Category Archives: Ukulele Reviews

Ryan Condon Carves a New Sound in Ukulele

This gorgeous creation comes to us courtesy of Ryan Condon, 2nd half of Ko’olau’s custom shop led by Noa Bonk. Ryan has built some arch top guitars and a few years ago started hand carving Ko’olau tenors. He makes a few each year, all of which are seemingly flawless in build quality and quite the treat to look at. However, the most noteworthy aspect is an extremely unique dynamic attack and throw. I say extremely unique because this is a very different sound from any flat top ukulele. Ryan uses arching height calculations, tap tuning, and other traditional luthier techniques to carve these two big blocks of wood into their maximum musical potential. This oval hole sunburst tenor one can be heard from across the room with a bell like clarity. Up and down the neck it’s like no other ukulele you will find.

If you’ve been around acoustic stringed instruments, you likely know that a hand carved arch top instrument is much more expensive than it’s flat top counter part. This is especially true with the top notch custom makers. The fanciest Collings ukulele comes in around 4 grand while the mandolins top off well over 10 grand. Why is this? First of all, Ryan starts with a block of European spruce and master grade koa thick enough to make 4 regular flat top tenors.

I just like the process of carving, taking a block of wood and removing everything except what is supposed to be there

He book-matches the set at about 18mm and at finish it is between 2-3mm, carving away all but the beautiful curving woods that you see. Not only do you need 4 times the top and back wood but the process takes about 3 times as long as a flat top. What an amazing thing you get though when done just right. Great for “chompy” jazz chords or finger-style work like Corey demonstrates.

Just in case you’re wondering, this is nothing like the Kala archtop. I say that with all due respect. The pricing is drastically different to say the least. This is hand carved by one of the finest builders in the world and it’s acoustics are a whole different experience. For someone that truly loves the ukulele and has a passion for the finest craftsmanship, this has something different from any other ukulele you will find. And it’s not just unique, but a uniquely beautiful sound.

Thanks for tuning in, share your thoughts below. Click on the images for more pics & Specs.
 

Corey Samples

This tone would shine even more in a “lively” room where it had room to bounce around with sustain and harmonics. But this is for “raw” sound sampling so use good speakers or headphones to truly hear this remarkable hand carved archtop tenor ukulele from Ko’olau, soon to be at The Ukulele Site

Aloha friends. A hui ho!

Fender Revamps Their Ukulele Line

There is no doubt that Fender has been inspiring guitarists for over 60 years. Leo Fender was an innovator that changed the music world forever. But Fender has only been making ukes for 5 years now. We have carried them from the time they were released. They definitely have a “cool factor” with their Tele headstock and Fender logo, and the tone has been on par with it’s price range. But until now I haven’t done an article here showcasing them. Ukes get featured here when I’m really excited about them, impressed by their quality or value. That’s how I’m suddenly feeling about Fender ukes! Why? What changed?

Many of you know that Fender owns other brands, one of them being Gretsch, and that Gretsch released an ukulele line a few years ago as part of their “Roots Series” which models vintage Gretsch instruments along with a few new designs with a similar “vintage” style. If you follow our blog and website you also know that we have loved this new Gretsch line from the moment we played them at NAMM 2012 where we claimed them to be the best new ukulele line. There were dozens of new makers that year but these had great tone, even on the really affordable laminate models. The reason they were great right off the bat was because the Gretsch roots line was headed by Mike Lewis. Mike’s a musician, historian, engineer and one of the key visionaries at Fender for many years.

In the early 90’s he revived their classic tube amps. Richard McDonald, vide president of Fender said “Mike did an incredible job of getting us back on track by taking a step back with the historical element of our legacy and making it right, with the Vibro-King, Blues Deluxe, Blues Deville and so on” . Mike then went to the guitar department at Fender, then Guild (when Fender bought them), and of course Gretsch.

The Gretsch ukulele line has been a big seller for us. Last year our Fender rep asked me why the Gretsch ukes outsell the Fender ones. My reply was something like, “The Gretsch ukes just sound so good. When people play them in the store they love the tone.” Considering the continuing popularity of the ukulele, Fender did the obvious and asked Mike Lewis to revamp their Fender ukulele lineup.

Mike certainly succeeded at this task. We just received a shipment of these newly upgraded models and they sound and play significantly better. They have new bracing patterns, arched backs, thicker fingerboards, thinner headstocks, compensated saddles, and a thinner finish. The tone is more articulate and they project much more. They are now among my favorite affordable ukes and I give them my top recommendation.

Are they more like the Gretsch ukes now since Mike Lewis headed both projects? No they are both very unique. The Gretsch line was patterned after the original Gretsch ukes. The necks are thicker giving a different feel and the look is more of a vintage replica. The Fender’s have slimmer necks along with more modern features like geared tuners on all models, compensated saddles, and Tele headstocks. They are also made in different factories. Fender ukes are made in Indonesia and Gretsch in China. Basically the only thing they share in common is that they both sound good and offer a great value to the ukulele community. Big mahalo to Mike Lewis (pictured below) for his excellent work on both lines.

esq-27-mike-lewis-1012-de

In the next week I will be redoing the sound samples and photos for all Fender models at our website -TheUkuleleSite-Fender- But here’s a few images and sound samples from new models that just arrived.

Thanks for tuning in, share your thoughts below. Click on the image below for more pics.

Aloha friends. A hui ho!

2014 Photo Contest Winners

Aloha friends. First off, mahalo to everyone that participated in this contest. I apologize for any imperfections involved in the setup. Honestly we just don’t have the time to really run a contest tightly and properly. But we did what we had to to make sure the popular vote was correct. With that said, our winner was Michael Horn. On all of these pictures, if you click on the image, they enlarge and have comments on why they were chosen, or in this case, why they won.

Congratulations to Michael.  The next 10 photos were selected based on their quality, creativity, and composition and will be awarded $100 in their customer account at http://theukulelesite.com

There were many that we liked but we only had 10 spots to fill. Thank you for your kind understanding.

Click on the photos to enlarge and see some thoughts on why it was chosen.

Leave comments and questions below. If you are one of the winners maybe you can share with us the equipment you used, if you want. Thanks again and visit our store -The Ukulele Site

Moore Bettah -Skull Island/ Tiki Love

The Birth of Bettah

This is a striking and unique masterpiece from Moore Bettah custom builder Chuck Moore. It’s a depiction of the Island as young Charles experienced it when he first washed up on shore many years ago. The mountains were flowing with lava and foreigners were commonly given to the tiki gods. Luckily, Chuck knew how to make a coconut ukulele which the natives proclaimed as “Moore Bettah!”. And that’s how it began. Or so goes the legend.  But just to clarify, I asked Mr Moore about his exact inspiration. He replies,

I really wished I lived in Hawaii in the 50′s when Donn the Beachcomber had his bar where the International marketplace was. BTW, if it weren’t for this man Waikiki would be full of high rise office buildings…..I’ll bet you didn’t know that there is an official Don the Beachcomber day in Hawaii. He was awarded that by the state of Hawaii for all the work he did in Waikiki. Sadly, much of his legacy is gone today. He doesn’t get the credit he deserves.

He also sites Arthur Lyman recordings and tiki art and culture as influences for this one of a kind tenor. More than anything, I’m impressed with the sound and the feel. Just absolutely perfect in my opinion. I’d say Chuck Moore is the Mick Jagger of Ukulele builders. The LeBron James of inlay. I could go on but it’s past my bedtime. Summing up the review, this uke rules.

It’s not surprising, but still exciting to see such a great instrument. Chuck seems to be an open faucet of creativity.  It’s a beautiful gift  and our pleasure to show you the finest.  Galleries open for more pics. Enjoy!

Aloha friends. A hui ho!

Southcoast String Set HML-RW

This review is not on an ukulele but a specific string set I have been using. If you play tenor and are open to a low G, or linear tuning, then this one could be the sound you have been looking for. The G and C string are a thin phosphor bronze wrap and the E and A strings are a thin high density fluorocarbon.

Compass Rose Tenor 
The first video on the left shows this Compass Rose with the stock Aquila low G set that they come with. I think Aquila strings work great on some ukes and on others they don’t quite hit the potential tone. It doesn’t really have to do with the quality of the uke but more of the way it was built. The video to the right of that one shows the Southcoast set that we are reviewing here. These videos were shot a day apart. The camera angle and lighting is different but the audio was recorded with the same mic placement and using unedited wave files.
Maui Music Spruce Maple Tenor
So this comparison is less of a fair playing field because the first video is a Hilo high G set and the second of course the Southcoast Low G set that we are reviewing. And Corey is not playing the same thing. And on top of that the mic placement is slightly different. Still, you can still hear the overall tonality being very different. In my opinion the Southcoast set can activate a sweet and “woody” quality in certain instruments like this one.

Compass Rose Tenor w Aquila Low G set

Maui Music Spruce Maple Tenor w/ Hilo Strings High G

Compass Rose Tenor w/ Southcoast HML-RW

Maui Music Spruce Maple Tenor w/ Southcoast HML-RW

 

All of our sound sample have no reverb, compression, or mastering. Listen on good headphones or speakers to hear true tone. We have these strings in bulk and they are available to be set up on your ukulele. They are not our recommendation for every ukulele so inquire with us if you are not sure. I love them on Pono tenors, Kamaka tenors and many other high quality tenors. In my opinion the SC string set can “open up” the natural voice of certain tenors. When fingerpicking you get a rich yet articulate sound, and when strumming your get a sweet jangle similar almost to a steel string guitar. We can set up your new ukulele with this set but are not currently selling them separately. We plan on doing that eventually, but until then, you can buy these from our friend Dirk who designed the set -HERE. The instruments used for this demo are available at our online store – TheUkuleleSite.com So what do you hear in these comparisons? Share your thoughts/ questions/ & opinions in the comments below. Aloha~

I recently changed the strings on my Ko’olau-

Maui Music – New for 2014

mm copyPeter Lieberman formed Maui Music when the only “k” brand was Kamaka. On december 27 2000 a fire burned down his factory forcing him to close down. He was soon back to building, but instead of running another crew and factory production, he decided to be a one man custom shop and focus on the highest quality. Both the “pre-fire” Maui Music and Peter’s custom ukes are among the most loved Hawaiian instruments in the world. This nearly came to an end last year. Health problems made him unsure if he would ever build again. Peter tells me,

I almost died last year. When I recovered and came back to work I decided to make the best ukes I had ever made in my life.

And that’s what he did. And he says that is his plan for every year to come. That’s awesome!

Mango Soprano 
Behold mango in all it’s craziness. This Big Island wood is alluring with all kinds of figure to enjoy. On top of that is has a super punchy tone! This must be the first time I have seen a side port on a soprano. Have you guys seen that before?
Concert Long Neck
So this koa beauty has a concert body with the 17″ tenor scale. This gives the feel and tension of a tenor with a more classic uke, smaller body, tone. All of these are framed off with abalone purfling and wood binding. Green wood strips sit in between making the greens in the abalone pop. Super beautiful design!
Spruce Top Maple Tenor
This tenor features a Spruce top and some of the most eye-popping gorgeous maple I have ever seen. This wood is so glorious I had to force myself to stop taking pictures. Notice the details like purfling going around the end jack. Touches like this show the artist and designer that Peter is.
Spruce Top Cocobolo Tenor
Cocobolo is like rosewood but twice as sexy. This tenor has some jaw dropping looks and rich yet articulate tones. A very unique instrument.
2 Koa Tenor Deluxes
So this first koa deluxe has the oval soundhole that Peter introduced 10 years back. We had these in our store from MGM when he still had his ebay store. He was always pimpin’ us out with awesome ukes. Great to see this design back for atleast one of these ukes. I love the look. The next koa deluxe tenor is more to Peter’s 2014 design with the side port, which I think is great. It really gives the player more volume and clarity to their ears. Let’s face it, we play for ourselves, and the side port releases the sound where we can hear it best.
Mango 6 & 8 string Tenors
Of all these amazing instruments the one I personally covet the most is this 6 string. I love the sound of a good 6 string and this might be the best I have ever played. So easy to play and just sings with wonderful tones. Budget model 6 and 8′s can really turn players off. These are easy to play, easy to keep in tune and sound amazing even with Hilo strings.
The only thing I am not crazy about with these instruments is the Hilo strings. IMO they don’t do justice to the potential tone. I reckon I’ll be slowly switching them out for other strings when I get a chance. But that’s just my opinion and an easy thing to change. Overall these ukes from Peter exceeded my expectations and I am grateful to him for letting us show them off.
Peter builds differently than any other custom builder I know. He basically does one batch each year of around 100 ukes. He truly kicks some luthier butt doing this quantity and quality all solo, and even while fighting health problems, taking care of his mother etc..he’s an awesome guy. These are the first of his to introduce the side sound port, even on the soprano! Look and listen to these 2014 Maui Music masterpieces. They will soon be listed at our website but contact me if you see something you want. Each picture opens to a gallery. Enjoy, and let us know if you have any questions.

View available at TheUkuleleSite

All of our sound sample have no reverb, compression, or mastering. Listen on good headphones or speakers to hear true tone.

 

Mahalo and Aloha from your friends at HMS. Share your thoughts/ questions/ & opinions in the comments below~

Installing an L.R. Baggs 5.0

If you want to install this pickup in your uke, this tutorial could be of crucial help.
Almost every ukulele we sell can get a pickup install included. The L.R. Baggs 5.0. has been a very popular choice for our customers and Joel has installed hundreds. We did this tutorial because we like the 5.0 and want to help you guys install one if you are keen to such DIY projects. Joel shares ways of avoiding future problems. Wires running all over will cause weird overtones at certain notes. The frequency activates a vibration with the electronics that you don’t want. This can be eliminated using some of Joel’s techniques shown here so look and think about what you can take away and also what you can share with us. We are not beyond growth as well so join the site and help us and our visitors as well.

There are a number of steps Joel goes over that are not covered in the official Baggs installation instructions. Hopefully this will be of aid but feel free to add any ways you do it different, any comments on the process showed here, or any questions you have.

Aloha friends. A hui ho!

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~

Pono TE & BE – the 2014 NAMM Pre Show

Pono’s TE Options – Choose your Wood, Finish & Pickup -

In the summer of last year we showed you this new model that would be coming from Pono. It is a solid chambered body tenor and we compared it with other similiar options on the market at this article- Pono Solid Body-Review & Compare. That one was an Acacia model with a Misi active pickup system. Then a few weeks back we showed you a Cedar top model with a passive Pono pickup here- New From Pono- TG & TE -. So now we will give you a look at a few other options that will be showing at the 2014 NAMM. This first one is quite the seductress, a curly mango tenor with a gloss finish and Misi pickup.

Next is a look at the Piano Black Gloss finish which comes with a spruce top and chambered mahogany body. A sharp look and the spruce top really adds an acoustic quality we love. The gallery next to it shows the first of the new baritone series for these chambered electrics. We put a passive pickup in this one and as Corey notes in the video, it has a natural warmth that makes baritone so nice. It also shows the satin finish option that will be available in the all acacia and cedar top as well. Any of them will have the two pickup option and all of them will come with a perfect fitting hardshell case. So that’s a sneak peek of what is soon to come. I am keeping the details brief, but feel free to ask questions below.

Gloss Curly Mango Top, Faceplate, & Chambered Mango Body- Satin Mahogany Neck – Custom TE Misi Active Pickup -Sound sample with Ko’olau Mahana w/3 high G set-

Gloss Spruce Top, Macassar Ebony Faceplate, & Chambered Mahogany Body & Neck – Custom TE Misi Active Pickup. Sound sample with Ko’olau Mahana w/3& 4 low G set-

Satin Acacia Top & Chambered Acacia Body- Rosewood Faceplate & Mahogany Neck – Pono Passive Pickup. Sound sample with Ko’olau Mahana w/3 & 4  baritone set-

All TE & BE models will include a deluxe arched top hardshell case and all feature a radius fretboard and come equipped with a light weight titanium dual action truss rod.
To learn more about Pono Ukulele visit this article - Keep it Pono!

So…what do you think of the new Pono Models, any questions?  We are still evolving the line and really appreciate your thoughts, ideas, and opinions. I am especially proud of this new line along with the new mango models. I truly believe these new instruments will inspire the ukulele community and musicians around the world . Email me to get in line for any specific model or for specific requests. – [email protected]

Happy new years & Aloha from your friends at HMS – TheUkueleSite.com

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 have a wonderful tone, but each is different. Share your thoughts below in the comments

Email subscription is used for new review notification only, join our Ohana here at HMS and TheUkuleleReview.

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.

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.

Email subscription is used for new review notification only, join our Ohana here at HMS and TheUkuleleReview.

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-

Aloha!