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lookingforcurly
07-13-2011, 03:59 AM
I plan on buying a higher end 4 string tenor. Considering the big three "K" brands and $1000 price range I currently have a maple and a mahogany Pono that I am very pleased with. I play strictly with low G tuning and do mostly solo instrumental. Unfortunately there are no stores anywhere near me that stock the high end Hawaiian ukuleles, so I have to rely on opinions and website info.

Leaning toward Kanile'a and Ko'olau, however have not ruled out Kamaka. Would appreciate your recommendations based on playing/owning any if these and also comments on how much I would gain over current professional series Ponos.

Thanks

70sSanO
07-13-2011, 05:03 AM
I guess I am wondering if you are looking for a more traditional sound and want a koa ukulele or if you want to buy a K brand.

I only ask this because you are looking spend a considerable amount and I don't know how much time you have spent listening to samples of different ukulele brands/woods to arrive at what sound you really want and what the Pono's lack.

John

Kauai808
07-13-2011, 05:05 AM
I have a Kanilea and KoAloha tenor. I don't own a Kamaka but have played many. Honestly, you can't go wrong with any of these brands. At this level of uke I believe it is safe to say that you will get something great even without playing it first. Since you don't have a chance to play first, just find a uke that has the wood that appeals to you. Some will say straight grain koa vs curly koa sounds better etc. This could be something that people tell themselves to justify not forking out a couple extra hundred bucks for nicer wood. I'm no expert but if that theory was true, I'm not sure Jake and Aldrine would be playing flamed koa ukes like they do. And look at Moore Bettahs, regarded as some of the best ukes in the world, almost all seem to have highly figured koa. If I was you, without being able to try first, I would scan the net for the prettiest uke you can afford and pull the trigger. Good luck.

Ukulele Dude
07-13-2011, 05:51 AM
With those options it's a matter of personal preference, depending on what you're looking for. So here are some differences between those brands that you might want to consider. I'm not an expert, but I do own a tenor by each of those makers. For that price, a Ko'olau will likely be a fairly plain satin finish model. But the build quality and sound should be good. The Ko'olau will probably have a little bit larger fret wires than the Kamaka or Kanile'a, and will probably have higher action than the Kamaka when you get it (if it's new). Kamakas that I have played seem to come with really low action from the factory, maybe even too low for low g fingerpicking if you like to pluck on the strings a bit. Of course that can be changed. The Kamaka might also have relatively plain koa, but it will have a glossier finish (not sure what the techinical term is for their type of finish). The Kamaka and Ko'olaus also have a slightly deeper body (in size, not sound) than the Kanile'a. Deeper meaning the width of the sides, or distance from front to back. The Kanile'a has a little bit narrower body (from front to back), probably the best finish of the three with the UV cured poly, and has a wide neck, which I like for fingerpicking. Also, I don't know if you like to use side position markers (on the fretboard), but the Kamaka only has one at the seventh fret; the other two brands will have more.

I'm probably going to be selling my Kamaka HF-3 soon to make room in the herd for a new custom Kanile'a that is coming in about a month, if that tells you anything about my preferences. But I won't be parting with my Ko'olau tenor. Good luck

lookingforcurly
07-13-2011, 05:56 AM
Good point. I am looking for a traditional sound in a quality instrument. I also want excellent intonation, and quality construction. I have played some ukuleles in the under $400 range and the major deficiency I found was good intonation or lack thereof. Utimately I am looking for my main "go to" ukulele.

Another way to look at my search is to correlate this with my guitars. I have owned and turned over many higher end guitars in the past 25 years and tended to change my preference every year or so. Then I played a few Collings guitars. Bought one in 2000 and sold most of the others. It has been my primary guitar for 10 years now. It is the guitar I play 98% of the time.





I guess I am wondering if you are looking for a more traditional sound and want a koa ukulele or if you want to buy a K brand.

I only ask this because you are looking spend a considerable amount and I don't know how much time you have spent listening to samples of different ukulele brands/woods to arrive at what sound you really want and what the Pono's lack.

John

70sSanO
07-13-2011, 06:29 AM
Then I played a few Collings guitars. Bought one in 2000 and sold most of the others. It has been my primary guitar for 10 years now. It is the guitar I play 98% of the time.

So have you been able, or are able, to try a Collings tenor ukulele?

John

Mouthy1
07-13-2011, 06:55 AM
I sent you a PM for my opinion but I would have to say that the Kanilea has a slightly more guitar sound and is very complex, the Kamaka tends to be a deeper sound and the KoAloha(I only have the concert) is bright as can be. I LOVE my Kanilea and have been selling everything to get more. I just played a few Kamaka's the other day and I was a bit disappointed, based on the sound I like mind you, compared to my Kanilea Tenor. Again, that is the sound I prefer which may not be the sound you prefer. They all sound good but Kanilea just sounds better to me.

Ukulele Dude
07-13-2011, 08:19 AM
So have you been able, or are able, to try a Collings tenor ukulele?

John

That's a great point that didn't even occur to me. If you're a Collings guy, then you might be able to stick with them. Their 'entry level' tenors fall into about the same price range as the "K" brands.

Also, for the OP, if you decide to buy from the internet, there is a great shop in Tempe, AZ called Acoustic Vibes (http://www.acousticvibesmusic.com/) that carries all these brands, and is very trustworthy. I would even be willing to stop in and inspect one for you before you buy it if you wanted me to.

GX9901
07-13-2011, 08:33 AM
I find that at this level of ukulele, they are all pretty good. It just boils down to personal preference. I would probably go with a Kamaka tenor for the following reasons:

-Pearl inlaid "KK" logo. Looks really classy.
-Some Kamakas have slightly curly wood. You'll have to get actual pictures.
-I'm not sure what the actual nut width is, but it's wider than 1-3/8". I prefer wider nuts widths. (Kanile'a and KoAloha also has wider nut widths, I think)
-One piece neck with no stacked heel or multi-piece headstock. I think Ko'olau is also this way, but not sure.
-It's a Kamaka!

OK, so none of the above reasons has anything to do with sound, which is why I thought the choice comes down to personal preference. If you put a gun to my head, I would probably say Kanile'a has the best sound from my personal experience. But they are all pretty close.

The Collings tenor might be a good choice too. But I've only played a Collings concert so can't speak from experience regarding their tenors.

Gillian
07-13-2011, 08:48 AM
It is all about the sound meshing with the song. For me, bright old-timey songs =KoAloha. Rich sounding strummed songs=Kamaka Lili'u and everything else =Kanile'a.

Build-wise, I like the Kanile'a. I like their use of bridge pins plus glue, rather than just glue, to hold the bridge on, and their UV finish is beautiful. They don't skimp on materials. The koa, even on the their base models, is gorgeous and the bookmatching is flawless. Little things, like highly coloured abalone side markers at the 3, 5, 7, 10, 12 and 15 frets on all their ukes and using Grover geared tuners on their lowest priced model, not friction tuners, impressed me also.

RichM
07-13-2011, 08:51 AM
I think you're getting a pretty good picture from other posters-- there are a LOT of good ukuleles at the $1000 range, so it's hard to say one is better than the other. Of the K-brands, KoAloha is my favorite, but since you've already seen others express their preference for Kamaka or Kanile'a, that doesn't really mean anything. Also, unless you are committed to buying a K-brand, there are lots of other great builders at your price point, like Peter Lieberman (Maui Music), Mya-Moe (and boy, are Gordon and Char sticklers for intonation), Pohaku (hmm... actually not sure if he has a Tenor at $1K...), Collings, Compass Rose (although getting one of Rick Turner's wonderful ukes at close to $1000 is getting tougher and tougher).

So I know I've just made your decision more difficult, but explore your options and enjoy the journey. You've probably never had better options for a really nice quality uke!

wickedwahine11
07-13-2011, 09:05 AM
I have a Kamaka tenor, a Kanilea tenor and a KoAloha Pineapple Sunday (though I have played KoAloha tenors before).

I cherish my Kamaka -- and it is the most prized possession I own. I will never be able to play well enough to justify what it means to me. It isn't the tone (which is good), or the gloss (which I have lovingly polished), or the curl in the koa (which was a major factor in me buying it). The Kamaka family is not quite as over the top in kindness as the Okami (KoAloha) family, but they have given me fantastic customer service, as well. The main reason that I prefer the Kamaka is that it is a physical representation of Hawaii for me, and the deep historical connection to the history of uke making for almost 100 years. KoAlohas and Kanileas are made in Hawaii. But a Kamaka IS Hawaii. One thing I'd like to point out in a lot of trials, when people arrive at a store and pick up a Kamaka, it has those awful stock strings on it. I don't think you can truly tell the quality of the instrument with those -- listen to some players with Kamakas and see the tone the instruments are actually capable of before you dismiss them entirely.

I don't have a KoAloha tenor (just the PS), but I have played a few of them. Most of them were strung with low g strings. I found each of them to produce great tone and fantastic volume. I think that KoAlohas are incredible instruments. I don't know if it is the process used by the Okamis, or the volume it produces, but sight and sound unseen, I would choose a KoAloha over a Kanile'a. When you add in their amazing customer service (well documented here on UU) and their cutting edge design, it is a good choice for lots of people. One thing to note, if you are traditional, they may not be for you if you want a simple, plain, conservative uke. The crown headstock and new bridge design aren't for everyone. So if your aesthetics lean towards the simple, choose one of the other two brands. But if you want volume and great tone, with wonderful customer service, choose KoAloha (like Daniel Ho, Herb Ohta Jr., Brittni Paiva and others have).

To be totally honest with you, I only keep my Kanile'a at this point for sentimental reasons. I adore Joe and Kristen Souza, and it was my first "real" ukulele. But it just can't compete tonally with my KoAloha or Kamaka. Where it does have them beat is in the finish (the UV finish is exquisite), but that is not the real reason to buy an ukulele. I have tried lots of string combinations on it but it doesn't match the depth of the Kamaka or the volume of a KoAloha. That being said, they do make wonderful instruments, after all, Aldrine uses them. But for me, while it is wonderful it is just slightly less in consistent quality than the other two brands you mention. Perhaps I just have a lesser uke, as there are tons of people on UU who swear by Kanilea. Among them Lori, bbycrts, Aldrine and others. Don't get me wrong, they are wonderful, just to my ear I prefer the Kamaka and KoAloha options. One other note, I absolutely hate bridge pins. And Kanile'as come with bridge pins...

No matter what though you can't go wrong. I think it is like the difference between a Mercedes/BMW/Porsche, or Heidi Klum/Halle Berry/Eva Longoria (or Brad Pitt/George Clooney/Hugh Jackman)...or Harvard/Yale/Stanford. My point being, they are all exceptional, it just depends on your personal taste. My favorite (for me) is my Kamaka, but my recommendation to others sight and sound unseen would be the KoAloha. That being said, you will get just as many people telling you it should absolutely be a Kamaka or a Kanilea.

A video you may want to watch is from Hawaii Music Supply where they compare a Ko'olau, Kamaka and Kanilea tenor (sorry no KoAloha tenor in that one) -- though he is doing this trial with all stock strings (including the icky Kamaka strings). http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2dOmCRnplQo&feature=player_embedded

bdukes
07-13-2011, 10:35 AM
Kamaka IS Hawaii. One thing I'd like to point out in a lot of trials, when people arrive at a store and pick up a Kamaka, it has those awful stock strings on it. I don't think you can truly tell the quality of the instrument with those -- listen to some players with Kamakas and see the tone the instruments are actually capable of before you dismiss them entirely.


Couldn't agree more. I am so impressed with my Kamaka everyday. To me it was indeed about having a piece of Hawaii and Kamaka represented that for me too. Of course I have come to understand that all the K's and the scores of Hawaiian custom builders and smaller factories fit that bill as well. Recently, I visited the Koaloha factory and that experience has made me such a fan of their brand. So, I'm a Kamaka and a Koaloha guy. Then I played a Collings, and guess what? Now I'm a Kamaka, Koaloha, and Collings guy. But with the Collings I needed a Hawaii tie-in, so I got a Collings Koa tenor at least. As my ears mature, I can appreciate the sounds other woods bring and have a couple of mahogany and red cedar ukes as well. You get the picture. We're all over the place, some are into history and emotional ties (me), others into sound exclusively or design, or price, or whatever. Given you've established a nice budget and a desire for a K, follow that instinct. As a Pono owner you may have some insight into Ko'olau already.

My rec is if you're going to get only one and it's going to be the one for a while go with your heart. They're all terrific ukes and there will be a whole sub-community of owners that have that same model to connect with. Oh and do check Collings since you're already an owner. Could be what you're looking for...

And yes, don't toss Kamaka because of the strings. Bums me out too when I'm with friends in a store making recommendations about Kamaka and they play one and it's dead because the strings.

Good luck with the quest. Let us know what you end up with. It's funny how we all live vicariously through each other's purchases.

lookingforcurly
07-14-2011, 03:59 AM
I really appreciate the excellent advice everyone has provided. The bottom line i get is apparently I can't go wrong with any of the "K's". The Collings is tempting too, but I think I want a Hawaiian ukulele. I did not hear the same passion for Ko'olau that I heard for the others, so i have eliminated that brand. I agree that Kamaka is Hawaii. The personalities of the heads of the other K companies also sort of endear one to the brand. I like the controlled environment Joe Souza uses. Still undecided. Problem now is no one has anything in stock. Once stock is replenished I will look at the pictures and pick one that speaks to me, since a trip to Hawaii is not feasible.

Thanks again.

RichM
07-14-2011, 04:17 AM
I did not hear the same passion for Ko'olau that I heard for the others, so i have eliminated that brand.

Ko'olau ukes are as good or better than any of the Hawaiian manufacturers. They don't produce as many ukes as the other manufacturers, so you won't see as many Ko'olau players on the board-- but don't assume that because there aren't a lot of players here that they aren't great instruments.

Huna
07-14-2011, 04:33 AM
maybe if there is a place in Hawaii you could try them all, then what you liked would stand out?

70sSanO
07-14-2011, 04:49 AM
I don't think you can go wrong with any of the K brands. Here is an interesting article that GX9901 wrote a while back on his Ukulele Ghetto site on finding his Kamaka, I'm sure he can expand on it if he wants to...

http://gx9901ukes.blogspot.com/2009/02/got-kamaka.html

I bring this up because a freind of mine went out searching for a Martin D-28 guitar and played a lot of them at a great guitar store in Carlsbad, CA. They all sounded good, but they did not all sound the same. For his taste, some better than others, he ended up with a used Marquis that was head and shoulders above the rest.

I think it is important when buying online and are willing to spend the money to get quality but not being able to play the ukulele means finding a very good reputable source and establish a relationship so that you get as close to what you want without being able to personally pick it out. This may mean that you may have to pay a little more than another site, but if you are particular it may be well worth it in the long run.

On the other hand... if you do see one that speaks to you, just do it because "you'll" never know the difference.

John

Mandarb
07-14-2011, 05:12 AM
I wanted to chime in even though your original post asked for an expert opinion and I am certainly no expert. You can not really go wrong with any of the "K" brands - they are all well made, nice sounding ukes. It is personal preference - what to you sounds and looks the best.

I am always happy to say how much I love my Kamaka tenor - it is a beautiful uke with some nice curl and to my ears it sounds great. As mentioned by another poster - I love the history of Kamaka and that is part of the reason why I purchased from them.

I have also played some Kanile'as and a KoAaloha - they were nice but just not for me. As I said - personal preference. Listen to some sound samples/look at some pictures and see what sounds and looks best to you. Good luck with whatever you decide upon.

pulelehua
07-14-2011, 09:04 AM
Just as a Devil's advocate, I sometimes wonder about people who buy in stores. Are they buying the best instrument, or the instrument with the newest, best strings?

I've definitely known some people to buy guitars because of that "brilliant, full sound" which was just the sound of fresh strings, where the poor guitar next to it, with older strings, might actually be a better instrument. And with ukuleles especially, of course, there's the question of which brand.

Oh, and Mike Pereira isn't Hawaiian, but does beautiful custom work in your price range. www.mpukuleles.com

lookingforcurly
07-14-2011, 09:05 AM
I am at a big disadvantage in that there are plain no places within many miles of here to play any of the higher end ukuleles. There are great acoustic guitar shops and other music stores, but no ukes. I did find a store in VA about 80 miles away (through DC traffic too) that carries Kanilea, but no tenors in stock. So I have to pick one out by a picture.

In the past I bought two high end guitars sight unseen, and got lucky in both cases. I still have one 19 years and 16 guitars later, which proves it was a keeper.

Again, great advice from all of you. Thanks.

Huna
07-14-2011, 09:29 AM
I don't know in what cities you will find all the fancy ukuleles.

mds725
07-14-2011, 11:05 AM
maybe if there is a place in Hawaii you could try them all, then what you liked would stand out?

That's what I did -- I went to Oahu and Kaua'i looking for shops in which I could play and compare all three K brands, and I took the Kamaka and KoAloha factory tours. I don't think there was any one place that actually had all three in stock at the same time, but I did get to play a lot of each brand. You can read my two-installment ukulele shopping adventure here (http://www.ukuleleunderground.com/forum/showthread.php?45154-My-great-ukulele-shopping-adventure) and here (http://www.ukuleleunderground.com/forum/showthread.php?45988-My-Great-Ukulele-Hawaiian-Shopping-Adventure-The-Saga-Continues-...). I ended up buying a Kamaka tenor at Larry's Music in Kaua'i, but I'm now itching for a KoAloha tenor as well.


I don't know in what cities you will find all the fancy ukuleles.

This probably won't help the OP, but Ukulele Source (http://www.ukulelesource.com/)in San Jose, California, sells KoAloha and Kanile'a ukuleles and just became an authorized Kamaka dealer.

lookingforcurly
07-14-2011, 04:00 PM
Yes, they are 3000 miles away. In this area have great access to bluegrass shops, but no ukuleles.

mm stan
07-14-2011, 07:48 PM
As with all the K brands... forget the names and use your ears and pick the best one...if you want a traditional sound go for the soprano....but try all the sizes too...
everyone has their own personal perferences..and almost will be different from yours...use your own judgement not someones suggestions..it is your uke and you are spending alot of money..
Get the right one....then there's no one to blame if it doesn't work out for you.....but yourself... as for selecting one, take you time and don't get excited with the bling..look
further for the sound..it is the most important thing... Good Luck...

Ukulele Dude
07-15-2011, 10:26 AM
Hey Lookingforcurly, I stopped by Acoustic Vibes today and he has a Kamaka and a Kanile'a tenor that he hadn't added to the website until today (while I was there). They are both right around $1,000. The Kamaka actually has some decent curl in the Koa. I played them both; although the Kamaka needs new strings, they both sound good. If I were in the market I would consider either one.

I'm not affiliated with the store other than being a satisfied customer.

ukestah
07-15-2011, 10:52 AM
Don't discount Ko`olau `ukuleles, they make some really great instruments, but they are usually expensive and not always readily available since they don't make a whole lot of instruments every year like Kamaka and Kanile`a. I own one with a spruce top/koa back and sides and it sounds really nice. What you should look into for Ko`olau is the new T2 model. I played one, the first one made, at Hawaii Music Supply before they sold it and man was I tempted to buy it at $1050. They sold it on Ebay a few hours after I got to try it out, link below on description of the T2.

http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=130537252268

Good luck with your `ukulele hunting!

olgoat52
07-15-2011, 11:25 AM
I decided a while ago that if I ever pop for a K brand Tenor it will be a Kamaka. I love KoAloha as a company and their concerts have been great but when I think of Hawaiian Tenors, Kamaka seems to always float to the top. I think their resale is the highest as well. I think resale should always be a factor no matter how much you love the uke.

Piikea
07-15-2011, 11:44 AM
All the marks considered are quality builds and offer beautiful woods, even if some are plain with less grain or figuring, however dollar for dollar and in any size a Kamaka is going to be the loudest and project the best.

In my stable I have Pono, Lanikai, Big Island, and Koaloha and Kamaka in various sizes, and the overall volume leader is a 1958 Kamaka Soprano. I don't prefer to play it due to size, but it's loud clear and projects better than the rest of my collection.
The drawback is the usual purcussive sound from smaller ukes instead of the chimy ring from larger tenors..

lookingforcurly
07-15-2011, 02:34 PM
Thanks Ukulele Dude. I emailed them for details.

lookingforcurly
07-16-2011, 04:49 AM
Again appreciate all the excellent advice. I decided to buy a Kanile'a T-1 Deluxe gloss. Kamaka will probably follow soon.

lookingforcurly
07-21-2011, 02:24 PM
Well I bought the Kanile'a T-1 Deluxe gloss from Acoustic Vibes. it was shipped overnight air from Arizona to Maryland. Had it for 3 days now and love it. Acoustic Vibes was super to deal with, and they have great prices. I suspect i will add a Ko'olau or Kamaka sometime, but for now this Kanile'a is just fine.

Thanks again for advice.

wickedwahine11
07-21-2011, 03:31 PM
Glad to see it worked out for you. Pics?

Mandarb
07-22-2011, 05:11 AM
Glad to hear you are enjoying it. And as already mentioned - pics??