NUD: Uke.S.A. Hawaii (by "Pops KoAloha") Bearclaw AO Soprano (w/ sound samples)

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NUD: Uke.S.A. Hawaii (by "Pops KoAloha") Bearclaw AO Soprano (w/ sound samples)

For those who don’t want to read all the dribble I wrote you can just check out the pics and sound samples just below. Any out of tune sounds are simply the strings stretching still (intonation is great); any buzzes are due to the fact that I’m not a very good ukulele player.

Photos: https://photos.app.goo.gl/ffXvLrd87vViKbts6

Worth Brown Sample #1 (playing the same thing in the same room as in the stock string video, albeit at a slower tempo): https://youtu.be/wiI_qmJJR_I

Worth Brown Sample #2: https://youtu.be/caJ4GMgT9lc

Stock Uke.S.A. Hawaii Clear Fluorocarbon Strings: https://youtu.be/CyB3JxcjZJc

For more details read on...

So I actually got this last Tuesday, but between a super busy week of work and having no childcare last week due to some cases of COVID at my son’s daycare I am only now getting around to posting my NUD.

In case, you’re not familiar with Uke.S.A. Hawaii it is Alvin “Pops KoAloha” Okami’s company. My understanding is he started it after he retired from KoAloha as a means to continue to be a mad scientist of ukuleles. His business partner is UU member, Ed Fiscella (efiscella) here on the forum. That’s who you would want to reach out to with any questions about the ukes. They sell several different ukes similar to this one on their site ranging from a little over $400 up to $800 for a bearclaw AO like this one which is top of what I will broadly call the “WOW” line. This particular one was listed for $700 due to a natural gray streak in the grain on the right side of the top. They appear to have a few high end Pineapple Sundays as well as a Pineapple Sunday from the Opio factory listed.

So anyway, I’m a big fan of the classic mahogany uke sound but had been wanting something totally different from my standard fair. I’d been looking at this uke for a while. It actually came down to this and the Pohaku the last time I was uke shopping and I went with the Pohaku. I remain in love with my Pohaku and have no regrets about that decision but after selling some stuff from one of my other hobbies I decided to grab this one too.

It’s a very unique uke:
- The top and back are Engelmann Spruce and this particular one is their bearclaw version and therefore has some lovely figure.
- The sides and neck are pine. Very unusual, but probably a really good wood for these components. Yes, pine is a “soft wood” but soft does not necessarily equate to weak. Several varieties of pine, including Southern Yellow Pine (SYP), which is what I think this might be are actually very stiff and strong woods. So much so that SYP became the preferred workbench wood of a well-known woodworking writer who wrote a couple books on building workbenches for traditional woodworking. These woods also become increasingly hard as they age and as the sap hardens.
- Faceplate, fretboard, neck block, and bridge are all ebony. The front and back are both bound in black. This is what I fell in love with. I’m just a sucker for ebony adornments.
- I believe the inlay on the bridge and the bar fretmarkers are zebra wood on this one but I think Pops uses a variety of different woods for these.
- Gotoh UPTs. Lovely as always.
- The finish is a nice thin satin finish. If I had to guess I’d say it is probably the same finish used on KoAloha Pikake ukuleles. It certainly seems pretty much the same as the finish on the one I used to own.

So what do I think?
- Well, I love the looks. The light pine with the dark ebony just looks super classy. I actually was a little worried I wouldn’t like it in person, but it is super cool looking and really classy.
- The setup is perfect. Nice low action and great intonation. I love the neck. It is a spacious but slim feeling from front to back C-shaped neck. It feels like a KoAloha neck, but maybe slimmer front to back (I don't totally remember the neck on the KoAloha though)
- The sloped shoulders in place of the cutaway are brilliant. I don’t play up there much, but they really do give you access to those over-the-body frets and I think it looks really cool. You get pretty good volume and tone all the way up to about the 15th fret. Being a soprano 16 and 17 require a pretty stiff pluck to get much sound out of, but 15 is actually pretty impressive for a soprano.
- Volume I’d say is good, but not as loud as my Pohaku or my Weymann. In all fairness, those are both exceptionally loud sopranos.
- Tone is very unique. Very different sounding than my other sopranos which is what I wanted. The attack has a bit of bright twang to it that, with the stock strings on, actually reminded me just a little of the cedar top Bruko I used to own albeit without the harsh clangyness. There is also a chime to single notes as well as really great sustain and a full shimmering, almost growling, reverberation that really comes out when you strum it hard, similar to the KoAloha I used to own. I’ve never actually heard anything quite like it. I did think it was a little plinky with the clear fluorocarbon strings that came on it so I strung it up with Worth Browns and I like it better with those.

So overall I absolutley love the looks and feel of this instrument. It is beatifully designed and executed. Tonally I think it is unlikely to surpass my Pohaku which holds the title of my favorite uke and which is a bit louder and warmer, but we'll see what happens as I play this more and as it opens up more; USPS has been really backed up so it spent a week in what I imagine was fairly cold/dry conditions and I feel like the tone has already gotten fuller and louder as it has acclimated. This does add a really nice, very different tonal character to my little collection, which is exactly what I wanted, and I truly do love the overall design and build of this little instrument. I think it really showacases Pop's brilliance and creativity.
 
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snowdenn

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Nice write up. I have a very similar UkeSA soprano from early this year. One of my favorite sopranos. It's mostly the same construction as yours with a few differences. Bearclaw spruce front and back. Pine sides, neck, and headstock. Ebony faceplate, fretboard, and bridge. Zebrawood (I think) bridge inlay and fretboard markers. And the AO logo in koa I think? Same UPTs--the black and amber are beautiful. But mine is in the classic figure 8 shape, so no cutaways on either side. Which means no ebony neck block. My fretboard just has 15 frets with a curved end, and my bridge is smaller (just a little wider than the saddle). Also, mine doesn't have any binding.

I love it's sound, which I'd assume is similar to yours. I'm actually surprised your other ukes are louder--my UkeSA is pretty dang loud. Although you said your other two ukes have exceptional volume. One preference we seem to differ on: between the traditional, mahogany sound that's more mainland, and the Hawaiian koa sound, I prefer the latter. I'm actually not super into Hawaiian style ukulele music, I just prefer the tone of those instruments over tin pan alley sounds. Another difference: I also have a Bruko, though mine's maple, and I feel like the UkeSA and Bruko are almost at different ends of the spectrum with respect to sound. I found my UkeSA to be bright but not harsh. Clear and not jangly like the Bruko. Maybe our UkeSAs aren't so similar in sound? The most similar sounding uke I've played was a KoAloha soprano.

Anyway, thanks for sharing. Congrats on the uke!

Edit: I just listened to your sound sample, great playing! I have to agree that the Worth Browns sound better, though I think they do seem to make the tone more mainlandish than islandish (going back to my comparison). Strangely, your stock UkeSA strings did sound a bit diminished or thinner than they do on mine. Maybe you got a bad set? Or I got an unusually good set?
 
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CPG

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Nice write up. I have a very similar UkeSA soprano from early this year. One of my favorite sopranos. It's mostly the same construction as yours with a few differences. Bearclaw spruce front and back. Pine sides, neck, and headstock. Ebony faceplate, fretboard, and bridge. Zebrawood (I think) bridge inlay and fretboard markers. And the AO logo in koa I think? Same UPTs--the black and amber are beautiful. But mine is in the classic figure 8 shape, so no cutaways on either side. Which means no ebony neck block. My fretboard just has 15 frets with a curved end, and my bridge is smaller (just a little wider than the saddle). Also, mine doesn't have any binding.

Thanks snowden. Yours sounds really cool. I didn't realize that level of custumization was available. I didn't custom order mine though. Even though the 17 frets was part of what made this appeal to me I actually think 15 frets is the perfect number of frets for a soprano. As much as I like the idea of more, I doubt I'll ever use them and it is pretty hard to get much tone from anything higher than that on a soprano. 15 also opens up a little more space above the body which is nice and you still get the full 2 octaves of notes.

I love it's sound, which I'd assume is similar to yours. I'm actually surprised your other ukes are louder--my UkeSA is pretty dang loud. Although you said your other two ukes have exceptional volume. One preference we seem to differ on: between the traditional, mahogany sound that's more mainland, and the Hawaiian koa sound, I prefer the latter. I'm actually not super into Hawaiian style ukulele music, I just prefer the tone of those instruments over tin pan alley sounds. Another difference: I also have a Bruko, though mine's maple, and I feel like the UkeSA and Bruko are almost at different ends of the spectrum with respect to sound. I found my UkeSA to be bright but not harsh. Clear and not jangly like the Bruko. Maybe our UkeSAs aren't so similar in sound? The most similar sounding uke I've played was a KoAloha soprano.

I don't want to overstate the Bruko-ness thing. That was kinda a first impession with the stock strings on and it certainly doesn't have that clang of a Bruko. After changing the strings and playing them in for a couple days a lot of that similarity has faded to a point that I don't think I'd even still make the comparison. With the Browns there are times where it is almost piano-like to me. Maybe my perceived simiarlity was just that it was also a softwood top. I'm pretty used to hardwood topped ukes these days. It doesn't really sound like my old KoAloha either. It certainly has some of that charactoristic KoAloha revereration likely because it uses the same style of bracing, but this uke really is unique sounding to me in a way that is diffucult to put into words. As far as general preferences, oh, I do love a Hawaiin made Koa soprano too. I regretted selling my classic series KoAloha soprano almost as soon as the money hit my Paypal account. I only sold it because I was curious about other stuff at the time. I will likely buy another k-brand koa soprano someday.


Edit: I just listened to your sound sample, great playing! I have to agree that the Worth Browns sound better, though I think they do seem to make the tone more mainlandish than islandish (going back to my comparison). Strangely, your stock UkeSA strings did sound a bit diminished or thinner than they do on mine. Maybe you got a bad set? Or I got an unusually good set?

Yeah, I was surpised the Browns had as big of an effect as they did. I wonder if I just didn't play the original set in long enough. I like Browns a lot these days though so I put them on pretty quickly. Most people talk about how they tone down brightness but to my ear they do more than that. I think they also fatten up the mids and just genereally give the uke a thicker sound, which I guess is why it sounds more mainland-ish to you. I like the browns on it, but on a uke like this a clear flourocarbon can bring out a nice shimmer, so perhaps I will put the originals back on and play them in for a few days or maybe I'll put some Worth Clears or Martin M600s on to see what I think.

Anway, thanks for your comments. I really love what they are doing at Uke.S.A. and I'm glad there are others out there enjoying their fruits.
 
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Nickie

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Congratulations, and thanks for the review. It's quite lovely to look at!
 

Cadia

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This is sweet! Congrats! I want one now...
 

CPG

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This is sweet! Congrats! I want one now...

Thanks Cadia. It's a pretty sweet soprano. Initially I had some mixed feelings about the tone. I think some of that was just needing to play the strings in a bit, some of it was that I think it needed to acclimate a bit, and some of it was just how different it sounds from my usual preferances. Even though I wanted something different, my ear just wasn't used to it. The more I play it the more I like it. It actually has a really great tone. It has this really chimey ring to and as well as a shimmer that neither of my other sopranos have. It adds such lovely alternative tonal character to my collection. I'm increasingly pleased with my decision to purchase it.
 
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Dohle

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Oh wow, that is quite stunning. Both in terms of looks and sound. These UkeSA ukes are really interesting. I think most of us know about the Pineapple Sundays and whatnot but I've been really intrigues by the these sopranos, particularly since they're quite affordable. Thank you for the post and videos.

BTW, I usually prefer Worth Browns or Fremont Blacklines or similar darker fluorocarbon on spruce top ukes as I think they give the instrument just slightly more depth in the sound. The difference here, at least judging by the videos, wasn't as drastic as, for example, with my Moon Birds but I still preferred the Worth Browns anyway. Fantastic sound.
 

CPG

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Oh wow, that is quite stunning. Both in terms of looks and sound. These UkeSA ukes are really interesting. I think most of us know about the Pineapple Sundays and whatnot but I've been really intrigues by the these sopranos, particularly since they're quite affordable. Thank you for the post and videos.

BTW, I usually prefer Worth Browns or Fremont Blacklines or similar darker fluorocarbon on spruce top ukes as I think they give the instrument just slightly more depth in the sound. The difference here, at least judging by the videos, wasn't as drastic as, for example, with my Moon Birds but I still preferred the Worth Browns anyway. Fantastic sound.

Thanks Dohle. Yeah, I liked the Browns on it a lot and agree they fatten up the tone a bit. I actually just strung it up with Worth Clears though just to see if it would sound like the original strings or different. Even though I thought the originals sounded a bit thin they did add some shimmer and brilliance that was nice. I think the Clears sound somewhere in between the Browns and the strings that came on it. A little more brilliance and shimmer than the Browns but fatter and fuller sounding than the originals. I don't plan on doing a ton of string experiments on this one, but I actually may put the original strings back on at some point just to see if how much of the difference is real vs in my head. They all sound pretty similar and unless one is listening closely there isn't a huge difference, but I still like to figure out what I think sounds best just to for my own enjoyment and to satify my curiousity. I'm not sure if this is real or just perceived, but this uke more than any I've other owned seems to have changed a lot in just the first few days, which is part of why I want to hear it with the original strings again. Maybe this is just me getting attuned to it or maybe is really is "opening up" quickly, or maybe it really did need to acclimete after being stuck at the post-office for while.

I used to put M600s on eveything and was less of a fan of Worths but more and more they Browns are becoming my preferred string. My guess is in the end this one will end up with the Browns back on it. That's what ended up on my Pohaku after all those string tests and I'm quite happy with them on that one too.
 
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CPG

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BTW, I usually prefer Worth Browns or Fremont Blacklines or similar darker fluorocarbon on spruce top ukes as I think they give the instrument just slightly more depth in the sound. The difference here, at least judging by the videos, wasn't as drastic as, for example, with my Moon Birds but I still preferred the Worth Browns anyway. Fantastic sound.

I put the original strings back on last night and played it some. You're right. The difference on this uke between the Worth Browns, the Worth Clears, and the UkeSA strings is pretty minimal. The origial strings sound fine, and I'm not hearing as much of a difference between them and the Browns as I thought I was at first. I wonder if I just didnt play them long enough. I do think the UkeSA strings are ever so sligthly less tension than the Worths and I think the Worths (both the Browns and Clears) sound ever so slightly fatter and ever so slightly louder which is some of what I was hearing. I think I liked the Browns best overall, but again the difference is so slight that I'm not always even sure I hear it, so I'll probably just leave the originals on for now and then eventually put Browns on when I need a string change or just get bored.
 
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Dohle

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I put the original strings back on last night and played it some. You're right. The difference on this uke between the Worth Browns, the Worth Clears, and the UkeSA strings is pretty minimal. The origial strings sound fine, and I'm not hearing as much of a difference between them and the Browns as I thought I was at first. I wonder if I just didnt play them long enough. I do think the UkeSA strings are ever so sligthly less tension than the Worths and I think the Worths (both the Browns and Clears) sound ever so slightly fatter and ever so slightly louder which is some of what I was hearing. I think I liked the Browns best overall, but again the difference is so slight that I'm not always even sure I hear it, so I'll probably just leave the originals on for now and then eventually put Browns on when I need a string change or just get bored.

If the stock strings on the UkeSA ukes are the same as on KoAloha ukes they are pretty much analogous to Worth CL strings, i.e., the light tension strings. They're supposed to sound slightly brighter than regular tensions strings but I certainly didn't notice much of a difference to, e.g., Worth CMs or even BMs. I don't know if the build technique on the UkeSA ukes is similar to KoAloha but that might be one reason why a string change doesn't seem that significant on either. As I mentioned, the difference is much more noticeable on my Moon Bird, for instance. No wonder aNueNue put black fluorocarbon strings on it.
 

CPG

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If the stock strings on the UkeSA ukes are the same as on KoAloha ukes they are pretty much analogous to Worth CL strings, i.e., the light tension strings. They're supposed to sound slightly brighter than regular tensions strings but I certainly didn't notice much of a difference to, e.g., Worth CMs or even BMs. I don't know if the build technique on the UkeSA ukes is similar to KoAloha but that might be one reason why a string change doesn't seem that significant on either. As I mentioned, the difference is much more noticeable on my Moon Bird, for instance. No wonder aNueNue put black fluorocarbon strings on it.

Yeah. I'm pretty certain the website said they are the same strings. So yeah pretty analogous to CLs; just a little lower tension than the CMs/BMs. That's how they feel and sound to me. And yes, the build seems the same or at least very similar to a KoAloha, which isn't suprising since it was built by Pops. It definitly uses the KoAloha style uni-brace. The more I play this the more I hear the KoAloha-ness in it and other than being a somewhat bright, softwood topped instrument I don't hear the similarity to my old Bruko at all anymore. Again, I'm not sure if that is it starting to open up a already, just reacclimating, or just my ear getting used to it but whatever it is I'm increasingly liking it.

Interesting about the Moonbird. I feel like difference between CMs and BMs and Blacklines was more pronounced on my mahogany Pohaku too.

Anyway, I'm totally pleased with the stock strings at the moment. When I decide it needs a string change I'll probably stick Browns back on there or maybe I'll get some of those hard tension Blacklines. I like Blacklines but always feel like they are just a little low tenision for my tastes and have been wanting to try the harder tension ones.
 
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efiscella

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If the stock strings on the UkeSA ukes are the same as on KoAloha ukes they are pretty much analogous to Worth CL strings, i.e., the light tension strings. They're supposed to sound slightly brighter than regular tensions strings but I certainly didn't notice much of a difference to, e.g., Worth CMs or even BMs. I don't know if the build technique on the UkeSA ukes is similar to KoAloha but that might be one reason why a string change doesn't seem that significant on either. As I mentioned, the difference is much more noticeable on my Moon Bird, for instance. No wonder aNueNue put black fluorocarbon strings on it.

I have been enjoying the comments. I can give some info to the questions asked here. The UkeSA strings are exactly the same strings used on KoAloha and those strings are "worth-like" according to Pops but not Worth. We have been selling these strings at our ukesahawaii.com website, however, we will be discontinuing that once the current back of strings sets that we have, run out. The build, though different in shape, is the same uni-bracing as KoAloha.
 

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Oh yeah, a couple days ago I put a Fremont Soloist low g string on this and noodled around with it just for giggles. I don't usually play low g, but one reason I bought another uke was to have something to keep in an alternate tuning so it may end up setup low g or in Bb (yeah I know you all think I'm nuts doing that with a soprano).

Sounded pretty nice to me with the low g actually. Wasn't as good with full on strumming, but really nice fingerpicked or thumb strummed as I was doing with my noodling here: https://photos.app.goo.gl/4KXBPHiGQtDewLaq9