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Thread: Review: Pono UL Terz Guitar (or Steel String Guitalele)

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jun 2014

    Default Review: Pono UL Terz Guitar (or Steel String Guitalele)

    This took just as long a custom made instrument to be built, and as a matter of fact, I got to specify exactly what I wanted: it's Pono's UL six string model, but the first one with a slotted headstock, a sunburst cedar top, and a herringbone rosette.

    Regular guitars have always felt too big for me, so discovering the uke with all its varieties was a great experience which has led me to explore the boundaries between the two instruments. The Pono UL is precisely such a crossover: It is made for steel strings just like an acoustic guitar, but with a scale length of 21.4", it is only slightly larger than a baritone ukulele. It can either be approached as an ultra short scale acoustic guitar or as a guitarlele/guilele with steel strings. According to Pono, they were inspired by Martin's Size 5 Parlor guitars of the old days.

    It works well with regular guitar tuning (E-E) and it can be tuned up five steps like most guitaleles are (A-A), but it works best in between the two, what is traditionally referred to as Terz tuning (G-G). This is three steps up from a regular guitar, or two steps down from the typical ukulele tuning.

    You cannot expect an instrument of this size to have the fullness of a dreadnought guitar, but to me, that is one of its qualities: regular guitars are not only to big, but also too loud and intimidating for me, whereas this one rings out nicely, but without the overpowering basses. Something about this size and scale produces a very sweet tone and chime-like sustain.

    Playability is excellent with perfectly low action. Pono now uses a satin finished neck which is what many players prefer for faster sliding. The neck profile, I have to admit, is a bit too chunky for me, but nicely rounded. At 45 mm, the nut width is similar to many other acoustic guitars. In my opinion, they could have compensated for the reduced scale length with a slightly wider fretboard (~47 mm), leaving more vertical space for tight chord shapes like 002220 which do get a bit cramped at such a short scale.

    Craftsmanship is absolutely impeccable, as on all Pono instruments I have owned and played. The sunburst finish is beautifully executed and shown off by a perfectly mirror-flat gloss. For the rosette, they have used herringbone on my request. I think it looks great and I hope they will incorporate it on more models as I much prefer it over their rope style rosettes.

    Summing up this little review, I can say this is the guitar I always wanted: small enough to not feel like a piece of furniture on my lap, but large enough to fully resonate. After playing around with several different models, I would say that this UL model has the shortest scale to still work fine with steel strings. If you're looking for a high quality steel string guitalele, this is it.

    I didn't get to take pictures of it, so I'm attaching the ones that were taken at the Ko'olau workshop on Hawaii.

    Pono_UL20SB_1.jpg Pono_UL20SB_2.jpg Pono_UL20SB_3.jpg
    Enjoying instruments by - Beau Hannam - Jay Lichty - Jerry Hoffmann - Luis Feu de Mesquita - Kala - Kamaka - Kanile'a - KoAloha - Ko'olau - Moore Bettah - Pono - Romero Creations - and others

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jan 2016
    Toronto, Ontario


    Very nice! There really is a sweetness to small scale guitars.

    Itís interesting that you find the vertical spacing an issue as opposed to horizontal. I usually find horizontal to be more of an issue on a small scale, especially up high. Vertically, itís similar to a regular steel string at 1 3/4Ē (as you mentioned)

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Nov 2017


    Great review and wonderfully looking guitar! I'm glad they kept true to the parlor-ish design with a 12-fret neck/body join. 12-fret guitars just have that certain sweetness to them, IMHO.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Mar 2014
    Pickering, ON, Canada


    That really is a lovely looking small guitar, I love sunbursts. I am glad you are so happy with it, it should keep you busy and thrilled for a long time to come
    Ukuleles.............yes please !!!!

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Aug 2014


    Thanks for the review. That is a gorgeous sunburst.

    A lot of the smaller guitars are lower quality, I assume because the guitar companies are targeting kids, and/or beginners, so harder to find a high quality small guitar. And this one fits the niche for those looking for a higher quality small guitar. Although, with Ed Sheeran and Taylor Swift making it popular, the Baby Taylor and the Martin LX1 have opened up a smaller guitar market for decent quality travel / small guitars. And while those are certainly decent quality guitars, they are aimed at a level much below the Pono in quality, and price too.

    And while some might prefer a wider neck width, this Pono guitar is slightly wider than std acoustic, but narrower than a classical. And actually, that is another thing that many small scale guitars have, and that is a very wide neck, which helps some with bigger fingers, but for others that want a small body acoustic, but not a classical width nut, this fits the bill too. So, I think this Pono is very nice guitar and certainly fits a niche very well.

    With E-E tuning, the bass string is slightly floppy on this Pono, but it is still playable and acceptable. While some may prefer the sound at a different tuning, others may find it so much easier to be able to use std guitar tuning tabs/sheet music and not have to translate or play in a different key.

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