View Full Version : Second Uke Purchase... one to last

big plucker
11-07-2012, 10:44 AM
I am going to purchase a new ukulele so that I can learn and play as my daughter does. She is being taught ukulele in her grade 4 music class. I got her a cute little purple Emus soprano from a big online store that specializes in school purchases. D tuning with low A string… as is the common practice north of the 49th…

I have been playing guitar on and off for over 20 years. Mostly folk, some country and just about whatever catches my ear. I picked up a Mahalo Soprano about 10 years ago, but the low quality really didn't inspire me to keep at it. It wouldn't stay in tune for an entire song…. the intonation was way off anywhere beyond the 4th fret… it just sounded sour, no matter what I did with it. I gave it to the kids as a toy, where it was abused and then neglected and finally kicked to the curb in a garage sale.

I firmly believe that the quality of the instrument contributes directly to the enjoyment and therefore the inspiration to play and learn. Maybe I am just spoiled rotten by buying good kit… Had I cheaped out on my guitar, I am positive I would never have progressed near as far or quickly as I did. I had a passion to play because my instrument was well researched, well set up and of great quality.

I tend to buy well beyond my current needs as a way of future proofing as well as exacting more enjoyment from something, be it skis, chess sets, fishing gear, computer components, guitars and now a ukulele. I like quality, but I do have limits on how much I am willing to spend on this purchase. There is a point of diminishing returns with most items and I usually try and buy at that ‘sweet spot’. I like to be efficient with my money and I keep my gear a long time so like the ‘buy it once’ approach… I want something I can play every day and keep forever as my work horse. Eventually I’ll get a really nice high end instrument when, in time I know a lot more…

So, headed into this ukulele purchase I will apply the same approach. There are some things I know I want and many things I don’t know about yet that I might want…?
My hands are larger than average and I feel really cramped on a soprano, especially being accustomed to a full sized guitar fingerboard.

So a solid top concert sized (maybe tenor)…

Unsure of the tone wood, I prefer a more mellow, softer sound over a punchy loud sound… perhaps mahogany? Although the look of koa is really appealing.

I like the idea of Hawaiian built, but flexible on that depending on what options are available. Most importantly – ‘playability’ whatever that encompasses… action/string height, ease, intonation further up the frets, once I learn the chord shapes I want a uke that will play effortlessly… I will have a proper set up done, as I do with all my instruments but I don’t want to have to coax great sound out of a mediocre instrument.

First question – where is that sweet price point? There seems to be some good options between $300-$400. Is jumping up to $500 that much better? I’d be hard pressed to go beyond that unless the argument for it was really compelling.

KoAlana Concert (http://www.theukulelesite.com/koalana-concert-ukulele-package.html)
Keli'i Bronze Concert (http://www.theukulelesite.com/keli-i-bronze-series-concert-package.html)
Pono Mahogany Concert (http://www.theukulelesite.com/pono-mc-mahogany-concert-ukulele.html)
Mele Mahogany Concert (http://meleukulele.com/shopexd.asp?id=306)

If I raise my limit to $500 it brings the Martin C1K (http://www.elderly.com/new_instruments/items/C1KUKE.htm) into consideration as well…

I am leaning toward the Koalana... even though it is not a Hawaiian built...

Unfortunately I won’t be able to play or hear many(any?) of these locally… as our shops just don’t stock them. I will end up buying online from one of the top shops with a great set up dept…

Any thoughts to share on what other factors or instruments I might also need to consider? I will be back and forth between C and D tuning.

String recommendations? Some instruments just sound better with a particular string… What about mixed sets that strive for equal tensions and diameters across all 4 – different materials and densities to equalize the volume/tone from one string to the next..?


11-07-2012, 12:38 PM
Hi Steve,

I'm a fan of the KoAlana concert. Right in your price range and it will have an expert set-up from HMS and great warranty. You sound like you might like a larger instrument. I bought a Pono Mahogany Tenor Blem from HMS. You might call and see if they still have some. It was in your price range.

I'm sure you and your daughter will have many happy times strumming together!

11-07-2012, 12:50 PM
Given your parameters my first vote would be the KoAlana concert. I haven't been fortunate enough to have my hands on one but by all accounts this intial crop is every bit as good as the KoAlohas but in mahogany, and KoAlohas I do have experience with; it's very hard to beat a KoAloha in the concert size without spending twice as much for a custom. The crop of KoAlanas that just came out were made in Thailand but under direct supervision of the KoAloha employees who went there to set up the factory and train the Thai employees. I suspect that there probably won't ever be a better crop of KoAlana ukes...

If I could justify it to myself I'd already have one of these...but with Christmas coming and a whole baseball team worth of grandkids to play Santa to I am just going to have to hope that there are still some left later.


11-07-2012, 02:30 PM
Hmmm, I'm a Pono fan, but the sweetest uke on that list just might be the Mele, with that ebony nut and saddle. Here's a gorgeous koa topped mahogany concert. Great uke for this kind of money.


11-07-2012, 03:28 PM
Strings: South Coast. Best strings I've ever used!

11-07-2012, 09:21 PM
Pono fan here too. Not played a Koalana yet, but hearing good things about them though.

big plucker
11-08-2012, 03:59 PM
Thanks for the input.

Seems that I can't go wrong with the KoAlana. It does need to be a bit understated in appearance - simplicity and beauty. From the sound sample over my pc... hard to differentiate sound quality. Especially looking only at some better built ukes.

The Mele is tempting as well - I was favouring it early on, but HMS's unreserved endorsement of this batch of Koalana's gives me confidence.

I can see how most senior members here have accumulated a stable of ukuleles... already done a few searches on a tenor...

11-10-2012, 06:30 PM
No advice other than I am thrilled with all of my ukuleles listed below. I did want to say I feel the same way you do about buying the best instrument you can afford and enjoy. It makes such a difference to have a good ukulele, piano, cello or whatever.
Good luck!

Patrick Madsen
11-10-2012, 08:20 PM
Whichever one you choose will be enhanced by the great service and setups HMS does.

Andrew and Mike have always given me great advice and assurance that the uke sent was one they picked out personally for me out of the bunch they had.

That Koalana uke sounds really interesting. I'd pick it or the Mele over the new Martins without question. You're changing back and forth from C to D tunings is just a matter of putting a capo on the 2nd fret.

Time to pull the plug and get one, you won't regret it. I played guitar for many years also and since going to a uke, I haven't played my guitar for a while.

Yep this is just the beginning of UAS for you. I swore I would only buy one uke and that was going to be it. 18 months later;4 ukes and a Ubass. I'm looking at a big,big build for my 65th. next year. then that will be it; sure it will lol.

big plucker
11-12-2012, 12:33 PM
Ordered a couple days ago, just got of the phone with their set up guys... Looking forward to receiving the Koalana!

picked up another capo so i have that option... although my thick fingers require a bit of work to get more than one behind the same fret once I move up the neck...

i have been studying the chord shapes messing with this little soprano while I wait... fun... frustrating, but lotsa fun...

cleaned and oiled my fingerboard and restrung my guitar as well... lowered the action a touch an have really got focused on a few favourite tunes to transfer over to the uke. growing out my nails again and working through some finger picking exercises...

very excited!!


big plucker
11-24-2012, 08:47 AM
Well I received the Koalana on the 21st... 1 day late for my birthday... and have put in about 10 hours on it over the last 3 days. What a finely crafted instrument. I am very impressed. It is light as a feather. The sound is so clear and projects beautifully. I love the clean lines, very tasteful. Even the smell of it is nice...

Studied the chord diagrams and learned 5 of my favourites... very inspiring uke, it is so fun to just adlib on it - I wrote a song... just started in Am with some hammerons and slides, wandering around the fretboard searching out the sound...

I can't put it down....

11-24-2012, 09:08 AM
This is wonderful news! Have fun! ...and Happy Birthday a bit late!

11-24-2012, 07:12 PM
Happy belated birthday and congratulation on your new uke ;)