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Thread: Your Favorite Sounding Custom Ukulele

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jul 2019

    Default Your Favorite Sounding Custom Ukulele

    This is a tough one; I once bought a beautiful custom Ukulele and returned it because it didn't have the sound I expected. There was no problem in returning it, it's just that I didn't feel good about doing it and hope to never do it again. I know that all the best builders want to make sure their customers are happy, but still ...

    So my question is: If you have bought or played a custom ukulele, what is your favorite sounding custom ukulele, and what were the woods used? (Yes, sound is subjective and I realize I'm asking only for your opinion.)

    Thanks in advance.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Aug 2009
    Port Hope, Ontario, Canada


    Mine is a Joe Zier tenor. It has no front soundhole in the cedar top, but a port in the upper bass side bout. It's Madagascar rosewood sides, back, bridge and board, curly koa binding, mahogany/maple neck with lattice bracing on the soundboard, Worth strings with a low G and Gotoh tuners. I traded a Gretsch guitar for it and I love it.

    JZ front.jpg JZ back.jpg JZ Uke hedstock.jpg JZ Uke port.jpg
    Last edited by Jim Yates; 10-21-2020 at 06:31 AM.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Sep 2013
    Los Angeles, near the Beverly Center.


    This question made me realize that of the 5 customs I've had done, they were only for look, not at all for sound. I find that my 9 ukes, custom or off the shelf, are so close in sound and playability, that the look is what differentiates them.

    The first custom I had done 7 years ago was a gypsy jazz style all solid, flame maple top, Indian rosewood body. When I first played it, I thought it didn't have the projection or sustain I wanted, but after about 18 months, it opened up and now it sounds great.

    The most recent custom by the same builder is very different, and like Jim's uke, does not have a top sound hole, but has small sound holes all the way around the bouts plus a larger one in the cutaway. I've been told it has lots of projection. It's all solid, spalted mango top and flame mango body with spalted mango binding.

    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.
    Member The CC Strummers:,
    Last edited by kohanmike; 10-21-2020 at 06:52 AM.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Feb 2017


    Mine is a long-necked tenor from Rob Collins. It is of plane wood from a London park and the neck is walnut and laburnum is used for the bridge. The binding is English cherry. It has a unique voice which I embraced unlike Ed1. Now that voice is the default tone to my ear and even a vintage Martin sounds weird to my ear. Here's a picture since that seems to be de rigeur for this thread.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Dec 2010
    Tampa Bay, FL


    My favorite sounding "custom" built uke is still my factory customized Cocobolo Ukulele. Concert scale (short) with a side port. It's not overly loud, but has great sustain, is chimey and shimmery sounding. No binding, no bling, just a solid go to and gigging uke. People oooo'd and aaaaah'd when I showed it off, and several friends now own one, but not customized like this one. It sounds nice plugged in, too. Passive pickup, no charge up period needed.
    I will never sell this uke. It's getting a new fingerboard as soon as I can afford it, to improve the intonation. My bestie is getting it when I kick the bucket, my wife plays tenor ukes or bass ukes only.
    "Those who bring sunshine and laughter to the lives of others cannot keep it from themselves".

    Music washes from the soul, the dust of everyday living.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Sep 2020


    There are many extremely attractive ukes out there with exquisite tone.

    But there are a few which simply deliver tone in a more functional, practical instrument.

    Currently in this category I would list Corey Fujimoto's custom Kala Elite, and the Mike Da Silva's James Hill signature model (although perhaps might not qualify as a 'true' custom uke).
    Last edited by ikimiki; 10-21-2020 at 03:57 PM.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    May 2020
    Orange County, CA


    My Donaldson soprano ukulele. Custom made to my specifications.17649E29-0980-454B-9900-5C0D413BB3FC.jpg

    -Soprano Ditson/Martin body
    -Sitka Spruce top
    -Honduran Mahogany back/sides
    -Ebony fretboard, saddle, bridge.
    -Rosewood bindings with purfling
    -Koa Rosette
    -Crescent Moon inlay and my name inlay at 12th fret.
    -Special Headplate made of Koa, Maple and Ebony.
    -PegHed tuners
    -Undersaddle pickup installed just last week.

    It sounds loud but very clear. I usually like the mellow sound but the Donaldson came out more than what I originally expected.

    Benjamin Bui

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Jun 2018
    Sparta, Wisconsin, USA


    What a difficult question to answer.
    Disclosure, I bought all of my custom tenors used.
    Since Mike Pereira isn't making customs anymore, I'm not sure I should count my Spruce/mahogany tenor.
    The one that I pick up the most to play is a David Ingalls Ono Spruce/Rosewood strung Low-G. It's such an easy to play, rich sounding uke that I find myself reaching for it to strum or pick for both a short idle moment, or a long practice.
    I haven't taken a picture of it, so I have to use the listing photo from when I bought it a little over a year ago:

    Last edited by Kenn2018; 10-22-2020 at 08:50 PM.
    There is a subtle yet profound difference between the learning of something and the knowing of that thing.
    You can learn by reading, but you don’t begin to know until you begin to try to do.

    —Lou Churchill, Plane & Pilot Magazine

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Jul 2019


    Thanks for your posts, folks. I know that asking for "favorite sounding" is just as problematic as asking for favorite looking or most comfortable neck, so I appreciate your thoughts. I've been thinking about selling a few ukes and saving up for something special which is why I started this thread - but even my 15 year old fluke which doesn't get played at all seems like part of the family. UAS is complicated.

  10. #10


    I'm not sure mine qualifies, since there's some difference in what people mean by custom. And like Kenn2018, mine isn't really bespoke to me since it was bought second hand, but I have a DJ Morgan tenor that sounds much better than what I paid for it. And going by his prices, much better than it probably originally cost. Unfortunately, I don't know what it's made of besides the top, which seems to be spruce. I would describe the sound has very clear, bright but not harsh. I don't think he takes commissions though.

    One thing to consider: people automatically assume a custom will/should sound better than something off the shelf because it's costly and unique. And for many other goods, this is true: custom tailored suits will fit better and are usually much better than anything off the rack.

    But in the case of bespoke suits, the customer is generally not giving much in the way of input since the customization is primarily a matter of fit. The customer is measured, and the tailor's expertise takes care of the rest.

    In the case of custom instruments, it's not always the case that the customer knows enough about the instrument's construction to give preferences that will make the instrument sound good or better than what the luthier could produce given free reign. I think this is why you sometimes hear about someone being disappointed with their commissioned uke. And why many luthiers limit their offerings to wood selection and aesthetic appointments.

    I'm not saying customs can't or don't sound better than off the shelf ukes. Some do. But I don't think it's always a foregone conclusion.

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