As previously mentioned, the ukulele I brought home from my most recent trip to Hawaii was the Mexican made (hence Senorita) Martin C1K concert ukulele. I had brought my Glyph on this trip and really didn't plan on buying a ukulele this time (really? A trip to Hawaii without buying a uke???), and even in my wildest dreams I would not have thought that I'd buy a non-Hawaiian made ukulele while I'm in Hawaii. So how come this was the uke I bought instead of the scores of KoAlohas, Kanile'as, Kamakas, and a host of other high-end production ukes I saw while I was in Hawaii? Because this Martin is shockingly good, at least to me. And maybe I also was just a little bit enamored by the Martin name on the headstock.
When I was checking out ukes in Ukulele Pua Pua, I asked to try the Martin C1K that was hanging behind the cashier's desk only out of curiosity, because it was a Martin and it had a pretty nice piece of semi-curly koa top. It wasn't a uke that was on my radar at all. I knew it was made in Mexico so I wasn't particularly interested in it (after all, when in Hawaii, it makes sense to buy a Hawaiian made uke). Before the uke was handed to me, I was maybe expecting a Pono level ukulele or maybe worse. I was underwhelmed by a Martin S-0 before, and most reviews of Mexican made Martin ukes (mostly the S-0) had been lukewarm at best. So I was genuinely surprised after a couple of strums on the C1K. It had a lot of power and I thought the sound was very firm and powerful. The notes sounded very clear too. Whatever I was expecting before I started playing it, the sound that came out of it was completely different (for the better) than my expectations. It was right then I thought I just might have to get this uke.
Being at a uke shop, there were no shortage of ukes to try out, and the guys at Ukulele Pua Pua were happy to let me try whatever I wanted. After noodling a bit on the Martin, I played a KoAloha concert at the store. Sometimes a uke can sound great in isolation but when compared back to back to another truly great uke, it begins to pale. The particular KoAloha concert I tried had a pretty standard KoAloha concert sound, which is to say it was great. I switched between the KoAloha and the C1K for a bit and decided that the Martin is definitely in the same class. For me, this was quite mind blowing to say the least. I guess if I did a blind test on these two ukes, I may have chosen the KoAloha, by a very slim margin. But the Martin has a significantly more interesting looking piece of koa top, and it is also a one-piece top, which is rather rare these days. (KoAloha used to try to make one-piece tops when they can, but the koa boards are getting narrower, making it necessary for them to make book-matched tops most of the time)
There was also another Martin concert, the mahogany style 2, that was hung next to the C1K. The style 2 is made in the USA at Martin's Nazareth, PA factory. As far as I could tell, it look to have the exact same dimensions and design as the C1K, with the only difference being the wood and binding. They even use the same tuners and compensated saddle. The Ukulele Pua Pua guys asked me if I'd like to try the style 2 and I said yes. The style 2 is double the price of the C1K, but I actually preferred the C1K's sound. So by this time I was thinking I want to buy the C1K. I asked if this was the only one they have, and Gavin told me they may have another one at their other location down the street. He called to confirm and said maybe I should check that one out too. I was going to walk down that way anyway, so off I went.
The other C1K they had at the other store was significantly darker than the first one. I immediately noted that the first one is better looking. After playing the second one for a bit, it also appears that the first one is better sounding too. The second one wasn't bad or anything, but it wasn't special like the first one. At this juncture, I wasn't quite ready to buy a ukulele yet, so I thought if I end up deciding to bring a ukulele home, it would most likely be the first Martin C1K if it's still at the shop on the last day of our trip.
Back at the resort we stayed in, I did some research on the Martin C1K. There really weren't any reviews of it out there. There seemed to be a lot of big box musical instrument sites such as Musician's Friend and Sam Ash that carried it though, with a street price of $469 (MSRP is $629). This is quite a bit less than the $599 Ukulele Pua Pua is charging for the uke and made me wonder if I would really buy the first C1K at Ukulele Pua Pua. After sitting on it for a couple of days, I decided that the one at Pua Pua is good enough to justify the higher price. If I bought one from one of those online sites, I can't be guaranteed the same great sound or the curly koa or the one-piece front and back, so to me that justified the upcharge.
So the last day of our trip rolled around and I went back to Ukulele Pua Pua when we were in Waikiki to kill some time before the evening flight. The first Martin C1K was still hanging in the shop and I told Gavin I was either going to get that uke or another one that day. Just to be sure I asked to play the KoAloha long-neck pineapple too, as I thought it was really awesome sounding the other day and could be option number 2. Playing it back to back with the Martin, it reaffirmed that the Martin is a great sounding uke that doesn't really take a backseat to the KoAloha, and I felt good about buying it, even at the premium price. So that's how I ended up buying the Martin C1K.
I still can't believe I picked up a Mexican made Martin over a number of nice Hawaiian ukes, but I think the combination of shock over how great it sounded compared to my expectations, and the Martin name on the headstock pushed me to make the purchase. Since then I have returned home and played it back to back with my Collings concert and Mya-Moe concert. It flat out beats the Mya-Moe in terms of sound and is neck and neck with the Colling, while equaling both in terms of workmanship. I'm really happy with this purchase so far, overpriced and all.
I guess the takeaway from this experience is that there really is no substitute to trying out ukes in person, at least if you want to unearth an unlikely star. Without the opportunity to try these ukes in person, I would go with one of the KoAlohas every time and be very happy with its quality. But only by playing them in person, could I have come across the great looking and sounding Martin C1K.
Here are some more pics of the C1K:
|Back of the C1K, also one piece.|
|The C1K and its gig-bag.|
|Closer view of the gig-bag.|
|Martin headstock. It's got some slight curls.|
|Body shot. You can see the curls in the koa and the one-piece soundboard.|
|Another angle of the body.|