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Thread: New Ukulele for a New Hobby

  1. #1
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    Apr 2020
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    Default New Ukulele for a New Hobby

    Greetings,

    I'm yet another newbie hunting for a Ukulele and would love some input if anyone is willing. Normally I would obsessively try out every instrument in a local store, but it's not possible. I know I'm taking a chance, but I'm impatient and going to a store won't be an option for a while so I appreciate any info that will help me make a decision.

    My budget is a pretty firm $175 - $235...ish-ish. I don't really want to go higher right now but I would like an instrument good enough to give me a good experience and last into an intermediate stage.

    After reading up a lot and listening to a whole bunch of videos, i've come up with a wish list that is probably pretty standard.

    • Probably concert size
    • Pretty sound and depth (duh). I love the classic Hawaiian sound but I'm also very drawn to instruments with a bit of a classical guitar edge (not sure how much that's up to the player)
    • Play-ability is very key and the main reason I'm willing to go with a higher price. I had a bad experience with a guitar a few years back and should have educated myself better. A larger nut width, medium-low action and strings that don't cut my fingers to ribbons would be a big plus .
    • I like dynamic range and resonance, but I don't need it be the loudest thing out there or cut through a band.
    • Versatility is great if that's a thing that matters with ukes. I have been a classical vocalist in the past. These days I'm interested in experimenting with all kinds of musical styles, melody, finger picking, strumming, etc.
    • I'm not against flashy looks but generally prefer understated and natural. I'm not overly picky on appearance and won't mind a few blemishes if its a great Uke at a good price.


    I'm sure there are many Ukes out there that would be great, i'm trying not to get myself too overwhelmed (a bit late on that to be truthful). I have put a few options on a short list below.

    Nothing exotic, I think these choices are pretty well known. I'm curious if anyone has any options or observations about the sound and experience of playing these or others. Are there big differences that are not obvious in pictures or reviews? They all sound great in videos but it's hard to compare them against each other. Other suggestions are great too.

    Kiwaya KCU-1 (new) - I've almost pulled the trigger on this one a couple of times. Consistently beautiful and appealing sound across many videos. Laminate might not be a bad idea for my climate but am I missing out not going for solid wood or wood top. Does that matter so much in this price range?

    Kala SMHC (used) Solid Mahogany with a really nice, very "chill" traditional tone. I can get it in budget by buying used and love the look. If I were buying new, there would be a $50-$70 difference between this and the laminates on my list, is there a huge quality difference that I am not hearing?

    Kala KA-ACP-CT (used) Cedar solid top that sounds great in videos. May be loud for my needs but has ecstatic reviews. I've read its more orange than it appears in pictures - not thrilled about that, but not a deal breaker either - especially if the tone is a winner. Also in budget buying used.

    Koaloha KoaLana (new) - All laminate that sounds nice in the few videos I've heard and looks great, but it's just out so there are not a lot of reviews or video examples. It seems like there is a lot of anticipation with this one, is it something i should consider?

    Thank you to anyone who is willing to indulge any of my questions/obsessions.

    Thanks and be well, Elisanna
    Last edited by Elisanna; 04-14-2020 at 05:50 PM.

  2. #2
    Join Date
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    Default

    For a first quality uke, I'll point you towards a solid mahogany, (or top at least), concert scale.

    Kala or Ohana would be my suggestions. (I own 3x Ohana solid mahogany & a solid acacia Kala).

    KoAloha are good normally, but I don't know anything about the model you mention.
    (I have a KoAloha Opio long neck acacia concert).

    P.S. Buy your uke from a reputable dealer who will set it up properly.
    Last edited by Croaky Keith; 04-14-2020 at 10:55 PM.
    Trying to do justice to various musical instruments.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Aug 2019
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    Finland
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    Since you are already considering a Kiwaya, I would steer away from the Kalas and Ohanas and other such brands, if you are ok with a laminate uke that is. I have two Kiwayas, a solid mahogany and laminate koa, and both are wonderful and very playable. Even the cheapest laminate Kiwaya models (the student models, KSU, KCU, etc.) are extremely well made and are, in my opinion, much better than even some entry-level solid wood ukes. I really like the sound of them and they're also loud. Anyone being wary of or snobbish towards laminate should watch this video by Matt Hicks praising laminate ukes.

    KoAloha are an excellent brand as well but I only have experience with their Hawaii-made ukes. I've heard good things about the KoAlana models as well and I'd be surprised if you got a stinker, but it might be worth to wait for some more reviews as you said.

    If you want a solid wood uke, as Croaky Keith suggested, the Kala models are probably outside of your budget unless you buy used (which I wouldn't, as I mentioned earlier). I believe you can get some solid wood Ohanas at the top of your budget but personally I would rather look at something like Mainland instead, at least if you live in the US.

    edit.

    Oh yeah, I forgot to emphasize what Keith said about dealers. Indeed, buy from a reputable one so you'll get a decent instrument whichever you choose. And I only now noticed you live in NY so you'll have plenty of choices. Mim's (thanks Jerry), Uke Republic, The Ukulele Site, Elderly, all of these should give you a good setup so you don't have to worry about bad action and sharp frets etc. If you're interested in the Mainland I mentioned you can buy one directly from their website and they'll check the uke thoroughly as well before sending it to you.

    Also, if you're still not afraid of laminate (and plastic), why not check Magic Fluke as well. I have two of their ukes and they're awesome.
    Last edited by Dohle; 04-15-2020 at 03:23 AM.

  4. #4
    Join Date
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    Look at Mim's Ukes.

    https://www.mimsukes.com/
    Too many ukes, but I can't stop buying!
    https://www.catskillukulelegroup.com/

  5. #5
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    Those are all good brands. Buy from one of the above-mentioned dealers who do setups and you'll be happy, no matter which model you choose.

    FWIW I've played both Kala models. The mahogany does have a nice traditional sound and would be great for strumming old songs. The cedar has more resonance and chime, even when played softly (which is when a lot of ukes sound dull). For dynamic range and fingerpicking I like the cedar very much -- even though it is indeed orange and glossy, which is not to my taste lookswise.

  6. #6
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    Contact me at thecraftedcow@comcast.net,please, so we can talk about woods, styles of shapes, types of strings,cases, and yes, prices.

  7. #7
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    Apr 2020
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    Thank you CraftedCow I'll let you know, thank you Croaky (great names) and everyone, this is really helpful. I definitely plan to do a non-Amazon purchase.

    So many choices. The Opio looks great, but I think its pushing above my comfort zone as far as price with some of the others . . though maybe down the road. I was toying with the idea of tenor for a while and spending a bit more, but I think I should stick to my budget and the versatility of the Concert for now. I will likely revisit the tenor idea later if I stick with this.

    I admit, I started this hunt with a strong bias for solid wood. What I think I'm hearing now is that it's not substantially better at this price but still very good? Given that the solids are fighting my budget a bit and I'm learning just how good a wood top or laminate can sound, I'm leaning that way. Hopefully I can get something good enough so that I won't want to replace immediately, but low enough price that I can justify saving my pennies up for a tenor to compliment it in the near future. (we'll see)

    The Koalana looks interesting, but a bit of an unknown. I won't get lost in a storm with the super orange CTG, but its on the top of my list because of the tone. Likewise, wow the video posted above by Dohle with the Kiwaya and Flea is exactly what im hoping for. There is a chime-y, music box quality to both of them that I just love.

    At least this is my opinion at the moment. Thank you, your input is very helpful. I feel like I've walked into Olivander's Wand shop!
    Last edited by Elisanna; 04-15-2020 at 06:23 PM. Reason: Lost my mind

  8. #8
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    For several years, I used a $25 uke I bought in an ABC store in Hawaii. You don't need a Ferrari to learn how to drive. Ohana and Kala make fine instruments at reasonable prices.
    Too many ukes, but I can't stop buying!
    https://www.catskillukulelegroup.com/

  9. #9
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    I didn't mean to bash Kala or Ohana. Both of them make fine ukes. I simply believe you can get better instruments for the same amount of money - sometimes even less - that you'd pay for a Kala or Ohana. Also, they are some of the most ubiquitous brands in the ukulele world, at least at that low to mid-tier range, which makes them boring in my eyes.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dohle View Post
    I didn't mean to bash Kala or Ohana. Both of them make fine ukes. I simply believe you can get better instruments for the same amount of money - sometimes even less - that you'd pay for a Kala or Ohana. Also, they are some of the most ubiquitous brands in the ukulele world, at least at that low to mid-tier range, which makes them boring in my eyes.
    Of course. I was just adding my two cents. There are lots of reasonably-priced brand out there, Enya, for example.
    Too many ukes, but I can't stop buying!
    https://www.catskillukulelegroup.com/

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