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View Full Version : Educate me on Pono ukes.



Icelander53
06-21-2014, 11:37 AM
I have had the good luck to be able to have in my home a Pono in the $400 range and a Pono in the $1200 range.
I found/could tell very little sound quality difference between them.

Can you Pono owners chime in and tell me what the $800 difference is if it's not sound quality?

iamesperambient
06-21-2014, 11:39 AM
I have had the good luck to be able to have in my home a Pono in the $400 range and a Pono in the $1200 range.
I found/could tell very little sound quality difference between them.

Can you Pono owners chime in and tell me what the $800 difference is if it's not sound quality?

Play what you like if it sounds good and your a good player you can make a piece of crap 30 dollar uke sound good.
I think once you get up to 500 bucks ukes are high quality and its more about the physical look than sound at that point
(again just my humble opinion).

Kimosabe
06-21-2014, 11:46 AM
Let's up the ante. I just bought a Pono TE-C; that's a chamber-bodied cedar electric. It's a cheaper version of the Ko'olau CE-2. It's very close in quality.

iamesperambient
06-21-2014, 11:52 AM
Let's up the ante. I just bought a Pono TE-C; that's a chamber-bodied cedar electric. It's a cheaper version of the Ko'olau CE-2. It's very close in quality.

i noticed that it does look pretty similar. Do either make a baritone version????

Icelander53
06-21-2014, 12:01 PM
Play what you like if it sounds good and your a good player you can make a piece of crap 30 dollar uke sound good.
I think once you get up to 500 bucks ukes are high quality and its more about the physical look than sound at that point
(again just my humble opinion).

Well of course I do that. But I've had an issue with the Pono sound on both instruments. Still I have heard such high praise for them I'm actually considering trying another Cedar cutaway because I just can't believe all those folk could be wrong. I mean it happens but it's rare when something gets high ratings from most customers and it's not somehow a superior value. The folk at HMS practically drool over them but of course they are selling them.

So here I am trying to find out what I'm not seeing or hearing. The one in my home currently is a favorite to play because of the really nice action and set up and possibly due to the radiused fretboard its got and maybe due to the nice feel of the Aquila Reds but I'm not going to lie and say it sounds superior to any uke I have in the $300 range and I have half a dozen of them.

UkerDanno
06-21-2014, 12:29 PM
The one in my home currently is a favorite to play because of the really nice action and set up and possibly due to the radiused fretboard its got and maybe due to the nice feel of the Aquila Reds.

I think you answered your own question, plus it probably looks nicer...

stringy
06-21-2014, 12:35 PM
[QUOTE=Icelander53;1541410]

The folk at HMS practically drool over them but of course they are selling them. [quote]

Correct :)


My Pono was one of my first beginner ukuleles. I have since given it away to my young niece. For an import, I thought it was (IMO) so much better than Kala, Lanikai, etc.

Icelander53
06-21-2014, 01:07 PM
Well I'm comparing them to Gretsch, Moku and Alulu and Flukes with the wood fretboard and sound wise I'd put the Pono near the bottom. Especially strummed. It's very nice to play however. The set up and strings are very nice for playing. Both myself and my gf agree about the playability and sound quality. It's actually her uke. She's trying to like it but having difficulty loving the sound.

DaveY
06-21-2014, 01:14 PM
Icey, what strings have you tried on each uke? Just the Aquila Reds? How are the Ponos strung -- low/high G, etc.? Those might be factors.

Patrick Madsen
06-21-2014, 01:15 PM
You have two Ponos that you have issues with; can't tell the difference between the two. Have you tried different strings. So far for me, Southcoast have worked best . Strings make a difference big time.

If it's a matter of UAS...Perhaps it's time to try something new or perhaps a custom to your specs. For the same 1200 dollar Pono, you could be playing a vintage Martin with that wonderful thin, fast, low action neck and smokehouse sound or a number of others.

For myself, it's all about the feel of the neck and intonation. I like a thin, fast low actioned slightly radiused neck. The Pono has a fatter profile so it wouldn't work for me.

Stringy is right. You may have outgrown the instruments you have. Treat yourself to a special uke not buying one cause of the reviews. There are good luthiers in Oregon...

Just read it's your gf's uke. If it's playability, may be just a matter of a good setup and change the strings to something different. Ask her if it's the size of the neck in her hand. It may be the Pono necks are too big for her. It may be she just doesn't bond with it. I've had a few that just weren't right so moved on.

bborzell
06-21-2014, 01:47 PM
Strings can make a good build sound great or a great build sound so-so. Different top woods sound different. And solid tone woods tend to develop a more mature tone over time.

That said, I have played two examples of the same instrument (acoustic guitar, carved top mandolin, solid woods ukes) and found there to be difference in tone acceptance to my ear. Note that I am not saying that I heard a difference in tone quality because that would suggest that tone quality is a generally accepted standard; it is not.

The differences between a $400 build and a $1200 build of the same maker and general design is typically in the cost of more desirable woods, attention to construction detail and "extras" like binding, slotted heads, detailed fretboards and rosettes. The latter features make the owner feel good and the two former tend to make the uke sound as good as it can.

If you really found the $400 uke to sound better than the $1200 uke with the same setup and strings, I'd suggest that you buy the $400 model. If you don't like the sound you get from a Pono in general, there are many other solid wood ukes to check out. My $500 Pono plays and sounds better than many ukes I have tried out costing 3-5 times what I paid for the Pono.

pixiepurls
06-21-2014, 01:48 PM
You don't have to like pono just because everyone else does. Trade-in/up for a different brand. Everyone is different, everyone feels differently, everyone likes a slightly different sound. Sounds like you don't like pono. Its not a big deal, try a different brand.

I have three totally different uke brands (see signature) and I like all three, but for different reasons!

Icelander53
06-21-2014, 01:55 PM
Icey, what strings have you tried on each uke? Just the Aquila Reds? How are the Ponos strung -- low/high G, etc.? Those might be factors.

Aquila or Aquila Reds, I have Aquilas on most all my ukes and only my Fluke in low G. I'm sure there may be factors that could change things but finding out what they are might take some time. I have other strings I'll try but as I've said in other threads I'm pretty much an Aquila man with an D'Addario Titanium or two in the mix.

Icelander53
06-21-2014, 02:05 PM
Patrick:
We both like the playability of the Pono's which I stated. I love a fat neck and the radiused fretboard seems to really work well for me. They are very fun to play and there is no doubt about that. That's not a problem.

I'm going up to the Breedlove factory in Bend to see what they have to offer. They put Worth Browns on all their ukes but from the sound samples I've heard I'm don't think that would be my choice. The nice thing about trying something with Aquilas is most all my other ukes have them so I'd be comparing apples to apples for the most part. Of course wood makes a difference but not as much as strings from my admittedly limited experience. I have mahogany, spruce, acacia, and I'd like to try a cedar or redwood next.

And the issue isn't UAS as the Pono is new to the stable.

Bagaag
06-21-2014, 03:28 PM
I have a Mainland solid mahogany tenor and a Pono solid mahogany concert. Not sure if it says good things about the Pono or bad things about the Mainland, but the Pono sounds much much better to my ears. It's more balanced (no volume differences depending on what note I'm playing), better feel and a much richer woodier tone. The Mainland sounds more like a laminate costing half what I paid for it. I've played Martins and a few K brands costing 3X what I paid for the Pono in a local music shop and I'd say my Pono is comparable or better in quality, feel and sound.

Icelander53
06-21-2014, 03:49 PM
This is what I'm usually hearing about Pono.

If I may ask what was the price spread between the two?

itsme
06-21-2014, 05:05 PM
I have had the good luck to be able to have in my home a Pono in the $400 range and a Pono in the $1200 range.
I found/could tell very little sound quality difference between them.

Can you Pono owners chime in and tell me what the $800 difference is if it's not sound quality?
In some cases, "bling" can contribute significantly to the cost. Abalone bindings, fancy rosettes, upgraded tuners, inlays, etc. and other eye candy really don't contribute to the sound.

If your ear can't discern much of a difference, then I'd say you don't need the one that costs three times as much.

Bagaag, my Mainland red cedar tenor is an outstanding instrument, one of my favorites. Loud and warm. I love my Pono mahogany tenor, too, but I'd have to say it's more sweet and mellow.

Yukon Cornelius
06-21-2014, 05:27 PM
Well of course I do that. But I've had an issue with the Pono sound on both instruments. Still I have heard such high praise for them I'm actually considering trying another Cedar cutaway because I just can't believe all those folk could be wrong. I mean it happens but it's rare when something gets high ratings from most customers and it's not somehow a superior value. The folk at HMS practically drool over them but of course they are selling them.

So here I am trying to find out what I'm not seeing or hearing. The one in my home currently is a favorite to play because of the really nice action and set up and possibly due to the radiused fretboard its got and maybe due to the nice feel of the Aquila Reds but I'm not going to lie and say it sounds superior to any uke I have in the $300 range and I have half a dozen of them.

You do know that Pono is the import model of koolau? And the owners of hms and koolau are either same person or father/son or family(I can't remember what it is)?
The difference in the two Pono Ukes you've had in your home is the wood and bling. One might have been a pro series? I'm not blown away by Pono sound. But the craftsmanship is outstanding. Still a handmade imported uke though.

Ukulele Eddie
06-21-2014, 09:34 PM
The WTSH Pro Classic you have is pricey because of the level of craftsmanship (remember, it has a radius fretboard, slot head and cutaway which add significantly to cost and do not contribute materially to sound). The Wi'awa wood has great clarity and sustain but does not shine in the lower registers. I put the Reds on there to give it more presence in the low end. Also, perhaps your ear might like that uke better low G and you should try a low G on there.

I believe the Pono Pro Classics are a very good value given the level of craftsmanship and playability they provide. Thankfully, they offer quite a few wood combinations so hopefully you can find one that has "that" sound for you.

coolkayaker1
06-22-2014, 03:55 AM
Lot of great points in this thread. Eddie's point is a good one: the slotted head alone, when ordered as an upgrade in, say, a KoOlau or a Mya Moe, is $250. Your higher end Pono may be a cutaway...another $200-250. At both KoOlau and Mya Moe, just to stick with my example, the gloss finish upgrade is $350 and $400, respectively. Add some purfling, extra binding, a radiused fretboard ($100 upgrade at KoOlau) and, boom, there's more than the price difference between the two Pono ukes in your hand, Ice. It's sort of like a new Martin 5k at $5000 or a Martin 2k at $1400. Wouldn't want to bet the family pooch that I could tell the difference in a blind sound test.

As to Pono sound, I have a tenor cutaway slotted head, blonde spruce and maple Pono that is killer good with Worth Browns on it. Love it despite its fat neck (insert joke here). The Pono concert and soprano I had were sold: too heavy a build on a small uke size, esp in gloss. Best of breed? My KoOlau t100 Koa tenor by Noa (thanks, brother bearbike!)

Ukulele Eddie
06-22-2014, 09:05 AM
To follow-up on my comment and build on @coolkayaker1's, I will share a different brand but (hopefully) relevant experience. I have wanted a Collings dog hair or sunburst finish in a UC2 or UC3. While I do hear differences between the UC1 and UC2/3, I do not between the latter two. The finishes are just aesthetic and I cannot justify the incredible price premium over a standard UC2 or UC3 at this time (wish I could've sprung for the UC3 @coolcow is selling right now - what a stunner!), so I just picked up a used UC2 in as-new condition for a price I know I can re-sell and not lose my shorts. If I love it half as much as most Collings owners end up loving their instruments, I will feel more comfortable someday forking up the ca$h for the aesthetics (which is admittedly, a large portion of my enjoyment of ukes, I simply love the artisan aspect of a finely crafted ukulele). If/when I do, it will likely cost me close to 2x for bling with no impact on sound whatsoever.

Icelander53
06-22-2014, 10:54 AM
Each nice uke is a little work of art.

steel rider
06-22-2014, 12:19 PM
One difference I notice on my AT vs. a Deluxe model someone in a group had, besides the finish, was the trim along the edges of the fretboard. The fret ends were not exposed at all because of the trim. This made it very comfortable to play even while aggressively strumming. I'd look for that feature if I were to ever upgrade.

Rakelele
06-26-2014, 11:28 PM
I have a Pono AT as well as a Pro Classic ETSHC. They are very different animals altogether. Both are flawlessly manufactured and awesome to play.

The AT is more of a plain basic everyday go-to model, and I mean that in the best sense: Great for all kinds of music, be it strummed or picked. Simple woody look with a satin finish, the only adornment being a rope rosette. It compares well to my Hawaiian made Koa ukes both in sound and look. I like the warm sound it produces with unwound strings like Worth.

The ETSHC, on the other hand, is more like a very classy guitar, featuring a fancy wood combination of ebony and cedar, a very shiny high-gloss finish, Abalone rosette, binding, purfling, a slotted headstock, and a cutaway. The radius fretboard is an additional feature exclusive to the Pro Classic series. Due to the density of ebony and possibly to all the additional adornments, this one is very heavy (almost 900g, compared to the AT weighing about 600g). It produces a sound that is very different from all my other ukes, very bright and clear. Unlike with my other ukes, I like the sound of wound strings on this one (Southcoast might be one of the best choices for a Pro Classic).

In my personal opinion, the two of them are not competing, but complementing each other.

mm stan
06-27-2014, 12:25 AM
Upgrades is what usually raises the price on any brand ukulele....sometimes even with a plainer non bling uke it may actually sound better because there is not much
inlays and extras to obstruct the soundboards tone and some say the straighter grain is much better tone wise... all ukes have their own voices just like you and me...you and builder will not know how it sounds until it is strung up
due to the many variations in the building process and materials...this is one known factor... even a basic model may have a better tone than a more costly higher grade of the
same brand....that is why I suggest you try before you buy if possible... As for strings, better strings do help the PONO sings more freely with them and should be on all their ukes if not already on, put them on
but Generally HMS does a great set up on the action which brings comfort and playability....another factor for comfort and playablity is neck width and thickness....this is another crucial factor
choose wisely...one last note... there are real rare gems in every grade uke, even in the same brands, models and even built by the same person at the same time....each uke is individual
in voice as you and me... that is why you see experienced players and buyers in the uke store play 5 or all the kamakas of the same model and brand and choose the best sounding and feeling one....J
ust sayin"

Icelander53
07-03-2014, 01:56 PM
Good points Mystery Man. Since I could not go to the store I called up Andrew from HMS and he went through about a dozen of the Cedar/Mahogany Pono model I wanted and picked me out his favorite one. http://www.theukulelesite.com/pono-mt-pc-cedar-top-mahogany.html
Not many stores provide that level of Customer Service. I got the model with the least bling and the least weight. I went with the HMS stock Pono strings as I've always wanted to hear them. http://www.theukulelesite.com/ko-olau-gold-strings-tenor.html I should have it within two weeks and then we shall see.

kwall
07-03-2014, 02:53 PM
Looks sexy! hopefully ull enjoy it as said by you great feel, sometimes the sound isnt 100% there, but reading into that one it looks like it will sound good. Enjoy

Icelander53
07-03-2014, 04:07 PM
If basic and simple is sexy then yes. I left off most of the extras and cut the cost down quite a bit. The radius fretboard is something I kept because it's practical for me. I don't really like slothead and I can take or leave the cutaway models. The Rosewood back and sides vs mahogany was something I had to think hard about. Andrew said the Mahogany back and sides was considerably lighter weight and a little less expensive so I went Mahogany and will get a more traditional uke vs guitar sound, to my ear. Better mids and less pronounced low end. Again this is all to my ear. I'm sure many would disagree with all my thinking on these issues. I also had strap buttons installed but that was only $9 for both. To have it done by my Luthier is $24. I had some concerns about putting in the buttons before hearing it but Andrew assured me he would take it back even with the buttons if I wasn't happy and it would have no effect on any warranty issues. That is very sweet to my ear. Andrew seems like a salt of the earth basic good guy. I'll bet that place is a great place to work.

Bagaag
07-03-2014, 05:15 PM
This is what I'm usually hearing about Pono.

If I may ask what was the price spread between the two?

If you're referring to my post comparing the Mainland to the Pono, the Pono cost twice as much ($250 vs $500). Based on that, the difference in sound should not be surprising. I'm just surprised that a solid mahogany Mainland uke can be built to sound like a laminate one. At $500, the Pono is a steal, in my opinion.

Icelander53
07-04-2014, 12:57 AM
I meant that usually Pono fans abound and I rarely hear a negative review on them.

I was considering a Mainland until I read your post. For better or worse I'm going PONO. Lets hope it's worth the $800 to me as that is over twice what I've spent on any other uke.

But many people like Mainland and I doubt they are all wrong. Could be the model, strings, your particular sound preference, etc. I would still love to try one out but alas even with my fortune I can't have them all.

l3uffer
07-05-2014, 08:39 PM
One difference I notice on my AT vs. a Deluxe model someone in a group had, besides the finish, was the trim along the edges of the fretboard. The fret ends were not exposed at all because of the trim. This made it very comfortable to play even while aggressively strumming. I'd look for that feature if I were to ever upgrade.

steel rider, I think the problem you're talking about is something Pono's F.A.Q. addresses (http://koolauukulele.com/pono-f-a-q/)
Just scroll down to "The fret ends on my Pono ukulele are sharp.." and you can read what they have to say. I don't think it's a matter of features, but this is what I'm thinking when I read your comment but I dunno... what do you think? :)

kissing
07-05-2014, 08:51 PM
Owned a Pono mahogany baritone ($400-500) a Pro-Classic cedar baritone ($900-1000) and a Kamaka baritone ($1000-$1200).

All three, as far as tonal quality, playability and feel goes were superb.

I've also had Luna, Kala and Lanikai baritones... they were "nice" but not quite up to scratch.

Pono always comes to me as having the benefits of high-end ukes without necessarily costing as much.

Truss rod is also a great feature!

Icelander53
07-06-2014, 05:48 AM
That's very nice to hear.

oldcookie
07-19-2014, 05:05 AM
But many people like Mainland and I doubt they are all wrong. Could be the model, strings, your particular sound preference, etc. I would still love to try one out but alas even with my fortune I can't have them all.

I've been playing for half a year on a second hand Mainland I got of Kijiji. After the first month, I switch from Aquila to Living Water strings and I thought it sounded much better. That is until I saw a Pono ETSHC-PC on HMS...

Tried to resist the temptation, but eventually failed. It finally came yesterday, and after playing it for a bit, I realized how much I was missing with the Mainland. It not that the Mainland sounds bad, but the Pono's sound quality and clarity is just at a different level. The sound has a bell like quality just gets to me. It also made me realized my picking technique really needs to improve, cause now I can hear thumping sound sometime when my finger goes and pick a string. :)

So yes, I love my Pono. Its probably not a fair comparison though, given that the Pono costed 4 times as much as the Mainland. For what it's worth, Mainland sounds 10 times better than the first Uke I got off ebay from Bruce Wei, which developed two cracks in transit, had a couple of dead frets, and eventually became unplayable after about 6 weeks because it started buzzing all over.

coolkayaker1
07-19-2014, 05:09 AM
Well stated, old cookie, about the differences in price and sound.

I hate to break it to you, but now that you have the Pono, adding more price will only marginally add to sound improvement.

But more coin will get you a freaking awesome flying lizard inlay on the fretboard!

Icelander53
07-19-2014, 05:43 AM
That's good news IMO. My Pono was pretty bare bones at $800 but all the things like slothead, cutout and such didn't seem like something I had to have. My gf's Pono retails at $1200 but honestly they sound about the same quality. Both have strong points due to the different tonewoods but outside of that nada. Right now we both prefer the sound of mine. She could afford the bells and whistles and me not so much (but actually she bought used so paid much less than the new price). Plus I like the basic look and she likes a little more flash.

I've had many a hobby in my life and I'm pretty decent at doing my research. I've found there is a price point that usually gives optimum value/bang for the buck. Go much below that and you're asking for problems (with notable exceptions and very good luck). Go much above that and you're buying status or bling. And it's all up to you.