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%)


Anonymous said...

I somehow missed this poll.

You left off Gibson (under their Epiphone label). Though to tell the truth, I'm not sure they're still doing them.

GX9901 said...

Epiphone discontinued their ukes, so I left them off the list.

I forgot to put Gibson in there somewhere, but probably would have lumped them with Taylor since there has been no signs of any Gibsons ukes forthcoming. I believe the Epiphone uke is pretty much an Epiphone thing since it was under their Masterbilt label. But I'm just speculating there.

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

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

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

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

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