Vintage Ukulele Buying Tips


Active member
Nov 9, 2020
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Portland OR
Hi All,

I am diving into the world of "vintage" ukes, probably in the Martin soprano realm, and was wondering how you experienced buyers find and evaluate instruments that can be 50+ years old? How do you decide what dings/dents are acceptable for the age of the instrument vs ones that might need to be professionally repaired? I know the price is likely tied to how rare they are and their condition, but I am seeing prices from a few hundred to a few thousand for what appears to be the same instrument. Any insight into best practices here would be greatly appreciated!
Thanks Rich. I have seen lots of good things posted here about Jake, but it looks like he doesn't have any Ukes posted at the moment, I will keep an eye out on his site going forward.

I see lots of Martin's on places like Reverb and eBay and wondering what you experienced buyers look for in the instrument as signs its a good one or red flags that might be a problem?
I would avoid ones that seem to have major issues that would make it very expensive to repair. IF you want a player, there are lots of battle scars that one could ignore and still enjoy the instrument. IF you are looking for a pristine collector type of instrument, you would want all original, no refinishing or major work, etc. You can find some, but they are often the pricey ones.

Some of the stuff on ebay or Reverb can be sketchy, with descriptions that lead with "I don't know anything about ukes and am not a musician" The more research you do can help, but you can still find those that are really beat or lousy instruments. Keep an eye on buyer feedback or on sites like this you might be careful of new member postings from people with no history here. You might post a link here on the forum and ask for input for those on outside sites. There are lots of people who know a great deal who can help.

You might just focus on looking at reputable shops or to the marketplace here.
I think that there is actually a book available that describes the history of Martin ukes and helps identify and date models. I have played a handful in uke stores along with old Hawaiian ukes and found them in better condition and playable. There were 1000s of them built and quite a few survived to this day. The ones I played all sounded great. Anyway if I was to buy one I'd get a copy of the book first.
First of all, you need to clarify what you are seeking to accomplish. Are you trying to find a good player at a reasonable price, or are you trying to find a hidden gem bargain, in which case good luck as you have a lot of competition. In any case, you need to know the product, get the Martin Ukulele History book. And secondly, you need to know the market, research what the current prices are, and how much they vary. Are you capable of doing any repairs or set ups yourself. If not, do you know a competent repair person as they are not easy to find. Only you can judge your tolerance for risk, as finding a true bargain will certainly involve some risk.
Thanks for all of the feedback! I will definitely look into the Martin book. I am looking for something I would play, not a museum quality piece or anything like that.
If you keep your eye out on the various sites, including Craigslist you can eventually find a nice player and not pay a fortune.
Yes, that uke from Bob is a very good price
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