Which soprano brand would you recommend as a keeper?

Hilomar

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I have a few sopranos and I would recommend my acacia pono soprano ukulele..I can't fault it..just gets on with the job! when I play it I dont think about does it chime or bark? It just sounds great! Well done pono...
 

Dohle

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I don't think there's a brand that necessarily makes bad sopranos but, in my opinion, there certainly are ones that shine with sopranos specifically. The ones I personally own and adore are KoAloha and Kiwaya. I think KoAloha in general excel with the smaller sized ukes. That's not to say their tenors are bad by any means but I just think their sopranos (and concerts) are some of the best in the business with their loud and punchy tone, particularly for a Hawaiian-made brand. The other K brands, on the other hand, really shine with the larger sizes, in my opinion. Again, I'm not saying they make bad sopranos but I just think that the warm tone of a Kamaka or Kanile'a is best experienced with a tenor size. I can't really say for Ko'olau or Pono personally. I've only played a few Ponos in concert and baritone size (which were/are excellent, btw).

A Kiwaya soprano is just the epitome of the Martin/mainland style soprano. Simply perfection, in terms of sound, playability and authenticity. Can't really say much more. If I had to have only a single uke, let alone a soprano, it would and will forever be my KTS-7.

Another brand that makes sopranos really well is aNueNue, particularly their Moon Bird series. I don't usually care for spruce or other softwood tops on sopranos since I think the small size often can't really get the most out of the tonewood but the Moon Bird soprano is the exception for me. It's a really unique uke. Sounds more like a concert almost. The depth and volume is astonishing. It's definitely a more modern type of soprano for sure so definitely not for someone looking for a traditional one.
 

bynapkinart

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I also second the Koaloha soprano as probably the most distinct Hawaiian soprano! Kiwaya and Kamaka make great classic examples as well, the Koalohas just seem to sparkle and shine that bit much more.
 

Graham Greenbag

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What Soprano Brand would your recommend as a keeper? H’mm, how long is a piece of string?

I would say it all depends on what you want to achieve and what your skill level is. How do you define a keeper and why? None of my current Ukes were expensive, indeed all of them have been pretty cheap, and what didn’t work for me was sold - so what’s remained for several years is therefore a keeper? More expensive Ukes have all disappointed / not lived up to their reputations, but maybe I’ve been unlucky.

I can’t say for sure that they are completely representative of their brands and my keepers are instruments that are both ‘old friends’ and instruments that play well for me. I can’t see me selling my laminate Kala Pineapple Soprano (KA-P) ‘cause after some work on it it became a joy to play and hear. I’ve had that simple Kala for many years now, other Ukes have come and gone but none have beat that Kala: it’s been kept on merit and is the (high) bench mark against which other instruments were compared.

As a contrast I’ve a couple of quite old and worn U30 Mahalo’s with their original friction tuners, they’re keepers because: I’ve made them play OK, they have no street value and I can take then into hostile environments without a moment’s thought (they’re tough as old boots and loosing their second hand value is unimportant to me). Short of no longer having the space why would I not keep a low (fiscal) value Uke that plays OK for me?

How do you define a keeper and why? Is the (original) question really what’s the brand of a very very good Soprano that you’d never want to sell? I don’t have such an instrument and my skill doesn’t warrant such an expense, but if I were a much better player then I’d be investigating Ko’Aloha Opios.
 
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UkerDanno

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I might be a bit based, but old Martins are hard to beat. The Ohana SK-28 Nunes look models are also very good, I had a soprano and concert size, both very nice, I just liked my Martin better and didn't feel I needed them both.
 

richntacoma

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My favorite soprano so far is my Brad Donaldson Martin 0 copy. Just amazing.
 

man0a

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My favorite sopranos (that I have owned for years) are Kamaka HF-1, Anuenue Oahu, and Ken Timms. The Kamaka and Anuenue both have really sweet tones, while the Ken Timms has more of a bark. I also really like the GF's Kanile'a K1 that has a wider neck,14 frets to the body, and really rich sound.
 

clear

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My favorite ,so far, is the Kamaka HF-1. I guess that's a keeper for me.
 

John Colter

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For me it has to be my KoAloha or Timms. My favourite is whichever one I'm playing at that moment.

John Colter
 

snowdenn

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I have to agree with Dohle that KoAlohas really shine on the smaller scales. I've found some variation with their ukes (even the same models), but they've been consistently good, and the best sounding soprano I heard was a Silver Anniversary. I don't think it sounded better because it was a silver. It just sounded amazing and happened to be a silver.

My best sounding soprano is a semi-custom by Alvin Pops Okami. It's a variation of his UkeSA ukes, which you can find on his site, but I got mine before his site launched, and I don't know much customization he offers anymore. Ed Fiscella is on UU and can give you more information if you're interested.

I got a thinline Rebel soprano not too long ago. It sounds great, but not as good as the Hawaiian ukes. But something about the compactness of it makes it so much fun to play, more than I expected. I know some dislike the smallness of sopranos (especially the scale) but having a thin soprano is really fun, and these days it's the soprano I reach for most frequently.

I think there's definitely a spectrum between full and rich Hawaiian sopranos and mainland style sopranos with more bark. I lean towards the former. It's almost an East vs. West thing (not in competition but in style), with Hawaiian and Asian ukes more often producing what I think are more similar sounds, and mainland and European ukes producing another distinct sound. Maybe Hawaiian vs. Tin Pan Alley music? Koa vs. mahogany? Again broad strokes, it kind of falls apart under too much scrutiny.

I have a couple Martins, and had a Timms, and they sounded great, but I definitely prefer the KoAloha and Rebel, which are sort of cousins. I'd still like to try a Wunderkammer though, another attempt with barky sopranos.

I found Kanile'a the opposite of KoAloha in that they seem to suit larger sizes better. I think Kamaka have a pretty consistent signature sound regardless of size and are my favorite Hawaiian ukes after KoAloha. And there are tons of Hawaiian-made uke brands that are less well known, but can be found if you search around.
 

Graham Greenbag

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I recommend making whatever uke you want to keep into a keeper. Whether it be a Mahalo or MBU. You are allowed to keep what ever ukes you choose.

Here is wisdom; maybe it’s not an an answer that’s perfectly focused on the objectives of the original post but it’s still wisdom. Constantly chasing after the best is daft. Pick up what you already have and enjoy it, if something noticeably better crosses your path then (before trying to acquire it) consider what real advantage you gain from trading-up and what hassle is involved in such a move.
 
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Dohle

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I think Kamaka have a pretty consistent signature sound regardless of size
This certainly holds true. Out of all the uke manufacturers in the world, I'd say Kamaka is the most consistent, both between sizes and within different specimen of the same model. I think it's fairly easy to make that statement after you listen to several examples of Kamakas and also learn about their manufacturing and especially wood selection process.

There's been some love for the Kamaka soprano already in this thread and I just want to make clear that I think they're excellent ukes despite the fact that I said Kamakas shine with the larger sizes. That's obviously just my opinion. For me, that traditional mellow Hawaiian sound that Kamakas produce just sounds nicer with a tenor, for example, but the soprano of course sounds excellent as well if that's your preference for tone. With mine, I just found that it lacked some sustain on the higher frequencies, something that I normally want from a soprano, whereas on a tenor size I haven't perceived that issue. Eventually I sold mine but that should take nothing away from the quality of a Kamaka soprano. And if you want the most traditional Hawaiian-made soprano you really only have one choice. :)
 

John Colter

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I agree with Bill1, to some extent. I have a Yellow Mahalo that is at least fifteen years old. I will never part with it. But that's not to say I would recommend Mahalos, as a brand.

John Colter
 

JJFN

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I really like my Martin S1. WIth the solid mahogany construction it really has a lot of "punch'. With Worth Brown's it really wails.
 

Ed1

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I have a few sopranos and all of them are keepers. They all are a lot more expensive than my Enya HPL soprano, which is also a keeper. Why the Enya? - because "it takes a licking and keeps on ticking" (That's for all the older folk out there.) It's not in a case or other safe place, I take it with me without a second thought, it gets knocked off its stand every now and then without hurting it (much), and just keeps playing well with great intonation up the neck. OK, it has a little of that HPL sound (which IMO isn't horrible), but other than not sounding like an all wood uke is everything I would want a "keeper" to be.
 

Veritas99

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As others have said, a lot will depend on what you want to play. It will also depend on whether you plan to use the soprano exclusively.

In soprano, my wife and I have a Kamaka HP-1, a KoAloha Naupaka, and a Kanilea K-3. (I’ll ignore my Outdoor, which is a great bang-around uke but not meant to be in the same league as the others). To my ear, the KoAloha just edges the Kanilea on most music, but after we switched the Kanilea’s strings over to fluorocarbon it is a lot closer. On more traditional Hawaiian tunes, however neither comes close to the Kamaka pineapple standard, which just fits the ear. If forced to pick only one soprano, I’d go for the Kamaka. I have concerts and tenors that will sound better playing the music I like just because they are bigger, but if I want a traditional Hawaiian sound you can’t beat a Kamaka standard.
 

WebParrot (s2)

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I have a 'cheater' soprano : - ) ... a KoAloha "longneck/super" Pineapple Soprano. When I got it the "A" string nut slot was poorly cut, so I made a new bone nut with a noticeable improvement; none of the chimey-ness on an open "A". This 'open pore' finish was really, really open pore, much different then my other three KoAlohas. I spent a few hours re-polishing with micro-mesh and brought the surface down to a near satin finish. (There were a few 'string' scratches around the bridge that needed fixing, so I ended up motivated to do the whole thing ! ). I put a set of Uke Logic Medium tension and the sound is sweet, bright, and KoAloha-loud. Finally I added GOTOH tuners, replacing the friction tuning pegs. It gets played 3-4 times a week...one of my favs.