Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Thriller, again

I had posted a video of Thriller before, when I learned it from watching another Youtube video. I couldn't get it completely down from the video, but Dominator was nice enough to send me the chords as Jake had played them after seeing my first attempt (checkout his video of Thriller). So after some practice I decide to post another video. I had not really used the Kanile'a super tenor in a video yet so I decided to use it this time. So here it is, another try at Thriller:

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Thanks for voting!

As some of you have noticed, I had put up a poll to the left of this blog over the past week or so. I've been thinking about doing polls on this blog for fun and to get a rough idea of how many people actually visit these pages, but never really checked into it until very recently. Since Blogger does have a poll function, it's only a matter of coming up with a question and some answer options.

So the first poll asked you which one of my ukuleles would you steal? Of course, it's just a ghetto way of asking which one is your favorite. It's good to know that there are many (31% of those who voted) who would not steal from me, but I hold no grudge against those who desired one of my ukes. I mean, with my trusty guard dog (pictured) protecting my ukes, I doubt that anyone will be able to steal any ukes from me right????

I find it interesting that the Kamaka tenor led the way (21%) as the most desired ukulele on the poll list. While it is certainly a very nice ukulele, I think objectively it gets outperformed by at least 3 or 4 of the other ukes listed. I mean, you'd pass up the King (2nd place at 15%) to steal the Kamaka from me??? That's crazy! :p But I must say I kind of understand it. It is currently the uke I play the 2nd most after the King tenor, even though I think a couple of others are superior ukes, so there's definitely something to the Kamaka mystique.

I also find it interesting that the Kiwaya KTS-7 and the Kepasa Gypsy Rose did not receive any votes. I would have figured a few votes for the Kiwaya from soprano players, but maybe most who read this blog play tenors? Or perhaps you all realize that the tenors are worth more??? (heh heh) As for the Gypsy Rose, maybe it's just too radical for most. But if you really do break into my house, you ought to consider the Gypsy Rose. It's pretty awesome. :D Anyway, I guess I won't need to put these guys in a safe then? Har!

Well, it's been interesting to follow this poll and I'll be sure to put up some more ghetto question for my visitors. Thanks again to everyone who spends time reading this blog.

***The results to this poll has been moved to the bottom of this blog. I'll just keep it there for a while then remove it at some later date***

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Cup of Butter

My three and a half year old daughter is something of an Aldrine Guerrero fan from listening to his album while riding on my car. Buttercup is her favorite song from Aldrine. Today I got her to take a video singing this song while I played backup. She was only willing to sing a few times (it's hard to get a three year old to keep interest in something for an extended period of time) but we did manage to get one decent take. I wonder if she's the youngest Aldrine fan out there?

Anyway, here it is.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Bandito Tyler

Since I got the Kamaka tenor from Maui a few weeks ago, I've been jonesin' to post a video playing Aldrine Guerrero's Bandito Tyler on it. After all, the Kamaka HF-3 is pretty much the "Aldrine Guerroro signature model" ukulele right? :p

I learned this song, as pretty much every ukulele song I've learned, from Dominator's tabs. At first glance, it seemed like a very difficult song to learn. But if you get into it and get a good feel for the strumming rhythm for it, it's not all that difficult. Yes, there are parts that aren't that easy, as you will see mistakes a-plenty from my video, but I would say it's fairly accessible for the intermediate ukulele player. Check it out and give it a shot.

Thursday, February 19, 2009


A couple of months ago, during the holiday season, musicguymic had put up several nice ukes at a limited time lower sale price. Coupled with a cashback promotion sponsored by Microsoft, where you got up to 30% off your purchase, it made a few of those ukes irresistible to me. I purchased a Kelii tenor and a Kanile'a super tenor during that time. This review will be for the Kanile'a super tenor.

I had been eyeing this particular Kanile'a super tenor on MGM's store because in addition to being curious about the super tenor sound (I had played a couple before but didn't spend a lot of time on them), this one looked like it had some nice curly koa. I found myself checking the "Kanile'a" page of the store often to see if this one was still there even though I had no intention of buying it at the regular price (I think it was $999 with a "Best Offer" option). Then one day it went on sale for $780 while the Microsoft cashback was up to 30% with a $200 cashback ceiling. I decided to pull the trigger on it a couple of hours before MGM was to put it back up at the regular price (he told me this after my purchase). I figure for $580, this was too good to pass up. Let's see if I was right.

Before going into the rest of the review, here are the specs:

-Tenor scale with wide lower bout "super tenor" body
-1.5" nut with
-Nubone nut and saddle
-Curly koa faceplate veneer
-Grover nickel open-gear tuners
-Solid curly koa body
-Mahogany neck
-Rosewood fingerboard and pin bridge w/black plastic pins
-MOP position dots on face and side of fingerboard

This ukulele is a Kanile'a exclusive "super tenor". It has a regular tenor scale length but a wider than normal lower bout (the upper bout might be wider too, but I'm not sure). I personally don't think this is a good looking body shape. To me, it looks like a fat kid's face with some puffy cheeks. Just not that attractive. Another problem with the "super tenor" shape is that it's difficult, if not impossible, to get a good fitting case for it. MGM shipped this uke to me in a Ko'olau baritone case. While the case provides enough room for the body, it is way too long for this uke. The end result is that you need a much larger case than a typical tenor, which is not very good for traveling. The uke is pretty secure inside this case and does not appear to move around, so I guess that's not too bad.

The body depth of this ukulele is actually a little less than a normal tenor such as a Kamaka tenor, so perhaps the goal of this "super tenor" body shape is to have a bigger soundboard rather than a much larger body volume. I believe the body shape is to facilitate a deeper tone. I'll cover that a little later in this review. The neck is a little thinner than I expected. My Kanile'a super soprano, which was about a year older than this ukulele, has a thicker neck, and past Kanile'as I've played had thicker feeling necks. I think they probably re-worked their neck tooling so they are a bit thinner. I think they're fine either way, and the new neck by itself feels pretty normal. Only when compared with the older neck does it feel thin. It has more of a shallow U-shaped profile (most necks are more of a C-profile), which again feels a little different but fine to me. Overall the ukulele feels very light despite the large appearance. That's usually a good thing as lighter ukes usually resonates better and have nicer tone. It feels as light or lighter than the other normal sized koa tenors I have, so I think Kanile'a did a good job making it as light as they can.

This particular uke features some medium curl koa on the body, and Kanile'a called it a "Deluxe" with the "DLX" designation after the model number "K-1 ST". When I got it in person, it didn't look quite as curly as it did on the online pictures. When you hold it at some angles, it looked really plain. But at some other angles, you do see quite a bit of curl, so I guess it has some "3D" qualities to it. Kanile'a seems to use more figured koa in their basic line of instruments than other Hawaiian makers, and this one does have some nice wood. Certainly above average. It is finished with Kanile'a's UV cured finish, which is a nice mirror gloss that seems indestructible. Of all glossy finishes I've seen, this UV cured finish seems to be the most mirror-like and durable. It is a nice consistent finish with none of the rough spots that seem plague other Hawaiian makers such as Kamaka, KoAloha, and G-String. I personally like glossy instruments and this finish is as good as any factory finish I've seen.

Being a current model Kanile'a, It features Kanile'a's T.R.U. bracing design, which has braces that have holes drilled to lighten their mass and touch a smaller area on the soundboard. In theory this allows the soundboard to vibrate more freely and provide better tone. In practice, when playing this super tenor with its large soundboard, it feels like a trampoline and very much like custom built instruments I've played. It has really nice feedback in feel. This wasn't very evident in the smaller soprano body of my Kanile'a super soprano, but with the bigger body, I think this bracing system works very well.

When I received this ukulele, it was strung with the factory Aquila high-G all-plain tenor strings and the action was a little higher than I'd like (I'm a bit spoiled by the custom King and Kepasa that were setup with very low action). I thought the sound was very good, with a nice full and boomy sound, but there seems to be something missing. I took those Aquila strings off and switched to a set of "custom" strings consisting of D'Addario and Savarez strings I had purchased a while ago, and it seemed about the same. A couple of weeks later, I took those strings off and lowered the action at the saddle and re-strung it with a set of Worth CTs. It was then this uke became an elite instrument. With these Worth strings, it still had the nice deep boomy sound, but also had great clarity and complex tone. I played this uke back to back with my other ukes and I found it to rival my King tenor in sound and feel. It has excellent note clarity, great volume, and good sustain and intonation. It also feels as good to play as the custom ukes, with the aforementioned trampoline sensation and very nice action (adjusted by me). Frankly I was pretty shocked by how good this ukulele turned out. At the deal I scored this uke at, it's like getting a custom level instrument for import money. Even at full MSRP of $990 for a K1-ST, this ukulele would be worth the money because it just sounds that good. There is a soundfile at the end of the review so you can hear it for yourself.

So overall, I'm thrilled with this ukulele. Right now it ranks number 2 on my ukulele lineup rankings behind only the great King tenor and ahead of awesome ukes such as the Kapasa Gypsy Rose and Koa Works tenor. Believe me, it's not easy to put this one ahead of a $2000 uke such as the Koa Works, but I just found that I personally like the tone of this ukulele a little more. I think Kanile'a really does make some fine ukuleles. I have not play a ton of them, but each one I've personally tried have sounded very good. This super tenor, with the ugly body shape and all, sounds awesome. I feel like I've committed highway robbery getting this ukulele for $580 and would have no problem recommending this uke at $990 if you can get past the ugly shape. With sound like this, that should be easy.

Here's a soundfile of Blue Roses Falling played on this Kanile'a super tenor.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

National Treasure

About a year ago I got to try a resonator ukulele for the first time during a local ukulele club meeting. It was one of those Republic "reso-relic" ukuleles. It was pretty interesting and I thought it sounded pretty good. So since that time I had it in the back of my mind to maybe get a nice resonator ukulele someday. The number one name in resonator instruments, of course, is National. I've read plenty about how great National ukuleles are, so I've kept an eye on them while browsing through ebay and other online marketplaces during that time. Last summer there was one for sale at the Fleamarket Music Marketplace and I grabbed it. It was a mahogany concert scaled National resonator ukulele.

The specs on the National I bought are as follows:

-Concert scale resonator ukulele
-1-3/8" nut width
-Grover friction tuners
-Rosewood fingerboard with plastic position dots and side position dots
-Mahogany neck
-Mahogany body
-Faux tortoise binding and faceplate

It came to me strung with some National strings, with all four strings being nylon-wound. They sounded fine but since I prefer the feel of regular nylon strings, I switched to a set of Worth CDs (my concert scale string of choice). I had read raves about the playability and workmanship of National ukuleles, and I agree that these are very well made instruments. It is very playable with good action and comfortable feeling flat C-shaped neck. The rosewood fingerboard is not bound but the frets are finished perfectly and does not protrude at all. Everything is superbly built and finished with no factory blemish that I can find. I believe the body is made of solid mahogany and the grain looks very nice and uniform. It looks very similar to the mahogany found on a vintage Martin ukulele as opposed to the striped looking mahogany found on modern overseas made mahogany ukuleles such as Pono ukuleles. The neck is joined to the body at the 15th fret, making access to the higher frets easier than most other ukes that are joined at the 12th or 14th fret. The neck itself is one-piece, which means that it was carved out of one piece of wood instead of having several pieces glued together at the heel and headstock. While either way makes no real difference, one-piece necks are pretty rare and only seem to appear on really high end instruments (my only other ukes with a one-piece neck are the William King tenor and Kamaka tenor). Overall, it's just a very classy looking instrument.

Being a resonator uke, it has obvious differences from normal ukuleles that doesn't utilize a resonator cone. Instead of a sound hole, it has a resonator cone occupying almost the entire lower bout. I don't really know how a resonator works, but it's intended result is to have a much louder sounding instrument than a normal acoustic instrument. It is much heavier than a similar sized concert ukulele. This concert scaled ukulele has a body that's not much bigger than a typical soprano uke, yet weighs a little more than my long scale William King tenor. It is not too heavy by any means, but definitely heavier than its size would suggest. It is in fact about the same size as the Kanile'a super soprano (you can see a side by side picture with the Kanile'a SS toward the bottom of the last lineup ranking). Given its soprano-ish body and concert scale size, I think this National might as well be called a super soprano.

The biggest difference from normal ukuleles is, of course, the sound. There is definitely some metal sounding component in the sound somewhere, very different from normal ukuleles. It is very loud and piercing. If you want to be heard without plugging it in or using a microphone, this is probably your best bet. Instead of trying to describe the sound in detail, I'll defer to the soundfile at the end of this review so you can hear for yourself how different it sounds from normal ukes. I think it is a very high quality sound, as it is clear sounding and has good tone and sustain, but frankly I'm not really a fan of it. I just like the sound of a wooden ukulele better. If you like the resonator sound, however, it probably doesn't get much better than this.

So am I glad that I purchased this uke? I would say the answer is yes and no. I'm glad to have played one, as it is a very interesting and great instrument. But at the same time, because the resonator sound isn't one that I'm particularly fond of, I don't find myself playing this ukulele much. Having said that, each time I think about selling it I take it out and play it a bit and say to myself "man this is a pretty good ukulele" and decide to postpone finding it a new home. With a couple of new custom ukes in progress, I'll probably have to let it go sooner or later, but I do think it is worthy of the heaps of praise given to it by people who have played a National resonator ukulele. It is definitely a high quality ukulele.

Here is a soundfile of, you guessed it, Blue Roses Falling played on this Natioal mahogany uke.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Sneak Peek

If you've been following this blog, you might have noticed that I ordered a DaSilva ukulele last summer. It was supposed to be done around September or October when I ordered it in May, but it kept getting delayed. I finally got some solid evidence that it will be completed soon, as Mike DaSilva sent me some pictures of the completed body. It is a Santo reproduction soprano. I saw a few videos of this ukulele being played a while ago and really loved it. It looked and sounded great. I'm hoping I'll really like this uke as I now rarely play soprano ukes. If it is as good as I think it is, I'll probably keep it as my only soprano ukulele.

Anyway, here's the sneak peek:

The Kala Giraffe

A while ago I saw some Ohana tenor-neck soprano ukuleles for sale by musicguymic and was pretty intrigued by it. Some time later, I saw a similar ukulele made by Kala that had a solid spruce top and laminated mahogany back and sides at Elderly Instruments at a very good price ($110), so I decided to check it out.

This ukulele has a soprano body with a tenor scale neck, which makes it a very unusual ukulele. There are plenty of "super-sopranos" around with a soprano body and concert scale neck combination, but as far as I know, only Ohana and Kala makes soprano models with tenor scale necks.

For a budget instrument, it has a lot of nice features. Here's a run down on the specs:

-Solid spruce top

-Laminated mahogany back & sides

-Sealed geared tuners

-1-3/8" nut width (plastic nut)

-Rosewood fingerboard with black plastic binding & position dots on top and side

-Black plastic body bindings

-Rosewood bridge w/plastic saddle

-b/w/b/w/b rosette

Most Kalas I've seen doesn't have side position markers or bound fingerboards, so these are nice features on this ukulele. The workmanship is pretty good, the insides look pretty clean, and everything looks to be well put together. It definitely feels pretty well made.

When I strummed it for the first time, I was surprised by the amount of sustain it had. It sounded better than I had expected. I guess the long tenor strings probably gave it the longer sustain it has. The volume is about average. Not particularly loud but not quiet either. The tone is decent. It's not the greatest sounding ukulele (keep in mind that I usually play some pretty high end tenors), but I think it's not bad, especially for the price. Compared to a normal soprano scaled ukulele, I would say that it sounds like a soprano with longer than normal sustain. It has a bit of a twang and the typical soprano "bark". Hear it for yourself from the soundfile at the end of this review.

I'm not sure if Elderly had set it up, but it arrived in pretty good playing shape. I did not find it necessary to lower the action and there are no buzzes. I forgot what strings came with it, but I eventually settled on a set of Aquilas all-plain tenor strings. Despite the strange proportions of this ukulele, holding it is no problem. Because of the small body, most will probably end up strumming clear of the body, which is a good thing as you avoid scratching up the soundboard that way (as I usually do).

Overall, this is a nice little uke for the money. You won't get KoAloha beating sound or Kanile'a workmanship (although the workmanship is actually not too far off), but it is definitely not bad at all. This probably isn't going to be the primary ukulele for most people, but if you want something different to compliment your soprano or tenor ukulele, this could fit the bill nicely.

Here's a soundfile of Blue Roses Falling (the official Ukulele Ghetto demo song) played on this ukulele.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

UAS forecast addendum

When I wrote my UAS forecast a couple of weeks ago, I forgot one uke that had been on my mind for quite a while. It's the KoAloha "Imaikalani" 6-string tenor (KTM-06). I played one at the KoAloha factory in Oahu about a year ago and was blown away by it. I had one of those Lanikai 6-strings (O-6) once and it did not really appeal to me that much other than its slotted headstock. When I tried that KoAloha 6-string, I thought it was really awesome. It was very easy to play despite having two extra strings to fret, and it sounded beautiful. But I couldn't buy it at the time, having already bought a uke on that trip. It's a pretty rare model and I have not seen one for sale very often. I would probably put it at #3 on that UAS forecast list, right behind the Kamaka tenor. Of course, now that I actually have the Kamaka tenor, I really can't get this KoAloha 6-string any time soon, so I hope I don't see one come up for sale at an attractive price. :p

By the way, I switched the strings on the Kamaka to Worth CTs and it sounds even better. I'll wait a while before rating it against the other ukes I have, so that I'm not blinded by its newness. But if I had to rank it right now, objectively it would probably go #5 behind the Koa Works and in front of the Kelii. However, I would say it's my 2nd favorite at the moment (remember the newness factor) behind the King. I guess I'm pretty stoked by the fact that I finally own a Kamaka. That will likely change in a few months, but I'm loving the Kamaka tenor right now.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Got Kamaka?

Well, as forecasted before, I ended up getting a Kamaka tenor during a trip to Maui last week. I looked up the Kamaka website and found a dealer in Lahaina, called Lahaina Music, close to where I stayed during the trip. I really didn't seek out ukuleles during this trip as I did last year, and Maui really had a lot less ukuleles anyway. Lahaina Music and a couple of other shops that sold ukuleles in Lahaina were the only ukulele shops I visited, and each visit was very brief except for the last trip to Lahaina Music where I picked up the Kamaka tenor pictured.

Going into Lahaina music, I saw four Kamaka tenors hung behind the counter. One was strung high-G, one low-G, and two had factory installed pickups, one active and one passive. I talked to the guy tending the shop about getting a Kamaka tenor and he told me they had many in the back and would be happy to show them all to me. I played the high-G one hung behind the counter and then the guy went in the back and brought out several cases, each with a Kamaka tenor in it. I lost track but I played at least nine Kamaka tenors at Lahaina Music, not including the low-G tuned and the two with pickups behind the counter. It was definitely a very interesting experience.

Each of those tenors looked different. A few had curly koa headstock veneers with plain bodies. There were a couple with some light curls on the soundboard and straight grained headstock veneer. There was one with some nice curls, maybe 3A, that I was hoping to get. But playing through all of those Kamakas, that one with the curly koa soundboard unfortunately was one of the least impressive sounding, so I took a pass on that one. After playing all of those Kamaka tenors, it came down to the one behind the counter (the guy told me they put that one out because it looked the best), and one that had some light curl on both the headstock and body, but fairly plain looking grains. The plainer looking one sounded better to me. It seemed to be a little more resonant and had a little more volume. The better looking one also sounded very nice, and in the end, I decided that I would sacrifice some sound for looks, since I already had some great sounding ukes at home. So I took the one behind the counter. The pictures you see here is that ukulele.

This experience told me that perhaps it is not correct to generalize how one brand of ukulele sounds compared with another brand. I think that several of the nine or ten Kamaka tenors I played on this trip had a unique sound. They definitely didn't all sound the same. I think the sound has a lot to do with the particular piece of wood used on the ukulele. Dark and light koa would sound different, as well as ones with different grains and patterns. Playing so many examples of the same model was definitely an eye opening experience.

I'm not sure why it took me so long to get a Kamaka. I've owned all other Hawaiian brands (Kelii, Kanile'a, KoAloha, G-String) except for Kamaka for some reason. I guess as popular as Kamaka is, there hasn't been a lot of buzz about them on the internet forums. Also, they usually command a premium over the other brands and in the past I haven't been in position to pull the trigger on one. Now that I have one, I really like it. There's just something mystical about that pearl "kk" inlay on the headstock. Now I can pretend that I'm Jake Shimabukuro or Aldrine Guerrero while playing the Kamaka tenor!...or not. :p

Front of Kamaka tenor. Notice the curly koa headstock and striped body:

Back of Kamaka tenor. The back is nicely matched to the front:

Beauty shot:

In Maui with Kamaka tenor:

Thursday, February 5, 2009

In Maui, and NO uke!

This week, I'm on vacation in Maui with my family. The ironic thing is that this is probably the only week in within the last year that I did not play the ukulele. And I'm in HAWAII!!!

There appears to be much fewer music shops in Maui as compared to Oahu, and I am deliberately not trying to seek out uke shops on this trip (haven't and not likely to visit Bounty Music this time), so I really haven't seen many ukes so far.

Anyway, there's this music shop in Lahaina that actually has several Kamaka tenors in stock. If you read my last entry, you would know that it is number 2 on the UAS forecast. Well, that forecast is dangerously close to coming true, as I REALLY want to play the ukulele while sitting at the balcony of the resort we're staying in, looking out to the ocean (the picture here is one taken from that balcony).

I guess next time I go to Hawaii, I better bring a uke along so I don't do any further damage to the wallet. Stay tuned to see if I indeed end up getting that Kamaka.

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: