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View Full Version : What is the difference in the imports?



haolejohn
02-19-2009, 06:26 AM
I am trying to figure out this country of ours. We preach unity and equality but it seems that when it comes to ukulele imports this isn't common practise. What island (outside of the Hawaiian islands) produces the best import? Is it Indonesia or the Phillipines. Is it not even an island, is it a solid land mass such as China or Vietnam? What are the four best imports available?

To quote the good Dr. Martin Luther King

"I have a dream that one day little ukulele players will not judge an ukulele by the location of its fabrication but they will judge the ukulele by the content of its voice."

Wait a minute that isn't what he said but ya'll get my drift.

haole
02-19-2009, 07:57 AM
England and Japan are probably the best island nations from which to buy an imported uke. ;)

I don't think there's really a single best import; it all depends on the manufacturer. China is known mostly for cheap junk and poor labor standards (and almost all cheap junk instruments do in fact come from China), but there are also some very well-made Chinese instruments that reflect an attention to detail and quality. From the same country you'll find great stuff, in-between stuff, junky souvenirs with 4 of the same string, and even those heavily inlaid things on eBay that crack within two weeks and sound like crap. Heck, in the guitar world there are some well-known American manufacturers who still can't get the right formula.

Ukulele players, as a whole, are a lot less snobby about country of origin than guitar players. Anyone living outside of Hawai'i will probably have a difficult time finding a uke that isn't an Asian import, and the fact that someone has accepted the ukulele gospel as truth tends to outweigh who made their ukulele.

Given the choice, I'll personally always buy American or from a democratic country that has fair labor practices, but I don't think it's right to look down on imports or the people who play them. After all, if it wasn't for inexpensive imports, the ukulele would be an elitist club reserved for big spenders. There are many, many awesome players out there who simply can't justify spending $600+ on a solid koa uke, and it's really good to know that many imports are generally bumping up their quality to appeal to the masses who want something better than the ABC store special. Telling a potential beginner to start out with a Kamaka just isn't fair when a $40 Makala will bring them almost the same joy.

haolejohn
02-19-2009, 08:25 AM
Telling a potential beginner to start out with a Kamaka just isn't fair when a $40 Makala will bring them almost the same joy.

I think to a beginner it will bring the same joy but once they strum their first chord they will want the kamaka.

Very well voiced. I play an import and I just noticed that certain imports get more advertisement and I am assuming this is because they appear to be better quality than their cousins. What are some good ukes from Japan and England?

SamWise
02-19-2009, 08:53 AM
China is known mostly for cheap junk......and even those heavily inlaid things on eBay that crack within two weeks and sound like crap.

To be completely fair to China, I think those come from Vietnam.

Ken Middleton
02-19-2009, 09:17 AM
What are some good ukes from Japan and England?

My Kiwaya (from Japan) is as close to being perfect as any factory-made instrument can be. It is as light as a feather, and it sounds so different from my Chinese-made instruments. But to get this quality, you have to pay considerably more.

When my Pete Howlett (from the UK) custom arrives later this month, it will be made from master-grade koa that I have chosen. Everything about it will be to my specification. I have discussed its manufacture at length. And, living in the UK, where the pound/dollar exchange rate is not so favourable at the moment, it will cost me very little more than a new basic Kanile'a or Kamaka. A luthier-made instrument for only a little more money than a mass-produced workshop uke.

KEN

_______________________________________

"I've just about reached breaking point", he snapped.

hoosierhiver
02-19-2009, 09:23 AM
You can't really break down quality into countries,China used to be known for "making cheap junk",but that has changed.You can still buy cheap junk from China,but they have also discovered the importance of quality,much to the dismay of competing countires like Japan,Korea etc.
You really can't be 100% sure what goes on in foreign factories.I once heard a story of a factory litearlly pulling up a bus outside a competing factory and loaded up all the workers after giving each one a $100 dollar bill.That of course left the origonal factory having to retrain all it's workers and thus I'm sure quality suffered for awhile.

bluesuke
02-19-2009, 12:04 PM
Sorry if I'm off the subject. But Ken I hope You do a in depth view on your new one when it arrives

haolejohn
02-19-2009, 06:01 PM
Samwise, you are wise in your statement. those do come from vietnam but so does Honu (Big Island Ukuleles) and they are GREAT.

HoldinCoffee
02-24-2009, 08:19 PM
So what is the difference with ukes that come from the same factory? For instance, it has been suggested that Ohana ukuleles are the same factory as Vineyard, Bushman and Stagg.

I was looking at reviews for a Vineyard ukulele and as per usual I started my research with ukulelehunt. Look at this review for Vineyard:
http://ukulelehunt.com/buyaukulele/misc/vinyard

Ok, now see what ukulelehunt has to say about Ohana:
http://ukulelehunt.com/buyaukulele/brand/ohana

So we have the EXACT same ukuleles come from the EXACT same factory, just a different name on the headstock.

Here's an Ohana Long Neck Soprano:
http://www.elderly.com/new_instruments/items/SK30L.htm

And here's the vineyard:
http://www.calgaryuke.com/ukerichard/ut001.html


Sam Ting?

So, I guess what I'm REALLY trying to say is "I hate sauerkraut."

haolejohn
02-25-2009, 04:40 PM
Sam Ting?

So, I guess what I'm REALLY trying to say is "I hate sauerkraut."

I love sauerkraut on a chili and cheese dog.

I do understand your problem with the ukuleles that are made in the same factories. If you look at an Ohana and a Vineyard next to each other they look like the same instrument. I once talked to a ukulele company on Maui's owner and I was informed that they were thinking of going to China to have a student line made and while they were in negotiations the factory made them a sample uke that wasn't even up to their standards. The specifications were all wrong. Needless to say they went elsewhere (another factory).

DeG
02-25-2009, 04:50 PM
Just throwing this out there...Ponos are made mostly in (on) Java, with just final assembly/set up being done on Oahu.

haolejohn
02-26-2009, 06:46 AM
Just throwing this out there...Ponos are made mostly in (on) Java, with just final assembly/set up being done on Oahu.

Yeah just like my beloved Meles that are handmade in the phillipines and final set up is done on Maui. That is where I wanted to go with this thread. I wanted quality ukes that come from different areas. There are some quality ukes that are made outside of hawai'i and can be purchased for a fraction of the price. Most of these imports are made with quality koa as well and some are made by hand as well.

Big_Island_Ukulele
03-10-2009, 06:49 AM
Hello all!
very interesting discussion... I was almost about to sleep and then found this thread and just couldn't resist. Haolejohn, thanks for the kind words- we really try hard. I wrote a bit about the process for my line of ukes in Vietnam in another thread:

http://www.ukuleleunderground.com/forum/showthread.php?t=10412&page=3

Since it isn't too much of a secret that I am also a supplier to many of those same factories you mention, in addition to having had samples made from them as well, I've gained a little insight into the "imports"

Kiwaya was mentioned here as well. I also wrote a little bit about their line another thread as well:
http://www.ukuleleunderground.com/forum/showthread.php?t=10412&page=3

Kiwaya is a retail store, distributor and has their own brands of product made. Their line of ukes is actually made by T's guitars. Shinji's "factory" isn't so much of a factory as you might imagine. His place is small but efficient with a handful of staff that are ever-so-attentive to the miniscule of details. every ukulele that leaves his factory is checked by Shinji himself and if they don't pass the muster- it doesn't leave. I think his whole ukulele and guitar factory is smaller than most western-sized houses! I think he has less that 1500 SF altogether and that's on two floors in a square building! I wonder how he does it, but being organized, efficient, and CLEAN really helps.

every country has good and bad ukes. I'll use my wfie, the professional violinist, as an example again... she supplies her students with well-made instruments from China. She also gets her students $1000 - $3000 Chinese made violins- well, most of the work was done in China, but the final setup in the US, but still the majority of the work was done in China and she still feels it is worth it for the money paid. don't forget- about 30 or 40 years ago, Made in Japan also meant mass-produced, cheap, junk... but oh how we've evolved! Some of the Chinese companies are on the same track to producing better and higher quality instruments. J&D is like the Taylor Guitars of China. I'm not even sure if there instruments make it to the US, but they sell well in the rest of the world. Don't forget about many of the lesser-wealthy countries that still love music but cannot afford a US or other rich-country made product- South America, Africa, etc.

I've said it before, cheaper doesn't necessarily mean lesser quality. Often it does, but not always. The same rings true that more expensive doesn't always mean better quality.

It was mentioned about different brands of ukes coming from the same factory. that doesn't necessarily make them all the same. the owner of the brand has the final say in what they decide to sell to the public. it's interesting how some of the Japanese brands made in China sold only in Japan are made by some of the same factories that make for US customers / brands, but the Japanese brand is a higher quality instrument than the US products! how can that be if it's the same factory making it? well, the Japanese owner of the brand might be paying the factory a higher amount for the product to pay more attention to certain details, for example. I know I pay my factory more than what I could pay for ukes to be made in China. I know this becasue I've paid them to do it in China. But I decided I would pay more for a better quality instrument and make a little less on each one sold and hopefully sell more of them over the long run.

Also, just because it's a koa uke, it doesn't mean it's a quality product. there is skill and technique required to cure the wood properly, cut it to quartersawn specs, bookmatch it properly, etc. I've had some import factories butcher my koa that I've sent them to make samples. I couldn't believe how they bookmatched sometimes!

One of my favorite import lines is the KALA brand. Made in China but with a general overall better quality than what you would expect to find for the price you pay. Their $200 - $400 koa and mango plywood models are just awesome for what you get. it's amazing how many locals in hawaii are buying Kalas when they could spend about $100 more or so to get a solid wood KoAloha. I was in a few shops in Honolulu recently and saw it happening before my eyes. I think the shop sold 3 Kala's in the span of about an hour and a half that I was there. and not the cheaper ones... I think they were all around the $300 level.

I think a lot of their success has to do with the owners and factories commitment to the ukulele. The Chinese factory owner is one of the few that I know of that makes trips to Hawaii occasionally to learn more about how to make their product better. they aren't just relying on the brand owner, but they themselves go! To me, that shows commitment to what they are doing.

time to sleep....
Jorma

khrome
03-10-2009, 08:24 AM
I've said it before, cheaper doesn't necessarily mean lesser quality. Often it does, but not always. The same rings true that more expensive doesn't always mean better quality.


After the news reports about Chinese products in the last 5 or so years, I also had the same reaction - I was starting to question everything they made. But my brother had a good point - he is an avid biker and knows a lot about biking gear. He said some of the best frames in the world come from Taiwan and China because we have been outsourcing to them for so long that they have become masters at welding. When it comes to assembly line products you can be wary but when it comes to a crafting skill like welding, or woodworking, then you can't really lump them in with the factories that mass produce products on an assembly line. People that craft with their own hands usually take more pride in what they are doing, and it requires greater skill. For those types of products you should look more into how long the person or company has been doing it rather than what country they are in.

BTW, handpicked, hand-rolled, loose-leaf green tea from China is the BEST in the world. There's no way I can give that up. :)

haolejohn
03-10-2009, 09:21 AM
Hello all!
very interesting discussion... I was almost about to sleep and then found this thread and just couldn't resist. Haolejohn, thanks for the kind words- we really try hard. I wrote a bit about the process for my line of ukes in Vietnam in another thread:

http://www.ukuleleunderground.com/forum/showthread.php?t=10412&page=3

Since it isn't too much of a secret that I am also a supplier to many of those same factories you mention, in addition to having had samples made from them as well, I've gained a little insight into the "imports"



time to sleep....
Jorma


Jorma, You are making some Great ukes. I have been impressed with the Kala, Mele, Honu, and now the Pono (first experience with Pono wasn't good but it appeared to be a one time thing).

I really want a KoAloha but You can get quality that is not made in Hawai'i, for a fraction of the price. I want one of your deluxe models (have a love of honus) and after I get my KoAloha that will be my next purchase unless you want to sponsor me. I think I am the original ukester in Georgia. Hint, hint :)