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View Full Version : Finally got to try a Kamaka



villafranca
11-28-2011, 06:40 PM
This past weekend, I happened to be in Greenwich Village and popped into Matt Umanov Guitars to do some browsing. Since I was waiting for my wife and my sister to finish window shopping, I had some time to kill, so I got to try a Kamaka HF-3 tenor uke.

I've been waiting to get the chance to try one, particularly because I own a Koa Pili Koko tenor and wanted to find out for myself if there was any truth that they even hold a candle to Kamakas, since KPKs are solid Acacia -- a relative of the Koa family.

I was more than pleased to find that there is truth to the claims that KPKs are similar (NOT better!) in tone to Kamakas. To me, the main differences were build quality (the HF-3 was flawless) and the Kamaka was louder, due to its deeper body (KPKs are shallower in depth).

The best part, for me, is that it re-affirmed to me that my KPK was an excellent purchase. I mean, I simply can't afford to spend more than a grand on a Kamaka. But it's good to know that what I've already got is pretty darn good...

Play on!
Sean V

coriandre
11-28-2011, 06:42 PM
I'm gonna by playing a Kamaka HF-3 for the first time tomorrow :o

808boy
11-28-2011, 06:54 PM
Aloha Sean,
The KPK's are the best bang for a buck in my opinion. I have a Tenor Deluxe and a Concert Standard and love them both. I recently bought a Solid Koa, Slotted headstock, Double Puka Mele Tenor with Fishman Matrix Pickup that is an amazing instrument, both in looks, sound, and playability but paid 4 times as much as the KPK. That said, I still love my KPK for what it is and the sound is pretty darn close but alot quieter........................BO.................

roxhum
11-29-2011, 03:50 AM
I just want to point out that trying Kamaka's out in stores you get the standard Kamaka strings and in my opinion they do not do the Kamaka justice. But those KPK's are a good bang for the buck. I am glad you are enjoying yours. I had a concert that my kids are enjoying.

mm stan
11-29-2011, 04:40 AM
I have had two KPK's and a ton of Kamaka's...ha ha KPK are the best bang for the buck out there...I recommend them....both of mine were so different in sound even thnough they were
the same models...one was bright and the other was deep and rich....

fabioponta
11-29-2011, 06:25 AM
I've had the Koa Pili Koko soprano, concert and tenor some months ago, send by Jason, all standart finish. The tenor really has the best sound of three sizes in comparison with other hawaiian K brands: warm sound, loud, woody tone, good shape in the front and in the back curved body and in the neck, good finish. I just do not regret having sold it because it was to help to paid my HP-3. The KPK concert, compared to other K concerts, is also very good, but not as much as the tenor (the KPK concert that I tested had some buzz on the G string). The KPK soprano was one of the worst of the sopranos I've ever played, almost completely silent, no tone with many strings (worth, koolau, aquila). The acacia koa in the soprano was very thick, thicker than the acacia koa in the tenor model.

joejeweler
11-29-2011, 06:34 AM
I just want to point out that trying Kamaka's out in stores you get the standard Kamaka strings and in my opinion they do not do the Kamaka justice. But those KPK's are a good bang for the buck. I am glad you are enjoying yours. I had a concert that my kids are enjoying.

I hear this over and over,.....that Kamaka ukes arrive new with their strings that are not the best sounding ones for these instruments. And i have to wonder WHY? Why isn't a respected maker using whatever string set sounds BEST to market and present their lineup?

I just don't get it,.....great sounding strings are dirt cheap compared to what their instrumnets run,......certainly "cost" isn't a serious factor. I do think they do their customers a disservice, however, in that they are almost forced to upgrade strings immediately on what was a rather substantial purchase to begin with.

I do realize everyone has a favorite string set, and will gravitate toward that selection,.... so maybe Kamaka figures they can't have a string set on that would match everyone's ultimate choice. Fair enough,....except that whatever string set they put on seems to NEVER be the string set of choice to an end user. Something wrong there.....

It would make more sense to use whatever set seems to be popular for that make, and as i don't own and have never played a Kamaka not sure what most folks use.

But common sense tells me if Kamaka presents their brand at a show and is using inferior strings that don't let their work shine,......they for sure aren't presenting their product line in the best way. Maybe it's tradition,.....the strings used now are the same as used for decades. Strings have improved over the years, and whether it's Aquila Nylgut, Worth, or some other string maker,.........Kamaka should go with a better sounding string. Their customers deserve that.

BTW,.....anyone know what strings came on the Jake model tenors? :D

janeray1940
11-29-2011, 06:56 AM
I hear this over and over,.....that Kamaka ukes arrive new with their strings that are not the best sounding ones for these instruments. And i have to wonder WHY?

Having owned (so far) 4 Kamakas and having immediately changed the strings out on each one, I wonder the same thing. My best guess is that maybe for more traditional Hawaiian playing the sound of the stock strings is considered optimal? That, and the fact that in the hands of a *really good* player the stock strings don't sound bad at all. I'm just not that good yet and can use all the help I can get :)

philpot
11-29-2011, 07:03 AM
Having owned (so far) 4 Kamakas and having immediately changed the strings out on each one, I wonder the same thing. My best guess is that maybe for more traditional Hawaiian playing the sound of the stock strings is considered optimal? That, and the fact that in the hands of a *really good* player the stock strings don't sound bad at all. I'm just not that good yet and can use all the help I can get :)

I think even just with strumming, the blacklines I have on mine have a life of their own that the stock strings didn't have. More resonance, fuller sound, more sustain, the whole package. I can't really see that the stock strings would be superior for Hawaiian style play, though I could be wrong. But I agree, I loved my Kamaka with the stock strings, but when I changed them... WOW. There was no comparison. It was a totally different instrument. I even had a spare set that came with mine that I threw on before I put my new set of Blacklines on, just to see if the other set made a difference. I felt the same as I did before. It still sounded good, but dead compared to my other strings.

Trinimon
11-29-2011, 07:04 AM
Having owned (so far) 4 Kamakas and having immediately changed the strings out on each one, I wonder the same thing. My best guess is that maybe for more traditional Hawaiian playing the sound of the stock strings is considered optimal? That, and the fact that in the hands of a *really good* player the stock strings don't sound bad at all. I'm just not that good yet and can use all the help I can get :)

Maybe they got like a few million yards of those stings in bulk spools sitting in inventory to use up first before changing 'em. :p

Drew Bear
11-29-2011, 07:18 AM
From the Kamaka website:


Strings significantly alter the sound and feel of your ukulele. Over the years we have tried numerous brands of strings on our ukes. We highly recommend our own strings for your Kamaka ukulele.

Unless Kamaka sees a reduction in demand for their product, I doubt they will consider changing the stock strings. I suspect they are at or near production capacity as it is.

mr moonlight
11-29-2011, 09:12 AM
Having owned (so far) 4 Kamakas and having immediately changed the strings out on each one, I wonder the same thing. My best guess is that maybe for more traditional Hawaiian playing the sound of the stock strings is considered optimal? That, and the fact that in the hands of a *really good* player the stock strings don't sound bad at all. I'm just not that good yet and can use all the help I can get :)

I think it's pretty common to change your strings once you get a new instrument to your preferred set. While I agree that Kamaka should use strings that optimize the sound of their ukes, I can't say I blame them for saving a few bucks by buying cheaper strings that will end up trashed anyways.

strumsilly
11-29-2011, 09:59 AM
I think it's pretty common to change your strings once you get a new instrument to your preferred set. While I agree that Kamaka should use strings that optimize the sound of their ukes, I can't say I blame them for saving a few bucks by buying cheaper strings that will end up trashed anyways.
If I get a new[or used] uke and it sounds good with the strings it came with, I don't change them till they wear out. If it works don't fix it. I haven't had the pleasure of a Kamaka yet, but saving a few bucks on a $1000 instrument sounds dumb.that's like 1/500th of the cost. , but math wasn't my major. marketing was though.

foxfair
11-29-2011, 11:53 AM
These are my own opinions, and I have owned two Kamaka instruments. Kamaka concert string = dead, dull and not interesting... even I picked up this lovely concert after I tried two of them in Gryphon Strings. The one I bought has more resonance than the other, and has its own unique tonal quality. But with the default strings, this concert seems to become just another Hawaii hand-made instrument. I have changed Worth clear and Hilo strings on it, and both are better than the default strings.

Kamaka tenor, its default strings are actually good enough(again, its my taste). Worth CT on my tenor now, it becomes more brighter, louder but losing the traditional "Koa" sound like what my wife said. I am waiting for the strings to run out of its lifecycle and swap with Fremont or Ko'olau later.

I believe that Kamaka uses D'ADDARIO J53/J54 strings as their default strings. Why are they using these particular types? I don't have a firmed answer but I would guess that the instrument has the best resonance when equips with these strings. Note that few of their luthiers are having hearing disability, and so they tap on the soundboard to feel the move from the wood. And move to the final setup guy, if you were him and produce >1000 instruments per year -- you'll give up your tonal preference and feel like all strings are "good enough". Tonal difference on various brand/types are small, you are hardly identify it in a factory. And really, it is a personal preference and I don't think Kamaka wants to change their strings just because every customer comes in and suggests his own favorite randomly.

Next time when I have the chance to do Kamaka factory tour, I'll throw this question to him for sure :)

coolkayaker1
11-29-2011, 12:47 PM
I'm gonna by playing a Kamaka HF-3 for the first time tomorrow :o

You got the used one that you mentioned on the other thread, coraindre. Outstanding!

bdukes
11-29-2011, 01:19 PM
The Kamaka strings are indeed a bit of a mystery. I was told that they are made by D'Addario but aren't a repackaged J53/J54, but a Kamaka-specific variant. I have had the same wonderings about the choice though as I've found them flat and dull in virtually every store I've demoed a Kamaka. However, in videos like HMS did where they compared 6 different strings on a HF-3, the Kamaka strings sounded good.

http://www.youtube.com/user/HawaiiMusicSupply#p/search/0/ocz6mFsTN1s

I believe much of it is in fact, as someone mentioned earlier, technique of the musician and perhaps age of the strings. I'm not sure I have the ears to discern the Hawaiianess or traditional nature of the sound so I can't speak to that part. So, I too have assumed it's me, shrugged, and moved on. I really like the Fremonts on my HF-3, but have recently replaced them with a set of Ko'olau high-G Alohis and noticed as my playing becomes more confident and deliberate, non-flourocarbon strings like these can sound pretty good. So, I'm content to keep practicing and will probably give the Kamaka set a try again. I'll bet they sound better than I remember. I put up a couple of samples on Soundcloud of both the Fremonts and Alohis if anyone is interested. Forgive the "playing" but Yesterday is perhaps the only uke song I know start to finish. Just wish I could play it close to the same way each time...

http://soundcloud.com/bdukes22/fremont-black-line-kamaka-hf-3
http://soundcloud.com/bdukes22/koolau-alohi-kamaka-hf-3

Kamaka buying tip: If you can, play a number of different versions of the model you're interested in and pick the best sounding one. Because if it sounds good with their strings on it, it will sound great with your favorites when you change them.

pdxuke
11-29-2011, 02:28 PM
Having owned (so far) 4 Kamakas and having immediately changed the strings out on each one, I wonder the same thing. My best guess is that maybe for more traditional Hawaiian playing the sound of the stock strings is considered optimal? That, and the fact that in the hands of a *really good* player the stock strings don't sound bad at all. I'm just not that good yet and can use all the help I can get :)

Actually, I still have the stock Kamaka strings on the concert, and I like them. I thought I wouldn't, but I do. Go figure

Drew Bear
11-29-2011, 02:56 PM
Note that few of their luthiers are having hearing disability...

I'm sure there's also a wide range of hearing acuity in members of this forum, which could account in part to some of the varying opinions on sound clips.

guitharsis
11-30-2011, 12:05 AM
Good string comparison, Bill. Love the Fremonts but really do like the Alohis too. Nice playing!

janeray1940
11-30-2011, 04:31 AM
Forgive the "playing"

Oh stop, that was beautiful playing! Really enjoyed that. And while I like both, the Alohis really sounded good to me - I may have to look into those.

villafranca
12-01-2011, 04:55 PM
Wow, extremely interesting tangent this thread went off on -- I love little details like this!

On a related string note, and to come full circle, my KPK came with Worth Clears. The seller put the original packaging into the case that it came with, for good measure. I have yet to change them -- they sound great as-is...

Play on!
Sean V.

Trinimon
12-01-2011, 05:04 PM
That was some sweet play'n Bill! Those Alohis sound pretty nice. Gonna have to keep those in mind next time. :)

UK Paulie
05-21-2012, 10:26 AM
I really loved the sound of the freemonts, just goes to show.... Any recommendations for strings on a pono? A RTSH5 to be precise, red cedar top with rosewood back and sides. It will have worth clears when it arrives per my request but anyone like a particular string on pono ukes? Or have a recommendation fr that wood combo? I cant wait till it gets here!!!:music:

Teek
05-21-2012, 08:51 PM
I can say the Clears would have been my first choice for your uke as well. Just give them a week or two of playing to really ring true.

UK Paulie
05-22-2012, 02:32 AM
Thanks Teek, appreciate that. Yes, I thought I was an Aquila man until I tried the worth clears and well, they sure do sound great! I would like to try the browns, freemonts and southcoast strings at some point soon but I'll take your advice with the pono and stick with the clears for now. Hey, dont you have a Brad Donaldson? I'm on his schedule and I can't wait!! How do you like yours?