When the same ukulele isn’t the same ukulele…
As I wrote about previously (and will do so again), I am working towards a ukulele unit and embedding ukulele in my middle school choir program.
Through past fundraising, I was able to buy 25 ukuleles for the program–very inexpensive Mahalo MK1 models. Parents have funded the purchase of another 30 ukuleles on top of that, giving us enough for every student to use (in class) and to have two spares. While they were backordered on Amazon, I was able to buy the majority of them for less than $25 each. After they came back in stock, the price soared to $36. Thankfully, we only had a few more to buy at that price (I bought additional ukuleles as donations came in).
Most of these ukuleles have arrived and I have started the process of unboxing and tuning. The Mahalos do not come with super strings. That isn't surprising–a good set of Aquilla Nygut strings is at least $9, which is about 1/3 of the cost of these instruments. The current strings will work for now, but in the future we'll have to replace strings, which will also make the instruments sound better. Even so, after a number of turnings (10?) they settle in pretty well, with only slight touch-up tuning required after that point. And to be honest, I don't mind the process of unpacking and tuning 55 ukuleles. There is something therapeutic about it.
I am making my own resources for the beginning unit–loving Notion and its ability to show notes and tabs on the ukulele (yes, also on the iPad). I will write a post about the technology side of the ukulele (and my creation of materials) later. And yes, there will be LOTS of singing. This is a choir class.
What I wanted to write about this morning is how some of the ukuleles are not the same. To this point, we have been buying the butterscotch color–not really attractive–because it has been significantly cheaper. I started thinking about assessment and realized that some kids could take a ukulele home and record video of themselves playing instead of testing in person. Some kids get “freaked out” in person. The problem is that we need all the ukuleles at school for classes–so how would I be able to trust kids to take one home and bring it back in time for the next day of classes, knowing that students are on an A/B schedule and don't think about choir every day? The answer is that I couldn't guarantee that.
We had a little extra money in the choir account (I have to keep some money available for music, for example), so I decided to buy 3 additional ukuleles that could be sent home with students for assessment purposes. At the time, the brown model was $27 versus the $36 butterscotch model, so it made sense to buy some brown ones, with the added knowledge that it would be easy to identify the ukuleles that were loaners.
These ukuleles arrived at my house yesterday (I have been taking advantage of my prime account for free shipping), and I quickly noticed that two of the three brown units were strung differently than the other, and that those two were strung differently than ALL of the butterscotch models we have ordered. Additional inspection showed that the bridge was connected differently on these two brown models (screws versus a rivet)–and they have a different style of fretboard (look at the bottom, near the sound hole).
I actually prefer the bridge and stringing style of these two brown units, and I think they represent OLDER instruments. Both the “unique” brown instruments have serial numbers in the the 239000 range, and all of the other instruments we own are well into the 300000 range. What this tells me is that the slightly older Mahalo MK1s were likely a better instrument and a better deal, even at the low cost range. I am slightly bummed out about that!
The pictures show the ragged quality of these inexpensive instruments. My Makala Concert Electro Acoustic ukulele ($89) is a much better instrument all around that plays better and sounds better.
Again, these Mahalos are functional $25 to $36 ukuleles that are really meant for beginner players–to get you into the instrument before you purchase something a little more expensive for yourself. Ideally, I would have looked at the low cost Kala models, but they still cost $20 more per ukulele, and with 58 ukuleles in total and that would have been more than $1000 more for the project. If we keep going with ukuleles in the future (I expect we will), we can work towards replacing instruments in the future (and perhaps selling these to students at a discount in the process). But you need to start somewhere first.