A Little Honesty In Your Listings Please Ukulele Dealers

1 Mar 2015

A Little Honesty In Your Listings Please Ukulele Dealers

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.

solid wood ukulele

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.

confusing ukulele description

(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!

STOP PRESS - EDIT 2017 - in a discussion on Facebook we found that a store was selling a Tokai Bocote wood ukulele as being all solid wood - their listing looks like this..

So that is clearly saying 'Solid Butterfly Wood top, back and side. Only I came across someone who bought one and was adamant it was laminate wood. So I contacted Tokai. This was their response..

So, as you can see - it IS laminate. It's 2017 now and dealers are still doing this. It means one of two things. Either they are ignorant of the facts or they are trying to mislead you. Either way, it's wrong..


  1. Excellent post Barry. Descriptions should be accurate - Trades Descriptions Act? Appalling practices here.

  2. Excellent post, I couldnt agree more. I have a mixture of both laminate and solid ukes and snobbery is an issue. People have a perception that solid is best but it depends on the Uke and how it is being used. If I am playing outside or going on holiday I will take a laminate as I understand they are more stable and less affected by changes in temperature. One of my favourite ukes is an Ashbury AU50T, the quality varies enormously and it took me a long time to find a good one, but they are well priced as the finish is quite basic, but sounds really good especially amplified using the passive Fishman that I had fitted. It is made of solid wood and projects a great tone. I tripped on a kerb and the Uke hit the ground. Even though it was in a soft case the back now has a hairline crack. My Kauai tenor is a laminate has been knocked over and dropped many times and it just keeps on going and still looks great, it sounds a little 'boxy' but is the Uke I take out and about. I wouldn't record with it, the Ashbury is my 'go to' Uke for that, but for acoustic gigs and club nights the Kauai is perfect. And it's worth remembering that most of the public really won't notice the difference. So it is snobbery, I discussed this at our local club night and played both solids and laminates and people couldn't tell which was which. For amplified gigs I use an unbranded 'prototype' off eBay which is excellent or my low G Kala Bocote Uke.
    Thanks for the post.
    Carl Wochynski

  3. This is definitely a problem across a huge number of sellers! I have an Ashbury AU-80 Tenor, and it being a pretty reasonable price I assume it is a laminate. However I wanted to look up the product specs just to see what it is made of really and even Ashbury's own website fails to give enough information. This is what they had:

    Ashbury AU-80 Tenor Uke
    Curly Koa top, back and sides, bound fingerboard. Aquila Strings
    RRP: £189.00 (€255.00)

    Product Features
    Abalone rosette, ABS ply binding
    Nato neck and bridge
    Natural semi gloss finish, Aqulia strings

    Product Specifications
    Nut width: 35mm
    Width at 12th fret: 44mm
    Scale length: 432mm
    Body depth: 70mm
    Lower bout: 216mm
    Upper bout: 157mm
    Waist: 127mm
    No Frets: 16
    Overall body length: 656mm
    Made in: Indonesia

    No mention at all of the actual construction! I think that's pretty appalling. I haven't managed to find properly detailed specs for this instrument on any website selling it. Now Ashbury could say I suppose that the ukes that are solid wood say as much so you should know by comparison or something? Still seems like they are being intentionally misleading though. Not impressed.

  4. Yes! I prime example of the problem there Else!


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