Ahh.. The Internet. The giver of power and bravado to those behind a keyboard to rant about things they would never rant to your face about. And if there is one thing people like to take umbrage at it's reviews of products, usually products they have themselves and dont like people having a different opinion.
To be fair, this isn't a moan, I actually find it quite amusing in a sad way. And of course, if you choose to write an opinion piece about anything (ukuleles, brands of coffee, albums, films, chewing gum, anything) and make it public, it's natural that people will use the button marked 'Comment' to have their say. Funnily enough, the most passionate tend to keep there comments anonymous, but I'm sure that's just coincidence........ erm..
I actually encourage comments and discussions on my reviews. Hey, if I didn't I'd simply turn the comments option off, and switch off the YouTube voting buttons. And that's because I like to hear opinions. I may say I don't like (or do like) the tone or finish of an instrument and you may totally disagree. That's because we all have different tastes, and I want to hear about other tastes. I've lost count of the amount of times I have said that it is perfectly normal to disagree with my reviews. They are just ONE GUYS OPINION...
But the ones that do infuriate are the libellous, crazy or just plain nasty. The most common of which include
So in some sort of attempt at perverse self therapy I thought I would list down some of my most common complaints. Doing so won't change a damn thing, but there you go....
1. Hey I have this ukulele, and I think it sounds amazing, so therefore you are wrong.
Usually in response to my review of an instrument that I think DOESN'T sound amazing. First of all, as I say, they are just opinions. But let's look deeper. Define 'amazing'? Is it the only instrument you have ever played? Perhaps that does indeed sound amazing to you and I am pleased for you. But I review based on the playing experience of a lot of instruments. I have to have some reference point, and in fact it's very hard for me to avoid my experiences elsewhere when coming to a view. Ultimately though, if you like the sound of yours - then that is really all that matters. Doesn't make either of us wrong though. I'm not a big fan of Ford motor cars, but they certainly sell a lot of them. Just an opinion.
2. Hey I bought one of these and it had no faults, so therefore you are wrong.
You bought one that wasn't badly put together? I am delighted for you! I really am. I wish that bad builds and faults never existed. Unfortunately, they do. I am also extremely conscious that the instruments I review are only single examples out of large batches. There is absolutely every chance that I could get another on another day and not see the same issues. But I can only review the one I am presented with. But let's assume your opinion and my opinion of these are the only two reviews that exist anywhere. Mine is badly made and yours is not. So thats a 50:50 on chances of getting a good one. I don't like those odds.
Or lets put it another way - would you prefer they were reviewed like this?
"The bridge on this one is in the wrong place, the finish on the body is terrible and cracking in places. The fret edges are sharp and one of the tuners isn't working. But hey, I can forgive it those things. So 10 out of 10!".
I don't think that would make for a very interesting review myself. I prefer to just say what I see. It doesn't mean yours has the same flaws.
3. Why are you so down on ordering from Amazon? I ordered one from Amazon and it was fine.
Probably one of the most common comments this one. For me, it's all about probability. First of all, ordering through ukulele shops who have storefronts on Amazon is not what I am getting at here - ordering from those can be the same as ordering from the store direct. I am talking about the items that are stocked by and shipped by Amazon direct. It is a simple fact that with those instruments, when an order comes in, Amazon take one down from a warehouse shelf somewhere and ship it, unopened. When it first made it's way to the warehouse shelf the last place it had been was the ukulele factory it came from. It is another fact that all ukuleles, whether cheap or expensive, benefit from a setup / 'once over' by somebody who actually understands the instrument. Amazon do NOT do this when ordering direct. They just don't. They are shipping millions of products and simply don't employ ukulele techs to sit in their warehouses setting up instruments. So whilst there is every chance that one of those unopened boxes straight from the ukulele factory is in good shape, there is equally chance that it needs a setup. This can affect ANY instrument at any price, but it's fair to say that at the cheaper end of the market, the models need a much closer inspection! If you are a beginner can you do that yourself?
More generally - it's not as if other options are not in existence. There are some great real ukulele specialist stores out there who WILL open the box and check them over before shipping. It may cost you a dollar or two more - so why take the chance? Or putting it another way, I just prefer supporting local businesses more than faceless corporations. Shoot me.
4. Ah yes, but that ukulele would be so much better with (insert brand name here) strings
There is a reason I don't do a lot of string 'reviews' (if any). It's because opinions on strings are just too personal. There are some strings that some of the worlds greatest ukulele players swear by that I just don't like. In fact strings that I know a LOT of people don't like. It's personal. So when I review an instrument with a questionable sound, I fully appreciate that a string change may indeed improve things. But with which strings? Lets say I re-string it with the brand you are recommending works so well. What if I don't like those strings? I would still dislike the sound. Or should I be restringing each review instrument with a dozen brands and finding the best one? No thanks!
The point is - anyone buying one of the ukuleles I review may well change the strings and get different results - but they may all change them to something different.
But most importantly, remember this. No amount of string changing will change a ukulele that is inherently awful into something magical. And anyway - who wants a ukulele that only works well with one brand of strings?
5. You always give rubbish reviews to cheap ukuleles
No I don't. I really don't. Have a read of the Ukulele Review Database. You'll see why that statement is wrong. What I DO do however is review instruments that are genuinely awful as being awful. My low scoring reviews do tend to get the most aggressive comments though. Funny that.
6. I have the same electro ukulele and mine sounds great when plugged in.
Another common one. For part of this, point 1 above applies - it's just opinion at the end of the day. But there is also a broad range of options of what you plug the ukulele in to that comes in to play here. A cheap noisy pickup when plugged in to a small battery amplifier or headphone amp for private practice may sound just fine. In fact it will sound just like a ukulele but a bit louder. If that is your only experience with them then absolutely it will sound 'great'. However people don't just buy electric ukuleles to plug them into basic amps like that. Some will take them on stages and plug them into larger amplifiers, or through mixing desks into a house PA system. As well as those rigs making the core sound of the ukulele much louder, the systems also amplify the weak points too. If your pickup is a noisy cheap one (and by noisy, I mean background noise that isn't meant to be there in the form of hum, crackle or hiss) or has a muddy tone (no clarity between the notes when played) then whilst it may sound acceptable in headphones, through a large event PA system, those bad sounds are just going to be even more noticeable. I've been there and done it - played on stage through a large event PA of several hundred watts next to someone with a cheap pickup that is just throwing hiss and hum through the whole sound. It's horrible.
My comments on electros therefore have to cover all bases. Can you be sure you are only ever going to plug in to a headphone amp?
7. But I can't get this ukulele in my country!
Hey - don't shoot the reviewer - I am not a distributor!
8. This ukulele has loads of five star reviews on Amazon, so therefore you are wrong
Ah yes, Amazon again. It's well known that whilst there are indeed some truthful reviews on Amazon that their review system for all sorts of products is considered questionable and flawed. Reviewers are essentially anonymous and there is little opportunity for comeback. In fact in the world of books there have been some quite damning allegations of vote fixing / paid reviews and general underhand tactics to either vote items up or down. It's rather like the TripAdvisor scenario. Take what you read with a pinch of salt. One of the best selling and highest rated ukuleles on Amazon UK is the Stagg US10. Some of the 5 star reviews of those have people talking about them like they are playing a Kamaka...
9. You would say that about (insert brand name here)
No, no they don't. Please feel free to contact any brand or store that I have reviewed and ask them. I don't even WANT free instruments, I am trying to de-clutter my house not make it worse. They all either go back or where the cost of a return is not worth it, given away in competitions or to charity. What's that you say now? I would say that wouldn't I? Oh, there really is no winning here is there?
10. But (insert brand name here)
No they didn't. I tell every brand and store I review for that I retain final say on copy. They don't even see a final draft.
11. But why would they loan you stuff if there was a chance you would say you didn't like it?
Because this is real life. They don't get it right all the time and they may actually take on board honest critisism. Besides, they also know that people would soon smell a rat if every comment I made was gushing praise. If I regularly say a particular brand is getting it right, maybe, you know, they are getting it right? And if a brand is regularly featured, I personally think that it's a brand that deserves your attention. Apart from anything else, they have confidence in their product and are brave to send them for critisism. That's my kind of brand!
12. But you dont have anything from (insert brand name here)
No. As I say above - I mainly review instruments that are sent to me on loan. I have been in contact with every single brand that is commercially available, and many that are luthier made. With the big brands, if they dont appear its because they havent chosen to send me one. I don't have the money to just buy one of every brand just to make sure they appear on the site. I would LOVE to get every brand on Got A Ukulele, but if they won't send one, then it's unlikely to happen. It's hardly my fault and I don't have the budget to just go and buy them all. Now, I could be cynical and suggest that some brands may actually be concerned about point 3 above.. but I will ask you to draw your own conclusions! If you know of a brand you want to see featured and have a contact - tell them you want them to send me one!
13. You deliberately make sure that ukuleles you dont like are out of tune before you video them.
This one really made me laugh, but I have actually had a lot of comments about this. A suggestion that I am deliberately trying to make them sound off when playing them. No, really - every review video has a ukulele tuned accurately at the nut from the off. If you hear them going out of tune when fretted it meants that they are either built badly (misplaced necks, frets, bridge) or more likely they are in desperate need of a setup. Why dont I set them up before playing them? Well because the idea is to show you what a random selection could be like if YOU bought one. Not everyone knows how to do a setup!
14. Your playing is no good / your microphone is no good / your camera is no good.
Fair points on all three counts. I don't claim to be a virtuoso. The videos are only to supplement the written reviews and are a guide only. I prefer writing to videoing (and early reviews had no videos at all). But I work on the basis that a more likely recreation of a ukulele in a bedroom type setting from an average Joe is worth more to people than putting an expertly setup instrument into the hands of a maestro. I figure that 95% of people buying instruments from those sort of videos will be at home thinking 'mine doesn't sound like that'... They are independent reviews, not marketing pushes.
15. You do too much talking and not enough playing
See point 14. They are only there to accompany the written pieces. There was a time when reviews of instruments were ONLY written up in magazines. There were no videos. Yes folks, this was before the internet!
16. You are only writing this to look for support...
Groan.. No, I can't win..
All in all though - I understand that putting public articles out there on a website like this does naturally come at a price - one is being opened up to criticism and debate. That's fine. But it really is getting quite tiring. The 'I disagree because of X, Y and Z' I can deal with. In fact I welcome it. The 'You are plain wrong and stupid'... less so.. A negative review is really not a personal attack on you or me questioning your parentage. It's just one mans opinion.
If you like the ukulele you have and I don't - seriously.. don't stress about what I think...
© Barry Maz