Sunday, December 14, 2008
So here we are with a video of Touch played on the William King LS-tenor, complete with background singing by my daughter. Enjoy.
Saturday, December 13, 2008
Yeah, I screwed up toward the end. Perhaps I'll try another take sometime later....
Thursday, December 11, 2008
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
The reason I wanted the Kelii is because it has a slightly longer tenor scale at 17.25" and I had not tried one in Hawaii. I've heard good things about Kelii ukes for a long time now so I've been curious about them. It seemed that Kelii ukes are in the class of other Hawaiian made ukes (such as KoAloha & Kanile'a) at a much lower price, so I wanted to see for myself.
As for the Kanile'a super tenor, I had been curious about it's larger body since I first saw it online. I thought it looked really ugly (reminded me of a fat kid's face with puffy cheeks) but when I was in Hawaii last year and saw a few in person they didn't look as bad, and I liked the deeper/fuller sound the larger body produced. MGM had one in his ebay store for a while that looked like it had some really nice koa. When he put that one up for sale a on black Friday, coupled with the 30% cash back, I could not resist it.
So now I find myself with 2 new koa tenors basically bought on impulse. The Kelii arrived last week and the Kanile'a arrived this week. Both are impressive in their own ways. I've only had them for a very short time, so I can't really review them. But here are some quick thoughts:
-Nice bright sound. Very good sustain.
-Action was a bit high, and there wasn't much room to lower it.
-Good looking wood. More curly than the average production ukulele.
-The back is much more rounded (a bit of a bowl shape) than other traditional ukes.
-The thinner than normal body does not compromise sound or volume at all.
-Has a nice and beefy neck. Feel thicker than any other tenor I have. I like it.
-I really do not like friction tuners on a tenor ukulele.
-I'd probably slot it in at the #8, behind the Honu concert and in front of the Compass Rose tenor on the most recent ranking list.
Kanile'a Super Tenor:
-Nice deep sound. Boomy. It's near custom level.
-Feels good to play. Has some of the "feedback" that the custom ukes has.
-I think changing the strings to Worth might improve the sound. The Aquilas seem a bit restrained. The sound is not as crisp as it could be. If the Worth strings provide a crisper sound, this would really be an outstanding uke.
-The action is a bit high, but there is a lot of saddle to take down.
-The super tenor shape is still kind of ugly to me, but it does serve it's purpose.
-The large body seem to have less internal volume than my William King long-scale tenor. It's not as deep and long as the King.
-The neck is probably thinner than average. It's actually thinner than my Kanile'a supersoprano that's over a year old. Perhaps Kanile'a changed their neck thickness between then and now. I kind of prefer a thicker neck but this one feels good and I have no issues with it.
-Right now I'd rate it at #4 on the ranking list.
What I really need to do now is to move some ukes from my collection. I suffer from TMUS: Too Many Ukes Syndrome!
Sunday, November 30, 2008
I probably did about 6 or 7 takes but kept screwing something up. This is probably the best take before I gave up. I think it does give you an idea of what the Gypsy Rose sounds like.
Saturday, November 29, 2008
The top candidates for liquidation are: Martin style 1 (don't play sopranos much), Compass Rose walnut tenor (probably an easier sale than the Sonny D), Kiwaya KTS-7 (soprano), and possibly the National concert (not a huge resonator fan). Look for some of these ukes to pop up on various ukulele sites and/or ebay in the near future.
OK, so that outlines what's currently in my collection. This time I'll rank the top 10:
1. William King long-scale tenor: William King enjoys a great reputation in the ukulele community and this uke definitely back that up. It has gorgeous master grade (I think) curly koa back & sides and a nice and tidy spruce top. It's also got a Jake Shimabukuro style slotted headstock with my last name in Chinese character (which coincidentally means "King") inlaid in abalone. But the reason it ranks #1 is because it sounds and feels soooooo good. Compared to all other ukes I own, this one has the best clarity and punch when picked or strummed and the feedback I get from it while playing is only experienced in the other two custom level ukes I own. The Mi-Si pickup also works great. Overall, it's far and away my favorite ukulele to play.
2. Kepasa Gypsy Rose: This is the second custom specified ukulele I own and I've been more than satisfied with it since receiving it in October after about a 16 month wait. It sounds as good as the Koa Works tenor and has the distinctive look of a Maccaferri guitar which I love. I also specified a strange headstock that was replicated by Kevin Crossett wonderfully. It's really an outstanding ukulele.
3. Koa Works tenor: This is the first "custom" ukulele I've owned and before receiving my King tenor it was the best sounding and playing ukulele I've played up to that point. It has great artistic appointments and it sounds and plays wonderfully. Along with #1 & #2 on this list, these three ukes are head and shoulders above all other ukes in my collection.
4. Bluegrass Ukulele cigar box tenor: Great sounding and playing uke that has added cigar-box mojo. Now that I have Jake Shimabukuro's autograph on it, it's even more special. It ranks with the best production ukuleles I've played in terms of sound and playability.
5. KoAloha Pineapple Sunday: I loved the shape of this ukulele when I first saw it and it sounds magnificent as well. It has a fairly distinct high pitched sound and is very loud. It's probably the easiest playing uke in my collection and very unique.
6. Kanile'a Custom SS: It's got some great looking curly koa and has a distinct deep sound. I really like the super soprano size and it is very well suited for travel. Looks and sounds great.
7. Honu deluxe concert: I really liked the honu themed design with the honu fretboard markers and bridge. With Worth CD strings, it sounds marvelous. Very long sustain and a nice and pleasant sound.
8. Compass Rose walnut tenor: This is really a great sounding uke. I strung it with a set of D'Addario J71 strings and I think it sounds great. What keeps it from being higher rated on my list is the narrow nut width. I haven't measured it but it is definitely less than 1-3/8", which I already find a bit narrow to begin with (my preferred nut width is 1.5"). So while this is a very nice sounding uke, I haven't found myself playing it too much due to the nut width preference.
9. Sonny D purpleheart tenor: I bought this uke because I was curious about purpleheart and also because I wanted something purple (I'm a Vikings football fan). It's a nice sounding uke but is a bit softer than the Compass Rose. I expected more oommph from the spruce top but it does not have the punch I thought it would have. Still, a sweet sounding uke from a pretty famous (I think) maker.
10. Kala tenor neck spruce top soprano: I got this baby for $110 from Elderly instruments. It really surprised me with pretty good sound and long sustain. I have other ukes that ranks below this one that sounds better, but it's hard to beat the bang for the buck on this uke. It's well made and have all the necessary appointments such as body & fretboard bindings (plastic), side position dots, and geared tuners. It's a great knock around uke.
Well, that's the top 10 rankings from my little collection. You might notice that the National concert and the Kiwaya KTS-7 didn't make the list. Both are great ukes but I just don't play them much. For the National, it's mainly because I'm not that into the resonator sound. While I recognize it's a high quality uke, the sound haven't grabbed me too much. Maybe that will change in the future. As for the Kiwaya, I haven't played it much because it's a soprano. I'm hoping that the DaSilva Santo reproduction, with a 1.5" nut width, will entice me to play the soprano scale more.
OK, that's it for this time. Hopefully it has been somewhat informative. I'm going to try to throw out a few reviews and videos in the coming month. Hopefully I get around to doing those. Thanks for reading!
Saturday, November 1, 2008
Sunday, October 19, 2008
Once I've had a bit more time with it, I'll try to post some commentary on it. (...I suppose I should get going on the commentary on the William King tenor huh? :P)
Thursday, October 16, 2008
First off, the sound and feel are excellent. I was hoping that it would approach the Koa Works tenor in terms of feel, and it does indeed have that nice feedback/vibration while playing it. It's hard to explain in words, but when you play these great custom ukes, you can tell. The sound is similar to the William King LS-tenor, so it is on the punchy side, which is what I like. The redwood top seem to result in a similar tone as spruce tops. So based on some limited playing, I'd say I'm very satisfied with how the sound turned out.
It certainly looks very cool, to me anyway. I've always thought those Maccaferri style guitars looked cool (that's why I wanted one of these in the first place) and this little uke certainly does a good job evoking the Maccaferri gypsy guitar. I specified an odd looking headstock, as seen in the previous post, for this uke just so it has something different, and I think it turned out pretty good. At least I like it now that I have seen it in person.
I haven't had a chance to check out the Mi-Si pickup, but it works great in the William King LS-tenor, so I'm sure it will be just fine here.
I ordered some inlay stickers that I intend to dress up the headstock with as it currently have nothing on it. Hopefully one of the stickers will look nice on the headstock. I'll post pics once I get the sticker applied.
So my initial impression is very positive. This should beat out the Honu concert as my favorite concert uke and should be good enough to vie for the "second favorite" spot behind the William King LS-tenor. I will try to post more complete impressions once I have spent some more time with the Gypsy Rose.
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
Anyway, I just got notified that my Kepasa Gypsy Rose ukulele had shipped yesterday and is scheduled to be in my hands this Thursday. I ordered it in June of 2007, so it has taken a while to say the least. Kepasa ukes have a good reputation and is highly endorsed by the likes of Craig Robertson and Nipper. I ordered a Little Mac, which has evolved into a Gypsy Rose, with a D-soundhole, wide body, and a cutaway. I specified a redwood top, walnut back and sides, maple top and bottom bindings, and a Spanish cedar neck. The fingerboard and bridge are ebony, with diamond shaped position markers. It has a custom headstock shape with PegHeds tuners and is fitted with Mi-Si Acoustic Trio active pickup.
I had planned to to learn "Gypsy Ukulele" in anticipation of receiving this uke, but between the extended build time and being busy with a lot of other stuff this summer, I managed to forget most of what I've learned of the tune (which was about half of the tune). Hopefully once the uke is in hand I will manage some motivation to learn it.
I find myself not beside myself waiting for this ukulele, mainly because I already own what I consider the ultimate ukulele, the William King long scale tenor (hmm...I should get my butt going on a blog entry about it huh?). But also because I've waited so long for it, a few more days doesn't seem like much. To be sure, I am very much looking forward to it and I have no doubt that it will be a very nice playing and sounding uke. I would be very very happy if it is in the same category as the Koa Works tenor in terms of sound and feel. It will be interesting though, as I had asked for a more "guitarish" sound with this uke. So I'm pretty curious about how it turned out. It certainly looks cool.
Here are a few pictures Kevin sent me:
Custom headstock shape I drew and sent to Kevin. Kind of funky!
Redwood top. I choose a striped piece of redwood.
Mi-Si Acoustic Trio pickup.
Sunday, July 27, 2008
While My Guitar Gently Weeps:
Going to California:
Saturday, July 26, 2008
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
The uke is obviously not completed yet and I have not idea when it will, but at least there are some parts completed. Hopefully it won't be that long before it's done. It's certainly a cool looking uke.
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
As my last post indicated, I have acquired a Kiwaya KTS-7, Compass Rose walnut tenor, and a mahogany National concert (all used). So I could possibly be reviewing these some day. The Compass Rose was a huge disappointment though, as it arrived to me with very high action and the supposed D-TAR pickup is actually just some unknown passive pickup. I kept it anyway figuring I'd fix up the action, but I haven't gotten around to it yet. The other two "new" ukes are both really nice.
So now I have 13 ukes in my possession. Truth be told, I pretty much only play a few of them these days. By far the most playing time goes to the William King LS-tenor. I also play the Bushman Baritone a little bit for the different sound. The Bluegrass cigar box also gets some occasional play as it sits in my office right now. The Kanile'a supersoprano is now tuned to ADF#B and once in a while I bust it out for some Schizophrenic Snowflakes (by Aldrine Guerrero). Other than that, I haven't played the other ones much other than a few courtesy playing time. So I think I'll need to thin the herd sometime before the winter.
I really would like to post some videos with the King tenor and perhaps do some commentary on it, so that's probably the first new thing I'll post on this blog. Not sure when I'll get around to it, but hopefully not too long from now.
I'll try to get a lineup update picture in sometime and also rank them all.
Despite already having too many ukes, I still have a few custom ones on order. The Glyph mezzo-soprano is scheduled to be built in a year and a half, so that's a long ways off. The Kepasa Gypsy Rose was supposed to be completed this past March. It is now July and I have not heard from Kevin Crossett about it for 3 months, so I'm not expecting to ever see it. That's fine with me as I already have too many ukes. It's a good thing there was never any deposit involved for this uke. I had also ordered a Santo reproduction soprano from Mike DaSilva a couple of months ago. I'm not sure when that's going to be done, but perhaps September or October. So that's what's coming (or not coming, in the case of the Kepasa) in the future.
Anyway, that's the plan for now. I hope to at least get around to some of these. If you're still reading this blog, thank you very much.
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
I still want to share my thoughts on the custom King tenor and a few other ukes I've acquired since the last lineup update. In that update, I wrote that there are three ukes I still was very interested in checking out, and I ended up getting all three! So there are still quite a few things I could post in the near future, and I will try to share those sometime.
For those who check out this little site, I'm sincerely humbled and glad that you might find the things here entertaining to read. I hope that even though I may be decreasing my involvement in the 'ukulele community, we all continue to spread the wonderfun little instrument that is the 'ukulele.
Saturday, May 31, 2008
Anyway, this is a little documentation of the arrival of the custom 'ukulele. I will following up in the upcoming weeks with my impression of it.
The Ameritage case coming out of the package:
Custom size Ameritage case for the non-traditional size of the King tenor:
The King tenor inside the case. Notice how it takes up every inch of the case:
Showing the extremely curly koa back. Note the Mi-Si charger. It's small enough to fit inside the case accessory compartment:
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
Saturday, May 24, 2008
It's actually a bit difficult to distinguish the sound of the 3 ukes from the video. If you've been reading this blog, you would know that the Koa Works is miles ahead of the other ukes. But the Ponos are definitely nice ukes too.
Sunday, May 18, 2008
- Blister figure sapele top.
- Rosewood fingerboard, bridge, & faceplate.
- Pin type bridge.
- Bone nut & saddle.
- No-name gold friction tuners with pearloid buttons.
- Spanish cedar semi-hollow body & neck.
- 2 gold plated strap pins.
- Plastic pickup jack w/unknown undersaddle pickup.
- Finish is Minwax wipe on polyurethane from Home Depot applied by the previous owner.
The Uklectic is a very good looking uke. My particular one has a blister figure sapele top that stands out when light is reflected off the wood. The body is similar to the shape of a Les Paul guitar, which is probably my favorite guitar shape. The fingerboard comes to a point similar to Martin ukuleles at the body end, and that point is repeated at the headstock, making for an attractive and cohesive design. The uke just looks very classy and high quality with one notable exception, the plastic pickup jack. The black pickup jack doesn't really look cheap, but it doesn't really look very high end either. A gold plated jack would look a lot better. I believe all the Uklectic made now have the combo endpin & jack at the tail block, unlike mine, where the jack is off to the right lower bout.
This is a concert sized ukulele with a nut width of 1-3/8". I normally prefer 1-1/2" nut width, but this one doesn't really feel too narrow for me. Perhaps it has wider string spacing than typical ukes with 1-3/8" nut widths. The neck feels very comfortable to me. It's about medium thickness and has a flattened D profile. The uke is a little heavier than a normal concert acoustic 'ukulele, but not overly so. It's pretty easy to play it without a strap standing up. The action is setup about medium and fairly effortless to play with the Ko'olau concert strings I installed on it. This is better than both of the previous electric ukes I owned. For some reason, both the Risa and BugsGear felt a bit hard to play despite having relatively low tensioned Worth BM strings on them. Overall it is an easy and comfortable uke to play.
This uke has great workmanship. Every piece of wood is seamlessly joined and the fret work is very good, with no frets sticking out. The tuners are not Gotoh or Grover, but they work well enough. Again, the only thing that I have an issue with is the plastic pickup jack. I guess it will probably be durable enough, but I would feel a lot better if it was metal. I would feel better about that if the pickup itself performed a little better (see next section). The pickup jack is offset to the right of the lower bout. When standing, it works just fine with a cable hanging off it. But if you are sitting and plugging the uke to an amp, you will need an "L" shaped connector or it will interfere with putting the uke on your leg. I guess if you are getting a newer Uklectic, the combo endpin/pickup jack should alleviate this issue.
My particular Uklectic was ordered without finish by the original owner. As mentioned in the specs section, the finish is applied by the original owner using Minwax wipe on polyurethane. He only put on 2 coats so the uke almost feels unfinished. It's not bad though. Spanish cedar has a strong scent and you definitely smell it every time you open the case. If someday I feel like adding new coats of finish, it shouldn't be too difficult. Overall it feels like a quality instrument worthy of Pete Howlett's reputation.
The sound of this uke should probably be evaluated in 2 ways. Unplugged and plugged in. This uke has a surprisingly good sound when unplugged. Where the Risa Uke Solid and BugsGear Eleuke are pretty much true "silent" ukes when not plugged in, the Uklectic actually has a decent volume output. I guess that could be a negative if you're looking for a silent uke that outputs almost no volume for late night practice, but for me, I actually prefer being able to hear good sound when the uke is unplugged. It doesn't compete with the volume of a acoustic 'ukulele, but it's a lot louder than the aforementioned silent ukes. The acoustic sound of the Uklectic, with the Ko'loau Golds I installed, is trebly and complex sounding. I think the sound quality is pretty high in this regard.
When plugged in, the Uklectic does very little to distinguish it from the other electric ukes. I don't think the plugged in sound is any better than the BugsGear or Risa. In fact, the C & E strings seem to dominate the sound, making it a bit unbalanced. I think that was also the case with the BugsGear & Risa, but it seems a little worse with the Uklectic. I don't think the pickup is of very high quality based on the plugged in sound and the cheap plastic pickup jack. It's kind of a pity that a high quality instrument does not have a great pickup. But I understand that Pete Howlett was trying to keep the price of the Uklectics down, so that probably sacrificed the pickup a little bit. If I ever feel like doing the work, I might try to replace the stock pickup with a Mi-Si pickup or something like that. I do have a L.R. Baggs Para-acoustic D.I. (pre-amp) that allows me to adjust the sound coming from the pickup for treble, midrange, bass, and a couple of other things, and it does improve the sound a little bit.
So when it comes to sound quality, surprisingly I like the acoustic sound performance on the uke a lot more than the plugged in sound. In fact, for me, it's the nice acoustic sound that makes this uke superior to the electric ukes I've owned previously.
If you order a new Uklectic from Pete Howlett, the advertised price on his website is $495 + shipping for a basic concert sized instrument. Assuming this has not increased (the dollar is pretty weak so I'm not sure) I think that's a pretty good value. While it costs quite a bit more than a Risa or BugsGear, you do get a luthier made instrument that looks great and works well enough plugged in (maybe the current pickup used is better mine, which might be a prototype insturment) and has surprisingly good tone unplugged. If you have a higher budget, it's possible to order one up with a lot more options and bling. I paid $348 for mine used, which I think is a great value.
The Uklectic isn't perfect. I'm not completely satisfied with its plugged in sound. However, compared to the Risa Uke Solid and BugsGear Eleuke I owned previously, I think the Uklectic is the superior overall instrument. And since I pretty rarely plug in the uke at home, most of the time when I do play it, it is played acoustically. The superior acoustic sound makes playing this uke a pleasant experience unplugged. When I played the Risa or BugsGear unplugged, I usually don't play very long because it sounded uninteresting.
If you're looking for a solid or semi-solid body electric uke, the Uklectic is probably the top choice out there right now.
Here's a sound file of me playing "Me & Shirley T" (badly) with the uke plugged into the computer directly and recorded using Audacity.
Here are some more pictures:
The sapele top of the Uklectic. Notice the blister figure.
The pickup jack is offset to the right. Newer models have the combo pin/jack at the tail block.
Saturday, May 17, 2008
The case I used was the soprano Guardian case I got with one of my previous soprano purchases. It's actually quite a bit bigger than the soprano size, so I stuffed a t-shirt in the body compartment to keep the uke for sliding around inside. Taiwan is very humid but I packed a Herco humidifier for the plane ride. When I got the Guardian case, it didn't come with any straps so I took a strap from a Lanikai case so I can carry the case on my back. The uke plus the case is very light so it was very easy to travel with. I just threw the strap across my shoulders and it feels almost weightless on my back.
I took two flights to Taiwan this time and it was with Northwest and EVA Air. Neither airlines gave me any trouble with carrying on the uke in addition to a wheeled carry-on case I took with me. The uke made it to and from Taiwan with no problems. While I was in Taiwan, I got quite a bit of playing time in while we watched my kids at my in-laws home (it was not an exciting trip). I practiced Jake Shimabukuro's "Touch" for a possible performance at a friend's wedding in June and I think I have it learned now.
This is the first time I took a 'ukulele this far and it worked out great. Ukes are perfect travel companions and I'm definitely taking mine on many future trips away from home.
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
Photo 1: It shows the back/side with the ebony binding. I didn't know what the curly koa would look like as it wasn't something I got to select, but I'm very pleased with the looks here.
Photo 2: A straight on shot of the back.
Photo 3: This photo highlights a different tenor (rosewood/spruce), but mine looks like it's off to the left side. Notice the maple binding on the fingerboard for contrast with the ebony binding on the body. William was very pleased with the look in his correspondence with me. I think it's going to be outstanding as well.
Hopefully in a few days there will be full blown photos of the finished uke and a couple more days later it will be in my hands. This is so exciting! I can hardly wait!
Tuesday, May 6, 2008
Sunday, April 27, 2008
When I arrived with my wife at the Dakota Restaurant & Jazz Club, I was a little surprised by how far back the seats I got were. I almost couldn't see the small stage. I was also surprised by the number of people who occupied the place. From what I could tell, it was sold out. We were there about 45 minutes early so we settled in and ordered some expensive dinner (I had some "Hawaiian Blue Marlin" for $24).
The show started around 7:10 or so and Jake started off playing an extended version of Let's Dance. Other songs he played included Me & Shirley T, Misty, Spain, Orange World, Dragon, In My Life, Time after Time, and of course, While My Guitar Gently Weeps. He only played a couple of songs that I have not heard or watched on Youtube before, but it was such an experience for me to be watching it live. Some of the sounds coming out of his ukulele are really incredible. I have no idea how he does some of the stuff that he does.
After the show, Jake and one of his assistants (or manager) stood just outside the restaurant meeting with the fans and selling some T-shirts and the In My Life CD. I got in line and when I made it to him, he immediately noticed my Ukulele Underground T-shirt. I was SO star-struck at that point I think I was shaking. I don't remember ever being this star-struck before. Anyway, I chatted briefly with him and told him I hope he comes back sometime. I got a picture taken with him and asked him to sign my cigar box uke. I'm not sure if he's seen a cigar box uke before, but he thought it was interesting. He is such a nice guy too. From talking to him and observing his interaction with other people, I feel that he's genuinely appreciative of the support from his fans.
So that's my first Jake Shimabukuro experience. I really felt very happy to be able to meet with him after the show. I mean, how often do you get to meet with your musical hero after watching the concert? I think Jake is able to do this because he's not a house hold name in the mainland United States. I wish him nothing but success in the future, but I also hope that his fans can continue to have that up close experience with him as long as possible.
A couple more pictures:
With Jake after the concert.
Jake signing my cigar box uke.
Jake's signature on the cigar box uke.
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
If you're from the Twin Cities and want to attend, I think there are still tickets left for the 9:30PM show. Don't miss it!
Saturday, April 19, 2008
Why did I get the 3 new ukes? The Oscar Schmidt was an impulse buy at a great deal. The Bushman baritone was to satisfy my curiosity about baritones (and it was really cheap). The Uklectic was something I've been interested in and I jumped at the chance to get a used one at a great price.
The departed G-String was not getting played much and I've decided that I'm not really into sopranos (this could change at any time though). The departed BugsGear wasn't getting played much either and when I bought the Uklectic, it had to go.
There are two custom ukes that are scheduled to arrive pretty soon, so I guess I'm going to have to think about which ones needs to go next. Of the ukes pictured, the Pono, Oscar Schmidt, Martin, and Maccaferri doesn't get played much. The Maccaferri was cracked when I used it to film a video for the Ukulele Underground April Contest, so I guess I can write it off from the uke count. That leaves the Pono, Oscar, and Martin. I think I'll keep the Martin, so I guess I'll try to find the other two a new home sometime down the road.
You know, UAS is a difficult disease to fight off. Even though I couldn't be more satisfied with the Koa Works tenor and have two pretty sweet customs coming soon, I'm still constantly looking at other ukes online. I'd be very interested in a National reso-uke, a Kiwaya KTS-7 (Martin style 3 copy), and a Compass Rose tenor just to name three. I sure hope those custom ukes kill off UAS for a while. Wish me luck...:p
Monday, April 14, 2008
When I searched the net a couple of months ago, it appeared that the street price for one of these is around $280 or so. Some further digging landed me at Elevation Music, where at the time I ordered, it had a price of $210 plus free shipping. At such a deal I thought it was a no brainer and went ahead and ordered it. Pretty much right after I ordered it, the price on their website changed to $269. Perhaps they realized that they priced it wrong after I bought it?
When I ordered it, I knew it wasn't going to blow me away simply because I already own some pretty high end 'ukuleles. But I thought maybe it will bring something different to the table. So how does it fare? Let's go into some details. First the specs:
- Solid Trembesi top, side, and back.
- Plastic bound rosewood fingerboard with 21 frets.
- Rosewood bridge.
- Bone nut & saddle.
- Off-white plastic binding.
- Abalone (not sure if it's real) headstock logo, position dots, and rosette.
- Multi-color "rope" purfling on soundboard.
- Grover sealed gear tuners with ebony buttons.
- Satin finish.
- Custom bell shaped case.
I think this 'ukulele looks quite good. I have no clue what trembesi is but to me it looks kind of similar to koa. The only information I found about trembesi online is that they use it for furniture wood in Indonesia. Since this uke is made in Indonesia, that makes sense. The bell shaped body looks interesting and the decorations are pretty nice. I think the multi-colored "rope" purfling look very cool. I'm not sure about the abalone used on this uke though. It does appear to be real abalone, but I'm just not sure. It looks decent for the rosette, but the Oscar Schmidt logo on the headstock looks kind of like an abalone decal. The shape of the headstock, body, and bridge are all pretty faithful to the original bell uke, as far as I could tell. The only part that doesn't look faithful to the original are the tuners. But frankly I much prefer geared tuners to friction tuners so this isn't a problem for me. Those "ears" probably would keep a few purists from considering this uke though.
This is a concert scaled 'ukulele. The nut is 1-3/8", which is a little narrow for my tastes (I prefer 1-1/2"). It has a fairly round neck profile, almost a slight "V" shape, that I don't particularly care for either. So right off the bat it doesn't quite fit my preferences. Holding the 'ukulele is also a different experience. If you hold it by cradling the bottom of the uke in your right arm, like how you might hold it standing, it feels normal enough. But when holding it while sitting down, I find that if I rest the uke on my right leg, the pointy part of the bell kind of digs into my right arm sometimes, depending on the arm position. I've concluded that this isn't the most ergonomic shape for an 'ukulele. In fact, I think the cigar box uke I have feels more ergonomic. The action was slightly high when I got the uke, so I sanded down the saddle and now it's fine. Overall it certainly doesn't fit my preferences all that well, and the bell shape is kind of awkward, but none of the issues I have with it has to do with quality, and for the right person, it can feel really good.
I suspect that this 'ukulele is made at the same factory as Pono ukes. I based that suspicion mostly on the fact that this is made in Java (Indonesia) and has the exact same Grover geared tuners as my Pono cedar top tenor. But the workmanship of the bell uke also seem to be Pono-esque. I would say it's definitely on par with Pono ukes. The insides look clean. All parts fit together well. No sharp fret ends. Those quality Grover tuners. In short, the workmanship is great, especially when you consider the price.
This is a pretty difficult category for me to rate because to be honest just about all the other ukes I own are of much higher sound quality. They also cost a lot more, so there's not reason to expect this bell uke to sound as good as say the Kanile'a super-soprano. Judging it on its own, I think it's a fine sounding 'ukulele. It came strung with Aquila strings, which sounded just OK. I installed some Worth CD's on it and to my ears it represented some improvement. The sound is clearer and it rings better at the higher frets. The volume is pretty good, about the same as the previously mentioned Kanile'a super-soprano. It's sound is what I would describe as a bit artificial. I don't exactly know what that means, but that's the word that comes to mind when I listen to its sound. The intonation is good. Overall I would say that for the money this is a fine sounding 'ukulele. I think it's on par with Ponos I've played and at least as good or better than most Lanikai or Kala laminated ukes.
This is where this 'ukulele shines a little bit. For the street price of $280, you get a good sounding, nicely decorated and uniquely shaped solid wood uke plus a very nice custom bell shaped case (reviewed in this post). The case quality is at least on par with the Ko'olau hard cases, so it would be reasonable to say that it's worth $50-60. That means you're spending about $210 or so on the uke itself, which is very reasonable, I think. It compares favorably on the value front against Pono ukes.
If you've read this far, you're probably thinking that this 'ukulele isn't that great. While I would say it's not a great uke, it's certainly a good 'ukulele. It's not going to make you forget your KoAloha or Kanile'a concert, but it's a fraction of the cost. If the bell shape appeals to you, and you do not own ukes of higher sound quality than Ponos, I would have no problem recommending this ukulele. If you own one or more Hawaiian factory made ukes or custom ukes, this one probably does best serving as a good sounding novelty uke in your collection. Hey, playing Christmas songs on this uke should be a lot of fun right?
Here is a sound clip of me playing this 'ukulele.
Monday, April 7, 2008
Mike Okouchi is, of course, awesome in this video, but when I saw it, I just thought "how awesome would it be to play this song on a Gypsy Rose!" So, I'm determined now to learn how to play this song using Dominator's tabs for it. It's going to be difficult though, as the song's difficulty seems to be above my skill level. It will probably be a month or two before the Gypsy Rose will arrive, so I've got some time to do it. If I'm successful, I'll be sure to post some results here.
Meanwhile, here is the kick butt video of Mike Okouchi playing Gypsy Ukulele:
Sunday, April 6, 2008
Anyway, hopefully it's useful and/or entertaining for someone out there. Here it is:
Saturday, April 5, 2008
Friday, April 4, 2008
I'll just rate the top 5 this time:
1. Koa Works tenor: This doesn't come as a surprise as this is by far the best sounding, playing, and feeling 'ukulele I currently own. I simply love the "feedback" it gives me while I play it. None of my other ukes has this quality. It has held up well since I got it back from Hawaii a month ago for bridge re-glue. It's just so nice to play and sounds so good that I seem to be playing this about 90% of the time now compared to the other ukes. I really hope the two customs will be at this level. If so, I'm going to have to think hard about purging many ukes in my collection because many of them probably won't get touched then.
2. Honu DLX concert: This is a great sounding uke. The sound is so clear, with such good sustain, that it continues to be a standout in my collection. I think if it had the "feedback" quality that the Koa Works has, it could possibly be considered in almost the same class. It jumps ahead of the Pineapple Sunday because I have been picking it up to play more frequently of late.
3. KoAloha Pineapple Sunday: A great and unique sounding 'ukulele. Not to mention uniquely styled. It drops down a spot because I have been playing it less. It probably has a lot to do with my infatuation with the Koa Works as that's the tenor I always reach for.
4. Kanile'a Custom Super-soprano: This uke made a big jump up my personal ranking. I had previously rated it at #7, citing that it sounds a bit muffled compared to some others ukes I have. Well, I now think that it has a fine deep sound. Funny how your perceptions can change huh? Another thing I've come to appreciate more is the super-soprano size. I like the small body coupled with a concert neck, which is very suitable for playing in front of a computer desk in a small corner while learning from a Youtube lesson or something. And of course, it looks gorgeous, especially since I installed new koa bridge pins on it. I think this will probably act as my "soprano" uke for a while.
5. Bluegrass Ukuleles Cigar Box tenor: I haven't been spending a lot of time with this uke lately, so it drops down a couple of spots. However, it's always had fine sound and that cigar box mojo is still there. I find that it works really well for sliding notes, such as in "In My Life", where there's a note that you slide from the 2nd fret up to the 11th fret. I sometimes bust out this uke just to play that song. In fact, I've been planning to post a video of that song played on this uke, but so far I haven't been able to nail the song quite yet. :P
You may have noticed the absence of any soprano ukes on this list. That's because I've come to realize that I hardly ever play them any more. I think my G-String soprano is an outstanding uke, but the soprano scale keeps me from playing it much. I'll probably be parting with the G-String soprano soon and just keep the Martin as kind of a player/collectible. Some day I'll probably love the soprano scale again, but for now, I would have to say I'm a tenor/concert guy.
Saturday, March 29, 2008
You see, I was never a Beatles fan and the first time I've ever heard of the song "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" was from the famous Jake Shimabukkuro Youtube video. At first I thought the song was about the guy playing the 'ukulele so well that it makes a guitar weep. Of course, that couldn't have been further from being correct as I found out shortly after.
As you can see from the picture, my guitar is sitting in the middle of the stairway down to the basement. The fence there is to keep my kids and dog from going down there. Since the basement is unfinished, no one really needs to go down there anyway. I bought that guitar about 8-9 years ago from Guitar Center thinking I would learn how to play it. It turned out that I strummed it maybe 3 times before lending it to people at my church to play it. It sat unplayed at the church for the past few of years so I brought it back home last year. It had been moved around a few times but other than a few courtesy strums, it sits unplayed in the gig bag. In some ways my original assumption for the song "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" can be applied to this case. I play my 'ukuleles so much that I don't ever think about learning the guitar. So in my case, my guitar is truly weeping while I hack away at my 'ukuleles.
Anyway, I thought that picture and the stupid story could be worth a chuckle. If not, know that I take the word "ghetto" in this blog seriously and a lame story like this should be expected once in a while....:P