Pono Master Series Lattice Braced Tenor - REVIEW

Tin Ear

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Hey Baz

I bought one of the first Master Series Pono when they came out. Easily my favorite Pono. They are winners. They cost more money than some other Pono's, but I remain very happy with mine. No regrets. Money well spent.

Nice Review ! Glad you got one in your hands to check out.
 
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bazmaz

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Hey Baz

I bought one of the first Master Series Pono when they came out. Easily my favorite Pono. They are winners. They cost more money than some other Pono's, but I remain very happy with mine. No regrets. Money well spent.

Nice Review ! Glad you got one in your hands to check out.
Yep - right at the top table I think
 

BigJackBrass

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Sublime looks and even on YouTube it sounds marvellous, as though you’re backed by a group of bell-ringing elves. You can really tell where the money goes with a uke like that.

Edit: Looks they’ve been selling quickly. It’s interesting that The Ukulele Site mentions that it’s an exclusive line “for now”, so perhaps a very similar range may be more generally available in future.
 
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Dohle

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Edit: Looks they’ve been selling quickly. It’s interesting that The Ukulele Site mentions that it’s an exclusive line “for now”, so perhaps a very similar range may be more generally available in future.
Interesting. Maybe it's a similar arrangement to the cedar Moon Birds where World of Ukes was the exclusive dealer first, after which they were sold elsewhere as well, or at least at TUS. I'd love to see these Pono Master Series ukes sold in the old continent as well. Maybe they'd even make a concert version. They definitely sound more lively than the cheaper Ponos, whether that's due to the different bracing system or just a better build in general.
 

bazmaz

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Interesting. Maybe it's a similar arrangement to the cedar Moon Birds where World of Ukes was the exclusive dealer first, after which they were sold elsewhere as well, or at least at TUS. I'd love to see these Pono Master Series ukes sold in the old continent as well. Maybe they'd even make a concert version. They definitely sound more lively than the cheaper Ponos, whether that's due to the different bracing system or just a better build in general.
Very much agree
 

merlin666

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I can't find them as separate series on the Pono website. Wonder if they have an all-mahogany one too?
 

badhabits

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I can't find them as separate series on the Pono website. Wonder if they have an all-mahogany one too?
The Pono website is generally outdated, and notes "Not all models available are shown". But as Baz mentioned in his review, these are exclusive to TUS (for now, according to the product descriptions), something I didn't know before. So you might check TUS for models available.
 

Ukecaster

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Womderful sound. If they brought the lattice bracing to their mid-priced lines, that would be cool (as well as expanding the nut string spacing to 29mm, or offering a wideneck version for those who can't or don't want to play 27mm)
 

TimWilson

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I mean... just wow. So responsive!

I bought my first two ukes (a Snail concert and the Flight Hawaii-made mahogany soprano) based on your recommendations, Baz, but this time, I bought it before your recommendation. 😁 My spruce-mahogany slothead is being set up as we speak.

Here's the HMS/TUS clip that sent me over the edge. (It starts at 1:16:11 if the link doesn't land there.) Kalei actually started laughing and had to stop before starting again. Even after an hour of having played nothing but examples of many models from the new Master Series, he was literally giggling as he played this one. (A heart-stoppingly beautiful original tune that I've revisited many times just because I love the song.) Right as he finished, Corey said, "Let me try that -- that's ridiculous!" and played it some himself. I've watched these guys every week for a couple of years, and that's the first time I've seen that.

I loved watching you giggling too, Baz! It was genuinely delightful to watch you play this, not just because watching you enjoying a pinnacle uke is such an infectious pleasure, but also because you play like a human, rather than an angel like C&K. I'm only barely human as it is, and nothing resembling an angel, so it was a great relief to see that the cedar model sounded fantastic playing songs more like what I play, even if you're still much more proficient than I am. :)

Seriously, though, Corey and Kalei are so above-and-beyond that it was only a matter of time before Andrew and HMS/TUS created a separate channel for their playing. I mean, they CALL it a "sound samples" channel, and what's inside matches what's on the tin, but honestly, it's about hearing them play in that extraordinary way they do individually, with the added dimension of telepathy when they play together, more often than not on a song or in a manner that I'll never be able to attempt. (btw, here's a YT playlist of Corey & Kalei duets that Andrew will be posting on streaming services.) A phenomenal showcase and one of the highlights of my week...but so's yours! It makes a huge difference to be able to compare ukuleles with the same, approachable samples. Adds to the statistical significance, if you will.

Back to this one, something that Kalei said really jumped out at me. "It sounds like a bell," he said. "If an ukulele was a bell, THIS would be the bell." And it's true! So even though I've lived in Hawaii for quite a few years, I decided that it was long past time to make my pilgrimage to The Cathedral. I spent a good long time comparing it to every ukulele I've thought about, including the Moonbird (my previous holy grail), Farallon, Koaloha, and a handful of Kanileas, including Aldrine's signature model. Lots of head-to-head A/B sampling among them, eventually narrowed down to a Kanilea K2 and this MTSH(S)MS....which will need a proper name from me later. LOL I'm also posting the link to Andrew's photos with Kalei's sample (and Corey's demand to play it himself!).

Adding to Kalei's observation about this sounding like a bell, I love your description that it feels alive. So true! You also said that it wants to play itself. This is what most jumped out at me when comparing to some extremely well-regarded ukuleles, all of which cost a lot more than this Pono, and even compared to earlier Pono models (which I also sampled for reference, if not as deeply as the other four). Everything was easy -- again, not just in comparison to my current instruments, but compared to some other flagship models.

There's no question that the cedar is exceptionally balanced, so it was the perfect one for Andrew to send you...but I'm not a balance guy. LOL I want the bell, so I went for the bell. I'll also admit that the cedar is nicer looking than the spruce. My feeling that spruce is relatively plain is one reason why I've resisted actually pulling the trigger, but being able to play so many absolutely stunning-looking instruments all at once, listen to the tone, and then weigh against the tone of the PMS MTSH(S)MS (what? Pithsmas? lol) really drove home that I want the bell, so I went for the bell. LOL Not that it's not lovely spruce. It is, and the fit and finish of these is equal to, and in a few cases better than, the more expensive ukes I also examined.

In the long version of the podcast in the first link, right after they play "mine", they test four different sets on the cedar model that you reviewed, two high G, two low G. Yeah, they sounded different from each other, but in the scheme of things, the biggest difference I heard was between the two low G sets...but I'm high G all the way for tenors, so it didn't matter as much. The main thing I learned from the four-set comparison is that these Master Series ukuleles feature a fundamental openness and, to borrow your observation, alive-ness that held forth regardless of the set (and to some extent, regardless of the wood).

This was the best possible proof of your approach to not grade up or down based on strings. Yeah, there was that one review you did where you couldn't sleep until you swapped strings and posted the follow-up video (THAT's dedication!), but in general, it's too easy to get lost in the weeds on something that's going to be different for everyone. Not everyone wants to change the strings first thing when they get a new ukulele, so let's have a shared starting point for the conversation (stock strings), and focus on the part that will be the same for everyone, regardless: the ukulele.

The last thing I'll note for now is that I tried to prepare for my visit, I really did. I had a hypothesis (I want the bell), then set out to test that hypothesis. I prepared some songs to play and made a list of specific things to check across instruments, and I worked through my list....and in the end, did exactly what you did: strummed open first-position chords like C and G over and over while smiling ear to ear. 😁 This new Master Series is astounding. It's almost crazy to talk about a $1200 instrument punching above its weight when $1000+ is already plenty of weight...but you know what? It does. It just does.

I'll talk more about the ukulele when I get it in my hands after setup, but it turns out that in the course of my application of the scientific method to my own ukulele trek, I inadvertently wound up testing your methods, too, and they passed with flying colors. You being so direct with us, never overselling your expertise -- even though at this point, it's likely that nobody on the planet has carefully examined more, and a more diverse range of, ukuleles than you -- and leaning into your clearly-stated preferences makes it all the more engaging when an instrument sweeps you off your feet like this one did.

So even though in this case I arrived at my conclusion before you did, I still feel like you pointed me here, spiritually at least, and I'm grateful for it. Lovely review, lovely instrument, and a lovely approach by you to all of it. Thanks again!
 

Tin Ear

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TimWilson I do not think you will be disappointed. If anything my Spruce/Rosewood Master series has gotten better. And I am not somebody playing it everyday. I bought one of the first ones when they first released them. No regrets. I will bet you will be pleased. Master Series are keepers.
 

bazmaz

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I bought my first two ukes (a Snail concert and the Flight Hawaii-made mahogany soprano) based on your recommendations, Baz, but this time, I bought it before your recommendation. 😁 My spruce-mahogany slothead is being set up as we speak.

Here's the HMS/TUS clip that sent me over the edge. (It starts at 1:16:11 if the link doesn't land there.) Kalei actually started laughing and had to stop before starting again. Even after an hour of having played nothing but examples of many models from the new Master Series, he was literally giggling as he played this one. (A heart-stoppingly beautiful original tune that I've revisited many times just because I love the song.) Right as he finished, Corey said, "Let me try that -- that's ridiculous!" and played it some himself. I've watched these guys every week for a couple of years, and that's the first time I've seen that.

I loved watching you giggling too, Baz! It was genuinely delightful to watch you play this, not just because watching you enjoying a pinnacle uke is such an infectious pleasure, but also because you play like a human, rather than an angel like C&K. I'm only barely human as it is, and nothing resembling an angel, so it was a great relief to see that the cedar model sounded fantastic playing songs more like what I play, even if you're still much more proficient than I am. :)

Seriously, though, Corey and Kalei are so above-and-beyond that it was only a matter of time before Andrew and HMS/TUS created a separate channel for their playing. I mean, they CALL it a "sound samples" channel, and what's inside matches what's on the tin, but honestly, it's about hearing them play in that extraordinary way they do individually, with the added dimension of telepathy when they play together, more often than not on a song or in a manner that I'll never be able to attempt. (btw, here's a YT playlist of Corey & Kalei duets that Andrew will be posting on streaming services.) A phenomenal showcase and one of the highlights of my week...but so's yours! It makes a huge difference to be able to compare ukuleles with the same, approachable samples. Adds to the statistical significance, if you will.

Back to this one, something that Kalei said really jumped out at me. "It sounds like a bell," he said. "If an ukulele was a bell, THIS would be the bell." And it's true! So even though I've lived in Hawaii for quite a few years, I decided that it was long past time to make my pilgrimage to The Cathedral. I spent a good long time comparing it to every ukulele I've thought about, including the Moonbird (my previous holy grail), Farallon, Koaloha, and a handful of Kanileas, including Aldrine's signature model. Lots of head-to-head A/B sampling among them, eventually narrowed down to a Kanilea K2 and this MTSH(S)MS....which will need a proper name from me later. LOL I'm also posting the link to Andrew's photos with Kalei's sample (and Corey's demand to play it himself!).

Adding to Kalei's observation about this sounding like a bell, I love your description that it feels alive. So true! You also said that it wants to play itself. This is what most jumped out at me when comparing to some extremely well-regarded ukuleles, all of which cost a lot more than this Pono, and even compared to earlier Pono models (which I also sampled for reference, if not as deeply as the other four). Everything was easy -- again, not just in comparison to my current instruments, but compared to some other flagship models.

There's no question that the cedar is exceptionally balanced, so it was the perfect one for Andrew to send you...but I'm not a balance guy. LOL I want the bell, so I went for the bell. I'll also admit that the cedar is nicer looking than the spruce. My feeling that spruce is relatively plain is one reason why I've resisted actually pulling the trigger, but being able to play so many absolutely stunning-looking instruments all at once, listen to the tone, and then weigh against the tone of the PMS MTSH(S)MS (what? Pithsmas? lol) really drove home that I want the bell, so I went for the bell. LOL Not that it's not lovely spruce. It is, and the fit and finish of these is equal to, and in a few cases better than, the more expensive ukes I also examined.

In the long version of the podcast in the first link, right after they play "mine", they test four different sets on the cedar model that you reviewed, two high G, two low G. Yeah, they sounded different from each other, but in the scheme of things, the biggest difference I heard was between the two low G sets...but I'm high G all the way for tenors, so it didn't matter as much. The main thing I learned from the four-set comparison is that these Master Series ukuleles feature a fundamental openness and, to borrow your observation, alive-ness that held forth regardless of the set (and to some extent, regardless of the wood).

This was the best possible proof of your approach to not grade up or down based on strings. Yeah, there was that one review you did where you couldn't sleep until you swapped strings and posted the follow-up video (THAT's dedication!), but in general, it's too easy to get lost in the weeds on something that's going to be different for everyone. Not everyone wants to change the strings first thing when they get a new ukulele, so let's have a shared starting point for the conversation (stock strings), and focus on the part that will be the same for everyone, regardless: the ukulele.

The last thing I'll note for now is that I tried to prepare for my visit, I really did. I had a hypothesis (I want the bell), then set out to test that hypothesis. I prepared some songs to play and made a list of specific things to check across instruments, and I worked through my list....and in the end, did exactly what you did: strummed open first-position chords like C and G over and over while smiling ear to ear. 😁 This new Master Series is astounding. It's almost crazy to talk about a $1200 instrument punching above its weight when $1000+ is already plenty of weight...but you know what? It does. It just does.

I'll talk more about the ukulele when I get it in my hands after setup, but it turns out that in the course of my application of the scientific method to my own ukulele trek, I inadvertently wound up testing your methods, too, and they passed with flying colors. You being so direct with us, never overselling your expertise -- even though at this point, it's likely that nobody on the planet has carefully examined more, and a more diverse range of, ukuleles than you -- and leaning into your clearly-stated preferences makes it all the more engaging when an instrument sweeps you off your feet like this one did.

So even though in this case I arrived at my conclusion before you did, I still feel like you pointed me here, spiritually at least, and I'm grateful for it. Lovely review, lovely instrument, and a lovely approach by you to all of it. Thanks again!
Thank you Tim!
 

Nickie

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Baz, thanks for another great review. I just love it, I can tell when you don't wanna send one back. That ear to ear grin.....