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Thread: My first "real" Ukulele

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Sep 2011
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    Default My first "real" Ukulele

    All the recent threads here about "do you actually PLAY your expensive ukes?" and "is an expensive uke really worth it?" and so on got me to thinking. And shopping.

    It seems that a lot of the experienced players tend to think of somewhere around $5-600 as being the "entry level" for a good ukulele. Not that anything less expensive is junk, but... that seems to be the thinking. $1,000-1,200 is more what seems to be "common" for a really good uke.

    Yeah, I'm not ready for that. I'm graduating from $50-60 laminate ukes. Gonna have to take a little more of a baby step here.

    I did try an Oscar Schmidt Mango Tenor more than a few years back. That was my first "plunge". I think I paid $230 for it. Very nice instrument, very easy to play, and I learned from it. Unfortunately, what I learned was that I hated it! It was far too heavy, a bit too plinky (traditional uke sounding... not what I'm after), and sounded like crap with a Low G. It sat in the closet for 7 years until I gave it to my sister.

    So, now I've done more research, and I've accepted that I'll spend something close to $300.

    Given that I tend to play softly, and I aim for styles like blues and jazz, and I'm universally a Low G player... I set my initial requirements as a solid cedar top. The rest is negotiable. And I've found that I prefer the concert scale instruments.

    My research led me to the Mainland Cedar/Rosewood Concert. Seems to be a universally loved instrument with plenty of sound samples available. I was just about ready to pull the trigger on it, but I couldn't get over the obnoxious rope binding.

    Decided to send an email to Mim asking for opinions. Given her reputation, I wouldn't mind buying from her. (and she doesn't sell the Mainland) She came back with the Ohana CK-50G, which is also Cedar/Rosewood. Seems to be similar quality and slightly cheaper.

    As much as I'd love an unadorned instrument, all of these have either rope binding or pearl/abalone accents. I'm not really buying it to look at, I'll get over it as long as it plays nice.

    So, I've almost decided on the Ohana CK-50G from Mim. I'm sure I could do a lot worse for around $300.

    But, then I saw... the Ohana CK-42 "Sinker Redwood" top. It's listed at $409, I don't want to pay that much. I know Redwood is pretty much on par with Cedar as a tone wood, maybe slightly better in some ways. But, I was scrolling past it due to the price... and then I said... "what the heck IS "Sinker Redwood", anyway?

    Now, as I hinted at, I'm not buying an instrument because it's "pretty". I want something that's going to make me happy when I play it. The thought of owning a redwood instrument makes me feel guilty at first, because redwood trees are special. I visited that part of the country a couple years ago, it really makes you feel small to stand next to a tree that's been alive for 1500 years and is so tall that you can't see the top of it. But, it would also be kinda cool to own that instrument... because the trees are special.

    "Sinker Redwood" comes from logs that were cut in the late 1880's, floated down a river to a sawmill... and some of them "sank". Where they sat for over 100 years in the silt of a riverbed absorbing minerals. And now they're dredging parts of the riverbed and bringing up this old wood. Okay, THAT intrigues me!

    To own an instrument made from the wood of a 1,000 year old tree that sat at the bottom of a river for 100 years... okay, it's instantly got a "story", and I like that. PLUS, being redwood, it should sound really good!

    Now I'm torn between the CK-50 (Cedar top) and the CK-42 (Sinker Redwood top). I explained all this to my wife... and, surprisingly, she gets it.

    Thinking seriously about buying that Sinker Redwood uke.
    What could possibly go wrong?

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jul 2015
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    Default

    Thanks for the post. I totally get your aversion to unnecessary decorations and also avoid them as I think they may take away value where it matters. Even the $1000+ Hawaiian ukuleles are generally plain looking and they add decoration at about double that price. As for the wood that is used there are many people who claim they can hear differences but it generally matters very little compared to other factors of the build. I agree that there is a difference between solid tropical hardwood and softwood tops, but beyond that it's quite subjective and you got it right by identifying with the story behind sinker wood as criterion. I am sure you will enjoy your new uke.

  3. #3
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    Yeah, I've poked around in the Luthier area of this forum enough to get the hint that there's a lot more involved than just the type of wood used.

    I'm sure I wouldn't notice much difference between most woods, but cedar... definitely a softer and lighter wood. That's got to make a difference. And the difference seems to be in producing a lower and richer tone and also responding well to a lighter touch vs. "thrashing", which suits my playing style.

    I really just want to get into a decent solid wood instrument to see how different it is from my cheap laminate ukes. The consensus seems to be that it should have a much nicer sound, intonation, playability, etc. Regardless of the wood, a quality all-solid instrument is "supposed" to sound better.

    This is the question I need to start trying to answer. And even if there were a good uke shop near me, I'm not sure I could really answer that question in a few minutes. I need to spend some time with it.

    Here's the funny thing... talking hobbies... I'd spend $4-500 or more on a set of tires that might last me 8-12 months of motorsports use without batting an eye. Kinda silly to fret over spending the same amount of money on a uke that will pretty much ALWAYS be worth at least half what I paid for it, and last for decades. But, here I am.
    What could possibly go wrong?

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Jan 2016
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    Southern Ukulele Store talks about CK-42 for four minutes in this video. https://youtu.be/yIFFUtmtLTU?t=1015s
    Last edited by wykhuh; 06-13-2021 at 08:43 AM.

  5. #5
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    It may not matter to You , but for me , a very important factor is the nut width .
    " Anything larger than a soprano is cheating "
    " I'm no luthier but ,........"

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Apr 2020
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    Georgia
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    Sinker is pretty cool. Moon spruce is my favorite because of when they harvest it, but I’m a big fan of anything with a history. A friend of mine builds electric guitars out of joists taken out of barns built in the colonial days and that’s the coolest thing in the world to me. I wish he made ukes!

  7. #7
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    Jun 2018
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    Sparta, Wisconsin, USA
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    I had the Ohana TK-50G and it was very nice. It was a big step up from my Fender Nohea all-laminate tenor. I bought it from a music store in the next town. It played well. Sounded very good, not the loudest, but the cedar gave the rosewood a warmer sound than the spruce top I tried. I played it with both Living Waters High & Low-G strings. But tried others and they made a definite difference to the sound.

    Redwood will normally give a warmer sound than the cedar. But I find that sinker redwood can add subtle nuances to the sound. I think it makes the top slightly stiffer than regular cut redwood. Which in turn makes it a touch brighter. But, in general, still warmer than cedar. I have two other brand tenors with redwood tops. They are warm and musical. But, still no slouches with volume or projection. I too like that is is reclaimed from the river.

    I have since sold my Ohana. A friend now plays it and likes it a lot.

    If I recall correctly, the neck was narrow, but the string spacing was the standard 3/8". My only minor criticism was the high gloss neck that slowed it down a touch. It wasn't sticky or anything. And my hands don't normally get sweaty. So take that with a grain of salt.

    Mim's setups are first class if you need a low setup for hand problems she will accommodate you.

    I considered it a very good mid-level uke that punched well above its weight.
    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

  8. #8
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    Well, it is $120 to get a limited edition model that intrigues you and may be a good match for its warm sound. There are only three left at Mim's (and 16 50Gs). Only you can decide if the cost is of sufficient value (it should be if you play daily or frequently).

    I live in the NorCal area near many Redwood forests. Interestingly, I just got a quote to replace 90 feet of redwood fencing. Our entire 40 year neighborhood has redwood fencing. A friend in San Francisco is repairing his redwood deck. There have been battles fought over saving the trees, especially "old growth" forests. But the lumber available today is secondary or tertiary growth trees, many of which are being logged to thin the trees due to overcrowding in these previously logged areas.

  9. #9
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    I got the CK-50GW (solid cedar/laminate willow) from Mim several years ago. Highly recommended. Mim does a great job. The nut width is fine, and the overall feel is great. I also use Worth browns. If that’s the one she recommends, you can’t go wrong.
    The site truncates my signature so I can't tell you

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by LorenFL View Post
    The consensus seems to be that it should have a much nicer sound, intonation, playability, etc. Regardless of the wood, a quality all-solid instrument is "supposed" to sound better.
    Cedar is indeed a nice tone wood with a quick response and warmer sound. Of course it also dents more easily than other woods.
    Mainly I wanted to comment on the part of your quote above.
    It is possible to find laminate instruments that you may think sound better than some solid wood instruments. It's all about build, personal preference, etc.
    Intonation and playability can be equally as good on a solid wood or laminate instrument. It's all in how well and correctly the instrument was built (fret spacing, bridge location, etc.) and the setup in general.
    I know what it's like to not have a shop nearby to try out a lot of stuff. That's why it's important to buy from someone who has a good return policy.
    In the end, it doesn't matter what anyone else thinks. It's all about your hands, ears, etc. I hope you find what you're looking for.
    Last edited by jer; 06-13-2021 at 01:22 PM.

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