My first "real" Ukulele

LorenFL

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All the recent threads here about "do you actually PLAY your expensive ukes?" and "is an expensive uke really worth it?" and so on got me to thinking. And shopping.

It seems that a lot of the experienced players tend to think of somewhere around $5-600 as being the "entry level" for a good ukulele. Not that anything less expensive is junk, but... that seems to be the thinking. $1,000-1,200 is more what seems to be "common" for a really good uke.

Yeah, I'm not ready for that. I'm graduating from $50-60 laminate ukes. Gonna have to take a little more of a baby step here.

I did try an Oscar Schmidt Mango Tenor more than a few years back. That was my first "plunge". I think I paid $230 for it. Very nice instrument, very easy to play, and I learned from it. Unfortunately, what I learned was that I hated it! It was far too heavy, a bit too plinky (traditional uke sounding... not what I'm after), and sounded like crap with a Low G. It sat in the closet for 7 years until I gave it to my sister.

So, now I've done more research, and I've accepted that I'll spend something close to $300.

Given that I tend to play softly, and I aim for styles like blues and jazz, and I'm universally a Low G player... I set my initial requirements as a solid cedar top. The rest is negotiable. And I've found that I prefer the concert scale instruments.

My research led me to the Mainland Cedar/Rosewood Concert. Seems to be a universally loved instrument with plenty of sound samples available. I was just about ready to pull the trigger on it, but I couldn't get over the obnoxious rope binding.

Decided to send an email to Mim asking for opinions. Given her reputation, I wouldn't mind buying from her. (and she doesn't sell the Mainland) She came back with the Ohana CK-50G, which is also Cedar/Rosewood. Seems to be similar quality and slightly cheaper.

As much as I'd love an unadorned instrument, all of these have either rope binding or pearl/abalone accents. I'm not really buying it to look at, I'll get over it as long as it plays nice.

So, I've almost decided on the Ohana CK-50G from Mim. I'm sure I could do a lot worse for around $300.

But, then I saw... the Ohana CK-42 "Sinker Redwood" top. It's listed at $409, I don't want to pay that much. I know Redwood is pretty much on par with Cedar as a tone wood, maybe slightly better in some ways. But, I was scrolling past it due to the price... and then I said... "what the heck IS "Sinker Redwood", anyway?

Now, as I hinted at, I'm not buying an instrument because it's "pretty". I want something that's going to make me happy when I play it. The thought of owning a redwood instrument makes me feel guilty at first, because redwood trees are special. I visited that part of the country a couple years ago, it really makes you feel small to stand next to a tree that's been alive for 1500 years and is so tall that you can't see the top of it. But, it would also be kinda cool to own that instrument... because the trees are special.

"Sinker Redwood" comes from logs that were cut in the late 1880's, floated down a river to a sawmill... and some of them "sank". Where they sat for over 100 years in the silt of a riverbed absorbing minerals. And now they're dredging parts of the riverbed and bringing up this old wood. Okay, THAT intrigues me!

To own an instrument made from the wood of a 1,000 year old tree that sat at the bottom of a river for 100 years... okay, it's instantly got a "story", and I like that. PLUS, being redwood, it should sound really good!

Now I'm torn between the CK-50 (Cedar top) and the CK-42 (Sinker Redwood top). I explained all this to my wife... and, surprisingly, she gets it.

Thinking seriously about buying that Sinker Redwood uke.
 

merlin666

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Thanks for the post. I totally get your aversion to unnecessary decorations and also avoid them as I think they may take away value where it matters. Even the $1000+ Hawaiian ukuleles are generally plain looking and they add decoration at about double that price. As for the wood that is used there are many people who claim they can hear differences but it generally matters very little compared to other factors of the build. I agree that there is a difference between solid tropical hardwood and softwood tops, but beyond that it's quite subjective and you got it right by identifying with the story behind sinker wood as criterion. I am sure you will enjoy your new uke.
 

LorenFL

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Yeah, I've poked around in the Luthier area of this forum enough to get the hint that there's a lot more involved than just the type of wood used.

I'm sure I wouldn't notice much difference between most woods, but cedar... definitely a softer and lighter wood. That's got to make a difference. And the difference seems to be in producing a lower and richer tone and also responding well to a lighter touch vs. "thrashing", which suits my playing style.

I really just want to get into a decent solid wood instrument to see how different it is from my cheap laminate ukes. The consensus seems to be that it should have a much nicer sound, intonation, playability, etc. Regardless of the wood, a quality all-solid instrument is "supposed" to sound better.

This is the question I need to start trying to answer. And even if there were a good uke shop near me, I'm not sure I could really answer that question in a few minutes. I need to spend some time with it.

Here's the funny thing... talking hobbies... I'd spend $4-500 or more on a set of tires that might last me 8-12 months of motorsports use without batting an eye. Kinda silly to fret over spending the same amount of money on a uke that will pretty much ALWAYS be worth at least half what I paid for it, and last for decades. But, here I am.
 

Pukulele Pete

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It may not matter to You , but for me , a very important factor is the nut width .
 
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Sinker is pretty cool. Moon spruce is my favorite because of when they harvest it, but I’m a big fan of anything with a history. A friend of mine builds electric guitars out of joists taken out of barns built in the colonial days and that’s the coolest thing in the world to me. I wish he made ukes!
 

Kenn2018

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I had the Ohana TK-50G and it was very nice. It was a big step up from my Fender Nohea all-laminate tenor. I bought it from a music store in the next town. It played well. Sounded very good, not the loudest, but the cedar gave the rosewood a warmer sound than the spruce top I tried. I played it with both Living Waters High & Low-G strings. But tried others and they made a definite difference to the sound.

Redwood will normally give a warmer sound than the cedar. But I find that sinker redwood can add subtle nuances to the sound. I think it makes the top slightly stiffer than regular cut redwood. Which in turn makes it a touch brighter. But, in general, still warmer than cedar. I have two other brand tenors with redwood tops. They are warm and musical. But, still no slouches with volume or projection. I too like that is is reclaimed from the river.

I have since sold my Ohana. A friend now plays it and likes it a lot.

If I recall correctly, the neck was narrow, but the string spacing was the standard 3/8". My only minor criticism was the high gloss neck that slowed it down a touch. It wasn't sticky or anything. And my hands don't normally get sweaty. So take that with a grain of salt.

Mim's setups are first class if you need a low setup for hand problems she will accommodate you.

I considered it a very good mid-level uke that punched well above its weight.
 

rainbow21

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Well, it is $120 to get a limited edition model that intrigues you and may be a good match for its warm sound. There are only three left at Mim's (and 16 50Gs). Only you can decide if the cost is of sufficient value (it should be if you play daily or frequently).

I live in the NorCal area near many Redwood forests. Interestingly, I just got a quote to replace 90 feet of redwood fencing. Our entire 40 year neighborhood has redwood fencing. A friend in San Francisco is repairing his redwood deck. There have been battles fought over saving the trees, especially "old growth" forests. But the lumber available today is secondary or tertiary growth trees, many of which are being logged to thin the trees due to overcrowding in these previously logged areas.
 

hendulele

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I got the CK-50GW (solid cedar/laminate willow) from Mim several years ago. Highly recommended. Mim does a great job. The nut width is fine, and the overall feel is great. I also use Worth browns. If that’s the one she recommends, you can’t go wrong.
 

jer

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The consensus seems to be that it should have a much nicer sound, intonation, playability, etc. Regardless of the wood, a quality all-solid instrument is "supposed" to sound better.

Cedar is indeed a nice tone wood with a quick response and warmer sound. Of course it also dents more easily than other woods.
Mainly I wanted to comment on the part of your quote above.
It is possible to find laminate instruments that you may think sound better than some solid wood instruments. It's all about build, personal preference, etc.
Intonation and playability can be equally as good on a solid wood or laminate instrument. It's all in how well and correctly the instrument was built (fret spacing, bridge location, etc.) and the setup in general.
I know what it's like to not have a shop nearby to try out a lot of stuff. That's why it's important to buy from someone who has a good return policy.
In the end, it doesn't matter what anyone else thinks. It's all about your hands, ears, etc. I hope you find what you're looking for. :)
 
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LorenFL

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I've learned to (sort of) play Bianco Fiore, which dates back to the 1600's. Does that count?
 

clear

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You may want to check out kala KA-ACP-CTG (discontinued) and KA-ASCP-C (replacement). Both are solid cedar tops. The KA-ACP-CTG (and its tenor counterpart) have a large following here on UU. I've owned both ukes; and I think they are excellent values at the $250-$300 price point.
 

kissing

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On the broader topic of what makes a 'real' ukulele, I think any well made uke from a reputable company would suffice as an instrument that can play all the pieces.

I'd be able to play my repertoire on a $50 laminate uke just as well as on a $1000+ Hawaiian made one.

Of course, the price generally reflects the cost of workmanship and materials that went into the uke, and there certainly will be a trend for the more expensive ukuleles to sound better. However, I think the rule of diminishing returns will apply. After a certain price point, the perceivable difference in quality will become less with increasing price.
 

LorenFL

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On the broader topic of what makes a 'real' ukulele, I think any well made uke from a reputable company would suffice as an instrument that can play all the pieces.

I'd be able to play my repertoire on a $50 laminate uke just as well as on a $1000+ Hawaiian made one.

Of course, the price generally reflects the cost of workmanship and materials that went into the uke, and there certainly will be a trend for the more expensive ukuleles to sound better. However, I think the rule of diminishing returns will apply. After a certain price point, the perceivable difference in quality will become less with increasing price.

I've been saying this for years! A good musician can make any instrument sound good (or at least better than it is). Whereas, you could hand me the finest $7,000 custom ukulele and I would still sound like... me. This is why it's taken me so long to even consider spending more money on a better instrument.

And I've seen some of those comparisons of ukes from different price points, and there's definitely a difference from <$100 to a few hundred, and further difference up to a couple thousand. Beyond that?

Not to worry, the odds of me ever paying more than $1k for a ukulele are pretty slim!

Thanks for all of the feedback in this thread, everyone! I've poked around some more this evening, and I'm leaning even more towards the redwood. It doesn't hurt that someone sent me a PM and offered to sell me a used CK-42. That could potentially make the decision a little easier.
 
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I am intrigued by the concept of sinker redwood. I’ve watched tv shows regarding harvesting of sinker wood - which all seem to be in the lowlands. Florida, Louisiana- where there are many wide and slow moving rivers.

Redwoods don’t grow anywhere near those sorts of rivers. The largest rivers close to Redwood country would be the Eel River and the Mad River? Which are white water in nature.

I will need to research this.
 
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Graham Greenbag

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Member ‘Kissing’ above has, I believe, hit the nail on the head; as good advice as anyone could wish for.

In the original post: “Decided to send an email to Mim asking for opinions. Given her reputation, I wouldn't mind buying from her. (and she doesn't sell the Mainland) She came back with the Ohana CK-50G, which is also Cedar/Rosewood. Seems to be similar quality and slightly cheaper.”

As I understand it the Ohana and the Mainland are so similar that they are thought to come from the same factory.
I suggest that you keep things simple, don’t overcomplicate things with specialist sinker wood, and buy the Cedar topped Ohana. Mim has a good reputation, she’s earned it and her recommendation will steer you towards a winner.
 

jer

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He's a member here, but I'm not sure if he's still around. His other videos are worth watching if you haven't seen any. Looks like he hasn't posted anything new in a while. Great player.
 
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LorenFL

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I've never had any doubts that a cheap uke can be playable. My only question has ever been "how much better is a pricier uke?" and "would I be able to leverage the difference in sound with my skill level?"

That was a good comparison. The expensive uke SOUNDS a lot better. Sure, he can play the same tune on the cheap one, and it sounds "fun", but back-to-back... there's a very clear difference in volume and quality of sound.
 

LorenFL

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As I understand it the Ohana and the Mainland are so similar that they are thought to come from the same factory.

Mim's first email response to me after I'd mentioned the Mainland as a possible benchmark was "Ohana has a version of the Mainland". I thought she was just comparing the two, but... maybe the CK-50 is actually a clone of the Mainland and made in the same factory? Interesting.
 

merlin666

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Mim's first email response to me after I'd mentioned the Mainland as a possible benchmark was "Ohana has a version of the Mainland". I thought she was just comparing the two, but... maybe the CK-50 is actually a clone of the Mainland and made in the same factory? Interesting.

Yes, many of the mass produced ukes are made in the same factories and they just change label and a few decorations. There is surprisingly little difference between ukes of different brands. At least Ohana makes the effort of having a bit of diversity by offering multi string and uniquely shaped ukes. Brands like Kala that just change size and a large variety of wood types and other decorations are boring, though at least they have U Bass as unique product.