Interested in exceptional Tenor Ukes.

Milesaway71

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I saw here that I had been registered with UU in 2008, but has to be under a different email addy that long ago, so I've re-registered a new account. I had only posted in 2 threads, as mLKauai, because at the time I was very active on Fleamarket forum as my "home" forum back then.
Sort of lost contact with the gang there in the last 10 years, and when I go back to FM there's lots of "crickets". A lot has changed since 2008.

Around 2010, my opinion was fixed that a really good custom tenor uke, was much better (for my purposes) than just about any name brand uke you could buy off the shelf. Today some of the bigger name brands have "top shelf" ukes that have incorporated excellence in their build and quality that matches or outperforms any private custom build.

I live on Kauai, and there's not a lot of exposure to the exploding art of ukulele builds, and I'm going to try and dig into UU and hope to find discussions about all this. Maybe someone can refer me to threads that discuss this?
 

UkeStuff

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Are you looking for larger established brands, or for custom builders?

And being from Hawaii, you are probably already aware of The Ukulele Site, which carries most of the top models in the world.
 

Milesaway71

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I am on Kauai, and we don't have any of the really great uke stores that I think are on Oahu, where the major brands are.
I don't know enough about it since 2010 or so, but the major builders like Koaloha, Kamaka had basic models, then they were making customs for pro players.
I am guessing today they still sell the basic models, but may have levels of quality going up to ukes that are pro level, like Jake, Tolentino, Brittany Paiva, etc... is there basic, intermediate, and pro levels? Ko'olau has Pono, and then upper levels too.

is there discussion about what they do with the builds on the pro level uke that elevates them from the basic... not just the looks but the build differences.
I am pretty sure those differences are also built into the great custom individual builder's ukes we see ... IMO that's why they are priced higher, and in demand by pro's that need excellence in tone and playability. You know, a blinged out Kala is not a top level Ko'olau for example.
So what I mean is where is the discussion about this?
 

merlin666

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The first uke store I ever went to was Scotty's at his old location in Kalaheo and this got me interested in ukulele. I have since been back a few times at the new location in Lihue, as well as to most uke stores on Oahu and BI and compared to most including HMS, Scotty's has a top notch collection. Only store ever where you can compare six string ukes of all three K brands side by side. And for luthiers, you have Raymond Rapozo and all of his tenors that I had a chance to look at various stores on Kauai were outstanding. So from my point of view Kauai is uke paradise (and home of UU I think).
 

Milesaway71

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Yea Aldrine is from here, and I saw he had a custom Kamaka; that was years ago. I met Ray Rapozo, I had one of his. I bought a couple Koaloha tenors from Scottys in Kalaheo way back for someone on the mainland at a good price.
Some well known custom guys today, I won't mention names, when starting out, their ukes were hit and miss... one was great, another the tone not as good... I'm talking about ukes that are used for more than just strumming rhythm, but for solo playing too, where every note must ring out.

If you ask me, I have heard sound clips, a custom tenor from Kamaka or Koaloha, Ko'olau, their high priced ukes, I mean $4-5K are ALL amazing. But that puts price way up there. I wonder if the $2k to $3k ukes, like Kamaka sells to stores, are built with the same attention to tone. I wouldn't think so but we should be able to find out about build differences.
 
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merlin666

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I don't think that there is much in terms of quality, playability, or tone that a 2k+ uke adds to a $1100 uke. What is added are prime materials and decorations that will give the owner a sense of status that shows good taste and wealth to get it. This is not necessarily paired with the accomplishments as a player, but hopefully all top players can also afford an instrument that shows their status. But you will also see the occasional teenager with a Deluxe or Custom who has rich parents who not only buy him a BMW but also the uke of his liking.
 

pmorey

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Do yourself a favor and get in touch with Brad Donaldson over in Kekaha. He is reasonably active here on UU (used to be BuzzBD but was having account troubles on the new site and may now be UkelBldr51)
 

Kenn2018

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Today some of the bigger name brands have "top shelf" ukes that have incorporated excellence in their build and quality that matches or outperforms any private custom build.
Not trying to be snarky, but that's a pretty sweeping statement. Not sure how you could back that up.

The K-Brands make very fine instruments. Their custom, or made-to-order ukes are custom builds made by their luthiers. Though they may outsource specialty work such as Inlays.

Ko'olau makes nothing but custom orders.

Kanile'a has an excellent Platinum model that changes every year. It's their top model made in very limited numbers by their luthiers. Often incorporating new technology in their design. They also have a Diamond model and Signature models that well-known performers help to design.

Kamaka also offers custom orders. With a lot of features not offered on their standard models. They also have performers who are sponsored by the company and consult about designs and builds. You'd have to look on their website or call them for more info.

To be honest, I don't know how high the Ko'Aloha uke models go. Red Label, Gold Label. Black Label.

Nice as these custom made ukuleles are, I'm not too sure that they outperform Luthier-made instruments from MooreBettah, Petros, Hive, Kinnard, Hoffmann, Ono, LFdM, Oya, and many others that I can't think of right now.

What exactly is your criteria? You have to tell us precisely what you mean. All designs? All sizes? All necks? All types of bracing and glues? All materials? Or just that they look pretty?
 

Kenn2018

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The biggest thing that a professional player does is have the action of an instrument adjusted to his/her style of playing. Next is to use strings that they like on the instrument they play for their own enjoyment. Often that is NOT the one they play in public. Some name artists can own hundreds of instruments. Others have a handful of ones they bond with.

Lots of excellent professional players have one or two off-the-shelf ukes they like and that's it. With little or no modifications made. Others have bespoke instruments that are made for that performer to their specifications. Some get new instrument(s) every year or several times a year because they wear them out. Others get their favorites repaired as often as needed.

I have had professional players use my Ko'Aloha and play wonderful, intricate classical pieces on it. Then change up to a bluegrass or jazz piece. It almost makes me weep to know that I will never attain that level of skill, knowledge or ability. I am a mediocre player who can make a great instrument sound very, very ordinary. I know pros who can pick up an inexpensive Kala laminate and make it sing.

There's no magic instrument that will make me sound like a professional. Or even an advanced amature.
 

Milesaway71

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I don't think that there is much in terms of quality, playability, or tone that a 2k+ uke adds to a $1100 uke.
If you were correct I would buy an $1100 plain Kamaka or Ko'olau tenor right now.

Some price differences will be for binding, inlays, appearance of the wood...but quality, playability and tone are EXACTLY what I would expect for the extra dollars.
Factory made tenor ukes have been adding any kind of bling you want a under $1000 price points for years, but the topic of this thread has nothing to do with cosmetic improvements.

Let's take Kamaka and Koolau tenors:
Their standard tenors have no binding or special inlays... I assume they are partly "hand made" to a certain extent: I mean they aren't all-factory made like the Pono brand. They run around $1k or more (?) and you can pay over $3k for their "better" tenors with cosmetic add ons. (I'm not checking the online prices so I'm estimating)

Custom ukes, for one thing, are more hands-on builds i.e. hand tuned top-woods for optimal tone. Action and intonation is another.
I've marveled at the tones that Jake and other pros get out of their customs and I know for sure you can't get that from a standard model.

Are these $3k tenors the same in quality (playability, and tone) as their "custom" made to order tenors that go for over $3k? (ie the Jake model is around $5k ?

Basically this is what I'm interested in finding out. I'm not a pro but I do play both rhythm and solos so every note is important.
When I talk about the difference between a great custom and an off the shelf standard or whatever level its all about the playability and tone; volume, projection, sustain.

I will add here that for those that haven't seen this, with a tenor uke, or a baritone, It's harder to get those mid and high note tone qualities tuned in like that of a concert or soprano. It has to do with the scale length imo.
If you have played a Koaloha concert, or a vintage Martin concert, or a vintage Martin soprano, standard level, the tones just ring out with volume and sustain like nobody's business. They're awesome.
When I moved into tenor size I was really shocked at how dull most standard issue tenors sounded; even Kamaka and Koaloha... and vintage Martins. Of course Iz and Peter Moon killed it on Martin tenors but how many pros use a standard tenor?

My experience as a tenor customer, back in 2005 up to 2010 or so, has been with just a couple good builders, i.e. William King and Talsma.
King had just started building ukes (he had been making good classical guitars) I was impressed with his skill and he put out lots of info on each build he was making. I took a chance and it paid off... he got really popular, people lined up for custom builds, but the business wasn't profitable enough to allow him to quit his full time job in computer tech or something. I ordered a few from him over those years and also passed a couple on to others in Hawaii, at one of the Guild shows.
I had heard that Talsma's beautiful work was also a player's dream so I bought one from him and it was great as well.

Thanks for all the replies. I don't have notifications figured out here yet so I'm late seeing these.