View Full Version : Kumalae Style 5 Question

02-20-2013, 06:42 AM
Hi everyone,

I have visited this forum but it is my first time posting. I am the owner of a 1915-1920 Kumalae soprano uke style 5. Looking at the pictures, you can see why it makes you both smile and cry, as it is a beautiful instrument, and in great condition, with the exception of some top damage or melting of some sort. I'm not sure but at some point someone perhaps tried repairing the top, or was it in a fire, who knows. I am not a Uke player, but a guitar player. The instrument seems to play ok, and sounds good to me even with the issue. It is not in perfect shape, as the inlay is gone in some areas, and there is one small top crack coming from the end of the neck about 1". The sides, back and neck all look solid.

I attached some pictures. The uke has a nice grain, the pics were taken on a sunny morning with natural light coming through the window, showing the honey brown koa. It has the original case as well.

My question is, what is the value of the instrument in its current state, and is this something that could be repaired? Or would the cost to repair be above the value?

Thanks again in advance, I think this is a beautiful instrument besides the one issue.

mm stan
02-20-2013, 08:21 AM
That is a very nice vintage Kumalae...his most lower end ones were built mostly for tourists....it has extensive damage and on the soundboard too... while I am sure a capable luthier
can repair it, it is in an area maybe that affects the sound....it's a big job for sure....maybe replacing the top will devalue it, something to think about or repairing it and wondering how
it would sound... either way it would cost alot, maybe as much or more than the value of your uke...good luck...your label has not yellowed and I believe it has not seen much of the light of day...amazing how pristine it is...I would keep it in it's case...I used to live and grew up much where these famous builders lived and built ukes...yes Liliha is my home stomping grounds..only I was born years 50 after:)

02-20-2013, 09:02 AM
Hmmm....I wonder if someone set it down next to a candle that slowly burned the top.

Value is hard to say since the damage is pretty significant and will impact the sound of the instrument. I don't know what to tell you on value, but as a vintage collector it wouldn't be something I would want unless I got it really cheap because of the extensive damage.

mm stan
02-20-2013, 09:09 AM
Also to mention...as anyone knows, it is very hard if possible to get completely rid of that burnt smell even with the top changed...Good Luck

02-20-2013, 09:25 AM
Ok, thanks for the information. Besides the blemish it is a pretty instrument and it would need some setup to play correctly. I've heard that these were made with thin tops, so perhaps the sound quality is impacted, but it has a great vibe and sound to my ears. It is very clean otherwise. I've seen a few of the style 5's but this one doesn't look like its ever been messed with or cleaned, refinished, etc.

Perhaps this instrument would be served best to be set up and restrung, and enjoyed for what it is, along with being close to 100 years old - not bad.

Thanks everyone, great forum!

02-20-2013, 09:30 AM
Maybe the thing to do in this situation is come up with a fascinating albeit apocryphal story about how the top of the uke happened to get damaged by flames...and just keep playing it as is? I mean...since you said it plays well and sounds good, right? And then you can compose and use the uke to perform the ballad that tells the its own story. People will love it!

Life gives you lemons....make lemonade.

I have a Style 2 Kumalae...and it sounds GREAT, by the way. I understand why you're thinking about how to preserve this beauty.

02-20-2013, 09:40 AM
Hah, that is a great idea. If I learned how to play the Uke - write a song and incorporate the blemish into the story, you have something there.

btw - here are some more pics if anyone is interested. I think the quality of the crafsmanship is great, and like the neck joint, inlay work, etc. Not sure but it is alway interesting looking at what is new out there and a vintage instrument - and determining what the cost of the new instrument with similar specs would be.


02-20-2013, 01:10 PM
In the UK a Kumalae like this in undamaged condition goes for around GBP500, or about USD750.

The structural part of the repair is comparatively easy - remove back, splice in new wood to top and side, patch lining, refit back, French polish the repair to blend in. But time consuming - I'd guess about half the undamaged value.

The tough part is making the repair nearly invisible. Matching the colour will be hard, and matching the grain near impossible. Plus where can you find that rope binding? So, unless your luthier happened to have exactly the right wood and some reclaimed Kumalae binding, the repair would alway stand out.

Value once repaired? No idea, but maybe half, or about the cost of restoration. If I were considering it, bearing in mind that I have the skills (just) to produce an acceptable but very visible repair, I might go as high as USD150. I think that US prices for Kumalae ukes are rather higher in the US, which changes the economic calculus, but this gives you some idea about what buyers might be thinking.

If it's still playable and not showing signs of falling apart as a result of the damage, I'd say learn to play it and have fun with it. These ukes were made with high action (3.5mm at the 12th would be in normal range), so don't try to set it up like a steel string guitar. However, I'd get someone to cleat the crack by the neck to stop it reaching the soundhole, otherwise it might start to fold up!

02-20-2013, 01:48 PM
First - I'd post about this in the Luthier's Lounge seciton of the forum - there are some really knowledgeable folks hanging out there.

This looks to me more like something was dropped on the uke or it was banged against something quite hard (make up a story about how the uke saved your life when a bar gig turned ugly) that was later repaired very amatuerishly.

Even though the "high end" Kumalae ukes are fairly rare this one is probably never going to be of great collector value - and the quality of repair to make it so would probably come close to the repaired value of the uke. (Caveat, I'm by no means an expert in this area, again, post in the Luthier's Lounge.)

That said, if it really is a good player the best approach might just be to ensure that the damage is stabilized (the area damaged is not terribly critical to the sound) and sell it as a player to someone who doesn't much care what an instrument looks like if it sounds good (that would be me, if we weren't approaching tax season LOL).


02-20-2013, 03:41 PM
Unfortunate. ProfChris is right about how to approach the repair, I believe. I also think his estimate of the cost is in the ballpark for a decent luthier. A luthier would probably make up a short length of matching rope binding to fill in the missing area. If it were mine, and I had the money, I'd have it done. I suppose you would have to consider what you already have in the instrument, I mean $$. If you didn't pay anything for it, you would have a Kumalae for what would be around its market value once repaired.

You might do as John suggests and post it on the luthier's forum. Someone might give it a go.

mm stan
02-20-2013, 04:57 PM
Just say one night I was jamming so hard and my uke started to catch fire....he he :)

02-21-2013, 05:49 AM
Ha, Yeah, I think just to have the ability to make up some great stories about the Uke makes me want to just leave it as is. :D I might bring it to a luthier in my area and see what he says and what cost is involved. I'll most likely end up just having it set up, possibly stabilized if it needs it and learn to play.

From what I've seen and read, there are not a ton of this style Uke around so it is neat having it. I also really think it is a gorgeous instrument.

Thanks again for all the information and advice!

mm stan
02-21-2013, 07:43 AM
Sounds like a good Idea, because after you fix it, and invest all that money, you have no idea how it sounds or the playability is like...rare or looks just don't cut it...
could be a money pit with bad results...good luck