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Thread: Custom -How do you choose?

  1. #1

    Default Custom -How do you choose?

    So, Iím intrigued by the world of customs.

    Can we agree, when you are in a shop, even different instruments of the same make and model have some variations? There is some value to being able to hold an instrument, hear it, play it, etc. before buying.

    But with customs, the builders often have year or years long waiting lists. Without being able to hear one and play one, how do you choose which builder? Then how do you choose which wood combination?

    I feel like itís a little like taking a leap of faith, but itís an expensive leap! What if after waiting two years and spending thousands, you are not in love?

    Iím so confused. I know this community loves certain luthiers. Before buying instruments from those builders, did you play a friendís instrument first?

    Any help is much appreciated,
    Rich

  2. #2
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    If you can't play a similar custom model from a luthier. Reviews and careful listening to sound samples can help narrow the field.
    -Hodge
    Humble strummer of fine ukes.

  3. #3
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    +1 to what Hodge said. Many of them also have a lot of good information on their web site, Facebook page, etc, from which you can get a feel for their approach, price range, waiting times, etc. that can help you figure out if they are a potential match for your project. And then - talk to them. If you have a few picked out, send them a brief list of your wishes/questions and see if there is a "meeting of the minds".

    Keep in mind that (barring certain medical or physical constraints) it is highly unlikely that you *need* a custom instrument. Therefore, the main reason to do a custom build is to enjoy the experience. Helping design an instrument just for you should be fun. If there's something stressful or anxiety-producing about it, then maybe it isn't for you. Whether that is the anxiety of spending a certain amount of money, worrying over the details, or dealing with the wait and inevitable delays - if your personality is such that those are going to bother you, then don't bother.
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  4. #4
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    Price is what drove me when I first decided to have a custom made almost five years ago. I contacted a few North American luthiers for a gypsy jazz wide mouth, which cost from about $1200 to about $2400, but did not look exactly how I wanted. I had been looking at Bruce Wei Arts ukuleles on eBay and saw that he also did customs.

    I emailed a mockup of how I wanted it done, he was the only one who returned a diagram showing that he already has made gypsy jazz ukes. He quoted my $780 including shipping, so I took a chance. It took him about 4 months to make and ship it. He actually added some purfling that I didn't expect, it came out so nice and has great tone. Since then he's made me four others, including a bass uke.


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    Last edited by kohanmike; 10-30-2018 at 08:40 PM.

  5. #5
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    Always good to get to see/sample their work before commissioning a custom. But that is not always possible for everyone. I have some whose work I was very familiar with and others where I relied on video samples and/or reviews. By all means, think twice before having a custom inlay of your dog on a commissioned instrument unless you know it will be a keeper for life and you want to be buried with it. ;-)
    More an appreciator of the ukulele than a true player. My motto is: "Don't matter how good it ring if it ain't got some bling."

    Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd.óVoltaire

    Curious about the relative importance of tonewood vs. the luthier? See Luthiers for a Cause to learn more!

  6. #6
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    I agree with Jim that you don't "need" a custom. If you choose a reputable builder like Pete Howlett, Peter Hurney, or Joel Eckhaus for example, you will get a beautiful instrument from whatever they have in stock at a very reasonable price and it will feel and play like a custom instrument.
    Last edited by NewKid; 10-30-2018 at 07:28 PM.
    2013 LFDM Tenor


  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by ghostrdr View Post
    Can we agree, when you are in a shop, even different instruments of the same make and model have some variations? There is some value to being able to hold an instrument, hear it, play it, etc. before buying.
    Yes. More variation than you'd think. Play all the Kamakas in the factory at any given point and some will sound better than others. (I'm temped to say "WAY better," but should probably know better.)

    But with customs, the builders often have year or years long waiting lists. Without being able to hear one and play one, how do you choose which builder? Then how do you choose which wood combination?
    I wouldn't order a custom uke without playing a past build from the same luthier. Holding an instrument tells you a TON about the quality and style of any given craftsman. There are lots of great builders who probably build instruments that I wouldn't vibe with. Not because they are bad. Just different than what I want. There's no way to know from pictures and sound samples, IMO. Go to uke fests. Talk to people and ask to play their instruments. That's how the good word gets around.

    I feel like itís a little like taking a leap of faith, but itís an expensive leap! What if after waiting two years and spending thousands, you are not in love?
    That's the gamble, isn't it? :-) I feel trust and building a personal relationship with the builder closes the risk gap. The better you know each other the easier it is to trust in their skill to provide an instrument that's a good match.

    Iím so confused. I know this community loves certain luthiers. Before buying instruments from those builders, did you play a friendís instrument first?
    I spent a lot of time in said luthier's shop and played more of his ukes than most have the chance to before making such a decision. We were friends before business partners. Wouldn't want to do it any other way, though I realize that my situation is and was pretty special.
    Brad Bordessa
    Webmaster of Live 'Ukulele.com
    Admin for The Ukulele Way

  8. #8
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    For me, I've been playing so long I know what I'm looking for in an instrument. To get it all in one instrument, it usually takes a custom. I'm at the point where this latest one coming up should have what I want where I want and the search should be over... Ha! For instance, I play sitting down; I'm having a Jumbo baritone made with a scoop in the lower bottom bout to lower the body of the uke an inch and push the lower bout forward a bit.(Photo) That puts the sweet spot, where I strum, right where I want it. ALso will have an asymmetrical shaped neck. The bevel on the front is a bit wider and shaped to the angle of my forearm while holding it.(photo). I couldn't find that in a store bought instrument.

    It is a gamble with the first couple customs, but as a person gets more familiar with their preferences, it gets easier. If I was just starting out with little or no knowledge of preferences;I'd stick with the store bought instruments. I recently played an 50.00 Dolphin and was blown away by it.

    The posts above give sage advice. I've found all but two of the luthiers I use on here. Buying used is a great way to get one also.
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    Last edited by Patrick Madsen; 10-30-2018 at 10:05 PM.

  9. #9
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    Good comments here. I started where Hodge recommended then purchased 2nd hand customs of the builders work that I liked. After that I felt like I was getting to know what I would want in an instrument.

    After that it is purely a leap of faith but I have not been let down by any of the fine craftsmen who have built the instruments listed in my signature pane below.
    "All worthwhile things in life should be easy to learn but hard to master"

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    Beau Hannam Custom Tenor - Vintage Hand Rubbed Sun Burst all Tassie Blackwood
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    Hoffmann Lutherie - Concert - Angry Owl Ebony and Cedar

  10. #10
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    I agree with Hodge, heck he has more experience than most. HMS vimeo channel is your friend, they have recording of many custom builds. I would also advise you to ask questions of the members here that own ukes you are interested in.

    Most of my customs were and are used instruments, as Hollis mentioned, bought here in the Marketplace. It is a great way to experiment and find what you like and don't like. You can turn around and sell them for the same or close to what you paid. I have rehomed Mya Moe, Collings, Compass Rose, Howlett, etc, purchased used so I could experience them. All had a nice sound, most just didn't fit my fretting hand the way I like.
    Last edited by DownUpDave; 10-31-2018 at 01:15 AM.
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