Kala Waterman…Redesigned for 2022
In ukulele circles, Kala has been both applauded and criticized for their Waterman series of ukulele; ABS ukuleles modeled after the Maccaferri Ukuleles of the 1950s and 1960s.
The Maccaferri ukuleles were wonderful instruments made of styrene, and I have been lucky enough to have been gifted one by a friend, Ukester Brown (You can see his website at: https://www.ukesterbrown.com/index.html.).
Kala was applauded for the acknowledged design tribute to Maccaferri ukuleles (the moulds were destroyed, so no one could make them as they once were made), but criticized for their playability more than anything else. The action, or string height over the fretboard, was consistently too high, and was non-adjustable. The sound has never been an issue, as it is an ABS ukulele intended for harsh environments, like water (thus the name of the ukulele).
In 2022, Kala released a revised version of the Waterman. The colors are refreshed, but the main difference is that the latest Waterman features an adjustable saddle. I’m hesitant to buy one, as I have no need for one of these, and economic inflation has eroded the margin I used to have to be able to buy inexpensive ukuleles (and then sell them at a loss).
I presented ukulele sessions at the Ohio Music Educators Association earlier in February (thanks to Peripole Music), and there were several booths with ukuleles on hand. West Music had their own series of ukuleles (which I have not reviewed), and some Makala instruments. They also had models of the updated Waterman on hand.
This was the first time that I have seen these models in person, and in general, they look and play like Waterman ukuleles always have. This is not going to be a complex, gorgeous tone. It is going be a plastic tone—and that’s okay, because that is what it is! How was the action and playability?
The quick answer: not good. Here are photos of the action at the 1st and 12th frets:
As you can see from the above photos, action is much too high (standard action should be 0.5mm at the 1st and 2.65mm at the 12th fret). I do not know if lowering the saddle would be close enough to meet standard action measurements.
Action is important, as it both impacts playability and intonation. It’s harder to press down strings with high action, and when you do, you have to pull the strings further down—out of tune (usually sharp). And as these instruments are generally played by students and beginning students (most long term players will opt for other durable options), high action is unacceptable. And of course, if action is too low, columns is muted and buzzing can occur.
I do applaud Kala for making the saddle adjustable on the Waterman—but now they need to make sure that they come shipped with low action that doesn’t buzz.
If you are a school looking to buy ukuleles, I still cannot recommend Waterman ukuleles until this issue is consistently resolved and proven over time. I will keep checking!
Is the Ukulele “Bust” Over?
Yesterday I noticed that one of the companies that I really like (or, I should say, whose ukuleles I really like) was selling ukuleles at a discount. This company previously held auctions for each of their builds, and if you were selected, you could buy one at full price.
I did enter auctions, and finally won a concert “second,” which saved me something like $100 on the cost of the ukulele. Without naming the brand, it is one of my favorite ukuleles.
But, as I mentioned, that company now has stock on hand, and while there may still be auctions, if you want one of those ukuleles, you can buy one…at a discount for a few models (that are not seconds!). These are roughly $500 to $700 ukuleles.
While I think there is still a strong market for the $150 and less ukuleles…and there are a TON of those on the market, I think inflation and this recession are hitting pocketbooks in a way that is going to put a damper on $250 and more expensive ukuleles and ukulele manufacturers. Yes, some people will still buy these models, but there will be buyers like myself, looking to buy used instruments at a low price, as some people also exit the market.
Again, I don’t think it is “gloom and doom” for all companies, but I think companies that exist solely in that $250 and above range are going to have a rough patch over the next couple of years—as are the retailers who carry those models. Individual luthiers that had long waiting lists will be fine, and companies that continue to offer quality instruments at lower price points will be fine.
As for the average ukulele company, I would expect to see many companies start to bundle kits together (some have been resistant to this, to the point of not including gig bags), and I have to wonder if Kala’s recent addition of strap buttons and gig bags on some affordable models (such as the new cigar box ukuleles) is a reaction to the economic times and customers looking for more than just the ukulele when they buy a ukulele.
Then again, I am not an economist, so perhaps I am wrong. I don’t want to see any company (or person, for that matter) go through tough financial times. Hopefully most companies have a wide enough catalog to make it through. And, watch the marketplaces for great deals on new and used ukuleles…there may be some very special ukuleles that hit the market for an affordable price in the coming months and years (again, hoping that the economy turns for the better sooner than later).
Summer 2022 Update
Hello! Thanks for taking a moment to stop by the blog/website. As usual, many thanks to WordPress for making this resource free, though I do pay for the custom URL of ukestuff.info.
I haven’t posted a lot of videos or content in the past months, mainly because I have been working on my health. Over the last year, I lost over 140 pounds, and with the freedom from that weight, I now spend a lot of time being active and getting out and doing things, which keeps me from making new content. However, in truth, I have RECORDED a lot of content…months worth at this point…but have not found the time to sit around and EDIT that content. With my full-time teaching job (September-May), I work all day, spend time with my family, and find time to stay active…and that represents most of my days during the school year.
We are now on summer break, and over the past week, I have edited several hours worth of videos that aren’t quite ready to post, as they still need metadata that has to be added to YouTube. And I still have a number of other videos to edit and adjust that metadata as well.
So what I’m try to say is that new content is coming, but that content will appear as I have time in flexibility in my schedule. So yes, I am creating content…just not posting it!
I also went through a period of time a few months back where I managed to buy some incredible instruments which I have not reviewed…and I have another 30 other instruments to review. As I review instruments that are sent to me first, and then review those that I buy…I have a lot of content available there as well. So yes, more reviews are coming…and in fact, four are waiting in YouTube for metadata. With a weekly release, that’s a month worth of videos…and my release schedule may be slower than that, too. What were these amazing instruments? Well, to name a few: A Mya-Moe Concert, a Blackbird Clara, a Martin 2 Concert, and a LoPrinzi Cherry Concert. I have used some of these in some of my videos (particularly the Holiday tutorials), but I generally don’t show the instruments until they are reviewed. I also have reviews coming of the KNA UK-2 pickup, as well as the Flight Tiny6 Amplifier; and a number of UkeTips that are backlogged as well. And I have a massive comparison of Amazon-based ukuleles that I want to record…and will record…in the coming weeks. I’m excited about that project as well.
So, I’m doing fine, but have really been putting the focus of personal health and enjoying life over publishing content to a specific schedule. As the UkeStuff channel only generates $30 a month, literally pennies per hour of work, I need to make sure that I give the channel the time it needs, but not more than it deserves, keeping my own health as my priority.
Thanks again for checking in on the page, and have a great day! More UkeStuff will be coming soon!
Christmas Intermediate Chord Melodies
This evening, I have put the final touches on a set of 15 intermediate chord melodies for Christmas (all songs in the public domain) that are available through my Buy Me a Coffee Page (direct link: https://bmc.xyz/l/christmasuke) The price for the collection, which includes quite a bit of features is $6 US (Two “cups of coffee”).
Each of the songs is arranged for GCEA and DGBE, work with High G and Low G, and also stay within 12 frets so that any ukulele can play them.
I recorded a (rather imperfect) demo for each song, which are releasing daily on YouTube through Friday, December 17th, as well as a tutorial which is an unlisted link to a YouTube video. The demonstrations can be heard on YouTube.com/ukestuff (Playlist link: https://youtube.com/playlist?list=PL8_PsjHwo54Tjz5yMXdGTvJa08c8iEv9O), and the video links for the tutorials are in the PDF that is available for purchase. Each demonstration features High G, Low G, and Baritone. (Note: if you are reading this before Friday, December 17th, videos that have not been released yet will not load from the playlist, but all videos will be available on 12/17/21)
If the project is successful, I may offer paper versions in the future. And I may also expand the offerings (free of charge to those who have already purchased the arrangements) in future years.
There are actually 16 songs, as my arrangement of “Away in a Manger” includes both common versions of the song.
- Angels We Have Heard on High
- Auld Lang Syne
- Away in a Manger (2 Versions in one arrangement!)
- Carol of the Bells
- Coventry Carol
- Deck the Hall
- The First Noel
- Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
- Joy to the World
- Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming
- O Christmas Tree
- O Come, O Come Emmanuel
- Silent Night
- We Wish You a Merry Christmas
- The Wexford Carol
WAAAAAAY Too Much Talking
I just had a comment on one of my reviews (which I deleted) which said, “Waaaay too much talking.”
All I have to say is that I want my reviews to be thorough, and that I did some research before settling on the UkeGuide format. Some people just wanted to hear the ukulele and wanted to hear it right away in the video. Others wanted a in depth discussion about the qualities of the instrument. Some wanted just the specifications. Others just wanted a summary. And some just wanted a rating.
I have had one complaint that I didn’t talk enough about the sound of the ukuleles, even though there is a long audio sample as well as a Harmonic Analysis of the tone. I honestly don’t know what else to say.
Back to the original topic, the format of the video PLUS the addition of chapters to YouTube, allows the viewers to watch what they want to watch. I do take time every week to make sure that these elements are in every review. So some feedback for those that think there is WAAAAAAY Too Much Talking…
- Use the chapters to watch what you want
- Watch the One Minute Review
- Go to UkeStuff.info to the UkeGuide page, and read the one page summary document
I know that you can’t make everyone happy…but I sure have tried to give viewers as many options as I can.
Talking About Ukuleles on the Music Ed Tech Talk Podcast!
Earlier this summer, my friend Robby Burns asked me to join him on his podcast to discuss ukuleles, as his middle school just bought a set of the instruments to use in their general music classes.
You can find resources and the episode here: http://www.robbyburns.com/blog/ukulele-resources-pedagogy-and-curriculum
A Bad Review Experience, Resulting in a Policy Change
I am willing to review any ukulele, from any company. While most of the ukuleles I see are likely made in the same three or four factories in China, I don’t know where any of them come from, and it is fun to see how the small details make differences in the playability and sound of various instruments. Sometimes, there is little difference, and sometimes the difference is amazing.
I am often contacted by companies that want me to review a ukulele—which I am happy to do. I buy the ukulele and they reimburse me for close to the full amount (there are always PayPal fees). However, they generally do not put any terms on a review.
Some companies do place terms, such as Lava, which asked me to write a blog post about their company. I was happy to do that, and it was interesting to learn more about their company.
I recently had a bad experience with a company which I have reviewed a few times on my YouTube channel. After reviewing the instrument, I was asked to write an Amazon review for the ukulele. This is something that has not happened much, as this is against the terms of Amazon. But, I wrote a review, and even made a second video reinforcing the good points and flaws of the instrument. And it received a rating of 4/5.
When the review was published, I let the company know, and they did not respond—and then I had to reach out again. They replied that they would refund the amount of the ukulele when I changed the review to a 5/5.
I shouldn’t have written the Amazon review, and I’m not going to change the rating. Even a 4/5 (on Amazon) was a bit of a gift knowing how shoppers look at scores…it probably should have been a 3/5.
So, as of today, I am changing a couple of policies. Here they are:
1) I will no longer write reviews on Amazon, unless it is a product that I bought myself on my own volition, and feel like writing about it.
2) I will no longer accept “repayment” for a ukulele. Companies can send me a ukulele, which I am happy to review. They can let me keep it (it will eventually be sold or given away), or they can request it back after the review if they want to provide a return shipping label.
No, I will not name the company. I did write another contact I know in the company and explain the situation. I might personally buy other models of their ukuleles and review them. But I will not write Amazon reviews for companies or accept repayment any longer. That might limit my ability to review some ukuleles…and if that is the case, it is going to have to be okay. I don’t claim to be an unbiased reviewer, but I try to be honest, fair, and kind. I’m forging ahead with those values.
A Modification for Future UkeGuide Ratings
I recorded a review the other day, and I have decided to change a policy about the reviews.
I don’t think it is earth-shattering by any means, but I have decided that if an instrument doesn’t have side position markers, from this point forward, the highest rating it will receive is a 3.5/5.
This is based on my own playing of ukulele and my tendency to shift scale size frequently. When I am playing anything other than chords/strumming, if there are no position markers, it makes it very difficult to play the ukulele, particularly when at the 5th fret or above…which is rather frequent on the chord melody and tablature that I have been playing as of late.
Not too long ago, I thought side position markers might have been overrated; and they can be added by a luthier or even with a drop of paint or a sticker. In all these cases, it is an example of having to do something that you shouldn’t have to do!
So do be aware that with future reviews (I’m not going to go back and change past scores), if an instrument lacks side position markers, the maximum rating will be a 3.5/5. And to be fair, anything with a 3 or more is a safe bet for a ukulele…so a 3.5 isn’t a terrible score. But the lack of side position markers will keep an otherwise excellent ukulele from an even higher score.
Interviewed by Kalani Das
At the end of last year, Kalani Das interviewed me for his new Ukulele Club resource, both on YouTube and Patreon. We had a number of technical difficulties with the recording, so we recorded again earlier this summer.
I forgot to post about the interview, so I thought I would post about it now…we recorded a few sessions, and you can see the first one below. If you haven’t subscribed to Kalani’s channel, do so today!