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Thread: I guess ukes ain't that cheap after all

  1. #1
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    Default I guess ukes ain't that cheap after all

    I thought that one of the nice things about ukes was that you could get a nice instrument for a relatively low price. Over the weekend, I went to a guitar shop and was surprised how inexpensive guitars have become. I'm not just talking about crappy "student" ones.
    Kind of along those lines, I've been toying with getting an solid body electric uke. Based on their construction & sophistication, I'm starting to think they are way-over-priced, with the few steel string versions being the most crazy.
    BTW - I saw this guitar for just over $200, and it made me wish I didn't give up on guitar so long ago.
    ...other models in the line sell for as little as $150
    Last edited by Paul December; 04-12-2010 at 09:01 AM.

  2. #2
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    I know what you mean...I too have strayed away from UAS for one special guitar (size huge!) http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll...STRK:MEBDIX:IT

    It went for $299, but was a lot cheaper than the same model in a local music shop (even with shipping)! Sounds great though...*sigh*...more chords to learn.
    Last edited by Ukeffect; 04-12-2010 at 09:23 AM.

    It's ouuurs, precious...It's our ukeses and we wants it, we needs it, we MUST haveses it! They might buyses it firsts, our ukeses in filthy, dirrty handses!

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  3. #3
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    No they're not. They're smaller and you have less material costs, but there's still a good amount of labor that's required to put them together. You can get some pretty good guitars for the amount of money you'd pay for an ukulele (unless you're buying stuff that's really at the bottom of the line).

    And regardless of its current renaissance, ukulele sales still trail guitar sales by a very wide margin. You don't get the same economies of scale.

  4. #4

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    Ok… LARGE rant ahead. It’s directed at the topic and not the original poster. Something I feel strongly about…

    First let me rev up the old saw - you get what you pay for. Cheap ukes are just that. Cheap.


    Next, and this is just my opinion, anything under $500 or so is very inexpensive for a decent acoustic instrument. The flood of mass produced imports (of all instruments, not just guitars and ukes) does a couple of things. One, it sets the quality bar low. The market begins to think of sub standard materials and tone as the expected. Two - and this is the diabolical part, it sets the expectation that ALL instruments should be similarly priced. It mis-calibrates the whole system.

    Getting a bargain may seem like a good thing, and often it is for the individual. I’ve done it, and understand the appeal. But a hunger for discounts drives the market to the low end, hurts artisan luthiers and small music sellers, and in general distorts the value of the product. Local jobs are lost, local art suffers.

    My advice on buying new, for what it’s worth:

    1) Pay a premium for a quality instrument
    2) Support small shops and luthiers – preferably locally, but any small retail or manufacturer will ship

    Why, you may ask? What does it hurt to get what I want at a more affordable price? Walk into any Guitar Center or similar mega-chain and look around. You will not find any small brands. You will not find anything made locally. You won’t see anything unusual. You will see only the items that can be moved quickly. Items with mass appeal. If they can’t move them ASAP, they never buy them again. Most of the customers don’t even know there are other options. In effect, these chains determine the future of the way amateur music is made. Even today you’ll only see the low end ukes for example, and only a few.

    You also will be very unlikely to find an independent store thriving nearby. The kind of small shops that used to take a risk on artisan luthiers. The kind of place not afraid to keep a few specialty items for months – waiting for the right customer. The kind of place that values community and teaching, art and quality. Losing these things is the real cost.

    Bargain hunting costs more than it appears on the surface.

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  5. #5
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    Thank you for reminding people of those things, Grumpy.

    I would add: If you really don't want to spend tons of money for ukes, buy a good one right away. You'll probably spend less in the long run as you'll get one you truly enjoy rather than spending twice as much for a lot ukuleles you don't really like. But, that's just me.

  6. #6
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    The guitar market has not been driven by "artisan luthiers" for the last how many years nor has the music industry. That changed esp. in the 1950's with the advent of mass-produced electric guitars (ex. Fender) and improvements over the years (CNC) which made the production of even name acoustics such as Martin essentially mass produced guitars. Having toured the Martin factory twice I can tell you first hand that it is essentially a production line with admitted hands on refinements.

    With respect to ukuleles I do agree that even budget to modest lines are not well-represented in the chain music stores. The current ukulele wave inherited and capitalized on improvements in mass production of even acoustic instruments and yes cheaper foreign labor.

    What makes matters worse and adds insult to injury (cliches required here) is the nature of solid wood hand made instruments themselves and one can say esp. the K brands: they are among the most inconsistent from instrument to instrument and not all are homeruns out of the park. They require side by side comparisons with at least 4-5 IMO. Yes, the bar does get lowered for most people and yes even working musicians. With that said , I do agree that for the same money or less Loprinzi or Boat Paddle offer other options for example and at a lower price point the Kiwaya and the Flea/Fluke. But in the midst of this for people who want to make music and despite my love/hate relationship with that company: thank God for Kala...with some of their stuff overpriced IMO (ex. Curly Mango series).

    What I do agree with is buying the best one can afford and replace if necessary. Durability is also a factor. Martin guitars are often built like tanks. Ukuleles by their nature esp. solid wood are not. And that's just the way it is.

    For $299 you can get a Cordoba classical that sounds amazing...with lam sides...
    Last edited by luvdat; 04-12-2010 at 01:01 PM.

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by sukie View Post
    Thank you for reminding people of those things, Grumpy.

    I would add: If you really don't want to spend tons of money for ukes, buy a good one right away. You'll probably spend less in the long run as you'll get one you truly enjoy rather than spending twice as much for a lot ukuleles you don't really like. But, that's just me.
    This is right on the money!!! I have only bought two ukes.....the Kamaka from a local shop on Maui and a Makala from MGM. I for one refuse to buy from the chain stores for the same reasons that grumpy outlined. Help out the local mom & pop operations, you will most likely get an honest answer and some great customer service. Plus you will be helping out an individual who is trying to make a living doing what they love!!!
    Sorry....this is just my
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  8. #8
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    Thats true. I am surely pro supporting your local crafts, and/or skills. I do that all the time, not only with instruments. I don't mind paying a bit more to buy a product from a local small mom and pop shop over a discount outlet. I NEVER walk into a WalMart. I don't care if they have something for a buck, and it cost me five bucks at a local small mom and pop place. I will go to the small local shop. But, with musical instruments. Cheap, no I will use the term "inexpensive" instruments have a place. It is where people, especially young kids get their start in loving music and art. Sure, many will drop it, or just tinker with it over the years, but never take it seriously, more a hobby. But there are a small percentage that will take it more serious, and make a skill, and art of it. Those are the ones that will eventually tire of the inexpensive instruments, and purchase the high end, "art". Those are the ones that are going to make the mark in the industry, and support the art and craft of instrument building. How many parents will spend $500 and up for an instrument for their child to play with, just to see if they have it in them to have a love of that instrument, and the music that they create with it? Maybe a few of the rich folk, but that is a very small percentage. They are gonna go buy the mass produced inexpensive instrument for their child to play with. As that child matures, and finds his love of it, then a parent, or the child himself will save up their baby sitting money, or lawn mowing money, and buy that dream instrument. I did. I was 15 years old in the mid 1970s when I drooled from the mouth every time I stopped by my local music shop. Staring at that Rickenbacker Bass hanging on the wall. It was 1974, and that base was $900. It might as well been a million dollars to a 15 year old kid in the 1970s. My dad would have had to work for a month to buy that bass for me. My parents bought me a cheap used bass for $25. That is what I learned on, till my fingers bled. It was like it had band saw blades as strings. But I dindn't care. I toted that bass all over the place, bothered mom and dad, and neighbors plunkin on it for over a year. During that year, I saved every penny I could scrounge. Every dime I found on the sidewalk. When I was 16, and could play a bass fair, I walked into that music store, and as always, the old guy there took it off the wall to let me play it, and dream. He was shocked when I dumped a big wad of 1s and 5s on the counter to count them. I was a couple hundred bucks short. But over that past year, that old guy saw it in my eyes. He asked me how much I had. I told him I only have about $730. I didn't have enough yet. He asked me where I got all that money, and when I told him I been saving up for over a year working my butt off shovering snow, and moving grass, he just smiled and shook his head. He rung that Ric up, and let me have that bass for almost $200 cheaper than he had on the price tag. But, at any rate. if it wasn't for that cheap $25 bass, I would have never had the money, or incentive and develop the love for it, and desire to take it any further. So, yes, as much as I agree with you fully. I still strongly believe that the low end stuff does have it's place in our community. It is those cheap "seeds" that create the patrons of the artisians later..
    Last edited by Tudorp; 04-12-2010 at 01:10 PM.
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  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by GrumpyCoyote View Post
    Ok… LARGE rant ahead. It’s directed at the topic and not the original poster. Something I feel strongly about…

    First let me rev up the old saw - you get what you pay for. Cheap ukes are just that. Cheap.


    Next, and this is just my opinion, anything under $500 or so is very inexpensive for a decent acoustic instrument. The flood of mass produced imports (of all instruments, not just guitars and ukes) does a couple of things. One, it sets the quality bar low. The market begins to think of sub standard materials and tone as the expected. Two - and this is the diabolical part, it sets the expectation that ALL instruments should be similarly priced. It mis-calibrates the whole system.

    Getting a bargain may seem like a good thing, and often it is for the individual. I’ve done it, and understand the appeal. But a hunger for discounts drives the market to the low end, hurts artisan luthiers and small music sellers, and in general distorts the value of the product. Local jobs are lost, local art suffers.

    My advice on buying new, for what it’s worth:

    1) Pay a premium for a quality instrument
    2) Support small shops and luthiers – preferably locally, but any small retail or manufacturer will ship

    Why, you may ask? What does it hurt to get what I want at a more affordable price? Walk into any Guitar Center or similar mega-chain and look around. You will not find any small brands. You will not find anything made locally. You won’t see anything unusual. You will see only the items that can be moved quickly. Items with mass appeal. If they can’t move them ASAP, they never buy them again. Most of the customers don’t even know there are other options. In effect, these chains determine the future of the way amateur music is made. Even today you’ll only see the low end ukes for example, and only a few.

    You also will be very unlikely to find an independent store thriving nearby. The kind of small shops that used to take a risk on artisan luthiers. The kind of place not afraid to keep a few specialty items for months – waiting for the right customer. The kind of place that values community and teaching, art and quality. Losing these things is the real cost.

    Bargain hunting costs more than it appears on the surface.
    Grumpy, I agree. I recently read a book about this very topic; not specifically ukuleles, not even musical instruments. The book is about our society's insistance on inexpensive merchandise. Maybe it would interest you. The title is "CHEAP, (the high cost of discount culture)", by Ellen Ruppel Shell. I found it to be quite an eye-opener....
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  10. #10
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    There is truth to all sides here. I would not be playing Uke today had I not picked up a Mahalo at the local music store on a whim when picking up strings for my son's bass. I would also not be playing Uke today had I stuck with that Mahalo, but the Kanile'a K1T that's next to me gets played daily. On top of that, I have felt no urge to get anything else since I bought the K1T.

    So cheap instrument planting a seed - check. Pay a premium for a quality instrument from a small shop and end up with an instrument I truly love - check. (not local but I do own a Flea so I've supported my home state shop) Save money in the long run by buying a GOOD instrument before going nuts with all the mid range stuff - check.

    The buy the absolute best you can afford from a small quality shop advice is great advice, but only to someone who is absolutely sure they will stay on the Uke. So like I said, truth all around.

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