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View Full Version : In your opinion what differentiates a "high end" ukulele from the rest ?



Fred Ukestone
06-17-2014, 12:40 AM
With some good quality moderate priced ukuleles coming onto the market over the last few years I am interested to know what owners of "high end" ukuleles see as being the difference in sound quality between their ukuleles and the lesser priced ones.

OldePhart
06-17-2014, 01:34 AM
In my mind the biggest difference is consistency. You can get some nice ukes in the $300 range but it is more of a crap-shoot whether you'll get a good one or the rare great one. As you move up to the "higher end" ukes from established makers there may still be a very occasional dud but you have a much, much better chance of getting a really great uke.

You can get lucky and find an Ohana, Mainland, etc. that rivals the best of the high-end ukes, but those are more the exception than the rule. I have a Mainland mahogany soprano uke that rivals my KoAloha ukes...but most of my Mainland ukes are good value for their price but not in the same class as my high end ukes.

John

Fred Ukestone
06-17-2014, 01:49 AM
Hi Olde Phart

I am interested to know what you consider the actual 'sound' differences to be between your different ukes. Do the higher end ukes really sound dramatically better in terms of sustain, tone, note clarity etc. ? I realize that the sound quality produced by a custom made ukulele SHOULD exceed that of a mass produced ukulele, if only because of the increased attention to build quality.

KevinV
06-17-2014, 02:10 AM
Hello Fred,

I agree with John on the consistency aspect. From a higher end instrument maker, I expect differences since each is unique, but I also expect the same attention to detail across the board.

Refinement is another aspect I have come to expect in higher end instruments (I say instruments and not just ukes because I've played guitar a lot longer than uke and the level of build for high end makers is similar). I believe the refinement is a matter of combining time allotted to build, funds available to stay within the price point, expectations of the product by the company, and the skill of those turning the raw materials into an instrument. If you aim higher and have the ability to hit those goals, it's noticeable in the end product on a regular basis.

As a byproduct of refinement, in my experience, the instrument is of higher overall quality. The parts work together in a way that creates sweeter tones, better sustain, a cleaner built instrument, less flaws in materials and finishing, etc.

I think it basically comes down to the "you get what you pay for", and on a more consistent basis when you go with a high end instrument. If you combine talented luthiers, excellent materials, proper tools, and the time to complete the job correctly, you're going to end up with a great uke more often than not. When you're pumping out lower priced instruments to meet consumer demand below a certain price point, quality and consistency are going to suffer, at least some of the time.

OldePhart
06-17-2014, 02:23 AM
Hi Olde Phart

I am interested to know what you consider the actual 'sound' differences to be between your different ukes. Do the higher end ukes really sound dramatically better in terms of sustain, note clarity etc. ?

Absolutely. Almost anything can be made to sound good in a video (especially at YouTube where they often fiddle with AGC and such during their "processing' of your video). But, in person the difference in volume, sustain, and richness of, say, a KoAloha (or my BP custom) is noticeably better than even the best ukes I've played that came out of "factories."

Until I bought my Boat Paddle tenor, my KoAloha longneck soprano strung with tenor Alohi strings kicked butt on every tenor I owned. My Pineapple Sunday doesn't have the low-end response of a tenor (actually, I bought it because it has a tenor scale neck but sounds very much like a good soprano) but in terms of sustain, dynamics (read "volume," because you have to have good volume to get good dynamic range) it is pretty much untouchable.

The Boat Paddle is incredible. It doesn't seem especially loud when you are playing it, but it projects an amazing amount of volume forward. I discovered this when I recorded my first "real" video with it a few days ago. I used the same microphone placement that I always have with other ukes and it almost drowned out my vocals...and I've got a big mouth!

Even though my mahogany Mainland soprano that I love so much is a cannon with CH strings - it doesn't have the richness and sustain of high end ukes (it has a wonderful "bark" though, which is why I consider it one of my best ukes and say it rivals my high end ukes).

Now, all of the above is not to say that factory ukes are junk - not by a long shot. I recorded a video for the Seasons on my Mainland mango tenor strung low-g just this past Sunday because it was the right uke for that song. James Hill often plays factory ukes, he might even have an endorsement deal, I don't know.

But, for those who can afford a "high end" uke and have the ear to appreciate it - they should at least have one or two in their stable!

Finally, any uke that blends great intonation, nice feel and action, good volume and sustain, and rich tone together is simply much more enjoyable to play. I recorded a silly video of a Woodi and my modified KoAloha longneck soprano last week. I did both demos in one long take then split them up. I played the Woodi for three minutes and it felt like twenty even though I've filed down the zero fret so the intonation is decent. Then, I played the KoAloha for something like fifteen minutes thinking it was about three - and that is the KoAloha that was damaged and modified into a braced five-string so it doesn't really even have the volume and sustain of a KoAloha any more. It still has very rich tone and great feel, though!

I can get "lost" in my BP just playing jazz chord progressions and practicing finger rolls. On "lesser" ukes I will be "done" after fifteen to thirty minutes of that. (My poor wife probably wishes I hadn't bought the BP. LOL)

John

Fred Ukestone
06-17-2014, 02:42 AM
Thanks for the great answers guys, particularly for the direct comparison of instruments, John.

stevepetergal
06-17-2014, 02:44 AM
A favorite quote from a musical giant:

Someone once asked Louis Armstrong "What is Jazz?" His response-"If you have to ask, you'll never know."

I think of a high quality (high end) ukulele as one that has a relatively consistent sound from top to bottom, from one string to the next, is capable of being played LOUD without sounding harsh, and when played quietly still has some color to the sound.

These qualities allow the player to make a wide range of music without the instrument getting in the way.

SteveZ
06-17-2014, 03:37 AM
Just to ramble a little bit. Last Thursday I took my 15-year-old granddaughter to the local Guitar Center store. The "Martin Experience" tour made its stop there that night. The tour includes demos of about a dozen very high end ($4,000-15,000) guitars and the opportunity to test them out. The tour person is a Nashville studio musician who demonstrates all the guitars and shows that while certain ones are better for some styles, they all are adaptable, depending on the skill of the musician. He did lean toward a couple of "all-purpose" ones he prefers for studio use. I wanted my granddaughter (a good guitarist) to see/feel/hear for herself the difference between a "good" guitar and a "great" guitar, and that she did.

Among the questions she asked the tour person was how can you custom-order a guitar, or even buy one you didn't personally first play, and have it be right? She took as gospel the answer - that takes a lot of knowledge and experience earned over time, and nothing fully replaces hands-on.

Her comments afterwards about the "experience" on the ride home that night and on Sunday were very enlightening. She loved the demo guitars, especially one $7,000 parlor (it is not on the future gift list!). She gave succinct remarks about tone, feel, build quality and such, but then said some things I took as very profound. If she was to get such a guitar, she would only want one because it would be played to death, and that it would be ridiculous to have such an instrument parked in the corner only to play others instead. She said that having more than one high-end instrument was just "collecting stuff" because you could afford to and didn't make any musical sense at all. She said she could appreciate the full-time musician needing spare and/or specialty high-end instruments, but as an amateur it was not really necessary. She said she had a lot to learn yet.

I'm pretty sure my answers to the same questions about high-end instruments would have been somewhat different. Her's were spot on!

Mim
06-17-2014, 03:46 AM
WARNING: This is a HIGHLY sentimental and philosophical answer!

High End depends on the ukulele and the buyer and what someone can afford.
I have had someone write me and ask if my Master Class Breedloves were good beginner ukes!
HECK YEAH! If you have the money...

So, sort of like beauty is in the eye of the beholder. A high end uke can differ from person to person.
But I think if in your heart if it sounds, plays, and feels like you want...
then to you it is a high end uke.

And if you are a struggling collage student where an $85 budget is all you can scrape up, then that $85 uke is your high end.

Ok... that is also the romantic minded overly sentimental Mim talking there!

My first uke was around $220. I started with a $100 budget and kept eeking up until I found my first love. And he was high-end to me and I still love him to this day! The ice cream shop was struggling, and I needed something to make me happy on the cold winter slow days. He was a sacrifice, but well worth it!

Hahaha... so carry on! Don't flame me for this. I just wanted to say...
A $100 uke that is played every day and loved by the player is more high end to me
than a $3000 uke among a collection that is only played every now and then.

Carry on... haha!

stevepetergal
06-17-2014, 03:55 AM
Thanks Steve. Not sure about the John Lennon quote though. Certain governments actively pursue regional instability. The Middle East is a case in point.

Yes, but the quote says "if everybody wanted" it. Your "Certain Governments" are not only part of that, they're made up of people.

Imagine. If you can't imagine it, it really is impossible.

bborzell
06-17-2014, 04:18 AM
Two things; price and acceptance at that price.

PhilUSAFRet
06-17-2014, 06:50 AM
I "got it" the day I played my Pono concert, then laid it down and immediately played a Kanilea concert. An enlightening moment.

mm stan
06-17-2014, 06:55 AM
Get the best uke you can afford....remember the old adage, you get what you pay for....of course choose wisely too....Try before you buy ....

Dane
06-17-2014, 07:04 AM
Usually more attention to the individual instrument and the playing experience of it. The necks in particular on high end ukuleles just feel so good in your hands.

katysax
06-17-2014, 07:05 AM
For most people high end equates to dollars spent. I tend more to differentiate between mass produced and boutique or small shop ukes. However, I also tend to think of "high end" in terms of reputation - the "cachet" of owning a particular brand.

For some people the high quantity Hawaiian ukes - Kamaka, Kanilea, Koaloha, Koalau, are "high end" to others they are "mid range" except for their more expensive custom models. My personal view is that these ukes are highly variable. A good Koaloha can be a spectacular players instrument, but has a certain crudeness of production that you won't find in something like a Collings. You can find good or bad examples of any of these.

There are a number of small shop custom builders like Boat Paddle, Covered Bridge, Ono, who make some very fine instruments. Of these I own a Covered Bridge and I've had a chance to play a few. These instruments are a bit of a risk because you can rarely try before you buy. You are going on the builder's reputation which may or may not be warranted. In my view you can get a spectacular bargain. If you compare my Covered Bridge to a Collings or a Mya Moe you will find lots of little things that are not as refined. However the instrument has a sound that is alive, real depth and character, and lots of sustain. In my view it is the equal of and superior to many ukes costing twice as much or more. I think of them as "high end" from a musical standpoint.

Then you have mass produced ukes that are made with considerable refinement. I'd put Kiwaya and Brueko in this category. (I own both). These generally cost less than custom ukes, but have real character and a lot of care in construction. I don't think of them as "high end". Although some Kiwayas are pretty expensive.

Then you have Martin. Martin is kind of in a class by itself. Vintage Martins are sought after and expensive. To some people they are the epitome of high end. Modern Martins are controversial (and there are really two kinds - Mexican and American). Because of their history, owning Martin has real meaning to some people.

Then you have the "boutique" factory ukes - Collings and Mya Moe come to mind. These are made with a high degree of refinement, lots of care in the construction, and also have a lot of character. In my experience, for pure refinement and perfection of construction, Collings pretty much blows about everything out of the water. However, that doesn't mean that a Collings is my favorite to play. I think to most people these would be "high end" ukes.

Then you have the experienced, established builders who make custom instruments which are pretty pricey, Kinnard, Rick Turner, Pete Howlett, These are people with a reputation for consistently good work. I think these again are pretty clearly "high end".

Finally you have what I call unobtanium ukes. To some people these are the only ukes that would qualify as truly "high end". These are ukes like Kawika, Pegasus and Moore Bettah. With the exception of Chuck Moore, these come from builders who are no longer building ukes. They have developed a reputation among collectors with money and therefore have a demand in the market that exceeds their availability. Of these I have two Kawikas (purely obtained by extraordinary luck). I've never even seen a Pegasus and never played a Moore Bettah (I don't care i'd still buy one. Chuck: please please please sell me one of your ukes). Are my Kawika ukes "better" in some way. Well they are rare. They are beautiful. They are great playing ukes. If you take away the name and the history, they are arguably on a par with the best custom ukes being made by the "k" brand makers. it's the uniqueness of these instruments that makes them special. Value is in the "eye" of the beholder.

I can't believe I have actually thought about this so much.

Ukulele Eddie
06-17-2014, 07:47 AM
"If you compare my Covered Bridge to a Collings or a Mya Moe you will find lots of little things that are not as refined. However the instrument has a sound that is alive, real depth and character, and lots of sustain. In my view it is the equal of and superior to many ukes costing twice as much or more. I think of them as "high end" from a musical standpoint."

I agree. My Covered Bridge Claro Walnut was an exceptional sounding instrument. Fit and finish were appropriate for the price point, but sound rivaled any price point.

CeeJay
06-17-2014, 07:49 AM
I think of it as the golf club syndrome....you may have the best bag of golf clubs ...but you ain't necessarily going to play any better.........

I buy and play what I can afford ...that's my "high end".......but to each their own .......and no that's not sour grapes...or the politics of envy ...or anything else like that....

UkeKnowDamnRight
06-17-2014, 07:55 AM
So interesting.

This thread is really making me want more ukuleles. ;)

Moore Bettah Ukuleles
06-17-2014, 08:04 AM
Finally you have what I call unobtanium ukes. To some people these are the only ukes that would qualify as truly "high end". These are ukes like Kawika, Pegasus and Moore Bettah. With the exception of Chuck Moore, these come from builders who are no longer building ukes. They have developed a reputation among collectors with money and therefore have a demand in the market that exceeds their availability. Of these I have two Kawikas (purely obtained by extraordinary luck). I've never even seen a Pegasus and never played a Moore Bettah (I don't care i'd still buy one. Chuck: please please please sell me one of your ukes). Are my Kawika ukes "better" in some way. Well they are rare. They are beautiful. They are great playing ukes. If you take away the name and the history, they are arguably on a par with the best custom ukes being made by the "k" brand makers. it's the uniqueness of these instruments that makes them special. Value is in the "eye" of the beholder.

I believe Bob Gleason (Pegasus) is still building some ukes. I wonder if it's any coincidence that the three builders you mentioned all live within a few miles of each other? Maybe it's the water.

SteveZ
06-17-2014, 08:26 AM
I think of it as the golf club syndrome....you may have the best bag of golf clubs ...but you ain't necessarily going to play any better.........

I buy and play what I can afford ...that's my "high end".......but to each their own .......and no that's not sour grapes...or the politics of envy ...or anything else like that....

That's why I gave up golf. The more I spent, the less I improved. Because of me some local holes were reclassified as Par 9s.

_AS (put whatever stringed instrument you have the most) is based on that marketed idyllic sound, ease of play, etc. that may make plunk-and-thud sound like angel voices. No matter how much I spend on the "golden fleece" instrument, some guy shows up carrying a battered no-name with second-hand strings, and when he plays everyone in a thirty yard circle goes silent in awe. Will we ever learn.....

Telperion
06-17-2014, 10:17 AM
Higher end ukes can sound great, with a richness and color not typically found in lower end models. They can also be beautiful, with more ornament, higher grade figured wood, inlay, etc. However, to me, a major characteristic I look for is playability. Simply put, "how easy is it play?" I'm not an accomplished musician, by any stretch, although I try my best to pull off a few more complicated songs. I find that I can make it through difficult parts of songs more cleanly on certain ukuleles than others. Of course, a lot of this is tied to the set-up, but the build quality plays a big part too. I've owned a lot of different ukes from many different builders over the years, covering the range from a Makala Dolphin, to K-brand ukes, to a Moore Bettah tenor. Many of them have great qualities and very much to love. I've always thought very highly of the 'off the shelf' K-brand ukes and the Pono Pro Classics. Any of them could be considered 'high end.' However, it wasn't until I got my first Collings (a UC2 custom) that I realized I was actually playing and sounding better on it than anything else I had played. It just seems like I was getting through those technical parts effortlessly, and it was really noticeable. I can't speak for the Collings style 1's, but the 2's and 3's I've played were off the charts for playability. The only other ukes I've played that I thought were as easy to play as Collings, are Compass Rose and Moore Bettah (there are many others I'm sure, and these examples are just from my own sampling).

All that said, I really agree with SteveZ. A great player can make just about anything sound great. Corey proves that pretty much on a daily basis doing demos at HMS. Figuring out how to make a lower end instrument sound great is actually an effective way of making yourself a better player. Lower end instruments tend to be less forgiving, essentially forcing the player to figure out how it wants/needs to be played. I can make my Dolphin sound pretty nice, but the sound quality isn't very even across the fret board, and I can't play it too hard or it sounds pretty awful - thus, it can sound good, but is very limited. My Collings, on the other hand, sounds awesome all the way up the neck, it's colorful and articulate when played softly, and I can play loud and hard without sounding brash or muddy. The only limitations with playing the Collings come from my abilities, not the instrument.

-Steve

P.S. A little stretch off topic, but talking about getting the best sound out of an ukulele, and essentially bringing out the sweetest tone is a huge part of the artistry of a musician. It's not just about learning the chords and picking patterns, but about finding the instrument's voice. I love this demo Kimo Hussey did on a Ko'olau CS (a wonderful high-end ukulele, by the way!), where he demonstrates this concept with the smoothness and charm that can only be Kimo.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hOiNvJFDmRA

janeray1940
06-17-2014, 10:30 AM
With some good quality moderate priced ukuleles coming onto the market over the last few years I am interested to know what owners of "high end" ukuleles see as being the difference in sound quality between their ukuleles and the lesser priced ones.

It's kind of a tricky question, and as others have noted, what is midrange to some is high end to others. I play Kamakas, but not because I consider them high end - I play them because of a combination of playability and sound quality and aesthetics that I like. I don't play them because of the name brand or the price or any of that. And it's never really occurred to me to go "higher end", as I am not a collector and don't buy ukes as investments.

OldePhart
06-17-2014, 10:37 AM
I "got it" the day I played my Pono concert, then laid it down and immediately played a Kanilea concert. An enlightening moment.

That pretty much sums it up. A lot of people who say they have no use for a "high end" instrument simply haven't had the opportunity to play one. I had several mid-range acoustic guitars and they were decent instruments (I wish I didn't give my Seagull S6 away after I got my first Taylor). But, when I got my first Taylor I realized the difference between "decent" and "oh, wow." LOL I later gave that Taylor (Jumbo) to a son-in-law and got a smaller-bodied Taylor. That was in 2001 and I haven't even thought about buying another acoustic guitar since. Before that I experimented with a new acoustic guitar probably every year or so.

John

Jon Moody
06-17-2014, 10:45 AM
As a working musician (meaning, I garner a fair size of my income from performing), my idea of high-end may be different than many.

My main gigs are often either studio work (as of late) or musical theatre performances, where in the span of four weeks, you can have 24 performances not to mention any rehearsals or other things tossed in there. So when I look for instruments to bring to gigs and perform with, my first instinct is to look for build quality. As many have pointed out, there is a lot more attention to detail with boutique builders/high end models over the affordably priced, mass produced ones. It can also mean higher quality hardware like tuners, bridges, electronics (if there are any), but most importantly a professional setup by the person building the instrument. All of that translates into consistency and durability in varying conditions that a lesser instrument may not have.

Case in point; a couple of years back, I did a theatre production of A CHORUS LINE, where I played an SX jazz bass (for those not in the know, SX is known for very affordably priced, Chinese made instruments that with a little elbow grease, can be quite playable). It was during the fall time of year here, and the constant bringing it in and out of the theatre to the car to the house and back wrecked havoc on the neck, and thus the action of the instrument. On a whim, I brought in my Warwick Streamer LX bass (which is a significantly more expensive instrument) one night. No issues at all. The neck is solid as a rock, the tuners hold amazingly well, it balances nicely on my frame and the sound and playability is the best I could ask for. I finished the run with the Warwick, and never had any issues with it whatsover. In fact, that bass can sit for a couple of months (when I'm playing an upright bass gig) in the gigbag, get pulled out and still be in tune.

Ultimately, you play what you're happy with, what you can afford, and whether that's high-end or not really makes no difference. But for someone like myself that tends to look at instruments more as tools, I want the best, most dependable ones available. And you cannot as easily find them in the lower price ranges.

KnowsPickin
06-17-2014, 10:56 AM
P.S. A little stretch off topic, but talking about getting the best sound out of an ukulele, and essentially bringing out the sweetest tone is a huge part of the artistry of a musician. It's not just about learning the chords and picking patterns, but about finding the instrument's voice. I love this demo Kimo Hussey did on a Ko'olau CS (a wonderful high-end ukulele, by the way!), where he demonstrates this concept with the smoothness and charm that can only be Kimo.



Very true. I had a book on stage makeup at one time that said (roughly) "Half of a makeup job's effectiveness is the actor under it." Similarly, more than half of an instrument's sound and tone is the sensitivity of the player. Nobody does it like Kimo. And he always seems to be having the best time. But I'm sure Kimo is not going to waste his time struggling with and instrument that is hard to play. Superb playability is one of the hallmarks of "high end" instrument. And once an instrument is in his hands..... MAGIC!

Pueo
06-17-2014, 11:55 AM
I have played a number of very expensive ukuleles, many of which would be considered high-end. Some of them I did not personally care for, some of them I lusted after. What I did notice is that the effort required to get good sound out of them is considerably less on a high-end ukulele. The best I felt as though I could play for hours with little fatigue.

I don't really want to get into who is better or anything, but I will go out on a limb and say that the ONLY ukulele maker that I have truly enjoyed playing each one I picked up - and I have picked up several - is Chuck Moore. I will have one someday!

I started out as a guitar player, and I recall two experiences that really showed what a difference a high-end instrument makes.
The first was when my guitar teacher let me play his Gibson L-5. I was a 10 year-old kid, and that thing was HUGE to me, but I could still play it easily. Much more easily than my Conn student classical guitar. That stuck with me.

The next time was many years later. I was mostly playing my Aria Pro II RS - a Japanese Stratocaster copy. I had played my friends' Strats and Les Pauls and would go to Guitar Center and try all kinds of guitars, even expensive ones, and did not really see much difference, to be honest. Then my uncle bought an Eric Clapton edition custom Strat that he had made at Fender in California. That guitar was definitely high-end. It evoked that feeling of my guitar teacher's L-5. It was so easy to play. You barely had to apply any pressure to fret a note, and the notes were always clean. It felt like it pushed you to be a better player, to take more risks. It was really weird and hard to describe. I switched to ukulele about a year after that happened. :D

I have five ukuleles that I feel have these qualities of great tone and playability. You pick them up and strum them and you know immediately that you are not playing a Dolphin. You can hear clean sustain. The least expensive was about $300 and the most expensive about four times that. I am not sure that any of them would be considered high-end though, compared to what? Ko`olau? Not really. Kala, ok, sure. But I am very happy with them!

Steveperrywriter
06-17-2014, 12:25 PM
Of late, I've gotten into the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi, which essentially says, Nothing is perfect. Nothing is finished. Nothing lasts forever. The handmade items, from those who are artists and craftsmen of skill, are each unique. And if you have one built, you can speak to specifics. Would it be possible to make the fretboard a tad wider? Could you maybe upgrade those tuners? I have motifs in my life that I love, maybe one of them could find its way into the design? A great luthier wants to build the best instrument he or she can, and there is a connection made with the customer to achieve that.

What you get from a luthier who knows what he or she is about are the eyes and ears and the soul of their expertise in trying to achieve a sound and look. Their best shot in that moment. Not to say a mass-produced instrument won't sound good, but it won't have the same heart. The assembly line is not trying to make each one different, it's trying to make them all the same.

Nothing is perfect, nothing is finished, nothing lasts forever, but the best handmade axes have something that rarely comes off an assembly line from folks who are looking at the clock and wishing the end of the shift would come sooner. How could it?

With a great instrument, I know I won't live long enough to get better than it is. I would rather the limitations be mine than the other way around. Gives me something for which to reach.

My opinion, which, with a dime, will get you ten pennies, if somebody wants to bother to make change ...

iamesperambient
06-17-2014, 03:58 PM
With some good quality moderate priced ukuleles coming onto the market over the last few years I am interested to know what owners of "high end" ukuleles see as being the difference in sound quality between their ukuleles and the lesser priced ones.

to me its the same difference the defines high end watches:
you have timex reliable but affordable and usually stylish watches (like a kala uke)
than you have something like sieko which is a little better quality and stylish (maybe something like
pono? or ohana) than you have rolex (which would be like kamaka or other k bands).

You can get great ukes at good prices, but of course you will get the best quality build /looks and sound from the higher end ukes and their higher in price because the quality is so much better but that doesn't mean those 100-300 dollar ukes will be bad most of them are actually really good.

itsscottwilder
06-17-2014, 05:08 PM
WARNING: This is a HIGHLY sentimental and philosophical answer!

High End depends on the ukulele and the buyer and what someone can afford.
I have had someone write me and ask if my Master Class Breedloves were good beginner ukes!
HECK YEAH! If you have the money...

So, sort of like beauty is in the eye of the beholder. A high end uke can differ from person to person.
But I think if in your heart if it sounds, plays, and feels like you want...
then to you it is a high end uke.

And if you are a struggling collage student where an $85 budget is all you can scrape up, then that $85 uke is your high end.

Ok... that is also the romantic minded overly sentimental Mim talking there!

My first uke was around $220. I started with a $100 budget and kept eeking up until I found my first love. And he was high-end to me and I still love him to this day! The ice cream shop was struggling, and I needed something to make me happy on the cold winter slow days. He was a sacrifice, but well worth it!

Hahaha... so carry on! Don't flame me for this. I just wanted to say...
A $100 uke that is played every day and loved by the player is more high end to me
than a $3000 uke among a collection that is only played every now and then.

Carry on... haha!

Mim is right on point!

I think we all know what low end is:
- Bad / Sloppy construction
- Bad intonation
- No Setup / poor setup
The list goes on.

Once you get to the level of quality materials being built by people who care about quality then it really comes down to personal preference.

The uke you love to play is a high end uke regardless of price.

tbeltrans
06-18-2014, 02:15 PM
I think I got in a bit of trouble talking about this in another thread, but maybe it was out of context for that thread whereas this thread is directly to that point. I just started playing ukulele a few weeks ago, but have played jazz and fingerstyle guitar for many years. Last winter, I finally found a decent 1974 Gibson Johnny Smith archtop. Then, last summer, I got a McPherson acoustic. These would both be considered relatively "high end" instruments. I doubt I would have really appreciated what these instruments are if I had gotten either, say, 20 years ago (the McPherson would not have existed, but the Johnny Smith would). There is the workmanship, the tone, the playability, the intonation over the entire fretboard, and all these things really do matter to an experienced player.

Though I just started playing ukulele, I can readily tell the difference between a quality instrument and a lesser instrument. I am not using the words "high end" here because I am simply not aware of enough of the market to know where midrange stops and high end starts. But I do know what is comfortable to play, sounds in tune all over the fretboard, and what sounds good to my ears. I had an accomplished player player a number of ukuleles and the ones I bought were the ones that sounded really, really good to me. A number of them that I did not choose sounded reasonably good to me, played in tune, and handled well. But the SOUND I heard from the two I now own was set apart from the rest to my ears (another set of ears may have reacted and chosen differently).

One of the ukuleles I bought is a Kamaka, called the "Ohta San". According to their site, it is the most expensive at the base price and it has a custom long neck and a few other custom goodies on it. The other ukulele was a direct trade for a Collings 12 fret acoustic guitar I purchased in the mid-90s but no longer play. The ukulele in that trade is a heavily customized Ko'olau tenor. Both are quite expensive, quite a bit more than the Collings and Martin ukuleles they sell, and I know that these are very fine instruments too. But to me they were worth it. Even though I am new to ukulele, I have been playing guitar long enough to recognize and appreciate quality.

All that said, there is nothing wrong with lower cost ukuleles (well, maybe a $50 or $100 ukulele might be stretching it, though I could be wrong there too). It is all too easy to fall into a snobbishness, or at least be interpreted as being snobbish when talking about this subject. My incentive for getting the two models I purchased was opportunity and the fact that I am retiring at the end of next week and really do not want to be spending that kind of money once I no longer have a professional salary coming in.

I really think this thread has enough posts pointing in the same direction to provide a very clear set of answers to the OP's question. My perspective is from a new ukulele player with years of other playing experience to show that even with experience on other instruments, the differences in ukulele quality are very noticeable.

Tony

Beau Hannam Ukuleles
06-19-2014, 05:22 AM
High end =
Top notch tone, wood and finish.
Nice miters,
Good wood working practices like tucking in to linings all back braces and upper/lower transverse bars on the top.

Original designs are nice or something different and unique to every customers build. No factory can do this. Only a sole luthier can.

Such things as Glue type (Titebond/LMI/HHG) and use of dovetails are not a factor. Nor is the location or age of the builder. Of course, the older you are, the better you should be, but there are some very talented young builders around.

Price is not necessarily a factor in quality (although it should be). After all, one can charge anything they want for any quality.

hawaii 50
06-20-2014, 07:42 AM
if you order a custom uke....you can only get two out three of the below...(in general)
tone,apperance and value

I kind of think this makes sense....read it in a Dana Bourgeois article....:)

Moore Bettah Ukuleles
06-20-2014, 07:58 AM
if you order a custom uke....you can only get two out three of the below...(in general)
tone,apperance and value

I kind of think this makes sense....read it in a Dana Bourgeois article....:)

Huh? I didn't read the Bourgeous article but it makes no sense that you can't have all three. What do you mean by value? Do you mean cheap? Or something that's going to maintain or increase in value over time? Case in point; my ukes on the resell market usually sell for far above what they sell for new. That seems like good value to me. And I probably score on the other two points as well. I'm sure there are others as well.
Sorry, general misconceptions are a pet peeve of mine.

RichM
06-20-2014, 08:01 AM
Huh? I didn't read the Bourgeous article but it makes no sense that you can't have all three. What do you mean by value? Do you mean cheap? Or something that's going to maintain or increase in value over time? Case in point; my ukes on the resell market usually sell for far above what they sell for new. That seems like good value to me. And I probably score on the other two points as well. I'm sure there are others as well.
Sorry, general misconceptions are a pet peeve of mine.

I agree, Chuck. I would think custom ukes would have the highest value, since you are getting exactly what you want and you have the ability to collaborate with the builder. And as Steve frequently points out, the cost of ownership is often better on high-end ukes, since if you have to sell you usually get a high percentage of your purchase price back (or in the case of yours, double your purchase price back!).

hawaii 50
06-20-2014, 08:02 AM
Huh? I didn't read the Bourgeous article but it makes no sense that you can't have all three. What do you mean by value? Do you mean cheap? Or something that's going to maintain or increase in value over time? Case in point; my ukes on the resell market usually sell for far above what they sell for new. That seems like good value to me. And I probably score on the other two points as well. I'm sure there are others as well.
Sorry, general misconceptions are a pet peeve of mine.



Sorry Chuck...yes he means cheap or cheaper(price wise) I think.....I read the article in Acoustic Guitar

your ukes have all three as I think your MBs are a great value(IMO).....and everyone knows about the tone and looks....

Jon Moody
06-20-2014, 08:10 AM
I agree, Chuck. I would think custom ukes would have the highest value, since you are getting exactly what you want and you have the ability to collaborate with the builder. And as Steve frequently points out, the cost of ownership is often better on high-end ukes, since if you have to sell you usually get a high percentage of your purchase price back (or in the case of yours, double your purchase price back!).

The only thing I see is that a custom uke - or really, a custom instrument of ANY kind - could possibly have a lower resale value because, while the original owner may have gotten an instrument that is exactly what they wanted (which to them is an incredible value), if they have to sell it for any reason, it can become a niche market. That's a consideration with ordering any custom instrument; still hasn't stopped me from having a number of them myself.

RichM
06-20-2014, 08:13 AM
The only thing I see is that a custom uke - or really, a custom instrument of ANY kind - could possibly have a lower resale value because, while the original owner may have gotten an instrument that is exactly what they wanted (which to them is an incredible value), if they have to sell it for any reason, it can become a niche market. That's a consideration with ordering any custom instrument; still hasn't stopped me from having a number of them myself.

True enough-- I was looking at Warren Buffet's Dairy Queen uke in another thread. As much as I admire Dave Talsma's fine craftsmanship, I can't imagine wanting that uke!

Rick Turner
06-20-2014, 08:21 AM
From a maker's perspective, one of the main differences is that I pay Santa Cruz residents to work in my shop and build instruments with me one at a time...yes, in batches, but hardly do we ever build five the same in a batch. High end ukes tend to be built by decently paid workers here in the United States. I'm not being jingoistic, just realistic.

Moore Bettah Ukuleles
06-20-2014, 08:23 AM
The only thing I see is that a custom uke - or really, a custom instrument of ANY kind - could possibly have a lower resale value because, while the original owner may have gotten an instrument that is exactly what they wanted (which to them is an incredible value), if they have to sell it for any reason, it can become a niche market. That's a consideration with ordering any custom instrument; still hasn't stopped me from having a number of them myself.

That's a very good point. When you are getting into the upper bracket of custom instruments you are talking about a substantial investment. I always warn customers against building an uke so unique that it that it loses resell value, even if the customer has no intention of ever selling it. Things happen. A high quality instrument should last a few generations (at least that's my intention) and I see the current owners as being only temporary caretakers. Long after "George" has passed on, the instrument will live on and subsequent owners are going to curse him for having his named inlaid on the fret board. If you're a big time star or money will never be an issue to you then that's a different story.

janeray1940
06-20-2014, 08:23 AM
Huh? I didn't read the Bourgeous article but it makes no sense that you can't have all three. What do you mean by value? Do you mean cheap? Or something that's going to maintain or increase in value over time?

I agree, although I have to add that all of the above - tone, appearance, and value - are somewhat subjective. Case in point: I bought a custom two years ago, made to my very specific requests (tone first and foremost; appearance was to be as plain and understated as possible; value to me meaning a price that I could afford as long as those first two were met). I felt like my builder delivered on all three, but I got a lot of "why didn't you get pretty inlays" type comments from others when I received the uke - appearance more than anything being subjective.

Interesting side note here: my needs have changed and I'm trying to sell the uke now. Oddly enough, it's the first uke I've listed on UU that didn't sell within an hour of posting it - and the first uke I'm actually prepared to *lose* money on. I've sold several Kamakas and have always gotten my asking price, which in each case was more than I originally paid second-hand. Thus far, the only offers I've had on the custom were pretty lowball. On paper, I'm guessing the custom would be considered a "higher end" uke than a plain old factory Kamaka, but so far, it's the plain old factory Kamakas that are proving to have lasting monetary value.

janeray1940
06-20-2014, 08:25 AM
The only thing I see is that a custom uke - or really, a custom instrument of ANY kind - could possibly have a lower resale value because, while the original owner may have gotten an instrument that is exactly what they wanted (which to them is an incredible value), if they have to sell it for any reason, it can become a niche market. That's a consideration with ordering any custom instrument; still hasn't stopped me from having a number of them myself.

And this is *exactly* what I seem to be experiencing in attempting to sell my custom!

Jon Moody
06-20-2014, 08:26 AM
True enough-- I was looking at Warren Buffet's Dairy Queen uke in another thread. As much as I admire Dave Talsma's fine craftsmanship, I can't imagine wanting that uke!

We were booth neighbors at the Mighty Uke Fest in May; Dave's stuff is very cool! But yes, that's a great example.

Steveperrywriter
06-20-2014, 10:02 AM
It seems to me that if you are ordering a custom instrument to fit your needs now, the way to go is to get what you want. If ordering something non-standard is apt to be a problem a few years down the line and that notion bothers you, you don’t have to do it. For my money, If it is going to be my uke, and I am going to play it, then it would make more sense to me to live in the moment.

Kind of strikes me like signing a pre-nuptial agreement when neither you nor your intended have any money, because it's is possible you might some day …

Well, Honey, you know I love you, but eventually, I might be worth some money, and we could, you know, split up; I'm just covering my bases, so sign right there, and, um ... will you marry me?

How romantic!

Well, you know, I wanted a wider fretboard, but ten years hence, that might make the resale value less, so even though I’m feeling cramped when I play it, I opted for the standard width.

There's a plan, but maybe nine years from now, a big meteor falls on my house and squashes me like a bug, and destroys the uke in the bargain. I'm not sure I'd want my last thought to be, "Well, crap! I should have gotten the wider fretboard!"

So living for a possible future doesn’t pan out so well in that case, and since my crystal ball is on the fritz? I can’t make that call with any certainty.

Better, I think, to carpe ukeum.

As Chuck points out, his second-hand instruments are selling for more than his new ones, and I suspect most of them aren’t standard, save in the most basic ways. I bet that wasn't on his radar when he was carving coconuts and making his first instruments. Me, I wouldn't get a Moore Bettah as an investment, the only reason for me to have one would be to play it. I probably wouldn't have it cremated with me, but let the kids and grandkids worry about all that stuff, that'll give them something to do. I plan on hiding money all over the house, then telling them I did it. Only I might tell them there's a thousand dollars more than there is, just to think about them continuing to look ...

After you’re gone? Same deal: Van Gogh painted like a madman (pardon the pun) and nobody was buying his art in droves. His brother propped him up, and Van Gogh kicked off before he was forty. Wonder what he’d think about how many millions of dollars those not-good-enough-to-sell-back-in-the-day canvases go for now … ?

Probably that uke I had custom made won’t get into that range, but who knows but that there might be some other guy out there who will find the combination exactly the thing for which he was looking? I can't say.

Nobody else can, either ...

(A short addendum: My wife loves to shop for bargains. She will go out, spend all afternoon at the department store, then come home with shoes or clothes or a purse she has no intention of keeping. A day or two, she takes 'em back. I truly cannot understand this. It boggles my mind. Really? If you knew you were going to take it back, why get it? Venus and Mars, maybe ...)

Jon Moody
06-20-2014, 10:19 AM
That's a very good point. When you are getting into the upper bracket of custom instruments you are talking about a substantial investment. I always warn customers against building an uke so unique that it that it loses resell value, even if the customer has no intention of ever selling it.

I think sometimes too, that the customer can get so caught up in the options and possibilities of a custom instrument that they also try to take full control of the process, which usually results in a FOR SALE ad where it reads "I had this custom built based on my specs, and it sounds nothing like what I wanted..." When I had my Boat Paddle uke built, I told Jerry what I was tonally hoping to get, and put faith in the fact that, as the builder, he could deliver on that. We went back and forth on a couple of cosmetic things (and in full disclosure, I do have an inlay on the fretboard that will probably lower the resale value if it ever goes up for sale), but I let the tonewood selection be the builder's decision (I approved it, of course).

Because I'm not an expert at building a ukulele, so I'm coming to you with some tonal wants/needs. You're the expert that can help fulfill that desire.

FrankB
06-20-2014, 10:29 AM
With some good quality moderate priced ukuleles coming onto the market over the last few years I am interested to know what owners of "high end" ukuleles see as being the difference in sound quality between their ukuleles and the lesser priced ones.

I'll address the original question. I've owned classical and flamenco guitars ranging from $200 (used) to $4,000 new, and lots in the middle. Almost all of the expensive guitars were sold after a few months. Everyone wants to be knocked over by a high-end instrument, but the only one that I thought was a real value cost $1,200 (an Arturo Huipe, which now sells for $3,000+). The rest failed to meet my expectations, and were sold.

I've recently gone on a $500-$1,300 factory ukulele buying spree. Before that, I bought Kala's latest and greatest all solid Spruce/Ovangkol tenor for $350. When played against the Kala, I either didn't hear much difference, or the Kala just outright beat the more expensive ukes. The Kala is precision made, and has a neck that is smooth as butter. My last high end factory uke had an awful texture on the neck, along with a gouge.

Then you move up to Chuck Moore, Collings, Rick Turner, etc. These are the folks who care about what they put their name on, and you're certainly going to get quality. I've played Rick Turner's Renaissance series in steel and nylon, and they're all that and more. I almost bought a Santa Cruz OM/PW about ten years ago. That guitar was lovely, and cost twice as much now. I don't think I'd make money from a ten year old Santa Cruz, but I'd come close to breaking even if I had bought it.

John's comment about consistency is mostly correct. I bought a Martin C1K a few months ago, and it had great tone, and a nice curl on the Koa. I bought 3 or 4 more hoping to get another just like it, but the rest all had plain Koa, and an overbearing G string. They were quite consistent in that regard, and they were all returned....with me paying full shipping(!!!).

I would say that a decent mid-range uke should get you most of the way musically, but you have to provide the talent. Some people are motivated by the big brand names, and if that's what it takes to keep an instrument in your hands, that's what you need. I know people who pride themselves on buying cheap instruments, and playing them way beyond what anyone would expect.

OldePhart
06-20-2014, 10:38 AM
(A short addendum: My wife loves to shop for bargains. She will go out, spend all afternoon at the department store, then come home with shoes or clothes or a purse she has no intention of keeping. A day or two, she takes 'em back. I truly cannot understand this. It boggles my mind. Really? If you knew you were going to take it back, why get it? Venus and Mars, maybe ...)

In my experience most women feel as if they have failed if they spend time in a store and leave empty handed. Definitely a Mars vs. Venus thing. Myself I feel as if I have failed if I spend a significant amount of time in a department store, period.



I think sometimes too, that the customer can get so caught up in the options and possibilities of a custom instrument that they also try to take full control of the process, which usually results in a FOR SALE ad where it reads "I had this custom built based on my specs, and it sounds nothing like what I wanted..." When I had my Boat Paddle uke built, I told Jerry what I was tonally hoping to get, and put faith in the fact that, as the builder, he could deliver on that. We went back and forth on a couple of cosmetic things (and in full disclosure, I do have an inlay on the fretboard that will probably lower the resale value if it ever goes up for sale), but I let the tonewood selection be the builder's decision (I approved it, of course).

Because I'm not an expert at building a ukulele, so I'm coming to you with some tonal wants/needs. You're the expert that can help fulfill that desire.

This is a very good point. I had pretty much the same experience with Jerry on my build. I'd spec'd a couple of things that weren't disasters, by any means, and he made it clear he'd build that if it's what I really wanted, but he took the time to point out the down sides to what I'd asked for. I ended up with a better, more salable uke than I'd asked for and it didn't add to the cost at all so Jerry had no incentive other than seeing to my best interests to point out the down sides.

John

janeray1940
06-20-2014, 10:41 AM
In my experience most women feel as if they have failed if they spend time in a store and leave empty handed. Definitely a Mars vs. Venus thing. Myself I feel as if I have failed if I spend a significant amount of time in a department store, period.


Then I suppose this makes me a failure as a woman, since I would rather... eat glass than spend a moment, let alone a significant amount of time, in a department store or shopping mall :)

Sorry, couldn't resist. Gotta represent that .00005% of women who hate shopping, right? Carry on, gentlemen :)

Moore Bettah Ukuleles
06-20-2014, 10:45 AM
You're right Steve, if you can afford it you should order an uke any way you want it. After all that's the biggest advantage of buying custom. And you should always marry the woman of your dreams. But using your pre-nup analogy, things don't always turn out the way we plan them to. As far as I know, most if not all of my ukes on the resale market were the result of financial hardship. I'll bet these people were glad that they had an uke that had a wide appeal. Many divorcees were glad they had the prenup too. Nobody makes these decisions thinking they are temporary. Things like fret board width are not going to hurt the resale price but things like names on fret boards will. And really, everyone knows your name anyway. And if they don't, wear a name badge when you play. Money shouldn't be the only criteria when buying an uke but it's a factor. And for some, a pretty big one. Some of my customers have gobs of money. Some are on a very tight budget and for them even my base model is a real stretch for them. Part of my job is to discover who they are and to help them to make the best decisions for themselves, tonally, aesthetically and finically. If a customer's funds are limited I will make suggestions to trim their list of desires (do they really need a slotted headstock, or cutaway or radius fretboard, etc?) I also inform them of the disadvantages (and advantages) of having a highly personalized uke and what it may or many not mean to them if they have to sell at some point. In the end, the customer will decide what's best for them. Mine is only one opinion.

OldePhart
06-20-2014, 10:46 AM
Then I suppose this makes me a failure as a woman, since I would rather... eat glass than spend a moment, let alone a significant amount of time, in a department store or shopping mall :)

Sorry, couldn't resist. Gotta represent that .00005% of women who hate shopping, right? Carry on, gentlemen :)

LOL I understand fully. That's why I was careful to specify "most" - I've found that "all" is a very dangerous concept!

John

Rick Turner
06-21-2014, 06:06 PM
One of the biggest problems for custom luthiers, particularly of "finger-style acoustic guitars", is the unrealistic expectation that the guitar will transform the "musician" into a significantly better player than he or she really is. That $8,000.00 to $20,000.00 (and up) would be better spent on a decent instrument...a simple luthier built or a good factory built...and a lot of lessons and practice. My friend, Jeff Traugott, goes through this all the time. That's what he gets for making $26,000.00 flat top guitars! :-)

Dane
06-21-2014, 08:21 PM
One of the biggest problems for custom luthiers, particularly of "finger-style acoustic guitars", is the unrealistic expectation that the guitar will transform the "musician" into a significantly better player than he or she really is. That $8,000.00 to $20,000.00 (and up) would be better spent on a decent instrument...a simple luthier built or a good factory built...and a lot of lessons and practice. My friend, Jeff Traugott, goes through this all the time. That's what he gets for making $26,000.00 flat top guitars! :-)

There is always a price point where any lower and it is actually difficult to play. I find that ukuleles below the $150 range or so are often so bad it actually DOES make you play worse. I had this happen to me once I upgraded from my first ukulele. I was amazed, I could play things and it wasn't a horrible experience anymore! At around $300 you start to get solid wood instruments, which make players often sound better. Then at around 800+ you get instruments that are very noticeably "easy" to play, meaning there was extra care and attention paid to the way that specific ukulele feels in your hands, and intonation is spot on then.

tbeltrans
06-22-2014, 06:32 AM
One of the biggest problems for custom luthiers, particularly of "finger-style acoustic guitars", is the unrealistic expectation that the guitar will transform the "musician" into a significantly better player than he or she really is. That $8,000.00 to $20,000.00 (and up) would be better spent on a decent instrument...a simple luthier built or a good factory built...and a lot of lessons and practice. My friend, Jeff Traugott, goes through this all the time. That's what he gets for making $26,000.00 flat top guitars! :-)

Being also over in the acoustic guitar forum, I do see this sort of discussion too. Years ago, I joined the local audio society. This was a group of people dedicated to the fringes of high end audio. Most of these people seemed to have the kind of profession that provided large amounts of discretionary income. I was there more as a "bottom feeder", and there were some real advantages to being in that position. It really seemed to me that these people, well educated and positioned, seemed to have a strange need to believe in some sort of audio magic. If they paid hundreds or thousands of dollars for a particular specially made brick, and then set their turntable or speakers or whatever on it, it would transform their system into a level of quality far beyond what the manufacturer intended (or unleashed all the magic that the manufacturer originally built in). There were many such devices that would come along, heralded as the greatest audio invention since sliced bread. People would buy incredible preamps, power amps, headphones, etc. during the months that the fringe audio magazines were breathlessly extolling the virtues of that particular piece of gear. Once these magazines moved on to something else, it was time to unload the gear and get what the magazines were now touting. That is where I came into the picture. Once a year, the society would have its annual flea market, open only to members. I could built one fine system from the castaways that these people couldn't unload fast enough because it was "so last year".

I suspect most hobbies have that, and many of us probably have some of those characteristics to one degree or another by virtue of being human. The audio society was an extreme example of that, and I have not encountered that behavior to that degree anywhere else. But we do see some of that sort of behavior in the acoustic guitar forum. I have not been here long enough to determine whether that goes on here. In the acoustic guitar forum, it is called GAS (Guitar Acquisition Syndrome). In other forums it is usually referred to as Gear Acquisition Syndrome. Another forum, The Gear Page, has that behavior to a much higher degree regarding guitar effect pedals and amplifiers.

So all that said, I can certainly point a finger at myself here. It is always easier to talk about somebody else, but I have some of it too. I am retiring at the end of next week, and have wanted to make sure my gear is in order so I am not spending serious money on it in retirement, when I don't have a professional income anymore. I have never gone into debt for my gear, having always preferred to live debt free and free of the stress that can be caused by associated financial issues. But I have bought gear with bonuses and that sort of thing. I have a McPherson acoustic guitar that cost me $6,000. For me, it is the finest acoustic I have ever played - in tune all over the fretboard because it uses the Buzz Feiten tuning system, very easy to play, wonderful sound, etc. Does it make me a better player? Probably not, but then I paid my dues in that area for many years before finally getting a really decent instrument so it would be difficult to know. I also have a 1974 all original Gibson Johnny Smith archtop. I just always wanted one, and finally got it. I use it in a jazz group. It too cost me $6,000. I routinely see them going for around $12,000. Does it make me a better player? No, but I vowed that one day I would get one, and 20 years after that, I finally found one I could afford.

As for ukulele, I have two. My first ukulele I got as a straight across trade (no cash changed hands). It is a custom Ko'olau that was marked down to $3,900 for $4,500. It is all custom, with some of the most beautiful koa I have ever seen, LR Baggs pickup system like the one in my McPherson, and all manner of goodies they list on their site as custom. I got that because I really don't like selling things and the hassles that can go with that. I actually got more in this deal than what I originally paid for the guitar I traded for back in 1996. It was a win-win in that it would have taken the shop a long time to seel this ukulele (they seem to sell plenty of Collings and others at that price point though), and I didn't care about getting cash for my guitar, but wanted a new musical direction and a decent instrument. Will that instrument make me a better player? In some ways, yes. I have played a few low end ukuleles and would say that any progress I do make will be better reflected in a decent ukulele (though I suspect little to no difference between an $800 and a $4500 ukulele).

My second ukulele is a Kamaka, according to their site, their most expensive, with the custom long tenor neck and matching hard shell case. It is a $1995 ukulele plus the custom long neck upcharge. I did a partial trade for it. My first ukulele came from the builder in standard high G tuning, and I was just discovering that I would probably be switching between high and low G a lot, so I felt a second ukulele was in order. The Kamaka came from the builder in low G tuning, so I grabbed it. Will this ukulele make me a better player? Probably not. However, I first got a less expensive ukulele (a Riptide in the $300 - $400 range) and the difference between it and my Ko'olau was really disappointing, so I decided to move it and get something in the ballpark of my Ko'olau and be done with it.

So I am starting out right away with two fine ukuleles that I suspect most people would go through several selling/trading cycles to get to. From what I have seen here, people do trade up - but as they gain experience playing and feel the need. That seems much more normal to me.

Any hobby has different aspects that appeal to different people. Some people love the acquisition of the stuff that goes with the hobby - the bartering and newness. Others are focused on what to do with what they have. Most of us fall somewhere in between. I have seen this in all the hobbies I have participated in from ham radio, to music, and while my wife was into photography. Human nature prevails and we all exhibit a variety of aspects of it.

Tony

Icelander53
06-22-2014, 08:25 AM
Tony you make some good points in your intro to this post. Humans are by nature believers and it is likely hardwired into our brains.

For example and there is evidence to back this idea. Lets say you are a prehistorical humanoid walking in the plains one summer morning. Everything is calm and cool and then you hear a rustle in the grass. This could mean likely two things and you can believe one or the other. One it's the wind rustling the grass. Two it's a nasty predator out looking for an easy meal. Now if you choose number two and are wrong there is not much to lose but if you choose number one and and are wrong you may just end up dead with a Darwin award for taking yourself out of the gene pool early. So it's a survival trait to believe in the biggest possibility because if you're wrong you have little to lose comparatively.

This scenario above actually applies to UAS just sublimated down the line a bit so to speak. If you are skeptical that that $12-3500 uke won't improve your chances of becoming the player you dreamed of and are wrong you will lose out in the musical game of life. So you're going to be very inclined to try just to find out. Because hey, no one wants to lose out and be left out. Now there are likely other factors at play here but IMO you hit on the main one.

The fact is from a lot of personal experience in many hobbies over many years is that this UAS thing and this string vs that string etc. is mostly a bunch of nonsense but I'll likely continue to do it in spite of my logical mind telling me this.:cheers:

OldePhart
06-22-2014, 08:50 AM
Ahhh, yes, Tony, the Audiophools, as engineers call them. The guys who pay $1200 for turned maple disks to "tune their listening rooms" and $500 for little plastic "bridges" to keep their speaker cables off the floor so the carpet won't "bleed off the sound." Ya gotta love 'em, ev'ry one. LOL

Funny thing is you never see any of these guys (or the magazines living off them) that will put anything up to a true double-blind scientific test. :)

John

Teek
06-22-2014, 10:02 AM
Then I suppose this makes me a failure as a woman, since I would rather... eat glass than spend a moment, let alone a significant amount of time, in a department store or shopping mall :)

Sorry, couldn't resist. Gotta represent that .00005% of women who hate shopping, right? Carry on, gentlemen :)

+1, unless it's shopping in an antiques mall or strolling through a vintage motorcycle museum, or planes, love the old planes! I can spend all day!

janeray1940
06-22-2014, 10:08 AM
+1, unless it's shopping in an antiques mall or strolling through a vintage motorcycle museum, or planes, love the old planes! I can spend all day!

LOL! With you all the way on those last two, but alas, even the antiquing has sort of lost its attraction for me. I blame the uke - I'd rather be playing! :)

tbeltrans
06-22-2014, 10:57 AM
Though I can't honestly say that I would own the ukuleles I currently have, had it not been for being able to trade things that I no longer wanted/needed, I will say that I certainly appreciate the beauty of these instruments. Whether such instruments will make us better players, their appearance certainly does add to the enjoyment of the instrument.

This is NOT a response to any post in this thread, but instead general thoughts and a reminder to myself even though I wrote it:

I suspect that we all have something we would be willing to spend disposable income on. Many people now have those fancy phones that bring the entire internet, texting, etc to the palm of their hands. Regardless of the cost of the phone itself, the monthly fees can be relatively expensive. There are those of us who still have cheap flip phones and the most basic of cell phone plans, or no plan or even cell phone at all. There are those who spend money on big flat screen TVs and then on subscriptions to all manner of entertainment over cable, satellite, or whatever for it. There are those who drive new cars, while others of us have never had a new car or even spent more than a few thousand on a car. We are all different in our choices, but probably not so different in that we all have things we choose to spend money on and other things we choose not to spend money on. Recognizing this can go a long way toward "tolerating" another person's respective choices. So if having expensive ukuleles seems silly, consider what we ourselves choose to spend it on. Whatever it may be, it just may seem as silly to another person. :)

Tony

Rick Turner
06-22-2014, 06:43 PM
Of course, one person's high end is the next person's middle range.

I would define "high end ukes" as starting at about $1,000.00...about the minimum that a professional US based small shop uke maker can build for...and stay in business. My average retail is more like $1,500.00, and I find my price/features ratio about equivalent to Collings, Kamaka, Kanilea, or KoAloha. We mainland small-time manufacturers are held to incredibly high standards of finish, and that's where a lot of time goes in.

There are always those who will build cheaper...until they run out of money or interest or both. We always see newbie builders trying to break into guitar or uke making by low-balling prices or thinking they can discount significantly because they intend to sell direct only. That's good for about a dozen instruments, and then they run out of ready, local customers and suddenly have to face reality...which is spending more and more time selling the instruments. And when it gets to twenty hours of hustling in a fifty hour work week, you might as well suck it up and sell through music stores...those funny places where musicians go to try instruments out. You see, music stores actually EARN their cut, and there is always a retail cost to selling anything.

The wannabe price cutters come and go. It usually takes about two to three years for them to either get real on prices or drift away from the whole thing. And then you're left with guys like Chuck, or Gordon and Char, or me, or some of the others over in luthier-land who charge what we have to in order to be able to keep doing it. And whatever you think of our prices, we're not getting rich off of you!

And off-shore it's a whole other thing.

tbeltrans
06-23-2014, 01:24 AM
Of course, one person's high end is the next person's middle range.

I would define "high end ukes" as starting at about $1,000.00...about the minimum that a professional US based small shop uke maker can build for...and stay in business. My average retail is more like $1,500.00, and I find my price/features ratio about equivalent to Collings, Kamaka, Kanilea, or KoAloha. We mainland small-time manufacturers are held to incredibly high standards of finish, and that's where a lot of time goes in.

There are always those who will build cheaper...until they run out of money or interest or both. We always see newbie builders trying to break into guitar or uke making by low-balling prices or thinking they can discount significantly because they intend to sell direct only. That's good for about a dozen instruments, and then they run out of ready, local customers and suddenly have to face reality...which is spending more and more time selling the instruments. And when it gets to twenty hours of hustling in a fifty hour work week, you might as well suck it up and sell through music stores...those funny places where musicians go to try instruments out. You see, music stores actually EARN their cut, and there is always a retail cost to selling anything.

The wannabe price cutters come and go. It usually takes about two to three years for them to either get real on prices or drift away from the whole thing. And then you're left with guys like Chuck, or Gordon and Char, or me, or some of the others over in luthier-land who charge what we have to in order to be able to keep doing it. And whatever you think of our prices, we're not getting rich off of you!

And off-shore it's a whole other thing.

Good points all around here. It was my younger brother, an attorney who builds classical guitars (think Charlie Hoffman), who expressed his pricing in terms of how much per hour he makes on an instrument if it takes him X hours to build for Y dollars per hour, not even considering the cost of materials, shop costs, etc. I think that should come into a discussion about the cost and value of quality instruments. Quality costs, and different people seem to have different attitudes toward it. Some appreciate both quality instruments AND the costs that go into producing it. I have seen people in the acoustic guitar forum who actually complain about the prices of quality guitars, while others appreciate the quality and are willing to pay the cost. It takes all kinds, I guess.

In an online forum, it is difficult to know who the poster is, and therefore difficult to take in any sort of context what that poster is saying. Some people in a forum like this may be professional players, while others may be serious hobbyists that really do spend time with their instrument, while others may simply collect them and enjoy being around players. Real players will come to appreciate quality instruments and what it takes to build one, whether the individual player can afford such an instrument or not. So there are some clues given by really reading what a given poster says.

Tony

CeeJay
06-23-2014, 01:56 AM
Good points all around here. It was my younger brother, an attorney who builds classical guitars (think Charlie Hoffman), who expressed his pricing in terms of how much per hour he makes on an instrument if it takes him X hours to build for Y dollars per hour, not even considering the cost of materials, shop costs, etc. I think that should come into a discussion about the cost and value of quality instruments. Quality costs, and different people seem to have different attitudes toward it. Some appreciate both quality instruments AND the costs that go into producing it. I have seen people in the acoustic guitar forum who actually complain about the prices of quality guitars, while others appreciate the quality and are willing to pay the cost. It takes all kinds, I guess.

In an online forum, it is difficult to know who the poster is, and therefore difficult to take in any sort of context what that poster is saying. Some people in a forum like this may be professional players, while others may be serious hobbyists that really do spend time with their instrument, while others may simply collect them and enjoy being around players. Real players will come to appreciate quality instruments and what it takes to build one, whether the individual player can afford such an instrument or not. So there are some clues given by really reading what a given poster says.

Tony

The point about the cost of "Topline-High End" instruments and the perception of said prices will always be contentious depending on individual perspective..

For example you write multiply X hours at y per hour ....and I would say ...yes but hold on ....I don't think that is worth Y and hour ...I am only prepared to pay Bflat rate (because I'm tight ) and you may be happy (I and you are figurative here btw) to go with the ticket price...(we are assuming that this not a custom build were the price has already been thrashed out) . Therefore to you that instrument is worth that price and to me it is not.

This does not denigrate the fact that we are both agreed on the quality etc of said instrument because we are both interested in said instrument.

What it does say is that we all have different values on the money in our pocket. If you are awash with the stuff it may not be a wrench to part with it ...(though Yorkshire Farmers have a different view ....'Ow Much " is their War Cry) if you have a low wage then you may have to think long and hard about parting with that cash.......

Quality, as you write does cost ...but there comes a point at which you have to say hang on ...how much more quality am I going to get by going further up the food chain ....and there is a diminishing scale of returns.......you may need to accept that there comes a point where you cannot improve on the playability side ....an example of this is Deering. They do their Goodtime Banjos, a range of affordable good quality instruments ...the quality is in the build and equipment and they are unadorned unvarnished maple instruments which play beautifully for around 500-700....the price is that because they have kept the "frippery" to an absolute mimimum.

So there is the ornamentation to be taken into account as well ...which enhances the aesthetic granted ...but does not improve the sound.

I am no expert on the construction or range of Ukuleles available ..I play what I have and have bought off the shelf .

So ultimately what this thread boils down to for me is .. "Is that quality material, hand built "High End " instrument priced at a cost that you would pay ?"

* Edit to the above.."Is that quality material, hand built "High End " instrument priced at a cost that you could afford to pay ?"

hollisdwyer
06-23-2014, 06:13 AM
Tony made a very good point:"So I am starting out right away with two fine ukuleles that I suspect most people would go through several selling/trading cycles to get to. From what I have seen here, people do trade up - but as they gain experience playing and feel the need. That seems much more normal to me." I learnt, when I was 15, that it was worth working and saving all summer to buy the best guitar I could afford ( a Martin New Yorker) after suffering and almost quitting the guitar because my first guitar was so hard to play. I guess that's the bottom line, the easier any instrument is to play, the more you will play and the more you play the better you will get. Add to that that I have never had an instrument that has 'playability' and sounds bad.

So now that I have recently started playing the ukulele, I applied the same philosophy. I purchased two reasonable ukes to start, good enough to want to play, even in public and show myself that this is not a passing fancy, which they did. Recently I have purchased 2 high quality instruments. I know there are more expensive ones out there but the criteria for these purchases were; playability, intonation and the complexity and balance of tone. They are also very good looking instruments but ' beauty is in the eye, etc'.

While I appreciate the craftsmanship and materials that the really high end instruments exhibit, I see the price of those instruments as a diminishing return in value as I define that word.

tbeltrans
06-23-2014, 01:34 PM
The point about the cost of "Topline-High End" instruments and the perception of said prices will always be contentious depending on individual perspective..

For example you write multiply X hours at y per hour ....and I would say ...yes but hold on ....I don't think that is worth Y and hour ...I am only prepared to pay Bflat rate (because I'm tight ) and you may be happy (I and you are figurative here btw) to go with the ticket price...(we are assuming that this not a custom build were the price has already been thrashed out) . Therefore to you that instrument is worth that price and to me it is not.

This does not denigrate the fact that we are both agreed on the quality etc of said instrument because we are both interested in said instrument.

What it does say is that we all have different values on the money in our pocket. If you are awash with the stuff it may not be a wrench to part with it ...(though Yorkshire Farmers have a different view ....'Ow Much " is their War Cry) if you have a low wage then you may have to think long and hard about parting with that cash.......

Quality, as you write does cost ...but there comes a point at which you have to say hang on ...how much more quality am I going to get by going further up the food chain ....and there is a diminishing scale of returns.......you may need to accept that there comes a point where you cannot improve on the playability side ....an example of this is Deering. They do their Goodtime Banjos, a range of affordable good quality instruments ...the quality is in the build and equipment and they are unadorned unvarnished maple instruments which play beautifully for around 500-700....the price is that because they have kept the "frippery" to an absolute mimimum.

So there is the ornamentation to be taken into account as well ...which enhances the aesthetic granted ...but does not improve the sound.

I am no expert on the construction or range of Ukuleles available ..I play what I have and have bought off the shelf .

So ultimately what this thread boils down to for me is .. "Is that quality material, hand built "High End " instrument priced at a cost that you would pay ?"

* Edit to the above.."Is that quality material, hand built "High End " instrument priced at a cost that you could afford to pay ?"


No argument here. As I pointed out in an earlier post in this thread, we all have our value systems and will make purchases according to that.

Tony

Icelander53
06-23-2014, 01:53 PM
That and our ability to think logically about purchases. In other words some can be very unrealistic about what they think they are getting for a certain amount of money. Some being more realistic may choose differently because they actually have a realistic idea of what their money is buying them.

tbeltrans
06-23-2014, 02:32 PM
That and our ability to think logically about purchases. In other words some can be very unrealistic about what they think they are getting for a certain amount of money. Some being more realistic may choose differently because they actually have a realistic idea of what their money is buying them.

Typically, there is a certain amount of emotion in a purchase like this, as compared to, say, a box of bandages or cough medicine. :) I do agree about the logic and expectations. I read an interesting article once by George Gruhn, the well know dealer in Nashville of vintage instruments such as pre-war Martins and the like. He made an interesting point about the expectations of buyers. Some people, after constantly hearing and reading about how wonderful pre-war Martin acoustics are, buy one and find out that the instrument is not at all what the person expected, and the experience ends up a big disappointment. That would probably happen to me unless I tried it before buying.

I strongly believe in "try before you buy", but also realize that many people simply don't live within any sort of proximity (other than being on the same planet or hemisphere) of shops that carry the instruments the buyer may be interested in. For me, "try before you buy" has often been a real eye-opener and I am certain I would have made the wrong choice for my needs had I done so over the internet. Fortunately, places do have a return policy if you want to deal with the hassles and risk of packing and shipping back your purchase.

When I got my two ukuleles, I went by sound, since I really didn't know brand names except Martin and Collings because I own and play acoustic guitars. Neither of those two brands, as nice as they are, hollered "buy me" as the two I picked out did, though all the ukuleles in that shop were quite good. The two that I got were absolute stand-outs among the crowd. It was only later, in these forums, that I saw the makers of my ukuleles being mentioned, sometimes Ko'olau, and frequently Kamaka. Honestly, I had never heard of either before I bought them.

I would not have had a clue buying by looking at and listening to a web site through my computer speakers. If I bought online, I would most certainly have purchased Martin or Collings, and then had the desire to trade when I encountered the sound of the models I did choose at the shop. I am sure I could have been happy with either brand, but it was the sound that did it for me. For those playing a long time on some instrument (not necessarily ukulele), that will make sense and maybe not so much for somebody completely new to playing an instrument of any kind.

Even for a knowledgeable buyer, expectations are not always in line with what is, though usually it isn't too far off (i.e. a Collings or Martin ukulele would have been a perfectly fine instrument choice for me).

Tony

Fred Ukestone
06-23-2014, 03:05 PM
While I accept all the arguments put forward that tonal quality is directly related to build quality, I would like to add one obvious point.

A high quality instrument will always sound like a high quality instrument in the hands of a skilled player. However if you put that same instrument in the hands of an average or poor player then it will not sound as good as a moderately priced instrument in the hands of an very good player.

tbeltrans
06-23-2014, 03:39 PM
While I accept all the arguments put forward that tonal quality is directly related to build quality, I would like to add one obvious point.

A high quality instrument will always sound like a high quality instrument in the hands of a skilled player. However if you put that same instrument in the hands of an average or poor player then it will not sound as good as a moderately priced instrument in the hands of an very good player.

That is what good technique is for. :) I am glad you used the term "skilled" rather than talent, because skill can be acquired by most people, given enough desire and attending to those things that develop good technique.

Tony

Fred Ukestone
06-25-2014, 03:06 PM
Message to Eugene,

In light of the following dictionary definition, I don't understand your response. http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=yabba%20dabba%20do

pabrizzer
06-25-2014, 03:17 PM
..Price...

Fred Ukestone
06-25-2014, 03:22 PM
As an Australian you surely mean postage costs from overseas ?!!?.

Fred Ukestone
06-25-2014, 03:36 PM
Hey Pabrizzer
Truly loved your version of 'Wish You were Here". You have a great feel for that song. Can you do the entire Floyd back catalogue! Here is the link for anybody else who is interested. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uQVhrfZf-Bo

No... I have just had another listen to your version. It's better than the original.

Have you ever listened to Ted Hawkins?

CeeJay
06-25-2014, 03:39 PM
..Price...

Pa .....I f@88)ng LOVE YOU ...................

pabrizzer
06-25-2014, 05:46 PM
Hey Pabrizzer

Have you ever listened to Ted Hawkins?

No I hadn't but have just been having a listen now and I like what I found. Thanks.

Fred Ukestone
06-25-2014, 06:28 PM
Hey Pabrizzer,

This is a great clip of Ted H.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vUrOjNcGgnk

tbeltrans
06-26-2014, 11:45 AM
..Price...

Now THAT nails it! Though both my ukuleles are priced in the "high end" range, I tried a couple of inexpensive ukuleles at a music store I stopped in today on the way home, and I was impressed. I can't remember the brands, but they started with a K, something like Koala I think. They seemed to range from about $60 up to $250. I thought they were pretty decent, especially as they approached the higher price in the range in the store.

I am certain that a "high end" ukulele is not at all necessary, but a decent playing one would be (i.e. plays in tune and easy to fret), and that clearly doesn't have to cost an arm and a leg (maybe just a little toe?).

Tony

Icelander53
06-26-2014, 01:35 PM
I agree. My favorite uke to play is a Gretsch that cost just over $200. I several costing well over $300 and get to play my gfs Pono that cost $1200 and I'd still take that Gretsch.