Not Many High-End Sopranos?

Here, perhaps, although the last poll I saw favored concerts. There are LOTS of folks here who have a nice stable of ukes with no tenors in them at all. Me, I have one each of soprano, concert, and tenor, and no real favorite among the sizes (I feel like I should from all the hubbub some folks make about it, but I honestly don't)...but ultimately, popularity is irrelevant when it comes to what YOU prefer.

Interesting that a query about high-end sopranos should come up just as we've got one of the shiniest sopronos I've ever seen listed in our Marketplace. It's from the Martin custom shop, and priced to move at $6950. (I'm not being facetious. This is a terrific price for one of these. I've seen them going for much higher!) You should check the whole listing to see the rest of the photos, so consider this an appetizer. :)

View attachment 160505

btw, here's a saved search for Soprano in the subject line in our Marketplace. I think non-sop shoppers might be surprised by both the breadth and depth of what's there, and sop-shoppers who maybe hadn't thought to search that way may be delighted by what they find, and sorry for what they've missed!

For example, this Dave Talsma Ditson 5K soprano went early in October after barely a week at $1350.

View attachment 160512

Also just this month, we've seen sales of a "new old stock" Martin cherry soprano from 2014-15 for $1500, a KoAloha longneck with some of the nicest mahagony I've ever seen ($685), and a Tim Laughlin 2K soprano whose back I found especially tantalizing.

View attachment 160506

That's by no means all of them, mind you. Just a few of my personal highlights from completed sales in October alone.

I'll only go back to September, and include a few still available, just to finish making the point.

This astounding Beansprout in curly myrtle was pulled because nobody jumped on the reduced price of $1200, which strikes me as a steal for a luthier-build custom of the quality that Aaron Keim produces. Who knows? You might be able to get it if you PM the seller.

View attachment 160507

This one's still out there, which amazes me, but check out this Barron River curly blackwood soprano! @richntacoma just posted this a few weeks ago for $1650.

View attachment 160508



This curly mango Mya-Moe longneck soprano went in September for $1050.

View attachment 160509

Also still out there from September listings: a 1950-ish Martin for $600, and a 1950 gold label Kamaka for $650.

I'm skipping over some KoAlohas, a Ken Timms Cuban mahogany, and others -- again, just talking about September and October alone.

One thing that you can easily observe is that a lot of the great sopranos are coming out of custom shops. One of my favorite builders is Charlie Fukuba, who sells under the name I'wii, and he's got a lot of great sopranos. This spruce-koa one sold at The Ukulele Site for $2800, and sold fast.

View attachment 160513

That said, there are also plenty of production builders with very nice soprano offerings in stock. The Anuenue Koa Bird is at TUS for $2398 (lots of fans of that one here at UU), as is the spruce/rosewood Hummingbird soprano for $1798. Here's a photo of the Koa Bird.

View attachment 160514

And don't overlook Kanile'a's sopranos! There's no question that the traditional Kamakas, and the delightfully boisterous KoAlohas are more popular, but the same values of elegance, innovation, and depth of sound that Kanile'a is famous for in other scales are very much with the sopranos. TUS has 6 very different ones in stock, in prices ranging from $800-ish to $1600-ish. Their custom shop will also be happy to build you that's even fancier. :)

My larger point being that, while certainly not as much as in tenor scale, there's a LOT of action in the soprano world, at every price point and configuration, as fancy as you could hope for. There's no reason to lower your expectations for what's possible, or your expectation of what's available on shelves right now, just because the scale is smaller. Think bigger while thinking smaller, and you'll see all kinds of amazing stuff!
Excellent post, Tim!! I was gathering my thoughts to reply to the OP, but you've said it all, and better than I could have done.
I wonder if by "higher end" the OP meant bling?
 
Excellent post, Tim!! I was gathering my thoughts to reply to the OP, but you've said it all, and better than I could have done.
I wonder if by "higher end" the OP meant bling?
By "higher end" I was referring to build quality, and a little bling - for example, in the Kanile'a lineup, the K-1 provides a strong fundamental build quality, but then you need to upgrade to the K-3, KPA, etc or above to get some 'bling'. The K-2 adds just a touch of 'bling, a little less than I'm looking for.

I'm not knocking the lower priced ukes; amongst my guitars, I have instruments in a wide range of price points, and thought I've been able to take less expensive guitars, do a thorough setup on them and upgrade parts to get them 90%+ as good as a guitar costing twice the price, it's nice to get an instrument that's perfect out of the box.
 
By "higher end" I was referring to build quality, and a little bling - for example, in the Kanile'a lineup, the K-1 provides a strong fundamental build quality, but then you need to upgrade to the K-3, KPA, etc or above to get some 'bling'. The K-2 adds just a touch of 'bling, a little less than I'm looking for.

I agree with you in general about the K1 and K2 being too plain -- neither gets 'er done for me -- but that's entirely independent of scale. An ukulele with level 1 styling is going to be super plain at every scale, a 2 will add a simple rosette and top binding, and that's it for every scale. There's a lot more once you get to the K3, or go some other route. Kanile'a offers a TON of choices, not all of them easy to find or understand (I've had a few words with them about this :) ), and those don't necessarily relate directly to the 1-2-3 hierarchy at ALL.

So if there's something you want, you should definitely call (not email) and ask. They'll build it for you in pretty short order, especially right now when they understand that people are ordering for the holidays. I think most people would be surprised how much of Kanile'a's sales volume is one-off customized ukes....or maybe you wouldn't. :) My point is the same, regardless. Kanile'a isn't making 1- or 2-series sopranos one iota less blingy than 1- or 2-series tenors, baritones, 8-strings, or anything else. The styles are independent of scale.

But, for example, the Honu series, the Island series, and the KPA series are all available in soprano, Super Soprano (aka, longneck soprano: worth noting that the first ukulele that Kanile'a founder Joe Souza ever built as an apprentice was a long-necked soprano!), and 10 more combinations of scales and strings (8-string ukulele, 6-string guitalele, etc).

No doubt that there are some body styles that are tenor-and-up-only, such as the D-series. Otherwise, though, same deal throughout the product line-- the bling is independent of scale. Choose the scale, apply the bling you want, and done.

And I do think I gave a solid dozen examples of solid soprano offerings from $600 up, including plenty of bling-a-licious ones. The two I mentioned from Anuenue are the most expensive for sure, but you can get into a gorgeous soprano MoonBird for little more than a grand. There really is no shortage whatsoever of stellar high-end sopranos, even before you consider luthier builds, which can actually cost LESS than some production ukes. Definitely not an option to dismiss until you've looked into it!

But yeah, no, a K1 or K2 isn't for me either. There's a level of bling that I want nothing to do with, for sure, but I started out going for ukes that were as bling-free as possible and realized that that is absolutely not the right way for me after all either. ☺️
 
Last edited:
This is certainly the case for retail in Canada. There are no high end sopranos for retail sale in the country. The Martin S1 is the best there is here and every one I tried had horrible fret sprout and didn't play or sound that much better than an Ohana at half it's price. I was lucky to eventually find someone selling a used but mint late model Kamaka HF1 and it's a whole different league
 
Great suggestions in this thread for high end sopranos. I would add that some of the greatest sopranos in the world come from the country where soprano is still the most popular ukulele size, and that is Japan. Kiwaya, Tkitki, Seilen, Antar just to name a few. Many of these are not exported, but they can be found through intermediary sites. Apart from Japan, there is a steady core of soprano makers in the UK as well and they are no slouches: Timms, Wunderkammer, Tinguitar for wooden ukes, and Cartwright on the banjo front.

But your point stands, very few people spend over $2k on a soprano ukulele, whereas this seems to be the starting point for a higher end tenor. Some luthiers have stated that this is one reason why they prefer making tenors, it pays the bills because they all take the same amount of work.
 
I also have a KoAloha soprano as well as my Anuenue soprano. The KoAloha soprano is an extremely responsive uke with an awesome sound.
not a dead sounding note anywhere on the neck.
 
I mean, I'm happy to take advantage of the slightly lower pricing for sopranos, but yeah, for a luthier, it's likely not less work to make a soprano than to make a tenor. Perhaps, arguably, it's slightly less materials cost?
 
The soprano was the standard up until the last 30 or so years ago. There are many wonderful sounding vintage sopranos besides Martin. Also about the time I got UAS, a well respected Luthier said "It takes the same amount of time to build a soprano as it does to build a tenor but I get hundreds more for the Tenor". He did build some fabulous sopranos.
 
Try living in central Europe. Talk about lack of selection. Mostly Flight, Ortega, Kala, Mahala, and the ilk. Not to mention I don't think most people have that much spare income to spend 1000's on a Uke. But all is not that bad as there are many VERY good private luthiers that build outstanding instruments for a fraction of the cost of a Hawaiian model , and the shipping is less. Needless to say one might have to wait for one to be built, but i have seen some outstanding craftsmanship at the 300-500 dollar range that would rival any other on the market.
 
Do you have any examples of those EU luthiers?
 
It's an age old dilemma for manufacturers of many things.
The public expect to, and is prepared to pay more for bigger things, while smaller things aren't really cheaper to manufacture than bigger things.
Materials is one of the smallest costs when making things.
So, does a manufacturer run a successful business by making and selling small things on VERY tight profit margins, or do they make a business out of making and selling larger things on a healthier profit margin?

Cars are a classic example of this. Small cars aren't that cheap to make, yet people expect them to be cheap, so profits are very tight.
BIG cars/trucks aren't much more expensive to make than small ones are, yet the public is prepared to pay MUCH more for them, so the profit margin is WAY better.
 
I currently have a Kanila'e Tenor (K-1) and Concert (K-3) and have been considering getting a Soprano - but it seems they're not as common, as most of the higher end ukes seem to be Tenors. Are Sopranos not very popular and common?

The preferred size among most players is tenor, and makers can charge more for a tenor, although the increase in the construction cost is minimal.

Car makers discovered that in the 1960s. It cost them almost nothing to add 6" to luxury cars, but they could charge a few thousand more for them.
 
I give a thumbs up on the Sinker Mahogany Sopranos from Martin...
"High End" is subjective, I like to look at beautiful inlay a lot.
I prefer the playability and sound to be more important in my choice.
In terms of tone, Koa sounds different to me than Mahogany which I prefer.
"To each their own" really applies for this issue.
 
Do you have any examples of those EU luthiers?
Not European made but but hand crafted and sold out of the UK...top notch. https://noahukuleles.com/about-us/
These are a few I had bookmarked but a search will bring up more i reckon.
 
Allen at Barron River just posted a build he recently completed, a Koa soprano with spalted Australian Blackwood (sapwood) bindings, ebony with some Koa for the block inlay.

Here's one pic...

1699217080177.png

...but you're definitely gonna wanna check out his post for the rest of the photos. :)



Seriously, so many gorgeous high-end sopranos out there! Especially from luthiers.
 
I primarily play guitar (and keyboards), but still have found the tenor oddly awkward. It's something with the size, where I don't find it as comfortable to hold & play (maybe because I don't use a strap), so I rarely play my tenor and reach for my concert instead. I suspect the soprano will be a good fit as well.

I guess it's understandable more people play the tenor; it somehow seems to better legitimize the ukulele, with the soprano maybe giving more an impression of being a toy or even effeminate for a male to play. And someone raised a good point above, that the smaller sized ukes cost about the same as a tenor, because the labor is essentially the same in building them - so people might thing they're getting more for their money when buying a tenor. Even in terms of features, some builders only offer some features on the tenor models - and some builders only offer tenor models (like some of the mainstream builders of electric ukes).
I don’t think that it would be unfair to say that each of the sizes offers something different to the player, but for the extra benefits of any size there’s a loss of something else or ‘cost’. To an extent selection is based on what you value most.

For me the Tenor Scale was too long for my short fat fingers but a Concert scale is OK. I prefer Sopranos for their compactness and easier finger stretches but my Concert - as is typical of that size - has a fuller sound and longer/better sustain; the longer scale instruments have a better sounding high range too. Though I finger pick on mine too Sopranos are perhaps best used as a percussive or strummer’s instrument; Concerts are good for most things but are a bit more bulky; Tenors have a fuller sound again, more sustain and a better high range but are even bigger. Of course those are all typical comments and someone will always find exceptions …

Is the Tenor size really the most popular? In polls here it might be but UU is full of enthusiasts and not a reliable guide to the tastes of a wider population of users.
 
Last edited:
One of the best Soprano Ukes I’ve ever owned was a Martin 3K replica by Mike D’Silva from the Bay Area. Pity that that size is just not for me.
 

Attachments

  • IMG_0349.jpeg
    IMG_0349.jpeg
    122.3 KB · Views: 4
  • IMG_0348.jpeg
    IMG_0348.jpeg
    118.5 KB · Views: 4
Is the Tenor size really the most popular? In polls here it might be but UU is full of enthusiasts and not a reliable guide to the tastes of a wider population of users.
I recall hearing Alex from SUS in one if his videos that they sell 8 tenors for each soprano+concert.

You're right though that SUS is still a very specialised shop that does not reflect what an average person who thinks ukulele=soprano buys in local guitar shop or on amazon.

I didn't know there were different scale and body sizes until I wanted to buy one couple months ago..
 
Top Bottom