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View Full Version : Kamaka tenor vs. Koaloha tenors - any thoughts?



trippntx
03-19-2012, 03:16 PM
I'm considering adopting a high quality tenor once I have about 6 good months of uke playing under my belt. I'm currently leaning toward either a Kamaka or Koaloha tenor in solid Koa.

Odds are I won't have the chance to play or compare the two side by side anywhere in San Antonio, so I'm pretty much relying on sound samples, advice and research to make my selection. I'm much more concerned with sound quality than frills.

Do any of you have a preference for either, or a recommendation on which way I should go? And if so, why?

Thanks in advance everyone!

kapahulu50
03-19-2012, 04:18 PM
I love the sound of my koaloha tenor, and preferred its sound over three kamakas I tried around the same time. The kamakas all sounded different, so I'd want to try the instrument before buying. I've read in other threads on the forum that people who have played lots of each find more consistency among koalohas, making it a more reliable "sight unseen" purchase (assuming you like its tonal character to begin with)

Look in the "reviews" section. Thread near the top has 74 posts on the subject

wickedwahine11
03-19-2012, 04:40 PM
I have tenors by both Kamaka and KoAloha. You will find a wealth of discussion on this topic, and I'd argue a pretty even split among the forum for a fave.

For my two cents: The Kamaka is great for the wonderful history behind the company, nice playability, classic styling (often with more figured or grained koa). The KoAloha comes with a better warranty, unparalleled customer service, incredible volume, unique styling (love it or hate it usually for the headstock and musubi soundhole), and a lower price. If you can't get a chance to play it before hand, I'd advocate for the edge to the KoAloha since it is cheaper and has a better warranty, and I think they sound a tad better (again, some Kamakas will outplay some KoAlohas, but in a blind sound test, I'd wager the KoAlohas tend on average to sound a bit better -- to my ears anyway). That being said, the KoAlohas are generally a lot harder to find, so you might have to look a little harder for one, whereas Kamaka tenors are everywhere.

You might find some further guidance in this recent thread, I would suggest you check it out -- it is 8 pages of arguments for each side: http://www.ukuleleunderground.com/forum/showthread.php?54077-Kamaka-or-KoAloha

mschway
03-19-2012, 04:52 PM
I'm a happy owner of both a KoAloha and Kamaka tenor. Comparing the two is apples and oranges, really. It's hard to put it into words, but in a nutshell the KoAloha is LOUD LOUD LOUD,and it has a sort of throaty tone (sometimes I can imagine it sounds a little like a Dobro!). The Kamaka isn't as loud (and it's true, there's a big variation within a particular Kamaka model), but the sound is more balanced and "focused". Granted, when I bought my Kamaka I was able to play 3 of them and I picked the brightest and loudest (it was also the one with the least-figured grain, but that doesn't really matter to me).

If you're an acoustic guitar freak, I could give an analogy (heck, even if you're NOT a guitar freak, I'll say it anyway).:) Compare a nice old Gibson J-45 to a Martin 000-18. The Gibson hits you with a real "gut punch" and begs to be played hard but rewards you with lots of volume. The Martin has more crispness, a more "refined" tone, but it can be easily overdriven. Well, the KoAloha would be the J45 and the Kamaka the 000. They both have their fan clubs, but it all depends on what you're looking for tone-wise.

Build quality: Both pretty good, but the "fit and finish" of the Kamaka is maybe a little bit nicer. At least they are comparing my 2005 KoAloha to the 2010 Kamaka. I don't know if KoAloha has improved on their finishing procedure, but in my case, they could have used more filler on the sapele neck before shooting the lacquer. Also, the KoAloha has a bound fingerboard with the frets ending INSIDE the binding (I don't know if they still do that). Not a fatal problem by any means, but it might take some getting used to. The Kamaka has an unbound fretboard with the frets extending all the way across the width.

Finally, there's after-purchase support. KoAloha really makes you feel like ohana when you have one of their instruments. Just this week I had an email exchange with a couple of random questions about design changes since '05 and I got email replies from the boss within 30 minutes! They really DO care about their customers. Also, their warranty will cover wood movement...something Kamaka wouldn't do.

My suggestion: bite the bullet and get both. Then you could keep one in Low-G. ;)

vanflynn
03-19-2012, 05:25 PM
It's a Chevy/Ford question with a big difference that since Ukes are made of wood you can get variations within the same make and model just because of the particular piece of wood being used.

My advice is that if you are going to spend that amount of money play it first.

stevepetergal
03-19-2012, 05:38 PM
If you can't try them both, I say toss a coin. No kidding. The one you get will be wonderful, and you will prefer it over other, Guaranteed.

foxfair
03-19-2012, 05:53 PM
If your budget can't support to own both currently, I would like to suggest another method: Buy a kamaka tenor first, because it is more expensive than a koaloha one(usually, new one). If you like it, good -- keep it. If you don't like it, sell it to fund koaloha in next.

mm stan
03-19-2012, 08:12 PM
Aloha trippntx,
I personally would call MGM and ask him to pick a good one for you ....maybe he can play both on the phone for you...and you can choose which you like best...it is your best bet...
No matter what brands ukes...some will always sound better than others...even in the same brand and model...try before you buy senerio..Good Luck...

trippntx
03-20-2012, 03:37 PM
Realistically there's no chance to try the two before I buy. Show me a shop in San Antonio or the area with both a Kamaka and Koaloha tenor to play and I'll show you a... :)

Actually I did call MusicGuyMike twice. The dude is very knowledgeable, helpful and friendly to boot. So far I'm leaning toward the Koaloah, but that could all change depending on what I find used, a blem deal, etc.

Any other opinions?

ukulelepuapua
03-20-2012, 03:55 PM
Realistically there's no chance to try the two before I buy. Show me a shop in San Antonio or the area with both a Kamaka and Koaloha tenor to play and I'll show you a... :)

Actually I did call MusicGuyMike twice. The dude is very knowledgeable, helpful and friendly to boot. So far I'm leaning toward the Koaloah, but that could all change depending on what I find used, a blem deal, etc.

Any other opinions?


Thats a difficult decision and not one easily made- what I can offer is that when you do make a decision I can make sure you get the grain you are looking for and the overall tone. We do have a 7 day return policy so if you decide to go the other direction thats fine too.

Just thought I would give you the heads up- good luck!

-Sean

vanflynn
03-20-2012, 04:18 PM
Have you considered a Collings UT1K? They are up in Austin. Sorry to add one to the mix

trippntx
03-20-2012, 05:01 PM
Actually I hadn't, but I did see they were from Austin. I'll see what I can learn about them. Thanks vanflynn.

vanflynn
03-20-2012, 05:18 PM
Be careful, look what happened to Stan!

http://www.ukuleleunderground.com/forum/showthread.php?61486-Why-mm-stan-needs-a-Collings-ukulele&highlight=Collings

soupking
03-20-2012, 05:20 PM
I can't speak to Kamaka as I've never played one, but the KoAloha tenor I have is probably the best instrument I've ever played in terms of tone. It's amazing how good it sounds. Love it.

PedalFreak
03-21-2012, 03:26 AM
Aloha trippntx,
I personally would call MGM and ask him to pick a good one for you ....maybe he can play both on the phone for you...and you can choose which you like best...it is your best bet...
No matter what brands ukes...some will always sound better than others...even in the same brand and model...try before you buy senerio..Good Luck...

I'd highly suggest this as well. Always best to be able to hear both of them. And who better to pick out a good uke for you than MGM??? :)

stevepetergal
03-23-2012, 03:27 AM
I'm a Koaloha man, even though a very good friend sells Kamakas right here in town.