View Full Version : Help me find the right Soprano

04-22-2017, 11:27 AM
Hi everybody! I need your help in this sea of ukuleles.

I've played for years with an Arrow, 30 euros laminated uke, nothing special, but it's really well made. I setted it up with D'Addario carbon strings and really low action, it's like butter.
however, even if it sounds good for a laminated cheap uke, it's nothing compared to a solid wood one.

I've had for more than an year an Ohana SK38, and I really liked it, nice warm sound, ultralight weight, great look, BUT I couldn't stand the narrow nut.
after years with the Arrow I got used to the wider nut, 35,80mm, and the 34mm Ohana's nut was too narrow for me. it also had noticable dead spots on the B and C notes.
I tried for an year to get used to it, but nothing... so, after thinking about it a lot, I decided to sell the SK38 and look for something similar, so I bought a Kala SMHS... or I must say that I bought two of them...

the first one (brand new) came from the shop like it was used by a miner during his lunch break... dingles all over, even on the fretboard, and even a piece of rosewood "chewed" on the G string edge of the first fret.
the shop took it back and gave me my money back, so I bought another one from another shop, aesthetically perfect, but playing it a bit showed me some issues:

- 35mm nut, wider than the Ohana, but still narrow
- larger body, with the "classical guitar" bridge
- overall weight a bit too much, so it's not that comfortable while playing standing.
- various dead spots (G, G#, A, in particular the G#). also the first and "ruined" one had them, I checked before shipping it back.

now here I am only with the Arrow, that doesn't have dead spots (probably due to the fact that it's laminated and don't vibrate much), has the perfect nut, it's small and light, but sounds a bit to brittle and clearly "cheap".

PS: I love the friction tuners behind the headstock.

so, with all the above said, I'm trying to figure out which uke to buy, considering that I live in Italy and have to buy it online, there aren't shops with a wide range of uke. for years I thought that a ukulele couldn't cost more than 50/60 euros...

the most important things are:

- wide nut (35,80, 36mm)
- light body
- friction tuners and overall vintage/simple look
- possibly the simple bridge like the Ohana
- I prefer 12 frets fingerboards

for example,

I like the look of the Ohana sk38, but also the sk28, "nunes style", but I don't know the size of the nut (it seems, however, wider than the Sk38).
I like the look of the Ohana sk39, but it's still not available, only presented at the NAMM: it looks like the nut is super wide, but it has 17 frets.

also, and most important thing, I'd like to stay between 200 and 300 euros

can you help me ?

04-22-2017, 12:14 PM
I'd grab one of these Famous sopranos, made by Kiwaya. These are made with their special thin laminate top, back and sides. They sell under the Famous brand in Japan, and sell as Kiwaya outside Japan. Very high quality sopranos, with classic Martin styling, whose tone rivals and even surpasses many solid ukes. I recently got the laminated koa model FS-5, and it sounds and plays great. Friction tuners, and the wider nut width you want, at 37mm. Great ukes, read the reviews. The description on this site is funny, but these are the real deal, and a helluva bargain.


04-22-2017, 12:40 PM
wow, thankyou! I'll look for this brand :D

I'm extremely ignorant for what concerns brands, I only know the few "mostly heard".

PS: I fell in love with the KTS-4... I have to find it ad a good price, because it's nearly 600 euros...

04-22-2017, 05:07 PM
wow, thankyou! I'll look for this brand :D

I'm extremely ignorant for what concerns brands, I only know the few "mostly heard".

PS: I fell in love with the KTS-4... I have to find it ad a good price, because it's nearly 600 euros...

I sold John his Famous. I have a KTS-6 as well. Watch for a used KTS-4, it's an excellent choice, and I think goes for around $400 used, which isn't that much more than a solid wood Ohana. You will not be disappointed and it's worth the wait. I scoured here and eBay for months to find mine used and I adore it. The 4 is a great instrument, too.

04-23-2017, 02:08 AM
I would agree that the Kiwaya family of ukes would be a great choice. Great bang for the buck and terrific playing and sounding instruments.

04-23-2017, 09:55 AM
ok, one model to search is found :) however it seems difficult to find, and it's still a bit pricey. are there some cheaper models I should look?

04-23-2017, 12:42 PM
Might want to look at Brueko


04-23-2017, 01:29 PM
Even some of the nicest solid wood ukes can have some dead spots I've found...same with most any instrument
Just curious, have you tried other strings on your Arrow? Since you mentioned D'addario, I know you can get some of those where you are. Maybe try some Nyltech and see what that does for the sound....or anything else warmer...
I'm personally not a fan of those D'addario carbons.

04-23-2017, 02:33 PM
I imagine you are familiar with this website. http://ukenut.com/comparison-of-ukulele-nut-widths/
Your query had me measuring the width on my soprano ukuleles. Like you I started out with a cheap laminate for quite a long time I played it and it sufficed. In certain ways it's my gold standard for feel and action. But it is laminate and you can only get so much tone out of a laminate and the playability is just limited. Since you discovered the Kiwaya you are in trouble. It's hard to compete with that.

It seems you are very picky about what appeals to you. There's nothing wrong with that but bear in mind many people are much easier to please so imperfections in the wood, standards of build might not bother a lot of people . I have reached out to several UU members who I felt shared my sensibility about what makes a ukulele work for them. I think of them as Kindred Spirits in the tone Department Another thing I do is watch videos to hear if the tonal representation sounds good to me. It doesn't matter if the whole world loves a Martin and you feel it sounds Brash then it does. The same goes for the dead notes. If it will bother you that's good for you to know.

I have had gut feelings about many a ukulele. I've purchased two from listings in the marketplace on the Forum. Both times I had extensive emails with the seller to make sure that it would be right for me. Of course I couldn't know until I actually had it in my hand but both times I was right. Equally there are some ukuleles my ear just Rejects and when I've had a chance to play them indeed they just would not work for me.

You are keen to Aesthetics. Again there's nothing wrong with that. Trust your instincts. Don't just listen to blanket reviews. Try to get specific answers to your questions. I agree with you that friction tuners look much better on a soprano. Based on my experience they feel much better too. I wouldn't have geared tuners on a soprano it throws off the balance. I even prefer them on my concert KoAloha. Regarding Kiwaya they are close to famous but I think the Famous is slightly different enough that it would bother me. When I look at the Famous and when I listen to the laminate I don't feel drawn to it.

If you come up with some more brands that you're wondering about feel free to list here because this forum is full of opinions. People are always happy to share and maybe it will help you narrow it down.

04-23-2017, 07:42 PM
How about a KoAloha opio soprano? KoAlohas should have wider nuts, my concert is 38mm.

04-23-2017, 11:31 PM
Just curious, have you tried other strings on your Arrow?

Hi! yes, I've tried Aquila New Nylgut, Super Nylgut, D'Addario Carbon and D'Addario Black Nylon for soprano. I really liked the black nylons, but after some days, I don't know why, the C string becomes sharp after the 3rd fret...

the New Nylgut made it sound too bright and "thin", with the Super Nylgut still too bright but muddy when strumming. Carbons are the "in the middle", for my tastes (I also liked them on the Ohana sk38). so it sounds clear, with a nice volume.

I imagine you are familiar with this website. http://ukenut.com/comparison-of-ukulele-nut-widths/

I didn't know it! thanks! really interesting!

as you noticed, I'm a bit picky :D I play various instruments, in particular the bass guitar, which is my working instrument, so I started being meticolous for details. if it wasn't for the nut and the dead spots, I would have kept the Ohana for my entire life :D unfortunately those dead spots were on the B and C, and really noticable on the 2nd and 3rd fret of the A string, which is the main "singing" string, so playing chords like C or B felt always like there was something missing, or like I didn't fret right.

now I'm looking at some videos on youtube, for the Kiwaya Kts4, and it seems to be really good, but I noticed that something changed in the characteristics: for example, in many videos there wasn't the logo on the front of the headstock, but only on the back, now it's both on front and back. also the tuners seem to be different, and some models are satin, some are gloss...

PS: I can't find the Famous brand as a specific brand. I only see it mentioned in the history of Kiwaya, and a couple of auctions on Amazon.

04-23-2017, 11:58 PM
Another vote for the KoAloha Opio. They are as close to the real Hawaiian thing as you can get in that price range. All solid wood, friction tuners, 12 frets to the body, nut width of about 36 mm, simple design:


04-24-2017, 02:40 AM
I think the laminated Famous/Kiwaya models (FS-1 through 6 for Famous, KS-1 through 6 for Kiwaya, they are the same things) are likely superior to everything else you can get below 500 euros, maybe everything under a grand (new), except for Kiwaya's solid wood instruments. I struggled with the idea to drop so relatively much on a laminated instrument when I imported a FS-5G, but I have to say it was completely worth it. Sensational playability and intonation up the neck.

Graham Greenbag
04-24-2017, 04:06 AM
I'd like to second the suggestion of a Bruko Soprano - made in Germany and solid wood. They are within budget and do have a wider nut than is usual - I've seen members here say that their string spacing is 3/8". Baz Maz is a member of this forum and has his own Blog/Site too ('got a ukulele', and it's well worth a visit). Baz has a review of the Bruko there: http://www.gotaukulele.com/2012/05/bruko-no6-soprano-ukulele-review.html .

If the OP is happy to have another cheap laminate then Aria and Lanikai have beginner Sopranos that I believe have 36mm nuts, they do have geared tuners but it must be possible to change them to pegs.

Nut width doesn't seem to be an issue to a lot of players, but having recently had opportunity to try something with a slightly wider nut and wider spaced spaced strings I'll be looking to purchase one myself - my particular hands found it so much more comfortable.

04-24-2017, 06:49 AM
Nut width doesn't seem to be an issue to a lot of players, but having recently had opportunity to try something with a slightly wider nut and wider spaced spaced strings I'll be looking to purchase one myself...

I think it would be an issue to people if they were more aware of it. It probably plays a major role in what makes people like or dislike a uke, or even a size. It's not in the center of the marketing aspects, and it's not easily visible, so it's not always on the radar. It took me a few ukuleles and a guitar to realize that much of how I felt about a uke had to do with the nut width and the string spacing at the 12th fret and the soundhole. I think this may also be the kind of preference that develops and changes over some time. I agree that it deserves more attention than it's often getting.

04-24-2017, 07:50 AM
the thing I noticed in the uke world is that the nut is rarely specified.

playing the bass, it's always one of the first spec! for example, the Precision bass has 42mm, the Jazz bass 38mm, and don't even try to sell a Jazz with a wider nut, it's not even cosidered a Jazz Bass neck! :D

it's one of the first thing even the newer player looks.

with the ukulele I couldn't find this spec anywhere. I found out that the Kala SMHS had 35mm because Thomann reported it in the specs. the strange thing is that on a small neck and nut even the slightest difference is noticeable, so I don't understand why it's not advertised.

04-24-2017, 09:57 AM
i'm fan of kiwaya too
have a nice KS4that plays perfect.

i uploaded a video some time ago...
here it is...


have a nice day

Graham Greenbag
04-24-2017, 10:16 AM
I'm looking for a wider neck Uke too - started a thread about the Lanikai LU21-c, Concert, earlier today - and wondered enough about the Bruko to check the facts with them by email. Impressively quick response with the detail I wanted:
"The nut on our No. 5 is 35mm wide and the gap between the strings is about 9mm".

04-24-2017, 02:15 PM
I'm surprised nobody has mentioned Islander, they have a wider nut, made by Kanilea. I've had 2, my AC-4 and previously an MC-4, great instruments for $150 +/-. :shaka:

04-24-2017, 04:15 PM
According to some measurements I've taken of various ukes (just the ones I've had my hands on), the modern soprano with the largest nut width and string spread was the Famous/Kiwaya line, see chart below. For tenors, Pono had fattest neck, and surprisingly, the Outdoor had the widest nut.