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Thread: Question about playability vs cost

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Apr 2021
    Location
    Lake Jackson, TX
    Posts
    15

    Default Question about playability vs cost

    So I've been a guitarist for 40 years, with about 20 of that as primarily a fingerstyle player (hair metal wizard and Austin country picker before that! ). I've gotten into Ukulele for about the last 3 years, but really heavy this last year. And to be honest, I'm getting pretty good on the thing. As I tackle songs that are more and more complex I spend more time up the neck. And on my three $100 - $300 ukuleles, that's not always that easy. I have dozens of guitars from $100 up to $8000, and playing up the neck on any is a piece of cake. On my ukes it can be a challenge to sound every note with sustain, and in tune. Now the problem is - there isn't a high end uke within 500 miles of me, so I can't go play one. I have no problem saving up $1000 - $1500 for a uke that plays better with a better neck, but ... I have to order it if I do. So my question: should I expect the neck to be more loving (yes, my word!) higher up the neck for those crazy chords that I have to play to support my melodies? Do I just have to order one with a good return policy in case I don't like it? And if that's the case, what in that price range would you suggest for a guy who's 80% fingerstyle, and strums only when I have to! I hope all this makes sense. FYI - all 3 of my ukes have really nice setups, so I don't think that's the issue.

    Thanks so much!
    Tim

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Apr 2017
    Location
    U.K.
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    1,337

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    IMHO the short scale length and small body of a Uke limit what’s possible / practical up the neck, however that can be challenged by better builds and bigger Ukes. I don’t play Tenor scale or buy ‘expensive’ instruments but if playing high up the neck was really important to me then I’d have to.

    Only you know how responsive you need a Uke to be and what sound you’re looking for. With that in mind travelling to both try out and hear your purchase would be your best option - perhaps the trip could be worked in with other things. Cost wise I would suggest looking towards a street price of plus 500 dollars for a mass produced Uke.

    Edit. I see that Bill1 has responded directly after me. His advice is good and well worth taking note of. It is Bill’s normal practice to delete his posts after a few days so I suggest that you make your own note of them now.

    A lot of people are very pleased with the mail order service they get from Mim’s Ukes. Some folk even ring her up or email asking for her suggestions, sometimes she’ll demonstrate on YouTube too. Mim has more business than she can manage ... so pretty much no reason not to give you a straight answer.
    Last edited by Graham Greenbag; 06-19-2021 at 12:54 AM.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Feb 2020
    Posts
    113

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    My first thought was setup, but you said that wasn't an issue. A couple other things come to mind. One, you don't mention what size uke you're playing on, but longer scale lengths tend to have noticeably better intonation and sustain. You might want to look at a tenor or super tenor. And two, guitarists tend to push down a lot harder on the uke strings than they need to because of their guitar background, and this messes up the intonation. Since you've been playing for a few years, you're likely already be aware of this, but just thought I'd throw that out there.

    All that said, yes, you tend to get better quality in ukuleles as you pay more, though at a certain point returns rapidly diminish. I'm only familiar with one uke that really stands out for sustain: a Signature Romero. The only uke I've played that reminds me of a guitar. I don't know if all of Pepe Romero's ukes have lots of sustain, but unfortunately the Signature/Replica model is only 12 frets to the body, which makes playing up the neck more difficult than typical tenors.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Apr 2020
    Location
    Georgia
    Posts
    178

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    If you can’t find what you’re looking for in Houston, give the Ukulele Site a call and explain your predicament to them. There are high-prices ukuleles that might not meet your needs and there are other ukes that might fit the bill. But if they know what you’re looking for playability-wise, they’ll be able to steer you in the right direction.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Jul 2015
    Location
    Catskill Mountains, NY
    Posts
    8,137

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    I've never considered the shape of a neck before buying a uke. I have all sorts of neck shapes and uke sizes, and I just pick them up and play them. Of the many ukes I've bought, I can recall buying only one or two in person.
    Too many ukes, but I can't stop buying!
    https://www.catskillukulelegroup.com/

  6. #6
    Join Date
    May 2013
    Location
    NH
    Posts
    1,629

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    Ultimately the ukulele's short scale length compared to a guitar works against playing up the neck. That said, Kamaka tenors seem to play well up the neck or if you like sopranos try a Koaloha. No scientific basis here, just an anecdotal opinion.
    Kamaka HF3, Tenor
    Ko'olau C1, Concert
    Pono MC, Concert

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Jul 2014
    Posts
    2,126

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    I'd encourage you to listen to a lot of sound samples, and hear the differences. Ukulele Site and Ukulele Friend are 2 sites that have great sound samples, but you'll find plenty on Vimeo and YouTube as well.

    If you can, you might try for a custom ukulele. Talk with the builders about what you want, listen to the sound samples that they can provide you, and I have no doubt that you can find a ukulele with the sustain and intonation that you are looking for. I have one custom, (Kinnard), and it beats my other ukuleles hands down when it comes to sustain, intonation, and the sound I was hoping for.

    That might not be the sound that you're looking for, (it is for me, but we all have our own preferences), but check out the various builders, (both custom and standard brands), and I think you should be able to find what you're looking for.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Feb 2017
    Posts
    1,647

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    Hey Wineshop, I'm going to give slightly contradictory advice.

    You don't need sound files or to play before you pay. After all, it is a ukulele and its tone isn't a variable in this equation.

    What I did when I was in your situation was get a custom uke with 19frets and a cutaway. The advantage of the custom uke is that you can speak with the luthier and tell him: "I'm fingerpicking up the neck; make sure those frets are loving." And then the luthier accomplishes your wish.

    Additionally, loosening my strings helped me. I never play in GCEA. The A string in particular wasn't very responsive to long slides and playing the pentatonic shape between frets 16 and 19 didn't yield much sustain. I am currently playing EAC#F#. For me it is perfect compromise. It gives me looser strings for sustain on the high frets without getting too muddy when strumming. I have gone as low as CFAD. The fingerpicking was good and earthy--kind of like John Fahey--but the chords were a bit too warm, to put it lightly.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Apr 2020
    Posts
    527

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    You have lots of good advice here. The only thing that jumps out to me is are you playing tenors? It sounds like you should be, and one with a cutaway. In your price range of $1000-1500 there are many fine ukes. I would talk to the folks at The Ukulele Site, particularly Corey, or Kalei if he is there. They are both stellar players. Spend some time detailing exactly what you're looking for. They can dial in on the ukes that will suit you, and make recommendations. They have the high end stock to back up their recommendations, but if need be they can order one for you. Shipping is free, it will come set up perfectly, and they have an excellent return policy,
    "So many ukes, so little money..."

    Kanile'a KSR-T premium koa tenor
    KoAloha KTM-00 tenor
    Rebel Double Cheese spruce/mahogany tenor, my BFF.
    aNueNue AMM3 mahogany tenor
    Romero Creations Tiny Tenor spalted mango
    Romero Creations SK koa soprano
    Pono ATC-PC acacia cutaway tenor
    Kala KA-ASFM-T-C flame maple tenor
    Pono MT-SP tenor
    Cocobolo 5 string tenor #28
    Cocobolo concert #467
    Pono ASD acacia soprano deluxe
    Pono MGS mango soprano
    Brad Donaldson cedar/rosewood custom tenor


  10. #10
    Join Date
    Apr 2021
    Location
    Lake Jackson, TX
    Posts
    15

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    Hey! Worked late into the morning and just woke up and I'm thrilled over all the excellent advice. Thanks to everyone for taking the time to give me some directional nudges. I may very well look into a custom at some point (I have several times with acoustic guitars) but I have to be darn sure of what I want before I do. Houston has some great guitar shops, but the one's that have ukes tend to have those mostly in the $300-$400 range (not that those can't be really good). Same with Austin - from what I've seen. Their may be some I'm not aware of or haven't stumbled on online. Bill's advice about the ukulele group in Houston is great! I was not aware there was such a thing as ukulele groups but I'm diving into this one today. I'm hoping there are a few in my town or close by. I admit these tiny little pieces of wood are crazy addictive and as much as I love guitar, lately I find myself playing my ukes at least 2 to 1 over anything else I play. To answer another question - right now I have 2 concerts and a soprano. So I think it's time to look at a tenor. I will also contact The Ukulele Site - I've already browsed around and it looks great. I've also looked at Mim's Ukes - seems like a great site, as well. Thanks again, all. Great group ya got here.

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