Considering a Vintage Baritone Uke. Looking for Advice/Opinions?

Larry U

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I've been checking ads for used baritone ukuleles, mostly 1950s-60s vintage mainland-built instruments such as Harmony, Silvertone, Airline, Favilla, etc. Prices are all over the place and I'm not totally sure what is appropriate and what I should look out for. My budget is in the $100-$300 range. I'm not a stickler for condition, but I don't want to end up with a handyman's special that needs a lot of work to be playable. Reverb, eBay, and Facebook Marketplace all have plenty of available instruments. Should I stop wasting my time and save up for a modern, solid-wood baritone or should I pursue these vintage options?

Any advice or suggestions is welcomed!
 
One of the regulars in our uke club plays the Silvertone he bought as a college freshman in 1963. Other than changing the strings, I don’t think he’s done any work to it. Then again, he’s had it all along so there’s no worries about whether another owner has misused it.
 
Hi Larry,
I bought Mark's vintage Giannini baritone last fall. (I was in my must-have-one-of-everything phase.)
It's lovely, but I now know I am unlikely to ever play baritone. If you are interested in buying it send me a private message.

 
Those Giannini baritones are very nice and well regarded by players I have known
 
I will share my experience, but your experience may differ. About 2 years ago I went all in on baritone. Love it. I've owned several - all good. I've owned three vintage baritones. Harmony, Favilla, and Conrad. I've also owned several modern ones - Ohana, 3 Pono's, Flight.
I've paid from $35 - $1500 for them.

If you are looking at vintage, my experience says the Favilla is the way to go. But you probably will need to spend more than $300 unless you find a steal. It compared very favorably to my top of the line Pono. The Pono was better, but not by much. The Favi, with its 19 inch scale is easier to play. The Harmony was good, but not as good as the Favi and the strings are closer together - which made fingerpicking harder. I'd avoid the Conrad. Others have way more experience than me on this so they may speak up.

Regarding going vintage, I think you have to be willing to give it extra care. My Favi was setup perfectly by Jake Wildwood which is a big plus. But even still I changed out the tuners. I also bought it a nice case (Crossrock fiberglass) and store it in it. To me, the sound it provides makes it worth these extras. I like the fact that the Favi and I share an approximate birth year.

I think the reason to look at vintage is the jump in sound quality. Vintage can mean better sound for your dollar, but it will bring with it extra care considerations. All said, I've invested about $750 in my Favi. I'm happy with it being my go to bari.

If $300 was my budget, I'd probably look seriously at two: The Kiwaya bari and an Ohana 70RB. I think the Ohana hits way above its price, has a tone of flexibility in its tone, and is pretty much bullet proof. The only drawback is it won't fit in a standard case - but does in a Kala Transit. It also is easy to play capo'd at the 5th for GCEA. It also can be a canon when needed. Go here to see what I mean: https://forum.ukuleleunderground.com/threads/the-versatile-baritone-uke.161908/

I've not owned a Kiwaya, but played one at Starlight Ukes. It is a laminate - but quite nice. It also comes with a case. I think it's pretty special as well. It is very reasonably priced.

Good luck in your search. The hunt is part of the fun!
 
I will share my experience, but your experience may differ. About 2 years ago I went all in on baritone. Love it. I've owned several - all good. I've owned three vintage baritones. Harmony, Favilla, and Conrad. I've also owned several modern ones - Ohana, 3 Pono's, Flight.
I've paid from $35 - $1500 for them.

If you are looking at vintage, my experience says the Favilla is the way to go. But you probably will need to spend more than $300 unless you find a steal. It compared very favorably to my top of the line Pono. The Pono was better, but not by much. The Favi, with its 19 inch scale is easier to play. The Harmony was good, but not as good as the Favi and the strings are closer together - which made fingerpicking harder. I'd avoid the Conrad. Others have way more experience than me on this so they may speak up.

Regarding going vintage, I think you have to be willing to give it extra care. My Favi was setup perfectly by Jake Wildwood which is a big plus. But even still I changed out the tuners. I also bought it a nice case (Crossrock fiberglass) and store it in it. To me, the sound it provides makes it worth these extras. I like the fact that the Favi and I share an approximate birth year.

I think the reason to look at vintage is the jump in sound quality. Vintage can mean better sound for your dollar, but it will bring with it extra care considerations. All said, I've invested about $750 in my Favi. I'm happy with it being my go to bari.

If $300 was my budget, I'd probably look seriously at two: The Kiwaya bari and an Ohana 70RB. I think the Ohana hits way above its price, has a tone of flexibility in its tone, and is pretty much bullet proof. The only drawback is it won't fit in a standard case - but does in a Kala Transit. It also is easy to play capo'd at the 5th for GCEA. It also can be a canon when needed. Go here to see what I mean: https://forum.ukuleleunderground.com/threads/the-versatile-baritone-uke.161908/

I've not owned a Kiwaya, but played one at Starlight Ukes. It is a laminate - but quite nice. It also comes with a case. I think it's pretty special as well. It is very reasonably priced.

Good luck in your search. The hunt is part of the fun!
We live in a retirement community. I saw an ad for a yard sale with "ukeles" and scored 2 vintage Harmonys, a 40's soprano and a 60's baritone for $80... the baritone is mahogany with rosewood fret board and in fabulous condition, and came with a vintage case. I plan on trading the soprano for accessories like strings, etc. Seems to be unique in that it doesn't have the plastic fret board that seemed to be the standard. I need to send pictures to Jake Wildwood. I love his website.
 
We live in a retirement community. I saw an ad for a yard sale with "ukeles" and scored 2 vintage Harmonys, a 40's soprano and a 60's baritone for $80... the baritone is mahogany with rosewood fret board and in fabulous condition, and came with a vintage case. I plan on trading the soprano for accessories like strings, etc. Seems to be unique in that it doesn't have the plastic fret board that seemed to be the standard. I need to send pictures to Jake Wildwood. I love his website.
Oh my . . . you did well. What a find. Don't you wish you knew their stories! That's one of the fun things about a vintage uke - you know you are playing something with its own history. And what's more, adding to it. Congratulations !
 
I've owned vintage Kamaka, Vega, Airline, Giannini and Favilla (pre 1953) baritones-- In my opinion, the Favilla was the best vintage mahogany by far-- lightly built, loud and resonant--
And if you shop patiently you will find a nice one for $300 - $500--
 
I've owned vintage Kamaka, Vega, Airline, Giannini and Favilla (pre 1953) baritones-- In my opinion, the Favilla was the best vintage mahogany by far-- lightly built, loud and resonant--
And if you shop patiently you will find a nice one for $300 - $500--
I found the miracle Kamaka baritone on PHX Craigslist for $100. First caller, and they refused other offers. Dashed across the city, it was her sons from the 1970's and she just wanted it gone. Amazing tone, but needed the $ sold it (too cheap).
 
I am now the proud owner of Junie Moon's Giannini Baritone. I am knocked over by the sound of this laminate ukulele! And it looks like it just walked out of the factory in Sao Paulo, Brazil! :p I am going to experiment with some different strings, as the set currently on the instrument feels a little floppy, but I'm sure I'll have it singing in no time!

I'll post a proper NUD report once I get the strings sorted out and my hands used to the longer scale!
 
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