Over the years I have come to realise the value of investing in really good musical gear. This has proved to be true for amps, as well as acoustic and electric instruments. I remember talking about this subject to my good friend and international violinist Laurent Zeller who commented that 15k would buy you “an ok< but not great violin!” Of course everyone will have a limit to what they can afford, but my experience is that a well made instrument will often inspire better playing. The challenge with mass produced instruments is that often the quality is at the best of times variable. I remember talking to one international artists in NYC who commented that for one well known brand you’d need to play ten to find one good one!
Reviews of gear?
Online reviews of musical gear can be useful, but there’s no substitute to having an instrument in your hand so you know how it responds and how it sounds. Also its a good tip to have somebody else play, so you can hear the result as a listener as well as a player which of course is very different. The challenge these days is to find any store that holds sufficient stock so that you can reference how things sound in the same acoustic space. Increasingly stores are closing and some of the ones I used to go to like Chandler Guitars in the UK, Hill Country Guitars in Austin Texas and Matt Umanov in NYC, no longer exist. Online reviews can also be very biased and partisan, so I mostly take these with a pinch of salt!
Luthier built instruments
Luthier built instruments can often be great investments as well as great playing instruments. When I first looked into buying and playing ukuleles, I was lucky enough to pick up a Collings pre production concert uke which had been at NAAM. As with all Collings instruments (both electric and acoustic) it sounded amazing and that was the start of my ukulele collection. I later bought my first Shimo from Japan and I now have eight of his instruments which have been used extensively in the studio. These still remain my favorite ukes, unlike anything else I have come across and I’ve played a lot of ukuleles from all over the world. There are a lot of “uke shaped objects”, some “ok” ones, some good ones, but few really great ones. In the UK the only place I shop at is Matt Stead’s store, where by far you get the best quality and prices. For acoustic instruments I love Sobells, Collings and Gregor Nowak’s instruments. I also have an excellent Pete Howlett uke that is quite unique.
Some of the growing family
Here are some of the growing family