I first met Phil about 9 years ago. He was working at King and Zelko when I got a job there. King and Zelko are no longer in business but they made high end custom furniture on the windward side of the island. I had been working with my brother and dad at Koolau ukulele for years and decided I wanted to build furniture, creative furniture, and King and Zelko were the best. But the job was the worst. I wasn’t creative, at all. Maybe Phil was. He would be working on the lathe or helping one of the guys make a free form table or something cool like that. I would be sanding rocking chairs. All day, sanding, or, if I was lucky, milling wood. I had a bad attitude and it was short lived. I got fired right when I learned my wife was pregnant. Sliver lining – we started going to the swap meet selling imported ukuleles. I set them up to play better and charged less than other stores and people loved it. One year later we opened a real store. Phil went on to work for another famous Hawaiian woodworking company, Martin MacArthur. They make Koa anything. Koa iPhone cases, Koa watches, all kinds of super cool stuff. But Phil wanted to move on to other more fulfilling things, namely, building ukes. He’s an Art major with a degree from Oregan State. Couple that with his love of music and woodworking and …Wala – Riggio Ukuleles. He got some advice and help from the guys at Ko’olau. Took some pointers from the inside of a Kanilea, and developed his own hybrid bracing system. So how do they sound?….. They sound incredible! I had to lower the action and soften up the fret edges a tiny bit. Just little things. He is still getting used to the crucial nuances of final setup. But the fact is, these tenors sound phenomenal! I am nothing close to a Corey type of player to really do these full justice. But I couldn’t get him or Aaron and figured these are the kind of instruments that don’t require an amazing player to appreciate. One chord strummed sounds beautiful. Perhaps that’s what I should have done :/
[vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/37431654 w=500&h=281]
This first tenor is an all Koa body with Ivoroid top binding. It impressed everyone I showed today.
Mike Love said – “Sounds vintage already”
Zach said – “Sounds like Collings or even close to a Pepe Romero almost”
Phil is building one at a time to focus individually on each one’s character and aesthetic. He knows he could get a higher production building in batches but the artist in him is still at work.
[vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/37436283 w=500&h=281]
These are Hawaiian made tenors with tasteful appointments and skilled craftsmanship. They have higher end features like binding, purfling, a rosette, bone nut and saddle, beautiful Koa, And, the really cool thing is, they both under a grand! The all Koa we saw first will sell for $819 with a case.
That last one was my favorite. It has a spruce top with a fat koa rosette. The back and sides have a tight quilt rarely seen in koa wood, or any wood for that matter. It’s intense to look at up close, with intricate feathering, symmetrical design, and character to appreciate as you hold it. The headstock is bold and the design is attractive. I love the look with the ebony board and offset abalone markers. The sound is beautiful and balanced, and the necks are a slim C shape that feels great. Phil knows that he has found his calling and I am positive we will have these in the store as much as possible. Riggio, pronounced in the Italian style (j sound for two g’s), is not just another new Hawaiian Ukulele Maker fiddling around in his garage. These instruments are are worthy of the brand- Hawaiian Made. They have the love and attention of an artist, And sound legit! As in, way better than imports. Get a Riggio, I guarantee you’ll love it!