I'm looking for my FIRST ukulele but I don't want a 'starter' model. I have never played a uke before but I have about 35 years of guitar experience under my belt.

My experience in the world of guitars tells me that I want to start out with something that is much better than an average quality model. I want a concert size model and I'm willing to spend somewhere between $350-$450 to buy one. I have looked around online at various shops that sell ukuleles and I have seen a few that look decent but I can't actually put my hands on one. I live in North Carolina in a rather rural area and the closest shops to me that sell ukuleles are well over an hour drive in each direction and they don't carry very many models. I'd rather rely on the experience of folks from a forum such as this one to steer me in the right direction.

I have solid experience with C.F. Martin & Co. guitars and I have never been disappointed with their higher end products. I noticed that they also make ukuleles and some of them look pretty decent from the photos and descriptions.

I'm also not really interested in a model with electronics installed but I would not object to buying one if that's the route I need to take.

Your advice would be greatly appreciated :)

I would recommend you go on Hawaii Music Supply website and look at models in your price point and most importantly listen to the videos. If you like the way one sounds then go to youtube and do a search for that model and watch more videos so you can hear how they sound when different people play them. For example some video's just have fingerpicking I find that fingerpicking alone doesn't tell you much about the sound of an ukulele, you have to hear the strums as well.

With Ukulele's you can get a pretty darn decent one at $300, you want solid wood at that price range. I adore Mahogany, all my Ukulele's are Mahogany again thats just personal preference I have played many at my local ukulele shop and I always fall back on mahogany.

You may consider a trip to RVA we are not far from you. Fan Guitar & Ukulele has loads of Ukulele's in all sorts of price ranges. I will assume you know to only buy one that is properly setup. Fan Guitar & Ukulele in Richmond has a fantastic setup, they do fantastic work and have great customer service. I buy my ukulele's from them or HMS.

I agree your first instrument should be the real deal. I got a $300 SM Tenor Kala with a slotted headstock. I love it. Kala makes great instruments. I also have a pono and a moku. I love all 3 to be honest :) you may also be surprised by which size you actually like once you play. I have a very hard time playing on a soprano or even a concert, I feel so much more comfortable on a tenor, and even happier on my baritone. I played on my daughters Makala dolphin for 2 weeks before I bought my Kala Tenor. I very quickly wanted a nice instrument and didn't want to continue without one :)

Patrick Madsen
05-22-2014, 05:23 AM
I hear you JM, on buying a quality uke for a starter. As a guitar player for 56 years, I knew a cheaper uke wasn't going to cut it. If it didn't work out I could always throw it in the family instrument library we have. I bought a custom Griffin tenor and never looked back. As a guitar player, are you sure you want to go concert? I tried and just couldn't get used to the smaller frets so stuck with tenors and baritones. I don't smoke, drink much and left them wild,wild women for others to play with. So I can afford to splurge on ukes; which I do.

In that price range, I'd look at either a good used one, Mainland, ohana or Pono. Mainlands and Ohanas have a nice slim fast neck, Ponos have a wider thicker neck. Make sure you buy from someone who does a setup.

JMSetzler
05-22-2014, 05:39 AM
Thanks for all the feedback so far.

A friend of mine has all 4 sizes and I have played around with each of them. I am sorta torn between the concert size and the tenor so I could still possibly go either way on that.

I agree with your feedback of buying from a reputable dealer. I have no issue ordering something from HMS when it comes to something like this.

Tell me about the 'setup' you mention here. What is involved in a 'setup'? How would a setup on a ukulele be different from that of a classical guitar? From looking at these things, most of them appear to be very similar to a standard classical guitar design. There doesn't appear to be much involved in setting one of these up other than a proper installation of the strings.

Yukon Cornelius
05-22-2014, 05:39 AM
I believe you have a great starter budget. You like quality and that is fairly simple. I do not recommend buying locally. I recommend buying online. Mele Ukes make a great mahogany ukulele that is built to the Martin specs. It's handmade but made in Philippines with final set up done on Maui. www.meleukulele.com
Another option is to contact www.ukerepublic.com or mainland ukuleles at www.mainlandukes.com

Patrick Madsen
05-22-2014, 07:08 AM
Places like HMS, Mim's, Uke Republic check over the instruments before they send them out. The check the frets, set the action and intonation. Most local music stores don't offer that service because of the cost or care; take your pick. The ones mentioned do care. Mims or Uke Republic for Mainland or Ohana and HMS for Ponos. Good used ones can be had in the marketplace here or on the Flea Market Music site.

hawaii 50
05-22-2014, 07:34 AM
Pono MT...solid wood...sounds very nice

SoCal Ukester 713
05-22-2014, 09:07 AM
I've been playing the ukulele for a few years, but guitar much longer. I also love (love, love) Martin guitars. But like Gibsons, they've gotten really expensive. You could get a lot more value for your $350 from a different brand. For example, my Mainland mahogany tenor is great, and it cost much less than your budget, with a slight discount because of a nearly invisible cosmetic blem. It was well set up, with new Aquila strings.

Another good option is a Fluke or a Flea. They have a wooden top and neck, but plastic body (like Ovation guitars) and plastic fingerboard. They sound surprisingly good: full, clear, throaty. The intonation is nearly perfect and they rarely go out of tune. And they're made in Massachusetts.

stevepetergal
05-22-2014, 09:31 AM
Koaloha Opio. I would look no further.

KnowsPickin
05-22-2014, 09:33 AM
For a much better than average uke to start with I recommend Mainland Ukulele. A tenor is a good choice for a guitar player. It gives you that classic uke sound, but has enough scale length to be comfortable Mainland gives you a lot of bang for the buck. You can get a whole lot f uke for less than $300 bucks. They spend a lot of effort getting the setup exactly right. I've been tickled pink with the Mainland Classic Tenor.

I don't know what part of NC you are located, but Mainland, plus a lot of other good brands, are sold at Uke Republic in Atlanta. Here is a link to the Uke Republic Mainland page.
http://cargo.ukerepublic.com/category/mainland-ukes-ukuleles

Or you can order directly from Mainland. Lots of folks have been very happy ordering this way.
http://www.mainlandukuleles.com/

Good luck!

Kamanaaloha
05-22-2014, 09:36 AM
Pono MCD from HMS with pickup if u want one. or ACD ( I prefer Mahogany unless you go for Koa...Acacia is wanna be Koa, imho...But I would take one if given...just not if I was buying)
Martin C1
Gretsch Solid (martin like) not sure on the quality... I liked all the sound tests I could listen to...just never played one.

good luck!

peaceweaver3
05-22-2014, 10:36 AM
I agree with everything KnowsPickin said. And I'd recommend a tenor, at least for now. I'm not a guitar player and have average size hands, but I like the tenor for the extra scale length, and more sustain. Sustain is important in a uke, because without it they sound like toys. Unless toy-like is the sound you want, it can be disconcerting.

The Martin C1K (concert) and T1K (tenor) seem to be hit or miss. You may get a good one, or you may not. And to my knowledge, those we consider reputable dealers here don't carry them. That sends up a red flag for me.

No one has mentioned KPK (Koa Pili Koko). They offer acacia and mahogany models, not much bling, but good-sounding, well set up ukes. And the customer service, like Mainland's, Uke Republic's etc, is wonderful.
www.pilikoko.com

JMSetzler
05-22-2014, 11:21 AM
Thanks again for the info.

Update:

I think the Tenor size might be my best bet overall and thanks for making me reconsider that option.

I have been browsing the HMS website and looking at the Pono tenor models. I am looking at the MT and MTD versions. I have not worked my way through the differences in thise two models yet but one or the other will probably be my choice.

The Big Kahuna
05-22-2014, 11:30 AM
I think the Tenor size might be my best bet overall and thanks for making me reconsider that option.


Totally agree. I've been playing guitar for 37 years, and anything smaller than a tenor just feels totally wrong.

ukemunga
05-22-2014, 12:45 PM
To your question re: setup. HMS has a very detailed video somewhere on their site, or used to. I assume it's still there.

Worth looking for. Good luck. Sounds like you are on the right track.

PereBourik
05-22-2014, 01:29 PM
Go concert size. It's a little easier for travel and sounds more "uke-like." Tenors have a sound that is a little richer, but that much farther from the old time uke sound.

pixiepurls
05-22-2014, 03:11 PM
Thanks for all the feedback so far.

A friend of mine has all 4 sizes and I have played around with each of them. I am sorta torn between the concert size and the tenor so I could still possibly go either way on that.

I agree with your feedback of buying from a reputable dealer. I have no issue ordering something from HMS when it comes to something like this.

Tell me about the 'setup' you mention here. What is involved in a 'setup'? How would a setup on a ukulele be different from that of a classical guitar? From looking at these things, most of them appear to be very similar to a standard classical guitar design. There doesn't appear to be much involved in setting one of these up other than a proper installation of the strings.

The frets are filed, the nut and bridge are checked and tweaked if needed. There is way more to a setup then strings, the strings are not really the setup per say, but are obviously how you know if a setup worked or not. I read enough to know this, but I am a newbie myself. I want the best, so I only buy ukulele's that are properly setup by professionals. I've read enough about it to understand it and trust that its needed. As they say on most of these forums a properly setup cheaper ukulele can play worlds better then a non-setup more expensive ukulele. Any factory made ukulele doesn't get a proper setup, even the expensive ones.

kwall
05-22-2014, 03:27 PM
great starting price range. As seen by the forum posts you have tonnes of options. This range is the sweet spot IMO. It is the nothing too cheap or crappy, and nothing that costs an arm and a leg (in ukulele land). I would suggest pono, good feel nice sound i have a pono ms and love it. mainland's are fantastic too. You will want to get from someone reputable if you cannot try it out on your own. Just as an fyi pono's have thick necks for ukuleles, i dont mind but some may. I look at that making better sound (IMO).

As well if you are looking for quality but do not want to spend that much there is gretsch which makes some amazing ukuleles around the 200 range.

JMSetzler
05-22-2014, 06:28 PM
OK... I think I'm about ready to go.

Pono MT - http://www.theukulelesite.com/pono-mt-mahogany-tenor.html

$351

I considered this and the Pono MTD but could not find any difference in the two models other than the gloss finish on the deluxe. I actually prefer the satin finish so I'll go that route.

Oahu Hardshell Case for Tenor Size

$75

2 extra sets of Aquila Tenor strings

$11.98

Any reason I should not go with this?

I'd like to thank all of you who have responded to this thread and helped me get started on the right foot :)

Patrick Madsen
05-22-2014, 06:48 PM
Looks great but IMO, pass on the Aquila strings and buy a set of Southcoast HML-RW's. It'll make that baby sing. Congrats bigtime and realize this is only the beginning Ukulele Acquisition Syndrome UAS. You're going to love the uke.

mds725
05-22-2014, 09:42 PM
Looks great but IMO, pass on the Aquila strings and buy a set of Southcoast HML-RW's. It'll make that baby sing. Congrats bigtime and realize this is only the beginning Ukulele Acquisition Syndrome UAS. You're going to love the uke.

I agree with this. Aquila strings are bright and will make an overbuilt production ukulele sound loud, but on a good uke they sometimes sound a little shrill, at least to me. I've been using worth clears, but I've heard great things about Southcoast strings, and particularly this set.

DaveY
05-23-2014, 04:53 AM
My Pono MTD came with Koolau Mahana strings (almost two years ago); I guess they now come with Aquilas. The consensus would be to not get the Aquilas, as the previous two posters suggested. I don't know if you care if the set has a wound string (such as Mahana, and I believe the Southcoast HML-RW, but not the Worth). I found that the MTD was very bright already with the Mahanas, so there's probably no need to make it über-bright with Aquilas. You could call HMS and ask for opinions on other strings, but they'll be opinions, not hard-and-fast rules.

In other words, now that you have settled on a ukulele to buy, you can sort through all the string options. (By the way, the Pono is a great uke for the price, I think.)

RichM
05-23-2014, 05:06 AM
Good choice for a uke, GREAT choice for a case (I think the Oahu cases have the best price/performance ratio), and to offer another perspective, I *love* Aquila strings and use them on most of ukes.

DownUpDave
05-23-2014, 06:05 AM
Good choice for a uke, GREAT choice for a case (I think the Oahu cases have the best price/performance ratio), and to offer another perspective, I *love* Aquila strings and use them on most of ukes.

It is funny how so many people don't care for Aquila strings. Or they are not their first choice anyways. I have no problem with their sound, I rather like the musicality they add to the over all tone. A friend was anti Aquila, all floros or nothing. He kept hearing one of my ukes with the Aquilas and finally said" you know I am kinda liking the sound of those now" :o

As has been said many times before it is all personal preference.

@JMSetzler congrats on and outstanding first uke, Ponos are great. Regarding strings, try different ones. Get Aquilas, Worth CT, clear and bright sounding and Oasis warms. You then have the bases covered and can try a broad cross section. Enjoy the Pono.

Ukejenny
05-23-2014, 06:07 AM
Sounds like a great ukulele choice. Aquilas are not my favorite strings, but it is all personal taste. Perhaps, instead of two sets of the same string, you could choose a set of Aquilas and a set of something else, to give you a variety and allow you to hear how the different strings sound on your baby.

JMSetzler
05-23-2014, 10:08 AM
I logged on to order my stuff today and that Pono Tenor model no longer exists on the hms website. I will have to wait or pick out another model...

pixiepurls
05-23-2014, 10:46 AM
it may just be out of stock!

pixiepurls
05-23-2014, 10:51 AM
IMHO strings are unique to each ukulele, best to try different ones over time :) There is no right or wrong string.

Ukejenny
05-23-2014, 10:54 AM
I logged on to order my stuff today and that Pono Tenor model no longer exists on the hms website. I will have to wait or pick out another model...

I would give them a call and see if they can help you out. They may be able to get one, or have more coming.

Byakutora
05-23-2014, 12:14 PM
http://cargo.ukerepublic.com/product/kala-ka-smht-solid-mahogany-tenor-ukulele

You might check out this one. It looks like something you might like.

MuShu
05-24-2014, 12:17 PM
If you can swing it, head to Uke Republic. Maybe make it a day trip or weekend trip. You'll be able to play everything and see what feels and sounds the best for you. I was sure I wanted a Kala concert uke, but once I played a few, I fell in love with an Ohana soprano. In addition, he carries a few different brands of strings, so you can get everything you need in one go.

Shastastan
05-25-2014, 09:04 AM
I believe you have a great starter budget. You like quality and that is fairly simple. I do not recommend buying locally. I recommend buying online. Mele Ukes make a great mahogany ukulele that is built to the Martin specs. It's handmade but made in Philippines with final set up done on Maui. www.meleukulele.com
Another option is to contact www.ukerepublic.com or mainland ukuleles at www.mainlandukes.com

We've bought our ukes on line mainly from Uke Republic. Mike is great to deal with. We like Mainlands for the tone, resonance, intonation, and sustain. We have a mainland red cedar/rosewood concert. I think it was around $250 which is a very reasonable price for a quality uke. You will have to pay shipping, but this way you can try it out and return it if you don't like it. I did that once with no problem (not a Mainland brand though). I live in a small town where the uke selection, locally, is sparce. Yet, we've manage to acquire some ukes that have great sound and quality. Mainland isn't the only brand, of course, but they make a very good instrument. YMMV

Kamanaaloha
05-27-2014, 03:10 PM
OK... I think I'm about ready to go.

Pono MT - http://www.theukulelesite.com/pono-mt-mahogany-tenor.html

$351

I considered this and the Pono MTD but could not find any difference in the two models other than the gloss finish on the deluxe. I actually prefer the satin finish so I'll go that route.

Oahu Hardshell Case for Tenor Size

$75

2 extra sets of Aquila Tenor strings

$11.98

Any reason I should not go with this?

I'd like to thank all of you who have responded to this thread and helped me get started on the right foot :)

the MTD is the way to go...unless u live in a relatively hawaiian humidity, imho...the deluxe finish is spectacular...and should help with the anti-cracking...you still have to use a humidifier...but the finish will help support it and protect it against scratches, imho...plus i prefer shiny to dull :p