“Richard Parker reminds me of the cathedrals of Europe; finely crafted, beautiful in appearance…and a sound that soars. This ukulele delights all of my senses.”
(Anne L. Founder/Director of INCLUSIVE ensemble)
Available instrument builds – August 2020
Note: I’m rebuilding after our cancer journey (which has ended) and subsequent shoulder surgery, and parts of this site are out of date and perhaps confusing. But I’m focused on getting ukes to my patient and forgiving clients, so it’ll be a while before getting it all up to date. We’ll get there!
Most builds are commissions (described extensively further below), defined from the beginning with the player. Occasionally however I choose woods and designs, or perhaps more accurately, some woods insist on a particular build; they are listed here. With some exceptions, they are planned or only partially built rather than completed instruments; as such they can often be customized.
Unless otherwise noted all builds below are standard tenor body size, and can be either 17″ or 17.9″ (Lyric) scale. Builds that are spoken for are marked with strike-through. Additional pictures and information are sometimes available on my Facebook and/or Instagram feeds.
- Macavity – Sinker redwood, knock-out Macassar ebony
- Panther – Lyric tenor (17.9″ scale), Rowdy Creek river-salvage redwood, beautiful dark East Indian rosewood
Beatrice– concert, Swiss spruce, Amazon rosewood (Giovanni Albini) 007– concert, Swiss spruce, Amazon rosewood (Donald Bousted) Monk– Lyric tenor, sinker redwood, Amazon rosewood (Kevin Carroll) Zion– Lyric tenor, Swiss bearclaw spruce, ziricote White Tree– Lyric tenor (17.9″ scale), Swiss bearclaw spruce, African blackwood, rosette and headstock inlays by Larry Robinson Brandywine– 17″ scale, Rowdy Creek river-salvage redwood, prodigiously curly claro walnut Chameleon– baritone, Swiss bearclaw moon-spruce, African blackwood (Philip Griffin) Rivendell– GT, sinker redwood, East Indian rosewood Aila– Lyric concert, sinker redwood, “Little Mac” Macassar ebony, Larry Robinson inlay (Cynthia Kinnunen) Duke– Lyric Tenor, sinker redwood, Amazon rosewood (Gerald Ross) Nikita– baritone, Swiss bearclaw spruce, East Indian rosewood (James Hill) Kōkako– Lyric tenor, sinker redwood, Macassar ebony (Philip Griffin) Ella– 19″ baritone, sinker redwood, East Indian rosewood (Marcy Marxer) Dread Pirate Roberts– sinker redwood, African blackwood (Cathy Fink) Sam-I-Am– GT, Port Orford cedar, Oregon myrtle Viv– GT, sinker redwood, “The Tree” mahogany Fée Belle– sinker redwood, East Indian rosewood
- Misty – GT, Rowdy Creek redwood, East Indian rosewood, slothead.
Anduin– Swiss spruce, Ziricote. Evenstar– Swiss bearclaw moonspruce, “Richard Parker” myrtle, inlays by Larry Robinson, Port Orford cedar neck River– Swiss bearclaw moonspruce, African blackwood (James Hill) Carmen/Mirai– Swiss bearclaw moonspruce, Koa, slothead (Arden Fujiwara) Prim– Swiss bearclaw moonspruce, “Richard Parker” myrtle (Suz Doyle) Katniss– Swiss bearclaw spruce, “Richard Parker” myrtle (Kimo Hussey) Little Mac– sinker redwood, Macassar ebony (my demo instrument) Black Orc– Swiss bearclaw spruce, African blackwood, blackwood rosette, Port Orford cedar neck Lakshmi– Swiss bearclaw spruce, East Indian rosewood (Marianne Brogan)/(Nova Karina Devonie) Vorc– Swiss spruce, Madagascar “volcano” rosewood (Suz Doyle) Richard Parker– Swiss spruce, mind-boggling myrtle (picture at top of page), Port Orford cedar neck (Anne Loewen)
- Standard Tenor Ukulele – 17″/432mm scale. Expressive, singing, and delightful, the Standard is a rich, strong tenor that adds the influence of great classical guitars to its Hawaiian roots. Ideal for standard C6 and D6 (Canadian) tunings.
- Lyric Tenor Ukulele – 17.9″/455mm scale. Named for the vocal type of legendary singer Luciano Pavarotti, this longer-scaled tenor shares the standard tenor body but adds more finger room and an extra shot of espresso. Excellent for standard C6 as well as chocolatey drop tunings, which can extend as far down as baritone.
- Grand Concert (GC, aka Petite Tenor) Ukulele – 16 1/8″/410mm scale. Sometimes having the notes closer together on the fretboard and/or a little less string tension are just the ticket, but the sonic “signature” of a larger body better fits your music. The Grand Concert combines the Lyric Concert scale (see below) with the tenor body for just these reasons. A neck-join at the 12th fret–like the original ‘ukulele and classical guitar–yields an especially nice neck-to-body balance.
- Grand Tenor (GT) Ukulele – 19″/483mm scale, or 17.9″/455mm (Lyric Tenor) scale. A large body tenor designed for Hawaiian jazz uke master Kimo Hussey. Beautifully balanced with a curvy baritone-sized body that sits in your lap like a perfect-sized puppy, the GT offers additional resonance, complexity, warmth, and sustain, and more spacious fingering. Standard 13th fret neck-join puts the bridge in the classical guitar “sweet spot” (12th fret neck-join for the Lyric Tenor scale). Especially nice for creating distinctive sonorities with drop and/or altered tunings.
- Baritone Ukulele – 20 1/8″/51cm scale, or 19″/483mm scale. The well-known 20.125″ (Martin) scale provides a 14th fret neck-join, for standard baritone G6 tuning plus the wide world of altered tunings. Also available with the 19″/483mm scale, which provides more comfortable finger stretches–if Marcy Marxer says so it must be true! For even smaller stretches see also the shorter scale GT, as well as the Lyric Tenor model (above, with the tenors) for a very compact baritone that fits more reliably in overhead bins when touring/traveling.
- Standard Concert Ukulele – 15 1/4″/387mm scale. Requiring bribery of the shop elves (whose arms don’t fit in the sound hole), the Concert combines the thinking behind the Lyric Tenor and GT into a smaller yet still warm and potent musical companion. Normally with a 13th fret neck-join, it can also be made with a 14th fret join.
- Lyric Concert Ukulele – 16 1/8″/410mm scale. The warmth and spice of the Standard Concert with more room for your fingers in upper position playing, a 14th fret neck-join, and–like the Lyric Tenor–an extra shot of espresso by virtue of the additional string length.
- Grand Soprano (GS, aka Petite Concert) Ukulele – 14 3/8″/365mm scale. My most compact scale length, the GS combines a slightly-longer-than-average soprano ukulele scale length with the tonal profile of the concert scale body. The body joins the neck at the 12th fret (like most sopranos), putting the bridge just where I like it on the classical guitar “sweet spot”. Given the short scale, it is easy to play over the body up to the 17th fret. (Note: if your music spends a lot of time above the 12th fret, you may be happier with Standard or Lyric concert scales, both available in 14 fret neck-join.)
- Hybrid 5 String (H-5, “Bari-Tenor”, Rajão) – Based on the GT/Baritone body, this unconventional uke has 5 separate strings with no doubles, i.e. 5 courses. With roots in the ukulele’s ancestral rajão and various baroque instruments as well as modern players (for fun, search on “Keith Richards 5 string guitar”), the H-5 opens up a treasure trove of juicy chord voicings and single note options while being more comfortably balanced than a guitalele. As a starting point think “Bari-Tenor”, tuned from low D to high A; an expanded melody range, and the warmth and weight of a baritone with the clarity and sparkle of tenor high notes. Optionally drop a whole step (or even an entire 4th) if it fits your voice better, fills a needed range in ensemble playing, or simply to make standard chord shapes sound suddenly lush and new. Then imagine it with a re-entrant 5th string for re-entrant sizzle while retaining all the melody notes of a low G uke (plus tunings from the banjo universe); and then imagine the 4th string re-entrant as well (rajão tuning) for a distinctive voice with incredible close-voiced chords and tighter orchestration control in band settings. Hybrid vigor indeed!
Each instrument is a carefully conceived individual: a dance with the wood, designed and built to delight. On many instruments the wood and I work it out between ourselves, and I’ll tell you – wood can be very opinionated. It’s a joy when these instruments are united with their partner, as if they knew them in advance. On a commission you and I work together (in person or via technology) to create your ideal musical companion.
My standard features include every feature that I want in a uke.
- Beautiful, tonally and structurally excellent body woods.
- Hide and/or fish glue for principal joinery.
- Multi-stage graduation (“voicing”) of top and back.
- Paua abalone rosette.
- Custom “V” end graft.
- A thin, acoustically responsive gloss finish.
- Sculpted high performance rosewood bridge.
- Comfortable and fast neck of Honduras mahogany, with a silky smooth satin finish. ~1.5″/38+mm width at the nut.
- Custom headplate with signature crescent moon inlay.
- Gold or black Gotoh UPTL tuners with black knobs.
- Ebony fretboard, traditional uke (and classical guitar) flat profile.
- Butter-smooth fretwork, fret position markers.
- Bone saddle and nut, Worth strings.
- Hardshell case.
…and most important: my greatest care throughout the build process.
Commission vs. already built
Commissions involve you in the fascinating process of building and offer maximum flexibility. Whether you are interested in all the details or want to specify just a few key attributes and leave the rest to me, commissions are the “adventure vacation” version of finding your instrument.
In contrast, choosing a completed instrument is a more direct experience of how the two of you connect; instead of trying to describe things, we hear and feel them. There can be real magic in letting the wood itself guide this very intuitive form of custom lutherie, and like a chance encounter with a soul-mate, finding an instrument this way is a lovely experience.
In either case, the instrument will be as custom as can be, built in closest attunement to those particular pieces of wood. I will have photos and information to share about the build inspiration and process–one of the nice perks of knowing the builder!
The majority of builds land between $3700 and $6000. More elaborate designs, the rarest woods, and/or inlays by Larry Robinson and others can naturally go much higher. <August 2020 note: I tried for years to itemize pricing by feature and wood species, but I’ve given up for now–builds are just too individual.>
<February 2021 update: Much to my recent alarm, African blackwood and a few other already-scarce woods I love are disappearing from suppliers. Thankfully I have a number of seasoned sets, and other great sounding woods–East Indian rosewood (EIR) and Oregon myrtle to name two stalwarts–are still abundant. But as clients often select African blackwood, Macassar ebony, Amazon rosewood, and these other vanishing species, the price range will inevitably slide upward, as it did long ago for Brazilian rosewood. The Santa Cruz Guitars website now has an extensive custom price list you can browse, an excellent resource for seeing how prices can relate to materials and features.>
If you have a good idea what you want, we should be able to estimate price fairly quickly. But don’t worry about having a clear picture or the right words; just tell me what appeals to you–players you enjoy hearing, musical styles, woods or colors, whatever comes to mind–and a budget. I enjoy interpreting needs and dreams into this medium, and will suggest some nice alternatives.
If the prices give you pause, I understand; I have a mandolin from a legendary contemporary maker, a real gem. It cost a multiple of my uke prices, and I repeatedly decided not to get it–luckily I repeatedly changed my mind! Knowing this scary feeling, I’ll do my best to help you.
Finally, while spectacular woods and exotic details may add enjoyment, they are not about great tone, playability, or reliability (though of course you may prefer the sound and response of one piece of wood over another). Without exception I build with meticulous care, using woods I trust and that sound and look beautiful to me. I don’t hesitate to provide my standard instrument to a performer at the highest level.
Contact me to discuss exactly what you want.
“Why should I get your instrument rather than…?”
Let’s be honest: tons of music and fun can be had with modest instruments. And–a reality check for custom builders–there are inexpensive instruments with very pretty woods, shiny finishes, serviceable tone, the latest hot features, and (with skillful setup and tweaking) good playability. There are weaknesses of course, but it’s nonetheless remarkable.
That said, a fine custom instrument is a different beast. Blending my 50+ year pursuit of craft and sound with your needs, we create for you a musical partner with superior responsiveness, expressive range, playability, and beauty.
And I’m after still more, seeking delight and longevity that bloom over the years. These resist easy measurement but resonate strongly in my memory; the experience of playing truly magical instruments and studying with masters pulls me toward them on every build.
So why one of my instruments? Because you sense the delight; you feel a pull to live with and make music on this kind of instrument, and you have a good feeling about working together.
A clue that I’ve found revealing (for tools as well as instruments) is whether I gravitate toward it; whether it pulls me into holding it, using it, exploring and enjoying it. The outstanding luthier and teacher Jeffrey Elliott uses an wonderful term: allure–a constellation of qualities that brings you back again and again.
This site attempts to give you a sense of what I’m like, how I build, and an intimate view of my instruments–insofar as technology can–to help you sense whether you feel that pull, the tug of delight and allure.
“But…it’s so expensive!”
Still reading!? You are dedicated.
You’re right—it is expensive. If it weren’t for my experience with handmade instruments I’d constantly be apologizing for my prices. Sometimes I still do; as it is, here I am explaining them!
Summarizing what I’ve said elsewhere, my best advice for choosing an instrument is to check the quality of materials and construction, then follow your sense of allure and delight as regards looks, sound, feel, and all the intangibles.
Suppose this leads you to a deeply compelling instrument that costs, say, $4,700–a serious purchase. To help navigate this I’ll discuss market comparisons below, but while important they end up being secondary in my experience. What matters most seems to be the joy, grace, connection, and even healing that an object or activity engenders.
Consider this ukulele, then, in the context of other (2017) prices: one third of a premium Swiss sewing machine; 15-20% of a nice Harley-Davidson Electra Glide or basic Toyota Tacoma; a nice (but not extravagant) trip to Europe for one; a small heat pump (installation extra); a well equipped 15″ Macbook Pro with a pro-level photo printer; and so on with comparisons more pertinent to your life. Don’t rush, let it ferment. Does the uke keep bubbling back up, or does it fade?
Now let’s look into the world of handmade instruments. A fine uke requires most of the work of a guitar…but sells for a small fraction of the price. Why is this?
It is largely due to the vast number of ukes that cost from $25 to $200. Against that backdrop, a $500 uke sounds like a very high end instrument, and some music stores present them as such. A $4000-$9,000 ukulele—much less $20,000—Inconceivable!
…until you explore fine instruments a bit further. We won’t even consider the violin world; here are examples of quality mandolins and guitars:
- F5 mandolin by Lynn Dudenbostel – $23,000 (2016, used). The simpler 1A model costs around half. Gilchrist, Nugget, Monteleone, and others are similar.
- East Indian rosewood/spruce (or cedar) classical guitar from Jeffrey Elliott – starts at $19,000 (2016)…but there is a 12 year wait list and no new orders are being taken. Dealers own all the remaining wait list positions and mark Jeff’s prices up by 50% to 100%.
- Even factory guitars inhabit this territory: built from the same myrtle tree as my tenor ukuleles Richard Parker and Prim, a gorgeous McPherson guitar was $28,000. Wow!
There are of course fine instruments that cost much less than these well known US makers (with numerous factors affecting the price), but instruments between $10,000 and $30,000 are common from fine makers and dealers. Visit Guitar Salon International, which carries a range of instruments both handmade and factory. Venture then to Jeffrey Elliott, Lynn Dudenbostel, Stephen Marchione, John Monteleone, Kathy Wingert, and beyond; such inspiring work, and window shopping is free!
Here’s an even bigger surprise when you first encounter it: most of these instruments sell to folks of mostly ordinary means. Back in the 90’s someone at a bluegrass festival lent me his $10,000 mandolin to perform in an impromptu band–he felt my $1000 vintage Gibson wasn’t up to the task. I was stunned, but later realized that there were numerous valuable instruments gathered round the evening campfires and resting in tents and campers all around the meadow. I’ve played several $200,000+ mandolins at festivals (that’s not a typo!), though that clearly leaves the realm of “ordinary means”!
Guitars, mandolins…so what? Are there ukuleles in this price range? Yes: at least one above $20,000 that I’ve seen, and a modest number over $10,000. From $5000 to $10,000 however, yes indeed—tables of them at the 2016 Ukulele Guild of Hawaii exhibition.
Underpinning these prices are forces grounded in the nature of highly detailed work, and in our views about life:
- On the maker side: without resorting to factory methods, four to maybe fifteen premium instruments per year is a full plate for a luthier working alone. (Some manage to do more, but I personally suspect they use droids). I work 250+ hours a month, and my baseline instrument had $6-700 of material expense in 2016. Factor in the cost of shop space and overhead, marketing, wholesale discounts if selling through a dealer, business insurances and taxes, shipping, health care, and so forth–you can do the math.
- On the buyer side: some players–at some point in their life–decide that the joy of a fine instrument is at least as worthwhile as a car down payment or big vacation…and will last a lifetime (more, actually). And heck, in the ukulele world one can have the finest high G, low G, and baritone ukes imaginable and still feel positively frugal around a friend with an Elliott or Dudenbostel!
So there is the briefest intro to custom lutherie pricing. Perhaps now (like me) you will be amazed at the prices of great ukes for altogether different reasons.
Do you discount?
Yes, for two distinct situations.
A discount is available to full time professional musicians. If you’re living out of a suitcase and driving yourself on tour, I get that an instrument like this is a big stretch. (However if you’ve made it really big, I kinda hope you won’t ask–Sir Paul McCartney, I’m looking at you:-)!
I also offer a discount for your pragmatic expression of aloha in helping the most vulnerable and stricken. Within a week or so before making final payment on your ukulele, make a donation to one of the following organizations:
- Doctors without Borders
- Mercy Corps
- Catholic Relief Services
Copy me on their official receipt (typically an email), and I will deduct your donation from the price, up to a maximum of 10% of the final cost.
- If you already give to the organization, wonderful! I will happily deduct your additional donation (up to the 10% limit).
- If you begin monthly giving (or increase your level if already signed up—good for you!), I’ll deduct 12 months of your additional donation (up to the 10% limit), trusting that you’ll continue for 12 months…and hoping that you’ll get hooked.
Pat Megowan Stringed Instruments LLC