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View Full Version : Kelii Ukulele - Late 90's Soprano Story



PeteJ79
03-02-2014, 01:00 PM
Howdy all!
Brand new here to the forum, and stumbled upon it while researching info on Kelii ukuleles. I thought I'd share a bit about my soprano, as I have not been able to find very much about the company. In September of 1999, my family and I went on a vacation to Oahu. I was 20, and I had it in mind that I wanted to pick up a nice ukulele while visiting there. I have been playing guitar since '90, and wanted to learn to play the uke. While shopping around I found a little music shop (can't recall the name offhand), but they had a fair amount of pricier ukes in stock. After talking a bit with the owner, he recommended a lesser-known builder that was fairly new to the scene, but produced nice quality instruments. This took me to a small industrial park suite where ukuleles were being made. After speaking with the employee there and getting a rundown on the models available (and pricing), I had apparently set my price range much lower than I had expected to pay. With this in mind, the employee offered me the option of purchasing a factory second uke, and if I recall there were only a few available that day (probably less than 5). I selected a soprano that looked really decent for a factory second, and in being one there was no logo/name plate applied on it. I bought it together with a case and was on my way. Fast forward to this past week, and I got the itch to start playing it again. I took it out of the case, and my first goal was to get new strings on it as the originals were still installed. Once I had them off, I could see and feel that the fretboard was in need of some TLC. The board had shrunk a bit, and the fret ends were fairly sharp. The fretboard was really dry, I felt bad that I had neglected it for so long as I constantly maintain my other guitars. It sure was thirsty, I went through 6 applications of oil until it finally stopped drinking, and was able to nicely polish up the fretboard with fine steel wool. I also cleaned up the fret ends and they are now smooth as butter, no more snags or sharp points. After re-stringing I decided to look online for more info on Kelii, and was surprised that there is not a lot of information on them after all this time. I had saved my receipt, and thank goodness I did because with no label on the ukulele I would never have remembered who made it:

64445

I had found the link below on this forum and got even more intrigued, as I was under the impression Kelii had only been in business for a few years prior to my purchase (per discussion with the shop employee), as well as seeing another post that mentioned 1996 as the launch year-

http://forum.ukuleleunderground.com/showthread.php?92128-Vintage-Kelii-Cocert-Uke

There are similarities on my uke, but the fretboard bottom and bridge are a bit different.

64446

64447

64448

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In doing more searching, I started to remember how I had purchased the uke. As the shop itself had no point of sale system, they wrote up my receipt there and had me drive a few blocks to Pearl City Pawn to pay for it as they had the credit card system set up there. After paying it was back to the shop to pick up the uke and take it on home, where it's been safe ever since.
I don't know how many factory second ukes were made or sold, but in looking at mine after cleaning it up I am very happy that I picked it up when I did... it feels and sounds beautiful, new strings and some love really brought it back to life. I had also read that more current ukes are made overseas, but from what I know of mine and the time period it was 100% made there in Oahu in that shop and with real Koa.
If anyone else has info on the company that I missed I would definitely like to hear about it, or if there are more Kelii's out there pics would be great to see!
Cheers from frozen Chicago!

-PeteJ79