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View Full Version : Overwhelmed by budget tenor choices!



wralyn
07-01-2014, 05:53 PM
I don't intend for this to be a "which uke is best" thread, but I'm sure that's what it will end up being. I'm new to the site and trying to determine which first uke to buy. I visited Sam Ash and Guitar Center tonight hoping to find the perfect one. I was able to determine that I want a tenor, but they each only had one in stock...both out of budget.

I want to stay close to the $100 range. Online tends to have two price points, $70-$80 and $110-$120. Neither with setup. Is it worth the extra $40 to bump up to the KA-T or the Makai MT-70 (spruce top) or the Lanikai ST (spruce top)?

I've read as many reviews as possible in both groups and have a list of 5 or 6 in each group. They all have 4.5+ out of 5 stars in ratings. Since I'm going to be ordering blind, is there any way to narrow down the "better" brands? Or is it a crapshoot?

Jim Hanks
07-01-2014, 06:04 PM
Since you're ordering blind, your best bet is to pick a good dealer who will do a setup and can do some of the quality control for you. Otherwise it is a real crapshoot as you say. The usual suspects include Mims Ukes, Uke Republic, and HMS. For that price range, I'd recommend the Kala KA-T from HMS.

wralyn
07-01-2014, 06:28 PM
I've checked all three of those and the minimum out-of-pocket with shipping is going to be $140. That's pricing me out of the game altogether. I've read a number of posts about the importance of setup and I understand the concern, but I also have to wonder where all these positive reviews are coming from. I wouldn't mind a modest setup fee on a cheap uke if it kept me in my price range, but the big 3 don't offer setup on those (or carry them).

Tigeralum2001
07-01-2014, 06:31 PM
Welcome to UU! If you can stretch at all, you really should. Wait another month to save more, if you need to, but go with one of the stores mentioned above. I'm sure the others do, but HMS rejects many ukes with defects. Guess what the distributor does with them? They send them to a less discerning store! Avoid the big boxes and stick with one of the stores mentioned here. You'll thank us later.

Dearman
07-01-2014, 06:35 PM
Butler music and elderly also sell ukes in your price range with a basic setup.

wralyn
07-01-2014, 06:52 PM
Thanks, Dearman. I looked at Elderly a few days ago, but was looking more at the low-end ukes and didn't see much there. I just looked again and saw the Gretsch G9120 with 10% off and free shipping. Total runs $116.10. I haven't done much research on it, but what little I've seen has been positive.

katysax
07-01-2014, 07:00 PM
Guitar Center and Sam Ash are terrible places to buy ukes; they are even terrible places to try ukes. You will get a good value if you go to any of the recommended dealers and order a Kala or Ohana in your price range.

Recently I stopped in a local music shop that sells a lot of ukes and played a bunch of inexpensive tenors. You can find a decent one from almost any brand. I played an Estrella that was $89 and I'm pretty sure is the same, except for the bridge as the bottom of the line Islander. I played an inexpensive Ohana that was quite good. A friend of mine has a Cordoba that is decent. But, it's pretty hit and miss. If you don't have a local shop that you can trust, then your best best is online from Mim or Hawaii Music Supply or Uke Republic. You really can't go far wrong with Kala or Ohana.

Dearman
07-01-2014, 07:02 PM
With a $100 budget you just need something playable. You'll have plenty of time to save and dream of $300-500 uke while you play this one. Whichever store you pick, check the return policy and call to chat with them about what you want.

wralyn
07-01-2014, 07:18 PM
Guitar Center and Sam Ash are terrible places to buy ukes; they are even terrible places to try ukes. You will get a good value if you go to any of the recommended dealers and order a Kala or Ohana in your price range.
The local GC won't give you a second glance unless you are "with the band." They had a total of six ukuleles on a decrepit display. It took five minutes to look and walk. SA was a bit better and the guy in the acoustic area was very friendly. They only had one tenor model in stock. It was my first trip to Sam Ash. I will happily go back for my guitar needs. Probably my last trip to Guitar Center.


With a $100 budget you just need something playable. You'll have plenty of time to save and dream of $300-500 uke while you play this one. Whichever store you pick, check the return policy and call to chat with them about what you want.
I do have low standards. My electric guitar at the moment is an Indiana strat copy I bought it on CL for $45. I cleaned it up and had a friend do a setup on it for $35. It thrills me to my toes. I'm just trying to entertain myself and get the littluns interested in music.

haertig
07-01-2014, 07:23 PM
If you can't go over $100 for a uke plus setup plus shipping, you might want to consider a soprano rather than a tenor. They are cheaper. I recently bought myself a tenor (my first uke) and I didn't find anything decent for under $100 at your doorstep. About $150 for a uke, spare set of strings, and shipping was pretty much the starting point for a reasonable tenor from a good shop.

Here's a soprano uke from HMS for $69. IIRC, shipping is about $20 from HMS (at least that's what my shipping was ... to Colorado).

http://www.theukulelesite.com/kala-ka-s-soprano.html

A tenor will cost more. And if you add the almost-mandatory clip-on tuner and an extra set of strings to that soprano, you're at $111 shipped to your door, which is pretty close to your desired $100.

Or, if you have a uke group in your area, you might join the group and inquire into buying something used from another group member.

iamesperambient
07-01-2014, 08:42 PM
I don't intend for this to be a "which uke is best" thread, but I'm sure that's what it will end up being. I'm new to the site and trying to determine which first uke to buy. I visited Sam Ash and Guitar Center tonight hoping to find the perfect one. I was able to determine that I want a tenor, but they each only had one in stock...both out of budget.

I want to stay close to the $100 range. Online tends to have two price points, $70-$80 and $110-$120. Neither with setup. Is it worth the extra $40 to bump up to the KA-T or the Makai MT-70 (spruce top) or the Lanikai ST (spruce top)?

I've read as many reviews as possible in both groups and have a list of 5 or 6 in each group. They all have 4.5+ out of 5 stars in ratings. Since I'm going to be ordering blind, is there any way to narrow down the "better" brands? Or is it a crapshoot?

just purchased an Amahi Snail uke tenor. I bought it at al local
mom and pop music store, It cost 150. i compared it
to all the kalas and lanikais, and cordobas at sam ash and guitar center
and it beat out all of them in terms of quality in sound(literally brought in and compared).
I recommend checking
them out elderly music carries the rosewood tenor for around the same price
and their a great dealer wonderful customer service. its slightly more money
than you listed but i think its worth it the quality really is much better than kala
and lanikai (and i actually love kala ukes not so much lanikai). Elderly also
sets up all their ukes before shipping!

http://elderly.com/new_instruments/names/amahi-snail-ukulele-rosewood-tenor-with-gigbag--ASNR-T.htm

DownUpDave
07-02-2014, 02:49 AM
You said your friend set up a guitar for you. Buy a uke that is with in your $100 budget and have your friend set it up for you. The reason why everyone is recommending Mims, Uke Republic and HMS is they will not sell you a dud and it will be set up properly. The Kala tenor or Ohana are both good ukes for the money. I would still suggest you save another $30 - $40 and go with one of the dealers above. They KNOW ukes and with supply you with something that is enjoyable to play. They will give you great advice, point you in the right direction and stand behind what they sell you. They are all members here. That is worth way more than the $30.00 you would save going the other way.

I think I just talked myself into buying another uke from them ;););)

SteveZ
07-02-2014, 03:04 AM
Whichever is finally bought, get one that is set up properly. An instrument not set up is like buying a new car that doesn't have the spark plugs gapped properly or the front end aligned. The car will still run, but not well. Stringed instruments are the same.

Freeda
07-02-2014, 03:17 AM
Any particular reason for choosing a tenor? Sopranos are cheaper, and don't give me that "big hands" nonsense.

iamesperambient
07-02-2014, 03:43 AM
Any particular reason for choosing a tenor? Sopranos are cheaper, and don't give me that "big hands" nonsense.

maybe he wants a fuller sound/deeper/mellower sound? less plink plink? maybe he wants to play jazz, or a style which requires more fret room
all of those things applied to me hence why i got a tenor and baritone. Sometimes cheaper isn't worth it if its not the sound/tonal texture you
are looking for.

Freeda
07-02-2014, 03:58 AM
maybe he wants a fuller sound/deeper/mellower sound? less plink plink? maybe he wants to play jazz, or a style which requires more fret room
all of those things applied to me hence why i got a tenor and baritone. Sometimes cheaper isn't worth it if its not the sound/tonal texture you
are looking for.
Thank you. I was wondering why you made the choices you did.

Oh wait, no... I was asking the OP.

moetrout
07-02-2014, 05:11 AM
Thank you. I was wondering why you made the choices you did.

Oh wait, no... I was asking the OP.

Ok...that right there is funny I don't care who ya are!

I personally like the Kala KA-PWT and almost bought one at my local shop. They were going for $159, no setup, but I do that stuff myself. Any chance the OP is handy enough to learn how to do a basic setup? There is lots of information about it. I get a lot of satisfaction doing my own work. Just a thought.

moetrout
07-02-2014, 05:12 AM
Thank you. I was wondering why you made the choices you did.

Oh wait, no... I was asking the OP.

Ok...that right there is funny I don't care who ya are!

I personally like the Kala KA-PWT and almost bought one at my local shop. They were going for $159, no setup, but I do that stuff myself. Any chance the OP is handy enough to learn how to do a basic setup? There is lots of information about it. I get a lot of satisfaction doing my own work. Just a thought.

wralyn
07-02-2014, 05:37 AM
You said your friend set up a guitar for you. Buy a uke that is with in your $100 budget and have your friend set it up for you.
He's currently unavailable. He's had one of my guitars for repair for two months.


Any particular reason for choosing a tenor? Sopranos are cheaper, and don't give me that "big hands" nonsense.
Nonsense? Somebody compared a setup to a properly tuned car, so I'll spin off that analogy. I'm a big guy...6'5" 350lbs. I can drive a small car that gets me 35mpg. I can fit in them, I can press the accelerator and brake and shift the gears. But it's not comfortable. They aren't a pleasure to drive. Some are plain painful. I dread driving my wife's SUV because I'm cramped up in it. MY SUV isn't the biggest around, but it fits me like a glove. I enjoy driving it. I WANT to drive it. Sure, I can play a concert. Heck, I can probably contort my fingers to play a soprano. But I would prefer to buy something that "fits" and is comfortable to play. A mellow sound has nothing to do with my choice.

iamesperambient
07-02-2014, 06:06 AM
Thank you. I was wondering why you made the choices you did.

Oh wait, no... I was asking the OP.

Quite rude! I was actually just trying to give you insight as to why people buy tenors your comment even
to the OP seemed condescending, he was asking about tenors and you suggesting soprano isn't what he asked
so you are one hell of a hypocrite.


BTW i had the kala pw concert it was very very nice beautiful look and sound and i would
imagine the tenor would be even nicer. and i agree the tenor does fit larger hands more fretroom
for jazzy stuff and other styles and it has a more mellow less harsh tone devoid of the plinky plink
of soprano but i think comfort is a HUGE reason why people like tenors and baritone.s

seeso
07-02-2014, 06:14 AM
Guys, let's not snipe please.

haertig
07-02-2014, 06:30 AM
Unfortunately, "I want a tenor" and "I want to spend less than $100 total including shipping" are pretty much mutually exclusive. So suggesting buying a less expensive soprano, or suggesting spending more, are both reasonable responses. Maybe not the desired answers sought by the OP, but honestly, in my research (I'm a newbie) I flat out did not find any tenors for under $100, ignoring the toy ukuleles.

Ways I can think of to save money are to skip the "extras". You can get by without a spare set of strings for a while (I am still on my first set and expect them to last a while). You will no doubt want some way to assist in tuning your uke, but if you have to save every penny, you could get by skipping paying for a clip-on tuner. If you have a smart phone, there are tuner apps for free (I don't know how well they work since I've never used one). If you have a (tuned) piano in the house, you can tune to that. I suppose you could listen to one of the many internet videos on tuning, and actually tune to the pitches they are playing in the video (that would be a pain, but might work in a pinch). Skip the gig bag and/or case. Don't buy any books, instead learn from the multitude of videos on the internet.

But still, for a decent starter tenor, I think you're looking at more like $140 shipped, even skipping all the extras.

wralyn
07-02-2014, 06:31 AM
I didn't set my price because I can't "afford" a more expensive uke. I can buy a $500 uke with professional setup if I want. I have personally set a restriction based on what I think is reasonable based on the price points I have found and the reviews I have read and the amount of interest I have in trying out the instrument. If I have fun with it, I very well could upgrade within 2-6 months. As Dearman said, I'm looking for something to play now. I do appreciate the emphasis on a proper setup and appreciate the passion for having an instrument performing at 100%. I also appreciate the knowledge and wisdom behind all of the replies. But I also think it's worth mentioning that there are a lot of people out there who have spent $50-$100 on a uke (tenors included) who have no clue what a professional setup is all about. They pull it out of the box, tune it, and play it. They have years of fun with it. My experience from my other hobbies tells me that there is always a bargain brand/model that sticks out as the clear leader in its niche. The Kala KA-T, by all accounts, is the winner in its category.

Returning to my original question...is it worth it to step up from the bargain bin (Kohala KP-T, Makala MK-T, Makai TK-55) to the bargain+ bin (OS OU4, Kala KA-T, Gretsch G9120, Lanikai ST)? Is the additional $40 or so worth it? I don't mind bumping up if the quality is justified, but would like to keep cost within budget.

dickadcock
07-02-2014, 06:52 AM
Let me tip-toe in & make a suggestion before anyone orders online. Do a thorough local music store search. If you have a Guitar Center & Sam Ash, you might easily have a couple of small ones you've not been aware of. (Though, if you know local musicians - pros - you are probably more aware than I was) I simply Googled " music stores near me" and now I deal with 2 locally owned stores (I hadn't known about) who will sell for the online price of the other guys. If something comes in faulty, you don't accept it. That's not the same as a set up, but you can determine that it is playable, then deal with intonation & action after you are used to it.
A third shop deals mostly in bows for violins, cellos, etc. , but has maybe 8 ukes on display. I stop in there (on the way to a "guitar store" ) just to say hello to a cute little spruce & lacewood Kala soprano that's been there over a year.
also--
I can recommend Uke Republic, and hear great things from very discriminating folks here about Mims & HMS.
~ Dick

SteveZ
07-02-2014, 07:05 AM
Returning to my original question...is it worth it to step up from the bargain bin (Kohala KP-T, Makala MK-T, Makai TK-55) to the bargain+ bin (OS OU4, Kala KA-T, Gretsch G9120, Lanikai ST)? Is the additional $40 or so worth it? I don't mind bumping up if the quality is justified, but would like to keep cost within budget.
There's nothing wrong with the "bargain bin" and (while I duck) the quality difference for $40 more is marginal at best. If the instrument is coming directly out of the box to the user without a middle-man examination, it's luck of the draw. I'd buy the inexpensive instrument and pay the $40 for a half-decent set-up, or get the $10 package of round files and a book on set-up and do it myself.

Odds are no matter which ukulele you buy now, another one is not far off once the novelty of the first one has worn off and you've learned more about what fits better, sounds better, and whatever subjective criteria develops over time. It happens to everyone. The first one may be kept as a beater, or traded for something else, or thrown at the nearest politician. Either way it's not money wasted.

Freeda
07-02-2014, 07:28 AM
Unfortunately, "I want a tenor" and "I want to spend less than $100 total including shipping" are pretty much mutually exclusive. So suggesting buying a less expensive soprano, or suggesting spending more, are both reasonable responses. Maybe not the desired answers sought by the OP, but honestly, in my research (I'm a newbie) I flat out did not find any tenors for under $100, ignoring the toy ukuleles.

Ways I can think of to save money are to skip the "extras". You can get by without a spare set of strings for a while (I am still on my first set and expect them to last a while). You will no doubt want some way to assist in tuning your uke, but if you have to save every penny, you could get by skipping paying for a clip-on tuner. If you have a smart phone, there are tuner apps for free (I don't know how well they work since I've never used one). If you have a (tuned) piano in the house, you can tune to that. I suppose you could listen to one of the many internet videos on tuning, and actually tune to the pitches they are playing in the video (that would be a pain, but might work in a pinch). Skip the gig bag and/or case. Don't buy any books, instead learn from the multitude of videos on the internet.

But still, for a decent starter tenor, I think you're looking at more like $140 shipped, even skipping all the extras.


Agreed, especially the price vs size being mutually exclusive.

I have a friend who is 6'8" and plays soprano. It is doable, barring medical issues.

dickadcock
07-02-2014, 07:37 AM
There's nothing wrong with the "bargain bin" and (while I duck) the quality difference for $40 more is marginal at best. If the instrument is coming directly out of the box to the user without a middle-man examination, it's luck of the draw. I'd buy the inexpensive instrument and pay the $40 for a half-decent set-up, or get the $10 package of round files and a book on set-up and do it myself.

Odds are no matter which ukulele you buy now, another one is not far off once the novelty of the first one has worn off and you've learned more about what fits better, sounds better, and whatever subjective criteria develops over time. It happens to everyone. The first one may be kept as a beater, or traded for something else, or thrown at the nearest politician. Either way it's not money wasted.
I agree. The differences between the Kala Makala Mk-t and the Kala KA-T are not something that will affect playability or sound, except for the cheaper strings on the MK-T. (Strings seem to have a bigger role in uke sound than they do in guitars)
(FWIW, the mk-t has brass frets, open- geared tuners, no plastic body binding, & is agathis, not mahogany laminate. The KA-T has nickel frets, body binding, & closed gear tuners. Not a big deal.) My first tenor was a KA-T & I just traded it when I got a concert like one of my other tenors. I learned how to adjust for better intonation, & it sounded quite good ( to my ears, anyway)
Too luck.

wralyn
07-02-2014, 07:58 AM
Order placed. Thanks for the input. As long as Elderly gives me the 10% discount (Gretsch exclusion), I ordered the Gretsch G9120. Supposed to be a decent uke, comes with a decent bag, and comes with the questionable Elderly setup. As long as they at least inspect it, I should have a little peace of mind. If they decide not to apply the discount, I'll find something else.

strumsilly
07-02-2014, 08:06 AM
here's something else. the finish on these is pretty thin to non existent, but they play and sound pretty good. and at this price, if it should need a set up, which it may or may not, you are still in your price range.
http://www.ebay.com/itm/STORE-DEMO-MAKALA-BY-KALA-MK-SERIES-UKULELES-/221470863087?pt=LH_DefaultDomain_0&var=&hash=item3390b12eef#viTabs_0

Dearman
07-02-2014, 04:07 PM
Unfortunately, "I want a tenor" and "I want to spend less than $100 total including shipping" are pretty much mutually exclusive. So suggesting buying a less expensive soprano, or suggesting spending more, are both reasonable responses. Maybe not the desired answers sought by the OP, but honestly, in my research (I'm a newbie) I flat out did not find any tenors for under $100, ignoring the toy ukuleles.


I bought a solid top tenor last year for $99 with setup. It left me $40 to get a case.

Dearman
07-02-2014, 04:07 PM
Order placed. Thanks for the input. As long as Elderly gives me the 10% discount (Gretsch exclusion), I ordered the Gretsch G9120. Supposed to be a decent uke, comes with a decent bag, and comes with the questionable Elderly setup. As long as they at least inspect it, I should have a little peace of mind. If they decide not to apply the discount, I'll find something else.

Make sure to update us on how it works out for you.

haertig
07-02-2014, 05:32 PM
I bought a solid top tenor last year for $99 with setup. It left me $40 to get a case.
Good deal. Not just a tenor under $100, but a solid top one at that. What brand/model and where did you buy it at? Not that I'm in the market for another uke yet, but I'd like to know for a reference point. My son-in-law wants another uke and the young couple is on the low end of the financial ladder at this point in their lives, so he would be looking for something in the "I found a great bargain" category like you found.

Dearman
07-02-2014, 05:45 PM
Good deal. Not just a tenor under $100, but a solid top one at that. What brand/model and where did you buy it at? Not that I'm in the market for another uke yet, but I'd like to know for a reference point. My son-in-law wants another uke and the young couple is on the low end of the financial ladder at this point in their lives, so he would be looking for something in the "I found a great bargain" category like you found.

Lanikai LQA-T from butler. It was an overstock sale. He sells mostly blems in that range but I grabbed a new one when I saw the sale. A friend picked up a blem one when he missed the sale I grabbed. Both turned out well for us.