It used to be that Asian-made ukuleles were all hastily slapped together and shipped out as cheap and quick as possible. But that is changing with the likes of aNueNue in Taiwan putting quality at the top of the priority list. Now Maestro, a guitar maker in Singapore, has moved into ukuleles and is making high-spec ukes.
I threw a few questions at, Maestro main-man, Hozen and he returned some interesting answers.
How long have you been making ukuleles and how did you get started?
We had been making guitars since 2004 and had only caught the ukulele bug 2 years back. We were intrigued by the Ukulele when we first saw it and we just decided why don’t we try to make it for fun! It was never meant to be serious as there was no ukulele community 2 years back and we were the only ones supplying Singapore with it until the Chinese import started to flood the market. We told ourselves that we have to make something to stand out and if we are going to do it, we do it well.
What sort of players are your ukuleles aimed at?
Our ukuleles are aimed at everyone who are keen in picking up the instrument. We have the budget range which we like everyone else on the market outsourced it to China. Those ukuleles which we make in SG are targeted at the more serious ukulele players who desire for something better. With traditions steep in our veins as guitar builders, we prefer to build something more traditional. Our Soprano ukulele is base on the martin ukulele and our concert and tenor ukuleles are base on traditional Hawaiian shape by other traditional builders.
What separates Maestro from other ukuleles?
The main selling point for our ukuleles would be boutique class ukuleles which do not cost a bomb and everyone can afford to own a good old handcrafted traditional quality ukulele. We like to use raw materials which had been proven on guitars to build ukuleles and we focus a great deal of our energy on the timbre quality of our instruments. We also employ good old technology like a tight dove-tail joint for our ukuleles.
One of the world’s famous ukulele builders based in Hawaii once told me when I visit their factory: It doesn’t matter that our dove tail is not tight because the glue will hold it in place as the tension of 4 strings is just too small.
Well, I beg to differ and I would like to say some things are better left unchallenged.
What do you think makes a great ukulele?
A ukulele that plays well and is able to interpret the expressions of the songs you play on it. Something that just makes you want to play it without the urge to put it down.
The image of Asian-made instruments is usually of cheap, mass-produced ukes. How’s the industry there changing?
To be honest, many of the reputable brands we buy out there are of Asian origin but there are very few Asian builders who wish to spend the effort to think about what they are building and do something well instead of doing more and more. The ukulele industry is evolving as more and more people are converted to playing the instrument, as the pyramid gets bigger, there will be increasing demand for both low end ukuleles and also high end ukuleles. While the rest of the Asian builders prefer to go to the bottom of the pyramid, we on the other hand would prefer to do the opposite and challenge the builders on the upper echelons with an equally built or better built instrument at half the price of what individual builders can achieve.
How do you think making ukuleles in Singapore influences the instruments you make?
Singapore has the unique position of being at the cross-road of 2 very distinct cultures and we find our resulting designs being internationalized and easily acceptable by people from most cultures. Singapore has the good reputation of being a reliable and efficient country with a high standard of living but yet doesn’t cost you a bomb and we would like to think that our ukuleles are somewhere along the same line: A high quality ukulele that is not out of reach and most importantly something that inspires you to keep playing.