NUD - *rough* 1930’s Kamaka historic mahogany pineapple

Gmontema

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Despite some poor eBay strategy I lucked out by ending up with this 90 year old uke for about $200. It’s rough but it’s a pineapple and it’s cool to think that maybe Sam Kamaka himself made it.

Here is a YouTube sound sample

So now I have to figure out what to do with this “Historic Mahogany Pineapple (30's)” described here (minus the painted pineapple) Kamaka Historic ukulele

Right now the uke doesn’t sound good at all. Feels fragile, the wooden pegs don’t hold the strings in tune and it doesn’t seem to project or sustain sound very well. The frets are pretty low too. My 50+ year old gold label Kamaka holds its own when compared to my modern KoAloha. This 1930’s one? Not even close.

So now I’m left to wonder if I should keep this as primarily a wall hanger that I strum 2-3 times per year or should I have Gotoh UPTs installed and have a luthier close and cleat the 2 cracks on the soundboard?

What would you all do? Would I be destroying or improving this old instrument by installing modern tuners? I have plenty of other ukes to play, so maybe this would best be left as an art/story piece? Also, what strings would you vintage owners recommend (hopefully not real gut strings hahaha)?

I would appreciate any and all thoughts on this. Uke on!

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Gmontema

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Here are some more pics with a side by side with my gold label

CEA83BB4-2386-46AC-B978-CDA2206F88B3.jpg 05A1B905-2C70-4DBC-AF14-83972AF00C6E.jpg
 

raffrox

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I'd talk to a good luthier to see if any of the playability issues can be fixed and if there's a chnace that's the case I'd get the crack fixed.

You could also get a luthier to have a look at the tuning pegs and re-seat them or get new wooden pegs. I had an old Kumalae and I got a very good violin luthier to re-seat the wooden tuning pegs. Sure they are still as fiddly as hell but that way you preserve the uke and make it more playable.

Edit: I just saw the video. It is pretty rough :) I'd still most probably take on the challenge of getting the uke more playable but that's me.
 
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Gmontema

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Edit: I just saw the video. It is pretty rough :) I'd still most probably take on the challenge of getting the uke more playable but that's me.

Luckily I’m more into tone and playability versus minty, bling bling (although I do like to admire from afar). Wasn’t it awesome how the uke decided to go out of tune when I hit the D chord? :rolleyes:
 

raffrox

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Luckily I’m more into tone and playability versus minty, bling bling (although I do like to admire from afar). Wasn’t it awesome how the uke decided to go out of tune when I hit the D chord? :rolleyes:

I think it owul dbe great to get a well worn kamaka that looks like that singing better. Definitely some character there.

With the old pegs on it I thought it did remarkably well :)
 

ukulelekarcsi

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I think you should restore it into playing condition, and there's no real dillema between originality and playability:
- have the cleats closed
- low frets were the norm, don't change them
- even those pegs are quite easy to get back into working condition: rough them up with a little sand paper, but some resin on them, put them back in. It takes a little skill to use them, but once you can, you'll find it easier than heavy, cluncky planetary tuners

The crucial bit is the action. If you can't restore that by changing bridge height and/or nut height, it's probably the neck angle, and that means some surgery that will cost you a good deal of the price you already paid for the instrument.

But I think behind thos problems, is a very nice sounding gem... The woods, the construction, the light weight all point in that direction.
 

ProfChris

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Please don't over-humidify it, and certainly don't soak the fingerboard in oil - that can cause huge problems with frets lifting etc. Some humidifying, and a gentle wipe of the fingerboard with oil if you like.

That long soundboard crack can't be helping, and there might well be a loose brace under it. Both would impact the sound and are fairly easy fixes - post in the Luthier's section where you might find people with experience of old Kamakas. I build ukes, but I've not worked on a Kamaka.

A luthier could advise on UPT tuners - they might be pretty much a direct drop in to the holes, with a little bushing, and that wouldn't really affect its vintage value. Or, as someone else suggested, get the pegs shaved and the holes reamed to fit, when you might be surprised how well they work.

Aquila Nylguts are your closest to gut strings and will give you an idea how it originally sounded. Fairly high action is to be expected - ukes from that period were built with action around 3mm (1/8 inch) at the 12th, some even a little higher! From your video, it doesn't look much worse than that.
 

Jerryc41

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I would leave it as original as possible, and have the cracks repaired. Those tuners might not work as well as Gotohs, but they look cool. A good luthier will know what to do and what to leave as is.
 

kkimura

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Some rosin on the pegs and a string change might do the trick.
 

YogiTom

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Get it restored! It deserves a chance at life again.

As for the pegs, why not replace them with Pegheads?
http://www.pegheds.com/

They look like original friction violin pegs, but are actually geared inside. Super slick.
 

frianm

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I cannot bear letting an old, in this case classic, instrument die. It has lots of life with some real TLC. Sending it to Kamaka is the best solution. I have a 50s gold label with cleated cracks and Gotoh UPT tuners and it is one of my most playable instruments with a lovely sound. Mine has Living Waters strings on it. I care less about collectability but breathing new life into an old instrument. Enjoy it.
 

YogiTom

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I cannot bear letting an old, in this case classic, instrument die. It has lots of life with some real TLC. .... I care less about collectability but breathing new life into an old instrument. Enjoy it.

:agree:
It is a piece of history, and has likely had quite an adventurous life before getting to you. Help it add another 80+ years to that life!

Sorry for the slight divergence from the thread, but it is this sentiment that makes browsing old no-name ukes on eBay so dangerous for a novice collector like myself. After drooling over ukuleles on Ukulele Friend or Legendary Ukuleles, I can get caught up thinking things like “what if this is X’s first ukulele with binding??” That drives me to bid, and more often than not I would guess the ukulele is likely a cheap knock-off of one of the “better” builders of the time. Is it maybe a Washburn or a Harmony or some no-name even its own time? Likely will never know with some of vintage ukuleles, but the romance of imagining the ukulele’s personal history is still there, at least for me.
 

Vintageukes

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I have a very similar mahogany pineapple Kamaka and I love it. Chris Kamaka told me this long grain mahogany was from the Philippines and that he sees them from time to time but it is much less common as compared to koa, which I think is kind of cool.

The sound on these is never bright but some higher tension strings like Aquila make a difference. Mine doesn't sound great to my ear when I am playing it but when people hear it they always comment on how nice it sounds. In general, they have a deeper, more mellow and full sound, and are not terribly punchy.

If you change those tuners, perhaps you would sell the old ones to me? Mine had no tuners when I got it so my luthier fitted wood violin pegs but I'd love to have some originals (I'm a sucker for wood pegs). Casey Kamaka told me that he had a big box of old wood peg tuners that he would give to people who needed them but when I talked with him he didn't have any left.

It's a great ukulele, I hope you bring it back to life.