What Makes an Ukulele Good?

About 6 years ago, when Hawaii Music Supply was above Ko’olau Ukulele in Kaneohe, Mike Aratani would come by and give us “blind” sound tests with our ukes. With your eyes covered he would play the same thing on 5 or 6 different ukes. We would have to guess which model was being played. Do this sometime if you get the chance and see how challenging it can be. Perhaps half of what we listen to is our eyes and preconceptions.

I am, however, glad to say – my honest and unbiased opinion is that Hawaiian ukes rule. You just can’t get what we got in China. Don’t get me wrong, I know China can produce great things. The computer I am looking at was made in China, probably by people a lot smarter than me. And in the ukulele market you can get a good value and quality instrument made in China. If that bothers you then just play Hawaiian on it for a few years. It will be like raising a Chinese kid in Hawaii. After so long they are practically Hawaiian. But seriously, the bottom line is that most people need a deal you won’t find in a Hawaiian made uke. And that is no reason to not make music with the ukulele. But people ask me if the $60 Makala was made here. I can’t even fill up my tank for $60. Or get the supplies to make an ukulele. I don’t know how they do it that cheap, but I am glad they do because we can’t afford to give our kids a $700 ukulele to learn on. Or even justify to our wife why we need to spend that much even though we barely have any time to play. But if you can afford to….

I am not a real “we’re the best” kind of thinker, but listen for yourself to the difference in a Hawaiian made ukulele. Of course I know, “tone is subjective”, and I don’t push my opinion because it just works out naturally. If you can’t hear the difference in the more expensive one, then you don’t need to spend that much. Problem solved.

Sound is only one aspect in the quality of a musical instrument, but is arguably the most important. So let’s just focus on that for now. Sound. What makes the sound of an ukulele.. good? To start off with, this video addresses common misconceptions people gather when learning about the ukulele. It seems nowadays, people rarely get or give their information from true research, experience, and thought. I find myself in forums full of regurgitated opinions. “the blind leading the blind”. What makes a good uke is like asking what makes a good person. It is not something you can prove with a resume. The point is -The truth is not always in specs.

For instance, in my opinion the worst sounding of all demoed was the Mango Lanikai. But it is All Solid Wood!?? Bone Nut and Saddle! Four times the price of others! Oh well. At least it feels super good after we dress the frets and lower the action. And personally, I still put feel #1. And anyway, that is just my opinion of it’s sound. Listen and compare with your own ears and mind.

For those of you that can’t come to the store and play and feel these instruments, our sound clips at TheUkuleleSite.com is your next best resource. As far as feel, we give every single ukulele shipping out a pro level set up that we are pretty sure you will love.

So go to The Ukulele Site and see what the most popular model ukuleles actually sounds like.
Going elsewhere can be like reading my blog to learn how fo’ write. Cheeee-hoo! Enjoy Aaron’s video review and I apologize for not recording it well. Problem with this one is the best sounding ones overdrive the mic, in a way making them sound worse. This was years ago. Lots of good thoughts from Aaron though.

Aloha from Hawaii Music Supply

Comments 7

  1. Excellent comparison — probably the best I’ve ever seen or heard. Very well done. I also agree that it can take years for a uke to “open up.” One of my favorite ukes now is an ’07 Pono tenor mahogany with a cedar top. It just seems to keep getting better and I’d put it close to par now with my koa Kanile’a tenor that I got in ’08.

  2. I love your site. before I bought my baritone and the tenor I bought my husband – I spent hours listening to sound clips to get the tone that I wanted.

  3. I’m looking for a solid top tenor Ukulele and would like your recommendations. I would like to find the best sounding and feeling instrument for $250. or less.
    Your thought?

    Thanks, Eddie

    1. Post
  4. I have been teaching myself to play my Islander concert uke so I can visit Hawaii and buy a Hawaiian-made ukulele in person! It is a dream that will come true!

  5. Thank you,
    I am taking up the Ukulele. love the warm sound

    thank you again
    Dennis Banks

  6. Very informative. I am a ukulele maker in Fallbrook CA. and am just now starting a business. Don’t have a website yet but soon. I agree with all instruments you played and making the best sound usually is both the woods and bracing not to mention the thickness of the top and back. Thanks for the presentation.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *