Wednesday, December 8, 2010

WEEK FOCUS #4 || Good Baritone Ukulele Search (Buying a Baritone Ukulele < $250)

I have been delaying starting a new Week Focus partially because I wanted to let Lew Dite's information to be available for a bit more time and because I hadn't completed conversations with a few of my planned Week Focus Baritone players. Then, earlier today I got a message from Drea, who inquired...

"I was directed to your blog through some of the folks at Ukulele Underground. I am trying to choose the perfect baritone uke for me and am having a hard time deciding which one to get. I think I would like one that is solid wood and in the price range of around $250. I had liked the mahogany ones but have been looking at some spruce top w/ mahogany sides as well. I just want something with a nice rich sound and feel a little lost in the world of ukulele reviews. Could you help me with any suggestions?"

So fortuitously, this week's focus chose me. I have decided to post some videos based on instruments and not necessarily the players. I personally have two 1960's baritone ukuleles: both in very good shape, one is a Harmony and the other is a Mawell. They both appear to be solid mahogany and are very similar in construction. The main differences between the two is that the Harmony has an arched back, nice edge trimming and a more slender neck. Of these I think the slender neck increases the ease of playability.

The most critical thing that I come across when it comes to playability is the action. [Which is the distance between the strings and the fretboard. A closer action adds to the ease of play but too close and the strings may buzz against frets during rapid strumming. I had the blessing to meet with the ukulele superhero Ken Middleton at the Wine Country Ukulele Festival and he thinks we are a bit to obsessed with low action. The reality is that it will probably take some time to discover what is best for you if you are a novice. So be sure to ask a knowledgable person to take a look for you. I had bought a concert ukulele from The 5th String in Berkeley, California about 18 months ago and they adjusted the action for free with my purchase.]

I hope to post a good variety of ukuleles that I know are readily available. If anyone has specific information corroborating or denying anything I write -- PLEASE share your experience. After I look thru the videos again I may add some to this post. So you may want to check back.


  1. I don't know if this is a very common Brand in the US, but may I suggest the Ortega Baritone? Its about 225,- Euros here in Germany. You can find it in the Catalogue on their Homepage.
    I played it on Wolverton Mountain
    It was my first "real" Baritone and I'm still very satisfied.

  2. My first baritone was a 1960s Martin, which I liked, but eventually decided I liked a 1962 Gibson a tad better. I still play the Gibson, but also really enjoy an Arthur Godfrey Vega Deluxe model from the 1950s with Worth strings tuned normally. My favorite "baritone" is actually a Martin 5-17 tenor guitar which is little (20% or so) larger than a real baritone, but sounds great with Worth strings tuned as a normal baritone. Of these, I occasionally see the Vega, mentioned above, for prices in the $250 range, but sometimes much higher on E-Bay. The Vega compares favorably with both my Gibson & the Martin.

  3. My "favorite" baritone ukulele now is a Favilla made in 1962, according to Tom Favilla who interpreted the inventory/serial number found inside the soundhole on the paper label. As you all know, Jim Beloff credits Herk Favilla with "inventing" the baritone ukulele, in one of his recent books and not the oft-cited combination of Eddie Connors and Arthur Godfrey. For those who have not heard or played a Favilla, the sound is really special, exceeding my Gibson, my Vega and the Martin I used to to own.

  4. @ Joe Dan -- Thanks for the comment. I have an old Favilla B2 model. It has a nice deep box and delicious sound. I also have a "Maxwell" that was probably made by Harmony that is my regular player due to it's sturdy build for travelling. I bought a very clean Harmony bari-uke at the flea market about a year and a half ago (good sound but high action which would be expensive to reset the neck.) I just bought a new Kala Electric a few months back for some experimentation.

  5. Now I have two Favillas baritone ukuleles. I like them both for reasons sited above. I gave my harmony bari to my son Joshua and grandson Caden in Indianapolis. I also have a Kala and the old Maxwell "beater."

    Recently, I have been intrigued with the Pono, and its adjustable neck. I found one used at a local music store and played it for a good long time. It has great action and a very warm tone.