Friday, April 24, 2009

Collings confession

Oh what the hell...So perhaps you've noticed that I've wrote a couple of times about Collings ukulele recently. That's because I've been completely fascinated by them. To me they represent a chance to re-live the glory days of Martin ukuleles back in the early parts of the last century. I mean, ukes were credited with helping C.F. Martin get through the depression, and right now we're almost in one, so perhaps Collings is looking to the ukulele to help getting through some tough times right? Ok, maybe not. But as I wrote in the last post, I do see some similarity to C.F. Martin in the way Collings ukuleles are playing out right now.

So, once I decided that these might be the modern day "Martin ukes", I became seriously interested. Then I learned that only the initial batch of UC-1's will have the Collings "haircut" style headstock while subsequent ones will have the Martin style headstock, which made them even more intriguing to me. I like the "haircut" headstock a lot more than the Martin style, so if they aren't going to make anymore UC-1's with the cool headstock, I'd better get it now right??? So I finally relented to the UAS whirlwind and got me a UC-1 this week. To be honest, I'm kind of embarrassed to have bought so many ukes in such a short time this year. I'm fully aware that I only have two hands, but sometimes it's hard to fight the urge to try that very interesting ukulele.

Anyway, since I have the Collings ukulele now, I'll post some early impressions:

-Very light weight. It really reminds me of a vintage Martin in that it almost feels like air. It could also be that I've been toting around the ebony William King concert a lot lately so anything feels light by comparison. But the Collings really does feel super light to me.

-Very loud. I think the KoAloha concert probably has the biggest volume among production concert ukes I've heard. I don't have a KoAloha concert to compare it with, but I think it's close to the KoAloha in volume if I remember them correctly.

-Sounds great with the stock Aquila strings. I've come to dislike Aquila strings on most ukes, including stock ones that come on the Honu, both Kanile'as, and the LoPrinzi mahogany tenor, but it sounds great on this uke. I think I will keep the Aquilas on this uke for a while before trying out some Worth CDs.

-Nice bright and clear sound. Seems "ukey" enough to me. I think Collings is trying to build a ukulele instead of a uke that sounds like a guitar. I can't say I really know what a "guitar-like" uke sound like, but to me this uke has a fairly traditional ukulele sound.

-Beautiful mahogany. Dark color like the mahogany found on vintage Martins and Kiwaya KTS series ukes. I much prefer this over the "ribbon" mahogany found on many import ukes. And I like it more than the mahogany found on my LoPrinzi mahogany tenor as well.

-It has a gentle radiused fretboard, which was a surprise to me. Comparing it to the King concert that has a 16" radius, it looks about the same to the naked eye. I haven't found a radiused fingerboard to be a necessity and even though I play my two radiused King ukes all the time, I have found flat fretboards perfectly fine to play on. Still, I do like radiused fingerboards and it's a nice surprise to see it on this uke.

-Well setup and easy to play. You can alway adjust setup yourself, but it's nice when it comes ready to play with great setup.

-Outstanding workmanship. Very clean on the inside and well built. Collings has a great reputation for quality workmanship. This is the first Collings instrument I have ever seen in person and it meets that reputation.

I've only had it for a very short time, but I think it has exceeded my expectations. I think it would really be a hit if they can bring the price more in line with the Hawaiian factory makers. But as is, they seem to be selling well right now, especially the base model UC-1. I think Collings is in this market for real.

Radiused fredboard. I think it's 16"-18".

Soundhole label. I believe this one is the 7th prototype (P-7).

Treasures from Austin (L: Collings, R: King). Are you sure the ukulele didn't originate from Texas???

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Regarding Collings ukuleles

The last poll asked about the new Collings ukuleles, specifically the entry model UC-1 concert ukulele. I had put up a poll about the approach of various guitar companies' approach to the ukulele, and I had lumped Collings with the likes of Breedlove and SCGC as building very high end custom ukuleles. Well, I think it would be more accurate to put Collings in the same category as Martin now that we have more information about how the Collings ukuleles will play out in the marketplace. By the way, I'm fairly surprised that such a large percentage of voters (almost half) didn't know who Collings was. I guess I didn't know much about them myself but checking around the 'net leads me to believe Collings is one of the more highly regarded guitar builders today. They are more or less positioned between the giant guitar builders such as Taylor or Martin and the sole custom shop luthier. They don't crank out a ton of instruments per year but apparently their quality is very high.

According to what I've gathered so far from some of the Collings' dealer websites (Collings website has yet to include a product page for their ukes), there will be 3 models available. The UC-1, UC-2, and UC-3:

-UC-1 (list $1150): Basic mahogany uke similar to a Martin style 0 of the old days. No bindings. Martin style headstock. Satin finish.
-UC-2 (list $1600): Mahogany or Koa with body bindings. Collings "haircut" headstock". Gloss finish.
-UC-3 (list $2600): Fancy koa ukes with headstock, body & fingerboard bindings . Collings "haircut" headstock. Possibly varnish gloss finish.

This is fairly similar to how Martin divided up their lineup in the old days with the various styles (0, 1, 2, 3, 5). Given that Collings has built a pretty good reputation of quality for themselves, these might have a chance to be the modern day "vintage Martin" ukes in the future.

In terms of pricing, my reaction to the $1k street price of the UC-1 is that it is actually something I would consider. $1k is not cheap by any stretch of the imagination, and with a LoPrinzi model A concert costing about $500, the Collings UC-1 appears to be pretty expensive. But if you compare it with say a Kamaka concert, which usually runs about $800+, it became a little bit more reasonable. It is a handcrafted ukulele by a highly respected guitar company, and compared to the Martin re-issue style 3 sopranos, which costs in excess of $1500 and are also made by a respected guitar company, the cost of these Collings concerts seem to be within reason, at least to me. This, of course, assumes that these Collings ukes have great sound quality. Based on the reputation of their guitars and mandolins, and also comments from musicguymic, who has a couple of these, I think it should be safe to assume that they are at least very good, if not outstanding.

The UC-2 & UC-3 models seem pretty expensive at MSRP of $1600 & 2600 respectively. But they more or less correspond to the Kanile'a K-3 & K-4 models, which are in fact roughly in the same price brackets. The Kanile'a K-4 has more blingy pearls & abalone, but the UC-3 appears to have a varnish finish, so the cost for those might be a wash. To be sure, I think these higher model Collings are REALLY expensive ukes, but perhaps not as outrageous as they initially appeared.

I think what Collings is doing with ukes is closing in on what I would personally like to see good guitar builders do. That is to provide ukuleles that compete in the price bracket of the Hawaiian builders such as Kamaka. The Collings UC-1 is a bit north of the Hawaiian makes in terms of price, but they are roughly in the same ballpark. I believe these will be a hit if they put the "haircut" style headstock on the UC-1 (their plan is to use the Martin style headstock on UC-1 and "haircut" style on UC-2 & UC-3). A high quality U.S. built mahogany uke for about a grand just might find a nice little niche market. The UC-1s I've seen on the internet have all sold pretty quickly, so the market appears to be there for them.

Here are links to some pictures of prototype Collings ukes from Acoustic Music Works (I'm not sure how long these links will be good for):

UC-1 (prototype w/"haircut" headstock)
UC-2 Koa & Cedar
UC-2 Mahogany
UC-2 Mahogany sunburst
UC-3 Koa

Poll results:

The new basic Collings concert uke (UC-1) sells for about $1k, your reaction is:

-Not bad at all! Sign me up!: 3 votes (8%)
-It's a fair price, I would consider it: 1 vote (2%)
-It's a fair price, but I will pass.: 11 votes (29%)
-It's outrageous! I'll stick with LoPrinzi, thank you.: 5 votes (13%)
-Who is Collings???: 17 votes (45%)

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Sucky first public performance

I got a chance to play a song on the ukulele at a family friend's birthday party last night. I decided to play While My Guitar Gently Weeps since I've been playing it for like a year and a half and it might be somewhat "impressive" to people who have not heard of the ukulele (which is probably most of the people there). There were about 140 guests and unfortunately I could not get my nerves under control and screwed up pretty bad in the middle. I managed to finish the song but could not tear my eyes away from the fretboard. LOL! Anyway, it was a learning experience and I think before I'm ready to play the ukulele in public I will need to figure out how to calm the nerves.

My dad got it on video and I'm posting it to Youtube despite the embarrassing mistakes in the middle. Hey, I never claimed that I'm Jake right?

Sunday, April 19, 2009

"Studio" shots, reprise

Well, I decided to try a few more portraits for the King LS-concert today. I took the most of the pictures with underexposure for a dark effect. These are just taken on the dining room table. I guess for some decent quality shots, I would need some sort of a background paper or something. It can be fun to come up with some cool pictures for ukes. Of course, playing it is still the first priority.

"Studio" shots

I had some time this weekend to shoot some pictures in my studio (i.e. living room couch). In addition to the lineup update pictures, I shot a few other pictures centered around the William King ukes. The pictures are taken using a Nikon D300. If the motivation hits me, I might try my hand on some more William King style pictures with props and stuff. For now, here are a few pictures for your viewing pleasure.

William King LS-concert.

Macassar ebony back.

Check out the rosette. It is macassar ebony with a ring of abalone in the center. Really classy looking.

Two spruce top/koa back & side ukes. A big King tenor and small Dasilva soprano.

Koa backs

William King LS-tenor and LS-concert.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Dragon on the new uke

I wanted to post something with the new William King long scale concert and had been planning to do a video of Dragon with it. I can play it pretty well now except for a fast tapping passage that usually kicks my butt. I tried it today and after several takes this was the best I can do. The King concert will need to be played a lot for the spruce soundboard to open up, so I'll try to post other videos with it down the road. Right now, it has a nice clear sound that is much different from the King LS-tenor.

Lineup update

With the arrival of the King concert, I guess it's time to do a lineup update. Hopefully this will be it for UAS for a while (yeah right!).

Since the last update, the changes are:

Goings: Kala tenor-neck soprano, Kelii tenor, National mahogany concert, Martin style 1 (on the blocks), Sonny D tenor (junked).

I guess I'm behind on the one-in-one out policy, but overall I guess it's not bad. The Aaron Taylor was something unexpected, so if you don't count that one, I kind of sort of (not really) achieved one-in-one out. With so many ukes, look for some wacky comparisons down the road as I attempt to put the number of ukes I have to good use.

Below are the group shots.

Tenors: Top row (L-R): Bluegrass Ukes cigar box, Koa Works, Aaron Taylor, KoAloha Pineapple Sunday
Bottom row (L-R): LoPrinzi model A, Kamaka, William King, Kanile'a super tenor, Fender Nohea

Concerts (L-R): Pete Howlett Uklectic, Honu XXX, William King, Kepasa Gypsy Rose, Kanile'a super soprano

Sopranos (L-R): Kiwaya KTS-7, DaSilva Santo reproduction

Bushman Cedartone baritone

Friday, April 17, 2009

Arrival of a King

The William King LS-concert is finally in my hands! It makes for an exciting day anticipating the arrival of a new ukulele, especially one as exquisite as this one. Here's a quick picture documentation of its arrival. I'll try to post more thoughts, videos, etc, in the coming days.

Very early initial impression (like after a couple of light strums) is: Pretty heavy, characteristically of Macassar ebony ukes. Nice crystal clear sound with very good sustain. Outstanding playability. The Gilbert tuners are the real deal.

Packing material

The case emerges


First shot of the ukulele. Fit is kind of tight.

Back view

Side view. Notice the red side purfling.

Headstock with Gilbert tuners.

Another shot of the Gilbert tuners.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Gossip - ghetto cover

I had expressed a while back that I wanted to learn this tune called Gossip. I finally made some progress on it so here's a ghetto attempt at this tune. It is played on a Kiwaya KTS-7 that I actually bought from Neal Paisley. Not sure if I got any of his mojo using this uke, but it seems to fit this song very well.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Ooh, Collings ukulele

While checking out Gryphon Strings website to see if they've got anything new, I noticed that they had a Collings ukulele up for sale. I was quite surprised by the advertised price of $1,040. It seemed downright reasonable compared to what I thought it would be and how much other Collings instruments sell for ($10,000+ for a mandolin? Yar!) Don't get me wrong, $1k is not chump change by any means, but when MGM scored the first two Collings ukes from the NAMM show, he made it sound like they are like $3-5k (at least that's what I thought). Comparatively speaking, $1k isn't that bad for these babies. Hmmm........

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Me & milo/spruce tenor

Here's another video with the Aaron Taylor milo/spruce tenor ukulele. I've only had it for a few days but its definitely a keeper.

Updated Lineup Rankings

It's been a while since I've ranked my ukulele lineup, so I guess now is as good a time as any. Since the last ranking, I've added a Kamaka tenor, a DaSilva Santo reproduction, a LoPrinzi mahogany tenor, and a pair on tenors with Telecaster style headstocks (Fender and Aaron Taylor) that just arrived within the last week. Departed since then are a Kala long neck soprano, a Kelii tenor, a National mahogany concert, and I've tried to sell the Martin style 1 (got bit by a non-paying ebay bidder). The two newest ones will be left off the rankings since I haven't had sufficient time with them.

Before I rank the ukes, I'll briefly describe what it means (I don't think I've ever actually explained what this ranking means before). Basically this is a ranking based on how I personally feel about these ukes. This would take into consideration the sound, appearance, feel, and anything else that could influence how I feel about a particular uke. Just because one uke ranks higher than another on my list doesn't necessarily mean that it sounds better (although sound has more to do with how well I like a uke than anything else). I try to discuss some of the reasoning for the particular ranking by each uke so you have some idea. Please keep in mind that just because I rank a Kamaka higher than a Kanile'a doesn't necessarily mean that I think you should get a Kamaka over a Kanile'a. So take this ranking for what it is: a chance for me to have some fun rating my ukes and for you to learn a little bit about each uke and what I think of them relative to each other.

1. William King LS-tenor: This uke has been in this spot since I received it last May. I don't think it will be moving down unless I'm blown away with the King LS-concert I have on order with William. This ukulele not only is loud, clear, and easy to play, it has a stunning koa body and cool headstock. I'm really happy with this one.

2. Kepasa Gypsy Rose: This uke makes a return to the #2 spot. It helps that I custom specified this uke, but it just sounds so good. It's the only concert scaled uke I have that sounds like a tenor. While it does have a wider body than a typical concert sized ukulele, it actually isn't bigger than my Honu concert. I always seem to play it a little more than I intended to when I take it out of its case because of the sound. Awesome uke.

3. Kamaka tenor: I picked this up in Maui early February so it has only been with me for a couple of months. I actually think the Kanile'a super tenor sounds superior, but there's something about the mother of pearl "kk" inlay on the headstock that grabs me. To be fair, it sounds great in it's own right and it is good looking and well made. I got to choose this particular one out of about 10 Kamaka tenors and I think I made a pretty good choice. It is also only one of two ukes I own (King is the other) that has a one-piece neck. Not too important but makes is feel more "luxurious" to me.

4. Kanile'a super tenor: I still think the super tenor shape is ugly, but this thing just sounds so good. Great punch and depth to its sound. Definitely fuller sounding than the Kamaka and in a blind test I would choose this one every time. So why is it rated behind the Kamaka this time? I think it mainly has to do with the Kamaka mystique. Maybe that will wear off in time and the Kanile'a will move up again.

5. Koa Works tenor: I've been neglecting this uke for a while now. I'm not real sure why. Probably because the other ukes a newer. It's a great sounding and playing uke, but there are perhaps a couple of small issues that dampens my enthusiasm a bit. One, it's easier to pull the A-string off the fretboard on this uke than most other ukes I own. And two, the action is so low that I think it has a slight buzz when I strum hard. Neither is a huge issue but it does seem to steer me to play ther other ones a little more. Recently I changed strings on this uke and have been appreciating it more. Really fine instrument with lots of bling.

6. DaSilva Santo reproduction: This is a very cool looking ukulele. The workmanship is outstanding, as good as any uke I have. I did feel that the action was a bit high when I got it so I had to lower it at the saddle. It's also more challenging to play for me because the scale is shorter than the typical soprano at 13". It offers very big sound for such a small body. If I'm more into soprano sized ukuleles, this one would rank higher.

7. KoAloha Pineapple Sunday: I still love the styling of this one. It is very neck heavy though. While that doesn't bother me much, it's definitely very noticeable. I'm not a fan of pineapple ukes (they look more like a boat paddle to me), but this one actually looks like a pineapple and looks great to me.

8. Kiwaya KTS-7: I've been trying to learn "Gossip" and when I get comfortable enough to play it, I'm going to make a video using this uke. I still love the style 3 styling and this uke sounds great. In a blind test, I think I'd actually prefer this one over the DaSilva Santo reproduction. It has a very nice and clear sound that reminds me more of a concert sized ukulele.

9. Bluegrass cigar box tenor: With so many new ukes, I don't play this one much these days. It's still got the sound and mojo though.

10: Loprinzi mahogany tenor: This uke has great workmanship and good sound. To me the sound isn't quite in the class of the Kanile'a or Kamaka tenors, but on its own the sound is very pleasing. It looks good and plays well. Excellent uke for the money.

I just realized that I've got more sopranos (2) in the top 10 tan concerts (1). I guess lately I've been given a little more attention to those sopranos. Of the two new ukes that just arrived, I think the Aaron Taylor would probably be number 2 on this list while the Fender is pretty far off the top 10. We'll see how it goes the next time I rank these things. The William King cocnert that's due in next week will probably be number 1 or 2 when I have it in hand, so there should be some shake-up on the next rankings.

The unranked ukes are: Honu concert, Kanile'a super soprano, Bushman cedartone baritone, Martin style 1, Uklectic, & Fender Nohea.

Until next time...

Friday, April 10, 2009

Aaron Taylor sound sample

Here's a video with the Aaron Taylor milo/spruce tenor I just received. Yes, I played Blue Roses Falling again, but this time it's played like the version from Jake's "Live" album, so it's not quite the same old tune I've played over and over on this blog. This is done in one take, so just an okay job. Please forgive.

Headstock lust

The last interesting poll (or not) conducted here was about headstocks. Specifically what type of headstock is your favorite kind. Out of 25 votes, 3 didn't care about headstock style. Of the remaining 22 votes, the slotted headstock was the run away leader with 11 votes (44%). The telecaster headstock style was dead last with just 1 vote (4%). My personal preference is for slotted headstocks as well, as evident from the couple of William King customs I've ordered. Before last week, I might have also placed the telecaster headstock last on my list, but now that I've gotten a couple of ukes with that type of headstock, I like them at least as much as the traditional type of headstocks. I think those tele headstocks look pretty good and is slightly more convenient to tune than the other types of headstocks. One thing is for certain though, I do not like friction tuners. I know many people think they look traditional and stuff, but I think they are simply a pain in the butt to use compared to geared tuners. Trying to make fine adjustments on a friction tuner is somethings an exercise in frustration. Some people think "stick out ears" geared tuners on ukes look ugly, but I think by that logic wouldn't all guitars pretty much look ugly?

I think it's fun to have ukes with different types of headstocks and different shapes. They make things more interesting. Here's my thoughts on the pros and cons of each type of headstocks:

Traditional with friction tuners:
-Pro: Looks traditional. Usually pretty light.
-Con: Difficult to tune with accuracy.

Traditional with PegHeds:
-Pro: Looks traditional. Easy to tune with geared 4:1 ratio. Lightweight.
-Con: Knob is made out of plastic.

Traditional with geared tuners:
-Pro: Easy to use to make fine adjustments.
-Con: Usually heavier than friction tuners.

-Pro: Nice look. Easy to make fine adjustments. More unique among ukes. Be like Jake Shimabukuro!
-Con: May be heavier (not an issue with tenors). Usually an expensive option.

-Pro: Convenient to tune (all knobs lined up in a row). Stylish (if you like it).
-Con: Very un-traditional. Might make uke too long to fit in some cases.

Maybe I'll take some pictures of all the headstocks when I have time and do a "headstock porn" post or something.

Here are the poll results:

Poll: What's your favorite type of headstock???

-Traditional with friction of PegHeds (NO ears!): 4 votes (16%)
-Traditional with geared tuners: 6 votes (24%)
-Slotted: 11 votes (44%)
-Telecaster style: 1 vote (4%)
-I really couldn't care less about headstock style: 3 votes (12%)

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Happy birthday to me

My younger daughter Evie came over to me and sang "Happy Birthday" today while "playing" her ukulele. It was so cute! I didn't have my camera ready the first time so I asked her to do it again. She obliged but kept singing in a loop. She just turned 2 so we'll have to cut her some slack. Having your kids sing "Happy Birthday" to you is certainly a nice experience. I hope to hear it from them for a long time to come.

Let there be light!

Ok, some lighted pictures of my King LS-concert are now on William's journal.

(Click the pics to see full photos)

Macassar ebony back & sides.

Adirondack spruce top with some abalone bling!

Custom slotted headstock with "King" inlaied in Chinese character. Notice the Gilbert tuners and the lack of position dots on the fretboard.


The first picture of my William King LS-Concert has appeared on William's journal. It's shot in the dark so kind of hard to see. The uke being made from Macassar ebony doesn't help either, since it's pretty dark to begin with. So mysterious...and exciting! I'll link more pics if they appear.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The slant heads

I received the two ukes with telecaster style headstocks over the last couple of days. The Fender Nohea arrived yesterday and the Aaron Taylor milo/spruce tenor arrived today.

I never really considered myself a fan of the telecaster style headstock, but I really like these guys. It's something different and I like the fact that all of the tuners are on one side for quick adjustments. These type of headstocks seem to require a longer headstock though, and the Aaron Taylor barely fits in a Lanikai foam case. Looks like I'm going to be looking for a good case for this uke.

The Fender looks very nice and plays well. I believe Elderly Instruments did some setup on it and it's very playable out of the box for me. Being of laminate construction, I didn't expect the sound to blow me away, and it didn't. But what's there is good for the price. Playing it back to back with the Aaron Taylor, however, there is simply no comparison. The Aaron Taylor is in the class of Koa Works, Kanile'a, and William King ukes, with the Kanile'a super tenor being the one that it seems to be most similar to in terms of sound. That's to be expected, of course, since the Aaron Taylor is a custom built uke while the Fender is a mass produced laminate. Each serves its own purpose well, and I'm happy to have them. Once I get more time with them, I'll blog about them some more.

Here are some pics:

L: Fender Nohea, R: Aaron Taylor tenor

L: Fender, R: Aaron Taylor

The Fender actually comes with a compensated saddle.

Monday, April 6, 2009

John King

I'm guessing most of you who visits this blog already have learned about the passing of John King. He was a great ukulele historian and virtuoso in classical music. While I did not follow him like I did Jake Shimabukuro, I've always respected his music very highly. I've seen some of his Youtube videos and his skills has always amazed me. One of my favorite ukulele videos is Carol of the Bells that he played on a DaSilva Santo reproduction ukulele. I was very impressed by it the first time I saw it as it sounded great yet seemed so difficult to play. Now that I own one of those Santo reproduction sopranos, I appreciate John's virtuosity even more as it is definitely not an easy ukulele to play high up on the frets due to its shorter scale length. After seeing John's video for the first time, I wished that some day I can play this tune on this ukulele. Now I have the ukulele, but it may take a lifetime to try and learn to play it like him.

John King is definitely an inspiration to many ukulele players out there. While I have never met him or seen him play in person, it's not hard to see how much he was respected by the ukulele community. It's sad anytime when someone passes away so young (John was only 55), but he does leave with a great legacy and I hope his music will live on forever.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Out of the left field...

I guess sometimes the stars just aligns themselves for a UAS attack.

When I ordered a Fender Nohea ukulele last week (it's on the way now), I didn't know I'd end up with TWO ukes with the slanted Telecaster style headstock next week. So how did this happen?

While surfing the FMM forum a few days ago, Mr. Bulk, who is widely known on that forum for his taste for great custom ukuleles, announced that he is moving to the mainland and must unload many of his ukuleles. I immediately made a B-line to the Marketplace area to drool over what he had to offer. He had put up a couple of King ukuleles, one of which was sold before I even saw the ad, a Maui Music, a fully decked out Kanile'a super tenor, and an Aaron Taylor tenor. I recognized that he was selling all of those ukes at fantastic prices, much lower than what you would have to pay for new ukes from each builder. But the one that really made me take notice was the Aaron Taylor. It's a custom built tenor with a Telecaster style headstock, bearclaw spruce top, and milo back and sides. The materials are some seriously rare stuff, but the one thing that intrigued me more than any other elements is the inlay on the headstock. If you've seen my William King tenor, you probably noticed the character inlaid on the headstock. That's the Chinese character for my last name, which also translates exactly to King. Well, this Aaron Taylor has the same character inlaid on the headstock. I knew Mr. Bulk and I shared the same last name, so this uke literally had my name written on it (how often can someone actually say something like that? LOL!).

Now, even though it made too much sense (haha, yeah right!) for me to own this uke, I wasn't really prepared to get it. I mean, just take a look at how many tenors I have now! So I was kind of hoping that it gets bought before I give in to temptation while at the same time I was doing research on milo wood and Aaron Taylor ukes. As fate would have it, while just about all of Mr. Bulk's ukes sold within a couple of days, this one was still available. I'm pretty sure that's only because of the level of personalization on this uke because it was pretty much being sold at half price.

Without a real good reason to get it, I decided to file my tax return (yeah, I dragged my feet this year) to see if there are some magical funds waiting for this uke. Turns out there was, and my birthday is next week, so this uke is now on the way to me. Hahaha! (ok, I really ought to see about checking into a UAS asylum or something)

I guess sometimes one just can't help acquiring a certain uke...or something.

Some pics downloaded from Mr. Bulk's album:

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Guitar companies and ukulele

The last poll asked you guys which guitar company's approach do you prefer. It seems many guitar companies are jumping into the ukulele game for whatever reason in the last couple of years. You have Martin making re-issues of their style 5 and style 3 ukuleles as well as an imported S-O model. Santa Cruz Guitar Company and Breedlove started making really expensive custom ukes last year. And this year Collings started making custom ukes while Fender started selling some tenors imported from Indonesia. Maybe the bad economy is forcing them to explore more ways to make money. Or maybe the ukulele really is gaining a lot of popularity. Whatever the reason, we're definitely seeing guitar companies getting into the ukulele market more and more.

About half of the people who voted on this poll preferred Fender's direction of providing affordable import ukes. That would be my preference as well. The ukuleles that are offered by Martin, SCGC, Breedlove, and Collings certainly look great and probably sound very good, but with the exception of the Mexican made Martin S-O, they are all well out of reach for a great majority of ukulele enthusiasts. Also, there are many great ukulele luthiers who builds outstanding ukes for less than the high-end guitar companies. For $3000+, I'm not sure why anyone should want a Breedlove, Collings or SCGC ukulele over say a William King or Glyph ukulele other than having that big name on the headstock. As for the Martin re-issues, I think it's cool that they are making these ukuleles available again, since they are nice ukes, but again their cost is very high. $5k for a 5k? Not too many are going to be able to drop that kind of money on a uke. I personally would have liked to see imported style 3 ukes in the $300 range. I would definitely go for that.

Speaking of imports, that's what Fender is bringing to the ukulele world. Many people in the ukulele online community have bashed Fender for their uninspired or unoriginal entry into the ukulele market. They say that Fender just took a Lanikai or whatever imported uke and slapped their Telecaster headstock on it and there's no innovation involved. I can't say I quite understand the negativity in that regard. It's true that the Fender ukes are probably just some stock ukes from some Indonesian factory with a Telecaster headstock, but I don't know how much more innovative you can get to bring affordable ukes to the masses. There are only so many ways to build a uke right? I really don't think it would be in anyone's best interest if they "innovated" and came up with something like the KoAloha Sceptre (I think the Sceptre is great, but there are plenty of people who are not down with that design). By providing decent ukes with a Fender twist (Telecaster headstock) at an affordable price (street price of $150-$300), Fender has approach that I agree with the most. Hey, maybe if their ukulele business takes off, they would come up with more unique ukuleles. Don't get me wrong, I love high-end solid wood ukuleles as much as the next guy, but I think if a guitar company wants to be serious about ukuleles, they should build from the ground up, i.e. start with more affordable but good quality stuff to build a following, before diving into the high-end custom ukes. When you start off with $3000+ ukes, how many people are realistically going to be in the market for that? (and no, I assure you I'm not in the market)

I found it interesting that there are as many who prefer Taylor's approach of no ukuleles as support for Martin & SCGC/Collings/Breedlove's approach. Taylor does not currently make ukuleles and there are no indication that they will enter the market. I actually kind of like their approach as well, since I kind of think perhaps the guitar companies should just mind their own business and leave the ukuleles to ukulele companies. But I can't help but think Taylor could maybe come up with some pretty cool ukuleles if they did enter the market. Then again, I'm sure a Taylor ukulele will cost a lot more than say a Kanile'a, so even if they do make them, I guess I'm not likely to own one. Another company with the same approach that I didn't list is Gibson. If they ever decide to re-issue their Uke-3 soprano or their tenors, I think I'm going to be seriously tempted. For my wallet's sake, I hope they don't. :p

So anyway, to put my money where my mouth is, I have a Fender Koa Nohea ukulele on the way! The reasoning behind getting this model is so I can keep a ukulele at my parents house without having to worry about humidity issues. As the Nohea is a laminate, it should be perfect for that purpose. I chose the koa laminate over the mahogany laminate because it looked better. For some online pictures I've seen, the Nohea looks great. And I dig the Telecaster headstock, so hopefully this will be a pretty decent uke. Look for a review of this one down the road.

Here are the results of the poll:

Which guitar company's approach to ukes do you prefer???

Martin (a few very high end and 1 low end): 6 votes (18%)
Fender (affordable imports): 17 votes (51%)
Breedlove/Collings/SCGC (insanely expensive customs): 5 votes (15%)
Tayler (no ukes for us): 5 votes (15%)

Which uke should I bring on my next trip to Oahu???

What's the maximum you'd spend on a ukulele case for your best uke?

If you could steal one of my ukes, which one would it be???

How curly do you like your koa? (preferably on a uke)

What's the maximum number of ukes a perfectly sane person should have???

Poll: How often do you play the ukulele???

Poll: Which guitar company's approach to ukes do you prefer???

Poll: What's your favorite type of headstock???

Poll: The new basic Collings concert uke (UC-1) sells for about $1k, your reaction is: