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View Full Version : Need some help and advice on picking a soprano ukulele



Brian W
05-24-2013, 04:39 AM
Hello all. I am currently in the market to purchase a new soprano ukulele. I am a newbie, since I have only been playing for 6 months, but have many years experience playing the guitar and bass. I have played concerts and tenors, but prefer a soprano for that classic Hawaiian, "jangly" tone, and also relaxed string tension for faster strumming and rolls. I have set my budget at $900, and have narrowed my search down to 4 brands, they are a: Kamaka HF1, Koaloha KSM-00, Kiwaya KTS-4,5,or6, and a Kamoa 500-S. If anyone has any opinions or, better yet, experience with any or all of the above mentioned brands, please post your comments to the thread. I am looking more in terms of which has the better build quality, reliability, intonation, and playability. I know sound is rather subjective, but any comments on each for their tone would also be appreciated.

TheOnlyUkeThatMatters
05-24-2013, 04:47 AM
Might be a good idea to take a day trip to Wilmington. The ukulele shop (http://ukuleleacademy.bigcartel.com/products) there has Kamaka and Kiwaya ukes in stock, along with many other models to try out. Nothing better than trying out as many ukes as possible to give you the best idea which ukes could work for you.

Brian W
05-24-2013, 05:13 AM
Ralf,

Yea I am only 2 hours from the North Carolina Ukulele Academy and have already talked to the owner (I believe his name is Ken) over the phone. In fact, my purchase will either be at that store or through HMS. I am also looking for anyone's feedback on the build quality, reliability, and any experience they may have had with any of my choices. The Kamoa, will be a different story, though, since that brand isn't carried by either place. I have heard some sound clips on-line, and it does have a nice tone, but they are made in China, so I am not sure how well the build quality is. I talked to Sam Bonnano through e-mail and he said that every instrument is inspected and set-up prior to shipping.

Thanks,
Brian

Newportlocal
05-24-2013, 05:44 AM
This Koaloha long neck pineapple is certainly worth putting on your list of considerations in your price range and parameters.
Good luck on your search.
http://www.theukulelesite.com/koaloha-pineapple-long-neck-ksm-03.html

urcuzzn
05-24-2013, 07:12 AM
kent has a very nice maui music soprano over there

RyanMFT
05-24-2013, 07:47 AM
Well, to answer your question directly, I would strongly consider KoAloha. I think Kamaka is often overrated and you pay a lot for the name. That being said, I think their best ukuleles are their sopranos. I hear nothing but great things about Kiwaya but I have yet to try them and I think Kamoa is fine, but it is more of a production ukulele as compared to the others.

However, there is a fair amount of variation between individual ukuleles and it would be best to try some if you can. As a side note, if you want an incredible soprano well within your price range, get a nice condition vintage Martin. IMO, they are about as fine a soprano ukulele, old or new as one will find. In your budget, you could get a really nice one.

Brian W
05-24-2013, 08:08 AM
Well, to answer your question directly, I would strongly consider KoAloha. I think Kamaka is often overrated and you pay a lot for the name. That being said, I think their best ukuleles are their sopranos. I hear nothing but great things about Kiwaya but I have yet to try them and I think Kamoa is fine, but it is more of a production ukulele as compared to the others.

However, there is a fair amount of variation between individual ukuleles and it would be best to try some if you can. As a side note, if you want an incredible soprano well within your price range, get a nice condition vintage Martin. IMO, they are about as fine a soprano ukulele, old or new as one will find. In your budget, you could get a really nice one.

I talked to Music Guy Mic at HMS recently and he said the same exact thing, that the Koaloha would be the best choice. He told me they sound great right out of the box. My only concern with them is their longevity. They don't use traditional fan bracing on the lower bout, so I do not know if over time the top will have any warping issues due to string tension on the body. Kent (NC Ukulele Academy) told me that he expects a shipment of Koalohas at the end of this month and 2 of his stock will be sopranos. I am definitely going to take a trip to his shop in the next few weeks.

Brian W
05-24-2013, 11:27 AM
kent has a very nice maui music soprano over there

Just checked-out his site and WOW what a nice looking instrument. I will have to try that one out as well! Do you own a Maui Music ukulele? If so, how do you like it?

rpfrogner
05-24-2013, 07:19 PM
I have owned at one time or another and played all but the Kamaka HF1 (only Kamaka I have owned was a 1930's Pineapple). To be honest all 3 of the others were good ukes. For me it would be a tie between the Kiwaya and Koaloha as they both have attributes that are really good. If you want the Hawaiian sound from the list you mentioned then definitely the koa Koaloha. If you want a very good mahogany ukulele that is comparable to any other "K" brand then get any of the Kiwaya models you mentioned.
Please note I answered your direct question because as for my own taste I am a vintage Martin soprano fan :)

NewKid
05-24-2013, 10:34 PM
I recommend considering a handmade Ken Timms Style O mahogany soprano. In my opinion, they are just as good or better than the vintage Martins they are modeled after and you can get one in the $500 range which is just a ridiculous value because they're worth twice that much at least.

Ken only sells them on ebay and not directly. However, they appear for sale here from time to time and if you post a WTB (want to buy) thread in the Marketplace, you may get a response. Good luck!

justinlcecil
05-25-2013, 06:00 AM
Couldn't agree more Newkid. The best sounding soprano I have ever heard is my Ken Timms. A truly wonderful instrument. Built Light and sounds amazing. It rings out for days. The little uke blows me away every time I play it.
I recommend considering a handmade Ken Timms Style O mahogany soprano. In my opinion, they are just as good or better than the vintage Martins they are modeled after and you can get one in the $500 range which is just a ridiculous value because they're worth twice that much at least.

Ken only sells them on ebay and not directly. However, they appear for sale here from time to time and if you post a WTB (want to buy) thread in the Marketplace, you may get a response. Good luck!

Brian W
05-25-2013, 04:56 PM
You have picked some good models to get started on.
One thing I have noticed with Guitar players is that they immediately go into a uke that cost $500+ and then spend a fortune and a lot of time messing around with strings and set up trying to get the uke to sound similar to a guitar. Mostly because they do not realise what a ukulele will sound like when they play it themselves. As a suggestion, start off with a $50 dolphin or similar and listen to a lot of solo ukulele music, and get your fingers moving and coordinating. Listen to the music and pick up the differences between the C string (in particular) and the G string on a guitar. Learn to play with the two bass strings on the inside and the high/melody strings on the outside. Then after your arms and hands start to produce some good tunes, head off to the shop to spend the $900. You will be ready to play and pick the one you like from a selection, and you may avoid the string changing and set up stuff which can take a lot of time and not achieve much. If you do feel a need to change strings you will have an idea of what to look for.
I have seen great guitar players pick up a uke and play it well straight away, but they never get the foibles and are far too serious about some things and they spoil the enjoyment for themselves. Starting with a starter uke for a few months may seem like an insulting suggestion, but try it and see how much more enjoyment you get when you get the $900 instrument.

I appreciate the advice, but I have already been playing a starter uke; a Mitchell concert. I have been to many music stores in my area, and have played various brands, including Martin, and Kanilea, along with various sizes, and I like sopranos the best because they sound and play the least like a guitar. I also prefer the reentrant tuning and not the low G for the same reason. If anything my finger-picking skills have greatly improved since I started playing the ukulele; I've added my ring finger now to my rolls. I absolutely love playing this instrument; it has created another path for music creativity.

Brian W
05-25-2013, 05:02 PM
I recommend considering a handmade Ken Timms Style O mahogany soprano. In my opinion, they are just as good or better than the vintage Martins they are modeled after and you can get one in the $500 range which is just a ridiculous value because they're worth twice that much at least.

Ken only sells them on ebay and not directly. However, they appear for sale here from time to time and if you post a WTB (want to buy) thread in the Marketplace, you may get a response. Good luck!


Thanks NewKid, I will add that to my list for consideration.