View Full Version : A three-K question

07-14-2009, 12:51 PM
Okay, you owners of those K-series ukes, why is your favoured brand the best? What model would you recommend? (Kamaka, Kanilea and Ko'olau of course).

I have been contemplating a serious upgrade for a few months, in the MSRP range of $1K. And from everything I've read here, the three Ks stand out in that group.

I'm interested in your comments, both positive and negative about these brands- and any also within that price range I should contemplate.

Or am I over reaching and should look at something more modestly priced, but not as well appreciated as it should be? Are the K ukes overpriced and simpy status ukes, or are they worth their price? Are there others - Ponos, Honus, and so on - that are their equivalent in sound and quality but with a lower price?

07-14-2009, 01:04 PM
You forgot KoAloha ;)

07-14-2009, 01:09 PM
You forgot KoAloha ;)

I concur... 4 Ks to consider :-)

07-14-2009, 01:10 PM
Can only speak for the Kanile'a. I just got a K2 Tenor.

Beautiful sound, with excellent sustain. I've probably only put a couple of hours of playing time in since I received it so it has not had time to open up, yet. But the immediate sound has very nice highs, with a solid bark, i.e., the bottom is not at all muddy.

I'm very impressed by the workmanship and the playability: The neck is easy to get around. I had it strung low G and I feel it is well balanced.

I've not played any of the other Ks, so I have no comparison for you, but I always advocate buying a handmade instrument as they keep their value and feel good in the hands. So my vote..is yeah, go for it.

07-14-2009, 01:16 PM
I really don't think you can go wrong with any of the 4 K's. I absolutely love my Kamaka Tenor but I am already dreaming of a Pineapple Sundae. The tone of the Kanilea Tenor gives the Kamaka a run for the money.

07-14-2009, 02:03 PM
I have both a Kamaka tenor and a Kanile'a tenor.

The Kanile'a is lighter, has a thinner neck (easier for me with small hands) and seems louder. I also am a big proponent of the UV finish as it hides a lot of scratches (though it is prone to showing fingerprints). I also like the fret dots on the side of the neck, and while some Kanile'as I think have too much bling, I do like the abalone fret dots. I also prefer the bridge pin style since I find it easier to change the strings (but you will find just as many, or probably more people, that prefer tie style bridges). The customer service at Kanile'a also can't be beat...Joe and Kristen respond to email, and are very kind in person as well. If you are ever in Oahu, I highly recommend that you drop by their shop in Kaneohe.

The Kamaka is sturdier and seems more solid (but that might just be because it is heavier). The neck is thicker as well. It doesn't seem to have the same loudness as the Kanile'a but it does have a beautiful tone. I had a buzzing problem with the open C and E strings but I seem to have been able to correct that after trying repeatedly re-stringing it with different brands of strings. I love the simple elegance of the headstock logo and tuners in pearl white as opposed to the flash chrome or gold of the Kanile'a. The finish shows a lot more wear and tear than the Kanile'a, but it is also more traditional looking. On that note, the biggest draw for me with Kamaka was the history and tradition -- if you want a Hawaiian koa ukulele, it is the granddaddy of them all. Their customer service for me has been hit or miss. They were great when I wanted to order a tshirt (and asked about a custom uke) but I never got a reply to my question about my uke buzzing. I don't want to speak for them, but that at least gives the impression that they are happy to deal with potential sales, but not potential problems.

I don't have a KoAloha, but I did play around with one once. It was VERY loud and had a great tone to it. But I'm not a fan of the headstock and bridge design so I never got one for myself, though I do find that Pineapple Sunday awfully cool looking. I've never played a Ko'olau.

I play my Kamaka about 80% of the time, but that could be because I have the Kanile'a strung with low g, and I seem to prefer high g tuning. Or maybe because it is the new uke in the house. Or maybe because I just like the history and tradition of the Kamaka, and while the Kanile'a sounds just as good (if not better), I'm enamored with the Kamaka right now.

Hope that helps, good luck with whatever you choose...

07-14-2009, 02:40 PM
I tried a Kanilea tenor at Musideum in Toronto and it seemed heavy and the finish was very thick and plasticky. It played well and seemed very well made, but wasn't particularly loud. I compared it to my old cracked Kumalae soprano and the Kumalae was louder and had more of a bark. It is a soprano though, so that might account for the difference. I haven't really tried many tenors. The Kumalae has Aquilla strings. I'm not sure what strings were on the Kanilea.

07-14-2009, 02:46 PM
In the 1K range new or slightly used.

1. Kanile'a
2. Kamaka
3. Ko'olau (C1/T1)
4. KoAloha

Price independent say in the 3K range.

1. Ko'olau
2. Kanile'a
3. Kamaka (HF-3 Custom)
4. KoAloha

Used if you can find a ko'olau. There is a 400 on the bay for ~1350-1500$ and its a 4K instrument new and a good wood choice.

07-14-2009, 03:04 PM
Ichadwick...Of the K's company I own 2 Koaloha and frankly, they sound very good.

I do think that Koaloha have a very distinctive sound and tone and by blind test, I can always recognize a Koaloha uke.

And not only do they sound, but the finish and contruction of the uke is also very nice...very clean and qc is top notch...

So I think they pleny worth what they claim for and it's not only because of their reputation...but their instruments fills the expectation.

But I also believe that Kanilea and Kamaka are making awesome instruments.

By the way, you should also consider G-String. I did own a supersoprano from them in the past and it sounds like tons of brick!!!!

By the way, I'm from Montreal in Canada!!! If you come by Montreal PM me, I'll make you try my collection of ukes!!!!

07-14-2009, 03:29 PM
By the way, you should also consider G-String. I did own a supersoprano from them in the past and it sounds like tons of brick!!!!

I would be very careful buying a G-String uke without playing it in person. I have never seen a builder/company that's so inconsistent. I have seen factory seconds that are drop dead amazing tone, and straight up factory off the shelfs with the tone of a brick.

When you find a good one they are very very good, but I digress just play it first.

07-14-2009, 03:49 PM
I've played Kamaka and KoAloha. I like the KoAloha better.

07-14-2009, 06:39 PM

I am a proud Kanile'a whore. I love my two Kanile'as. I can't imagine getting rid of them. One is a soprano with the tru bracing, the other a concert with the older style bracing. Their wood is gorgeous, their finish all around is perfect, and the tone of both is absolutely beautiful. I don't know about any of the others - but I am so happy with these that I don't intend to pursue the others...

That said, each brand seems to have their fans and little negative seems to be said of any of them, so I think you'll have to decide for yourself in order to really know. Whatever you decide, you will make a good decision among these brands.

Ahnko Honu
07-14-2009, 07:04 PM
I'm a Kamaka loyalist being raised in a Kamaka family. I LOVE my Kamaka pineapple but it's a soprano, and I know you're not a fan of sopranos.
Kamaka is the original (not counting my 1915 Kumalae of course). :nana:

07-14-2009, 07:05 PM
I've played each of the 4 K's and own Kamaka, Kanile'a, and KoAloha. In my opinion each brand offers an outstanding ukulele and without the benefit of actually playing and comparing the instruments in person, I would say it comes down to visual design since I believe you'll have be pretty unlucky to end up with one that didn't sound good.

I would personally choose either Kamaka or Ko'olau. The reason might sound silly but it is because they each offer a one piece neck. To me it just looks a lot classier than necks with stacked heels and 2 piece headstocks (my biggest beef with Kanile'a is how their necks look from the back and side, looks cheap in my opinion). Between these two, if Ko'olau has at least a 1-7/16" nut width, I'd go with Ko'olau because it's almost a custom instrument (hand made by a couple of guys instead of an assembly line, I think). Otherwise I'd go Kamaka since it has a 1.5" nut. But really, unless you got unlucky and got a dud, I think these brands all offer great sounding ukes.

07-14-2009, 07:35 PM
I own a koaloha concert and I haven't picked up any of my other ukes since I got it. While in hawaii (been home less than a week now) I got to sample many high end ukes. The koaloha sounded the best. The kamakas I tried were pretty sweet as well. I played more kanileas than anything and I didn't feel they warrented the price tag. Now the eight string kanilea was top notch. The g strings I played were beautiful to eyes bit weak in sound department. I did not get to try a koolau but I did get to hear one. It was great. I am a koaloha man now. I used to give all loyalty to mele(same league as pono and honu) but after playing the ks there really is no comparison.

Roy Jovero
07-14-2009, 08:25 PM
I'd have to say KoAloha. The tone and volume is great, and their ukes tend to be a bit thinner and lighter. A lot of people have gripes with their screwed-on bridges and the lack of kerfing, but I think it adds to the sound of the instrument.

I've also played Kamakas, Kanile'as, and Keliis, and they just don't appeal to me the way the KoAloha does.

If your budget is $1000, you might want to look into Mike Pereira's ukulele.

07-15-2009, 12:50 AM
You forgot KoAloha ;)

Yipes. You are correct. Four Ks...

07-15-2009, 12:53 AM
...nd I know you're not a fan of sopranos.

Used to be true, but I warmed to the size with my Ohana zebrawood. I intend to get more sopranos for my collection in the future... I still prefer tenor most of the time, but I am quite happy playing the Ohana, too.

07-15-2009, 01:02 AM
I... but I digress just play it first.
Ah here's my problem. The cost to fly to a place where I could actually play anything before I bought it would supercede the cost of the ukulele. Even Toronto, with several millions of people, has very few choices in ukuleles (went there last week to look). When I win the lottery, all this will change, of course.

This all came about because I am very interested in a Ko'olau T1 up for sale in the marketplace at a what i think is a reasonable price. But the owner is on vacation for a couple of weeks and in the meantime, I decided to do some research. That snowballed a bit because reviews on T1s are rare birds. So I decided to ask your sage advice on competitive models/brands in that same MSRP range.

This may well be my last tenor or a while. After that, I'm seriously thinking of looking into (gasp! heresy!) sopranos and concerts. But before I do that, I want one really nice tenor.

07-15-2009, 01:20 AM
If your budget is $1000, you might want to look into Mike Pereira's ukulele.

I was thinking the same thing.

I have very little experince with any of the 4 K's. I have played a Kanilea and thought the playability was amazing. I thought the volume was lacking but have heard other peopl ehave the same thought but then their uke opens up.

But for the 1K range you should also look around at some custom builders. I have not played one but I hear good things about MP ukes and the prices seem pretty good. If you could swing a little more $$ I would go for a Moore Bettah 'Not So Basic' ukulele. It doesn't have the sweet inlay work but Chuck can build a uke to sing and they still look very nice.

07-15-2009, 05:30 AM
I once (no longer) owned a KoAloha concert uke tuned to low G. Great sound, great uke.

I currently own a Kamaka 8-string tenor uke - phenomenal uke - can't image any uke sounding better.

07-15-2009, 09:45 AM
From the experience of fellow members, is the T1 significantly better than, say, a Pono mango or cedar (both of which I have)? If so, how...?

07-15-2009, 10:53 AM
I would personally choose either Kamaka or Ko'olau. The reason might sound silly but it is because they each offer a one piece neck. To me it just looks a lot classier than necks with stacked heels and 2 piece headstocks (my biggest beef with Kanile'a is how their necks look from the back and side, looks cheap in my opinion).

I'm glad someone else voiced this opinion...I don't like to see stacked heels and 2 piece headstocks on an instrument either, the look is neither classy nor elegant...:(

07-15-2009, 06:37 PM
Hey Ian. Don't feel bad about the sopranos or concerts. You can buy more quality ukes that way.

Look into wai'olu ukes. There website is in the 808 builders thread. I believe their head luthier worked for either g-string or koolau ukes.

Whatever you get, you wil be happy. That koolau in marketplace is a sweet deal. I wanted it but got the koaloha instead.

ke leo
07-15-2009, 08:37 PM
You really can't go wrong with any of the 4 Ks. I own a few of each of them except Ko'Aloha (they are too bright for me and I'm not wild about their tone or the way they play....but that's me).

I've found that Kamaka's will hold their value (all mine actually increased in value). I've also noticed that their ukuleles seem to sound pretty consistant from one to another.

I was told by a several folks that my $500 Kanile'a sounds better than all my ukuleles including a custom Kanile'a. I played 6 of the same ukulele and this one sounded the best by far! I've noticed inconsistancies between their instruments.

I find Ko'olau to be in between Kamaka and Kanilea with regards to sound and action - Kamaka is brighter whereas Kanile's is mellow; Kamaka action is higher than Kanile'a.

So, given that you really can't go wrong and you can't play them, I would call a few places and have them play for you over the phone to see which one sounds the best to you. I would also factor in what folks are saying on this thread about how they play. Lastly, but perhaps not least to you, which one looks the best to you.

I won't leave you hanging without out a recommendation (I hate it when people leave me hanging when I ask for their opinion). I would go for a Kamaka because they are great instrument and even if it's not the best for you, if you take good care of it, I firmly believe that you can sell it for at least what you paid for it in a couple of years.

Whatever you buy, enjoy and post a pic!!!

07-15-2009, 09:42 PM
when it boils down to it, you might as well flip coins for the ukulele that you plan to purchase. Split the four into 2 groups, then split their respective models into groups, and then start flipping until you narrow down the model you would like to purchase. :D

To me, all 4k brands seem to have a wonderful reputation and to say that one brand is significantly better than another would be like saying that .... well.. i fail to think of a saying/cliche/or phrase that would fit this situation.

It would be like comparing a shiny golden toilet to another, slightly different, shiny golden toilet(for lack of a better contrasting target) :D

I'm just glad I'm not in your position today. I fear , however, that I will soon be making a purchase of another ukulele out of the 4k's category. :(:p

but since you asked for an opinion => KoAloha, I haven't met a person who has anything to bad to say about them... yet

07-15-2009, 09:43 PM
Ian I own a few meles which are compareable to ponos. I played one of my meles next to a kanilea and wasn't impressed enough to justify the price difference (900 to 500). Could have been that one kanilea bc once I bought my koaloha I couldn't believe in the difference. The price tag on that T-1 is sick. It is worth it. Anytime I have the funds and I can get a k model under 700 I am going to.

Ka leo makes a great point about kamakas not losing value.

07-15-2009, 09:52 PM
From the experience of fellow members, is the T1 significantly better than, say, a Pono mango or cedar (both of which I have)? If so, how...?
The t-1 is koolaus bottom end right? Your pono mango is the top end pono right?

If that is the case not sure. My dad has played my meles and he was impressed with the work on them but he never really liked the sound. When he played my koaloha he wouldn't put it down. He even said he wouldn't mind having one of these. I guess that is a good of an example of the difference between the nice imports (mele, pono, honu) and a k brand.

07-16-2009, 01:00 AM
Thanks everyone. I'm torn here between getting the T-1 (which looks beautiful) and simply saving for a while longer for something better (which could take me several more months, even a year longer). But I hate to pass up a good price now - other things might intervene in the meantime and I may spend the money elsewhere.

07-17-2009, 03:39 AM
Hey Ian. Don't feel bad about the sopranos or concerts. You can buy more quality ukes that way.
I thought about that, and even thought about buying a K model soprano. By my circuitous reasoning, a $600 soprano is the build equivalent of a $1,000 tenor. Based on prices I've seen, it's that sort of jump for some makers: $600 soprano, $800 concert, $1,000 tenor for the same model... but then I pick up a tenor from the herd and start strumming and it just sounds so sweet, feels so good in my hands... okay, I'm warming to sopranos, and will get more in future (I'm talking with Samwill about one) but for now - I have my heart set on another tenor.

07-17-2009, 03:46 AM
Anyone who knows me is going to guess that I'm voting for Ko'olau. However, I had the chance to play Bryan Tolentino's Kamaka is it's great. Cali and I also played a Pineapple Sunday that we both really liked.

07-17-2009, 05:17 AM
I've seen the picture of your herd of ukes, and it's awesome. But my 2 cents would be to sell off 2 or 3 of those that you don't play/love as much and get the tenor you REALLY want. Whatever that is. I just mean, if you're concerned that a T1 isn't a big enough step up from your Ponos, then... well, you get the idea. Adding another $600-$800 to your budget opens up your options in a big way, I would think.

07-17-2009, 06:54 AM
I went to two music stores the other day, and got to test out several upper level ukes. I tried a Kanile'a T-1 and T-3, beautiful with a maple rosette, against a KoAloha. Tried a few Ponos and a Honu. Even got to play a Kanile'a Guitarlele (I had always been wanting to see one of those in person).

I really liked the look and feel of the Kanile'a, but of the ones I tested, I wasn't willing to spend the big bucks for a relatively small increase in sound quality. I am sure that the variations in individual instruments could make me change my mind, but not the ones I tried the other day. I was mostly concentrating on super concerts and tenor sizes.

The KoAloha was amazingly light, and had the most obvious sound difference from the other ukuleles in general. Very bright. The finish on their ukes is also kind of unique, with a kind of textured gloss effect. That makes the grain of the wood look nice, but doesn't fill in all the pores of the woodgrain. I prefer dramatic grain, and most of the KoAlohas I see have a relatively plain grain pattern. Visually not as satisfying for me, but that may play into why they sound so consistently bright.

The Honu and Ponos both gave a slightly brighter top end than my Kalas. The size plays into it too. The sopranos tend to have a brighter sound too, in the lower price range as well, you can find stand-outs. I would say that even though I am not a fan of the Honu headstock shape, I thought it sounded pretty good for the money.

The Kanile'a Guitarlele was interesting. After trying it, I wasn't interested in buying it. Maybe it was the strings on it... I don't know. It had a pick up installed, and maybe it is best plugged in. The bottom notes just didn't seem to come forward much. Maybe that is the problem of being a tenor sized sound box instead of a baritone.

I came away with the idea that I would either find my dream uke while vacationing in Hawaii this fall, or have a luthier make a custom uke for me with a side soundport.

Sorry for yet another typically long post:o


07-17-2009, 07:59 AM
...sell off 2 or 3 of those that you don't play/love as much and get the tenor you REALLY want.
I don't think all of my herd combined would buy one of those... but I have sold one Kala recently and am pondering one or two more sales (maybe even that recent Waverly Street tenor banjo uke... and that pair of Northerns...). But it's like selling my children (wait: I don't like kids. I'd sell them in a heartbeat. Let's say it's more like selling my dog or cats... or my book collection...). I simply don't want to sell the rest.

I'm still leaning towards the T1 because it's within reach and the others might take a little longer to save for.

07-17-2009, 08:03 AM
The Honu and Ponos both gave a slightly brighter top end than my Kalas.
Thanks for the comments, Lori. I have to say that my Kalas both have a brighter sound than my Ponos. Even the Kala cedar is noticeably brighter and a touch louder than the Pono cedar. But the Pono has a depth and richness the Kala lacks. The mango is opening up and sounds lovely too, but still not as much high-end tone as the Kalas or Mainland.