View Full Version : Hamano vs. K brands

02-21-2011, 05:14 AM
I started out with a Ohana Vita, and played it exclusively for about a year. Then I got a Hamano soprano, which was a big step up, and has helped me make progress (I think). Compared with the Ohana, the action is much easier, and the fretboard is a bit wider, which helps with my nascent picking attempts. Of course, the tone is also completely different (solid mahogany vs. spruce/ laminated mahogany).

But lately I seem to have hit a plateau. Although the obvious remedy is just to keep practicing, I wonder whether getting a Koaloha or Kamaka might help me get to the next level. I've never played either brand, but I'm kind of leaning toward Koaloha because I've heard the frets are relatively big, and I sometimes wish my Hamano frets were a bit larger.

Can anyone compare K brands to Hamanos? I assume the tone and workmanship of these expensive ukes would be better, but what about playability? I also welcome any comparison between Kamaka and Koaloha in terms of structure (e.g. fret size), workmanship and durability.


02-21-2011, 06:28 AM
I've played a Hamano soprano before, and I have a Kamaka soprano (pineapple). The two sound nothing alike. For one thing, the woods are totally different. Where a koa uke sounds sweet and warm, (in my opinion) the Hamano sounded very plunky and sort of hollow. I don't think it's necessarily a typical sound of mahogany ukes. I've played Kiwayas before and, even though they're mahogany too, they have more of a warm, resonant tone. Maybe I just handled a bad Hamano, not really sure.

I've never played a Koaloha before, but a Kamaka soprano's fretboard is pretty small. If fret size is a big issue with you, you might want to consider a concert or longneck soprano. Either of those will give you more room than a typical soprano uke can offer.

02-21-2011, 07:39 AM
Kanile'a have big and wide necks with an above average scale length, Koaloha's scale length and neck size is on the smaller side I have found.

Like Natalie says though you can always go for a long neck. I have a Soprano Koaloha with concert neck which is pretty cool.

02-21-2011, 08:01 AM
Hamanos are made to look and sound like vintage mahogany ukes from the mainland. If you're looking for a change of pace, it's definitely worth checking out some of the modern Hawaiian-made koa ukes. I'd agree with everyone else that the KoAloha soprano with the concert neck would be a great choice if you like sopranos but you want a little more finger room on the fretboard. Kamaka just started making a super-soprano as a standard model, but the only place I've seen them for sale is PuaPua (http://ukulele.pua2.com/details/hf1l.html) and they don't even have them in stock. Both Kamaka and KoAloha make fantastic concert ukes too, and they're easier to find than the long-neck sopranos.

02-21-2011, 08:22 AM
Curiosity about the "koa sound" is one of the reasons I'm interested in K brands, and it would be nice to have different ukes with spruce, mahogany and koa soundboards. My Hamano sounds okay, but I wouldn't call it warm or particularly resonant. But in this thread, I'm asking more about haptics than sound. Not something quite so mystical as mojo, but a feeling of good fit and ease of expression. I know it's qualitative and subjective, but I'm wondering if people notice anything like that when comparing more expensive ukes such as K brands with less expensive brands, and specifically Hamano, and if so, how significant is the difference?

Speaking of ease of expression, when I was asking about "fret size", I expressed myself poorly: I meant to say "fret height". Although my Ohana's action is harder, the frets are a bit taller, and in some ways I prefer that to my low-rise Hamano frets. Does anyone else find slightly taller frets easier to play? I think I've heard that Koalohas have taller frets; is that true?

Part of me hopes that the consensus on this board is that once you get to a decent Martin knock-off such as a Hamano, more expensive K brands will sound better, but won't help accelerate my progress. Part of me hopes that's not the case.


02-21-2011, 08:28 AM
Hard question to answer because the qualities are so different. It really depends upon what you want, and what you like.

First off, IMHO one of the finest modern comparison to the old mainland style mahogany ukes would be a Kiwaya KTS4, or 7, if you want more bling. That would be a leap from what you are playing. There's no question to me that playing a well made instrument helps me improve my technique. Maybe it's because it's a pleasure to play and so I practice more!

The K brands are a different kind of jump: as others have said, Koa is a different feel. I recently had a KoAloha Pikake soprano for a few days. It was beautifully built, the frets were the low profile you're talking about, and it played perfectly. Both instruments make me feel like I'm a better player than I actually am! :-)