Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Fit for a King!

I've mentioned a few times on this blog and elsewhere about doing some sort of a commentary on the William King long scale tenor I received in late May, 2008. I guess it's finally time to write something about it. I've already documented the order process of this custom ukulele, so here I will share my thoughts about this instrument now that I've had it for over half a year.

This tenor has a neck joined to the body at the 14th fret. William King builds 14-fret tenor with a longer 18" scale (compared to the standard 17" tenor scale) so the bridge falls at a better spot on the soundboard for optimum energy transfer. This philosophy is shared by other luthiers such as Dave Means of Glyph Ukuleles (Dominator has a long scale Glyph tenor). The neck is reinforced with a carbon fiber insert for strength and stability. His tenor body is also rather large. It is definitely larger than most other tenors I've seen, and I'm sure it contributes to the sound that this instrument produces. The full specs on this tenor can be found on William King's journal.

This ukulele certainly looks great. The main attraction is, of course, the extreme curly koa on the back and sides. It also features a slotted headstock with Waverly tuners and custom inlay. The headstock shape was specified by me and I was very pleased with how it turned out. This is my first experience with Waverly tuners and they are certainly top class tuning machines. There is no slack when turning the tuning key and each tuner just look very high class and well made. The body is finished in gloss lacquer and the overall workmanship is superb. It definitely looks the part as a high end custom instrument. I'll let the pictures on William's journal as well as ones found on this blog do the talking.

As good as this ukulele looks to me, the most important thing is the sound and playability. In both regards, this ukulele is extraordinary. The Swiss spruce top really gives it a very punchy and percussive sound that is extremely crystal clear and powerful whether picked or strummed. It is also very loud, but the sound doesn't get muddy as you strum harder. It has good sustain up and down the fretboard. When playing this ukulele, I can feel the type of vibration feedback that I've only experienced in custom level ukuleles, where you can almost feel the top bouncing like a trampoline. That feedback combined with the great sound really makes playing this ukulele a great experience.

Playability is excellent even though the longer 18" scale is supposed to increase the string tension. The saddle is compensated and the playing action at the 12th fret is very low, approximately 0.10" in height. The neck has a "D" shaped profile with about a medium thickness. I find it very comfortable to hold and feels just right to me. Combine these things with a gentle 18" radius on the fretboard, playing this ukulele is fairly effortless, especially compared to other tenor ukes. For the type of music I enjoy playing, this ukulele certainly provides the sound I'm looking for.

So how does this ukulele compare with other ukes I've played? For me personally, it is the best sounding uke I've ever played. Before receiving this ukulele, that distinction belonged to my Koa Works tenor. Comparing the King with the Koa Works, I would say the sound quality is in the same league, but the King tenor is more powerful, with a punchier sound and more percussive qualities. The difference could be the spruce top as I believe spruce top produces punch and a lot of headroom for volume. For sound demonstrations of the two ukes, here are some videos of the Koa Works and King tenors:

Koa Works: Something, Gently Weeps

King: Desperado, Gently Weeps

Since getting the King tenor, I have bought a Kanile'a super tenor that produces a sound that actually comes fairly close to the King tenor. The Kanile'a is slightly thinner sounding and the clarity is a smidge lower than the King, but is very impressive and does sound similar. This could be attributed the oversized tenor body both ukuleles share and is a tribute to the quality of Kanile'a ukuleles. Playing both back to back, however, it is still obvious which one is the luthier made instrument as the King wins out in sound and feel.

Before ordering and receiving this ukulele, I've heard nothing but the highest praise for William King's instruments. Now that I've had personal experience with it, I can safely say that William is indeed a master at his craft. I've gone ahead and ordered a long scale concert from him confident that I'll be getting another special ukulele when it is completed. If you are in the market for a custom ukulele, I think William King should be near the top of your list of considerations. I don't think I could be any happier with mine.

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