Category Archives: Ukulele Reviews

Blackbird Tenor Ukulele through Roland Guitar Synth Pedal

Sometime last year I was talking with Joe from Blackbird and said, “You guys should make a uke that can get synth access.” His reply was, “we already have”. You just have to get the RMC preamp to convert to 13 pin. So I ordered one from him and it came in last week. A few days ago I got the RMC and have been trying to learn how to use the GR-55 pedal. This kind of stuff is a real toy, for me at least. I think some people would not be into this, making crazy sounds is not why they grab a uke. But for me it’s both fun and gives me an excuse for another uke. I only keep ukes that serve a different purpose from what I already have. And this is different.

So we have another on order with Blackbird. It’s not perfect tracking but I think I can learn the pedal better so it doesn’t stutter and has better balance. Thanks for checking out The Ukulele Review. Share your questions or comments below.

Aloha friends. A hui ho!

Ko’olau CS – Sinker Redwood/ Hawaiian Mahogany

Today we were handed a new tenor from Noa at Ko’olau and it’s quite impressive. The refinement of a Ko’olau really sets them apart.

This is one of the lightest Ko’olau ukes I have played, partly due to the Madagascar rosewood and bridge. This wood is very light yet dense and has become Noa’s favorite for the bridge and fingerboard. Bone bridge pins also have become his top choice. All of us here at HMS are in awe of ukes like this. It’s truly a pleasure to see, play, and hear this level of musicality and master craftsmanship.

This CS tenor has a sinker redwood top that was harvested on the west coast in the 1920′s. The middle of the tree was submerged in water at the time giving the dark stripe in the center of the top. The mahogany was grown here on our island and this is what Ko’olau has to say about it-

The other Mahogany we use is Swietenia Mahogani, or commonly named West Indian Mahogany, Spanish Mahogany, or Cuban Mahogany. This type, the West Indian Mahogany is more expensive due to being considered commercially extinct, however over 100 years ago this Mahogany, Swietenia Mahogani was planted here on Oahu. Although we have relatively few Swietenia Mahogani (or as we call it Hawaiian Mahogany) on Oahu, on occasion we are able to acquire this rarely harvested lumber. Our cost of acquiring this lumber is higher than most Koa. Hawaiian Mahogany is a beautiful red-brown color, but more dense and closed grained than the more common Swietenia Macrophylla. As compared to Swietenia Macrophylla, Hawaiian Mahogany (Mahogani) is slightly heavier and more dense. Weight is 40 lb/ft and specific gravity is .64.

The pattern you see on the back of this ukulele is the beginning of spalting. In the crevice of the trunk where the tree branches start, if water sits long enough it seeps into the wood and causes this effect. Hawaiian mahogany is rare, but this piece is truly one of a kind.

CS Tenor- Sinker Redwood/ Hawaiian Mahogany

Aloha friends. A hui ho!

A Magical Tenor From Mr. Moore

The Lily Pond

This is a new and unique tenor ukulele from the legendary Big Island builder, Chuck Moore. It’s ultra light in weight and has a huge, deep sound not common to koa. Also uncommon is the absolutely perfect setup Chuck does, butter smooth action with no buzz. Isn’t that the norm for high end custom builds? No. Ok, what else…ah, the gorgeous inlay.

Chuck’s talented use of natural materials and scrimshaw ability give his inlay the most amazing dimension. Here he uses 40,000 year old Mastodon ivory to etch out the fairy, the extremely rare South East Asian amboyna burl wood for her hair, and the perfect abalone shell for her butterfly wings. Chuck speaks of his vision for this piece,

This fantasy uke was inspired by the pond we have next to the shop. It’s filled with white and pink lotus blossoms and attracts a lot of dragonflies. I only ever seem to get a fleeting glimpse of the fairies, so that depiction is largely from my imagination.

Truly a one of a kind masterpiece from Chuck Moore. More specs are at the picture gallery. Enjoy another epic Moore Bettah. Share your thoughts below.

Aloha friends. A hui ho!

DeVine Ukulele

Eric Devine- Custom Luthier on Maui

Here is a look/listen at two tenor ukes from Eric DeVine. DeVine uses his own form of Kasha bracing with many deviations from your average ukulele design. He uses amazing woods and has his own ornate purflings and detailed inlays. Here is a look at a Spruce top tenor with extremely curly koa back and sides.

This one has a quilted redwood top and Brazilian rosewood sides and back

Thanks for tuning in, share your thoughts below.

Aloha friends. A hui ho!

New Kala USA Made Banjo Ukes!

A new custom shop in Petaluma California

Kala has taken it to the next level. We know them for their imported ukes, which are an excellent value, but now they have a full blown 100% USA production with boutique level quality. Eventually, we’ll get regular ukes from their California shop, but first in are these two banjo ukes. One is a full maple shell and the other has a koa wrap.The woods are top notch. The hardware is North American sourced solid brass. The head is a USA Remo fiberskyn. So the materials are high quality, but hows it sound?

These are the best sounding banjo ukes we’ve ever had. Super warm vintage tones with tons of volume. Like a velvet glove over an iron fist, this extremely warm sound punches you in the face. It’s awesome! I think the ukulele market is ready for high quality banjo ukes. I wasn’t sure how I would like them but the musicality on these two banjoleles goes well beyond any affordable offering. When it comes to enjoying an instrument, this makes all the difference.

We’ll be posting these soon at our website. The Maple goes for a grand and the Koa for 1200. They include a very nice case you see in the pics.

So what’s your thoughts on these new Banjo ukes and Kalas new venture into custom quality?

Soon for sale at TheUkuleleSite.com

Learn more about Kala Brand Ukulele

Moore Bettah – Peacock Tenor

Chuck Moore Custom Tenor “Peacock”
We just got this instrument in from our friend on the Big Island, Chuck Moore. In case you guys didn’t already know, I’m a huge fan of Chuck’s Moore Bettah Ukes. So how’s this one stack up? As my buddy Len said, “it’s just ridiculous”. As in, so incredible it’s mind blowing. But primarily because of the sound and feel. The tone inspires and feel is like buttah. Moore Bettah Buttah, easy fo press. And even with low action this tenor has an abundance of sustain and volume. Also noteworthy is how “true” it plays all the way up the fretboard. People love MB’s for their superior musical qualities and this one is exceptional in that regard.
But this one is more than an amazing instrument. It’s also one of a kind art work. Chuck shows stunning inlay skills here. Lets talk about the inlay.
Composition stone, gold mother of pearl, paua abalone, pink mussel shell, and koa all combine to give us this fascinating scene. A gorgeous “peacock” under the moon. Or maybe I should say handsome, because peacocks are males. Females are “peafowl” and don’t have the fancy feathers. What a gift of nature those feathers are. The color, especially the “eyes” on the tail feathers, is just enthralling to look at. Chuck managed to capture that iridescence of the “eyes” by using abalone, which is semitransparent, over the composition stone which is opaque or solid. So the dimension pops out on the abalone eyes for a dazzling effect. The feather inlay on the fretboard has a vibrance and energy, it’s like a shot of espresso, a jolt of musical inspiration!
Another phenomenal uke from Chuck. These are like rare gems. It brings me great joy to show you such a fine uke. The gallery below also has Specs

So that’s a little review with gallery photo pages and videos are below. Thanks for subscribing here at our free resource center, The Ukulele Review. Share your thoughts and questions below. Gallery 2 has specs~

4 string tenor #1404

Corey first samples this uke with a Worth all plain high G CH set -

Then Aaron demo’s it with a southcoast set, low g -

Other posts featuring Moore Bettah – HERE

Ukulele at NAMM 2014- Part 4

Uke News from NAMM – Part 4

That’s it for now folks. I’ll post more and answer questions in the weeks to come. Thanks for visiting and for your support and friendship. Aloha~ andrew

Learn more about Paul & Gaku here www.uketet.com

Ukulele at NAMM 2014- Part 3

Uke News from NAMM – Part 3

Here’s a look at some of the ukes and uke related products at NAMM 2014. This first one shows Nobu and Hitomi from Takumi. On the right is Yusuke Kawakami. He’s an amazing builder located in Canada. last day 560 (5 of 49)
We bought a really cool 8 string concert from Yusuke at the show. It resembles the original taropatch ukes but has some unique features like being 13 frets to the body. It is extremely light in weight and plays like a dream.
last day 560 (10 of 49)
Wait, what cards did Hitomi put on these ones to show they sold? She still had Music Guy Mic cards he gave her!
last day 560 (11 of 49)
MGM! We miss you! Hitomi displayed this picture at their booth.
last day 560 (12 of 49)


Crossrock had some new uke cases that are very affordable. They call them “hybrids” because the are not fully hardshell but offer great protection. I will be posting these at the site when we get them. They also have a few new colors in the 800 series and we’ll be carrying the one in the last picture in the gallery here.

Imua came out with a satin oil finish that will be more affordable than the gloss. They also have a CE like model in concert and next to it is a U-Bass that Shinji made.

So many new Hal Leonard Ukulele Books! Click for gallery

last day 560 (9 of 49)

last day 560 (23 of 49)

I have so many more pictures to show but I’m gonna sleep and do another blog tomorrow. I can’t wait to see the video’s I shot today. So killer! K, aloha friends. Check back soon. I’ll leave you with some videos from a few days ago showing new models from Kanile’a and Gretsch.

Ukulele at NAMM 2014 -Part 2

corey in Pono booth (1 of 1)

Uke News from NAMM – Part 2

In part 1 covering ukulele at NAMM 2014 seen HERE we showed some pics from our favorite ukulele makers. This year we attempted sound samples in spite of the chaotic atmosphere that goes on here. To do this I used a Sound Devices 722 field recorder and a pair of Schoeps CMC6 mics to capture sound as uncompressed and “true” as possible. There is no alteration or enhancement to the audio so listen on good speakers or headphones if you really want to hear the tone.

So first off we will show you the new Pono Pro Classic RS and RC, soprano and concert with a spruce top and rosewood sides and back. They join the line as well as the mahogany PC models you see below. (Noa Bonk in the background)

New Pono PC (1 of 1)

These feature European spruce, Indonesian rosewood, and Hawaiian koa binding. They come with the Gotoh UPT tuners and an arched top wood case like all Pro Classics. Next we see a Tahitian inspired 8 string from the Pono TE line. This has a hole in the back, not front, much like a Tahitian ukulele but it is strung and tuned like a normal 8 string.

New Pono TE8 (1 of 1)

Finishing off at the Ko’olau booth Corey samples a CS model Ko’olau, Spruce/Rosewood.

Next we are over at the Cordoba Booth where Corey samples the new 22 series from them. Solid spruce top ukes and very affordable. The videos show the soprano, concert, tenor, and baritone. Below Zach plays the new 32TCE. Tenor Spruce/Rosewood with a cutaway and pickup. They had low G’s on the 30 series which I thought was pretty cool.

Next we went to the Kala Booth and got samples of a few new ukes. The first is a solid spruce top long neck soprano, SSLNG, followed by a travel concert with spalted maple sides and back and a cutaway. Then we got a quick bite from the new USA made banjo ukes. I am hoping to catch a video with Mike Upton tomorrow on their new USA made acoustic basses. They’re super nice!

At lunch I saw Pepe Romero Jr. in the hotel lobby next to the convention center. He had a back with four ukes and a mini classical in hand. So I grabbed Corey to show you the new little baby Romero. Newborn, the “XS Soprano”. A similar concept to the Tiny Tenor, it has the scale of a soprano but with the body length and portability of a sopranino, and it was strung with a low G.

RC family (1 of 1)

What I didn’t know was that Pepe had planned on meeting up with Daniel Ho. What a treat!

So… lots more to show but the upload speed here is painfully slow so I will be back soon with more from NAMM 2014.

Ukulele at NAMM 2014- Part 1

Uke News from NAMM – Day 1

This year I’ll be posting a blog each day of the NAMM, or at least that’s my plan. Corey arrives tonight and we have scheduled recording with many of the manufacturers before the show starts to give high quality sound samples. Today I will just share photos and reviews of the ukes that caught my eye and filling you in on new models from your favorite makers. The photos below open up to a gallery with more pictures so click on them to scroll through. Please feel free to share your thoughts and questions in the comments section below and I will try to answer them as the show goes on. Aloha, enjoy~

First I have to mention my family’s booth, Ko’olau/Pono. The first pic shows the new TE models which Ko’olau is showing in eight new options. These have already been reviewed here but I can’t say enough about how pleased I am with the line. The price is great and quality is excellent. They’re just a joy to play. We’ll be talking about other new Pono models as the show goes on. Next you’ll see some of the Ko’olau models displayed. I am proud of the quality and tone currently coming from my brothers customs. Noa is truly at the top of his game. I added a few videos in the gallery. Check it out~

Next I made my way over to the Takumi booth, my friends Nobu and Hitomi. They carry Kiwaya, Loprinzi, and more. I was surprised to see a new brand under their own name, Takumi. They had four concerts and I absolutely loved them! Super light in weight, very clean construction, and a very “open” voicing not always heard from Japanese makers. Master builder Kawakami helped them in design and setup, a builder that is making some customs for us. As far as the Takumi line, we will be bringing a few home with us for sure. I am truly impressed.

From there I was off to Kamaka. Casey didn’t finish any customs for the show like he has for the past few years, but said he would be letting me know soon… stay tuned. At this show, the most newsworthy info from Kamaka was that they will soon be offering slotted headstocks like the one seen here. Nice!

After Kamaka I went upstairs to see Kala. Kala has a few new lines including an all solid spruce/ ovangkol with Padauk binding and rosette. But the coolest thing I saw there was the new USA made Banjo ukes. We have one of each model coming to us and will be bringing you a sound sample and more details soon. These are the finest banjo ukes I have ever played. Really warm and musical. Not common adjectives used for banjolele.

Right Next to Kala was the Cordoba booth. Cordoba came out with the new 22 series that will bridge the gap between their 20 and 30 series very nicely. These have a solid spruce top, laminate rosewood sides and back, top binding and a tasteful rope purfling. They have a clean gloss finish and will be under $300. We already have these coming in all sizes and models. Also, you can see the 30 series now being offered with a graceful venetian cutaway and pickup.

Next up was the Luna booth. Luna has some cool new models. Two all solid mahogany concert that will go for $199 are called “Pearl” and “Coral”. They also had a concert model called “Heartsong”. It has a spruce top, and with a B-band active pickup and USB connection is still gonna sell for only $199. Wow, although I couldn’t find any USB connection and the Luna salesman couldn’t either, but that’s what the tag and catalog said. I have a meeting with one of their product developers tomorrow so perhaps I will see then. They were also showing four new “UBass” models, but they were strung with thin metal flatwounds and tuned up a whole octave, EADG. I thought it was ridiculous, but maybe somebody won’t. I won’t be ordering them but these should be available for 3-400. A few other new designs from Luna but these were the most unique new offerings.

From there I went back downstairs to find one of my favorite makers, Asturias, from the island of Kyushu in Japan. For the first year he showed a tenor. I bought the Koa slothead tenor for the store along with one of the concert cutaways with cedar and brazilian rosewood. These ukes are among the best. Look out for these to show up at The Ukulele Site when I get back.

Now most of you know that our island has some of the world’s finest ukulele makers, and one of our store’s best sellers is Kanile’a ukulele, building from the windward side with the most gorgeous koa and super sweet tone. We bought many of the ukes displayed at this show, but I want to feature the new models that they just released. The first is a super tenor with a 19″ scale, two inches longer than a normal tenor. This model is the SEST19. It has their new UV satin that is now seen as SILK on their labels. Also with this finish is a premium tenor and concert with ebony bridge fingerboard and faceplate. These models are SET and SEC. The other model from their Hawaiian production is the “Diamond” tenor. It has premium koa, a zebra wood rosette, top and back binding, and a “snake head” thin slotted headstock with Gotoh stealth tuners. Oh and of course the Diamond inlay on the fretboard. There is also a few new models in the Islander line and we’ll be bringing you more news on those soon.

Then I realized I had an appointment with Gretsch and Fender and made a mad dash to the third floor. Some sad news from Gretsch, no more deluxe series. They said we were the only ones selling it. But, they are replacing it with an all solid koa concert and tenor that will go for $399 and $429. They also came out with a long neck soprano that will go for $109 and a long neck concert with Fishman pickup that will be $179. (Not available without pickup?) They also have a revised banjo uke I liked and did the Guilele with a solid top, cutaway and pickup (still under $300!). The thing with all of these Gretsch models; they sound good and they are at an amazing price point. I am a huge fan. Still, no more 9121? Why Gretsch, why?! Oh well. Anyway, on to Fender, a new Tele style ’52 and a T-Bucket model that looks really cool. Corey and I have VIP badges to go up there tomorrow and do sound samples before people come in and make noise. Stay tuned for that and more tomorrow.

I’ll leave you with some pics of ukes that I thought looked really cool, but just didn’t want to make music. At least for me. But anyway, they look cool. What’dya think?

Any other ukes you want me to feature? Still three more days of madness so stay tuned to the review. Aloha, a hui ho~

Blackbird’s “Clara”

Clara- The 1st Plant Fiber based Composite Concert Ukulele

Blackbird is a small group of luthiers in San Francisco doing some really cool things with alternative resources. For a few years now we have carried the carbon fiber tenors when available. They are different from traditional ukes because they are not made of wood but of carbon fiber. This makes them impervious to the environmental dangers wood instruments face and the geniuses over at Blackbird managed to design comfort and tone to satisfy a musician’s need. So we were excited to recently get another tenor along with a new carbon fiber tenor we will show you soon. However, what really knocked our socks off was this new concert they call “Clara”. Joe from Blackbird claimed that this new concert would be “a game changing instrument that delivers previously unobtainable vintage tone with exceptionable durability”. Sound like a lot of marketing fluff? Well, we give it to you straight here at the review. This is one of the finest sounding concerts to come to The Ukulele Site.

I was on the the Big Island when it came in and Corey texted me a picture and his opinion,

this uke is badass

When I got back I pulled it out and played it for at least an hour. Considered keeping it. Texted Corey back,

concert blackbird is mind blowing

Corey responds

dude, I can’t get over the tone of it…it’s so warm

So there’s some personal dialog. I’ll go over some more details and Corey will share a sound sample. Dry, unaltered audio from this light weight tone monster.

EKoa?

Looks like coconut husk and sounds like vintage mahogany. Here’s what Blackbird says about it,

Ekoa is made up of fiber reinforcement fabric in resin matrix, but one that is worker and planet-friendly. The plant-based fabrics and biobased resins have a beautiful designer material quality, which does not always require finishing along with distinct performance advantages over other composites. The Clara ukulele, is the debut application of Ekoa which is suitable for numerous other applications from sports equipment to furniture.

All I can say is congratulations to Joe and the team at Blackbird. I think this is a special instrument and am sure it will be a huge success.

Pono Mango Line

Coming soon!

Here’s a sneak peek at one of the new lines that Pono will unveil at the 2014 NAMM music trade show. This is a new line of solid mango ukes and we think you’re gonna love the tone and feel! Stay tuned for more info on this and more from Pono Ukulele.

Tenor- Satin Finish

Concert Gloss Finish-

New From Pono- TG & TE -

- TG Model -

Tenor guitars have been manufactured for many years. Gibson, Martin, and others began production in the early 1900’s.
They were almost always steel string guitars, and thus X-braced to structurally handle the extreme tension of steel strings
However Pono Guitars has decided to try something different. They already make a Ko’olau Tenor Guitar with the traditional steel strings, which is fun to play and sounds great but when strung up with nylon strings, as has been tried with many other brands of Tenor Guitar, tone and volume are lost. So if a Tenor Guitar has classical style nylon strings, then it needs to be designed and braced differently.


This particular model in the TG Series is the TG-10D. For Pono Guitars the number 10 designates Acacia (20 is Mahogany, 30 is Rosewood). The D as with all Pono ‘ukuleles is Delux, which includes an ebony fingerboard and bridge, and gloss finish.

- TE Models -

Slowly coming in is various TE models. These are the tenor electric chambered solid bodies based on the Ko’olau  CE. They will be available in various pickup and wood options. Featured here is the Cedar Top Deluxe with the most affordable pickup option, Pono’s passive system. When wired into this uke I gotta say, the Pono pickup sounds really good!

The TG Series was not the original name designation. Simply put, it’s a “big” baritone ‘ukulele. But according to tradition and the history of the ‘ukulele, anything this big is not really an ‘ukulele. Of course Ko’olau and Pono could have called the new TG Series whatever they want. In fact the first name was going to be “Ha’oi Nui” which in Hawaiian is defined as “big baritone.”
But after some thought and realistically portraying the TG series for what it is, TG for Tenor Guitar was good enough (not very creative, but gets the point across)
Another dilemma (if you want to call it a dilemma) was getting around the fact that almost all “tenor” guitars are and have been made and designed for steel strings. So maybe it should be TGN or TGC for classical. But instead a Pono TG Tenor Guitar simply comes with a disclaimer “do not use steel strings”.

Another Epic MB!

This is a new koa tenor from Chuck Moore. It’s truly a phenomenal instrument. Extremely easy to play with super low action, yet has all the dynamics, body, and volume you’d ever want. Chuck shows meticulous craftsmanship and the design and materials are simply gorgeous. But even more telling is the sound; full, articulate, and musical. Undeniable excellence once again from this Big Island legend. Moore Bettah consistently lives up to it’s name.

This is a dry sound sample (no compression or reverb etc). I actually didn’t use the two mics on the right. With the amount of natural ambiance and sustain from this uke, the pencil mic from Schoeps was perfect. Look and listen to one of the most epic ukes to come through TheUkuleleSite.

Aaron Crowell gives the review/ sound sample. Share your thoughts and questions in the comments area below. Aloha!

Music Guy Mic, you will be missed greatly…

A dear friend and member of our team passed away yesterday. Michael Aratani, aka Music Guy Mic was fun lovin’ and hard workin’ with a musical gift and an undeniable charm. He was like family to us and a great friend to me. One example that comes to mind is when he helped me build my first shop in Kaneohe (“as a friend” refusing money). When he first joined HMS he told me he would only live a few years but still wanted to help us. He gave it his all right up to the end. In our last conversation a few days ago his thoughts included,

“I really wish you had came with me to one of the Ukulele festivals. I could have showed you the way…oh, don’t forget to contact these custom builders…”

Still looking out for us, even in his final moments. What an epic guy. IMHO, Mike’s most profound impact to the ukulele world was the exclusive “MGM setup” that even his most entry level ukes got. At some point, it just became a labor of love. How many people can say their first uke was a dolphin Makala purchased from him? His profit from that sale was less than $5 each uke after setup. This gesture of Aloha has perpetuated the ukulele. It also showed the potential value of what a dealer can truly offer. His contribution to the industry was huge and the positive effects will ripple out endlessly.

Mike was passionate and genuine. Music, food, and friends filled his life. He was a happy guy. He had the luxury of being able to sit outside and enjoy Hawaii’s beauty while playing some of the best ukes. When I say Hawaii’s beauty I mean stunning. From the time he was little he enjoyed this majestic view from his backyard-

“Every man dies – Not every man really lives.”

Mike was full of life. It’s a shame he left us at the young age of 55. These last few years, I was lucky enough to work along side Mike and I’m glad that I have many great memories of him. Mike would play piano for my kids every weekend morning, sometimes teach them a few magic tricks and maybe even show them a few dance moves. He became part of our family. No one will ever replace MGM. God made a limited run of one. I can only try my hardest to support the ukulele community with the methods that he pioneered.

I apologize if my thoughts scatter. I just wanted to express a few words of gratitude and say that he truly was a great friend to me.

Mike was survived by his father, mother, and sister Gail. All work or have worked as educators in our school system here on Oahu. Extremely nice and good people and my deepest condolences go out to them.

Mike was a natural teacher. I consider his First Ukulele Lesson to be the absolute best. Every time I witnessed it in the store I would see new players gain confidence and get that first realization, “I can actually do this!” It was one of his many talents. Mike was larger than life, and he’ll live forever in our hearts.

“If the people we love are stolen from us, the way to have them live on is to never stop loving them.”

Tommy Rodriguez

Tommy Rodriguez has been a renown guitar maker for many years. His unique, asymmetrical lattice braced nylon string guitars are considered to be among the best you will hear. Flamenco and classical guitarist Marija Temo says ,

“Tom is just amazing. I can’t imagine playing any other guitar.”

After listening to Marija’s studio recording “Waves” I can hear why she would say that. I can also hear why Tommy’s guitars start at $7,500.

Still, just because he’s a world class guitar builder doesn’t necessarily mean his ukuleles will be world class. But are they?

Yesterday we received two Rodriguez sopranos. One is a very basic all mahogany with a satin finish, and the other is an adorned spruce rosewood in gloss. We will list more details soon at TheUkuleleSite, but I’ll give you a sneak peek along with some first impressions.

First off, the feel and overall setup is perfect. You may think, “These are high end ukuleles, of course they’re gonna come set up perfectly.” Not necessarily. We have three full time setup tech’s and Joel works almost exclusively on “high end” ukes. Arriving at maximum potential is a rare occurrence for us, in any price range. We know the value of our work, unfortunately we don’t feel very crucial in this situation. Nevertheless, it’s quite refreshing!

The craftsmanship shows the work of an experienced luthier. Very clean inside and out. The spruce top model has tasteful adornment and a nice gloss nitrocellulose finish. The mahogany has more of a clean simplicity. Both are very musical, partly because these woods are between 40 and 100 years old. For instance this spruce top is not your average piece of spruce. It’s 100 year old red spruce from a Tiffany piano. And this isn’t just rosewood, it’s 60+ year old Brazilian rosewood. The nut and saddle material? You ready….30,000 year old mastodon ivory!! Whaaaaat! That’s Awesome! I believe the Mastodon that this came from actually survived a T-Rex attack (most likely, no actual proof)

And, most importantly, the super cool materials make an equally impressive sound.  I’d like to explain something real quick about the videos. For a long time I used compression and reverb to compensate for inferior equipment and understanding. But it’s always been my goal to offer a realistic experience, and a useful tool for you. We are close to a true and transparent recording setup and capture it accurately without any post production. Of course, the reproduction is largely determined by what you listen through (use good headphones or monitors). The process came to mind because these were so easy to record. Soprano’s rarely ever gives the balance of frequencies and airy sustain that these do. The warm presence and harmonic character create a poetic emotion that inspires music! That is a rare and subtle factor and makes these worth every penny.

These two sopranos from east coast luthier Tommy Rodriguez provide a full and focused tonal balance. This is the continuity of a single master luthier giving expert attention from start to finish. Images open up to gallery sliders. Enjoy~

We hope to continue to show you custom ukes from this remarkable luthier located in Virginia, Tommy Rodriguez is the real deal! Check them out now at your nearest uke shop! (You guys live on the North Shore, right?)

Comparing K Tenors

This short video shows three Hawaiian made tenors played back to back. These are the three main ukulele makers here in Hawaii, KamakaKanilea and KoAloha.

This is a “dry” recording, unaltered, just like all of our comparison videos. See more videos from “the Listening Booth” at our Review Section here at TheUkuleleReview

Sound is one of the main factors in choosing an instrument. All three of these Hawaiian made koa tenors has a wonderful tone, but each is different. Share your thoughts below in the comments

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Phones, iPads, and all computer speakers will compress the sound and hide the differences. To truly hear the sound you must listen with good headphones or good monitors. By listening this way I am confident you will hear differences.

Aloha friends, a hui ho!

Ko’olau Baritone CE

Earlier in the year James Hill called up Ko’olau and ordered a CE model baritone. In case you don’t already know, James is, without a doubt, one of the most incredible musicians to represent this instrument. We’re excited to see the direction he takes this slender bari’, but wanted to show it here because baritone is on the rise and the CE model has a lot to offer.

This ukulele has a chambered mahogany body with a Port Orford Cedar top and satin finish. I would describe the look as “clean”, a simple but refined instrument. It features a pickup system made by LR Baggs that is arguably as good as it gets. Of course when you’re plugging in, what you plug into makes a huge difference, but this is a professional piece of gear and we are thrilled it’s going to one of our favorite musicians!

We ran it through a Boss drum machine and into Logic on my laptop. A Boss drum machine will usually border on cheesy, but it sounds good if you have good sounds. This is the James Hill Ko’olau baritone CE sound sampled by Corey Fujimoto. Enjoy~

New Kamaka Models

These are deluxe models just made available in the concert and tenor size. We got the concert HF-2DC, cedar top. The HF-3D & 3DL (long neck), both super beautiful. Actually all of them have totally amazing koa and sound and feel great. The tenor comes in a Spruce Top and Cedar Top also. Besides a few NAMM customs these are definitely the nicest Kamaka’s to come into the store. Check ‘um out!


Like all Kamaka’s, these come with Kamaka strings, which are basically the D’addario Pro Arte, but dyed black. Same nylon in different gauges is the Ko’olau Mahana strings. Most manufacturers need strings to their specs and D’addario is one of the reliable suppliers of nylon. The stock Kamaka string leans to the warm side, softer side. Some people change them to a fluorocarbon string to get more articulate highs. I like the softer attack of their stock strings, but I also like other strings on Kamaka’s. I would suggest experimentation. Gotta Kamaka? What strings do like on yours? Any thought’s or questions on these new Kamaka’s, feel free to comment below.

Bettah Daze

I remember when I first met my wife. She came over to Ko’olau’s workshop and I was playing bass with my band. I loved the sound of her voice and couldn’t stop thinking about her. The next time we saw each other was at a party where we left together and went to Kailua beach park. We sat at an empty lifeguard tower and talked until the sun came up. Time just flew by. By morning I knew I didn’t want to part with her, ever (had to play it cool though).
A somewhat similar connection happened this last week on the Big Island. Not with a person, but with an ukulele. One that I love and never want to part with. I won’t take that analogy too far because my wife is more important than any ukulele. But the connection I feel with this uke is strong. I just know we’ll be together forever.
Ukes are now a big part of my life. I see and work on them daily. Photo, video, setup, etc. But beyond that I run a business with 9 full time professionals, which requires a lot of work and sacrifice. Believe me, I would love to have many of the ukes that come through, but I’m realistic. Actually, even if I could afford to keep them all, my desire is to hook you guys up. The regular emails from happy customers bring me happiness. However, once in a while, a uke will come available that is 10 times the magnet I can withstand. Such is the case here. I reserve such ridiculous glorification for only the worthy and Chuck’s work is just amazing. Just to be clear, this is not for sale. This is not to tease or brag or be showy. It’s to honor one of the greatest uke makers ever, Chuck Moore.
Ok, so this is me playing and of course Corey would make it sound better. But this is my uke so you’ll just have to hear it from a normal person. It’s a raw sound sample, meaning no compression, eq, reverb, or post production of any kind. Listen on some good speakers or headphones to hear the tone best. Mahalo to Chuck Moore. He’s one of the many reasons I consider the 50th state #1.
So whatcha think of my new uke? Have you ever played an MB? If so, share your experience-
Ok, I better get to work!

9 Tenors under $200

This video review shows 9 of our best selling tenors under $200. I’ll give a short description for each along with a link to our website which gives more details.

This is a “dry” recording, unaltered, just like all of our comparison videos. See more videos from “the Listening Booth” at our Review Section here at TheUkuleleReview.

 

From October 2-October 16 we will be doing a giveaway from this review. Comment one time only (at least until the giveaway is done) giving your opinion from the models shown. 9 commenters will be selected randomly using random.org and if you are one of the 9, you get to select one of these tenors of your choice absolutely free including shipping anywhere in the world! (note* comments need to be approved for spam reasons, your comment may not show right away)

Congratulations to our winners. An email has been sent to Tom, Todd, Ashton, Frank, Daniella, Michael, Sandy, Jesse, and William with instructions to redeem your ukulele! Big mahalos to all who participated.  We will continue to do giveaways here so register and keep in touch. Aloha!

Luna TT 
The tattoo tenor from Luna offers a big sound that makes it a popular choice in the store. Polynesian designs are laser etched into the laminate mahogany top for a unique look at a modest price.
Kala TEM
This model from Kala has the sound of their popular KA-T but with their “exotic” mahogany for a traditional koa type of coloring and figure. A classy black binding frames it off.
Gretsch 9120
This tenor from Gretsch has a rustic look and a beautiful voice. This one has the fattest neck out of all nine (a “meatier” C shape), which some prefer and others don’t. I like it.
Islander MT-4
This is the import laminate mahogany tenor from Kanile’a. It has a deep tone and the Kanile’a nut width 1 1/2″ that some find more comfortable. All the other ones in the demo are 1 3/8″, so this give a little space for chording.
Kala TG
This handsome and affordable tenor features a clean gloss finish and appointments found normally in the higher price range. It has a slender neck and after our setup work plays like a dream.
Cordoba 20TM
This is one of two ukes on demo here that feature a solid wood top. In this case, solid mahogany. The tone is balanced and feel is smooth.
Fender Hau’oli
Classic tenor build with a cool Tele headstock. Slender neck and ready to rock.
Kala PWT
This Kala tenor has a Pacific Walnut laminate body for a striking look.
Kala STG
This is the other model with a solid top, in this case spruce. This newly designed model from Kala is impressive in all ways. Check it and all of these models out at TheUkuleleSite.com for more specs, the best pricing, and most importantly, our custom setup work.

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View Available Models From Our Most Popular Brands

Phones, iPads, and all computer speakers will compress the sound and hide the differences. To truly hear the sound you must listen with good headphones or good monitors. By listening this way I am confident you will hear differences. Share your opinion and win one of these tenors!

Aloha friends, a hui ho!

lunaTT
KalaTEM
gretsch9120
IslanderMT4
kalaTG
Cordoba20TM
FenderHauoli
KalaPWT
kalaSTG

The Art of Moore~

Aloha friends! Here’s a look at two Moore Bettah’s that just arrived. Absolutely stunning masterpieces!

Gorgeous koa, creative inlay, and Moore Bettah tone make these the best! They’re completely handmade and completely one of a kind. This is some of Hawaii’s finest art, but Chuck builds for musical qualities as much as aesthetic. Both are vibrant in tone, have perfect intonation, and play like a breeze. If I had the money, I would keep one. These are special ukes, the most beautiful instruments I’ve held.

The difference in Chuck Moore and most builders? Chuck is an artist. No ukes display it better than this pair. From the curvaceous design to the unique themes, Chuck  gives thoughtful and attractive art that sounds amazing. Years ago, while living on Molokai, Chuck made a living just doing scrimshaw art work. Some examples below show his mastery of this art.

coconuts_headstock_copy copy

So how does Chuck go about creating an inlay like this lady drinking from the coconut? It starts with an image he takes out of real life and makes a sketch like the one on the left.

He then looks at materials. “One of the ‘tricks’ to doing good inlay work is letting the materials work for you.  I’ll spend as much time choosing the right piece as I do cutting it.”  Chuck says. He gives an example ,”In the pareau there are about a dozen different pieces, they are cut out like a jigsaw puzzle and assembled.  You need to look for areas on the sheet of stone that gives you the color and effect you want.  That way the highlights of the folds in the material look real.  After it was assembled I went back and inlaid the flowers with white acrylic.”

With the Mastodon ivory  body Chuck says,”The etching alone took me the better part of two days to accomplish.” An extreme amount of creative thought and time went in to these instruments. They are heirloom pieces that would surely be the centerpiece of anyone’s collection.

Sarah Maisel and Craig Chee stopped by the workshop yesterday and played a tune for us on these tenors-

So many details to appreciate. Check out the galleries and share your thoughts below.

Also visit our other reviews of Moore Bettah ‘Ukulele – Bettah Daze & MB – 2 tenors

Beau Hannam

This is a custom builder named Beau Hannam. Beau is now in Australia but is soon relocating back to Colorado. My first contact with Beau was on the Ukulele Underground forum where I’ve met many wonderful ukulele enthusiasts. While the information shared at the forum can sometimes be questionable, many of the members have become close friends, or at least amusing acquaintances, one of them being this bright young luthier. It’s obvious that Beau is in pursuit of greatness and he trained with one of the best, master builder Gerard Gilet. He’s now stepping out on his own and we consider him to be more than promising. Look, listen, and share your thoughts below.

click to see gallery-

I would confidently proclaim the tone on this ukulele to be among the best. We will be showing more ukes, as it’s possible, from this gifted craftsman. However, this one is borrowed for review from another UU member. The notorious MM Stan, a true master of ukulele acquisition. This tenor features a redwood top and Tasmanian Blackwood sides and back. It has Cocobolo binding and African Blackwood for the faceplate. It has the standard 17 inch tenor scale and the traditional fan bracing. Well built with ample support and attention to detail. It’s a “clean” build while still retaining a hand made look and sound. Congratulations Stan! Kudos brother Beau. And aloha to all our supporters that make what we do possible~

No reverb compression etc. Recorded to be as true as possible. I thought the recording level was good but was just listening with studio monitors. I realize now after hearing it through small computer speakers that my recording level was too high for the boom and low end on this particular instrument. Darn. Still refining and learning…For a cleaner listen use good headphones or monitors. Next time we get a Hannam I will surely have it down. Thanks for checking out the review. See you next time, a hui ho!

3 Amigos! – LFdM Ukulele Review

Today we are reviewing three tenor ukes from Luis Feu de Mesquita, aka LFdM, a custom maker from Ontario Canada. Luis’ tenor has become extremely loved in just a short period of time and despite being “untraditional” looking. Based on the Macaferri “Django-style” guitars, these mini versions are called Ukaferri’s, and they aren’t only different on the outside. Luis builds these with the rare “lattice” bracing.

This modern style of bracing is known for strong projection and volume. The Amigos deliver in that department. This style of build allows for a very lively, and ultra thin top. In fact, if you hold a light close enough to the top, you can see the bracing! However, the lattice distribution of support locks the bridge flat. This bracing doesn’t use the normal bridge rotation. Instead, the entire soundboard gets pumped and moves together from the edges. This has been thought to lessen phase cancellation and improve sustain. These certainly give a convincing argument.

As a side note, it’s been a real pleasure getting to know Luis. He’s got the mind of an engineer and the soul of an artist .  He drafts, calculates, very methodical, but also asks you to name your custom instrument. Sensible, but still abstract, in a wonderful way. Last week I asked Luis, “Why ukulele?”. His reply…

The ukulele is an instrument I knew from having spent much of my early life in Portugal where my mother was from, the “Braginha” or “Cavaquinho” were familiar to me. The Ukulele for me follows on the same principle as the classic guitars i build, and I wanted to do justice to the instrument”

The tone on these 3 Amigos is well defined, very clear, yet still warm and expressive.  Take a listen as Corey Fujimoto samples our first ukes from LFdM!

“Lattice” bracing picture below

Different styles of design simply offer us different colours and dynamics. There is no “best”!. Great instruments excel and inspire in different ways. (A collection is optimal):D

image

 

 

 

 

 

Amigo XX

 

  • Adirondack Spruce Top
  • Macassar Ebony Back & Sides
  • Spanish Cedar Neck
  • Ebony Bindings & Arm Bevel
  • Side sound port
  • Bone Nut/Saddle
  • Gotoh Stealth Tuning Keys
  • Weight 640 grm

 

Amigo XXI

 

  • Alaskan Yelow Cedar
  • Macassar Ebony Back & Sides
  • Spanish Cedar Neck
  • Leopardwood Bindings & Arm Bevel
  • Bone Nut/Saddle
  • Gotoh Stealth Tuning Keys
  • Weight 690 grm

 

Amigo XXII

 

  • Sitka Spruce Top
  • Zircote Back & Sides
  • Spanish Cedar Neck
  • Ebony Bindings & Arm Bevel
  • Bone Nut/Saddle
  • Gotoh Stealth Tuning Keys
  • Weight 540 grm

All 3 have a 17″ scale and are 38 mm at the nut.

More pics coming..

Please share any thoughts or experiences.

Aloha!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“One-Offs” – Kala Mango & Ovangkol!

These Kalas have only solid woods and the finest touches. So why won’t they be models? I think it comes down to affordability. Staying true to your price range. Nevertheless, they are beautiful, solid wood, and they are crafted with skill and attention. Since they will only be once I thought I would document them here. Take a look/listen and then share your thoughts. Aloha!
CLick for Photo Gallery-

  • Only solid woods!
    Spalted Mango or Spruce/ Ovangkol
  • Only to be available Once!
    One-of-a-kind!
  • Wood Binding
    real abalone shell purfling
  • High quality tuning keys
    W/ matching wood buttons
  • Very clean & Professional construction
    Attention to detail like you’vee never seen from Kala!
  • HMS Custom Setup
    These just need a little more professional attention to be just right!

Engelmann Spruce! If you ever drive up through the Oregon mountains you see beautiful forests of these evergreens. They are a supreme tone wood. Typically a creamy smooth white and these are prime examples. The back and sides are a west African wood called Ovangkol. This is a hard, straight grained rosewood excellent for clarity and note separation. Notice the Ovangkol neck as well. It’s a slender neck and doesn’t seem to add a weight difference which is also nice.

Corey Fujimoto Playing for us…(also one-of-a-kind)

Learn More about

The Best Tenors from $500-$700

These ukes are fairly new models and they are my top choices for a tenor in this price range. You can sometimes find local builders in this price range but these are a notch above what I have seen. Heck, next floor up from some I have seen. When you lay down over 500 bucks you want a super musical instrument. These were modeled after $2000-$3000 dollar ukes but made where things can be made more affordably (still on planet earth) with human skill and devotion. Our setup takes them up to potential and you have an instrument not far below the best out there.

So let’s dive right in for a closer look. This is the best sounding Kala model in my opinion. All solid and a lively spruce top but with more warmth and body when compared to their more affordable spruce models. It is the only uke of these four equipped with a pickup though we can install one in any of them. However, we don’t cut into the side of a uke for onboard EQ and digital tuner like this one has. The Kala ASAC-T-C-SP-MM, or Marcy Marxer, is braced lightly with a mini X brace Kala has been working with recently. They never talk about it but it’s a different soundboard support and voicing from any other uke maker I have seen. With a case you’ll be just over $500. So way more expensive than other Kalas but still a great value. Learn more about it here- Kala -Marcy Marxer – Spruce/ Acacia Tenor Electric

New this year from Pono is the ATDC-C in gloss.  I put Aquilas on it to match the other ukes but it is really made for higher tension strings. I don’t think Aquilas really “activate” it or drive the top but it still had a clear voice with singing sustain. Also noteworthy, the other three are spruce topped while this one has cedar. Articulate in the mid range but still sweet and definitely the most meticulous in finish and fretwork. Ponos are more close to setup when we get them than any other factory brand. But the other three here are a lighter build. Especially this next one…

LFDM-2

The new Pepe Romero designed 30 series from Cordoba is a flamenco style featherweight 12 fret to body tenor. This uke booms with volume like no other in this price range. It’s now a high gloss finish and cosmetically improved from the first runs. Every 30 series Cordoba has a beautiful character and vibrance. This is to a Pepe Romero what Pono is to Koolau. The affordable version. This is new and just starting to show up on the market but it definitely fills a niche for this style. 12 fret to body with the spanish heel to body design, in this price range, it had the most volume! But is a light build and should not get high tension strings. Aquila or the Nyltech, Labella and a few others. You can inquire on specifics. Limited to store stock presently on this model. And the fourth of the featured is a very new arrival. Some were a bit surprised to see Islander pushing 7 bills. My outlook is different.I don’t know of any jig that makes side bevels assembly line work. This is a lot of hand work and it’s not a useless feature.

Many times after playing I can can see and feel the effects on my forearm. It’s a very practical feature but it’s just not practical in production and that’s why you rarely see it. The slotted headstock, cutaway body, and unique abalone fretboard inlays are nice too but in the end this one makes the cut based on tone. Plenty of bass and a Kanile’a type presence.

 

Check it out at our site here- Islander FMARM 4-T.

So sound is one aspect and this is one reference in time. 4 mics. Telefunken in the center. Stereo SDC’s are Earthworks/Josephson and a Nuemann gives the room ambiance. I’ve been getting help from the good people at PureSound. They don’t just sell. They educate, specialize and they practice the art. That’s our goal as well at TheUkuleleSite. Thanks for all your support.

Corey Fujimoto gives us an enjoyable listening  experience as usual. Really excited for his album still being shaped up. Cellist coming etc…, Share thoughts and opinions below. I’m curious as to what you guys hear.

New 2013 Islander Models

New Islanders are in and they are beautiful! This batch sports wood bindings, bevels, and all kinds of really tasty features. They feel great, look great, and sound great. What more can you want? Oh, more money to buy one? Well, work on that because these are the best Islanders ever! Here’s a sample of 6 new models from Kanilea’s Islander line-

Kala Brand Ukulele

kala_1920 copyKala Ukulele has a few factories in Asia along with a small custom and repair shop at it’s main office in California. The founder and owner, Mike Upton, lived here in Hawaii in the 90′s on the east side of this island, Lanikai, more specifically, which is also the name of a line he developed for Hohner before opting to work for himself. Mike says,

I went out on my own to start Kala Ukulele where I could continue to expand what is possible in the realm of quality, affordable instruments for the Ukulele Enthusiast and Novice alike.

Fair enough. The product, overall, reflects that passion. For over 7 years we have supported the line. They seem to be either a step above or a step ahead. 

We are constantly coming up with new ideas and ever-growing innovations in instrument design.

This page highlights some of the models I recommend on a regular basis.

ST & STG
Spruce has been the top choice for acoustic soundboards and these models are better than they have ever been. Plus solid wood tops get better tonal character and increase in volume over time, especially in the first few years. Both of these come in under $200!
ASAC-T
The next featured Uke is an all solid acacia tenor. The ASAC-T has been a huge hit since Kala introduced it a few years back. The slotted headstock, mother of pear inlays,  and wood bindings are beautiful! Kala has a classy design here. It’s been the choice for many happy ukers. This comes in around $400 once you add a case, a serious competitor in this price range.

Exotic Mahogany Concerts!
Exotic Mahogany concerts now come in a wide variety of transparent colors that really make the wood grain pop. They run around $120 with our custom setup so it’s a great value, but the reason they are listed here is because they sound fantastic.  Take a listen-

ACP-CT
The next instrument is a cedar top acacia gloss model with a slotted headstock and padauk binding. It’s striking without being overtly flashy and the craftsmanship and tone are seriously good. These ukes are light and balanced. The solid cedar top projects a ringing rich sustain and plenty of harmonic overtones.The padauk rosette and bindings make for a gorgeous custom look. Which is why I’ve been recommending these so often. For less than $300 you are getting a uke that is really nice! Also great in tenor.
Pocket Uke
This is the new, and only, pocket uke available from Kala. The thin body seems to have improved the tone. It chimes and sparkles with sustain. A really nice sound! To top it off this new pocket uke comes in at almost half the cost of previous ones. In fact I got one myself. It fits right in my backpack in it’s protective case and I play it every time we take the kids to the beach.  -
Travel Series
As you can see in the video, the tenor thin body is not plugged in and is holding its own with a plugged in acoustic guitar. The SSTU-T manages to be bright, articulate, and still have a full sound.This is ideal for being able to cut through in the impromptu backyard kani kapila. Overall the Travel series from Kala represents what, for many people, the ukulele is all about. Bright punchy tones, great responsiveness, and all in a small, easy to get around with package.

Feel free to call or email any questions you have about Kala Brand Ukulele.

Corey Fujimoto- Sound Sampler!

Lanikai UkeSB

I saw these at NAMM but dismissed it because having USB on board is impractical, for most. Not many people record only uke and you can get an interface for fairly cheap that allows you to plug in a uke, or a microphone for vocals or other instruments. But there may be some that just want to record ukulele. Perhaps you make computer music and don’t need a microphone. And ukulele can make all kinds of cool sounds going through software. Unfortunately, I haven’t even wanted to go there with the UkeSB. You have to like the instrument first.

Lanikai UkeSB long-2
And there are some things I like. So I’ll give you the breakdown.

Cool! :)

  • Block Inlays
    Looks like a Les Paul!
  • Mother of Pearl Purfling
    Looks better than Ablam
  • Digital tuner on the preamp
    …yay!
  • Main selling point- Flux Capacitor on the headstock!

Not Cool! :(

  • Electronics rattling
  • The E string intonation is extremely off 
    probably just the Aquila, they’re notorious.
  • They call this wood “Hawaiian Koa”!?
    That’s a shame. This is Indonesian Acacia. Trembesi stained to look darker and more red. C’mon guys, you’re blowin’ it!

Lanikai UkeSB Gclose

 

Out of the box the action was over 4mm at the 12th. That’s high. Especially when there is still a fret buzz on the C string. As I sample a strum I hear the electronics growling from inside. Maybe the 9 volt battery compartment, which adds to an overall heavily built uke. The UkeSB is quite the tank of a tenor and the sound. Not bad. I’d say in the same price range those new Cordoba’s or a Pono would be much more open and musical though.

So that’s my review. If you love this model then feel free to tell us why.

KoAloha Solid Body Tenor Electric!

This is a 7 piece neck-thru solid body tenor from the ever innovative KoAloha company. Not only is it the coolest thing I’ve ever seen but the sounds you can get are endless! KoAloha knocks this one out of the park. Check this out!

When we get ukes like this they go up at The Ukulele Site and don’t last long. Check in there and find rare gems like this!

Two KoAloha Tenor Bodies Compared

KoAloha is a small ukulele factory here on Oahu and a household name here in the islands. They were started in the mid 90′s when Alvin Okami, engineer, inventor, musician that he was, designed a totally new ukulele. Because Alvin came from other fields of study, he had an entirely different approach to the support and resonance of an ukulele. The “unibrace” or one brace body defines the KoAloha sound and would have never existed had it not been for Mr. Okami. It’s different enough to say that confidently. It’s an amazing idea and it works! Alvin and his wife Pat, along with their sons Allen and Paul, are some of me and my wife’s favorite people..

The KTM-00 is a classic Hawaiian Koa Tenor Ukulele. Just over a grand with sounds like no other. But last year they introduced a new variation, a thin body brother! Slim sister?
The KTMS-00 has a 2″ body depth versus the regular 2 3/4″ of the KTM-00. So it’s not a drastic change, but how does it affect the sound? Come into our listening booth while the young and amazing Corey Fujimoto demonstrates these two Koa tenor ukes.

So what’s really going on here? What are the physics of body depth in an ukulele? Most of what we call tone comes straight from the top or soundboard resonance, but a large part is still determined inside the body, especially the bass frequencies and harmonic character. Cover your sound hole and you will hear this loss. Another interesting thing to try is humming inside the soundhole. Raise and lower your pitch and notice that some frequencies will be amplified more than others. The resonant frequencies of the panels, the opening or soundhole, along with the volume of air enclosed by the body, forms a low frequency resonator. This is known as Helmholtz resonance. Science lovers can follow that link into the vortex of Wikepedia. It’s interesting, if you’re interested.

Of course, many factors are involved here as they relate to body depth and it’s effect on volume and harmonic color. Examining anything closely enough can be fascinating, but for our purposes let’s make it simple. We have two KoAloha tenors with the same exact specs, except the KTMS-00 is 3/4″ slimmer than the KTM-00. In this recording and setting, how do you think it affected the tone?

Please share your thoughts, opinions, or experience in the comments below.

Aloha friends, a hui ho!

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Acacia or Mahogany?

That’s a common question and I find it hard to take sides. Pono is very consistent at this point. On top of that, these woods are a similar density. Both have a .54 specific gravity. The Mahogany is slightly lighter at 34lb/ft while Acacia is 42 lb/ft, and both are close to Hawaiian Koa which is approximately 41lb/ft and .55 specific gravity.
I have been trying different recording setups and today, after hours of experimenting, me and Zach found the “true” sound. Exactly the same through the headphones and monitors as the acoustic sound with our ears. We would switch back and forth and worked it until it was identical. Zero eq, compression, reverb or anything. Just a better listening booth for you! Telefunken and Josephson mics were used. So what would you answer if asked which is better, mahogany or acacia? What did you hear with these two ukes? Any advice you can offer to our readers?

So all three are close together in the middle of the wood spectrum between soft woods like cedar (23 lb/ft, 32 sg) and hard woods like Macassar ebony (68 lb/ft, 1.09 sg).
But even though acacia and mahogany don’t have an extreme contrast, these two show the unique character and variance I commonly hear.Put on your best headphones/monitors and see if you can hear the tonal differences in a Pono Tenor Mahogany and a Pono Tenor Acacia. Corey Fujimoto plays these two models for us..

Learn more about the Pono MTSH and ATSHI have been trying different recording setups and today, after hours of experimenting, me and Zach found the “true” sound. Exactly the same through the headphones and monitors as the acoustic sound with our ears. We would switch back and forth and worked it until it was identical. Zero eq, compression, reverb or anything. Just a better listening booth for you! Telefunken and Josephson mics were used.

alO-ha from HMS!

Sort of out of left field, but I figure I would throw this video in. Recorded in the same setting for your comparison. Maybe the answer to the title question is… neither!? Pono ETSH

Moore Bettah Ukulele – 2 Tenor’s

Moore Bettah Tenor koa-18
Feast your eyes on two heart stopping tenors custom made by Big Island Luthier, Chuck Moore. They look amazing and sound even better. Huge, lively, warm, clean, and just a beautiful sound from both the spruce top and the all koa. Both instruments belong to my friend Stan. Not 4 Sale. Just a review, but  words won’t do justice.  In fact, they’re so good, it’s just pointless to even talk about. But I must say, this spruce top of Stan’s is literally the most “guitar-like” tenor tone I have ever heard. I was so impressed I asked him to borrow them and show. For those that have wondered, “Are they really Moore Bettah?” Ponder no longer, the  answer is Yes! Evidence here shows 2 tenors made using advanced enlightenment normal luthiers aren’t equipped with. The best instruments aren’t justified on a screen. Same with sound.
I tried some new recording gear in this session. New Sebatron preamp and dang, I had the tube gain way too hot so the lower tones aren’t  focused and clean like they actually are. Regardless, We hope you enjoy!
Bearclaw Spruce and Milo sides and back. I love Milo! This ukulele…I could write a page about it, but I won’t.
Here, Corey Fujimoto gives us a sweet sample of the tones.

What more can I say? I respect this quality and I want to recognize one of the best luthiers EVER…Chuck Moore!

Ok, Rolland mentioned that I should have expanded on this bear claw model and what makes it so good. So I will run through some features and observations. First to catch the eye is a different sound port. Smaller and in the upper bout bass side. Reminds me of a sub woofer type design, and this instrument excels in low end. The side port helps balance the crisp clarity, especially to the player. Let’s face it, we play for self satisfaction.

Moore Bettah Tenor koa-19

A side port caters to the user experience and seems to help maintain the openess of this soundhole design. Next I noticed a radius or arch to the top, or soundboard. This allows for a  light tone bracing but with long term structural support. Also noteworthy, the comfort! In fact the feel doesn’t even come to mind, I could play this all day.  Chuck’s binding and rosette’s stray from the 90 degree angle and circles usually seen. Chuck came with an artsier style and  years of thought designed this overall voice.  If structural design is the voice then woods are the microphone. They will color.

Nothing human is machine perfect,  and I don’t know anyone that can do no wrong. But  Chuck is among the top few custom ukulele makers. You can argue your favorite but he’s in there, without a doubt.It’s a little sad to be at the end of this post. I think we bonded, me and the Milo…I wonder if it’s thinking about me too? & Most importantly, to my great friend Stan a Huge Mahalo!One additional thought; The way to enjoy life is to love the one you got. Longing is not living. A Moore Bettah is a special instrument, but music is in you, so have fun. Aloha!

A Dangerous Spin on Uke Tone!

I’m talking about the ceiling fan in my office. It terrorizes my sweet ukulele sounds. Sucks them in and chops them up like a sushi chef.

What am I talking about? The vibrato created by my fan makes uke play unbearable! So I turn it off, but it gets hot! Have fan companies addressed this problem with their circulation methods? I think I need one that blows around my sound waves. hmmm…I might need access to the next dimension. :( Any better ideas?

fan&uke2

2 Phenomenal Tenors from Ko’olau!

Ko’olau ukes have always been anywhere from good to unbelievable. For the last year everything I have seen from them would fall into the latter, extremely awesome category.

Less experienced builders often make a wonderful instrument, but they lack the ability to consistently produce at that level. Noa has been building Ko’olau guitars and ukes full time for 15 years. That’s coming after 10+ years of warranty repair for Martin, Taylor, and Gibson. Being a “master” means consistent greatness and Ko’olau is one of the only companies in the ukulele world on this level.

Here is a look at two new CS tenors. The first has a Bearclaw spruce top and an extremely rare set of spalted koa from Molokai. Noa said, “We will probably never see koa like this again. I only had this one set I was saving for a special instrument.”-

This next instrument has a European Moon Spruce top and koa sides and back.

We will be posting at our website with more specs and description but wanted to give a sneak peak to our subscribers here at the review. Enjoy!

Aloha!