New to Ukuleles - Buying Vintage - ADVICE APPRECIATED

emilyefinke

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Hi! I am new to this forum and ukuleles in general. My sister and I just purchased a ~1925 Supertone with rope binding on Ebay, and we are so excited for it to arrive! But we am actually looking to purchase another soprano ukulele, and we would appreciate some advice.
I have been doing alot of research this past week on vintage ukuleles and vintage brands. My sister and I are pretty sure that we want to stay in the early 1900s to 1930s time frame. It has been difficult to find information about the older brands online, so I thought I would pose the question here to people that might actually own these ukes.
If you know of or have a a uke(s) from this time frame, what brand(s) do you recommend and why?

Some brands I have been considering are:
Gretsch (either American Soprano or Kaholas and Co.)
Kamaka
Lyon and Healy (either the Washburn or Mouna Loa)
Mai-Kai (which, if I understand, also made Echo which we have been considering.)
And, of course Martin seems to be a great uke, though most are out of our price range.

We are looking to spend under $500 (preferably under $400). Someone did offer to sell us a Martin Stlye 1 in our price range. Any thoughts on that?

We really do appreciate any help and advice you can offer us! Thank you!
 

man0a

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My advice: vintage instruments can sound wonderful, but only if they have been properly maintained over the years. A lot of older instruments have dried out and started to crack or warp or lose their tone. I wouldn't buy one from EBay unless the seller is very well respected and carefully reports the condition.
 

lakesideglenn

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Well, you can’t go wrong with a vintage Martin and can probably get a 40s-50s style O for around 500. I’m a huge fan of Lyon and Healy/Washburn as well. Favilla also made a fine uke and they can be had in your price range. Keep your eyes open for a Ruttan: these are very rare but right up there with the Martins`. I’ve had some prewar Gibson's that are quite remarkable but probably over your budget. `lastly there are `some (not all) nice high end harmonys that were made in the 20s-30s. Like manOa said you need to be aware of the overall condition and structural integrity when looking at old instruments and be on the lookout for previous damage and prior repairs that were poorly done. And many of the vintage tuning pegs can be a little wonky without a tune up.
I do believe that older wood sounds better than new wood if setup is reasonably good and the uke is structurally sound.
Where are you located? I have several nice ukes that fit your budget that you may be interested in. Let me know…I have way too many ukes and guitars.
Cheers!
Glenn
 
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Graham Greenbag

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My advice would be to forget about only buying vintage Ukes for now and to look more broadly on the market. Don’t get me wrong, there are many good vintage instruments but there’s also a lot of stuff that’s best avoided too. As for eBay, well I do buy off of eBay but (IMHO) some sellers are actually dealers who list and re-list at inflated prices.

If I lived in the USA then I’d be posting on the wanted section of this forum and seeing what was offered. My spec would be mahogany, Soprano, friction tuners, plain, crack free but with professional repairs considered. The budget you have is plenty.

If vintage style is what you’re looking for then Ohana’s SK38 is well worth a look, but only buy from a respected dealer like Mims Ukes. IIRC Bradford Donaldson also makes a Martin copy for a very reasonable price.
 
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richntacoma

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For great vintage that have been very (extremely) well assessed and repaired by a reputable source, I would contact Jake Wildwood and ask him what he has https://jakewildwood.blogspot.com/ He lists most of the things he sells on his site, but he also says he has a few other things on hand. He currently does not have any ukes for sale on the site, but often has great ones under your price range, and he spends a great amount of time on the details of the condition and repairs.

The two suggestions of putting a seeking add up here (Marketplace) is a great one, as is buying a Martin 1 copy from Brad Donaldson, although I know he has a few month wait list (I am on it for a second uke from him). His ukes are in your price range for sure.

Another thought--instead of buying a Martin or higher end uke that in your price range, look for a less expensive Favilla, Regal or Harmony that has been really gone over well and is in great shape. Those should be well under $300 for something pretty pristine. This one is not pristine, but I have had bought from the seller before, and for $120 it seems to be a really good deal (and I have had some chat with him about it--the action is decent and it has been repaired) https://reverb.com/item/32893801-1940s-or-1950s-regal-soprano-ukulele-solid-mahogany-restored . I have almost bought it four or five times, lol. It could "hold you over" while you are looking for something a bit more expensive, or you may love it, or you might delay and I just might finally get it. It is too cute.
 
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UkeStuff

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There has always been a trend on Ukulele Underground, a community of players with a lot of experience and also some very high tastes for ukuleles, to advise people to buy the best ukulele they can afford when starting to learn.

While I have some of those ukuleles, I don't recommend that course of action unless you know that you are going to stick with it.

If you're looking at sopranos, I would point you towards the Flight TUS series ($55 or less), or the Aiersi Soprano Ukulele for $22 on eBay. Get a feel for the instrument, learn more about it, and then make the big purchase for your second ukulele.

If you're going purely for an aesthetic and price is no option, I'd recommend a Kamaka soprano or a Martin soprano (the Martin will be far less, unless you buy a Konter model or a 5K). Both sort of have the market on being around for a long time and probably the most recognizable names in ukulele. If you want the best version of the Martin, you also might want to look at Kiwaya.

And, of course, there are many wonderful independent luthiers out there whose services could be arranged as well, though you would usually have to wait (sometimes several months or years for a build slot).
 

Ziret

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It sounds like you and your sister are after a vintage vibe, and a modern uke isn’t going to cut it. Any of the brands you’re considering could yield a good player (though I’ve never heard of Mai-Kai). I’d add Favilla to my list, if I were looking. I’d also, unfortunately, plan on having to do at least one “catch and release” purchase, particularly if you add Harmony to your list, which could yield something light and wonderful or something five minutes from falling into plywood pieces which then falls into plywood pieces in your very hands. Ask me how I know. Have fun, though, seriously. More than likely you’ll find something you love. If you eventually want a modern version of a classic soprano uke, we will be ever so happy to offer our opinionated opinions.
 

mjh42

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Don't know your geographic location but the last time I was in Willie's American Guitars in St. Paul MN there were stacks of old ukulele's. Well certainly more than I could play. If you can find a store/dealer of similar reputation and quality you may find a few jems hidden away on some shelf waiting to be brought back to playing and having fun.
 

wdonley

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You might consider a reputable shop rather than ebay or reverb. It would make it easier to ask questions and may offer the option for returns if there was an issue.

https://vintage-instruments.com/product-category/ukuleles/soprano/

I've had one of the Roy Smeck ukes they have listed for $120.00. Really great playing and sounding. Don't be off set by the plastic fretboard. They punch way above their paygrade. I may have to buy one as a travel uke. Really miss mine. And, they put usable tuners on it....
Also, that $320.00 Kamaka would be a real winner. Love my Kamaka soprano. It's my "forever" uke....
 
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Wukulele

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Taking a look at the archives of https://ukulelefriend.com, using search terms like "vintage" or 1920, is a good source of info & often really professionally recorded sound samples/video.

Since it's "vintage" you're after, getting a sense of history of the companies you mentioned will give you a sense of how genuine they are/were about the instruments they produced, especially their histories of uke manufacturing.

Antiques roadshows & similar shows, on segments where they feature musical instruments, will be pretty educational for your pursuit. I personally think learning from such shows should not be limited to ukes as vintage instrument issues worth considering might get highlighted on segments featuring almost all instruments, not just ukes.

[video]https://www.pbs.org/video/antiques-roadshow-appraisal-leonardo-nunes-ukulele-and-kamaka-ukulele/[/video]

It doesn't get more genuine than Kamaka & the Kamaka family, who stands in contrast to Martin. Martin was already a pretty large corporation, saw ukes as an a means to capitalize on anticipated popularity of ukes the way they did with mandolins, other instruments. Nothing exactly wrong with that but... (I'm always interested in Martin guitars but never their ukes... & almost vice versa for Kamaka - yes they made a few guitars BITD, which I'd love to check out, including being featured on UkuleleFriend.com).

There are a few Kamaka documentaries.





My 1st uke was a Kamaka White, bought from California (think heat, relatively low humidity) knowing it had cracks that were likely very repairable. Already had a luthier/reputable lined up before buying . Probably my best uke purchase.
 
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necessaryrooster

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My 1st uke was a Kamaka White, bought from California (think heat, relatively low humidity) knowing it had cracks that were likely very repairable. Already had a luthier/reputable lined up before buying . Probably my best uke purchase.

Can you recommend a luthier in Cali or were you just saying you bought it here? I've got an old Kamaka pineapple that is in need of some luthier love.

Also, I agree with you about the Martins; they sound good but something about them being a major guitar manufacturer turns me off. Also, personally I think their ukes are just really ugly. I don't like the colors of the wood they use and the shape is just slightly off-putting for some reason.
 

WallyP

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Can you recommend a luthier in Cali or were you just saying you bought it here? I've got an old Kamaka pineapple that is in need of some luthier love.

Also, I agree with you about the Martins; they sound good but something about them being a major guitar manufacturer turns me off. Also, personally I think their ukes are just really ugly. I don't like the colors of the wood they use and the shape is just slightly off-putting for some reason.
I am also in search of an expert uke luthier in Orange County CA area. Any recommendations would be greatly appreciated.