View Full Version : Oh Wise One's, I need Your Advice.

05-23-2009, 03:33 AM
Hi folks, I wonder if any of you can nail something down once and for all for me.

For those that don’t know, I am a huge fan of the Flea. Never tried a Fluke but I’m sure I would have no issues with that either as only the shape is different.

One of the main reasons for this is because when I started about 2 years ago I had a bad run of buying Uke’s that I just didn’t like. Well known brands but not my cup of tea.
Then I bought a Kiwaya Soprano and that was superb. I like the sound and the fact that it is easy to play (in terms of fingering and action).
It is set very low and is very smooth.

Then I bought a Flea on a whim because I heard one on you tube and that was the same - action set low and easy to play.

I’m now looking to get a Koa Soprano or possibly a Concert size with the same action as the Flea and Kiwaya.
To your knowledge, is there a make out there that produces such a thing?
I think there may be because of my experience of the Kiwaya, but I do not want to order a Kamaka or Kanilea for instance if it is not the same.

Any thoughts?

05-23-2009, 03:44 AM
I recommend buying the cheapest POS you can find and practice adjusting the action yourself. Once you're proficient at it, you can set up any uke any way you want. Just a thought.

05-23-2009, 03:59 AM
Action can always be futzed with. It probably wouldn't be a bad idea to take some time and learn how to make those minor adjustments yourself. It's not that complicated.
But if you buy from a dealer who's got the know how to do a decent set up in the first place, it shouldn't be an issue. Let them know how you like things set when you plunk the hard green down.

Really I would be thinking more about sound, size and price range.

05-23-2009, 04:08 AM
I would think a high end Uke would sond very well, so I'm more interested in how the action is set.

05-23-2009, 04:11 AM
Keep in mind that I am new to the uke, just learning. I may have done it wrong, and I not even sure I done it right. When I take my wife shopping I usually sit in the car and wait for her, I am what you call a people watcher so this works foe me.

I had a $50 el-cheap-o uke that the action was way to high, and I never played with it turned out to be a wall hanger. I decide to mess with it I sanded the bottom of the nut to lower the action, changed strings. Now I keep it in the car and practices while wife shops. Nut and bridge material are cheap don’t be afraid to play around with them, if you mess them up they can be replaced and you can try again till you get what you want.

05-23-2009, 04:18 AM
Sorry, but I’m not asking how to change the action, I am asking if there are any high end Uke’s out there that are made with as good an action as either the Kiwaya or Flea?

05-23-2009, 04:33 AM
I don't think it's easy to generalize about that. With fleas and flukes they are all made in the same mold and all seem to have the same action. With other wooden ukes, each one is a little different since the fret board is wood and metal frets, and there may be very slight differences due to the wood,neck or bridge. Even in a batch of the same factory ukes, some will be better than others. If you are real particular about what you want and feel good about playing, try to visit a good uke shop or uke fest and try them out in person instead of ordering online.

05-23-2009, 06:05 AM
Not easily achieved I'm afraid. In the UK we only now have 1 shop in London which does not carry many high end Uke's.

The Kiways all seem the same with very low action so they are obviously all made like that.

05-23-2009, 10:17 AM
Not easily achieved I'm afraid. In the UK we only now have 1 shop in London which does not carry many high end Uke's.

The Kiways all seem the same with very low action so they are obviously all made like that.

How many Kiwayas have you played with? I know they are one of the best reputation imported ukes out there.You get a high end uke it should have a low action or at the least a very playable action. I've never picked up a Kamaka, Kanilea, or Koolau that wasn't well made. I did not always like their sounds but they were set up great. Normally you get what you pay for.

05-23-2009, 10:22 AM
I've had a Flea, Kiwaya KTS-4, and soprano Lanikai (the solid koa line made by Kanile'a). In my opinion, the feel of the Kanile'a is nothing like the other two. I absolutely love that instrument, but if you're looking for another uke that feels/plays very closely to the Flea and Kiwaya, then I think you can rule out this one. Just keep in mind, this is one person's opinion. :)

05-23-2009, 11:16 AM
its not really high end, but my lanikai CK-TEQ has perfect action. Low and easy to play but it doesnt buzz at all, or hit the frets. pretty durable, but the finish has worn down alot. it has aged well i would say. It still sounds great, after 4 years but i still have to be careful with it.

05-23-2009, 11:22 AM
John, I have tried quite a few and a few of the whole range.

Natalie, I suspected as much that is why I asked anyone who has personal knowledge on this subject.
I have also tried Pono and Kaloha and they don’t come close although to be fair, the Pono was not that bad. An O’hana I had was virtually unplayable as was the Brueko which sounded awful anyway.

The thing that gives me more brain damage than anything else is the action. I know you can have it altered if you don’t want to do it yourself but why should you have to?

A friend of mine sells $100,000 cars for a living. He let me drive one and I commented that in my opinion the brakes felt a little spongy to what I had been used to. He said that was standard but if I wanted one he would have it altered to what I wanted.

So, when buying a $1000 - $2000 Ukulele, why is there not an option to have this done? Why is it that you have to take it somewhere else or do it yourself?
And why is not a low action standard?. The vast majority want a low action so why do they set it up high?

As I said the Flea is perfect and so is the Kiwaya. I just thought that I would try something else and as I have to buy online I thought I would ask opinions on other well know Uke’s.

05-23-2009, 01:28 PM
Witters you have a great point when you say why can't I get one that way. It comes down to customer service I guess. I play a Mele and the action is sweet. So most of the Kiwayas have great action? If it is a norm stick with that company. I stick with Mele (even though I want a KoAloha and will get one eventually) b/c there set up and sound and price is so great. It does suck buying online. Makes a consumer weary of trying different products.

How low of action are you looking for? You could probally contact a dealer or shop and ask them to adjust the action for you. When I played guitar I was told before that many manufactuers leave the action at a mid height to allow the players to adjust to their height of preference. Not sure if the salesman was blowing smoke up my butt or not but that is what he told me when I asked how come the Taylor had a higher action than the Dean I was looking at.

05-23-2009, 02:02 PM
Thanks for that John and thanks for the info Nikolo.

All the Kiwaya's I have tried are low and superb instruments. There are a couple of reviews on youtube, one by Ken Middleton on the Soprano.
They are not cheap though but they are good. The company has been going for nearly 100 years or so.

There is a shop not too far away that can change the action for me. I spoke to the guy who works there and he told me he does it all the time for his Guitar customers and he recommends having it done to new players to make life easier.
I agree with him on that because the Flea for instance makes a big thing about it being easy to play and the Flea is recommended especially for new players.

I am not a fast strummer and most of the stuff I play is slower songs that I try and jazz up a bit.
I even slow up songs like 5 foot 2 - not much just a bit.
So a nice low action suits me and that is why I like the Flea. But I would like to get a traditional Koa because of the sound, but at as good an action or very nearly at least.

05-23-2009, 02:18 PM
So, when buying a $1000 - $2000 Ukulele, why is there not an option to have this done? Why is it that you have to take it somewhere else or do it yourself?
And why is not a low action standard?. The vast majority want a low action so why do they set it up high?

For the mid-range Factory `ukulele (Kamaka, KoAloha, Kanile`a et al), the supposed reason the action is set a little higher is so that you can set it low yourself. Its a factory instrument, and it has to work everywhere. When humidity dries out and the neck moves, action may be changed. Easier to lower the action, than to raise it. At that range, its still a factory instrument, and very general in every sense.

Of course, get Casey, Paul or Joe to build it, then you wouldn't be asking the question of why you have to have it done - it'll already be there. No spongy brakes, there.

Seems you need a custom, since you're already talking high end anyway.

Then again, you get sellers like MGM, who will touch almost every saddle that leaves his hands, and he's not a builder. I say "almost", because I know he doesn't touch any saddle that he gets from me, or other custom builders. On the customs, he doesn't touch anything, usually, not even strings. I've done a few finish touch ups, but that just goes to show that nobody is perfect, although some are better than others (again, none perfect).


05-23-2009, 04:09 PM
If it is a given fact that every Uke made, is made on the understanding that any buyer does so with the knowledge that he/she will have to have it altered to suit, then fair enough.

But I didn’t know this and I doubt that many do - well relatively new players at least.
Of course, I can understand someone getting a Uke and then deciding that he does not like the set up so fiddles with it, but this is the norm in most hobbies.

This makes me very reluctant now to go for something very expensive. Book matched and nicely decorated means very little to me because all that is cosmetic. To me that is a bonus rather than a must have.
My idea of Uke heaven is something that is well built, sounds good, and has a nice playing action. I know that exists with the Kiwaya at least.

05-23-2009, 04:26 PM
When negotiating with a seller, it's worth trying to get them to throw in an action adjustment. If you tell them you like the instrument but the high action is a deal-breaker, they might hook you up.

05-23-2009, 05:57 PM
I recently purchased a used Kiwaya KTS 6 soprano and this is the finest uke I have ever played or heard. The action seems fine for me but I am not sure if thats the way it came from Kiwaya. Apparently the KTS 6 was discontinued as being too close to the KTS 7. I got a good deal on this one but I think its worth it to buy a higher end instrument as you can afford I think it actually encourages the player because of its quality and sound.

05-23-2009, 06:04 PM
My idea of Uke heaven is something that is well built, sounds good, and has a nice playing action.

Then get a KoAloha. They're wonderful. Action on mine is perfect. It's extremely well-built and it sounds gorgeous.

05-24-2009, 02:18 AM
All the Kiwaya Uke's are superb as I said before. Even MGM states on his website that these are the finest production made instruments he has seen - that statement is written about one of the Kiwaya's he is selling.

Sukie, glad you like the KoAloha, personally I don't and I have tried 1 Pineapple and 2 Soprano.
High action, buzzing, and broken tuners didn't help. Compared to the Kiwaya they are not very good at all. Just my opinion though of course.

05-24-2009, 04:04 AM
All the more reason that you might perhaps want to consider learning how to make the necessary adjustments you require yourself. You seem very particular on this point and while it's certainly great that you've found a couple of instruments that came to you set up to your liking you're actually doing yourself a disservice in dismissing otherwise quite wonderful instruments because the action out of the gate may not be up to your very particular standards despite being quite easily adjustable. It's kind of like deciding not to buy a particular car because the seat wasn't back far enough when you got in. (And I suspect that your preferences are on the slightly more extreme end of the scale in this regard.)

My experience with the two Koaloha concerts I personally have and Sukie's and one recently purchased another by a TCUO member is uniformly that these are really sweet and very playable instruments. It's part of the reason I have two. And judging from what I've read of other people's experiences, it's not exactly an isolated opinion.

05-24-2009, 04:25 AM
Yes I see your point on both aspects.

Regarding the KoAloa’s, I was more than disappointed because I did extensive research. However, in total I have bought 3 mainly because I did not accept the first 2 as being anything other than just bad luck.

Regarding the point about adjusting something to get it how I like it - I do accept that this could apply to anything, even a Kiwaya which is near perfect.
However, I do not accept what I would call an unplayable Uke given the fact that I may have spent over $1000 on it. I find this more than unacceptable that a quality instrument would come to you with an action far to high.
But I am willing to accept that if this is the norm then that is how it is. But this has never been explained to me by anyone I have ever bought from and I have never read that anywhere on any site.

05-24-2009, 06:55 AM
With all due respect I find myself reminded of a particular line from Samuel Beckett's "Waiting for Godot"

Vladimir : There's man all over for you, blaming on his boots the faults of his feet.

I'm sure a custom builder would very easily be able to accommodate your particular playing preferences should you have one make an instrument for you. That's part of the wonder that is having an instrument custom built to your specifications.

The thing that you do have to remember and understand is that your preferences do not seem to fall within the range of the average player. While my instruments might seem to have unplayable high actions to you, most people would find them to be quite normal if not buttery smooth. ;) (Whereas I'm also pretty sure that I might find your "perfect" action rather rubbery and messy.). It's just how we roll as individuals and players.
"Perfect action" at its core is a subjective preference and yours is apparently rather different than most people. Knowing that and being able to effectively and clearly communicate your needs will go a long way. Or barring that a willingness to take matters into your own hands when necessary to achieve the results you desire. A little judicious sandpapering is not a high price to pay for personal satisfaction.

05-24-2009, 07:23 AM
I think you may be wrong there Lanark.
I think the vast majority go for a low action rather than a high one.

I don't think I want anything out of the ordinary and as I said I am more than happy to accept anything that has the same action as the Kiwaya - hence my original post on this thread asking those that know if other manufacturers in the high end bracket (or any other bracket) send their Uke's out with low action.

05-24-2009, 12:34 PM
Regarding KoAloha, I did own one of their sopranos, a model from 2000. Somewhat unique because it had one piece koa front (versus bookmatched,) one piece koa back, and one piece koa sides (which was the most impressive part, because that koa piece went all the way around, and I have never seen that before.)

My only gripe with it was that the action was a bit high for my tastes. Normally, I would have just fixed it myself because my dad has always been a big fix-it-yourself kind of guy, but the saddle was made of ebony, and I didn't have any experience with wood saddles, so I left it alone. But I said something about it here on the forums, and the KoAloha guy, (Paul?) who is on these forums saw it, and said that if I took it in to the shop, they could get it fixed for me. Pretty sweet deals.

I never got around to taking it in (even though its only a 10-15 minute drive for me) because I didn't play it too often. And I ended up trading it for a Mele Guitarlele circa 1997. Not a bad trade, mint condition instrument for mint instrument. But when I did the trade, I commented to the guy that the action on the KoAloha felt a little high to me, which is why I was trading it. But he said that he actually liked it, and it depended on what he was playing, because he did a lot of playing that required higher action.

Anyway, I have never played a Kiwaya so I don't know how low their action is, but I can tell you that my Kamaka soprano is set up pretty much perfectly right from the factory.

05-24-2009, 04:12 PM
I have an update:

Tonight I was able to have a go at a Pono Teno, unaltered, and the action was very good. It was a little tougher on the fingers compared to what I have been used to - Soprano - but the action was low which is the main thing.
It did seem HUGE though but it was a very good instrument.

Without starting a new thread, does anyone have a Pono? And are the Soprano and Concerts good? I must say the one that I tried looked the part as well.

05-24-2009, 04:16 PM
I have an update:

Tonight I was able to have a go at a Pono Teno, unaltered, and the action was very good. It was a little tougher on the fingers compared to what I have been used to - Soprano - but the action was low which is the main thing.
It did seem HUGE though but it was a very good instrument.

Without starting a new thread, does anyone have a Pono? And are the Soprano and Concerts good? I must say the one that I tried looked the part as well.

I must say Pono tenors and pono concerts/soprano are two completely different stories. Pono makes great instruments overall but even MGM mentioned their tenors are their specialty

05-25-2009, 06:21 AM
I think you may be wrong there Lanark.
I think the vast majority go for a low action rather than a high one.

I think you misunderstand.

I'm saying that I do believe that your idea of what constitutes "high action" may be quite different than as most people perceive it. If virtually every other uke you have ever played besides the two you have is "unplayable" I would venture that the issue may not be entirely the fault of the ukuleles.

05-25-2009, 07:32 AM
Well one mans perfect is an others PIA.
I would more than likely hate YOUR action.

I for one think that the stock action on my Pono Soprano is to low and I play it anyway everyday (but I am to lazy to do anything about it) and my buddys Pono tenor is to high, but that is the way he likes it.

For me all my Kala's and my KoAloha Soprano are just right and so was the Tenor and Pineapple Sunday I got to play.

The folks that make "off the shelf" Ukes make them mid high so they can be adjusted for folks like you. I know this after talking to several builders at a Uke Fest.
Learn to do the adjustments, have someone do it for you or just buy the brand you love so much....

I don't mean to sound like a tool but everyone is telling you the same thing!!!!!

Now lets talk about the strings in relation to the action I am noticing that my Pro Arte's (both Concert and Tenor) and the Worth Clears (Soprano) make the action feel higher than any of the Aquilla's do.
I'm sure they are harder and that is what accounts for this....

05-25-2009, 08:22 AM
My idea of low action is the Flea.

High action to me would be an O'Hana CK-35 and the review on the TK-35 on youtube by Ken Middleton, and his remark on his website which says "Action far to high when new" confirms to me that I am not the only one who finds Uke's like this unplayable when new.

Freedive, your avatar sees you (I assume its you) playing a Flea. Unless you have altered it would you not count this as a low action? In which case you would hardly hate my action as you said in line 2.

05-25-2009, 01:53 PM
Oh yes I forgot about my Flea (to much UAS) and yes I think it is to low but not much I can do to a Flea, I got it to take on rafting trips and as a leave in the car Uke.

05-25-2009, 04:52 PM
For those who are action freaks the first thing you must do is get the proper measuring tool Stew Mac makes a simple metal business size guage that sits on the frets and tells accurately the action. So many times i get people claim their action is high say 4mm-5mm and they are usuing dime store rulers to try and measuresure millimeter string height... I get it back to readjust and it reads 1.00 to 2.00mm less Get the Gauge...find a uke you feel plays well and measure the heights at 12th fret. thats what you should shoot for in your instruments when buying... there are many other factors though in how the instrument feels when you play i typically drop the a string side .2 below the g string side...Just feels better to the fingers. neck angle also causes a different feel and fret size itself although cintributes,,,lots of factors...

05-26-2009, 12:11 AM
I would like to thank everyone who took time to reply and I know this is a tricky subject.

From my limited experience, and from someone who has never had the opportunity to visit a Uke store or anything like it, and the fact that I do not know anyone personally who plays the Uke, my question may have been a little naive.
So, I did not know that the final “tweaks” in adjusting the action is down to the individual to do, I thought this would have been an option done by the seller when you venture into the high end Uke’s.

I did of course, and fully understand that one mans meat is another mans poison, so what’s good for me is not necessarily good for you. But, I was coming in from the standpoint of 2 examples, and of 2 different angles - a Flea which is considered and recommended as an entry level Uke, and relatively inexpensive when comparing it to a Kamaka for instance, and a Kiwaya, which is expensive. Both to me have perfect action right off the shelf.
My original question therefore was mainly aimed at those who have bought what I consider “high end Uke’s” like Kamaka, Kanilea etc, and wondered if these to came with low or for want of a better word “smooth” action straight from the shelf.

I also wondered what the new breed of Uke's were like in this department - Kala, Mainland, Pono etc.

I consider sound and playability the 2 most important parts. Looks to me come secondary even though that is the first thing you notice. An original Martin and now Kiwaya for instance look ordinary to me because compared to what is produced nowadays they are. There is nothing fancy about them at all. But they do sound great and in the case of Kiwaya, are very smooth and easy to play.

Once again thanks for your comments.