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My $.02 will be for "mini reviews" my impressions of Uke's I have tried. Some will be Ukes I represent and sell and a few others I've bought for evaluation.
While there is no shortage of talented and competent reviewers online, these will just be my opinions.
There are three main factors when choosing a new Ukulele.
Sound, it's tone, sustain and volume.
It's playability how easy or well does it play.
And it's looks, their visual appeal.
All are subjective but my focus will be on the sound and playability of the instruments. Not that buying a Uke for the looks, "Bling factor" is bad, beauty is in the eye's of the beholder. Nuff said.
Most Ukes will be evaluated with the factory strings they come with.
Sometimes the factory strings seem to hold the instrument back from being all it can be. If and when that is the case I will switch strings to find out.
That said in order to get a more accurate assessment my string of choice is Ken Middleton's Living Waters Strings they are a wonderful florocarbon strings, not to bright, not to warm and very consistent .
OK, so everyone has asked how do they compare?
The KoAloha KT-10 RP Tenor and the Kamaka HF-3 Tenor.
They are both hand / Luthier built in Hawaii.
They are both hand selected Hawaiian Koa.
While not night and day, they are different. But both are incredible.
I will start with the Kamaka because, well Ukulele's started with Kamaka's back in 1916. They have stayed true to their roots pretty much the whole way.
It is elegantly simple, what has become my favorite.
The sound, it is rich and warm, but still very detailed. It is immensely enjoyable and pleasant. It feels and sounds like what it is a world class instrument.
Note: not to debate Kamaka's choice of strings, they know what they want their instruments to sound like. I personally felt the heavy black nylon strings were holding it back and not letting it be all it could be. So I switched to Living Waters Strings.
To my ears it brought it to life and it sings.
The KoAloha. It also is very simple, no bling, body binding's or even a Rosette.
Again they know what they want it to sound like it's not my place to second guess their choice, but it comes strung Low "G" and I wanted it be be all it can be and I wanted the best Apples to Apples comparison possible. Most players play High "G". So it also got LWS.
They have a unique bracing system the Unibrace which really allows the top and back to resonate. And that makes for a very lively instrument.
While brighter, lively instruments can be a bit to forward or lack warmth and body, this doesn't. It's very balanced and a joy to play.
So if you're waiting for me to say which one is better, don't hold your breath any longer.
They are both incredible and do what they do so well differently.
The Kamaka is warmer while still being detailed and has great sustain.
The KoAloha is a bit more detailed and brighter but still has plenty of warmth.
To decide you will have to play them back to back to see which one fits your style and ears best.
Twisted Wood all solid Acacia Tenor.
I bought this to see how it compares to the Kamaka HF-3 which is the Gold Standard for Hawaiian Ukulele's.
A slightly unfair comparison, but keep in mind it's about 1/3 the cost of a Kamaka. And while not everyone can justify or afford $1,500.00 +- for the Kamaka many can afford the $529.00 * for the Twisted Wood.
On paper it is almost identical to the Kamaka, but that's on paper.
It's a very nicely built Uke, well built and nicely finished. Very traditional with no bling what so ever.
No decorative binding, no Rosette just nice woods.
It's a bit on the heavier side build wise, similar to how Pono builds theirs and some Kala's. It's a satin finish which adds even more warmth to it's sound. It has less overtones so I wouldn't call it bright and jangly. That being said it's warmth makes it easy and fun to play it's very forgiving. It won't be mistaken for the sound of the Kamaka, but at 1/3 of it's price it's pretty nice.
It has nice features and when set up well it feels good and is a joy to play.
Ohana TK-50 ME. Solid Cedar top Laminate back and sides in Macassar Ebony. The attributes for this group are the same for Concert, Tenor and Baritone. These are one of my favorite series anywhere near the price range. They just get them right, features, sound, feel, looks.
So, how good do they sound? Being Cedar they are not quite as loud or bright as Spruce, but they have a beautifully balanced warm tone. Cedar tops are used in many "Classical" guitars because of it's desirable characteristics.
I'd been wondering given how good they sound, and I believe a lot of that is the uber thin satin finish vs a thicker gloss finish. How much better if at all would the 50G's sound in a thin Nitro finish. So just to find out, I stripped a TK-50G and a BK-50G solid Cedar topped solid Rosewood B &S and refinished them in a uber light Nitro.
Net result they sound amazing, tone and sustain to die for.
So back to the 50 ME's, do they sound as good?
Well, not quite, but about 80% +-, and they are less than 1/2 the price and you would have to strip the 50G and refinish it, a solid days work. So ya they sound pretty damn good.
I have sold more of these than any other Uke and I can watch what happens when people are trying them out.
They come in thinking Acacia / Koa, Mahogany or maybe Spruce. As I watch them go back and forth I see the same puzzled look over and over. They are slowly connecting with the sound of the Cedar.
They feel really nice and people love the subtle beauty of them.
So, are they everyone's "cup of tea"? I don't know that any one Instrument is, but I've sold a lot of them. And every time people spent a lot of time comparing.
KoAloha has two import lines the Opio made in their own factory in Thailand and the KoAlana made in Asia.
The Opio are made the same exact way that the Hawaiian Uke's are made with the same Uni Brace, but they use more cost effective solid woods to make them more affordable to more people.
The KoAlana are all high quality laminate's.
What you will see is the "Musubi" shaped sound hole. The shape of a Hawaiian snack food, no really that's where the shape comes from.
They also feature the 5 pointed crown head stock, many think of a Pineapple's shape.
And of course the double K logo.
So the Opio all solid Acacia. This is a pretty amazing instrument. You wouldn't confuse it with the Hawaiian Uke, but you are only paying about half the price. It is a great instrument, beautifully balanced tone, awesome sustain and clear note definition.
Like it older brother, it is very simple and I think elegant, with no bling and all the design elements that have made KoAloha's so sought after.
The Opio's also come in a solid Spruce top with all solid Acacia body.
This is going to be a love it or hate it, for two reasons. Look's and sound.
Start with the sound. Being Spruce it is brighter and cleared and a bit louder. Some will love it, others, not their cup of tea. You'll have to decide for yourself.
Look's, while spruce can be a pretty bland "Vanilla" wood this is more so than usual. It has very little noticeable grain pattern and is very blonde, think Edgar / Johnny Winter albino blonde.
To help offset it they add an additional 5 pointed crown on the fret board at the Musubi sound hole.
Personally, I'm less concerned about looks and more concerned about sound and in that regard this Uke is flat out KOOL.
Will it suit your playing style? Only one way to find out ...........
OK, so the baby's of the KoAloha line the KoAlana's.
They are an all Trembesi Laminated body, a Nato neck with a Trembesi laminated headstock face, a PPS Nut & Saddle, with a Merbau Torrefied Fretboard & Bridge. A, uber elegant KoAloha 5-pointed Crown Headstock, and KoAloha’s “Musubi” Sound Hole. Grover Open Tuners, a gloss Finish and strung with D’Addario Titanium Strings. So what are they like? For an all laminate "gloss finish" pretty damn nice honestly. Fit and finish is spot on. And for their price point they are as good as anything out there and better than most. I love KoAloha as a company and these represent them well. They have come in well set up and I have to do very little to them to meet my standards. I've let a few people try them and they are amazed at the quality and experience for the price.
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