Considering an N. American custom build for an inept strummer

steveholt

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Hi folks,

A year from now I will be on a trip to the US from Europe.
I am 4 years into being a beginner uke player who came from zero musical background or aptitude. It's slow going but my life is richer for it.

I am half thinking of building a new, nice, forever? Uke into my trip. This is pointlessly extravagant, but maybe something I can do.

If I were to do it, and knowing I am mostly a kitchen Strummer and my progress will be slow and I seem to be happiest with concert scale but also enjoy soprano (tenor seems to be a bit of stretch still as I tend to play mostly on the first frets (kitchen Strummer)

All that being said, who/what would you recommend, and
which builders mastery artistry would be particularly wasted on me.

Or am I better leaving all of this idea aside and buying the ldfm that's available in the marketplace because I won't find any thing better per unit cost?? (scale length and playing style be damned)

Thaks anyway
 

DownUpDave

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Hi folks,

A year from now I will be on a trip to the US from Europe.
I am 4 years into being a beginner uke player who came from zero musical background or aptitude. It's slow going but my life is richer for it.

I am half thinking of building a new, nice, forever? Uke into my trip. This is pointlessly extravagant, but maybe something I can do.

If I were to do it, and knowing I am mostly a kitchen Strummer and my progress will be slow and I seem to be happiest with concert scale but also enjoy soprano (tenor seems to be a bit of stretch still as I tend to play mostly on the first frets (kitchen Strummer)

All that being said, who/what would you recommend, and
which builders mastery artistry would be particularly wasted on me.

Or am I better leaving all of this idea aside and buying the ldfm that's available in the marketplace because I won't find any thing better per unit cost?? (scale length and playing style be damned)

Thaks anyway

I was going to ask your budget but now that you mentioned the LFDM can I assume it is around $2500. You mentioned preferring a concert scale, what ukuleles do you own now, what wood combo and do you prefer a warm or bright sound.

Don’t give a thought to being “not worthy” of an expensive custom build, I am not worthy of any of mine. If you love to play, it brings you joy and you appreciate fine craftsmanship you qualify.
 

steveholt

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Hey, thanks for the quick replies from multiple perspectives.

So -

What do I play now, and I guess why this idea even appeals.

I play a Ken Timms Soprano (which my wife hates the barky sound of)
and an Anuenue africa mahogany concert which she tolerates the sound of more. It's sweeter and softer when strummed in my kitchen, and still sounds good with rudimentary finger picking.

Prior to these I owned a KM ukes super concert (all cherry) which felt so lively and sounded amazing, and so so so sweet when finger picked, but after a year I faced that Tenor scale and finger picking oriented as this uke was - It wasnt the right scale length for me. Strumming this felt a little like I was doing this uke wrong.
And from a very generous friend I got to spend a lot of time playing a Myamoe all myrtle super soprano. This might be my favourite uke I have played. It sounded so sweet when strummed, much mellower than the timms. It wasnt the loudest uke in the worlds, which again actually suits my life, but it plays like butter and likes being strummed and sounds sweet to me.

So what do I think I want - bright vs warm. I am open to ideas I think. The Concert Anuenue is a very full warm sounding uke to me. Maybe I'd like something to approximate a 3 chord strumming guitarist, but in a uke. I'd like something that plays as smoothly and as easily as the Myamoe - does than mean radius fretboard, or just really well made?

Should I look for something complemetary to the Anuenue I have re: bright vs warm? Or should I look for something that is just 'better' ?

I think Concert Scale, happy to be strummed. perhaps radius fretboard, and maybe side sound port (as I mostly play to myself) and really really well built are what I'd look at.
As for looks - good looking wood, little interest in inlays, well executed gloss body with a satin neck. Binding would be nice as part of a total look - but thats behind build quality and play ability factors for me.

Thats a start.

From the other side - What are Martin Concerts like? Should I just get a Koa concert from Martin/a highly regarded maker? Whats the best warm option?
 

kerneltime

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You are casting too wide a net. Do you want to meet the luthier in person? That would narrow it down based on the cities you plan to or can go to.. or are you trying to save on shipping by receiving if while in US? Or are you planning to work around limitations for shipping due to woods you desire?
you can order a uke today and have it shipped to you.. so what will be special about you traveling to the US? The Ken Timms I own would not be more special if I picked it up while in U.K. unless I was meeting him..
I guess what I am trying to say is that decide what will make it special if you were to buy it as part of the trip..
 
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kerneltime

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If anything travel to pistol river Oregon ( beautiful place just look at google images) and buy a Les Stansell baritone. He does not ship and you have to buy it in person. His workshop is amazing and has usually a bunch of ukes ready. That would make it special and something you cannot do from a couch. He makes ukes from PoC, Myrtle typically and they have a very beautiful warm sound. He has a YouTube channel where you can find him playing his ukes (he is a pretty good musician and has a local band he is part of).
 

kerneltime

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If you do land up traveling to Oregon and Washington you can meet a whole bunch of folks: Les Stansell, Ono, Beansprout, Mark Roberts, Oceana.. many more..
 

steveholt

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You are casting too wide a net. Do you want to meet the luthier in person? That would narrow it down based on the cities you plan to or can go to.. or are you trying to save on shipping by receiving if while in US? Or are you planning to work around limitations for shipping due to woods you desire?
you can order a uke today and have it shipped to you.. so what will be special about you traveling to the US? The Ken Timms I own would not be more special if I picked it up while in U.K. unless I was meeting him..
I guess what I am trying to say is that decide what will make it special if you were to buy it as part of the trip..

Hey

So i'll try narrow an idea down.

Do you want to meet the luthier in person? - That would be lovely if possible. I am interested in uke building too, so the whole thing would be quite informative. It's an intimidating idea - I am a shy person, but if things were to fall in such a way. I'd like to maybe meet the luthier. This is nice to have, but not critical.

That would narrow it down based on the cities you plan to or can go to.. or are you trying to save on shipping by receiving if while in US? Or are you planning to work around limitations for shipping due to woods you desire?

Are you trying to save on shipping by receiving if while in US? Or are you planning to work around limitations for shipping due to woods you desire?

Saving on shipping, and tax and customs duties is indeed part of this exercise, as is working around limitations on shipping of materials. This is part of it, but not everything.

you can order a uke today and have it shipped to you.. so what will be special about you traveling to the US?

This is part of the weirdness of this whole thing. I will be in work, in the pacific northwest for a while next year. I like to build something personal into my trips when I can. I would have no problem doing a 1 man road trip of several days to make something happen. A custom build uke is a big chunk of change. If I commit to it now, I can chip away at the cost over the build time and then go over, collect it - and effectively use the savings on shipping and customs and taxes (maybe 30% on top of the sticker price for me in europe) to fund that little adventure. I'll get to see a part of the world I would not have otherwise, and have a little story too.

Based on the replies Oregon is a rich place to look. I'll check out the names you have posted. How do Les Stansell and Ono compare to say Kinnard and Hive for consistently high quality?? Beansprout is on my radar due to the Myamoe connection. I will have to check out Mark Roberts and Oceana as I have been unaware of them until now.

Thanks for the replies kerneltime.
 

kerneltime

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Hey

So i'll try narrow an idea down.

Do you want to meet the luthier in person? - That would be lovely if possible. I am interested in uke building too, so the whole thing would be quite informative. It's an intimidating idea - I am a shy person, but if things were to fall in such a way. I'd like to maybe meet the luthier. This is nice to have, but not critical.

That would narrow it down based on the cities you plan to or can go to.. or are you trying to save on shipping by receiving if while in US? Or are you planning to work around limitations for shipping due to woods you desire?

Are you trying to save on shipping by receiving if while in US? Or are you planning to work around limitations for shipping due to woods you desire?

Saving on shipping, and tax and customs duties is indeed part of this exercise, as is working around limitations on shipping of materials. This is part of it, but not everything.

you can order a uke today and have it shipped to you.. so what will be special about you traveling to the US?

This is part of the weirdness of this whole thing. I will be in work, in the pacific northwest for a while next year. I like to build something personal into my trips when I can. I would have no problem doing a 1 man road trip of several days to make something happen. A custom build uke is a big chunk of change. If I commit to it now, I can chip away at the cost over the build time and then go over, collect it - and effectively use the savings on shipping and customs and taxes (maybe 30% on top of the sticker price for me in europe) to fund that little adventure. I'll get to see a part of the world I would not have otherwise, and have a little story too.

Based on the replies Oregon is a rich place to look. I'll check out the names you have posted. How do Les Stansell and Ono compare to say Kinnard and Hive for consistently high quality?? Beansprout is on my radar due to the Myamoe connection. I will have to check out Mark Roberts and Oceana as I have been unaware of them until now.

Thanks for the replies kerneltime.
I have a Hive and am on the wait list and I have 2 Les Stansells. I have played Kinnard but they are not my taste.
Hive and Les Stansell both focus on very light builds but have very different personalities. Les is making ukes now as he wishes and does not take orders, you will not find him selling a baritone that he does not like.. plus when you visit him you can pick.. Also, he has some amazing access to top quality locally sourced wood.
Hive are amazing and that is why I am on the list. I bought mine second hand and decided to get another.. I don’t think his 2 year wait list will align with your trip but you can ask..
I have met David from Ono when I got a uke from him. The scale of the instrument was not to my liking (super tenor) and that is why sold it but I do plan to get another ukes from him next year. David too is doing this purely for his passion and has been continuously improving his builds.
 
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steveholt

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Thanks for the options to think about.

Might I ask - How do you see Hive and Stansell being two different takes on the light and responsive type of build? The KM ukes Super-concery I had was remarkably light and responsive. Pretty much humming in your hands, and so responsive - but this felt more tuned or a better fit to finger picking (even in my clumsy hands).

What is it about kinnard that was not to your liking - are they built to different targets?
Where do Ono ukes fit into this spectrum of build styles? (Before I started this thread, I think Ono was tbf the most likely builder I was going to approach - I just seem to like his 'vibe' and his location is pretty close to where I will be visiting for the most part.)
 

kerneltime

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I don’t think I am qualified to give an informed opinion about the differences. Here is my understanding, Les builds essentially a flamenco style uke based on his background. The top back and sides are thin and stiff, the strings tend to be of lower tension. Hive from what I can tell have heavier back and sides but a thin top. Also, Les usually builds baritones only where as Hive mostly builds tenors. Ono has been influenced by compass Rose that used to be build by Jake who owns Hive.. in my opinion Ono is closer to Hive and Beau Hannam than Les. Pepe Romero is closer to Les.. Kinnard in my limited opinion is influenced by steel string guitars and likes higher tension.
The folks above make amazing ukes and I am only giving an uneducated opinion about a question that seeks depth..
Also, each uke is different.. when I was at Les’ workshop I got to try a few, they all sounded amazing but I liked one more than the others..
 

steveholt

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I appreciate the time you took to share your thoughts. I will read and listen and think around it all, but even right now - I know a little more than I did before :)
 

steveholt

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Kerneltime - if you have the time, I have another question.

I have spent an evening reading the internet lol.

Could you elaborate on how the steel string building tradition differs from the flamenco and heavy back and sides thing top (Australian school?) of building wrt ukes?
How does a steel string inspired build differ in broad strokes? Would it have a less strong attack and thus sound less punchy or am I completely misreading this.
 

kerneltime

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Kerneltime - if you have the time, I have another question.

I have spent an evening reading the internet lol.

Could you elaborate on how the steel string building tradition differs from the flamenco and heavy back and sides thing top (Australian school?) of building wrt ukes?
How does a steel string inspired build differ in broad strokes? Would it have a less strong attack and thus sound less punchy or am I completely misreading this.
Take a look at these videos to see sound samples
https://youtu.be/jWqkbp1KfEo
https://youtu.be/R0Op1elrMsc
The main difference I felt when playing was string tension. This is true for all ukes, certain top like lighter string tension others like a heavier one, you will find a lot of threads here talking about tuning up or down a uke to make it sound better or changing strings..
 

cor325

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In the Northwest, you may want to also check out Brian Griffin at griffinukuleles.com. He is in Bellingham, WA, just north of Seattle. On his web page, you can follow his daily build progress on customer's orders, see some of his past builds and read the stories behind his favorite top woods. If nothing else, it will give you an appreciation for the craftsmanship that goes into a build. I've only been trying to get my fingers to strum for a few months, but thoroughly enjoy learning on one of his concerts.
 

TheCraftedCow

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I was blessed with a weekend with Les Stansell and Kimo Hussey in centrally isolated Pistol River,Oregon. Les showed us his range of woods--which he sends to others as well as uses it himself. I wonder how many other makers put the bracings on one small piece at a time rather than a slotted strip which flexes. He uses hot hide glue rather than cold poly glue. Hot glue has a rigidity that passes on string vibration that poly glue absorbs. The way he tapers the bottom edges of the sides is something to behold. My grade 4A Myrtlewood TENOR is 26" tip to tip compared to my 2 Brazillian made Giannini ukuleles at 30" top to tip. Kimo came from Hawaii to pick out his ukulele. Les also uses the lightweight 4:1 tuners called PEGHEDS rather than the heavy metal tuners that are 12:1. The balance difference is really noticeable. There are also two brothers along the I-5 corridor who make Covered Bridge brand ukuleles. They look, sound, and play really nicely.