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View Full Version : The Mysterious Affair of the Koa Kalane Ukulele



caver3d
10-26-2015, 06:11 PM
There were posts here regarding the Koa Kalane ukuleles a few years ago. At that time they could be picked up for under $200 at such stores as the local K-Mart in Kona or Sears.

I am presently on the Big Island (come here a lot). Last week, while wandering through the local Sears store in Hilo, I stumbled upon a glass case containing Koa Kalane ukes (located near the HDTV sets). I asked to see the Tenor uke. They also had Soprano and Concert. The tenor uke appeared to be solid wood top, back, and sides - and apparently was either Hawaiian Koa (true Koa Acacia) or a related Acacia wood. Hard to tell, but sure looks like some sort of acacia wood - even has some curling - really nice. The headstock says Koa Kalane with a Honu figure (turtle) below it. The finish appears to be sort of a semi-gloss (not satin). Anyway, it was selling for only $219, so how could I resist? I bought it - not a major financial risk. And the Sears salesman said I could return it, no questions asked, if I had an issue with it.

I have to say that the workmanship is absolutely impeccable. Perfectly bookmatched top, back and sides (the front of the side). Everything else looks beautifully done - the joints, the lack of visible glue, etc. The strings are evenly spaced/symmetrical down the entire fretboard. I was, and still am, shocked over this. I have absolutely no complaints about the appearance, and I happen to be quite picky about my ukes. The strings appear to be Aquila Nylgut, but feel more like Supernylgut. After spending some time on and off tuning the strings to get them stabilized, the uke now plays very well, and sounds quite good, with good intonation. It's certainly not on par with my KoAloha tenor (then again, what is?), but nicely playable indeed. And for just over $200 what is there to complain about?

Now for the mystery. Who are these guys? On the label inside the sound hole it just says Koa Kalane (no indication of where manufactured) and underneath it is printed an email address Koakalane@hotmail.com. How weird is that? So, I emailed them as I have some questions about the uke, and my email promptly got kicked back to me with the message: "mailbox unavailable" - Hmmmmm... BTW, I am getting essentially nowhere searching for these guys on the internet.

If any of you have more information on Koa Kalane, please enlighten us.

So, there you have it. Can't trace it back to the manufacturer, but I sure have a nice, possibly real Koa (?) - but certainly a great looking Acacia - bargain-priced solid ukulele. Next time any of you are in Hawaii check the local K-Mart (don't know if they still sell it there), and certainly the local Sears. I might just buy myself a second one, mystery or no mystery<smile>.

UkieOkie
10-26-2015, 06:56 PM
Your post read like a light hearted mystery. Well done. I am now looking forward to hearing more about this company and uke.

mm stan
10-26-2015, 11:45 PM
I remember they adverting them in the newspsper 4 years ago and seeing them in sears in the glass case
Im betting they are old stock... they were inexpensive offshore ukes i believe
In fact i clipped the ad and saved it, back then regular price was 159.99 and on sale for 139.99
It came with a nylon hard foam case with a blue turtle embroidered on it.

TribalDancer
10-28-2015, 08:27 AM
What amazing timing. I have to share with you what little I "know".

I just got back from my first trip to the Big Island last night--also my first trip to HI since I started playing uke--stayed in the Kona area. My first uke was a heartfelt gift from a student of mine, and has since become my travel uke, as it is a sweet little soprano Kala dolphin in bright orange! I love her and was thrilled to get to play her on the beach for the first time. I knew while I was in HI I wanted to find a uke to take home with me. My goal was something made locally or with some history locally (so a find at a thrift store or antique shop).

We started our hunt at Da Hock Shop in Kailua. They had five or six ukes there in varying states of quality, most of which I recognized. But there was one there with that mysterious label with nothing more than Koa Kalane and that hotmail address. We looked up the brand and the only real references to it were right here on this forum, people asking the same questions we were about where they come from and noting that they could be found at only a few places, among them the Kona Kmart. I couldn't imagine I was going to walk into a Kmart and walk out with a quality instrument, so we hit up a few more second hand shops before I shrugged and said why don't we at least go check them out.

We wandered the store a bit looking for a section with musical instruments. A sweet but dottering old woman who worked there said they didn't have any, but my husband suggested we ask a second opinion, and I'm glad we did. There was a guy unloading boxes who I snagged to ask, and he practically lit up to talk about the ukes they have. He is a local and said his father and uncle used to make ukuleles and the ones this store carries rival some that cost two and three times more. He says it is a "local guy" who makes them and only sells them at a few locations in the islands--no mass distribution, HI is the only place you'll really find his stuff so it's almost like a local secret. He offered to personally walk us up to take a look at them, which we gladly accepted.

They are in the "souvenir" section up front at this Kona Kmart. Like, among the cheesy gifts you bring home for coworkers--cheap towels and plastic leis line the aisles, but at the back corner is a glass case. Within it, a selection of 6-7 different ukes including sopranos, concerts, and tenors. Some had inlay, some were cuataways, one had the turtle design etched multiple times across the top. All had gorgeous real wood grains, each with varying darkness of stains, so really the case was filled with over a dozen different beauties to try and choose from. All under $300, which was my hoped budget for this shopping trip. I woulda gone as high as $1000 if I fell in love, but $300 used was what I had hoped for...I didn't think I would get sub $200 new of any quality...at a KMART?!

Long story longer, the guy had to get a manager to come open the case for me to handle them and choose which would be mine. He also knew just a little about them, but enough to know that those in the know in the area laugh when people go up the street to some music centers and pay exorbitant prices for ukes when you can get these local hand-made ones for this price. He says since they are hand made, they encourage people to take their time choosing, since even between the same styles you are going to get different sounds. And boy was he right. I didn't bring my tuner and most of them were understandably wildly out of tune, but the manager even helped me try to tune a few of them to at least sound more similar in pitch so I could suss out which tone I liked better. I kept apologizing for taking up so much time, but he kept encouraging me to take my time and find the best one for my taste.

I was torn. I wanted three of them!! But in the end, I chose a tenor cutaway which had a warm tone I couldn't resist. As others have said, they do come with a padded zipper case of decent quality with the Koa Kalane logo stitched on it. I was so happy to have it, and just laughing internally that I was going to go home and tell everyone I bought my new local Hawaiian uke...at the Kmart. I even had hubby taking pictures of me choosing them and a triumphant pose with her out in front og the "Big K" sign for kicks.

For those looking, confirmed sightings at the Kona Kmart, Hilo Sears, Waikiki Sears, and another Honolulu uke shop I can't remember the name of right now but came up on searches when I was trying to learn more. Wish I had more solid info to add to the mystery, but local, hand crafted, mysterious secret brand of high quality and low cost...? I am pleased as Hawaiian punch. We are home now and getting to know each other. I love the softly rounded edges of the stock, which are gentle on my little lady-hands (heh). She needs some time to adjust to the new climate and for her fresh strings to ease up (lovely Aqulia strings, as others have noted), but I look forward to playing her joyfully with memories of my trip.

70sSanO
10-28-2015, 12:18 PM
Great story, and welcome to UU. If you stick around long enough you'll have 3, or 4, or...

John

caver3d
10-28-2015, 03:27 PM
Thanks for mentioning the case. You are right. I also received a Koa Kalane (name on the bag) gig bag with the purchase - came with the uke (included in the price). And thanks for providing a little more insight regarding the mystery. Like you, I am still thinking I should have bought a second one. My suspicions were that the uke was hand-made by just one or a few luthiers somewhere in Hawaii - and you seem to confirm this. The solid wood, impeccable workmanship, and limited availability supports this suspicion.

TribalDancer
10-28-2015, 06:41 PM
This is my third, and I want a 4th and 5th already!! Haha They are all so uniquely lovely, visaully and aurally.

And caver3d, I am frankly extra grateful you posted the day I was flying home. The last post on this here was several years ago and we wondered if they were a) still available and b) still of any decent quality. And both turned out to be true both in person and in your report! I am still such a noob in instrument purchasing (most of my musical experience has been vocal and dnace, not instrumental, so understanding the subtle differences in physical instruments is a new skill I am learning vicariously).

I am only delivering second hand information, but it seemed from semi knowledgable and invested sources. So...? Barring other info, this is what we have.

FYI, we took photos of the case, including a different email address from that inside the uke,so I will take a look soon and share what we captured. Thanks for the great convo, and welcome to the informative forum.

UkieOkie
10-28-2015, 07:08 PM
Please post some pics guys. This could be a brilliant marketing scheme. Think of how many people are now wanting these amazing Kmart Ukes. Haha

caver3d
10-28-2015, 08:14 PM
Please post some pics guys. This could be a brilliant marketing scheme. Think of how many people are now wanting these amazing Kmart Ukes. Haha

Okay, so here are some photos of the Mysterious Instrument. Amazing looking uke from Sears. The way the strings look at the headstock is how it comes when you purchase it (you can trim them if you want). I am considering the possibility of switching out the Aquilas for Worth clears - just a matter of preference. (BTW, the strings actually lie evenly spaced/symmetrical across the length of the fretboard. It looks a little off in one of the photos because I did not have my camera oriented exactly vertically over the ukulele.)

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TribalDancer
11-02-2015, 12:11 PM
Just wanted to pop in and give a little info now that I have had the ukulele for a little over a week. I haven't had a chance to play it as much as I would like as unfortunately I came home with a sinus infection which took me way down low for most of the past week. But I have been tuning her up and playing her a bit regularly. So here is what I can say:

The one I bought is definitely buzzing a bit as some people have mentioned in the limited other threads on these. I think I have traced it to too much action at the nut, after some research and testing. I am bringing it to a local luthier to get it checked out and set up better as needed (could be as cheap as $25, which still keeps the price around $200 total), and will report back on what they have to say about it. I am hopeful it will be an easy tweak or two, as the tone is just lovely and I hope to play it with even more joy soon.

WCBarnes
11-02-2015, 01:41 PM
The timing of this thread is perfect! My sister was just in Hawaii on her honeymoon and she bought me a Koa Kaleo soprano ukulele! I couldn't find anything about the brand but the pic of the headstock she sent me is exactly like your Koa Kalane headstock, tuners included. The bridge also has the two white dots as well. I had not heard anything about these. I am very excited to get it! I will post more, including pictures, when I get it.

kohanmike
11-02-2015, 08:28 PM
8476884769847708477184772

In these photos, it looks like zebra wood.

TribalDancer
01-07-2016, 03:25 PM
Reporting back as promised, and it is sad news indeed.

I played my Koa Kalane a little while I was in HI, but not much since we were heading home 24 hours later. Then once home, my husband and I both had incredible sinus infections which sent us to urgent care and laid us both up, literally, for nearly a month after we got back from our vacation. So other than some pathetic plunking at it out of a desperate desire to get to play, I didn't get much time with it until November. Which is when I noticed I was getting some buzzing on the G string, and maybe a little on the A string? I wasn't sure if it was the power of suggestion, since in the very limited posts about this brand uke, someone else had reported buzzing. I also did some research and was pretty sure the action was too high (strings high off the fret board), but dismissed my concerns as those of a fledgling who doesn't know what the hell she was talking about. Ultimately, I really wasn't enjoying the sound of my ukulele as much as I would like and didn't pick it up much, vowing to bring it to a trusted luthier to get it set up properly. Then the holidays struck, and another bout of illness, and it wasn't until the new year I even got out to get it checked out.

Skip to yesterday. I head to the shop. They are closed, on this single day all year, for inventory! I am about to slam my head into a wall with frustration when a nice man at the door asks me if I am there for a private lesson. I said no, it is for an evaluation on my uke, and the angel that he is, he took me inside and went back to see if the luthiers were willing to take a look at it and give me an estimate today. Relieved, I came inside and he asked me what was up. I told him about hearing what seemed to be buzzing, but admitted I am far from experienced and could be just my playing, so I brought it to them to examine. He played it a bit and nodded. "On the G string?" Yep, I confirmed, feeling validated that I was not insane. He took it to the back and I took a seat.

About 15-20 minutes later he comes out to deliver the bad news. He told me if I looked down the neck of the ukulele, I could see a leeeetle bowing on the right (top) side of the fret board. I peered at it and while barely perceptible, yes it was definitely there. "You bought this in Hawaii, did you?" he asked, having guessed the answer already as I nodded. He explained that this is a common problem with ukes made/purchased in Hawaii and then brought back home. You are purchasing an item made of wood in a humid climate and bringing it back to a comparatively dryer climate. The result is that the wood then starts to contract from drying out more than it is used to back in the tropical climate. With the fretboard being a different wood than the neck, they contract at different rates. Since they are glued together, this causes the fretboard to curve/bow from the contraction and pressure underneath.

The additional bad news is that the usual solution, shaving down the bowing spot, is impossible due to the thinness of the fretboard on this particular uke. And the alternative, which would be to basically take the entire thing apart and replace the necessary components, would cost me 2-3X the purchase price of the uke in the first place (around $450 minimum). To add insult to injury, I was also right that the action is really high on this instrument, but they can't fix that either because it will just make the buzzing worse since the strings will bottom out on that warped section of the fretboard.

He was super nice and sympathetic, chatting me up about this problem across ukuleles, guitars, and other stringed instruments, and what a frustration it can be. He complimented the instrument otherwise, saying the cut of the wood was top notch, the warmth of tone is lovely, and otherwise it is a really good quality instrument. He said he played it a bit with the repair team, and the buzzing isn't the worst they ever heard, and if I can get past it, it's a good "messing around" instrument. Though notably, he also added that it's so pretty it will even look good as a showpiece hanging on a wall. "A pretty souvenir," I grumbled sadly with a smirk as he nodded. Little did he know the inside joke: that I had, after all, picked it up in the souvenir section of a Kmart...

So that's the sad tale, friends. The buzzing others have noted is likely a problem most of us will experience if we buy there and bring back to the states. Maybe the southeastern states would have better luck, but for us northerners it's a possibly insurmountable problem. :(

mm stan
01-09-2016, 01:25 AM
Get a second opinion if the can steam the neck and straighten the bow..good luck

Futurethink
01-09-2016, 03:14 AM
You are purchasing an item made of wood in a humid climate and bringing it back to a comparatively dryer climate. The result is that the wood then starts to contract from drying out more than it is used to back in the tropical climate. With the fretboard being a different wood than the neck, they contract at different rates. Since they are glued together, this causes the fretboard to curve/bow from the contraction and pressure underneath.


Maybe the southeastern states would have better luck, but for us northerners it's a possibly insurmountable problem. :(

I don't have any personal experience with this issue, but I have read numerous posts here about an 'ukulele being restored to playable condition after being properly humidified. Are you using a humidifier and keeping it in a case? An Oasis humidifier is about $20, and there are other brands available for less money. One member here keeps his collection in an armoire/trastero with an open bowl of water on the bottom shelf.

I wouldn't give up after one opinion.

SoloRule
01-09-2016, 04:32 AM
I am not sure where you live . I live in Canada - very very dry in the winter. I brought back a Kaniela from Hawaii in the middle of January. Ordered two Pono in April and one in November. The November arrived at my door frozen solid. I pretty much had to wait over 2 hour before I dared to touch the strings yet I have absolutely no issue at all . Could this be a case where big box store like Sears simply did not know how to store the uke probably?
I visited a local music store who claimed to be Canada largest Uke store.. They hung a $1,000 Kanelia on displays ( NO, not inside a humidity control glass case), the edge were sharp due to shrinkage of the neck . The owner insisted it is normal when coming from Hawaii. I am not sure if that is true since I have no trouble with mine.

fivetoedsloth
07-15-2016, 10:57 AM
Hello everyone,
First time poster here, novice ukulele player. I just found a used Koa Kalana tenor cutout at my local guitar center for $100, padded gig bag included, and decided to buy it! It has a really solid feel, sounds warm, has a wide fretboard and is beautiful to look at. Here's a pic:

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I don't know a thing about this, though-- where it's from, what wood it is, whether it's solid wood (it appears to be)... all it has is that sticker with the hotmail address in the sound hole. The rep at the Guitar Center was pretty clueless about it too. But I am super happy with this purchase.

Hula.la
09-13-2016, 05:52 PM
Sorry to hear of your dilemma. Mine traveled from Honolulu to Upstate NY, where subzero temps and 100 degree days are both present through the changing of the seasons. Mine sounds magnificent! Totally happy.

thebestbob
09-13-2016, 11:12 PM
Hi everyone, I live on Oahu and was looking to buy a uke for my daughter. I was searching for something nice, but inexpensive as she is a beginner. I came across this brand and wanted to know more about them. I guess they are still very mysterious. They still sell them here on Oahu at Kmart. They are in a glass case.

Has anyone bought the ukes sold at Costco? Thanks for the help.

Bob

Hula.la
09-14-2016, 10:01 AM
Hi everyone, I live on Oahu and was looking to buy a uke for my daughter. I was searching for something nice, but inexpensive as she is a beginner. I came across this brand and wanted to know more about them. I guess they are still very mysterious. They still sell them here on Oahu at Kmart. They are in a glass case.

Has anyone bought the ukes sold at Costco? Thanks for the help.

Bob

All I can tell you is that my tenor cutout came from Honolulu to Upstate New York, in perfect condition and is still in excellent solid shape. Great sound...no issues at all! I wish I could get another one! Aloha