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Thread: Sound of a $1000 uke

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Sep 2020
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    Default Sound of a $1000 uke

    I have a question about the sound of decent mass produced solid wood ukes vs ukes built in small shops. There have been other threads on this topic and they are helpful, but the answers often come down to “some people think it worth spending more for quality”. I agree quality workmanship is worth paying for, but if it doesn’t sound better and play better then that’s a different decision.

    I appreciate the workmanship, but what do they do in small shops that make ukuleles sound better? I have an Ohana mahogany TK-35 which I love, but I’m thinking about getting a more expensive all-mahogany. My Ohana has some minute flaws in the finish, some glue showing on the inside, but why would $1000 ukulele sound better, assuming same strings?

    I could try expensive ukes at my local music store, and I will, but I don’t want to rely on my ear in a store. I’d like to have some objective reasons for better sound as well.

    I’m not looking for a justification for my less expensive uke, I’m actually looking for a justification to buy a more expensive one. I love the beautiful hand-made ukes, but if they don’t sound better than my Ohana I can’t justify the purchase.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    May 2020
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    It is not just the workmanship making the instrument looking better (in fact, many $1k ukuleles don't look any better than a $300 Kala). The more precise workmanship of $1k ukes allows for a tight control on the tone so you can say "this is a Kamaka sound" and "this a KoAloha uke" with more confidence than "this is a Kala" or "this is a Ohana". Precision in workmanship means: correct locations on frets, nut, saddle, fret level, uniform wood, bracing, and finish coat, aligned tuners, in pretty much all aspects of the uke; these would contribute to the sound (and more consistent than a uke built with more tolerance); not just for looks.

    I'm pretty new to the ukulele and consider myself a slow learner when it comes to playing musical instruments; but I can judge what is good and what is not fairly easily. (I think this isn't a special skill I have; it's like I can tell a good movie from a bad one, but I can't make any decent movies.) It took me a while to decide to take a leap of faith and jump from my Kalas (which I love) to a Kamaka; I didn't think the Kamaka would be noticeably better than the Kala in sound, but it was noticeably better.

    Recently, I did an experiment here on UU. If you go to this thread and play the 2 samples; let your ears determine which you like more.

    https://forum.ukuleleunderground.com...-you-like-more

    All the UU members who voted liked the more expensive uke. In fact, I played the cheaper uke better (because I gave it 3 takes; leaving only time for 1 take on the more expensive uke). Later, I replayed the piece on both ukes again in the video. Try to listen beyond my poor play and beyond the basic tone wood. You'll find one uke has more color/dimension. (If you like this uke, you'll love a Kamaka; it blows this one away.)

  3. #3
    Join Date
    May 2018
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    Kekaha, Kauai
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    Default

    I will see if I can fill in some of the blanks for you. First of all, you need to understand that wood is not an engineered material. Instrument factories crank out large amounts of parts produced by CNC machines to very tight tolerances. Those tolerances were picked to produce the largest number of nice sounding instruments. But in every batch, most will be fine instruments, some will be exceptional and some will be junk. It depends on the quality control of the factory and vendors whether the bad ones reach the market.
    On the other hand a typical koa top for me may be anywhere from 1.5 mm to 2.0 mm thick, depending on what my experience dictates what it should be. The individual building method of luthiers vary greatly, but the truth is most of develop a distinctive sound over time. A custom ukulele offers many choices not available in stock instruments. I can tailor the nut and fretboard width, the fret size, the fretboard radius, the scale length and the action height to the customers specifications. Whether any these things matter is largely dependent on the sophistication of the customer.
    Whether an individual feels that any given instrument is worth much more than others, is a totally subjective issue.
    Brad
    Bradford Donaldson
    Kekaha, HI and Cannon Beach OR
    bradfordj48@outlook.com

  4. #4
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    Whenever I hear sound comparisons between mid-range / lower mid-range and expensive ukes they are often close in sound with the high-end expensive uke sounding a bit rounder and more rich. There's often enough difference to tell them apart but it usually isn't a dramatic difference. You have to ask yourself if the marginal improvement in sound is worth the additional $500 - $700.
    Money can't buy happiness but it can buy a uke which is basically the same thing.

    Ukes are a lot like potato chips. It's hard to stop with just one!

  5. #5
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    Dec 2018
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    I think most, if not, all small scale production luthiers, or at least the one I know of, does the following to ensure a great sounding ukulele worthy of the price tag.

    1. Wood for Soundboard, back and sides are properly dried naturally for years. This helps with the stability of the wood.
    2. Soundboard, back and sides are hand picked for straightness of the wood grains to produce a bigger sound. Of course, in these days, the curvier the grain, the higher price the uke can fetch.
    3. The bracing for each soundboard is carefully shaped/ chiseled to produce the voice and volume by the luthier. I saw that he would tap repeatedly on the soundboard close to his ear while chiseling on the bracing.

    And there are other things going on for the workmanship which is not just about finishing I.e. messy glue droplets here and there or rough fret edges etc. It is more on making a tight neck to body joint to prevent future warping, the break angle of the head, Radiused fretboard (which not everyone can agree is a plus point).

    So.. I have doubts that a mass production factory would be able to spend this much effort and time for a cheaper ukulele. However with all that said, I have played one or two mass production ukuleles out of many, which sounded just as good as my kamaka. I would said that the stars have aligned for that ukulele and it’s like one in a hundred or even thousand.

    Hope the above is enough reasons for you to get a $1000 uke.. haha

    Disclaimer: I’m no ukulele making expert and don’t claim to be. Do correct me if falsely represented anything.
    aNueNue Moon Bird US200 || Kamaka HF-1 || Martin S-1 Uke || Eddy Finn EFTS-20-S || Kala KA-SLNG || Martin C1K Uke || Yamaha GL1
    Check out my ukulele themed paintings in UU forum thread

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by mikelz777 View Post
    Whenever I hear sound comparisons between mid-range / lower mid-range and expensive ukes they are often close in sound with the high-end expensive uke sounding a bit rounder and more rich. There's often enough difference to tell them apart but it usually isn't a dramatic difference. You have to ask yourself if the marginal improvement in sound is worth the additional $500 - $700.
    When I bought my Kala tenor solid cedar top, acacia body, cutaway for $379, I also played a few of the K brand ukes that were over $1000. I absolutely did not hear a big difference in sound quality and that convinced me that for almost 3 times the price, they were not worth it. I played guitar for almost fifty years before I took up the uke, and went through 16 ukes before I bought the Kala. Even after having custom ukes made, I still find the Kala to be one of my favorite ukes and go to it often for gigs, even on Zoom.


    This is Michael Kohan in Los Angeles, Beverly Grove near the Beverly Center
    9 tenor cutaway ukes, 4 acoustic bass ukes, 12 solid body bass ukes, 14 mini electric bass guitars (Total: 39)

    • Donate to The Ukulele Kids Club, they provide ukuleles to children in hospital music therapy programs. www.theukc.org
    • Member The CC Strummers: YouTube: www.youtube.com/user/CCStrummers/video, Facebook: www.facebook.com/TheCCStrummers

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by kohanmike View Post
    When I bought my Kala tenor solid cedar top, acacia body, cutaway for $379, I also played a few of the K brand ukes that were over $1000. I absolutely did not hear a big difference in sound quality and that convinced me that for almost 3 times the price, they were not worth it. I played guitar for almost fifty years before I took up the uke, and went through 16 ukes before I bought the Kala. Even after having custom ukes made, I still find the Kala to be one of my favorite ukes and go to it often for gigs, even on Zoom.


    This is Michael Kohan in Los Angeles, Beverly Grove near the Beverly Center
    9 tenor cutaway ukes, 4 acoustic bass ukes, 12 solid body bass ukes, 14 mini electric bass guitars (Total: 39)

    • Donate to The Ukulele Kids Club, they provide ukuleles to children in hospital music therapy programs. www.theukc.org
    • Member The CC Strummers: YouTube: www.youtube.com/user/CCStrummers/video, Facebook: www.facebook.com/TheCCStrummers
    Your statement about going through 16 ukes before settling on the $379.00 Kala proves how much variability there is between mass produced instruments. You could play 4 identical specimens of your Kala and maybe only love one of them.

    To the OP buying a $1000 or $2000 or $3000 uke will not guarantee you will like the sound better then your Ohana. Tone preference is a very personal thing. Luthier made instruments are usually crafted with attention to every detail, always striving to achieve a certain tone. You have to decide if you like that tone.

    I will say that every Koaloha I have played ($1000 instrument) sounded better to “me” then any Kala, Ohana, Gretsch etc. But I like a full bodied, resonant loud tone, more guitar like. That is what Koaloha gives. You gotta figure out what tone you like then play everything you can
    Currently enjoying these ukuleles : *LdfM tenor, *LfdM 19" super tenor. *LfdM baritone, *I'iwi tenor , *Koolau tenor, *Webber tenor, *Kimo tenor, *Kimo super concert, *Mya Moe baritone, *Kamaka baritone, *Gianinni baritone, *Fred Shields walnut pineapple super soprano, *Kala super soprano, *Loprinzi super soprano, *Black bear ULO concert , *Enya X1 concert, *Enya X1 pineapple soprano, *Enya Nova *Gretsch tenor, *Korala plastic concert

  8. #8

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    [Deleted post because it left off the 2nd half of what I wrote...I replied again later on in the thread]
    Last edited by KaminTheWeaver; 09-17-2020 at 02:05 AM.

  9. #9
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    There are probably as many opinions on this as there are people on the forum. And those opinions are all correct - for that person.

    Do you strum while you sing? Or play finger style? Do you just play for your own enjoyment, or do you record, perform, or take part in groups? Do you play up the neck a lot, or rarely/never go there? Do intonation problems really annoy you, or are you a bit less picky about that? Can you afford the higher end ukulele easily, or would it take a lot of saving up for it? Do you like bling, or don’t like or care about some of the intricate inlay work that add to the cost of some of the super high end ukuleles? Do you spend a lot of time playing ukulele, or is it something that you do from time to time?

    I think those are some of the things that shape our opinions.

    I personally play as much as I can, play fingerstyle, enjoy a beautiful sound, don’t care about bling, (and dislike some of it), am bothered by intonation problems, play a lot up the neck, have hands that are very picky about the neck or I can have pain...and until COVID hit, was working 2 jobs, so had some spare money to spend on a hobby. So, for me, the enjoyment of a higher end ukulele was worth it.

    But, depending on your own situation, it may or may not be worth it.

    Whatever you decide, enjoy your ukulele. ��

  10. #10
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