Not really a rant this one, more a warning to ukulele buyers out there, but something I am seeing more and more in the world of internet shopping for ukes.Regular readers of the blog will know that I don't believe all is what it seems to be in the world of laminate ukuleles. I despise the increasingly snobbish opinion out there that ALL laminate ukes are a signal of poor quality. (Take a look at the likes of this Kiwaya or this Baton Rouge). In fact I regularly point out that I would rather have a well made laminate like these, than some of the roughly thrown together, thick, heavy 'solid wood' ukes out there at the low end. Being all solid wood is not necessarily a mark of top quality!
But something else is happening which seems, to me at least, to be deliberately misleading. And that is making your sales listings 'appear' to suggest that the uke for sale is solid wood when it is actually laminate. I think that is pretty awful. Not only is it just jumping on the misconception above that 'all laminate is bad - it has to be solid to be worth something', but also it just comes across to me like they are tying to hide something. Brands are doing it and unscrupulous shops are doing it too.
I am glad to say that this is not a tactic used by the online ukulele specialists that I recommend, but a Google search yesterday found plenty of examples elsewhere only. Take this ukulele description below.
(Not naming the uke brand here as I don't know if the point I am making is their fault or the dealers).
Anyway - how does that read to you? OK, it doesn't say that it IS solid wood but reading that as a beginner would that suggest that it is made all from Maple? And 'best quality spalted maple' at that! The reason I have picked this example is because I had a disagreement with someone who had bought one, believing it to be SOLID Maple. And I can see why.
(Note - seasoned uke players - yes, I know you will not get solid spalted maple ukes, but the example could easily replace Spalted Maple with, say, Mahogany or Cedar). The point is, the item description seems misleading to me.
Yet, when you dig around a bit more on that model you get some specifications which state the following. Best quality spalted maple indeed....
Ah ha! Now, to be fair, that spec is detailed on the item descriptions, but on another page. You have to dig for it. I personally think it would be understandable for a first time buyer to read the main description and assume that this uke is something it is not.
I've seen it on the dreaded eBay too. Last year I was looking at a ukulele for sale by a private seller in which they had it listed plain as day as 'solid mahogany'. I knew the model and also knew full well it was NOT solid mahogany, but laminate. I messaged the seller and he came back to me saying - 'well technically, it's made of a laminate of mahogany woods. All the laminate pieces are mahogany and therefore it's solid mahogany'...... The response I wanted to send? 'Well, technically you are an idiot..'..
If it is laminate it is not solid wood, regardless of what the laminates are made of! I reported the item, eBay did nothing and it sold. Sadly somebody got a laminate uke and is now convinced it is solid wood. Appalling.
Now the dealer in the example above is not saying absolutely that the uke is solid wood, but the use of language can be a very confusing and persuasive thing. I think the item description is terrible and it reads to me like they are trying to hide something about the uke. As I say, I KNOW a person who bought (not necessarily from this dealer) 'thinking' that the uke was solid Maple and not laminate. I think that is an understandable mistake.
Some might say, 'buyer beware' and of course that is correct. Yet I think there should be a fairer stance taken here by the dealers too. The lesson here to me seems simple. DO YOUR RESEARCH! Check out several sources of the instrument you are looking to buy and be absolutely sure that you get to the bottom of the specifications. Question everything.
If you feel you have been misled - shout about it! Let me know and let the dealer know. If you have an instrument and you are not sure if it is solid wood or laminate - have a look at the edge of the sound hole? Can you see a sandwich of woods? Look at the grain pattern inside the back - does it match the outer wood?
And most of all - if the description of the instrument uses phrases like 'all mahogany' or 'select mahogany' or 'AAA mahogany' but DOESN'T use the term solid mahogany - it will NOT be solid wood. The other classic trick is to say solid mahogany top and mahogany back and sides. That actually means just the top is solid and not the rest of it. Clever isn't it? Well, clever or deceptive, depending on you point of view.
And of course, finally, to repeat - I am NOT saying there is anything wrong with laminate ukes as such, I just think that buyers should be told clearly what they are getting!
Go carefully people!