What goes through my head when I sell a Ukulele...
This entry was posted on November 10, 2014.
I hope you all enjoyed my slightly perverted blog about the Beltona ukulele a few weeks ago? Sadly, that ukulele belongs to someone else now so I am forced to move on. I'm sure in time I will be fine but forgive me for being a little bit love sick for the time being.
I thought I would write a blog today to help anyone out there thinking of buying a Ukulele in the future and give you an insight into my own feelings and opinions on what is suitable and good value for money. Obviously I am just an individual and have nowhere near the experience in the world of ukuleles as my colleague Paul However, I have been here at the Southern Ukulele Store for more than five years and have been around the block enough times to offer advise and feel confident in my opinion. Hopefully you'll hear me out and maybe give me a call sometime to buy your first (or indeed your 50th) ukulele.
When a customer walks in or phones us in search of a ukulele I tend to make a mental list in my mind after establishing a couple of things with a few leading questions:
1. What size would suit them?
I tend to ask a customer first if they have any experience with other instruments. A guitarist, bassist or banjo player will usually feel a little bit more comfortable with the slightly bigger sizes and that would normally eventually lead us onto Concert or Tenor sizes. If somebody was completely new to musical instruments I would normally establish the height of the customer much the same as you would size up a child for a violin. Tall gents or chaps with big hands seem to get frustrated with anything smaller than a tenor and those that want that bright, percussive and distinctive soprano sound can normally find a comfortable middle ground with a concert. It is worth noting that the taller players tend to struggle with the leash style straps and the bigger sizes sit nicely with a guitar style strap.
On the flip side, we get dozens of men and women both tall and small each week come in looking for a ukulele and for these budding players a Soprano or concert is often the best choice at the entry level. The ukulele leashes like the Woodstock or TGI leash we do seems to be a worthwhile accessory for some of the small Adult or younger beginners as it sits at a better height on the smaller sizes.
2. What is the customers budget?
This is often a bit of a tough thing to ask without coming across as a predatory salesman! It has to be asked at some point though for me to do my job and 9 times out of 10, the customer doesn't really know what they need to spend. Here is a rough guide and some examples should you find yourself wondering what to budget for a ukulele.
# £25 - £60 - You can get something that is a bit of fun and will hold its tune once the strings settle down for this price. For £25 Brunswick make an excellent beginners ukulele called the BU1S in a natural colour or in bright colours that comes fitted with Aquila strings and will usually intonate quite well upto the higher frets. At £50 Brunswick do a model up called the BU4S made of a much nicer laminate mahogany that is a bit plain Jane to look at but consistently sounds great and ticks all of the boxes an aspiring Ukulele player may want. Alternatively, Ohana do an entry level model called the SK10 that is of a similar quality but is possibly just slightly more aesthetically pleasing. At this price range you should probably expect the instrument to be a little rough around the edges in finish and although it has not effect on the sound or playability, you may find subtle flaws in these instruments like small glue marks and possibly if you are very unlucky a wonky machine head or some flaws in the binding.
# £80 - £200 - I think really if you have any experience with musical instruments prior to picking up a ukulele, you will benefit from having a slightly bigger budget.
If a customer calls me up with this budget I instantly check stock of certain models that I think are just great for the money.
The Islander series do both Mahogany and Acacia models within budget (look up Islander AC-4 or Islander MT-4 to see what I mean). The Islander ukuleles have a slight disadvantage in that they are an all laminate instrument but also have a slightly wider fingerboard width which can make a massive difference for somebody struggling to get to grips with the more difficult ukulele chords.
Kala are probably the best equipped brand within this price range. They offer plenty of very different models in this price range that would be suitable for even anyone up to even some of the more advanced players. I would strongly suggest trying the Pacific Walnut series (KA-PWS, KA-PWC and KA-PWT) as well as the Golden Acacia models (KA-GAS, KA-GAC and KA-GAT).
# £200+ - You would think that this would be exactly what I would want to hear as a salesman but a new player with a budget extending past £200 can be the hardest to get right.
Firstly, you have to answer a common question players have..
"is it all solid? I've heard that laminate ukuleles are rubbish."
My answer is strictly my opinion and really it is subjective but I think if you are paying between £100 and £250 it is not always but often impossible to hear the benefit of a solid top on a new instrument. One very experienced ukulele teacher actually sends his students in to buy laminate ukuleles first because a laminate instrument can be a bit more forgiving and balanced. A solid top can sound a bit naff and be a detriment to the player if you don't yet have the ability to dig in and play with finesse. So hopefully if you read this you may have an open mind in the future to an instrument with laminate back and sides.
The next thing to consider is what wood you should be looking at to get the sound you want. In my experience, the wood you like the look of can be completely the wrong sounding wood for the job. A million people have written much more in depth and articulate articles about tone woods and chances are you have already looked into this but when enquiring with us about purchasing a ukulele, try and have an idea of what sort of style of music you are going to play and keep an open mind to trying ukuleles with a wood combination you were not expecting to be pleasing to the ear. The most common example of this is people purchasing a dark looking and sounding wood like Mahogany and then being disappointed that it didn't sound bright and clear like perhaps Cedar or Koa would.
I should probably stop now as this blog is turning into an essay and I don't want to lose you! If you're still reading, I really hope this has given you food for thought and if I can assist or help further, give me a call in store on 01202 430820.