Aldrine Guerrero Signature Model Kanilea Tenor Ukulele: 5-Years in the Making

experimentjon

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Admittedly, I have been out of the ukulele game, in earnest, for a while; in the past few years, there has been little leisure time between the responsibilities of work and school. I might have averaged 10 minutes of ukulele-time a week--sometimes going weeks on end without playing at all. But the new ukulele I was lucky enough to purchase in the Marketplace took me in the way-back machine, and I couldn't help but to take some time to reflect and share.

I started playing the ukulele in winter 2007. That's right around when UU was launched--and I was among the earlier members. Aldrine Guerrero was the guy who taught me how to play from the very basics in the Sunday Morning lesson on IAmHawaii.com. So when he founded Ukulele Underground, promising more of the same great content, I followed. Looking back at it, Aaron Nakamura and Ryan Esaki were actually rather avant garde in producing video lessons for ukulele and putting them online--this was before YouTube was a mainstream phenomenon. Nobody else did online ukulele lessons, so their work on IAmHawaii.com was a true online gem. Without the lessons put together by Aldrine and the team from Kauai, I would probably have quit the instrument before I could even really get into it.

The first time I met Aldrine was at Ala Moana Park in an impromptu UU get-together. Turned out that we had some mutual friends, and I'd end up hanging out with him many more times when he'd fly to Oahu. I actually remember when Aldrine called to tell me he got picked up as a Kanilea Sponsored artist. He was extremely excited about it, and said he would be designing his own dream ukulele. I was green with envy. And I actually got to play the first prototype of his personal custom Kanilea shortly after. This picture was at Kakaako in late 2009: the instrument still has the original fretboard inlay, the narrower lower bout, and Grover tuners--before the upgrade to Gilberts.
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Back then, he mentioned that he might collaborate with the Souzas to produce his own signature custom for ordinary ukulele mortals to purchase. And in early 2012, it became a reality as he announced it on YouTube. By then, I wasn't playing much anymore, so buying one was low-priority--especially since I was saving my money for other things.

But when I saw the opportunity to buy one in immaculate condition with no build-time wait, I did get nostalgic for the old days when I played ukulele every day, went to jam sessions with Aldrine, and had Suite 409 on repeat. And although I've only had this ukulele for a few hours now, it has lived up to everything I had hoped and more.

For me, this ukulele has a bit of sentimental importance. Five years has passed extremely quickly since I first started playing on a Tangi mahogany soprano while watching Aldrine's lessons on IamHawaii and his original dimly-lit "I'm Yours" cover. In that time, quite a few ukuleles have come and gone through my collection. I've graduated from high school...and then from college. And things have definitely changed for UU too: it has grown to many times its original size, Aldrine has been on several concert tours, and the video production quality by Aaron is higher than ever. And I've definitely made a lot of friends through this small four-stringed instrument. It's an honor to own the same instrument as the one who taught me how to play.

Aldrine Guerrero Signature Model Kanilea Custom Tenor (Specs from kanileaukulele.com)

Master Grade Premium Curly Koa Body (log #50)
Top and back Black binding
Birdseye Maple Wood inlay Rosette with black trim
Ebony Fret Board, Bridge and Head-plate
Sand Position dots (players side)
South American mahogany neck
Rounded back
NuBone nut and saddle
Bridge Pins (will upgrade these to Martin Ebony pins with abalone dots)
Slotted Headstock
Gilbert Tuners
Aldrine Character Custom Inlay (in sand on Fret Board)
Aldrine Signature Custom inlay (in sand on Headstock)
UV Curved high gloss Polyester finish
PegPal Active under-saddle pick-up

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experimentjon

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A brief Q&A

How does it sound?
Very good. It is responsive; you have a ton of control over dynamics and the tones ring out nicely. It will only sound better over time. The limitation here is not the instrument, but the player wielding it (me).

What strings are you using?
This has always been one of the most popular questions of UU since the beginning of time. All of my Kanileas are now strung with DAddario T2s. They are the same strings that Aldrine uses. And they are 100% fantastic. He gave me my first set of J71s to try back about three years ago--my first ever set of D'Addarios. Back then, I was glued to Worth and Aquila strings, but now, I LOVE these strings. I highly recommend them especially at around $5/set.

Do the ebony bridge pins make a noticeable difference?
Acoustically, probably not. I can't tell the difference on my other Kanilea. But I think that aesthetically, they are a nice improvement over the stock plastic ones. I ordered mine from Amazon and expect them soon, but you can get them from a lot of places. Personally, I think Kanilea should have wood pins available as a standard option on their custom instruments.

How is the PegPal pickup?
It works. I like that it is significantly lighter than the Fishman Matrix Infinity that I am used to. And that smaller size definitely improves the acoustics inside the body. But my amp setup isn't advanced enough that I would be able to tell the difference between the two. I rarely play plugged-in anyway.

How are the Gilbert Tuners?
These are definitely the best tuners I have used. I found that the T2 strings sometimes bind against the Nubone nut, so I just rubbed graphite on the slots which fixed it, and now, I enjoy the full tuning smoothness of the Gilberts. But if I'm being honest, I think the main benefit is that they look beefy and awesome--and it's cool to have the same tuners as Jake Shimabukuro. But to take full advantage of the functional benefits of the tuners, I also ordered a Peterson Stroboclip tuner (same one Jake uses, and one that MGM has called the Rolex of tuners).

Is a Custom Kanilea significantly better than a regular K1-T?
Yes and no. My first expensive ukulele was a K1-T, gloss finish--an instrument I still own. I played every ukulele on the Easy Music Center inventory, and picked the best K1-T they had in stock. Tonally, the custom definitely wins, but I think this is mostly due to improvements in the body shape. Also, with the bindings and rosette and slotted headstock, the custom is also more impressive visually. But fit and finish are identical for both, and the base model tenor is no slouch in the aesthetics or tone department either.

What are your top five favorite ukuleles today?
5) Kamaka Concert
4) KoAloha Pineapple Sunday
3) Kanilea Custom Tenor Aldrine Guerrero Model
2) Kanilea Custom Tenor (pictured above)
1) KoAloha Tenor Sceptre (This was my grail since before I even started playing, and the Okamis handpicked this one for me and had my Chinese name engraved in it. It's the only ukulele that I can say was built for me.)

If you have any other questions, I'd be happy to answer them. And I'd love to hear more knowledge about the Kanilea Aldrine Guerrero Tenor. And Aldrine, if you are reading this, long time no talk! Let's have a jam session with everyone next time you're on the island!
 

Tigeralum2001

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Congrats and welcome back to UU! That is a sweet uke and one I've had my eye on. I'm glad you bought it because I was figuring out how explain another acquisition when I am trying to downsize!

Enjoy and happy strummings!
 

consitter

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There could not be a person on this forum more deserving of this instrument. (Well, except me :)) I'm so glad you got it. Play in good health, and make sure you re-capture some of the old days. I'm sure this uke will inspire you to do just that.
 

consitter

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Just wondering--you said you started playing uke in 07. Did you play guitar before that, or did you get your start with stringed instruments on the ukulele?
 

Lexxy

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I almost cried reading this sentimental thread. :)
 

experimentjon

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Just wondering--you said you started playing uke in 07. Did you play guitar before that, or did you get your start with stringed instruments on the ukulele?

I've played woodwind in band before uke. But the uke was my first string instrument. I remember getting my first callouses while learning "I'm Yours." It was quite a painful experience. Haha.
 

consitter

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I've played woodwind in band before uke. But the uke was my first string instrument. I remember getting my first callouses while learning "I'm Yours." It was quite a painful experience. Haha.

My only instrument before uke was a woodwind--the sax to be exact.
 

wickedwahine11

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Congratulations, it is lovely. And that is a great story adding to the sentimental value. :)
 

CoLmes

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Glad it went to someone with a lot of sentimental value, the uke was probably actually built for you - just took longer to find it's home. I think that log 50 is getting depleted so I doubt I'll ever own one, you're very lucky my friend.
 

Trinimon

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Awesome story and review. It couldn't have ended up in more deserving hands... Congrats!
 

dkcrown

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Congratulations and welcome back Jon. I hope that you have more than 10 minutes a week to play it now! I remember your big ukulele sell off a couple of years back to help fund your studies and to help save for a Condo.

What goes around, comes around.
 

mm stan

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Congrats on the AG score.... have fun and enjoy...Happy Strummings...
 

wayfarer75

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I'm so glad that uke went to someone who can truly appreciate it.
 

SuzukHammer

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My wife has me trying to thin the little herd of ukes I have; so, last night 2 guys came over to see what I had. They told me they would have paid admission just to look at my ukes. They are guitar and one played uke on a Roy Smeck for awhile.

Anyways... I let them play em all and the guy who plays real well liked both the William King and Aldrine Guerrero Tenors. I think he actually loved them and I asked if someday he'd like to make a sample video because his playing is sooooo fn far superior to mine. I believe my AG is the first one made from the log (after Aldrine's )so its fun to see others and how the wood differs.

Oh and good to see you back Jon. THey had high interest in the Koalaha Concert I bought off you a while back. THey liked the Sceptre as well. Both project like its Red Rocks.
 
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experimentjon

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Congratulations and welcome back Jon. I hope that you have more than 10 minutes a week to play it now! I remember your big ukulele sell off a couple of years back to help fund your studies and to help save for a Condo.

What goes around, comes around.

The condo is still a far ways away!

But now, I try to get in at least 30 minutes of ukulele time a week. It's still a fast-paced schedule. But I guess I need to work out the other half of my brain once in a while too.
 

experimentjon

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So, to try to get the most benefit from this ukulele, I picked up a ToneRite (http://tonerite.com/). It's a somewhat controversial play-in device that basically vibrates your instrument to simulate playing it for hours--make that days--on end. Long story short, I felt and heard a noticeable improvement after about a week of being hooked up to the device. This Aldrine Model sounds as if it has been toured with extensively and has been very nicely broken in. I think the device actually works.

Taylor guitars has a nice graph of what happens when Koa gets played in. The midrange increases as it is played. Don't ask me the voodoo behind it, but Bob Taylor certainly knows more about tone woods than I do. And I can't tell if the mids increased...I just know this ukulele now sounds better.
http://legacyweb.taylorguitars.com/guitars/features/woods/Tone/

Here's the box...fancy presentation..since you're paying $150 for a black vibrating box (street price).


Since I threw out my Hercules stand after the rubber on the height-adjusting part melted, I just oriented the instrument in an open case to minimize contact and maximize vibration. Tonerite advises against using it in a case, but that is more pertinent to guitar cases with heavy lids that can close with force and crush your soundboard. Just put the case out of the way, use common sense, and I think this is safe.


Note the Martin ebony/abalone bridge pins. I find them to be a pretty major aesthetic improvement over the stock plastic pins. And while Tonerite offers an ukulele model, I'm cheap, and suspect that all of their internals are the same, so I bought the cheaper guitar model and prayed that it would work. It does. And now, I can use it on my guitars too.


Just put it as close to the bridge as possible and squeeze the "feet" between the strings. Then turn it on to your desired power level.


If you want the luxury of having your instruments played-in, I think this device is a good investment and I'd recommend it. But I think it makes the most sense for a certain subset of players.
• Limited time to play your instruments (due to work, other obligations/hobbies, old age, etc)
• Own a solid wood instrument (these would probably reap much greater benefits than laminates)
• Own multiple ukuleles (If you use this on 5 ukuleles, the price per treatment drops to a more reasonable $30. There's no other way I know of to improve your tone this significantly at that low of a price. Also, when you have a lot of ukes, you won't be playing all of them, why not keep one on the tonerite)
• You build/sell custom instruments. (This would send your instrument to the customer sounding its best.)

If that's you, perhaps consider getting one. If UU became a dealer and somehow managed to get the street price of the Ukulele model down to $150 (aka manage to get it from Tonerite at $75 wholesale), I think it'd be a popular seller.