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%)


jda said...

I bought a UC-1 as soon as my local shop got one. The craftsmanship and materials match what I have come to expect from Collings. The body is closer to a Martin 1-C than the smaller bodied LoPrinzi concert model. The weight is similar to a LoPrinzi or William King concert. The King instruments are still my favorites, but the Collings is top notch. I plan to order a UC-2 soon.

Kimberly said...

Other than wanting a beauty of a go-to concert uke, that is designed to do what it does well, I have to admit that I'm attracted to Collings by a rebelous streak in me.

My local uke club is mostly traditionalist, to the point of outright rudeness to anything they see as "small guitars." Collings seems to have made a real uke here, but the name Collings really turns them off as "small guitar."

And there's a luthier, not a local one, but he does attend lots of meetings, and holds lots of sway on opinion. He hates Collings with a seething burning white hot passion, and it sways the majority of the members to the same groupthink.

Yeah, I'm cheezed off at my uke club right now.

So if I can get a great little concert uke, and tweak their snobbish noses a bit, why not?

As for the price, well, sometimes you get what you pay for. I come form a tradition of wind instruments, and we wouldn't dream of buying something good below the 1k price point.

Not that there aren't great ukes below that price point, but there are some great ukes above it too. It's not always about the bling.... not that I'm against bling at all.

GX9901 said...


You know, I think the Sunburst Collings UC-2 looks totally awesome. I'd take that over the Pineapple Sunday. The funny thing about the Collings is that it is probably more "traditional" than most Hawaiian makes. I really think these Collings will be tomorrow's "vintage Martin".

Weary Wolf said...

For what it's worth ... for a time, I was privileged to manage the acoustic department at one the Midwest's most respected Guitar retailers, Dave's Guitar Shop in LaCrosse, Wisconsin. Although at the time, the shop did not have a Collings dealership, that has since changed.

During my time there I was able to get very "hands on" with some Collings instruments, including visits with Collings at NAMM. Eventually, I even bought a Collings mandolin ... which incidentally, is very popular with my fellow mandolinists, or must be, since they all want to buy it!

I can tell you this: the quality and consistency of Collings instruments in, by every measure, stunning. No exceptions.

Now that I am in the market for a serious uke ... well, I am going to Collings because I know there is no way they can disappoint me, Period.

That's just my two cents worth.

Jargo said...

I played a UCK 2 at a party last night. I have been looking for a concert and after playing this I understand how people can spend this kind of money on a uke.It practically played itself, with volume and great tone. The tiger striped koa was beautiful.

Jay said...

To anyone who does not know what Colling's stands for, it is "QUALITY" and after inspecting many high end "K" named ukes this instrument is built head and shoulders above other ukes from a "workmanship" standpoint. Every point is perfectly done, no visbile seams no uneven points, no rough sanded areas, incredible sound, and it's stunning. You get what you pay for.

I am the owner of the 16th UC-3K to come out of the factory just two weeks ago. It is a flaming Koa Concert and everyone I play with has said what an amazing sounding (#1 importance right?) uke it is as well as a gorgeous work of art that is meant to be played. It plays like butter, the action is simply incredible.

I really wanted a Hawaiian uke but like some on this post, I am probably bucking the system if there is one. I like having something special as well where in 20 years, you'll be lucky if there are even 200 of these in the world, or a few thousand of the UC-1K, 2K's. Not the reason I wanted it but that's just a big bonus.

Collings will definitely become a vintage collectors uke without a doubt by those who know what Collings stands for. I am buying my next UC-1K which is also incredible. Different sound than the 3K, different look and is made like a fine piece of furniture that is perfectly hand made. It's half the price of the 3K but it's probably the best value for that price I have seen.

The sound is simply amazing to me (everyone's ears are different but to me, it was fantastic)

Go look closely at what is coming out of these other mainstream higher end manufactures and then if your lucky enough to have a Collings dealer near you, just check for yourself.

After getting the UC-3K, I now look at other ukes with much more criticality especially in the way they are built. I just checked out a few big names that start with K and some were roughly sanded around the sound hole, the neck was not put on exactly even on they body, fret board had some offset wood on the edge (there are posts I saw on Ukulele Underground with photos as well of the exact same things so it's definitely more than 1 this is happening with. It's becoming very production line it seems for even some of these high end ukes who make 50 bodies a time and put them on racks. They just don't do that at Collings and I would bet they never do, thus why you pay what seems like a hell of a lot more than other ukes, when in the end,I think you are paying for exactly what you get.

One incredible instrument I am so grateful to own now. Thanks Collings!

Foggy Otis said...

I have a Collings tenor ukulele and I must say it is by far the most beautiful instrument I've ever owned. Yes, Collings is a guitar builder. So is "Martin Guitars." That argument against Collings holds absolutely no water.

Mine is model UT3- 41K- SB. A tenor ukulele made of highly figured koa. It has D41-style trim (inlay and binding is in the style of Martin's high-end dreadnought guitar). It has a gorgeous full-body sunburst finish and a mirror-like gloss finish.

I had a passive pickup (K&K) installed under the sounboard. I prefer this type of pickup over the active, under-saddle pickup. To me, the K&K has a much warmer, less-abrasive sound than under the saddle.

At the heel of the neck I installed a locking pin for my strap. The brand I use are called Loxx. The pins are very tiny and are perfectly suited for smaller instruments.

After much experimenting with strings (on my entire ukulele collection) I have found Worth Brown Tenor strings to be my favorites. They have a mellower sound than clear strings and are capable of producing a great deal of sustain.

Examples of my Collings using pickup. Direct through house PA. (Club Helsinki. Hudson NY)

Here it is using a microphone through same house PA

Words cannot describe the beauty, attention to detail and amount of joy this instrument gives me!

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: