“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)
- “Merced” Tenor Ukulele – 17″/43cm scale. Expressive, singing, and delightful, the Merced is a rich, strong tenor named for the beautiful river that gathers in the heights of the Sierra Nevada mountains, soars over Nevada and Vernal falls, and flows peacefully through the heart of Yosemite Valley…though you’d better watch out during the spring melt! Ideal for standard C6 and D6 (Canadian) tunings.
- “Lyric” Tenor Ukulele – 18″/45.5cm scale, distinctive 4 or 5 fan open-harmonic bar bracing. Named for the voice type of legendary singer Luciano Pavarotti, this longer scaled tenor shares the Merced body but adds more finger room and an extra shot of espresso. Excellent for standard C6 and chocolatey Bb6 tunings.
- Grand Tenor (GT) Ukulele – 19″/48.5cm scale. A large body tenor designed with Hawaiian jazz uke master Kimo Hussey. Beautifully balanced with a curvy baritone-sized body plan that sits in your lap like a perfect-sized puppy, the GT offers additional resonance, complexity, warmth, and sustain, and cleaner fingering for the most complex arrangements up the neck. Especially fine for creating distinctive sonorities with drop tunings, the GT also makes a fine baritone.
- Baritone Ukulele – 20 1/8″/51cm scale. This deeper voiced sibling of the Grand Tenor shares the GT body but pairs it with the now-standard 20.125″ (Martin) scale. For standard G6 as well as the brighter A6 tuning.
- “Sophia” and “Bridget” Guitars – 000/OM and 00 sized steel strings; sweet, versatile and comfortable.
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…except a soundport, which I like but not everyone wants.
- Comfortable and fast neck of Honduras mahogany or Spanish cedar.
- Carbon fiber neck reinforcement for additional stability and sustain.
- Custom headplate with signature crescent moon inlay.
- Gold or black Gotoh UPTL tuners with black knobs.
- Ebony or rosewood fretboard, classical guitar (flat) profile.
- Butter-smooth fretwork, shell fret position markers.
- Beautiful, tonally and structurally excellent body woods, including:
- Tops: Swiss spruce, Port Orford cedar
- Back/sides: Oregon myrtle, East Indian rosewood, walnut
- Santos rosewood binding
- Hide or fish glue for principal joinery.
- Multi-stage voicing of top.
- Paua abalone rosette.
- Custom “V” end graft.
- Thin, acoustically responsive satin finish on body; a fast and silky satin finish on neck.
- Sculpted high performance bridge of rosewood.
- Bone saddle and nut, Worth strings.
- Hardshell case.
…and most important: my greatest care throughout the build process.
Price naturally varies with the materials and amount of work. Use these numbers to get started, and we’ll home in closer when we talk.
If lists like this make your head hurt, skip down to “Commission vs. already built”, and “Too Many Options?”.
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! Too ease your decision, we can arrange so you pay what you can, when you can. This works naturally with new builds (which take time), and is available on already-built instruments as well. I offer a few more thoughts way, way down at the end of this page.
- Merced Tenor Ukulele: $2800
- Lyric Tenor Ukulele: $3100
- Grand Tenor/Baritone Ukulele: $3100
- Sound port: $150
- Wood upgrades – If we’ve spoken there’s a chance–my daughter Meghan would say “a 1000% chance“–that you’ve heard “it’s not the species, it’s the individual piece of wood”. This is at the heart of my work, so it’s probably not a surprise that woods are priced individually. Here is a rough idea:
- Sinker redwood and bearclaw spruce are $50-$100, occasionally more for rare woods
- Most back and side upgrades range between $100-$900, including some stunning African blackwood, curly mahogany and choice koa.
- Brazilian rosewood and other rare and amazing sets go higher, from $1000 to as much as $4000.
- Open harmonic bar bracing (if not standard): $250.
- Slotted headstock: $350 (plus tuning machine difference)
- Radiused fretboard: $150.
- Cutaways, bevels, fancy rosettes, back stripes, end grafts, backstraps, three piece backs: priced individually.
- Full gloss finish: Typically $400, sometimes more (determined by my finisher).
- Inlay/Scrimshaw: Priced individually, from a few hundred to “sky-is-the-limit”. Done in collaboration with Larry Robinson, Bob Hergert, and others.
- Case upgrades, different tuning machines, pickups, etc.: priced individually to reflect cost and work.
I want to emphasize that while spectacular woods and delicious details may add enjoyment, they are not about better tone, playability, or reliability. Without exception I use woods I trust and that sound beautiful to me, and build with meticulous care. I don’t hesitate to provide my standard instrument to a performer at the highest level.
Contact me for a quote on exactly what you want.
Commission vs. already built
Commissions involve you in the fascinating process of building and offer the maximum amount of 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 lets us directly experience how the two of you connect. Instead of trying to describe tone, we hear it. Your ideal instrument is already built, the wood itself having guided the dance in a very intuitive form of custom lutherie. Like an encounter with a soul-mate, this is a lovely moment.
In either case, the instrument will be as custom as can be, built in close interaction with those particular pieces of wood. I will have photos and plenty of information to share about the build inspiration and process–one of the nice perks of knowing the builder!
Too Many Options?
I know just what you mean. Don’t worry about having a clear picture or the right words; just tell me what appeals to you–tone, musical style, colors, whatever comes to mind–and a budget. I enjoy interpreting needs and dreams into this medium, and will suggest some really nice alternatives.
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 pretty woods, shiny finishes, serviceable tone, 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 45+ year pursuit of craft and sound with your needs, we find you a musical partner with superior tone, expressiveness, playability, and beauty.
However, I’m really after more, seeking delight and longevity that bloom ever more richly with time. These resist easy measurement but resonate strongly in my memory, where 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. Jeffrey Elliott, an outstanding luthier and teacher, uses a great 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 (of several types) 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 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.
There is a saying among luthiers that a fine uke requires much 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 handmade instruments a bit further. We won’t even consider the violin world; here are examples of fine 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. Dealers own many of the wait list positions and mark Jeff’s prices up by 50% or more.
- Even factory guitars inhabit this territory: built from the same myrtle tree as my Richard Parker, Prim, and Luna ukuleles, 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–inspiring work, and window shopping is free!
Now: here’s an even bigger surprise when you first encounter it: most of these instruments sell to folks of relatively 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 many valuable instruments gathered round the evening campfires, and resting in tents and VW vans all around the meadow.
Guitars, mandolins…so what? Are there ukuleles in this price range? Yes: a few above $20,000 that I’ve seen, and a modest number over $10,000—a reminder of the luthier’s saying I shared above. From $5000 to $10,000 however, yes indeed—tables of them at the 2016 Ukulele Guild of Hawaii exhibition.
Underpinning these prices are forces from simple economics to our views about life:
- On the maker side: without resorting to factory methods, eight to 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 elves). I work 250+ hours a month, and my baseline instrument had $6-700 of material expense in 2016. Then 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 a Fleta guitar;-).
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—through 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