NUD - What to do with an abused gold label Kamaka (besides play it)?

Gmontema

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I spontaneously picked up an abused and cracked gold label Kamaka. Why? Partly because I was interested in a vintage instrument and also because I jumped at the chance for a $300 Kamaka (after tax). I also happened to have a great performance review and so I felt like treating myself. However, if I’m completely honest, I’m probably afflicted by UAS and I simply wanted a different instrument to play. So now I have an old instrument that’s been abused and ill treated. It’s got dings and dents. It’s got top and bottom cracks. How bad? Not sure since I got it today. It has holes under the fret wires. The tuners seem cheap and make cracking noises when I tighten the strings. I have put my back into it just to turn the knobs.

As for sound, I’ve changed the strings to the Martin fluorocarbons and they’ve really made the uke sing. I like the sound and so I’ll keep it as long as it stays together.

In any case, I’ve probably overpaid for the uke (shame on me for being spontaneous) and now I’m wondering if I should put more money into it given the bad condition (also considering that I have a fantastic KoAloha pineapple).

What would you all do? Would you put money towards repairs? Would you wait 18 months or so and pay Kamaka to repair it (probably hundreds of dollars)? Would you just consider it a “beater” and leave it in the trunk and play it during the lunch break? I would appreciate all of the feedback. Thanks all!

Here are the pics:https://photos.app.goo.gl/ojWPtsrdHMFC5qfw7
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Jerryc41

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I don't know if I'd call it abused. I think "used" would be a better term. I can't guess at the age, but it's got a few years on it. Repairing that split would be my first priority, and that shouldn't be difficult. After that, keep it humidified. As for overpaying, you wanted it, and you have it. You might a similar one for half the price tomorrow - or you might not. Clean it up and enjoy it.
 

ProfChris

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I'd fix it myself, but I build ukes!

That back crack is quite wide, so I'd begin by humidifying the uke and then keeping it around 50% humidity for a week or two to see if the crack closes at all. Once it has settled I'd decide what to do.

If the crack doesn't close much then it's probably been that way for some time. In that case I'd simply glue up the slight seam separation on one side of the crack and cleat the crack to reinforce it and stop it spreading. The uke sounds good, and this will keep it in one piece and stop it falling apart. If whoever repairs it uses hide glue (liquid hide glue wold work here) then the repair will be completely reversible if you or someone else wants to to a full restoration at a later date.

I can't see the crack on the soundboard, though I detect hints of a couple of cracks at the tail. Same treatment for them.

For the tuners I'd remove them, clean up any dirt or corrosion, and then put them back on. I suspect they were slipping because they needed a clean up, and the previous owner just cranked down the tension screw on the knob. Back that off a fraction and they will probably work now, but more smoothly after a clean up.

I can't understand what you mean by "holes under the fret wires". If the frets don't move when you press on them, but you can see a hole at the side of the neck at the end of the fret, then that just means the slot was cut deeper than the fret wire. These holes could be filled, or you could just leave them. If frets move, then that needs to be fixed.

None of this is expensive, unless frets are falling out. If the cracks close with humidification and stay closed at around 50% then they can be glued and made near invisible (a little more expensive). If the cracks won't close a full cosmetic restoration is quite expensive, but the uke should be perfectly playable with just the cracks left open and cleated.

So start by humidifying (don't go mad and make it swell up though!) and clean and adjust those tuners. Then take it to a competent repairer for an assessment and a quote.
 

kkimura

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I've heard great stories about old ukes restored by the Kamaka factory in Hawaii.
 

Swamp Yankee

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While I've never seen so drastic an example, the "holes" under the frets are pretty common in ukes and guitars with no fretboard binding. It just means the slots were cut deeper than the fret tangs would fill. As ProfChris mentioned, as long as they're not loose, don't "fret" about them.

As for the crack, you'd be surprised at how so wide a crack will sometimes vanish when you stow the uke in a sealed plastic bag with a humidifier for a week or two. Even taking a damp kitchen sponge tucked in a sandwich bag poked all over with holes and taping it to the inside of the bag will do. If the crack does close, then repairing it is a simple matter for a luthier.
 

Gmontema

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I don't know if I'd call it abused. I think "used" would be a better term. I can't guess at the age, but it's got a few years on it. Repairing that split would be my first priority, and that shouldn't be difficult. After that, keep it humidified. As for overpaying, you wanted it, and you have it. You might a similar one for half the price tomorrow - or you might not. Clean it up and enjoy it.

Sound advice! One interesting note is that the fretboard doesn’t show any signs of wear after 50+ years. Today’s rosewood or ebony fretboards have signs of wear in the usual spots after a while. Either the uke hasn’t been used much or the fretboard wood (maybe Koa) stands up to nylon or fluorocarbon strings pretty well.
 

Gmontema

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I'd fix it myself, but I build ukes!

That back crack is quite wide, so I'd begin by humidifying the uke and then keeping it around 50% humidity for a week or two to see if the crack closes at all. Once it has settled I'd decide what to do.

If the crack doesn't close much then it's probably been that way for some time. In that case I'd simply glue up the slight seam separation on one side of the crack and cleat the crack to reinforce it and stop it spreading. The uke sounds good, and this will keep it in one piece and stop it falling apart. If whoever repairs it uses hide glue (liquid hide glue wold work here) then the repair will be completely reversible if you or someone else wants to to a full restoration at a later date.

I can't see the crack on the soundboard, though I detect hints of a couple of cracks at the tail. Same treatment for them.

For the tuners I'd remove them, clean up any dirt or corrosion, and then put them back on. I suspect they were slipping because they needed a clean up, and the previous owner just cranked down the tension screw on the knob. Back that off a fraction and they will probably work now, but more smoothly after a clean up.

I can't understand what you mean by "holes under the fret wires". If the frets don't move when you press on them, but you can see a hole at the side of the neck at the end of the fret, then that just means the slot was cut deeper than the fret wire. These holes could be filled, or you could just leave them. If frets move, then that needs to be fixed.

None of this is expensive, unless frets are falling out. If the cracks close with humidification and stay closed at around 50% then they can be glued and made near invisible (a little more expensive). If the cracks won't close a full cosmetic restoration is quite expensive, but the uke should be perfectly playable with just the cracks left open and cleated.

So start by humidifying (don't go mad and make it swell up though!) and clean and adjust those tuners. Then take it to a competent repairer for an assessment and a quote.

Thanks so much for the sound advice. I wish I knew how to do the work myself. There’s a place an hour from me that teaches luthierie and repair. http://www.frettedstrings.com/lutherie-school/learn-repair/. Too bad it’s too far away. In any case, thanks so much for taking the time to provide your thoughtful advice. Way to spread Aloha!
 

Gmontema

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While I've never seen so drastic an example, the "holes" under the frets are pretty common in ukes and guitars with no fretboard binding. It just means the slots were cut deeper than the fret tangs would fill. As ProfChris mentioned, as long as they're not loose, don't "fret" about them.

As for the crack, you'd be surprised at how so wide a crack will sometimes vanish when you stow the uke in a sealed plastic bag with a humidifier for a week or two. Even taking a damp kitchen sponge tucked in a sandwich bag poked all over with holes and taping it to the inside of the bag will do. If the crack does close, then repairing it is a simple matter for a luthier.

My climate is so dry and so I suspect it’s been that way for a while. Am also concerned about humidifying and then it drying out again. I’m leaning toward a functional repair just to keep it playable. The cosmetics would be nice too, but then a again the imperfections describe the journey. Thanks for the great suggestions!
 

YogiTom

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Thanks so much for the sound advice. I wish I knew how to do the work myself. There’s a place an hour from me that teaches luthierie and repair. http://www.frettedstrings.com/lutherie-school/learn-repair/. Too bad it’s too far away. In any case, thanks so much for taking the time to provide your thoughtful advice. Way to spread Aloha!

Davis is too far away? I suppose without a car it would be. Still, I would recommend at least stopping by the shop if you’re ever in the area.

I’m in Marin, and have been considering making a weekly trek up there to learn how to make my own ukulele.
 

Oldtoolie

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I have a 60s-70s soprano Kamaka that has been used. Clean but stiff pegs and a separation on the back and a 4 in crack. The luthier in my club fixed the crack and separation with hide glue. And tells me those kinds of pegs are like that. So it's nice to have and play occasionally. I paid more than any other uke I have but less than any other Kamaka I've seen for sale. Not many older Kamaka for sale in the UK.
 

Gmontema

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Project “Beater” is officially complete. After 3 weeks of intense humidification, a local luthier was able to mostly close the crack and apply a few cleats to my newly acquired but formerly abused uke. Even better, he installed new gotoh UPTs. Now for a grand sum of $512, I have a dented, dinged, scratched, semi repaired, semi improved, lovely looking/sounding 50+ year old uke that I won’t ever have to shield and baby. What a liberating feeling. I can’t wait to play this thing wherever I am.

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Gmontema

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Oh, yes! That's a proper ukulele. Congratulations!

John Colter.

Hey John, I appreciate the enthusiasm. I feel the same way. I ended up playing way past my bed time to explore the sound profile...especially since I put new Aquila red strings on it. With my my UAS, I’m currently more collector/sound explorer. This uke adds to the playing options and helps me move toward the player category!
 

frianm

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Project “Beater” is officially complete. After 3 weeks of intense humidification, a local luthier was able to mostly close the crack and apply a few cleats to my newly acquired but formerly abused uke. Even better, he installed new gotoh UPTs. Now for a grand sum of $512, I have a dented, dinged, scratched, semi repaired, semi improved, lovely looking/sounding 50+ year old uke that I won’t ever have to shield and baby. What a liberating feeling. I can’t wait to play this thing wherever I am.

View attachment 118307View attachment 118308View attachment 118309View attachment 118310

I have a similar instrument. I bought it with the cracks repaired and they are certainly visible. I installed the same Gotoh upt tuners and it is a joy to play and to listen to. I prefer it to many of my fiend's shiny new instruments which have usually cost much, much more. What is more you are saving an instrument that can be handed down to future generations.

PS - mine has living waters strings on it and I love the way the strings complement the ukulele.
 

Gmontema

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Here are some pictures of some old school koa...just because. While I love the look of the fancy modern koa ukes, especially the custom/luthier choice builds, I’ve recently come to enjoy the look and sound of the old school koa. Now I may have to explore old school mahogany...dangerous!4BB8A812-90F1-4AA3-87A4-E68B540D3261.jpgD059A299-536F-4902-A27E-3D41E2895761.jpg22F84ACA-488E-4C5F-9C0F-74C01A84A92E.jpg40A50F09-51C7-4052-B603-B1CEEBC2741F.jpg
 

Gmontema

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I have a similar instrument. I bought it with the cracks repaired and they are certainly visible. I installed the same Gotoh upt tuners and it is a joy to play and to listen to. I prefer it to many of my fiend's shiny new instruments which have usually cost much, much more. What is more you are saving an instrument that can be handed down to future generations.

PS - mine has living waters strings on it and I love the way the strings complement the ukulele.

In case you were curious about the sound from Aquila reds, I finally got around to recording a simple sound sample. I really can’t get over how well balanced, loud and sustainable the tone is from this thing. If you have one with the Living Waters, I’d love to hear it. I’m always interested in the impact strings could have.

Here is the sound sample https://youtu.be/4-so6CcKBRY
 
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YogiTom

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What a fun thread. It sounds great, and looks pretty sweet too!
 

Gmontema

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What a fun thread. It sounds great, and looks pretty sweet too!

Thanks for the kind words. I’ve enjoyed viewing your acquisitions and videos as well. I recall you saying that you put Worth Browns on your Kamaka. I used to be a Worth Brown kind of guy when I wanted a brighter tone. I made the switch to Aquila reds and I haven’t looked back. The Worth Browns are skinnier strings and they hurt my fingers for some reason and they seem to go dead on me after 3 months. The Aquila reds are a bit thicker and they seem to be holding up longer for me. In this case, I took the Pepsi challenge and have been happy with the switch. Just FYI in case you wanted to do some string experimentation. Uke on!