Saturday, February 23, 2008

New Pins for Kanile'a

My Kanile'a super soprano has always been a looker. It features some great looking curly koa that has a glowing 3D look. I like wide curls in curly koa and when I first saw this uke for sale on musicguymic's shop, I knew I had to have it. Appearance-wize, I really liked everything about this uke. The wood is gorgeous, the bridge and headstock looks handsome, the new Kanile'a logo looks very nice, I love the Kanile'a soprano body shape, and even the geared "sidewinder" tuners look good. I really had no complaints until I read on the FMM board about someone wanting to switch out the plastic bridge pins on his Kanile'a. I realized that the plastic pins are kind of cheezy, especially when you pull it out, when it looks pretty cheap. Another guy on FMM commented that Stewmac sells some bridge pins that worked well on his Kanile'a, so without further ado, I was at the Stewmac website right away looking for replacement pins.
I found the pins that guy was talking about and there were several attractive options for me to choose from. The snakewood pins looked good but I was drawn to the koa pins since it is a 'ukulele we're talking about here. I decided that I would get a set with pearl dots to match the pearl position dots on the fretboard. The uke has slot cut into the bridge for the string to pass through, so I bought the unslotted version of the bridge pins. Stewmac ship items quickly and the pins arrived after about 2 days. I immediately put them onto my Kanile'a and I think they look great and a lot more classy than the white plastic pins that came with the uke. Take a look at the pictures here and judge for yourself.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Mahalo Very Much!

Several weeks ago a two and a half year old boy from our church came to our house during a fellowship gathering. At one point he was toting around my Maccaferri Islander and seemed to show some interest in it. His dad mentioned that he's going to get him a ukulele. Knowing that the dad isn't likely to follow through on that thought, and being interested in "converting" people to the 'ukulele (yes, I know he's a little young, but what the heck?), I thought I'd buy the boy a cheap uke sometime. A couple of weeks ago I saw some colored Mahalo ukes on ebay that were $30 shipped, so I snagged a blue one for the little boy.

It arrived last week and I put a set of KoAloha blue strings on it. It looks pretty good on this uke. I figured I'd let the strings stretch for a week before giving it to the boy this weekend. While it's in my possession, I strummed it a little bit to see how it is. These colored Mahalo ukes have a reputation of being pretty decent beginner ukes. Of course, for $30 shipped, one really couldn't reasonably expect anything great, so I wasn't exactly expecting to be blown away by it. I was fairly impressed, however, when I looked into the soundhole. Why? Because there is a "Nubone" logo on the sticker inside the soundhole! "Nubone" is what Kanile'a uses for their ukes and upon examining the saddle, it indeed looks exactly like the saddle material on my Kanile'a super soprano. It probably doesn't mean much, but hey, at least there is some quality material here. Unfortunately, there isn't much to be said about the sound. It's decent, and works OK, but probably doesn't even reach the level of the Maccaferri Islander. The action and intonation are also kind of bad. The action isn't so high as to be unplayble, but definitely high. The intonation isn't great. It starts to go sharp almost immediately, although the intonation problem at the first few frets is probably caused by the high nut and might be fixed by filing it down a little bit. The volume is actually pretty decent. I didn't think it was quiet or anything. The tone is pretty thin and almost plasticky. On the plus side, there aren't any frets sticking out to poke your hands and the tuners seem to work well.

Overall, it's probably a pretty good deal at $30. It does a decent job as a kid's first uke, and it's colorful. The little boy I'm giving it to will probably will not actually be playing it, but maybe his parents might pick it up for a strum or two once in a while. I'm not so sure if it is such a great uke for a real beginner, but again, it is $30 so you can't expect too much from it. It should extract a few smiles though, and that's worth something.

Here is a sound clip of this 'ukulele. (playing Craig Roberson's Staten Island Slide and chords for Seals & Crofts song Summer Breeze as played by Aldrine Guerrero)

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Updated Rankings

Time for another update to the rankings of my 'ukuleles. Since the last ranking, I've added the Koa Works tenor to the lineup. I've also tried out several string sets on a few of the ukes and also made some slight fixes to a couple of them. I'm going to rank all of the ukes this time and make some more detailed comments on stuff I've done to the ukes where applicable:

1. Koa Works tenor: If you read a few of the past blog entries, you probably know that this uke is currently in Hawaii waiting for a couple of repairs by the builder, Rich Godfrey. Between purchasing it in Oahu last month and shipping it back for repairs, I had it for about 3 weeks. During that time, I thoroughly enjoyed every second of playing this uke. Not only does it sound great, but the feel while playing it is on an entirely different level compared to anything else I have. I'm really looking forward to getting it back as it's a truly magical experience for me when I get to play this uke.

2. KoAloha Pineapple Sunday: While this and my other ukes don't really come close to the Koa Works tenor, it is a tight race for the number 2 spot, and I think the Pineapple Sunday narrowly holds off the Honu concert, mostly because it has just a little bit more "mojo" from the unique styling. I briefly tried some Worth CT's on this uke. While it still sounded very good, I felt that something was missing with the CT's. It seemed to have lost some of the "Pineapple Sunday-ness" with the switch. Also, the middle two strings don't seem to sustain as long. I switched back to the Worth BL's after a couple of days and I really like the sound with BL's much better. The uke always has sounded great, and I'm still enjoying it very much. It's got a richer sound than the Honu, but not quite as crystal clear. Still a great uke in my book.

3. Honu Deluxe concert: I had tried some colored strings on this uke over the past month, first some KoAloha green strings, and then some Guadalupe rainbow monofilament strings. Unfortunately, both sets really didn't sound all that great compared to the Worth CD's I had on it, so I switched back to those Worth CD's. With those strings, this uke sounds so crystal clear to me it almost feels like the strings are made of glass while I'm playing it. It's not particularly rich sounding, but the clarity of the tone is pretty much second to none. Well, except for maybe the Koa Works, but that uke is pretty much on another level by itself.

4. Bluegrass Ukes Cigar box: This uke has been kind of like an ultra-Fluke for me. It can stand on its own and I'm not as careful with it because it seems to be pretty rugged, but its sound rivals the Pineapple Sunday. I tried a set of Guadalupe rainbow wound strings on this one and actually kind of like it. I normally don't like wound strings, but these look and sound cool enough that I've decided to keep them on for a while. I recently got a file from to file down the fret ends a little bit. It had stuck out past the fretboard slightly since I got it and while it wasn't too bothersome, I did wish to get it taken care of. I filed the ends down and it feels a little bit better now, but I think I still need to shape the fret ends a little bit since these are pretty big frets and some of the edges are a little sharp. Still a great playing with great volume and tone. It dropped from its #2 spot from the last ranking, but it's still a quality instrument in my book.

5. G-String Honu soprano: I have not really been playing my soprano ukes lately, so I've only played this one a handful of times in recent months. It still has great sound though and I still hold it in very high regard. But it doesn't get higher than #5 simply because I don't play it enough.

6. Martin Style 1 soprano: Another uke I don't play very often because I've been gravitating toward concerts and tenors. However, this is a top quality uke in my opinion. It is very loud. In fact, it seems to be as loud as or maybe even louder than some of the tenor scale ukes I have. It has a vintage sounding bark and is very resonant. The uke is also extremely light, which no doubt contributes to the sound quality. It's a keeper.

7. Kanile'a custom super soprano: While I've been playing concerts and tenors more frequently, the concert I usually play is the Honu instead of this uke. I think the main reason is that the Honu is so clear sounding that this Kanile'a sounds a little muddy in comparison. This uke is also deeper sounding, so that may contribute to that illusion. On its own, it is a very good sounding uke. I've recently restrung it with Worth CD's but it didn't sound all that different than the Worth BM's I had strung it with before. I would love this uke a lot more if the sound clarity is the same or close to the Honu's. This uke has gorgeous wood and I really like the super-soprano size and the Kanile'a soprano shape. But I find myself reaching for the other ukes listed above more often, so #7 is where it shall be ranked this time.

8. Pono cedar top tenor: This has turned into sort of an experimentation uke for me. I've tried many different string sets on it. The latest set I tried is a set of "custom" Savarez low-G strings as suggested by William King. These strings sound very good, although the last time I strung this uke with a low-G set, it was the original Ko'olau Gold strings that the uke came with and I don't remember how it compares to that set. For the time being, the Pono will be my low-G uke. I think it's a decent uke, but of course it's not in the class of the Koa Works or Pineapple Sunday. If I ever become more interested in low-G tuning, I may have to invest in a better low-G uke. Of course, I could just restrung one of the other tenors with low-G, but what fun is that??? :P

9. BugsGear concert: I got this uke for its silent-uke function and active pickup. However it was plagued by frets that stick out past the fretboard that causes it to be uncomfortable to hold. I finally decided to do something about it and bought a fret file from I filed down the fret ends and while I probably need to do more filing, it's already much improved in that regard. I almost never play it without plugging it in though, so I guess the silent-uke function is not all that important. It sounds fine plugged in, and I appreciate the tone and volume adjustment knobs on the uke. I would have to say that other than it being an electric uke, there isn't much else there to compel me to play it.

10. Maccaferri Islander soprano: This is pretty much strictly a novelty uke for me. I strum it once in a blue moon, but I keep it around for its historic and novelty value. It sounds plasticky and the intonation isn't that good. Still, it's pretty cool to have.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Ukulele Forums

There are a lot of 'ukulele forums on the internet for the uke enthusiast to read or interact with other people's opinions on the instrument. I visit quite a few of them on a regular basis and there are a couple of interesting observations. The first one is that a lot of the same people seem to post on all of these forums, including me. The other one is despite many of the same people appearing in those forums, they all seem to have a distinct flavor. Here's a roundup of what I think makes each of those forums that I visit unique:

-Flea Market Music: This is by far the most active 'ukulele forum that I have come across. It uses a pretty ancient message board format, but you get used to it after a while. It almost seem to be the "hub" of the online 'ukulele universe as most people who posts on some of the other forums seem to post here. It has a reputation of being the most confrontational forum, but based on my observations, I don't think it's justified. Sure, there are a few disagreements here and there, but I don't think there's a higher percentage compared to other forums. The average age of the posters here seem to be 40 and up (just a guess though), but they seem to be from pretty diverse backgrounds.

-EZ-Folk: This is the first forum I signed up to after taking up the 'ukulele. It's actually a much more encompassing forum than just 'ukuleles. I only read the 'ukulele area though. Lately this seems to be the "newbie" forum as there have been many beginners here asking questions. So there should be a lot of good information for future new players in this forum.

-Ukulele Cosmos: This is a UK based forum. This one has a strong international flavor since a lot of the posters are from Europe. There are some interesting things to be learned here especially since it's from a different perspective than Americans. I don't really have a sense of the average age of the posters here, but I don't think there are very many in their 20's or 30's posting here.

-The Unofficial Martin Guitar Forum (uke section): I was referred to this forum just last month. It's part of the Martin Guitar forum so most of the posters are guitar players first. Recently there has been an infusion of uke players to this forum (including me). I think because most people here are guitar players first, they acquire expensive ukes pretty rapidly, probably because they seem so inexpensive next to nice Martin guitars.

-Uke Talk: This is a pretty quiet forum usually. There seemed to be more luthier discussion here before but I think they all got too busy building ukes so I don't see as much posting from them here. It seems to be mostly a subset of people from the FMM forum. Discussions are pretty civil around here, but there also isn't much traffic most of the time.

-Ukulele Underground: This is a pretty new site. The age demographic here is definitely A LOT younger than the other forums. Most of the posters are college age kids and the topics of discussion is definitely different from some of the other forums. I think it's kind of refreshing to have a forum like this that's pretty much separate from the others. I think I can relate well to the younger people, although at 32, I'm not really that young anymore. I think this forum will have more and more traffic down the road as time goes on.

So that's my breakdown of the various internet forums that discusses the 'ukulele. It's always fun for me to read about the 'ukulele and to interact with other uke enthusiasts online. I hope to continue to do it for a long time to come.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Somebody is probably weeping...

Well, I was going to post a video of me playing the Koa Works tenor, but before I sent it back to Hawaii for repairs, I have not had a decent video of me playing it. But just for the heck of it, I decided to post a video I did take of me playing Jake Shimabukuro's version of While My Guitar Gently Weeps. I made several mistakes in the video, but I think it gives a decent idea of what the Koa Works sound like. And yes, I'm weeping on the inside right now because I'll be without my Koa Works tenor for a period of time.

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: