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Thread: "Avoid The Gap" -- ????

  1. #1
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    Default "Avoid The Gap" -- ????

    I just did James Hill's "Ready, Steady, Ukulele" course and while I'm not a rank beginner (close, but not quite) I learned enough to find it well worth the princely sum of $1 that I paid for it. In discussing buying one's first ukulele, he made what I thought was an interesting comment.

    He advised buying the best uke one can afford (I've heard that before), but is of the opinion that one should avoid the "gap" in the market which he defines as the difference between the highest priced entry instruments (about $300-400) and the lowest priced high end instruments (about $800). He goes on to say that a $500 uke is not that much better than a $300 uke and a large difference won't be seen until entering the high end of the market.

    As an owner of a $100-ish uke I certainly can't speak from experience but I had assumed based on what I've heard that the biggest jump in quality comes between the entry level and the mid level, with the high end not that huge a jump from the mid.

    Anyway I realize that we are not dealing in absolutes, kind of like chocolate vs. vanilla, but am curious how others feel about it.

  2. #2
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    I would say there is a massive difference between entry level instruments and Hawaiian-made K family ukes. That said, I think once you get into the high end models, I feel the law of diminishing returns takes hold pretty quick. A top dollar Kamaka will have prettier flames and inlays, but is not necessarily a better built or better sounding instrument than a standard Kamaka.
    My Ukuleles: A Hawaiian, an Oregonian, and a Kiwi.

  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by SandChannel View Post
    I would say there is a massive difference between entry level instruments and Hawaiian-made K family ukes. That said, I think once you get into the high end models, I feel the law of diminishing returns takes hold pretty quick. A top dollar Kamaka will have prettier flames and inlays, but is not necessarily a better built or better sounding instrument than a standard Kamaka.
    Yes but the Hawaiian ones are well beyond the 1k price level. I think that the comment relates more to mass produced ukes where they often charge considerable premiums for bling, fancy woods, and other features that are neither needed nor quality enhancing. The mass producers often spend more effort on promoting upgrades that cost them little to nothing, than on quality local materials and production. And as evidenced by many of the discussions and recommendations given on this forum, their marketing is highly effective and players are more than willing to buy into myth and hype.

  4. #4
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    It is an interesting perspective from a top teacher and performer, but the context may be important. I assume that he is targeting this message to an audience looking for their first uke and not one that in a year or two may look to "upgrade" their first purchase.

    I absolutely agree that one should look to get the best from the get go. They tend to be better constructed, sound better, and feel better when playing. You get the biggest bang for the buck by going more expensive up to $300 or $400. So if I asked a trusted seller, the $200 recommendation would be distinctly better than the $100 recommendation and the $400 one would be better than the $100 or $200 one. A better uke often leads to faster learning and more enjoyment. Jumping from $400 through $800 may not bring noticeable improvements for one in their first year of playing.

    But the $400 to $800 is a price range containing many wonderful and valued ukuleles. Pono, Martin, Kiwaya, Opio, aNueNue, Rebel, KoAloha, Timms, and many others that players are very happy to have purchased. Other than costing more, there is usually no downside for a beginner to own one as well and there is likely incremental improvement in many areas, including finish, quality of components (like tuning pegs), bracing design, and overall construction. This is often the endpoint price range for those not wanting to spend $1k or more.
    Last edited by rainbow21; 06-14-2021 at 10:19 AM.

  5. #5
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    I think he is right in saying that a higher price does not always equate to better sound. Sometimes, the higher price is because the wood is prettier, or it includes some inlay or decoration that drives the price up. A $500 could have the same sound and build quality as a $300 model, but includes "bling." On that note, a Kanilea K-3 tenor is over $1k more than a K-1, even though it's the exact same build, materials, and building process. The extra $1k is all because of visual aesthetics. For some, that's worth the extra cost, and others could not care less. That being said, I believe there are several features of a ukulele that drives up cost while also consistently (yes, I know there are always exceptions to the rule) increasing the quality of sound:

    1. Laminate vs. solid top/laminate vs. all-solid wood. All solid wood ukuleles start at around $250 and go up from there.

    2. Factory produced vs. hand produced vs. handmade custom: You can find really nice instruments from any of these sources, but the general question is how much human involvement goes into the creation of an individual interment. Some are factory produced with virtually no individual QC (Non-elite Kala), others are factory produced with some QC (Pono, for example), others are hand produced but follow a certain model (like the 3 K brands), and the most expensive are made my individuals who choose every piece specifically and put it all together while ensuring quality and sound throughout (Beansprout, Koolau, Moore Bettah, to name a few).

    3. Quality of other components like tuners and pickups.

    Essentially, it is wise to ask WHY an instrument is more expensive, and decide what is worth splurging on.
    Soprano
    KoAloha Opio - Acacia

    Tenors
    aNueNue AMM3 - Mahogany (Low G)
    aNueNue UT3K Koa Bird - Koa
    aNueNue UT200 Moon Bird - Spruce/Rosewood (Low G)
    Jupiter Ukulele #64 - Cedar/Sycamore (Low G)
    Kanile'a K1-T Premium - Koa
    Kanile'a K1-T5 - Koa
    KoAloha KTM-25 #161 - Koa (Low G)

    Baritone+
    Kanile'a K1-B - Koa
    Pono UL4-30 - Spruce/Rosewood Steel String

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by merlin666 View Post
    Yes but the Hawaiian ones are well beyond the 1k price level. I think that the comment relates more to mass produced ukes where they often charge considerable premiums for bling, fancy woods, and other features that are neither needed nor quality enhancing.
    Quote Originally Posted by rainbow21 View Post
    It is an interesting perspective from a top teacher and performer, but the context may be important. I assume that he is targeting this message to an audience looking for their first uke and not one that in a year or two may look to "upgrade" their first purchase.
    Some of JH's meaning may be lost in my paraphrasing. I just re-listened and he is tossing out $800 as the entry level for what he calls "custom hand made" instruments. But yes his advice is targeted at those looking for a first uke.

  7. #7
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    I've had this discussion before and I know people disagree with me, but buying a Kamaka is cheaper than buying intermediary ukes and then buying the Kamaka. So my opinion, in a way, coincides with James Hill. I say go and get your dream uke now instead of buying a few proxies on your way to getting your dream uke. It is cheaper in the long run. I know that sounds kind of elitist, but I not elite in an objective sense. I am not rich, but I save money out of every paycheck and build up a uke-fund. Right now I am saving up for an elite baritone. It'll take time, but it is cheaper than buying a Lanikai to fill the gap and then buy my Beau Hannam or whatever later.

  8. #8
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    I've talked about this before in another thread quite recently. I've gone through the same course and am currently going through his other courses, and while I really like James Hill and respect his opinion I highly disagree with this particular notion. I might've agreed maybe five years ago but currently there are so many excellent choices at exactly that 400-800 Dollar price point that, to me, it would be very silly to dismiss them.

    Quote Originally Posted by rainbow21 View Post
    But the $400 to $800 is a price range containing many wonderful and valued ukuleles. Pono, Martin, Kiwaya, Opio, aNueNue, Rebel, KoAloha, Timms, and many others that players are very happy to have purchased. Other than costing more, there is usually no downside for a beginner to own one as well and there is likely incremental improvement in many areas, including finish, quality of components (like tuning pegs), bracing design, and overall construction. This is often the endpoint price range for those not wanting to spend $1k or more.
    Those brands listed in rainbow21's post are the reason for my opinion. At that higher beginner price point (300-400 USD), you usually still have only the entry level brands like Kala, Ohana, Flight, Snail, maybe the cheapest Pono or one of the laminate aNueNue ukes. But if you move beyond that you start getting into those brands mentioned above. The KoAloha Opio and Rebel models are notorious for their brilliant quality-price-ratio. And there's been so many positive comments about the aNueNue AMM2 and AMM3 models which sit at around 600 USD but are so much better quality than the price might suggest. Same with the AKK2 and AKK3 models which are slightly more expensive but then you already get into the solid koa territory. To me, it would be insane to dismiss ukes like those simply because of the price point.

  9. #9
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    The highest price entry instruments, does that even make sense?
    What makes it an entry instrument?
    Being laminate?
    Being made by a company considered entry level?
    Being made in a specific country?

    I wouldnt mind an entry level Kamaka. I dont need the advanced robe binding and stuff, entry level is fine.

    I dont know if you get my point. By the price logic some very blingy models from Kala, Flight are still entry level at <$400, while a basic model from Pono which is slightly more expensive is a "gap" ukulele to be avoided.
    Playing:
    Anuenue AMM tenor - Magic Fluke Koa Tenor - Cocobolo concert - Kamaka Tiki concert - Cort concert - Ohana LN soprano.

  10. #10
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    Whatever ukulele you buy first is your "entry level" ukulele. What you paid for it is your "entry level ukulele price point". There's no point in discussing what your last ukulele will be or cost because we all know that there is no "last ukulele".
    Kamaka HF3, Tenor
    Ko'olau C1, Concert
    Pono MC, Concert

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