View Full Version : vintage koa uke

03-08-2012, 01:15 AM
Okay, I know that so many of you are reluctant to give advice and share opinions but I thought I'd ask a question anyway. I'm a player not a collector and I've spent the last nine months trying out various soprano ukes, modern and vintage. I have to say that my favorite vintage ukes are those from the 20's or earlier, especially my Martins. The only vintage Koa uke that I have is an early 70's Kamaka and I'm wondering about peoples opinions regarding affordable koa ukes from the 20's-30's. I'm watching for Martin K series ukes but to say they're pricey is an understatement. So what opinions do you have on the best value koa uke from the early part of the last century. BTW, being a beginner I'm most interested in ukes that have neck shapes most similar to my Martins, which tend to be a bit wider than many other ukes. I find that my playing suffers when I switch among ukes with different neck shapes. mahalo, g2

03-08-2012, 07:01 AM
Since you are a player rather than a collector, sound and feel are everything, i have the same ideal, my only suggestion is play it before you buy it. I have played several old/vintage Kamaka and Martin sopranos, and the sound quality just isn't there for me. I was disappointed in that reality, and ended up ordering a new Kamaka soprano, and I love it

03-08-2012, 10:39 AM
You know I'm a Martin fan like you. I have both mahogany and koa Martins and they don't sound much different from one another. The price difference has mostly to do with rarity (Martin made many more mahogany ukuleles than they made koa ones) and appearance (some people prefer the look of koa).

The vintage Hawaiian ukuleles (exclusive of Kamakas and the ones bu other makers for which you would pay in extremities anyway)are kind of "hit and miss," for me. Generally, they are a challenge to play above the 5th fret. While they are typically loud, they can also be irritatingly boxy sounding.

The only other one that I find intriguing is the Regal Wendal Hall Red Head. I think it is Regal made. Gryphon has one for $395.00, but you can find them on Ebay from time to time, usually for considerably less money. In any event, Gryphon has posted a sound sample, so you can at least hear what they sound like. They didn't use great looking koa on these, but I think they sound pretty good.

03-08-2012, 01:26 PM
Thanks Kent and Howard! Howard, I'm surprised that the M and K series don't sound too different. On the bright side it means I don't need a K series uke <g>. I had heard similar comments that the old koa's are very hit and miss, so play before you buy is the rule. Howard are they a challenge to play above the 5th because the action is so high or some other reason. And thanks for that sound sample, that's great info. cheers, g2

03-08-2012, 01:54 PM
I am a big Martin fan myself, and would have to say that my experience has been much different than some of those listed above. Of the ukulele's I have the Martins are some of the very best for sound quality, and I find a big difference in the Mahogany and Koa versions. The Mahogany seem to have a more mellow tone (to my ear) and are very rich and warm. The Koa's seem brighter, have a little more bark, and more sustain. Of coarse string types and set up change these sound characteristics greatly (on these and most all uke's I have). I have one vintage Kamaka pineapple (from the 1930's) and it is a great player with great tonal qualities. I do agree with the above in that this is not always the case. The neck is also very thin on this ukulele. If you want a good player the Martin is a good choice. I know they can be pricey, but if you want a koa ukulele from that era it is my opinion that is one of your best bets. I am certain there are others out there, but as stated above I would be sure to play them before you purchase if at all possible.

03-08-2012, 06:07 PM
There is some difference between the Martin koa ukuleles and the Martin mahogany ukuleles. I think your (rpfrogner's) description of the differences is right on. I meant to convey that it's not as big a difference as one might think. I think there is a greater difference in tone, for example, between my 60's O and my 1930 3M, than there is between my 1930 3M and 1925 3K. I also think that a koa Kamaka sounds like a Kamaka, and a koa Martin sounds like a Martin, i.e., the latter sounds more like a mahogany Martin than a Kamaka. The greatest differences among Martins, to my ears, have more to do with vintage and style than with wood. That was all I meant to say. While I agree with your descriptions of the differences between them, I think we would also agree that both mahogany Martins and koa Martins sound good. Are the differences between them, in terms of sound, so great as to explain price difference? I don't think so. I think that is best explained by what I wrote above. If Martin had made as many koa ukuleles as they made mahogany ukuleles, the prices would be closer to each other.

Gary originally wrote that he was inquiring about "affordable" vintage koa ukuleles. I think anyone who would classify a vintage 1K among affordable ukuleles, probably doesn't really have to consider whether something is affordable or not. If you (Gary) think $1500.00 - $2000.00 is affordable, given your predilection for Martins, you can't go wrong with a 1K. If you are looking for a vintage, koa ukulele in the same price range as a 1M, however, I'm kind of at a loss about what to recommend. If it were me, I'd buy a recent Kamaka - not really "vintage" but very good sounding and considerably different than the other ukuleles you already have.

Gary, it's the action on those old Hawaiian made ukuleles. It seems they were made for strumming nearer the nut. Many were made to be marketed to tourists. They are not that well crafted overall, not anything like a Martin. Most have a one piece bridge/saddle, so if you wanted to alter the action, you would need to cut a slot for a saddle of a different material that you could adjust. They don't have bridge plates, which is why they crack so much around the bridge, and why they tend to sound boxy.