- Written by Christian Wissmuller
- Published: 05 March 2014
From “Tiny Bubbles” to “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” to “Hey, Soul Sister,” the ukulele has been a mainstay in American popular music for decades. The recent ukulele resurgence was fueled both by hit songs from the likes of Train and Jason Mraz, as well as the diminutive size and price of the four-strings, which made them popular with consumers and retailers during the recent recession.
We at MMR have taken a handful of close looks at this burgeoning uke market as that newfound excitement for the instrument crested, but we were curious to see how things are faring now that the economy has (sort of? largely?) rebounded. In a recent survey sent out to over 1,000 domestic retailers, we sought to find out what trends are emerging amongst ukulele buyers, whether those who’ve stuck with the instrument are now returning to stores in order to purchase “step up” ukes, and whether dealers foresee continued growth, stagnation, or retraction within this subset of fretted MI retail.
What did we learn? Some, such as Rusty Olson of Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s Rockhaus feel that, “The trend of everybody wanting a uke has been over for about three years now for us. [There are] more products than people to buy them, I fear. They are everywhere and nobody sells at MAP anymore, from what I have found. First one at the bottom wins, again.” But for every one respondent to this poll who shared Olson’s overall sentiments, there were at least five others who felt quite the opposite: More than 50 percent of participants reported ukulele sales as being up from this same time in 2013 and a combined 92 percent (!) expect sales to either remain steady or to increase in the coming year. “I thought the uke craze had peaked about a year ago, but my sales are up 50 percent since then!” enthused Gary Traversy of Gary’s Guitars in Portsmouth, N.H.
Read on for more reaction and speculation from ukulele dealers from across the U.S.
Compared to this time last year, ukulele sales for your operation are...
What trends (if any) have you been noticing with respect to purchases of more expensive, “step up” ukuleles?
“We sell a few of the more expensive ones ($200 to $300 range) but $50 to $100 is still where the action is.”
Senseney Music, Inc.
“Many people are more willing to spend just a little more to get quality. Not a lot of people want to spend over $200.”
Salt Lake City, Utah
“We have been at the uke craze for five-plus years and with a population base of about 45,000 people having sold over $200,000 worth of them the market is maturing and we are seeing a bit more step up sales.”
Columbia River Music
The Dalles, Ore.
“UAS (Ukulele Acquisition Syndrome) is definitely at play. As a player’s ear becomes more refined, they start noticing the subtle differences in wood, construction, et cetera.”
Compass Music Sales
Madeira Beach, Fla.
“We’ve always had a steady market for better instruments, both new and vintage. Most customers stepping up from a basic uke are more likely to prefer a new ukulele, but we still see customers who’ve recently been bitten by the uke bug appreciate older instruments.”
Spruce Tree Music & Repair, Inc.
“Even though we offer a variety of step up instruments, other than for a gift or a special occasion, most sales are still in the $50-$100 ‘better’ entry level [range].”
Fretz Music Center
“We sell a ton of cheap ukes, but our more expensive ukes are going faster now.”
The Music Man
“Sales of mid-range and upper-level instruments are good. We believe that a large percentage of entry-level consumers are buying better instruments or at least more (uke players are collectors, of a sort). Additionally, numbers of ukes are decaling a bit, but the average dollar value per unit is increasing (making overall dollar value of sales hold steady).”
“For us, we’ve seen a slow, but steady uptick in higher priced ukuleles. We’re selling more of them over the $100 price point now.”
David St. John
“We are gaining sales in higher end ukes.”
What brand is selling best for your store?
What buying trends have you observed regarding “hybrid ukes” (six-string “guitar ukuleles,” “bass ukuleles,” et cetera)?
“Our best-sellers are standard entry level sopranos, but we do sell a lot of [Kala] U-Basses.”
Amy Ball Braswell
Capo’s Music Store
“Mostly tenor ukes [are selling]. We stock the bass and the six-string, but we don’t sell many of them.”
Don Banks Music
“We sell a pretty good number of the Guitalele from Yamaha. At $99 it’s almost an impulse buy for many people and crosses over from guitar quite nicely.”
“[Sales of] bass ukes [are] slowing down. Yamaha Guitalele sales [are] increasing.”
Union Grove Music
Santa Cruz, Calif.
“[They are] mostly novelty items that customers like to look at but few sales.”
Rawson Music Company
Oklahoma City, Okla.
“They are ‘cool’ to have hanging on the wall to strike up interest and conversation, but not something I ever see us getting in too deep with.”
Seminole Music & Sound
“Customers who purchased an ‘entry level’ uke are experimenting with hybrids after enjoying the original experience and looking to branch out.”
The Music Den
“[These instruments] create lots of interest although they don’t sell a lot.”
In the coming months you expect uke sales to...