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Thread: Are expensive "high end" ukuleles really worth it for a non-pro player?

  1. #1

    Default Are expensive "high end" ukuleles really worth it for a non-pro player?

    Hello:

    I'm new to ukulele and trying to "self-learn". I purchased a concert Aklot ukulele from amazon and by all accounts ( as I learn to differentiate sounds and parts of a ukulele), it's a fine little ukulele. The only thing I did to it was change the strings to Martin 600's as the stock Aquilas really hurt my fingers.

    So I was looking at the "next level" ukuleles last night. I watch a lot of "gotaukulele" reviews as well as many others. Amongst the ukuleles I could afford vs what I want (koaloha, kamaka, romero creations), I really like Duke, Ortega, Snail, Flight and Pono. I went back and listened to reviews on youtube about these ukuleles and am wondering: are these ukuleles *really any different, really any better* than a well made inexpensive ukulele?
    At what point do you really hear the difference between a good ukulele and a really fine ukulele? If you had a budget limit of under $500 u.s.d, would you consider any of the ukuleles I've named and if not, what do you recommend?
    Last edited by Eggs_n_Ham; 05-18-2021 at 04:22 AM.

  2. #2
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    prices can go through the roof. needs and worth and often personal questions. the question could also be, is good enough good enough? if your ear/skills are not trained, it may not make a difference right now... but maybe later.

    of the brands you've mentioned the only one I'd consider is pono, but that's me. you might add opio to the list, that's koaloha's step down line. depending on size you might need to up your budget a bit though

  3. #3
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    Some people say that you should focus on the more expensive entry/beginner level ukes up to around $300-400 (your Kalas and Ohanas etc.) or just make the jump to the K brands or custom ukes starting at around $800-1000. But I highly disagree with that notion. There so many excellent mid-range uke brands nowadays that there's no reason to disregard them. And I'd say the jump in quality from those Kalas and Ohanas to something like a Pono or KoAloha Opio or Rebel or Romero Creations is actually bigger than it is from those mid-range brands to the K brands and the like.

    Of the brands you mentioned, Pono is a no-brainer. You can get any of their standard or deluxe models under $500. You might be able to find certain KoAloha Opio models under or around that $500 mark as well and those are almost identical in quality to the Hawaiian-made ones. I'd say the Opios are at that sweet spot for the quality/price ratio if you can afford (or find) them. If you're able to stretch your budget by a hundred or so you can get the aNueNue AMM2 concert or AMM3 tenor for around $600. Those are incredible value as well and rival the much more expensive Moon Birds in quality, in my opinion. I'd say those three ukes/brands are at the top when it comes to mid-range ukes. The other brands I mentioned, while really nice quality, tend to be more expensive still.

    Of the other brands you mentioned, I'd say Snail and Flight are very good at that beginner end of the spectrum. Both have very good mid-range models as well but since you can get a Pono for pretty much the same price usually I'd usually lean towards Pono rather than the two.

  4. #4
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    I dunno, maybe get the best instrument you can afford. That way if you stick with ukulele you will have something nice to play and will forestall the onset of UAS. If you decide that ukulele is not for you, you will recoup a higher percentage of the purchase price than if you went low-ball.
    Last edited by kkimura; 05-18-2021 at 06:56 AM. Reason: speling
    Kamaka HF3, Tenor
    Ko'olau C1, Concert
    Pono MC, Concert

  5. #5
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    I guess I'd answer your question by saying, "It depends ...." If all your looking for is a Uke to learn on, which sounds good, and is easy to play, then you don't need a high priced instrument. Lots of instruments in the $300 to $800 range will suit your purposes just fine. Technically, the "sound" of a Uke may be judged by listening carefully to single notes being plucked, and single chords being strummed. No fancy playing skill is required. In such a test, the high end Ukes will usually sound somewhat better. Not a lot better, but a little better. The quality of the builds between the mid range and high end Ukes may be the same. If you are a connoisseur of fine tone woods, you may find more satisfaction in the high end Ukes. The higher the price of the instrument, the more selective I would expect the builder to be in choosing the woods. For example, not all Koa woods are the same. Some are quite ordinary, while others are quite exceptional. But, they may sound the same. I've never heard anyone claim that gorgeous flamed Koa actually sounds better than simple straight grained Koa. It's just more esthetically pleasing, at least to some, and definitely more expensive. I think the bottom line is very subjective. Some people really love owning an instrument that is itself a work of art. Others just think of their instrument as a tool, and could care less about its physical appearance. Think of Willie Nelson playing his beat up old guitar, Trigger. I wish I had Willie's talent, but I'm not envious of his taste in instruments. I'm sure I'd want something that looked nicer from the outside. So, finally, my advice about buying a Uke. Look at Ohana limited editions and Mainland Ukes. There you will find beauty, good sound quality, and playability all for a mid range price.
    "The sole cause of all human misery is the inability of people
    to sit quietly in their rooms." - Blaise Pascal, 1670

  6. #6
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    I think there is a huge gap in sound quality and playability between a $50 all-laminate ukulele and a mid-range $300-$600 ukulele. The better instrument will be more responsive and thus easier to play as well as sounding noticeably better. If you are proficient with any other musical instrument, I would advise skipping the cheap beginner ukuleles altogether and starting with a mid-range instrument. Mid-range brands that I like are Pono, Opio, Romero Creations, Martin, Kiwaya, and Anuenue. There are lots of others that I don't have direct experience with.

    Many Americans seem to enjoy buying a lot of different cheap ukuleles (sometimes called UAS). This makes no sense to me. I'd rather save my money for one decent mid-range instrument.

    The difference between a good mid-range instrument and a $1000-$3000 instrument is a lot more subtle. Some of that money does go in to better build quality. Some of the money goes into better quality woods. Some of the money goes into better looks. Some of that money goes into living wages for American workers instead of being imported from countries with lower costs of living. Once you are proficient with the mid-range instrument, my advise is to play as many high-end instruments as you can. Maybe one of them will really speak to you. Otherwise, you may be happy playing the mid-range instrument for several more years.
    Last edited by man0a; 05-18-2021 at 06:54 AM.

  7. #7
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    I've probably cycled through three dozen ukes over the eight years I've played. As I became a better player, I let go of some I should have kept, and bought some I had no business owning (a Pete Howlett tenor, for instance. Best instrument I'll ever own but can't play tenor scale because of scar tissue on two fingers of my fretting hand). I've thrown away a lot of money in the process.

    My advice -- if you like the Aklot, keep it and enjoy it. The next step up for you may be a Pono or an Opio. I wouldn't rule out a tricked-out Magic Fluke or Flea. Get one with the wood fretboard and maybe a solid top and nicer tuners. You can find one for $300-$400. They play wonderfully, have excellent sound, and are easy to carry around.

    It's one of the two I play most, the other being an Ohana cedar top/laminate willow sides & back. It's my gigging instrument. I've dropped it on slate floors twice. Once cracked it at the seams a couple of times and had to have it reglued. The gloss finish is a wreck. But it plays and sounds great. I don't worry about having to baby it, because it's been through a lot. The advantage of the Ohana/Kala types is if you buy them from a legit seller (Mim or Uke Republic or Elderly) you'll get one that's been set up and ready to play and you don't have to worry about it.

    If, after you get one the next step up, you feel the need to splurge, you'll have a good idea of what a decent uke plays and sounds like.
    The site truncates my signature so I can't tell you

  8. #8
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    FYI, the eight I now own (and I'm totally satisfied with each one): The koa Flea (soprano). The Ohana cedar/willow (concert). A Firefly banjolele (concert). Martin C1K concert. Ohana SK-28 (soprano Nunes style). Famous FS-1 (soprano laminate -- get one if you can find one, a real steal). Ken Timms soprano. Gibson UKE-1 late 1920s vintage.
    The site truncates my signature so I can't tell you

  9. #9
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    After visiting the three K factories in Hawaii several times for me there is no way to consider an Asian mass produced uke ever again. However, I am just a casual fun player and don't see myself spending more than $1000 on a uke. The solution is to buy a used uke where around $500 you can get mighty fine preloved Hawaiian instruments that are many notches above any new China built uke for that price.

  10. #10
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    Everyone has different objectives, some find joy in owning a top quality uke, some just like playing a half decent uke, lots of us enjoyed the chase for that one perfect uke - you need to consider where your enjoyment lies.

    My UAS stopped when I bought a tenor necked/concert bodied solid acacia KoAloha Opio - I didn't even know about this type of uke when I started out - but soon learned that I like small bodied ukes, the first of which was a Kala KA-SLNG, my 4th purchase & still enjoyed, it's a laminate concert scaled soprano bodied uke.

    Another thing, I found out that I prefer linear tuning, & fluorocarbon strings.
    Trying to do justice to various musical instruments.

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