I thought I’d noodle a bit to offer a little sound bite comparison for blogging posterity. Like with my last sound bite, there was no real plan of what to play going in, so it’s just me making arbitrary chord switches as the mood suits, really, and plenty of screw ups along the way, so don’t hold my mistakes against the ukes – when you hear string buzz, that’s all me. lol. I’m going to include what I paid for each below, with a few small details about the construction, so you can decide for yourself just how much price has to do with the difference in sound.
There’s really not a fair comparison to draw between the lanikai and the 3 sopranos, because it’s a tenor and not really meant to occupy the same sonic space, but I put all 4 in the mix, even the diamond head, starting from the first one I bought, on up to my most recent addition.
All 4 are strung with aquila nylgut strings, and the action on all 4 is low and virtually identical.
As an aside, I do want to find out what other good string brands there are to try eventually. The same brands that make decent guitar strings are not necessarily the same brands that make decent uke strings, I’m finding. I’ve heard very good things, for example, about GHS Bass strings, but only horrible things about their uke strings. I’m in no pressing need for strings right this moment, but that is something I want to know – which brands of strings are good for the uke, other than Aquila, so, you know, I can experiment, because experimenting is fun.
I tuned each of them up about 5 minutes before starting, and I find I have to eat my earlier words, because – since the Universe feels like proving me wrong today – the Diamond Head was actually the only one that my tuner was still registering as perfectly in tune at the end of this. Why? I have no idea. I actually replaced it early on primarily because of tuning problems, but facts are facts, and today it randomly decided to stay in tune during play. However, having said that, it’s also the one that slips the farthest out of tune when idle. The others I find might slip a little, but the Diamond Head is almost always WAY off when I first pick it up. It’s a $25 ukulele, so take that as a ‘no duh’, really.
For reference, I’m using a Fishman Clip-On Tuner, which can be a little glitchy, but I’m familiar with it’s glitches, so when I say it’s in or out of tune, I’m pretty certain about the readings I’m getting. I still don’t tune by ear yet. I can tell when it’s off, but I haven’t quite gotten to the point where I’m certain of which string is out. For example, I might hear the C string as being ‘out of tune’, when what I’m really hearing is the C string being in tune as a C, but out of tune in relation to the other strings. So, I can hear when the uke is in tune to itself, mostly, but not whether or not it’s in tune to standard tuning. In other words, I can hear well enough to know when my tuner is lying to me, until I buy a better tuner. 🙂
Diamond Head ($25 on sale – maple body in mahogany color. Thinner at the base than either of my other sopranos. Stock strings are crap, tuners are mediocre at best. Worth it to pay for good strings and swap them out at time of purchase, to save headaches, but still tends to slip out of tune easily) – miraculously still in tune after playing, because the universe feels like proving me wrong today, but 10 minutes of it sitting unattended and the C string is significantly flat.
Rubin ($40 due to cosmetic defect on side of neck. Functioning electronics. Laminate mahogany, untraditional soundhole. Body is quite shiny, which I suspect is possibly due to a lower quality laminate – is there such a thing? Looking at my Kala next to my Rubin, both mahogany laminate, I have to think there is, because the look and sound QUITE different…)- only the G string still in tune. The other 3 slipped considerably. After retuning and letting it sit for a bit, C string is slightly sharp, everything else still in tune.
Kala($55(approx.) new, unblemished – mahogany laminate across the board.): C string slightly out of tune after playing. After retuning and leaving it be, everything still in tune when I picked it up again.
Lanikai($119 refurbished w/hard case, repaired crack on back. Solid Monkey Pod body, Ovangkol neck. Grover tuners.) – pretty much out of tune across the board, but that could very well be an issue of the strings still stretching since I’ve only had it a day, and it is already staying in tune quite a lot better than it was when I opened it up around 8 or 9 pm last night. Retuned, and let to sit, still perfectly in tune when I picked it up again. I think in the long run this is going to stay in tune fairly well, so don’t want to make a judgement about it’s ability to stay in tune just yet.
So, there you have it. Of the four, I find the Kala and the Lanikai feel the best to play. The Rubin, I think, has the highest, plinkiest, sort of pitch. It plays fine, but to my ears the tone sounds sort of…shallow? Tinny? I’m not sure if there’s a better way to put that. The Diamond Head is pretty awesome for a $25 uke, but just isn’t as much of a joy to play. I feel a big part of that is the painted body. The satiny texture of it all just doesn’t have the same ‘feel’ as a rosewood fingerboard. On that note, the rubin’s wood seems a lower quality, and even though it has a rosewood fingerboard, it feels almost closer to the diamond head in terms of overall quality. That makes sense, I think. It was $40 with electronics, which puts these two ukes in more or less the same quality bracket.
The Next uke for my collection will be a concert size, for sure. But, I think I need to lay off buying ukes for a while. Accessories, perhaps, but actual ukuleles…I have 4, and I can’t even sing and play at the same time. Time to slow down! lol.
Until Next Time, still breaking in my new toy. 🙂