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View Full Version : Help! What's the best "advanced" tenor uke?



dirk.li
04-17-2012, 04:14 AM
Hey guys,
I've been playing the uke for 3 years now and I've found out that I like tenor scale instruments best. I already own some tenor models in the mid price range (Fluke, Ohana TK50-G, Kala Color BLK, etc.) but I don't have an advanced instrument. In Germany it's difficult (if not impossible) to find such instruments to test-play. So I'll have to use mail order.

I've read some reviews, listened to some sound samples and still I don't know which instrument to decide on. Or maybe it's wiser to have a ukulele build by a luthier?? What do you think? The price shouldn't exceed $1,500 (and yes, I will have to save for this! :D )

So, the ukes I'd like to hear your opinions on are:
(If you have other, similar suggestions, please let me know!)


- COLLINGS UT-2 MAHOGANY (what's the difference towards the UT-1 model?)
(Link: http://elderly.com/new_instruments/names/collings-ut-2-mahogany-tenor-ukulele-and-case--UT2-MAH.htm )

- MARTIN 2K TENOR UKE, KOA STYLE 2
(Link: http://elderly.com/new_instruments/names/martin-2k-tenor-uke-koa-style-2-ukulele-and-gigbag--2KTENUKE.htm )

- KAMAKA HF-3
(Link: http://elderly.com/new_instruments/names/kamaka-hf-3-tenor-ukulele-with-case--HF3.htm )

- KANILE'A K-1
(Link: http://elderly.com/new_instruments/names/kanile%27a-k-1-tenor-ukulele-gloss-finish-and-case--K1T.htm)

Thanks for your help!

coolkayaker1
04-17-2012, 04:56 AM
With all due respect, Dirk, isn't this a little like asking, "I really like beaches. I've found I'm a beach guy. What is the best beach for a guy like me: Waikiki, Miami Beach, Myrtle Beach or Huntington Beach?"

If you are more specific, it may help... but as it is, you've basically asked for a vote of what tenors each of us plays.

You have done the reading, read the reviews, heard the sound samples, you say, so you honestly, can probably answer the question better than any of us. We should be asking you. LOL

I prefer a Kiwaya, which is not on your list but is the best, in my opinion. It's an uncommon ukulele in tenor. So, I guess I chose a beach few have ever heard of, but if you swim there, it's paradise.

dirk.li
04-17-2012, 05:19 AM
With all due respect, Dirk, isn't this a little like asking, "I really like beaches. I've found I'm a beach guy. What is the best beach for a guy like me: Waikiki, Miami Beach, Myrtle Beach or Huntington Beach?"

If you are more specific, it may help... but as it is, you've basically asked for a vote of what tenors each of us plays.

You have done the reading, read the reviews, heard the sound samples, you say, so you honestly, can probably answer the question better than any of us. We should be asking you. LOL

I prefer a Kiwaya, which is not on your list but is the best, in my opinion. It's an uncommon ukulele in tenor. So, I guess I chose a beach few have ever heard of, but if you swim there, it's paradise.

Hmm... I didn't include Kiwaya in my list because I couldn't find any tenor models online. I own a Kiwaya KMC-K and I think it looks better (built with perfection!) than it sounds. I have played a Koaloha Concert and I liked the sound better. Hmm, I would trade my Kiwaya KMC-K against a similar-priced tenor.

I get your point, it's all a question of flavor, of course! However I remember we had a similar discussion on UU before (between a Honu Traditional / Pono tenor) and Deach explained that the Honu would be more traditional-sounding... So my friend ordered the Honu and was happy with it. What I mean is, that these kind of hints could really help!!

The problem is that I cannot try out these ukuleles. I'll have to make a choice and then order one (also because the postage is expensive). The music stores around here don't have these instruments.

What I'd like to know is what you think (and you said, you liked Kiwaya best). This way you've already helped me. :)

PhilUSAFRet
04-17-2012, 05:21 AM
Yeah, :agree: kind of an "apples vs oranges" kind of question. Usually, fans of each will claim theirs is the "best." I feel for you, but you have to decide what you think your "ideal" uke would look like, feel like an sound like. That's why so many players who want an "advanced" uke choose to go custom made, either from a luthier with a great reputation, or from one of the top makers that you have listed. Good luck

paullchter
04-17-2012, 05:28 AM
Dirk -

You might want to look at the website for Hawaii Music Supply. I've ordered from them with good success. They have good prices and sound clips for many of their ukes.

Good luck!

dirk.li
04-17-2012, 05:35 AM
Yeah, :agree: kind of an "apples vs oranges" kind of question. Usually, fans of each will claim theirs is the "best." I feel for you, but you have to decide what you think your "ideal" uke would look like, feel like an sound like. That's why so many players who want an "advanced" uke choose to go custom made, either from a luthier with a great reputation, or from one of the top makers that you have listed. Good luck

Hmm, it would already help if you explained which brand you preferred and why. :-) Maybe I should start a poll and try to find out which one is the most popular? :-) I have already ruled out Kiwaya, I can say that much.

I can also say that I'd prefer a 4-stringed instrument made of Koa. However I don't care if it's fancy curly or not. And I'd prefer a glossy varnish. As to the sound, I like a mellow sound that is rich in mids and not so "crisp". It also should come with an additional saddle (one for Low-G another for High-G tuning).

Is that more specific? :-)

dirk.li
04-17-2012, 05:36 AM
Dirk -

You might want to look at the website for Hawaii Music Supply. I've ordered from them with good success. They have good prices and sound clips for many of their ukes.

Good luck!

Thanks, I'll check it out!

didgeridoo2
04-17-2012, 05:49 AM
Hi Dirk. I've had a few tenors from the Kala Acacia which I upgraded to KoAloha and now I have a Mya Moe. Get in line for a Mya Moe. The traditional series may be in your price range. You can put down $300 and begin saving and by the time the uke is finished you'll be good to go. Char, Gordon and Aaron are great to work with.

Also, after re-reading your post about wanting Koa, Mya Moe will give you lots of diifferent koa options to choose from if you want.

ukeykondo
04-17-2012, 05:58 AM
Maybe you should order one from Willie Wixom. I just posted a review of a tenor I received yesterday.

Skitzic
04-17-2012, 06:10 AM
Dirk,

Come to UWC again and play as many different models as you can, then decide.

benjoeuke
04-17-2012, 06:16 AM
If you are sticking to your list, I cast my vote for the Kamaka... based on the fact that you said you liked the sound of a KoAloha (and so do I)... I think soundwise KoAloha and Kamaka are similar and kinda stand out from the others :)

dirk.li
04-17-2012, 06:28 AM
If you are sticking to your list, I cast my vote for the Kamaka... based on the fact that you said you liked the sound of a KoAloha (and so do I)... I think soundwise KoAloha and Kamaka are similar and kinda stand out from the others :)

Thank you! I've just become aware of the fact that I'm generally more interested in sound than looks. Also Aldrine plays a Kamaka if I'm not mistaken... that's another good reason. :-) However I'll check on the custom-made ones mentioned earlier in the thread, too...

dirk.li
04-17-2012, 06:32 AM
Maybe you should order one from Willie Wixom. I just posted a review of a tenor I received yesterday.

Thank you! I'm reading your review this very moment!

dirk.li
04-17-2012, 06:39 AM
Dirk,

Come to UWC again and play as many different models as you can, then decide.

I've already planned my vacation around the UWC this year! However I'm not yet sure if can make it. It will be a last-minute decision on my part depending on whether I'll be able to get a reasonably-priced (last minute) plane ticket or not. In any case I've already ordered a Mainland uke from Mike (a glossy mango tenor with MiSi pickup). So if I won't be able to pick it up personally, I still have something to look forward to... However I swear I will be back in 2013!!

PoiDog
04-17-2012, 06:41 AM
Aloha, Dirk -

As others have said, your question may be almost impossible to answer, because everyone has a different opinion. Also, I don't know if you should judge and decide on a Kamaka because Aldrine plays one. Hell, he could probably play a broken cardboard box with a broomhandle and make it sound good.

That said, perhaps the best thing to do would be to check out that HMS video in which they play the four main K brands one after the other, and listen for which one sounds best to you. At least that way you may be able to hear some of the differences.

As for me, I love my Kanile'a and would recommend it without hesitation. It's got great volume and tone, has a complex sound, and even when strung re-entrant still has considerable bass from the C. And, I have been noticing it starting to gain even more personality and complexity as I play it and it starts to open up.

Fortunately for you, you really likely won't go wrong with whichever you choose. Each of the ukes you're looking at are amazing instruments. Still, finding the one that fits you best (or, more accurately, finding the one you fit best) can really only be done by playing them yourself.

Best of luck!

PS: Aachen can't be that bad. After all, that was the capital of Charlemagne's empire.

Skitzic
04-17-2012, 06:52 AM
I've already planned my vacation around the UWC this year! However I'm not yet sure if can make it. It will be a last-minute decision on my part depending on whether I'll be able to get a reasonably-priced (last minute) plane ticket or not. In any case I've already ordered a Mainland uke from Mike (a glossy mango tenor with MiSi pickup). So if I won't be able to pick it up personally, I still have something to look forward to... However I swear I will be back in 2013!!

The only other thing I can suggest, is do some real soul searching. It sounds stupid, but I was struggling with this question myself very recently. I kept going back and forth, and ultimately decided if I was going to spend that kind of money again (I have been burnt by a K brand before. I dropped a lot of money on a very nice uke that ultimately...I didn't like) I wanted it to be made for me. The next day I put my name on a wait list for a custom.

Best of luck with your decision. It's a tough one.

mattydee
04-17-2012, 07:19 AM
Also Aldrine plays a Kamaka if I'm not mistaken... that's another good reason. :-)

Not any more... He's a Kanile'a man. Got a signature model and everything:


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=__EIaSZUxgU

(Me, I'm not a tenor player, so I can't really speak with any authority... but I sure loved noodling around on a friend's Mya-Moe.

efiscella
04-17-2012, 07:21 AM
I have owned and sold a lot of ukulele's this year because I was in the same position that you are in. IN order to try them, I had to purchase. This was easier for me because the shipping is lower than you, and no extra taxes. As a result, I tried 12 top name ukulele's this past year. All top quality. I am now down to 5 ukuleles. These are my impressions. I hope it helps. What I have learned is the following:

1. Best all around Tenor (for me) is my Kanile'a super tenor - satin finish. A sound that is incredible. I have it strung with low g and it sings. My favorite to play. I sound so good- almost like I know how to play the ukulele :-)

2. Kamaka tenor for that traditional Hawaiian sound. Fabulous intonation. Fabulous sustain. Beautiful to hold and look at. At work of art

3. Kanile'a K-1 tenor gloss strung re-entrant. Don''t like it as much as the super tenor because the gloss closes the sound up a bit more, but still, way better than many of the mid-priced models. Even though the projection is not as great as some, the sound it produces is pure and beautiful. As for looks- the nicest of all I own. It is a stunner. When I open the case and others are around- the gasps, ooooh---- aaaaaahhhh, result every time. it is beautiful

4. I really really like the Kanile'a Islander solid Mahogany tenor next. I know it is not considered a top model but for the price/quality ratio, it should be. it is a beautiful tenor that I loved to play.

5. I had a KoAloha Sceptre and the sound was great, but to me, not as great as the super tenor that I have. I also liked the wider neck of the Kanile'a better so I sold the Sceptre to another UU member who loves it. It was a gorgeous instrument and sounded great. It just was not comfortable in my hands.

coolkayaker1
04-17-2012, 07:23 AM
Aloha, Dirk -

Also, I don't know if you should judge and decide on a Kamaka because Aldrine plays one. Hell, he could probably play a broken cardboard box with a broomhandle and make it sound good.


For that matter, Eddie Vedder plays (one of his ukes) a $700 Pono. I own two and love them like daughters. So, go for a Pono and save yourself a ton of hassle. I mean, if Vedder can record the best selling ukulele album in modern history on a Pono, I think you could play one at your backyard weenie roast. lol

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4W0B-1iF6S4

P.S. I know he used a Mya-Moe and a DaSilva, too, but it's a fact that the Pono was used on all the "good" tunes.

blab
04-17-2012, 08:02 AM
You do realize that you can get Kamakas (http://www.ukulele.de) and Kanile'as (http://www.musikkeller.de/) in Germany? Your next Kamaka dealer is 3 car hours away. ;)

After a small hiccup in the beginning I'm happy with my HF-3 and would buy one again.

haolejohn
04-17-2012, 08:08 AM
Hey guys,
I've been playing the uke for 3 years now and I've found out that I like tenor scale instruments best. I already own some tenor models in the mid price range (Fluke, Ohana TK50-G, Kala Color BLK, etc.) but I don't have an advanced instrument. In Germany it's difficult (if not impossible) to find such instruments to test-play. So I'll have to use mail order.

I've read some reviews, listened to some sound samples and still I don't know which instrument to decide on. Or maybe it's wiser to have a ukulele build by a luthier?? What do you think? The price shouldn't exceed $1,500 (and yes, I will have to save for this! :D )

So, the ukes I'd like to hear your opinions on are:
(If you have other, similar suggestions, please let me know!)


- COLLINGS UT-2 MAHOGANY (what's the difference towards the UT-1 model?)
(Link: http://elderly.com/new_instruments/names/collings-ut-2-mahogany-tenor-ukulele-and-case--UT2-MAH.htm )

- MARTIN 2K TENOR UKE, KOA STYLE 2
(Link: http://elderly.com/new_instruments/names/martin-2k-tenor-uke-koa-style-2-ukulele-and-gigbag--2KTENUKE.htm )

- KAMAKA HF-3
(Link: http://elderly.com/new_instruments/names/kamaka-hf-3-tenor-ukulele-with-case--HF3.htm )

- KANILE'A K-1
(Link: http://elderly.com/new_instruments/names/kanile%27a-k-1-tenor-ukulele-gloss-finish-and-case--K1T.htm)

Thanks for your help!

Dirk, First it is good to see youi posting again. I personally missed your wit and banter.

I ahve a Koaloha super concert for sell. Tenor scale:)

As far as my prefered tenors...I would assume you want handmade ones correct? Non-imports (but technically they'd all be imports for you).

My favorite tenor might be Kamaka. I prefer KoAlohas in everything but tenors. If you get a good Kamaka it is good. I'm not a Kanilea fan at all. Loprinzi makes some outstanding tenors as well.

stevepetergal
04-17-2012, 08:16 AM
You've played a Koaloha and liked it. I'm very surprised Koaloha isn't on your list.

WhenDogsSing
04-17-2012, 09:52 AM
I had a KoAloha Sceptre and the sound was great, but to me, not as great as the super tenor that I have. I also liked the wider neck of the Kanile'a better so I sold the Sceptre to another UU member who loves it. It was a gorgeous instrument and sounded great. It just was not comfortable in my hands.

I have the Koaloha sceptre referred to and it is a wonderful instrument, sings out loud and proud, plays effortlessly, and is extremely well made. The shape of the sceptre also fits me very well, it may not for some people. I am very happy with it. Koalohas are hard to beat.

I have a Collings UT-2 that, while impeccably well made, just doesn't quite have the sound that the Koaloha has. Don't get me wrong, if it was my only instrument, I would be a happy camper for sure. It plays easy, sounds good, and is very beautiful to behold.

However, having said all of this, Mya-Moes are my favorite overall instruments. The 7 month wait time is well worth it. Playability, sound, looks, quality construction, Mya-Moes have it all...!!! Gordon, Char, and Aaron have it nailed down in every respect.

dirk.li
04-17-2012, 10:12 AM
Dirk, First it is good to see youi posting again. I personally missed your wit and banter.

I ahve a Koaloha super concert for sell. Tenor scale:)

As far as my prefered tenors...I would assume you want handmade ones correct? Non-imports (but technically they'd all be imports for you).

My favorite tenor might be Kamaka. I prefer KoAlohas in everything but tenors. If you get a good Kamaka it is good. I'm not a Kanilea fan at all. Loprinzi makes some outstanding tenors as well.

Dear John (wasn't that the title of a movie? :) ), so far I think a Kamaka HF3 would be the one I'm looking for. And it's available in Germany, too. It's probably still cheaper to order it from the states (even with tax and shipping), since there's only a single dealer in Germany and he makes use of this fact... on the other hand I might drive there and try it out personally...

It's true, I have been silent on the web for a while, caring more about other things. Fact is I'm single again and have more time on my hands now to spend on music and ukuleles. I'm also trying to put a band together here! :)

dirk.li
04-17-2012, 10:16 AM
You've played a Koaloha and liked it. I'm very surprised Koaloha isn't on your list.

The Koaloha I liked best sound-wise had a pineapple body (all solid Koa) and a concert neck. It fit into a soprano case which made it ideal for traveling, too. It was the one owned by Michelle Paddy (from Brisbane, Australia) who I met at the UWC 2010. I'm with John here, I've tried a Koaloha tenor and wasn't that happy with the sound.

dirk.li
04-17-2012, 10:18 AM
I have the Koaloha sceptre referred to and it is a wonderful instrument, sings out loud and proud, plays effortlessly, and is extremely well made. The shape of the sceptre also fits me very well, it may not for some people. I am very happy with it. Koalohas are hard to beat.

I have a Collings UT-2 that, while impeccably well made, just doesn't quite have the sound that the Koaloha has. Don't get me wrong, if it was my only instrument, I would be a happy camper for sure. It plays easy, sounds good, and is very beautiful to behold.

However, having said all of this, Mya-Moes are my favorite overall instruments. The 7 month wait time is well worth it. Playability, sound, looks, quality construction, Mya-Moes have it all...!!! Gordon, Char, and Aaron have it nailed down in every respect.

I'll definitely look into Mya-Moes now, too. The name has been mentioned here a lot... I'm curious now!

mds725
04-17-2012, 10:35 AM
Aloha Dirk,

I think the question you should be asking is the question that efiscella answered for you (post #18): "What are the characteristics of your favorite tenor(s) that make it/them your favorite tenor(s)?"

I have a Kamaka HF-3, a Koaloha tenor, and a Mya-Moe myrtle tradition. Here's what I like about them:

Kamaka HF-3: It is loud and resonant, and it has what, for lack of a better term, is a traditional Hawaiian percussive sound.

KoAloha: It is a little louder than my Kamaka, and has a brighter, sharper sound, even with Worth strings.

Mya-Moe: It's also a bit louder than my Kamaka, and it sounds a bit more like a guitar than either of my other tenors (I'd say it's bright and a little "twangy," as if it's like 5 percent banjo) without losing that distinct percussive ukulele sound. What I like most about it is the feel. it's a joy to play from the standpoint of how it feels in my hands when I'm playing it. That may be partly due to the radiused neck, but there's also something about its weight and balance that feels wonderful.

Yours is a duifficut decision, especially if you can't play before buying. (Definitely go to UWC if you can and play everyone else's ukuleles! If not, maybe you can find a local ukulele group and play their ukuleles.) My first "advanced" tenor was a Kamaka, and it's still the ukulele I play the most, and it's the one I use for my Hawaiian music ukulele classes. I prefer my Mya-Moe to my KoAloha, but I've heard that the best KoAloha's are concerts and Pineapple Sundays. When I was shopping for my first advanced ukulele, I tried a Kanile'a but found that the neck gelt a little thick for my taste. (On the other hand, Kanile'a makes the only 8-string baritone out there .....)

Maybe you can get other people to post why their favorite tenor is their favorite tenor. Good luck with your decision!

blab
04-17-2012, 10:58 AM
It's probably still cheaper to order it from the states (even with tax and shipping), since there's only a single dealer in Germany and he makes use of this fact.
You'd save about 20 Euros and have difficult warranty.

If you can find a Kamaka for the old price it's different of course. Not sure if they are still out there, I guess not?

mm stan
04-17-2012, 11:12 AM
Alooha Dirk,
Buying a uke is easy, but finding one that fits you is not.. you need to know what you want or at least let us know
so we can help you....yes mostly as all have said it is personal preference..on sound, comfort, budget, looks
playability etc...You like a warm or bright tone or a more expensive custom with a balance tone..I could write a long
response, but it is easier if let us know...such a general question you have put forward towards us..

csibona
04-17-2012, 11:21 AM
I own a Mya-Moe and believe it to be an excellent ukulele. I've played a Collings and found it to be excellent as well. I agree with others - play as many as you can - but also understand finding some instruments can be difficult. Heck - I went all the way to Hawaii and met with a maker but there wasn't an ukulele for me to play in stock. And, of course, your ears and my ears may be different.

coolkayaker1
04-17-2012, 01:18 PM
Dirk. Congratulations on your Kamaka HF 3. Do post pics and a sound sample. Cheers, mate. ;-)

dirk.li
04-18-2012, 02:43 AM
I own a Mya-Moe and believe it to be an excellent ukulele. I've played a Collings and found it to be excellent as well. I agree with others - play as many as you can - but also understand finding some instruments can be difficult. Heck - I went all the way to Hawaii and met with a maker but there wasn't an ukulele for me to play in stock. And, of course, your ears and my ears may be different.

Thanks! You brought up an interesting point... our ears may be different. They probably are. :-) I'll take my time making a choice, no question! Maybe it's a Mya-Moe, maybe an HF3. I have ruled out the other options. Thanks for all your replies - believe it or not, you have helped me! :-)

dirk.li
04-18-2012, 02:44 AM
Dirk. Congratulations on your Kamaka HF 3. Do post pics and a sound sample. Cheers, mate.

*lol* Of course I will. ;)

Gillian
04-18-2012, 09:41 AM
Hmm, it would already help if you explained which brand you preferred and why. :-) Maybe I should start a poll and try to find out which one is the most popular? :-) I have already ruled out Kiwaya, I can say that much.

I can also say that I'd prefer a 4-stringed instrument made of Koa. However I don't care if it's fancy curly or not. And I'd prefer a glossy varnish. As to the sound, I like a mellow sound that is rich in mids and not so "crisp". It also should come with an additional saddle (one for Low-G another for High-G tuning).

Is that more specific? :-)

The uke maker that I think fits your requirements is Kanile'a. Glossy finish, (best looking woods of the 3-K brands, IMO )and the sound is exactly as you described. Rich and full, not too biting. Based on the 3 "K" brands that I own, in order of "crispness" I would rate the KoAloha number one, the Kamaka number 2 and the Kanile'a number 3.

As for needing another saddle or nut for a low-G, Aquila has introduced a new unwound low-G that doesn't require the nut slot or saddle holes to be made larger to accommodate it.

reckomstance
04-18-2012, 09:49 AM
IMO, the Kanile'a is tops for fit & finish. Now, for my winner in the tone contest................K1 again. The K1 super tenor has more depth, but so does a baritone and I don't hear the small box sound with the super tenor like I do a regular tenor. Oh, one more thing.........be sure to consider a Kanile'a. :)

coolkayaker1
04-18-2012, 10:55 AM
Inmyopinion, Kiwaya is tops for fit and finish. Tone? There again,Kiwaya.

Is the voting over yeT?

keonepax
04-18-2012, 04:27 PM
Nothing against the other brands, but I'm really happy with my Kanile'a Soundmonster.

Plainsong
04-18-2012, 10:15 PM
A Kanliea superconcert + D'addario t2 strings = Awesomesauce. I remember back when I first got it, I didn't know if I'd ever manage that wide fretboard. Now? It's tough to live without it. I couldn't even manage tenor necks in general before getting this uke, and now it's just about the one that has molded to me.

stevepetergal
04-19-2012, 12:54 PM
Inmyopinion, Kiwaya is tops for fit and finish. Tone? There again,Kiwaya.

Is the voting over yeT?

The voting will NEVER be over.

dirk.li
04-19-2012, 10:31 PM
Thank you so much! You really helped me with your opinions. I'll let you know which one I got (and of course I'll make videos...)

UK Paulie
04-20-2012, 01:58 AM
Dirk, Hawaii music supply also have sound samples of virtually every uke they sell and shipping would be free at the price point you are at (over $800 on international orders) They are also really reputable. Ukulele pua pua are offering free shipping on all ukuleles, shipped anywhere throughout April. Just worth knowing. Good luck with your search and let us know what you decide on. Also, I am having a uke built here in the UK, by Marshall Stapleton, one of the founding members of the ukulele orchestra of Great Britain. He's built ukulele's for the current members too which was a good enough recommendation for me and I couldn't be happier so far, mine is almost finished and the build is documented quite comprehensively in my blog (link at the bottom) Anything you want to know also feel free to PM me. Cheers!