Wednesday, January 30, 2008

A little slice of heaven...(and a little bit of hell)

As mentioned in previous blogs, I brought home a Koa Works tenor from my recent trip to Oahu. It was the first 'ukulele purchase since the very first one (Leolani super-soprano) that I actually had a chance to test before buying it. This 'ukulele blew me away when I played it in Oahu and was a great companion during my vacation there. However, not all is rosy since I brought it back. In the first 2 weeks I've had it in Minnesota, it has developed what looks like a 2 inch finish crack in the back and the bridge is starting to lift! This is obviously alarming as I've tried my best to keep it humidified in the dry Minnesota winter. Rich Godfrey, the builder, has agreed to fix it for me so I am sending it back to Hawaii. I'm really sad to see it go as it is truly a joy to play. Despite this setback, I think I have had it long enough to do a review of it.

First the specs:

-Koa top, back , and sides.

-Ebony faceplate, fretboard, and bridge.

-Molokai deer antler nut and saddle.

-Ebony fretboard binding.

-Ebony top and back binding.

-Abalone top purfling, rosette, headstock logo, fretboard position markers.

-Grover gold geared tuners.

I'll divide up the review into sections, starting with looks:

This is a very cool looking 'ukulele in my opinion. It has a very distictive and good looking headstock with what looks like some sort of a honu logo inlaid with abalone. The bridge is also of a distinctive shape that's reminicent of an upside down crown or "W". The abalone rosette and purfling looks very fine. I assume the abalone used here is of high quality and compared to the abalone used on the Honu concert, it looks a lot finer and makes the Honu's abalone look a bit coarse in comparison. I'm not sure what grade of koa is used for this uke, but I'm guessing AA or AAA. It has some light curls but no dramatic flame curls seen on some other high end ukes. It does look very classy and surprisingly good outdoors under sun light. Taking a closer look atht he uke reveals some nice little details such as pin-striping (looks like a very thin piece of light colored wood) around the body and fretboard bindings and between the headstock and the faceplate. The back has some wood pattern that looks kind of like a spaceship from video games such as Space Invaders. Kind of interesting. It is finished with gloss laquer and to me it looks very sharp all around.


It is pretty much a standard tenor sized uke. Its body is a little bit wider and longer than the Pono cedar top tenor. It is comfortable to hold and the nut width is just a tick under 1.5", which feels good to me. Playability is outstanding. It plays as easily as anything I've played and feels better than anything I've played. In fact, the most outstanding aspect of this uke for me is the way it feels while playing it. It's hard to describe, but when I strum or pick the strings, the way the sound and vibrations fill the senses is pretty much perfect. This is the first uke I've owned that I love for how it "feels" while playing as much as how good it sounds. I wish there's a better way to relate that feeling but all I can say is that it's unlike anything else I have and is only matched by a couple of other very high end ukes I tried in Oahu.


The workmanship is outstanding, at least from what you can see. Everything looks very clean and well crafted. Looking into the soundhole, I do not see any trace of glue residue or wood shavings. The kerfings used in this uke are among the smallest I've seen, even compared with some soprano ukes. Perhaps that has something to do with the great sound. The gloss finish looks nice and reflective. The only blemish on the workmanship is that for some reason, the seams where the body bindings are joined, are very visible and I can feel that seam with my fingers. I guess that's not a big deal since those are pretty small seams. But it would have been nice if those seams are sanded smooth so you either can't feel them or they are very slight. As a whole, this is a top class 'ukulele when it comes to workmanship. However, as I mentioned in the beginning of this review, it has developed a couple of problems since I took it home. I guess the high-end nature of this instrument also meant that it is high-maintenance. I don't really fault the workmanship for it though, as I'm pretty sure the builder didn't build it with the Minnesota winter in mind.


This, of course, is the most important thing for any musical instrument. This Koa Works tenor scores extremely high on this front. It has a very solid, crisp, and clear, yet full, sound. I talked about the feel earlier in this review, and when a string is picked, I hear a very solid note accompanied by a vibration in the instrument that is just sublime. The string balance is outstanding, where no string overpowers the other strings. The notes sustain all the way up the fretboard. The high notes really do sound amazing. And it produces very nice sound whether you pick or strum it hard or soft. It also sounds awesome when you slide the notes while strumming. I think I was actually sold on this 'ukulele while playing a passage from "Going to California" where you slide the E & A strings from the 3rd fret to the 7th fret then to the 10th fret. It really sounded almost mystical to me and I was mesmerized by it. Whether it is picked or strummed, the sound is top of the line all the way. I'm sure there are better sounding ukes around, but they would have to be downright heavenly to top this. By the way, it does have excellent volume, as good as any uke I have. But when you play it, volume doesn't really seem that important anymore because you're so taken by the sound. Well, at least I am.


This a tricky thing to rate. On one hand, you definitely have to PAY for a uke such as this. After all, it is a luthier built 'ukulele, and Rich Godfrey appears to build at most a dozen a year. On the other hand, I definitely feel like the sound and feel is completely worth the money. If you try to figure out the "sound to dollar" ratio for ukes, something like this would no doubt lose to cheaper ukes such as a Kala, assuming one can even quantify the "sound to dollar" ratio. Is it 8 times better than a Kala tenor? Perhaps it's not. But there is not even the slightest doubt that it is much much better, and like most things in life, the better it is, the more you have to pay for it. For me personally, I feel that it is money well spent, even with the issues that cropped up. I know this because I already miss it dearly despite only having sent it out about 3 days ago. The other ukes I have doesn't come close to offering the satisfaction while playing, not even the Pineapple Sunday. So I hope it returns to me in good shape soon, as it is really quite a special experience for me to play it.


What can I say? This Koa Works tenor blew me away when I tried it in Oahu, and it is still every bit as outstanding as I initially thought after bringing it home. Playing it is truly an experience. Again it's hard to describe, but this uke seem to actually connect with me while I'm playing it, like the sound is somehow penetrating my body or something. I can't stress how good it feels for me to play this 'ukulele. I have a couple of custom ukes due in a few months. What this Koa Works tenor has done is to set the bar exceedingly high. I would be overjoyed if those custom ukes can match the level of sound and feel this uke provides to me. Yes, it experienced some problems moving to Minnesota, but hopefully I can do a better job with the winter conditions when it returns back to me. I look forward to that day very much.

Thursday, January 24, 2008


January 24th, 2007 was the day when I picked up my first 'ukulele. It was pure co-incidence that I decided to get one during a trip to Oahu last year. My family visited the Dole Pineapple plantation on January 23rd, 2007 and we bought tickets to the train tour for the plantation. We got to the train station as the train was about to leave, so we sat at the waiting area to wait for the next train. We were sitting pretty much right at the front of the line along with another couple, and there was the train station attendant playing a 'ukulele. I remember thinking that it sounded very nice when I heard him strum it. After playing a little bit he came over and introduced the 'ukulele to us at the beginning of the line. He told us the meaning of the word 'ukulele (jumping flea), the "My Dog Has Fleas" tuning, and how easy it is to learn to play it. Having already enjoyed the sound of it when he was playing it, I thought perhaps I should give it a try if I saw one during the trip. The next day we went to the Aloha Stadium flea market. There were several vendors selling 'ukuleles there, and I stopped at several of them to check out their ukes. Not knowing anything about 'ukuleles back then, I figured I'd spend about $100 or so on a "nice" 'ukulele. I ended up getting a Leolani super soprano (pictured here). I didn't even know what size it really was and for a little while I thought I bought a tenor sized uke. Eventually I found a lot of great resources to learn about ukes and how to play them, and started buying ukes left and right. It's kind of amazing to think that had I made it to the train before the one I actually took at the Dole plantation, I may have never bought that first uke. But perhaps it was meant to be, because to this day, I still can't get enough of playing the 'ukulele!

Here's to many more wonderful years of 'ukulele playing.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Yikes! USAS!

'Ukulele fans are well aware of a little disease called Ukulele Acquisition Syndrome, commonly known as UAS. I know it very well because if you look at that little picture on the left side of this blog, you know I've got a bad case of UAS. Well, a little visit to the 'ol string drawer revealed that I also have UAS's little cousin, Ukulele String Acquisition Syndrome, or USAS. If you look at the pictures I've attached to this entry, it may not look all that bad considering how many ukes I have, but if you consider that in most of the cases I have at least one spare set of strings, then it's probably getting a bit much. And on top of that, I have a few packs of Guadalupe 'ukulele strings and some Savarez strings on the way to me this week!

So why does one need so many strings? I guess for me it's mostly due to curiosity and the desire to come up with the best strings for a particular uke. Most ukes are factory strung with pretty average and even lousy strings. To bring the uke to its full potential frequently require a change of strings. The best example I can cite from personal experience is with my Honu concert. It was actually strung with Aquila strings, which are very good strings, from the factory. However, I didn't really like that sound too much and tried some Worth strings on it. Worth BM's improved the sound a little bit and Worth CD's really made it sound good to me.

Some of the strings I bought out of curiosity. I got some D'Addario J71 sets because that's what Jake Shimabukuro used and I wanted to see what it was like. I put it on the Pono cedar top and if I remember correctly, it was kind of plinky and metallic sounding. It wasn't too bad but didn't really do it for me so I changed it a few times since then. Maybe I'll go back to try it again someday. I got a set of soprano Kala Reds because there has been so few reports on it and was curious about it. I put it on an Applause soprano I had but didn't really like the sound or the feel of the wound strings. Recently I got some old KoAloha colored strings while in Hawaii and tried a green set on the Honu concert. Sadly while the strings sounded decent, they didn't seem to intonate very well and I switched them back to the Worth CD's.

I guess through all this experimentation, I've become a fan of Worth strings. Almost all of my ukes are currently strung with Worth strings and they all sound very good to me. Some ukes did well with other strings such as Aquila strings, but I like the smoother feel of Worth better. Of course, I still got some Savarez and Guadalupe strings to try soon, and it's fun to experiment even if the strings don't work out at the end.

By the way, for geared tuners, be sure to get one of these string winders. It makes the job so much quicker!

Friday, January 18, 2008

Lineup Update

There has been a new addition to the "family". The Koa Works tenor followed me home from Oahu last week. It is simply a dream to play and opened my eyes to how great a custom level instrument can be. I still have a couple of custom ukes on the way this year, and the Koa Work tenor has set the bar extremely high for them. I will review it soon. I will probably need to get rid of a couple of ukes to make room for the customs too. But until then, this pic represent the current lineup.

Saturday, January 12, 2008


Being in Oahu for a week means I got a chance to check out plenty of 'ukuleles that I had no chance to try back home in Minnesota. While I didn't turn the trip into a "uke run", I tried to work in the visits to the music stores within the flow of our vacation. I played as many ukes I could get my hands on within the time I had to do it and I will put down my impressions of them to the best of my recollection. This will help me remember some things about the ukes I played on this trip (I started writing this during the trip so my memory is fresher regarding the ukes I played). I did not give all of the ukes I played equal play time or attention, so this is by no means the final word on any of them. Rather, this is just some impressions on a bunch of ukes through the perspective of one person, me.

A couple of notes:

1. It seems that my brain does not decern the sounds of a low-G strung ukes very well, so if a uke was strung low-G, I mostly just strummed a few chords and moved on.

2. Several of the same ukes were played at different locations, so I will write about the same uke in several locations if that's the case.

3. I will organize this by the location I played them at and in chronological order.

Here it goes:

At Shawn's house:

-Keith Ogata: I played both the side port version and the top sound hole version. These are a little larger than the average tenor and barely fit into a Lanikai tenor case. The koa wood body looks great and the shape is very distictive. They have a punchy sound that I would describe as "dry", which to me means it's tone isn't as complex as some others I played at Shawn's. The side port one has a more "in your face" sound and is the one I preferred. Both are loud and are easily worth the asking price.

-Ken Potts: I played a super concert mad of koa with maple sides. I did not like the feel of it because the outer strings are almost right at the edge of the fretboard. I believe it had Hilo strings so that didn't help things. It sounded fine but didn't leave much of an impression.

-Koa Rythms: I played a koa tenor. These are extremely high end custom builder ukes. Looked very nice. I don't remember much about the sound because frankly I knew it was out of my price range so I didn't spend too much time on it. It was still very cool to check it out.

-Koa Works: I played a koa tenor. These are also very high end custom builder ukes but they cost a bit less than Koa Rythms. I really liked its distinctive headstock and bridge shape. It didn't have the most curly koa on the body, but it does have subtle curls and is well built. Shawn told me these are his favorite player ukes and are extremely consistent. I played it quite a bit and was gripped by its awesome sound. It is very loud and has a very clear yet deep voice. Those qualities are almost mutually exclusive from ukes I've played before this trip. The notes ring and sustain all the way up the fretboard. The sound almost seems mystical to me as I strummed it. And the way it vibrates as you strum with the notes popping out of the uke has to be experienced to be understood. This was the one that made the biggest impression to me and is the one I'm bringing home. Its sound and feel just exuded awesomeness that I have not experienced previously in an 'ukulele.

-Ko'olau: I played a series 400 tenor. This one was also way out of my price range. I played it a little bit and was not particularly moved by its sound, although I admit I didn't really focus too much on it. It didn't help that it was tuned low-G, which makes it harder for me to tell the sound quality. At this point I thought maybe Ko'olau was overrated. My opinion would change later during this trip. It did look awesome, with great curly koa body and nice decorations.

-Moore Bettah: I got to play a couple of ukes made by Chuck Moore. I would say my experience with these is incomplete because Chuck intentionally leaves the action very high so the player can adjust it to his or her liking. So the playability of these were not good when I played them. Sure look nice though.

-Pahu Kani: I tried all 4 Shawn had on hand. Two super tenors (19 inch scale), one 8-string tenor, and a super concert. These are great looking works of art. I didn't spend too much time on the super tenors and the 8 string, but spent quite a bit of time on the super concert as I was seriously thinking about getting it. These are the most distictive and cool looking 'ukuleles I have ever seen. They also sound very good. The super concert was especially nice sounding to me, even though it was strung with low-G string. They are a bit heavier than I expected, but that didn't impact the sound. I really liked these.

-T's Ukulele: I got to try a Martin 5K concert replica made by Takahashi Shinji. Again it was well out of my price range so I didn't play it for very long. But it looked awesome and I think it sounded very nice too. Definitely a very cool piece.

At KoAloha factory:

I played most of the ukes they had hanging at the show room. The highlight was the tenor Sceptre. It had a very loud and solid sound. I would describe it as a more macho Pineapple Sunday. It doesn't sound quite as high pitched and harp-like as the P.S. I was very impressed with its sound. Another one I liked a lot was surprisingly the 6-string Imaikalani. I had a Lanikai solid spruce top 6-string at one time and did not like its sound that much before getting rid of it. This KoAloha sounded very nice. So nice that I might contemplate getting one down the road.

At Hawaiian Ukulele Shop in Aloha Tower:

-Kamaka: I played a tenor. It's well built and it sounded and played very good. I definitely think it's worth the asking price of $850. However, to me it is clearly not on the same level as some of the ukes I played at Shawn's. Nothing wrong with that, as Shawn's ukes cost considerably more.

At Ukulele House in Waikiki:

-MP Ukulele: I played an MP tenor made with what looked like a spruce sound board. It was very light weight and sounded great. Good playing action and nice tone up and down the fretboard. I believe it would be either $700 or $750 when ordered directly from Mike Pereira. That's a serious bargin for a great sounding tenor. It's at least at the level of the Hawaiian factory built tenors and perhaps a bit better in my opinion.

At Ukulele Pua Pua:

-G-String: I played a regular concert and a custom shop tenor. The concert really blew me away. I knew that G-Strings are quality ukes from owning a G-String soprano, but this concert really sounded great. Very light weight and resonant. It's like the soprano but on turbo steroids. Simply outstanding and probably the best concert 'ukulele I played on this trip. I got to play the custom shop tenor because Pua Pua didn't have a regular tenor when I asked to try one. This custom tenor is gorgeous and has all the bells and whistles such as radiused and bound fretboard, tuners on one side (telecaster style), and abalone inlays. I'm not sure how I feel about the radiused fretboard but it did play well and sounded great. I didn't think it sounded quite as good as the Koa Works tenor, but it's pretty close.

-Kala: I tried a curly mango (laminated) concert and was not too impressed with the sound. It's not bad, per se, but not close to the same level as the likes of the G-String concert and likely suffered by comparison to that G-String concert at Pua Pua.

-Kanile'a: I played a tenor and a super concert. Both had nice clear tone and played very well. The sound quality is at least as good as the Kamaka I played earlier. To my ears they are not at the level of the Koa Works tenor, but then again one should not expect that either.

-KoAloha: I played a KoAloha concert right after playing the G-String concert and was slightly disappointed by it. The G-String was clearly superior to my ears. Both ukes had the same factory Hilo (I think) strings so they were on equal ground. It's definitely not bad, but I wasn't blown away by it. Maybe I had too high of an expectation after hearing so much good things about it on the internet. Still, I think the only disappointment for me was that I didn't think it matched the G-String. It's very good on its own.

-Koa Pili Koko: I was very curious about these new imported ukes. I tried a concert and a tenor. These felt heavier than other similar sized ukes. They are very well built and sounded fine. I think they compare well against Ponos. Their prices are extremely attractive. Compared to a KoAlana, which I once owned, they are way heavier but also have much better workmanship. These should make outstanding beginner/intermediate ukes.

-Ron Yasuda: I played a concert made with Monkeypod. It didn't sound any better than the Hawaiian factory brands to my ears. It's probably at the same level, but it didn't make much of an impression on me.

At Aloha Stadium Swap Meet (tourist flea market):

-Kala: I played several Kalas of different sizes. They all seemed decent and are good values for the money. There was a solid spruce top tenor (I think it had laminated mahogany back/sides) that I thought sounded particularly good. I wouldn't take it over say a Kamaka tenor, but it was better than I expected it to be and is a good value.

-Kanile'a: One of the booths had a bunch of Kanile'as. I played many of them and they all sounded pretty good. In fact I think they all were clearer sounding than my Kanile'a super soprano. I was particularly interested in the Kanile'a "Super Tenor" and played one that was strung re-entrant. It had excellent volume but I thought it was a bit too "boomy", like maybe the C string is overpowering the other strings a little bit. Maybe it really is meant to be a low-G uke. I had always thought the Kanile'a super tenor looked pretty ugly (too fat) from pictures I've seen, but in person it wasn't bad at all.

-Tangi: I played a couple of cutaway tenors. I think the action was a bit high and they didn't sound all that special. They looked fine but I didn't find them compelling otherwise.

At Hawaii Music Supply:

-G-String: I played a concert Dolphin here. It sounded fine but didn't blow me away like the concert I played at Ukulele Pua Pua. I guess it's true that there are differences in sound even within the same brand & model.

-Kelii: I was hoping to try some Keliis on this trip but the concert at HMS was pretty much the only one I got my hands on. This particular one seem to have been there for quite a while. I don't remember why I thought that, but maybe it just seem a little shop worn or something. It was a deluxe model with some green abalone inlays. It sounded fine and is on par with with other Hawaiian builders. I just wish there were more available to try.

-Ko'olau: I played a series 400 concert and a series 100 tenor. The concert looked great and sounded very good. However it didn't seem to be as good as the G-String concert I played at Ukulele Pua Pua. It also didn't sound $3800 nice. The series 100 tenor, on the other hand, was superb. It had a satin finish on some very curly koa. It had a cool slotted headstock and wood inlaid "floral" position markers. I think it's an identical model as this series 100 "Floral". It happened to be strung re-entrant and I played and listened it for a little while. I think this was the only uke I played since the first stop at Shawn's that matched the Koa Works in terms of sound. It played and sounded awesome. As I played it at HWS, I actually thought the asking price of $1,700 was a bargin for it. It definitely made me a believer of Ko'olau.

-Pono: They had a lot of Ponos here. I played several of them of each size. They are decent sounding instruments but not especially noteworthy for me. There was a koa tenor that sounded quite nice, with some complex tones.

At Good Guys Music and Sound:

-Kala: I tried various Kalas they had there. Most were decent but unremarkable. There was a spruce top tenor with the spalted maple back/sides that sounded and looked pretty nice. At this point I'm thinking a solid spruce top is the way to go for Kalas.

-Kamaka: They had a soprano and a concert. The soprano felt similar to the KoAloha soprano that was also there. It's in the same class. I thought the concert was pretty nice. It played well and sounded pretty good. While I wasn't blown away by it, it certainly was pleasant and I think I'd be happy to own it.

-KoAloha: They had several KoAlohas there. There was a Pineapple Sunday, a tenor Sceptre, a regular tenor, a soprano, and a Noah. The Pineapple Sunday had exceedingly high action and was not good to play. The Sceptre has the same strong sound I experienced at the KoAloha factory, but the intonation seemed to be off at the higher frets. Perhaps I tuned it wrong by ear, but it sounded fine at the lower frets. The tenor and soprano were good, but not especially notable. The Noah, however, was very impressive. It is at least as loud as the soprano, and perhaps a little bit higher pitched. It felt like a junior Pineapple Sunday. I was actually tempted to get it, especially since Good Guys had a very nice price for it. But since I really wouldn't have much use for it and lacking room to bring it back home, I refrained from getting it.

At Easy Music Center (Honolulu):

-G-String: Played a conert. It was very nice, but again did not blow me away like the one at Pua Pua did. I'm wondering if my ears have gotten used to the Koa Works tenor and it's getting harder to be impressed by ukes I tried at music stores. Having said that, this is still a top notch concert 'ukulele that should please just about anyone.

-Honu: Played a deluxe concert. It is basically the same uke as my Honu except it doesn't have a honu shaped bridge and has a satin finish. It was strung with Kala Reds. I thought it sounded pretty good. I'm not a fan of Kala Reds, so it would probably sound better with some Worth strings. I don't think it was quite a match for the G-String (itself having subpar strings), but pretty close, and noticeably better than the Kalas there.

-Kala: I tried the various Kalas there and they ranged from pitiful to OK. These were especially bad for some reason. There was an all-solid mahogany concert that sounded so bad I wondered what was wrong with it. It almost sounded like a silent uke (such as BugsGear Eleuke), except it's supposed to be acoustic. The sound board did look extremely thick, but I played other Kalas with similarly thick sound boards that sounded much better. There was a tenor with solid spruce top that sounded decent, so again, that's definitely the way to go with these ukes.

-KoAloha: Played a super soprano. It was OK but unexceptional. I was wondering how it would compare with the Kanile'a super soprano I have, and this one I tried didn't seem any better. It does have the brighter KoAloha tone, but I wasn't gripped by it.

At Dan's Guitars:

-G-String: Again tried a concert. This one sounded very good, about the same as the one I played at Easy Music Center. Definitely a top choice in Hawaiian factory made concert 'ukulele.

-Kala: They had a solid spruce topped tenor with splted maple back/sides. It sounded pretty decent. These have a slight twangy sound that I can't quite describe. Again, not bad for the money.

-KoAloha: The had several KoAlohas, including a tenor Sceptre, regular concert, concert pikake, super soprano, soprano, and Noah. The tenor Sceptre had exceedingly high action and frankly did not sound very good. Not close to the other Sceptres I played before. The 2 concerts sounded about the same, which is very good. I think I still prefer the G-String concert though. I don't remember much about the super soprano and didn't pick up the soprano. The Noah was again pretty impressive. It just has a sound that you don't expect from such a small uke. Maybe I'll get one for my daughters someday.

So that's pretty much everything I tried during my week in Oahu. Unfortunately for me I couldn't make it to Kaneohe to see musicguymic, but hopefully I could in a future trip. It was definitely very informative and fun to try out all these ukes, as it gives me a much better idea about what's out there. If you actually read this far, hopefully I have not wasted your time and you found something of use from this little exercise. Mahalo!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Visiting KoAloha

KoAloha has become synonymous with quality in the 'ukulele world. So I was very much looking forward to visiting KoAloha during this trip to Oahu. I brought my Pineapple Sunday with me for an issue with the bridge and signed up for the factory tour at the same time.

When we got there we met Brian, who was our tour guide that day. He talked to us a bit about KoAloha and walked us through a sanding exercise to make a souvenir key chain out of a piece of koa wood. While we were working on the key chains, Papa KoAloha came out and looked at my Pineapple Sunday. He remarked that the bridge is in normal condition as the koa wood is soft so the string cutting into the bridge is inevitable. He proceeded to show me a better way to put the strings on and assured me that the bridge is OK and they would still honor the warranty if it really breaks someday. I was satisfied with that. Papa played my Pineapple Sunday a little bit and remarked that it's a good one.

After spending a little time in the showroom area, we proceeded to go into the factory. KoAloha's factory is not very big, but I went through it with great interest. It was so cool seeing ukes actually being built. I'm going to post a few pictures I took on the tour below with some captions describing them. Check them out. Some of the stuff I saw are probably not there everyday.

A couple of things I learned about KoAloha that I didn't know before:

-KoAloha is a play on the words Koa and Aloha. I had thought it was like Ko'Aloha with the apostrophe, but it's really KOAloha. Can't believe I didn't see that.

-The Okamis are Christian family and the signature KoAloha headstock actually has the following meaning: The 2 K's in the logo means "King of Kings", which refers to the almighty God. The center staff is the king's staff, or the Sceptre. There are 7 points on the headstock specifically representing the number 7. All this time I thought the headstock was just something that's supposed to look like a crown or a pineapple head. I literally got the chills as Brian told us about this. I'm a Christian myself, so this is a very cool thing to know and I am even more proud to own a KoAloha 'ukulele.

Now, on to the pictures:

Here's the display wall at the showroom. There are several custom built KoAloha ukes there as well as some production models.

The production tenor Sceptre. This thing pumps out some serious volume. Very strong and high fidelity sound.

The first Pineapple Sunday. Notice the bridge is like a regular soprano's bridge.

Papa KoAloha showing me how to re-string my Pineapple Sunday by demonstrating on a tenor Sceptre.

Brian showing us the original KoAloha 'ukulele. It's a tunable and playable mini made for a souvenir shop. It cost $350 originally and is now worth much more than that.

Tuning and playing the original KoAloha 'ukulele.

The koa stash at KoAloha.

A chunk of curly koa. This is for KoAloha custom ukes.

A couple of custom inlaid fretboards. KoAloha currently does the inlays by hand instead of laser. They feel it gives the uke a more personal touch.

A few ukes waiting to be completed. I was surprised to learn that KoAloha actually uses 2 screws to reinforce the bridge. The use of screws for bridge seems to be a controversial subject when I read about it on internet forums.

Papa KoAloha was in the process of making a batch of Pineapple Sundays and I got to see what it looks like during the production process. Very cool!

A bunch of bent Pineapple Sunday sides. Check out the blocks that make up the pointy parts of the body. I've always wondered what that area looked like on the inside.

A stack of Pineapple Sunday bodies. Looks like they are waiting to be sanded or have been sanded. The 'ukuleles in the Masterpiece collection are only touched by Papa KoAloha during the production process, except for the finish application. So these ukes are really like custom built ukes.

Check this out. Those 7 Masterpiece series Sceptres standing on the ground (ebony back/sides and spruce top) each has an MSRP over $4000. So that's close to $30,000 worth of ukes right there! Yowza!

For the factory tour finale, the KoAloha gang plays a song for us. It sounds very nice.

So there is a look at my trip to KoAloha. It was a cool experience. If you are in Oahu, be sure to contact KoAloha for a factory tour. It was a blast for me and if you enjoy 'ukuleles, it's a no-brainer to visit them.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

An 'Ukulele Friend

Today I'm blogging from sunny Hawaii on the island of Oahu where I'm spending the week on vacation. Being a 'ukulele addict, it's natural I was extremely excited about this trip. I contacted Shawn Yacavone of Ukulele Friend to check out some of his ukes prior to the trip. If you look at his website, you can see that he carries a lot of unique high end 'ukuleles that are made by Hawaiian luthiers. I was interested in several of the ukes he had so I asked if I could try them out sometime. Shawn expressed that he enjoys meeting fellow uke lovers and he gets a kick out of meeting people who posts on the same 'ukulele forums, so we ended up scheduling to meet on my first full day on the island.

He invited me to his place and pulled quite a few tenor scaled ukes from his inventory. To say that I was like a kid in a candy store probably would be an understatement. I mean, this is like some of the best candies available anywhere! I got to play ukes made by Chuck Moore, Ko'olau, Koa Rhythms, Koa Works, Takahashi Shinji, Pahu Kani, Keith Ogata, and others. These are ukes that I have only read and dreamed about. Heck, some I didn't even dream about because I didn't know anything about them. What they had in common is that they are all high end ukes that are beautiful to look at and sounded great. While testing out these ukes, I had a great time chatting with Shawn about ukes and other things such as University of Hawaii football. He's a very nice guy and a very interesting person. I really wish I had more time to talk since there are so many things I could ask him about 'ukuleles. I spent two and a half hours there and the time really flew by quick. (Mahalo Shawn if you are reading!)

Toward the end, I had my eyes on a Pahu Kani super-concert and a Koa Works tenor. The Koa Works tenor was actually a bit over my upper limit, but Shawn was willing to work with me on that and he also told me he consider Koa Works his favorite builder. The Pahu Kani super-concert was really an awesome piece of art. It's so unique looking and so well put together that I really thought hard about taking it home. It sounded really good too, although the low-G string on it prevented me from finding out how it sounded with re-entrant tuning. The Koa Works tenor had a lower grade of koa visually (lightly curled), but otherwise looked first rate and well finished. I played it the longest out of all the ukes Shawn had brought out, and the more I played it, the more I heard what Shawn was saying. The thing has incredible tone and volume. It's strung with Ko'olau Golds and probably would sound even better with some Worth strings. After playing and listening to it for a while, it became clear to me that it's the one I want. So I'm going home with a new Koa Works tenor. And I couldn't be happier! I will post a review of it sometime soon, after I spend a bit of time with it.

I would say visiting with Shawn has certainly been a highlight on this trip so far. Sure, he showed me some amazing ukes, but I'm just really glad to have a chance to chat with him. Hopefully we can hook up again in my future trips to Oahu.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

'Ukulele and football?

'Ukulele and football, two things that seemingly have nothing to do with each other, happens to be two of my passions in life. So in an odd twist, the two actually intertwined a little bit over the past year for me.

Ever since I took up the 'ukulele last January, I've felt somehow connected to the state of Hawaii. I became more interested in things having to do with Hawaii then ever before. Sometime in the fall, I read an article on ESPN the magazine about Colt Brennan, and instantly became interested in the exploits of University of Hawaii football and Colt Brennan in particular. Since they are never on national TV, I followed their game results on They had their best season ever, finishing with a 12-0 record. I watched their final regular season game against Washington in which they came from a 21 point deficit and thought they looked as good as advertised. They made it to the Sugar Bowl, and as we know by now, they got killed by the Georgia Bulldogs 41-10. Hawaii was simply overmatched and Colt Brennan never had any time to throw and got sacked repeatedly. Still, it was a great season for University of Hawaii and hopefully they can continue to bring the state of Hawaii great joy watching them play football. And I hope somehow Colt Brennan end up on my beloved Vikings next year.

Anyway, thanks to the 'ukulele, I now consider myself a fan of the Warriors of University of Hawaii. Pretty weird huh?

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Happy New Year!

Here's wishing my few readers a happy New Year in 2008. If you already play the 'ukulele, continue to practice and buy ukes! If you have not started playing the 'ukulele, why not start this year? It's great fun!

Here's my 'ukulele related New Year resolution:

1. Continue to practice everyday and get smoother playing songs I have learned.
2. Learn at least 10 new songs, probably all from Dominator's site.
3. Finish the "Fretboard Roadmaps" book. I got to chapter 8 and haven't gone past it for a very long time. Gotta finish the rest of the book!
4. Attend one 'ukulele festival. This could be tricky thanks to family obligations, but I'll give it a try.
5. Keep my 'ukulele collection under, oh 12 ukes or so. OK, I'll work hard to keep it under 10 and try to sell off any uke that I don't play very often.

That's all I could think of for now. Hopefully I can do all of these for 2008.

Which uke should I bring on my next trip to Oahu???

What's the maximum you'd spend on a ukulele case for your best uke?

If you could steal one of my ukes, which one would it be???

How curly do you like your koa? (preferably on a uke)

What's the maximum number of ukes a perfectly sane person should have???

Poll: How often do you play the ukulele???

Poll: Which guitar company's approach to ukes do you prefer???

Poll: What's your favorite type of headstock???

Poll: The new basic Collings concert uke (UC-1) sells for about $1k, your reaction is: