Custom Builders and Prices

JustinJ

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I would like to continue the discussion from "One Super High End Uke" .

My argument

Many people are overpaying for custom ukuleles and even some of the K brands now. There is a point of diminishing returns in regards to sound. There are biases among some people that the more expensive the uke the better the sound and instrument. Many ukuleles are overvalued at current market prices.

Guitar Builders

Many guitar builders are not going to build a great ukulele right away. There is much trial error in craft. It takes years to learn something properly, especially a craft. But we see many guitar builders charging high prices for ukuleles, even just starting out. Many guitar builders will begin their careers as apprentices for 4-5 years before starting out. Making great guitars does not automatically translate to great ukuleles. Ukuleles are not little guitars. There is much trial and error in instrument building.



Custom Market Prices

Custom market prices have risen way too quickly. It reminds me of a classic bubble. If someone is going to charge 2000 and up, they should have built at least 100-200 ukuleles. Higher end ukulele prices are too high right now, especially for the newer builders. There is not a long tack record for them.




Sound Sample of two Ukes with a price difference of $2500

Removing comparison, not fair to builder. My post was never about this Ukulele brand.


Comparison of what 2000 will buy for a guitar

Here is what $2000 msrp will get you in the guitar world. This is a Cervantes Crossover 1 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RRCl6Ny7qrw . This is one responsive instrument. I would like to see more ukuleles built with this type of responsiveness.



Do people tell of their bad experiences with a custom ukulele?

How many people are going to come out and say I made a $3000 dollar mistake? This uke does not sound as good as a manufactured ukulele?
 
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wayfarer75

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I am not a builder of ukuleles, nor am I a buyer of custom instruments. Did I think the Hive sounded $2500 better than the Blackbird? No. My problem with buying a custom uke is not so much the price as not being able to try one before I buy it. I would buy a spec uke from a custom builder or a used custom, as long as I could hold it in my hands first. Yes, UUers sell their customs, and yes, some have said they regretted a purchase.

Ukuleles are known to be an inexpensive instrument, despite the fact that they require just about the same amount of work as a guitar. When I started out, I was very surprised at what I could get for my money. (I am coming from the woodwind world in particular; even a beginner clarinet costs much more than a beginner uke.) I could get LoPrinzi to make me a custom for $2000, and I can buy spec instruments from Hoffman and Compass Rose for $2K or much less (like $1000-$1200). Those are all fine instruments from builders who have been around a while. There may be newer players like Hive, but I can assure you Jake Maclay has been on UU a lot longer than you have and had been building fine instruments for Rick Turner before he started his own business.

Do I think there's a lot of jumping on bandwagons on UU, commissioning customs by those who don't need it? Absolutely. There are professional ukulele players out there right now who don't play custom ukes. I don't need a custom uke, and have no serious plans to buy one. But there is obviously a lot of pleasure that uke players find in their customs.

Prices are rising for K brands because they build mostly with koa (gets more expensive all the time) and Hawaii is a very very very expensive place to live. There has also been quite a demand for those ukes, especially Kamaka. I paid $925 for my Kamaka pineapple, and I am not sorry. Does it sound $850 better than my Kala KA-S? Hard to say. It is lighter, more resonant, has better intonation, and more depth to the tone, but the Kala is louder and some may think that's a sign that the Kala is superior. To each one's own.
 
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RichM

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A Maserati won't get me to work any faster than my Camry. Therefore, all cars more expensive than my Camry are absurdly overpriced.

I'm glad we got that settled. :D
 

wayfarer75

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A Maserati won't get me to work any faster than my Camry. Therefore, all cars more expensive than my Camry are absurdly overpriced.

I'm glad we got that settled. :D

Sigh. I typed all those paragraphs and you made the point much better than I did. ;)
 

DownUpDave

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I like it, I want it, I can afford it, I buy it. End of story.

Way too much prequalifing and justification going on in the oringal post, it is not only about sound.

Plenty of hotrodded Mustangs worth $60,000 can beat a $250,000 Ferrari in the 1/4 mile. Ferrari onwers are still happy with their choice.

Edit : RichM seems we were typing at the same time and had the same train of thought.
 

Ukulele Eddie

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@JustinJ, I think there is a fatal flaw in your logic. You assume sound is the only factor. There are two others to consider: aesthetics and playability. Some of us put a lot of value/appreciation on the artistry/craftsmanship of an excellent uke with highly figured woods.
 

JustinJ

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@JustinJ, I think there is a fatal flaw in your logic. You assume sound is the only factor. There are two others to consider: aesthetics and playability. Some of us put a lot of value/appreciation on the artistry/craftsmanship of an excellent uke with highly figured woods.

I agree there can be more craftsmanship. I have a handmade Japanese fountain pens that are more expensive than many current ukuleles. So I understand about craftsmanship and aesthetics. I've seen a few posting of some finish flaws on 3000 dollars ukes. This is not acceptable.

I'm not criticizing your purchases or your decisions.

No one has addressed yet, why guitars makers can automatically make a good ukulele.
 
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mm stan

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something about owning a custom built just for your to your specifications. not only it sounds and feels and and made for you...but you develop
a bonding with the builder and your uke....
like buying a hotrod specifically built for you...the feeling is the same....A Yenko camaro would be considered a custom built or a saleen, Mustang
my regards to a true custom is one built to your specifications, whether from the store taking the order or buying direct from the builder....
Others I would refer to as premimum high end rack ukes...
 
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JustinJ

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A Maserati won't get me to work any faster than my Camry. Therefore, all cars more expensive than my Camry are absurdly overpriced.

I'm glad we got that settled. :D

I was not comparing a cheap ukulele to a more expensive one. We're not talking cars. Cars have engines, leather, suspensions, custom made parts, etc Parts for cars cost much more money and there is a difference.

Ukuleles are wood, metal, and glue. Yes, some wood is more expensive but not on the order of a Ferrari vs. Toyota Prius.
 
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Jon Moody

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A Maserati won't get me to work any faster than my Camry. Therefore, all cars more expensive than my Camry are absurdly overpriced.

I'm glad we got that settled. :D

Rich wins the internet. Best post.

As for selling custom ukes, I see a lot of people get overly excited about their build, and get caught up in the minutia of the build by going over EVERY SINGLE OPTION. And some of the builders say "We'll make it however you want it," so the customer goes crazy, gets the uke and then isn't happy with it because it doesn't sound like they thought it would. But, they got EXACTLY what they asked for. So, I think some of the custom ukes - and instruments of any kind - that get commissioned and then sold fairly quickly come down to the customer not trusting the builder, or the builder opting to make the customer happy over their vision.
 

hollisdwyer

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The quality/price ratio has never been linear in most products. The curve flattens out and you find you have to spend a lot more proportionally to get that next jump in quality. Some people believe that jump to be worthwhile, others don't and are satisfied with less. I learnt that lesson more than 50 years ago when I went shopping for my first component HiFi stereo system. The same holds true for camera lenses (which I have purchased many of over the years). There is no right or wrong here just personal perception and choice of what value means to each of us.
 

JustinJ

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The quality/price ratio has never been linear in most products. The curve flattens out and you find you have to spend a lot more proportionally to get that next jump in quality. Some people believe that jump to be worthwhile, others don't and are satisfied with less. I learnt that lesson more than 50 years ago when I went shopping for my first component HiFi stereo system. The same holds true for camera lenses (which I have purchased many of over the years). There is no right or wrong here just personal perception and choice of what value means to each of us.

Stereo equipment is definitely a money pit. I have Martin Logan Electrostat speakers, which are not cheap. To my ears, they sound better. Others may not think so. But they are made extremely well. I'm building a phono tube amp to play my records. I'm satisfied with my sound system. I stay off the Hi-Fi forums because I know that I would be unhappy with my current setup.

I enjoy high quality items. I'm not criticizing people spending their money. I'm only pointing out my observations.
 
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NewKid

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Luis Feu de Mesquita and John S. Kinnard are long time guitar makers who are relatively new to the ukulele market. They both make fabulous ukuleles and I think are both well under 200 instruments built to date.

I think their instruments are great values and I enjoy playing them every day.
 
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Ukejenny

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If you can afford a Maserati, are you really worried about a bubble to begin with?

If it is your income, spend it as you will.

As for "prequalifing and justification" going on in the OP, that is his perspective and his way of thinking it through. Others have a right to spend their money in a different way or based on different criteria.

As for the OP having too much
 

RichM

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Luis Feu de Mesquita and John S. Kinnard are long time guitar makers who are relatively new to the ukulele market. They both make fabulous ukuleles and I think are both well under 200 instruments built to date.

I give John Kinnard high marks for sending a few of his ukes around to the community when he first started building them, and eliciting feedback. I was lucky enough to test drive one of his early ukes and provided feedback that was clearly integrated into his building strategy. I have a custom guitar John built under his Dell Arte brand that is as fine an instrument as I've ever played.

Luis Feu de Mesquita came under some fire here a few years back in the Luthier's Lounge for his unique lattice bracing. His ukes are beautifully made, sound great, and continue to grow in popularity. Sometimes you need to break a few rules to develop something new.

Rick Turner is, of course, another guitar builder who's had huge success with ukes. And bigger companies like Collings make great ukes, too, as do Santa Cruz (rarely!). I've never played a Larrivee uke, but I hear they are quite good as well. A guitar company called Martin also made a pretty big splash with ukes a few years back, too. :)
 

mm stan

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When buying high priced items, whatever it may be. Buy the best
You can possibly afford. And not worry on current Market value or resale
If you do, you cannot afford it..
Buying top of the line luxury items is all about personal enjoyment and not worries. At least this is how I see things.
Many of us don't have disposable incomes, make sure the uke is affordable to you and paid off fully when buying,
Worrying about prices you have no control is a waste of time.
 
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kkimura

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I read the posts here and there in UU and start thinking of the ukes I could get versus the ones that I have. Then I turn off the computer and start playing and as I reach for that elusive E major, all is well again.
 

maclay

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Hey Folks, Jake here from Hive Ukuleles.
First off, I want to say thank you to all those who have supported me over the years. None of this would be possible without your support. Thank you from the bottom of my heart :)

A little bit about myself - Building ukuleles is what I love to do.....This is my profession, this is my passion!

I have devoted the last 10 years of my life to this craft. You may not be familiar with my name, but I assure you I have been in this game for a long time. I left everything I had ever known to pursue this life - my hometown, my job, my friends, my family. I moved from West Virginia to Arizona to California and finally back to West Virginia to chase this dream.

I started this journey at the Roberto School of Luthiery. This school is no joke, it has produced some of the worlds greatest luthiers. From there I went to work for the Rick Turner (Compass Rose) where I ran the ukulele department for a number of years. Working for Rick is where I honed my craft. After years of sanding, scraping, gluing, and voicing hundreds of instruments, I decided to start building my own ukuleles.

Now when it comes to prices - Here is my reality....This is what I have to charge to keep the lights on. I know that sounds crazy, but it is the truth. If you think luthiers are making a lot of money building custom instruments, you are sadly mistaken. Most of us work 60 hour work weeks just to make ends meet. We have to pay rent, utility bills, material and maintenance costs....the list goes on and on.
The amount of time I spend on construction, design, and customer relations would surprise you. I spend countless hours (day and night) in the workshop, answering emails, social networking, sourcing materials, etc.

Nobody becomes a luthier to make money. In fact, that would be the stupidest business plan ever lol.
We become luthiers because this is our passion, this is what we love to do. To quote Gillian Welch "we're gonna do it anyway, even if it doesn't pay."

What I can guarantee - I put my heart and soul into each instrument - each and every step/procedure along the way.
Tone and playability come first. Without this nothing else matters.....this is my primary concern. Next comes design

I believe an instrument should serve a duel role:
1. As a tool for the musician to creatively express themselves.
2. To provide inspiration to the musician as a work of art.

In conclusion
There are a lot of great ukuleles out there in different price ranges, and you don't half to spend $3,000 to get a nice sounding uke.
What I don't understand is this custom ukulele shaming. If you are a person who has the money and you want something extra special, then go for it.
If you don't really have the money, then buy something else....like I said, there are a lot of good choices out there.

I am not very good at expressing my emotions (or writing for that matter) but I just wanted to give people the luthiers perspective.
Big thanks to all who took the time to read this.
 
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Rllink

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If you can afford a Maserati, are you really worried about a bubble to begin with?

If it is your income, spend it as you will.

As for "prequalifing and justification" going on in the OP, that is his perspective and his way of thinking it through. Others have a right to spend their money in a different way or based on different criteria.

As for the OP having too much
I think the key word here is "justification", and I see a lot of people coming here to get that from the rest of us. And we are, without a doubt, a supportive group. Every once in a while someone will preface their support by, "if you can afford it", but most of us blissfully encourage others to spend their money. But back to "justification" I personally seldom look for justification. I worked long and hard to reach a place on life where I don't have to justify how I spend my money, or how I spend my time, and I have to admit that I often times get a little aggravated by people who seem compelled to bring to my attention what I should, and what I should not be doing.

Finally, my opinion on value, and disappointment. Life is full of disappointments. Some people do not deal well with it, and they become very guarded as a result. I try to understand that, and consider that when I talk to them. But I'm somewhat of a risk taker, and things come and go. To not venture too far afield, for fear of being disappointed, is not the way I want to live.
 
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johnson430

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Well said. Sometimes I lurk here and there to see what is happening then I pull out the mango and let the happy feeling come. =)


I read the posts here and there in UU and start thinking of the ukes I could get versus the ones that I have. Then I turn off the computer and start playing and as I reach for that elusive E major, all is well again.