Were Pono Ukuleles really better before 2019?

Arik

“Where words fail, music speaks.”
UU VIP
Joined
Jun 21, 2010
Messages
470
Points
63
I think I agree with the comments here that they probably have been improved. The older pro series had paua rosettes and the rosewoods had koa bindings (which looked nice). I think the biggest difference has been the price. Inflation for ukes (and probably everything else) over the past decade has been a doozy.
 

Milesaway71

Member
Joined
Sep 16, 2021
Messages
90
Points
18
Question: Didn't Noa Kitakis' father, John I think, build Koolau's and help design the Pono?

If so I wonder how many Koolau tenors would have been built by John, before retiring.
 

Kenn2018

UU VIP
UU VIP
Joined
Jun 13, 2018
Messages
5,090
Points
113
Question: Didn't Noa Kitakis' father, John I think, build Koolau's and help design the Pono?

If so I wonder how many Koolau tenors would have been built by John, before retiring.
John Kitakis, founder of Ko'olau, is the father. His sons are: Andrew Kitakis, who started Hawaii Music Supply and The Ukulele Site; & Noa Bonk, Ko'olau Master Luthier and runs the company.

From TUS website written in 2013 by Andrew Kitakis:
"About 20 years ago my dad (John Kitakis) started Ko’olau Guitar & Ukulele Company. That pride of craftsmanship and aim for the finest quality have always been at the heart of Ko’olau and many serious musicians were and still are delighted by this. 12 years ago, as I left to start Hawaii Music Supply, my brother Noa took over the Ko’olau custom shop building and has continued to perfect this art. Dad set forth on a new venture; To make a Ko’olau quality instrument at a more affordable price. This has been no casual effort. It’s taken him many years but he now provides a truly great brand, our best selling line of ukuleles. Even though quality has become consistent, he still travels to the island of Java to work with the luthiers there and continue improving."

From the TUS website written in 2017:
Ko’olau
"For many years John Kitakis and Noa Bonk did mostly warranty repair for Martin, Taylor and other guitar companies. Occasionally they built custom guitars and other instruments. Seeing the need for a professional quality ukulele company, John started Ko’olau Ukulele in 1996. The shop was right at foothills of the Ko’olau mountains in Kaneohe. They later relocated to the other side of the mountain, Wahiawa, but for over 20 years now they have been working full time to create the best musical instruments for artists and enthusiasts.

"About 10 years ago John started the Pono line in Indonesia and Noa took over the custom building for Ko’olau. Noa’s had small crews in the past but now focuses on the finest quality possible with just him building and Ryan Condon finishing. Together, what they have been offering for the last few years is impeccable craftsmanship and master level voicing. Ko’olau ukuleles are light in weight, full with rich overtones, gorgeous with the best woods, and truly a joy to play."
 

Milesaway71

Member
Joined
Sep 16, 2021
Messages
90
Points
18
John Kitakis, founder of Ko'olau, is the father. His sons are: Andrew Kitakis, who started Hawaii Music Supply and The Ukulele Site; & Noa Bonk, Ko'olau Master Luthier and runs the company.

From TUS website written in 2013 by Andrew Kitakis:
"About 20 years ago my dad (John Kitakis) started Ko’olau Guitar & Ukulele Company. That pride of craftsmanship and aim for the finest quality have always been at the heart of Ko’olau and many serious musicians were and still are delighted by this. 12 years ago, as I left to start Hawaii Music Supply, my brother Noa took over the Ko’olau custom shop building and has continued to perfect this art. Dad set forth on a new venture; To make a Ko’olau quality instrument at a more affordable price. This has been no casual effort. It’s taken him many years but he now provides a truly great brand, our best selling line of ukuleles. Even though quality has become consistent, he still travels to the island of Java to work with the luthiers there and continue improving."

From the TUS website written in 2017:
Ko’olau
"For many years John Kitakis and Noa Bonk did mostly warranty repair for Martin, Taylor and other guitar companies. Occasionally they built custom guitars and other instruments. Seeing the need for a professional quality ukulele company, John started Ko’olau Ukulele in 1996. The shop was right at foothills of the Ko’olau mountains in Kaneohe. They later relocated to the other side of the mountain, Wahiawa, but for over 20 years now they have been working full time to create the best musical instruments for artists and enthusiasts.

"About 10 years ago John started the Pono line in Indonesia and Noa took over the custom building for Ko’olau. Noa’s had small crews in the past but now focuses on the finest quality possible with just him building and Ryan Condon finishing. Together, what they have been offering for the last few years is impeccable craftsmanship and master level voicing. Ko’olau ukuleles are light in weight, full with rich overtones, gorgeous with the best woods, and truly a joy to play."
Sweet! Thanks so much for putting that together, right from the source too. Ko'olau has always been a notch above.
John must be so proud of his boys today.
 

Rakelele

Well-known member
Joined
Jun 22, 2014
Messages
2,078
Points
63
Having followed the company closely for over a decade now, Pono did make some notable changes in 2018/2019, but mostly cosmetic: They stopped using Abalone as well as Macassar Ebony and Rosewood for bodies due to new CITES regulations (only bringing the latter back after the strict ban was lifted, but never to the same extent as before). They also said that the newer necks were a bit thinner, and as mentioned, they have been experimenting with a new lattice bracing recently. It's one of the reasons I really love and respect the company: They are constantly trying to improve and innovate.

In my limited hands-on experience, having bought about a dozen of their instruments over the years, I have to say that my personal favorites are from 2012-2014, both in terms of sound and design, with the Rosewood or Macassar bodies and Abalone rosettes. To me, this was their "Golden Era", but that doesn't mean they aren't just as good or even better now. The only reason I haven't bought another one of their instruments after 2019 is that I really don't like the rope rosettes (as much as I understand why they abolished Abalone). I'd much prefer pretty much anything else, like spanish mosaic, heringbone, a ring of solid figured wood, or no rosette at all.